Of all the accidental jobs I’ve had – a roster including flogging windshields and trying to persuade people to buy phone accounts at a dog fair in Jyväskylä, Finland – working as a sub-editor for Union magazine was the heady peak of my unplanned career. I arrived at the five-hour-long job interview wearing stilettos and large earrings. I was trying my best to communicate how sexually comfortable I was, but forgot that wearing stilettos and large earrings just means you're an average woman because we don't live in the 30s anymore. After answering tonnes of intimately personal questions, I was asked to embellish the story of a woman who finds herself frolicking with a cleaning lady in her gym's changing room.
For those of you aren't au fait with every single European, top-shelf rag (you fucking squares), Union is a monthly French porn magazine that recently celebrated its 40th birthday. In the post-internet wasteland that is adult press, the magazine is holding the helm firmly by the balls, still shifting around 140,000 copies a month. The magazine's USP is that it's specifically targeted towards fans of pornographic literature, featuring a section called 'Le Sexe et La Plume' ('Sex and the Pen'), which is a compilation of some of the dozens of explicit readers' letters the editorial staff receive every day.
Between 2007 and 2009, I spent two or three hours a day rewriting those sexy letters – a job that afforded me a fantastic insight into the everyday sex lives of the French and a brand new nervous twitch developed while trying to interact with my weirdly enigmatic coworkers. Because I'm not a selfish egotist, I figured I'd lend my sordid wisdom to every other female out there with intentions of getting into the sexy sub-editing game.
THE ADVENTURE PRINCIPLE
An 'adventure' is an unusual event, or an event that people mighty actually want to read about. Stories like, “It was a Saturday night. Me and my wife watched TV, went to bed, then made love,” are immediately rejected because literally no one cares about the sexual routine of an average married couple. However, no letter is a hopeless case. You're not allowed to lie – the people who submit the stories have a habit of feverishly scanning the magazine every month to check how accurate their post-edited story is – but you can make it a little juicier by inserting a few marginal plot developments. A few completely believable techniques that never fail include: A) Open the window overlooking the street to find a Peeping Tom watching the scene. B) Add a neighbouring couple who start making furious, shouty love at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME as your protagonists. C) Do 0.5 percent of your readership (the really creepy ones) a favour by popping in a far-too-graphic detail. Like, for example, a woman having a Bellagio fountain of a period, complete with blood clots and no explanation as to why it isn't bothering anyone involved.
ADOPT THE WRITING STYLE YOU'VE ALWAYS BEEN TOLD NOT TO ADOPT
Bar the odd armchair Joyce, most of the readers' letters have absolutely no literary ambition. And why would they? They're reader's sex letters. To efficiently turn the rabble into something readable, you have to remember all the techniques banned by your literature teachers (repetitions, hyperboles, metaphors, every single cliched epithet) and use them all together at the same time.
For instance, “He went on top of me and, after a couple of thrusts, he came,” would become: “His rod was swelling and hardening against my thigh. He started to gently rub against my naked skin, up and down. His hand hiked up my baby-doll and he cupped my vulva with his palm. His middle finger flirted with my pink hole. With his thumb, he polished my moist lips and opened my slit, reaching up for my rosebud. His fingers slipped in the dampness dribbling from my love-candy. He fiddled with my button; the juice was dripping everywhere up to my eyelet. His rod remained erect, firmly planted at the base of his belly and crowned with a fine, elegant red stream. He gave it to me, harshly, restlessly pounding me…” Blah, blah, blah.
EXTEND THE METAPHOR
I remember one letter written by a woman who’d had a quickie on the side of the highway. Driving back from holiday, she let a motorcycle overtake her; the biker thanked her by raising a foot, she replied by flashing her lights. They both stopped in a rest area, the guy took off his helmet, said “That’s a nice bodywork,” then they had sex in a bush. Now you understand why France is so often touted as the country of romance.
What I used to love about stories like that is that they were always ripe for an extension of the metaphor. So, something like "His steering wheel immediately got me started", or "He unloaded his oil in my engine." I know that might not sound particularly arousing to you, but imagine how turned on that's going to make the kind of guy who leaves comments on car websites. It's all about appealing to the niche, you see.
YOU ARE A TRENDSETTER, WRITE LIKE ONE
The main problem with the Union readers who submitted stories is that they adopt a style we’ll call “median”, directly inspired by what they’ve read in the pages of their favourite publication. I know I said to use as many tired cliches as possible, but there are only so many "wet snatches" and "shaved pussies" a reader can take before they completely divert their attention to the porn on the internet with sounds and moving pictures.
Change the lexical landscape by using an expression like "dripping slit" or "impeccable notch" and watch as those exact phrases reappear in letters you receive the following month. Also, campaign for the return of Amazonian pubic hair and the inversion of penetrative roles and they'll pop up as a "special report" in a mainstream women's magazine a couple of months later. That way you can tell yourself you're inspiring real journalists and bathe in a brief stream of self-satisfaction.
EMBELLISH THE DETAILS
Seriously, who’s going to check whether the protagonists actually drank a 1983 Saint-Émilion? Guess what’s better than morbid obesity: generous curves. And, in the middle of all the action, who can really say she definitely didn’t stick a finger in his butthole?
What I'm saying is, don’t hesitate to add a touch of sparkle to your readers' daily lives – they aren't going to hold a grudge against you. In fact, if anything, they're more likely to feel a strange pride while reading their rewritten text. It’s a mutually beneficial situation.
FIND A WAY TO INCLUDE THE CAMERA IN EVERY SITUATION
A lot of readers include pictures to illustrate their letters. However, they often forget to specify how those pictures were taken. Signifying the presence of a camera during the action is therefore an essential feature in rewriting letters.
You could latch it on at the end of a story – "Here are the pictures we took that day!" – or note somewhere that smartphones have made macro-vulva shots far easier to take, but there's not really any way to seamlessly insert the presence of a camera in the middle of whatever sex act you're writing about. I suppose that's not something to get too hung up on, though; in 15 minutes, you'll have forgotten that you just produced the worst literary discharge ever written anyway.
YOU ARE A DEMIURGE!
Remember: a reader has never complained about someone turning his wife into a petite bombshell or his hasty fumble with a manic-depressive in a supermarket loo into a sensual explosion of passion and bodily-juices.
When you start your work day at 3PM – chain-smoking, dressed in terrifying pyjamas and filling Word pages while half-watching Countdown – make sure to tell yourself that the world is yours and that for each word you write, there is a man somewhere in France screaming as he comes over your words on a piece of glossy paper. Stay tuned for our new series, Allez la France! set to premiere in the next couple of weeks on VICE.com. The first episode is about Union magazine, and its erotica DVDs!
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