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“Actually, I had about a dozen different pen names — seems like they changed on every book. For a time I was known as Longjon Jones.” And that, he admonishes me, is how I will identify him. “If you use my [real] name, I’ll hunt you down and turn your gizzard into a volleyball and kick you around the lot.”

Jones, a particularly prolific East County novelist during the heyday of cheap sleaze paperback publishing in San Diego in the 1960s and ’70s, is a frail, elderly man. I have no idea if he’s joking or not.

“I was learning how to write, and somebody bugged me into the porn. It wasn’t so bad then, [the books were] like some of the modern-day romances.”

By “bad,” I understand Jones to mean raunchy. Today’s romance novels read pretty heavy, with captured women ravished by pirates or Vikings or unruly men of one sort or another.

“I take it back then the ‘dirty’ books were fairly soft-core by today’s standards.”

“I did 43 books of ‘true love’ and learned one hell of a lot about writing,” says Jones. “Mostly that you had to sit down and do the pages every day. They were about 40,000 words and paid from $250 to $400. I think Greenleaf paid more.”

Jones wrote several books for the now-infamous San Diego-based porn publisher Greenleaf Classics — “before the editor got busted and did time” — but mainly he worked for a smaller cheap-paperback outfit, Surrey House.

“I remember that the FBI had cameras zooming in on the front door of the place and took pictures of everyone who came or went. A place to earn a little while you learn, I guess. I was doing other writing at the time as well.”

Jones didn’t socialize much with his porno-king colleagues, but he does recall going to one party attended by other pulp writers and Surrey’s publisher. “Before I knew it the booze and the drugs and sex were flying around. I got out of there in a rush.”

Jones had not found his calling in writing about the sins of the flesh. “I got busy with other things and edged away. I went straight on to westerns and detective novels and worked my way up.”


San Diego’s curious history of sleaze publishing is almost forgotten now, but the biggest name in the business, Greenleaf Classics, operated out of Mission Valley. Greenleaf released more titles each month than its competitors in Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New York, and many of their hack writers lived here, but they would seldom put their real names on the book covers.

“You have to understand, even after all this time, the brand can still stick to you and hurt you, and people in your life will look at you differently, they’ll look down on you,” one Hillcrest-based writer who also prefers to remain anonymous tells me, “and because of the social work I now do, I’m not sure I really want people to know that I used to be a smut scribbler. But I have to admit, at the time it was fun, it was really fun being M.J. Deer, among many others.”

I ask him how many he’d used.

“A dozen. Usually the names were made up just as the books went to press, and that was out of my hands. I was just a work-for-hire type.”

He hands me a beat-up, yellowed copy of a little book entitled Flames of Desire, published in 1963 by International Publishers in Hollywood. The cover depicts a man and a woman kissing and fondling in a convertible jalopy, but the story itself seems to be a high-fantasy, sword-and-sorcery adventure tale. I’m reminded of Kurt Vonnegut’s character Kilgore Trout, the science-fiction writer who could only publish his strange little novels by disguising them as porno books.

She was blonde and plump with a creamy complexion, the first page starts, rosy cheeks and cherry-red lips. Her breasts pushed against her blouse as though eager to get free.

I skipped a few pages and found: The heat of the forge beat against Falmore’s face as he bent over it, sending rivulets of sweat running down his steel-muscled arms and back…

He hands me another book, Asylum…or Hell! by Ralph Brandon, also published in 1963 but by a different Hollywood outfit called Art Enterprises. “Scandalous abuses in private mental hospitals exposed!” reads the cover. “Sane men kept in padded cells for over-sexed mistresses! Shock treatment for revenge instead of therapy!”

I’m hooked. I open it, a few pages fall out. One of them reads: A real man — and you wouldn’t have been put in the harem if you weren’t a real man — just naturally wants to grab a dame up, turn her over on his knee, and blistering her pretty little can when she tries bossing him around. You do that and we’re both dead ducks.

He says I can keep both; he doesn’t need or even want them. “I have more copies in storage somewhere anyway.”

“You must have had fun writing this stuff.”

