My Brief Career Writing Porn Novels for Greenleaf Classics
It’s a dirty story
of a dirty man
— “Paperback Writer,” 1966 (Lennon-McCartney)
I started my writing career in the early 70s, writing primarily fiction—pseudonymous and anonymous two-cents-a-word stuff. Mostly, I wrote porn novels, but also short stories for the women’s romance/confession mags—“My Husband Ran Off with the Babysitter”—that sort of stuff, and occasionally short stories for the cheapo men’s mags.
In the men’s market, the top payers were Playboy and Esquire, but I’d already gotten so many rejection slips from them, I figured they were a lost cause and not worth the postage. A few steps down on the pay scale was Cavalier, then, in no particular order, mags like Escapade, Man-to-Man, Adam, Mr., Gent, Sir, and a bunch of others. Penthouse and Hustler didn’t exist yet. It was hack, formulaic writing, but I would write anything that paid back then, anything that would enable me to support my kids without actually getting a job.
I was married with two kids, living in San Diego and working the graveyard shift as a postal clerk when I first started writing for the pulp markets. Shortly after the checks from publishers started rolling in, I quit the p.o. job and we moved our family back up to Berkeley. That turned out to be a good move because I also found freelance work writing for U.C. students—book reports, term papers, whatever. My wife and I got into writing this stuff together. There was a storefront operation on Bancroft, right across from the campus, that hawked papers for UC students. I’d get assignments from them.
Another operation in the same neighborhood pedaled class notes. I’d attend classes they assigned, take notes on what was covered, type ’em up, and they’d sell the notes to students who were skipping out on their classes. It always struck me as crazy that there were students who paid money to attend college, then skipped out on their classes, but paid me to go to their classes and write their papers. Of course, they’d get a diploma while all I got was a weird variety-pack education and a few bucks. The pay was not good—maybe fifteen-twenty bucks for class notes, a bit more for papers. But it was definitely worth it to me at the time. I suspect this was going on at most campuses back then. Now, I think this biz has moved online.
In fact, it was the porn and confessions that paid the rent. The stuff for students was just tax-free pocket change, as these places paid in cash, on the spot.
The “confessions” were pulp women’s magazines—True Confessions, True Story, True Romance (those were the most popular and best paying)—the female equivalent of porn for men. These top mags paid five cents a word. I was writing for the cheaper ones, the two-centers. There were dozens of knockoffs on the magazine racks. Their titles all had some combination of the words: True, Real, Inside, Love, Confidential, Stories, Romance, Confessions, Secrets… Lots of wannabe authors used to start out writing for these types of publications. In the writers’ mags, the pulps were recommended as a place for new writers to start and hone their craft.
I was actually terrible at writing confessions and romance stories at first. My wife laughed her ass off at my early attempts. She had to fix everything I wrote. Likewise, her porn needed a lot of work. (Though later, I realized her porn may have been better than mine. She was superior at the actual craft of writing and I was often in awe of the “serious” writing she did, which she never submitted for publication anywhere, as she was never satisfied with it. But there’s a pretty good chance I ruined some of the greatest female erotica ever written when I edited her porn work. I guess that’s something I have to live with.)
Male Sex Porn vs Female Love Porn
It was strangely educational writing for the men’s and women’s pulp markets simultaneously. The contrasts were glaring. The publishers would send writers their formula sheets that described the types of stories they wanted and it was pretty funny to compare the typical blue-collar male sex fantasies to the typical blue-collar female love fantasies. Throughout this period, my wife and I had a running dialogue about the male/female disconnect.
In hack writing, the formulas are strict. The porn novels had to be twelve chapters, 40,000 words, and one of the main criteria was what the industry called “flip strength.” The way it was described to me by my agent was that a typical guy who was into this stuff would stand at the paperback rack in an adult bookstore and start flipping through the books. The best sellers were the books that had hardcore sex happening on any page he flipped to. This criterion puts a lot of constraints on the writer. You can’t waste much verbiage on irrelevant things like character development, storyline, plot—you’re pretty much writing one sex scene after another for a readership with no interest in foreplay.
My “agent” was assigned to me by Greenleaf Classics after I’d submitted my first manuscript to them, and before I understood anything about the acceptable formulas. He was my agent for Greenleaf only, and didn’t handle the confessions or even the porn novels I was writing for Beeline or any of the other NY porn publishers. Greenleaf was one of the biggest publishers of adult novels back then and they paid the best.
It was easy to write any of the hack crap once you got the formulas down, though the men’s stuff was definitely easier for me. I wrote one novel by plagiarizing another book, just rearranging the chapters and changing the characters’ names. It ended up taking me longer to do that than just churn it out of my own head. I tried to have fun. I was always trying to inject humor into the stories. I wrote one book where a female trapeze artist in a circus had a steamy love affair with a monkey. But I also got letters from my agent complaining about my jokes. One manuscript was returned to me because after the editor had blue-lined all the “funny stuff” for deletion, the word count was only half the required length.