“Yeah, I did. A lot. What the hell, eh? It was a paycheck.”

He made $400–$500 a book, good money at the time, and by writing one or two a month he managed to put himself through SDSU. “We’re talking a lot of books, kid.”

And where’d he get the ideas for all those books?

“Fantasy, pure fantasy. I could work it all out on the page, so I became less frustrated.”

Like Longjon Jones, he wrote for Greenleaf — “everyone did” — as well as Surrey House. “But that place was run by the Mafia, or fronted by Mafia money. There were a lot of shady characters involved, and I didn’t care for too many of them.” But also like Jones, he found the pleasures of the genre to be fleeting, and he’s long since given up the sleaze and sin.

“What’s the point? I write poetry now, and even with that I ask myself: what’s the point? It’s impossible to make a living as a writer — porn, poetry, romance, whatever. There are easier ways to make a buck.”

It’s a common complaint.

“Erotica, alas, does not pay the bills, not today,” Norman Conquest informs me. Another pseudonym? Of course. But many in the literary community recognize Conquest as the alter ego of Derek Pell, a former Coronado resident whose precise whereabouts are now mysterious. He could be in London, he could be in New York, he could be in North Carolina; then again, he may very well still reside in Coronado, communicating via computer and cell phone. It all depends on which rumor you subscribe to.

“I do not, generally, work for traditional publishers of erotica,” he says. “I recall being paid $100 per text by Libido Magazine. I was commissioned by Barney Rosset [the founder of Grove Press] to write a novel for Blue Moon Books for $1000. It was based on a screenplay I’d written. Kings Road wanted to make the film — they did that movie The Big Easy. It was called Undertow. My agent negotiated a $200,000 sale, and during negotiations, the company declared bankruptcy. The book was never written.”

“That has to hurt.”

“I do Web design, photography, and paint houses to stay afloat.”

In the 1970s, Conquest made decent money off a series of books about Doktor Bey, a Victorian eccentric much like Jules Verne’s Phileas Fogg whose adventures were depicted in oversized pages using collage and little text.

“There was Doktor Bey’s Handbook of Strange Sex. It was published by Avon Books and was my most successful title in that series. It sold out its first printing. About 40,000 copies were skulking in bookshops and earning me royalty checks. It was also reprinted in the U.K. and did well. Strangely enough, Avon did not reprint it as they squandered all their money on the advance for a piece of trash called The Thorn Birds.”

In the mid- to late ’90s, Conquest himself became a bit of a porn publisher.

“Ah yes…House Organ Books, a.k.a. HOB Press, published at an undisclosed location in Coronado! The magazine had a short, tragic life of two issues. Out of that came the Pocket Erotica Series. Thirteen books, of which only four were actually produced. Most notably, Pat Sanders’s hysterical The Little Cock That Could, an absurdist classic that students at SDSU kept stashed in their backpacks. HOB also reprinted Sartre’s French Phrase Book, which had been originally published by Transient Press in Los Angeles. It’s a smutty little satire that I’m quite proud of.”

Conquest has a surer sense of the wellspring of his ideas than the unnamable Hillcrest author.

“My sexy wife,” he says. “She is my inspiration, my muse. The walls of my studio are covered with photographs of her. I am perpetually aroused.”

But Conquest’s erotica has literary roots as well.

“The first ‘doity book’ I ever read was Terry Southern’s Candy, so I associated erotica with humor early on. Then I read Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. I found Durrell’s Justine highly sexy. I think my true inspiration for porn writing was Marguerite Duras. Subtle, fluid, sensual. She inspired a series of texts and one early book of mine. Under another name [Derek Pell] I published a book called X-Texts, which parodied almost every classic and contemporary porn book, so I’ve read most everything in the genre. Today I’m more interested in visual erotica…a lot of wonderful books are coming from Germany.”

“I heard you had some trouble with the Feds.”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Around.”

“You shouldn’t listen to rumor and gossip.”

He eventually allows that there was, in fact, a bit of trouble with the FBI and the U.S. Treasury Department, but not over any amorous artistic ventures. “I rubber stamped and scrawled on a dollar bill and mailed it to a friend as part of a ‘mail art’ project. An agent phoned me asking to speak to Norman Conquest. He asked me if I was responsible, and I said, ‘Yes, what’s the problem?’ He said I’d committed the crime of defacing currency. He asked me how many bills I’d mailed. I told him that as a starving artist I could only afford to post one. He didn’t find that funny. He said he would investigate further and get back to me. Thankfully he never did. Meanwhile, I stole a postal service poster from Grand Central and added a huge photograph I’d taken of the defaced dollar; I altered the poster to read: ‘WE DELIVER. SOMETIMES.’

“An obsession with the almighty dollar,” he says with the proverbial sigh, “that’s my definition of pornography.”


Greenleaf Classics was the biggest, most notorious printer of lurid literature during San Diego’s pulp prime; its employees and other writers often referred to it as “The Porn Factory.” At its height, Greenleaf was releasing 50 titles per month, eventually publishing more than 4000 in all.

The story of Greenleaf Classics goes back to 1950s Chicago and the hothouse flower that was science-fiction fandom. It starts with William L. Hamling, an Irish Catholic lad born in 1921 on Chicago’s infamous South Side, a former altar boy whose faith was tested during his service in World War II. Gay Talese, in his 1980 bestselling history of the sexual revolution, Thy Neighbor’s Wife, describes Hamling’s growing disillusionment with the fixed stars of his childhood:

“In the Army, [his] perspective changed; it was there that he saw the Church, in deference to the war, becoming less celestial, more nationalistic and permissive. Sins that had been called sins for centuries were suddenly no longer condemned as such by the Church…and when tons of pinup magazines were transported by the military up to the front as substitute stimulants for the womanless warriors, the Church, once so strict and censorial, was silent.”

When Hamling got back to Chicago, the weight of his religious morality bore down on him less than it once had, and he soon began to write science-fiction. He sold his first story, “War with Jupiter,” a collaborative effort with Mark Reinsberg, to Amazing Stories in 1939. In 1940, he founded a fanzine called Stardust. He then got a job with Ziff-Davis Publications editing the pulps he had been writing for, working alongside a young Hugh Hefner who, like Hamling, had some lofty notions about branching out as an independent magazine publisher.

Imaginative Tales

Imaginative Tales

In 1948 Hamling established Greenleaf Publishing in the basement of his house on Greenleaf Street in Evanston, Illinois, pumping out science-fiction pulp rags like Imagination and Imaginative Tales (which featured an entire novel in each issue). But the science-fiction market was dwindling, and Hamling noticed that there was money to be made in sex. The writer and critic Lynne Munroe summed up Hamling’s publishing strategy at the time: “He wanted to get into the booming [soft-core porn] paperback market and sell books for men, books with flashy covers like Midwood and Beacon were doing. Hamling worked out a contract with the Scott Meredith Agency. Meredith would supply new manuscripts for paperback books from a team of writers. Each writer was contracted to churn out a book each month. The writers were paid a few hundred dollars per book. (Later some of the ‘names’ were paid $1500 or more.) The books were sent to Hamling under pen names, the agency kept the author’s true identities secret. The adult book market was always precarious. There were always Senate hearings or lawsuits or vice raids involving these lurid little books. Of course, to try to avoid those lawsuits, the authors used euphemisms and suggested much more than they actually described. The books are very tame compared to what passes as adult literature today.”

Renowned SF writer Robert Silverberg wrote an article in 1992 for Penthouse Letters entitled “My Life as a Pornographer,” which depicts the scene at the time. “I was 24 years old when I stumbled, much to my surprise, into a career of writing sex novels,” he recounts. “In 1958, as a result of a behind-the-scenes convulsion in the magazine-distribution business, the whole SF publishing world went belly up. A dozen or so magazines for which I had been writing regularly ceased publication overnight; and as for the tiny market for SF novels…it suddenly became so tight that unless you were one of the first-magnitude stars like Robert Heinlein or Isaac Asimov you were out of luck.”

And work.

Super-agent Richard Curtis (who wrote a handful of smut books himself) represented a number of these authors: “When I worked at Scott Meredith Literary Agency, we handled a lot of soft-core sex novels. Most of the writers churned them out strictly for the money and as a means to hone their writing skills for more serious fiction. It was never assumed that sex novel writing was where you wanted to end your career, and many of the writers tried to have fun with the books. We even had a weekly card game attended by some of the writers, and over beer and pretzels we would compete for the most outrageous sex scenes.” One particularly memorable scenario took place on a surfboard.

Facing market pressures, Hamling began publishing Rogue, a lowbrow men’s magazine not quite in the same neighborhood as Playboy, edited by an up-and-coming young writer named Harlan Ellison. In Stephen J. Gertz’s 2004 book An Amazing Kingdom of Thrills: American Pulp Erotica 1966–1973, there is a chapter entitled “Earthlings Beware! A Galaxy of Porn in San Diego” that tells how Silverberg started writing soft-core titles under various pen names for Bedside and Midwood Books, which were making everyone involved a bit of profit. This was the cue for Hamling to launch Nightstand Books, where, along with Silverberg, many of today’s big-name genre writers began penning the velvety lowdown: Marion Zimmer Bradley, Evan Hunter, Philip Jose Farmer, and Lawrence Block. Even Ellison wrote one (that he admits to), Sex Gang, under the name Paul Merchant (it’s a rare find and fetches up to $700 from collectors). Mr. Ellison also edited a more mainstream imprint for Greenleaf, Regency Books, which published his own Memos from Purgatory as well as former San Diegan Jim Thompson’s classic crime noir, The Grifters.

Technically, however, these books and magazines were not published through Greenleaf per se but by a shell company called Blake Pharmaceuticals, a failed firm whose shares Hamling had purchased for pennies — such arrangements were necessary at the time, providing protection from the Chicago authorities.

When Ellison returned to New York to pursue his writing career, Earl Kemp, a familiar face in sci-fi fandom, replaced him. But Hamling was tired of paying off the cops and the city officials, and he soon decided it was time to get out of Dodge. He set his sights on San Diego.

“In 1964, William Hamling discovered California,” Kemp recalls in the blog he’s been keeping. “What he found was…an elite hideout for the elite, a fantasy in anyone’s imagination. Here, everywhere he looked, he saw someone he recognized, someone rich and famous and admired…the more he became addicted to California living, the less we saw of him around the Porno Factory in Evanston. Then, much to our dismay, he began making noises about changing the whole focus of the business and moving the operation totally to California, where morals were a great deal more relaxed than in Illinois, where the really beautiful people lived, and where the sun always shined. Along with this came his preliminary efforts at alerting certain key staff members to the eventuality of moving along with their jobs. I was one of them.”

Once Hamling had decided definitively to move, he rented office space in an industrial complex at 5839 Mission Gorge Road (he later moved the company to 3511 Camino del Rio South).

“In 1964, Mission Valley was a bit out of the way, rustic and very agrarian,” recalls Kemp. “In fact, dairies lined both sides of the road winding through the valley, and as you traversed the quiet, pastoral route, the aroma of fresh cow shit followed you for miles of nothing but greenery, with almost no businesses in sight anywhere.”

There were doctors and lawyers in that complex, and none of them knew what their new neighbors were up to. Hamling set up a distribution arm called Reed Enterprises and a mail-order arm called Library Services. Greenleaf Classics was a mere subsidiary, and the books were printed in Phoenix, Arizona, by an outfit that was in on the lurid but flourishing business.

Greenleaf would go on to create several imprints such as Ember Library (parody books of pop icons like James Bond) and Adonis Books (gay male erotica) that catered to ever-finer niche markets. The hundreds of covers designed by art director Robert Bonfils are now fiercely sought by eccentric collectors. (This past fall Adam Parfrey’s Feral House published a book called Sin-A-Rama, which reproduces many of these paintings and illustrations.)

Hamling fancied himself a publisher of adult literature in the tradition of Barney Rosset at Grove Press and the infamous Maurice Girodias, whose Olympia Press first published Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer. (Girodias, however, did not have a favorable opinion of Greenleaf, or of other U.S. publishers such as Lancer Books that pirated many of Olympia’s titles without paying a dime for them. Olympia’s books, banned and illegal to import and sell in the United States and England, were not protected under copyright law, making it difficult if not impossible to seek relief in the court system. Greenleaf issued unauthorized editions of Terry Southern’s legendary Candy and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn [in one edition, GC #210]. In his 1994 book Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press and Its Writers John de St. Jorre reports what Girodias had to say about all this: “Lancer are a bunch of odious boors…but Greenleaf!…they are the most cold-blooded, malevolent [people] I ever met…the Greenleaf people must take a beating such that they will at least stop stealing my property.”)

Hamling also published a number of political books under the Greenleaf colophon. In 1963 he released Ben Hass’s exposé KKK; in 1966, The Truth about Vietnam: Report on U.S. Senate Hearings; in 1971, The Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. The last one was a reprint of the government report accompanied by lewd and shocking (for the times) illustrations that generously filled the pages.

J. Edgar Hoover sent his G-men after Greenleaf, which he had a personal loathing for — and he was not alone.

“At times there were as many as half a dozen competing agencies bugging the lines,” Kemp claims. “We could get nothing but police radio calls on our phones. I remember going out to a pay phone and calling the cops and demanding that they release at least one phone line for business purposes.”

Such persistent surveillance made for fairly unusual business meetings. The principals would gather silently around a typewriter set up on a table in the editorial office. One person would start the meeting by typing out whatever he wanted to discuss, and then he’d pass the typewriter along to someone else who would read what was there, add his comments, and pass the typewriter to yet another, and so it would go until everyone had had his say. After the meeting, they would burn the typing paper, flush the ashes down the toilet, and throw away the typewriter ribbon far from the office.

“And in this way business got done,” Kemp says with amusement.

Despite the apparent government harassment, Greenleaf made plenty of money. Hamling had homes in Palm Springs, Julian, and Coronado; Kemp owned a large house in El Cajon and an even bigger one in Ajijic, Jalisco, along the Mexican playas where he played host to many writers in his stable. “Gallons of tequila, good Mexican pot, and lines of coke fuel[ed] the festivities,” according to Gertz. Kemp may have played gracious host, but he was also demanding of his authors. He didn’t want just run-of-the-mill porn books — he wanted good story lines and even a sense of literature to balance the action between the sheets.

“He was efficient, a bit brusque and short with writers,” Longjon Jones says. “Maybe that’s because he didn’t like my stuff so much.”

In 1966 Hamling was served a 25-count indictment out of Houston, Texas, for violating the federal criminal statutes of interstate transportation of obscene materials. The case was declared a mistrial, much to the chagrin of federal prosecutors, but Hamling was ecstatic, according to Kemp. “As he saw it, the courtroom battle that had begun more than 30 years before in the case of United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, resulting in a victory for the literary elite, had now ended in 1967 with a triumph for the man in the street.”

The man on the street rarely triumphs for long, however: the legal issues raised by the case resurfaced five years later. On March 5, 1971, Attorney General John Mitchell held a news conference on the steps of the Justice Department to announce the indictment of four Greenleaf Classics employees for alleged crimes associated with the “unauthorized” production of the book The Illustrated Presidential Report of the Commission on Obscenity and Pornography. They faced a 20-count indictment. One count prosecuted the book on grounds of obscenity, another on knowingly distributing obscenity. The jury was hung on the obscenity issue, and the Justice Department tried a secondary strategy: 12 counts of violating post office prohibitions against sending sexual material through the mail. This had nothing to do with the actual book, but rather with mailing 55,000 copies of a brochure describing it that included a few sample illustrations. The legal wrangling became a mammoth national media event, not unlike the brouhaha surrounding the unsuccessful indictment of Mayor Roger Hedgecock and the more recent tumult that was the David Westerfield murder trial.

“Petitioners were convicted of mailing and conspiring to mail an obscene advertising brochure with sexually explicit photographic material relating to their illustrated version of an official report on obscenity, in violation of 18 U.S.C. 2, 371, and 1461,” wrote Judge Thompson in his ruling. Hamling received one year’s imprisonment on the conspiracy count, and consecutive with that, concurrent terms of three years each on the remaining 11 counts plus a $32,000 fine. Kemp — who had since resigned from Greenleaf — received one year and a day on the conspiracy count followed by concurrent terms of two years for each of the 11 counts. Hamling and Kemp were also sentenced to five-year probation terms following their respective release dates.

“I did not want to put those men in prison,” Judge Thompson later told the press, according to Gertz. “I had to. An example had to be made.”

The porno kings didn’t go to the federal pen immediately — appeals were filed, going from the Ninth Circuit and eventually up to the Supreme Court. With Justice Rehnquist writing the majority opinion in Hamling v. U.S. in 1974 (Federal Code 48 U.S. 87[A1]), the Court upheld the convictions. Justice William O. Douglas, however, dissented, offering this opinion: “What petitioners did was to supply the report with a glossary — not in dictionary terms but visually. Every item in the glossary depicted explicit sexual material within the meaning of that item as used in the report. Perhaps we should have no reports on obscenity. But embedded in the First Amendment is the philosophy that the people have the right to know. Sex is more important to some than to others, but it is of some importance to all. If officials may constitutionally report on obscenity, I see nothing in the First Amendment that allows us to bar the use of a glossary factually to illustrate what the report discusses.”

In February 1976, Hamling and Kemp began serving their time at Terminal Island in Long Beach. “We spent three years and one day there,” Kemp says. “This was (at the time) the federal ‘legal bad-boy minimum.’ As things were constructed then, convicted criminals were the personal possession of the judge who sentenced them for three months and one day. At three months and two days, they become property of the Justice Department so the judge has only that much time, one day, to salvage that criminal from the Justice Department grist mill.” Greenleaf continued publishing books until 1985, fronted by a shell company owned by Hamling’s son-in-law, Jack Abey. Then production stopped. There is currently a website that offers e-book versions of select Greenleaf titles. Kemp doesn’t know who is behind the site, since no one owns the copyright of these old books anymore, but he suspects Abey may have a hand in it.

Kemp now lives in Kingman, Arizona. Hamling lives in Palm Springs, while his ex-wife still resides in their Coronado home. They are no longer involved in the publishing business, although Kemp keeps himself busy with an online science-fiction fanzine that features chapters of his memoir about the golden era of pulp and porn.

One of Kemp’s many local hacks, Jerry Murray, still lives in San Diego. He wrote for both Greenleaf and Surrey. “I think I wrote about 250 ‘doity books’ in all,” he says from his home in Pacific Beach, where he lives with his third wife. He went by Sam Diego, Lance Boyle, Ray Majors, Drs. Lance and Jill Boyle; by Joyce Morrissey when he penned cross-dressing books and by Murray Montague when he scribbled out “humorous gay novels.”

Murray recalls those days with the kind of nostalgic affection one has for an old sweater.

“Earl assigned an ace photographer named Gary and me to write a series of illustrated paperbacks. I’d do a plot outline, send it to him in L.A. with a desired list of props and a shooting locale, he’d get what he could, plus the models (for 40 bucks for half a day) and my wife and I would drive up, where I’d direct the shooting and Gary would take 35mm and 2 /1/4” photos of the naked models simulating sex. After a naked lunch, served by our wives, we’d hurry over to the next set and shoot another one. Then Gary would send me contact sheets, I’d tell him which ones to enlarge, and I’d write the book while referencing its illustrations. Gary and I still laugh about some of the wacky shootings we did. He’s very big in construction now.”

Murray was paid between $600–$2000 per title. He says his parodies of Captains Courageous, Mutiny on the Bounty, and Moby Dick were the most successful.

“Did the FBI have you under surveillance, too?”

“No,” he says, “no law about writing the stuff, just publishing it.”

Surrey House didn’t stay afloat long.

“I was one of the original founders, and I lasted there perhaps a year and a half,” Kemp says. “By that time I was already burned out on the business and still had the trial and prison staring me in the face. My heart was no longer in [it]. Also, there was much hanky-panky going around the fringes. After I left, Surrey rapidly went downhill with many Mafia connections. It is my understanding that they [the Mob] eventually took over completely and dumped all the staff.”


Today, the FBI and Justice Department have little if any interest in the publishers of dirty books — the plain brown bag has been replaced with a Borders bookstore logo. A genre now dubbed “literary erotica” has become a viable and strong market; the consumer can easily find the steamy section in the bookstore chains, featuring titles from Blue Moon, Carroll & Graf, Cleis Press, Black Lace, Pretty Things Press, and Chimera Books, all of which have wide national distributions, receive serious reviews in trade journals and newspapers, and are used in college courses. Anthologies of original short fiction seem to sell better than novels, and classic Victorian erotica that is in the public domain can often be found in multiple editions from several publishers. Larger companies such as Pocket, Penguin, St. Martin’s, and Random House’s Three Rivers Press have tested the market for contemporary literature of an amorous flavor, and some books have sold in the tens of thousands (although it should be noted that Earl Kemp told me the average Greenleaf title moved 100,000 units; this was due to the distributors placing at least two copies at every newspaper stand in the country). Bookspan in Garden City, New York, offers the Venus Book Club, which, according to the company’s newsletter, has doubled its membership every year since its 1999 inception.

One shrewd fellow who has taken advantage of this boom is Thomas Roche. He recently moved from San Francisco to North County to change day jobs (since I spoke to him he has moved yet again, this time to New Orleans, telling me he loathed Carlsbad). For many years he wrote under the name N.T. Morley, producing a series of novels with titles like The Limousine, The Librarian, and The Circle, which were hot sellers for the now-defunct Masquerade Books, run by former Grove Press editor Richard Kasak. Masquerade was responsible for the bulk of mass-market quality smut in the 1990s. The three books mentioned have recently been reissued by the Venus Book Club.

“I’ve been a medical editor, an advertising copywriter, magazine staff-writer, and marketing executive,” he says, “so writing erotica isn’t my main source of income. It’s something I do in my off hours for my own enjoyment. I’ve never needed to make a living writing porn; it’s always been a hobby for me and a part of my kinky sex life. But the small amount of money I make is definitely a nice motivator to help me feel inspired to write when I’d rather go to sleep.

“I write a lot, but it rarely coalesces into a novel until I have a contract for one. The most I’ve ever received for an erotic novel is $2000; the least is about $200 (for a publisher who didn’t pay an advance and only sold a few copies). I am not sure if I write porn ‘for the money,’ exactly, but I don’t usually write erotic novels unless I get paid. Basically, I keep doing it when a publisher comes along and has money to offer, because while the money is very poor, I have it down to a science and I do enjoy it.

“Porn is, hands down, without any remote competition, the worst paying of the major prose genres,” he adds. “I say major prose genres, because poetry does pay much worse, and I am sure there is something out there that pays [even] worse. Unless you write nonfiction journalism on sex, or randomly get a major crossover hit (and I’m not even sure then), as I see it there is absolutely no chance — I cannot say this strongly enough for beginning erotica writers to understand — no chance whatsoever of making a living writing porn.”


If there are no longer any smut publishing empires located in San Diego, the city still plays host to a number of writers working in the field.

John Nash, for one, is a former Julian resident who now paints and writes erotica in Desert Hot Springs. “I’m only interested in your project if you can give me top-billing exposure!” he barks. “You ask neat questions,” he adds, although he refuses to answer any because “I have too much to say. So this won’t serve either of us.” Still, he continues: “I know as fact that I was the only painter/writer of porn in San Diego from the early ’70s throughout the ’80s. Ask anyone from that time. Ask Trevor Watson, Jim Bell — oh hell, I don’t know who’s still around. I know that I’m the only artist/writer that is pushing the true outrage buttons. I do it beautifully, lovingly. But I’m smart enough to do it.”

His first novel, Taboo, was recently published by Unbound Books. Nash is convinced Taboo will earn him widespread notoriety, vast sums of cash, and “get me in trouble — it has straight-on social parody, sexism, racism, the works.”

“Taboo is a groundbreaking work of fiction,” according to the publisher’s online catalog. “It will cause a critical storm and pave the road to a less-repressed literary future. This is the best erotica ever produced because it has the perfect mind for presenting it now.”

The critical storm is not yet severe enough to cause American fiction to run for cover. Unbound Books appears to be a vanity publisher out of Rohnert Park, California, that requires its authors to secure their own $30 copyright filing.

Then there is Iris Powell, who has yet to publish a book but is a devoted porn writer residing in North Park and working in North County. She spends her free time in Ocean Beach drinking coffee at Java Jungle and leering at the provocative clothes she dreams of buying at Tango and Dream Girls.

Powell’s stories have appeared in The International Journal of Erotica and The Erotic Tales Anthology as well as the British magazine In the Buff. Much of her work appears on the Internet. She writes a monthly column under the byline “Twisted Mother Earth” at www.voracitybeat.com, where she belongs to an online women’s group known as the Salty Witches Circle.

“This year, I’ve doubled what I made from last year, which equates to cigarette money,” she says. “I see dozens of requests from publishers looking for material, which vary from pennies by the word to flat prices. I can sell erotic poems by the dozen for ten bucks each or short stories from 25 to 100 on an average. Anthologies are big [sellers] in erotica. E-books are big in erotica too, but I haven’t ventured there as of yet.

“Many erotic websites also have contests in finding the cream of the crop in storytelling, and many pay hundreds of dollars for the winning stories. Erotic sites are far more plentiful than what you can find in your local Barnes & Noble. Free as well as pay sites for erotic writers and readers is where much of the action takes place. It’s exactly where I began my journey.”

Powell gets up at 5 a.m. every morning and writes for a couple of hours, and then she writes some more at night before going to sleep. During the day she works for the Men’s Wearhouse as an assistant manager — “my first hourly job since 1975.”

Despite the straight-sounding job, Powell draws on her own life for her material.

“As a real-life submissive within the BDSM realm, I don’t have to go looking for the ideas, I simply live them. There are special places that do stir my muse. All time spent with my dom, for one. And my most spiritual place is the bench at the end of Ocean Beach Pier.”

“How did you get into the Scene?”

“At the tender age of 47 going on 26, I was introduced to BDSM. My kind and masterful dom simply guided me in my travels outside of the box. My words began flowing shortly afterwards. They first expressed themselves in the form of erotic poetry, mostly submissive, but then grew into stories and articles. At the same time I recreated myself both physically and spiritually. I began a vigorous daily exercise routine, inked and pierced myself, bleached the hair blonde, and became the person I always hid inside. I took stripping lessons earlier this year as a research project for my writing, and until I can find a satisfactory pole-dancing class, I’m considering belly dancing as an alternative.”

Mel Smith has a different story. She is a resident of Valley Center and writes gay-male porn. Her collection of stories, Nasty, will be published next spring by a reputable Los Angeles house, Alyson Publications, to be followed next fall by a still-to-be-titled erotic pulp western.

Mel is caring for her invalid mother. “She is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and requires 24-hour care. I’m compensated for that from her estate. Since bringing her home in December, my writing has almost dried up. My novel is due to the publisher in March of 2005, so I am concentrating mostly on that, which I have to confess is not going well right now. When I first started writing erotica, I found that the best site for finding markets was the Erotic Readers and Writers Association. I tried other sources, but that source was so far superior that I finally stopped looking anywhere else. Now that my work has been published in various venues, I find that people (editors and other writers) send me calls for submissions and I don’t actively search for markets now. If I was trying to make my living through my writing, it would be different. The most I’ve ever been paid for a story was, I think, $350. Most of the time I get $50–$150.

“I tend to write for anthologies more than anything else, and there is always a theme for the anthology. There is almost always something the editor writes that sets off a light in my brain, and I go from there.

“But writing for publication was always just a pipe dream until after my daughter was born. I wanted very much to work from home so I could arrange my schedule around her and not miss out on any of the ‘mommy’ things. My goal was to compose the kind of poetic, sweeping prose that my hero Mary Renault wrote. But I was a single mom and celibate for many years…and all that came out was horny, nasty smut.”

I tell her that I understand.

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