The formulas for the women’s confession/romance mags were just as strict. They were always told first person, and always presented as if they were true stories, with the narrator/ protagonist just about always female. None of the stories had bylines. Whereas in the porn novels, characters could be rich or have exciting, adventurous jobs, this was not allowed in the confessions, or at least not the low-end ones I was writing for. I didn’t even think about putting jokes into these stories. The female protagonist was just a regular girl living in a typical nothing-special neighborhood. She’d made some mistakes in life, but she was basically innocent, a good-hearted person, pretty naïve. She really just wanted love and happiness, but there were terrible obstacles to overcome, often because of those innocent mistakes she’d made, perhaps trusting the wrong person—she’d been victimized in some way, but she would fight her way through it. Her ideal guy would be the strong, silent type, loyal and true, a family guy who could take care of her.
One glaring difference between the porn novels and the confessions was that it seemed that the women who read the confession mags believed the stories to be true. Letters to the Editors in these mags often contained advice (or condolences, or congratulations, or scolding, or whatever) from readers who seemed to think the story tellers were actual women confessing things that had really happened to them. It occurred to me that the Letters to the Editor might also be written by hack writers on staff. But still, I never tried to inject humor into these stories. They were obviously supposed to be real and heartfelt.
Nobody could read a porn novel and think it had anything to do with reality. As a writer, it seemed to me that any scene that went on for 8 to 10 pages, sticky and messy from start to finish, was just begging to have a joke or two tossed in. When my manuscripts were published, Greenleaf (or my agent) would always send me a couple copies of each book. They always changed the titles I’d provided for the novels and they spelled my pseudonym different ways (depending on their mood, I guess). Not that I gave a shit. But I was always disappointed when I skimmed through the books. Every joke was gone and new dirty lines were added willy-nilly (with no sensitivity to style or rhythm) just to pump up the flip strength. My books looked just like all the rest of them.
There was one popular genre of porn novel called “degs,” (“deg” from “degradation”) where the exact same type of female (innocent/naïve) that was the common heroine in the women’s mags would find herself used and abused by one or more male characters—not really raped but sexually degraded, until she realized by the last chapter that her true nature, what really fulfilled her, was to be a total slut. She found happiness by allowing men constant access to her orifices, grateful, of course (My savior!), to the horndog(s) who’d shown her the way. I wish I still had the formula sheets and personal letters with advice and instructions from my agent. Until I started writing porn, I was naive and innocent!
I used to imagine a guy reading one of these degs while his wife was reading a romance mag, and I’d wonder how they ever communicated with each other, how they ever got together in the first place.
The writing itself was a drag, but I felt it was better than working a job. I really hated punching a time clock. I didn’t want to work. I wanted to write. And even when writing stuff I disdained, I could do it at home in my living room with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, on my own time schedule. I produced nothing I was proud of, nothing I’d want to show to my friends, other than as a joke: Can you believe I’m getting paid to write this stuff? The fact is, at the time, I was a pot-smokin’, LSD-trippin’, sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll hippie. I couldn’t relate at all to the characters and stories I was creating for either the male or female market. “Hip” was not an option in any of the formula sheets. Nothing I was being paid to write was anything I’d ever read myself. I was reading Herman Hesse, Ken Kesey, Aldous Huxley. I was a literary snob.
By immersing myself so deeply into the bottom end of the male and female middle-American fantasy worlds, I started seeing variations on the stock formulas everywhere—mainstream Hollywood movies, TV dramas, other novels. It got so I was categorizing films as “boy movies” or “girl movies” within minutes of the opening scenes. Subtle variations of these formulas are common in westerns, sci-fi films, romantic comedies, war movies, shoot’em-ups, spy thrillers.
Some of the most successful films manage to satisfy both the male and female fantasies simultaneously. I first noticed this in the 1971 Jane Fonda film, Klute, where Donald Sutherland was the strong, emotionally reserved savior (a cop) and Fonda plays a prostitute (slut) who is also presented as naïve and innocent. A similar film some twenty years later was Pretty Woman (1990), where Julia Roberts was the innocent slut and Richard Gere was the strong, emotionally detached savior (millionaire). And Paul Bowles’ 1949 novel, The Sheltering Sky is a high-end literary version of the deg, as is the 1990 film based on the novel. Both men and women find these fantasies compelling.
I also wrote porn novels for a couple of New York publishers, under different pseudonyms, primarily because Greenleaf took so long getting back to me on submissions. I needed other outlets. The confessions were even slower to deal with. It would be 4-8 weeks from the time I submitted a manuscript until I got either an acceptance or a rejection. And if accepted, it would be another 2-3 months until I got a check in the mail. All of these mags paid “on publication,” with no advance. I suspect most hacks back then wrote for numerous outlets, because publishers were so slow to respond and pay. You could only submit one manuscript at a time to any one publisher. As soon as I’d get one thing submitted, I’d start on the next. Otherwise, I’d starve.
My Ultimate Porn Novel for Greenleaf Classics
Unfortunately, the owners of Greenleaf Classics were convicted of publishing obscene material by the feds in 1974. They went to prison. They were convicted, not for their pornography, but for their politics. They published an illustrated edition of the Presidential Commission Report on Obscenity and Pornography. The commission had been appointed by Nixon to study the social consequences of pornography on society. They came to the conclusion that pornography appeared to have positive social consequences. In places where pornography was more widely available, there were fewer reported rapes, less child molestation, fewer out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies, a lower rate of divorce…
The commission recommended that the U.S. laws against pornography be rescinded. Nixon hated the report and denounced it, but Greenleaf Classics had the right to publish it in full since it was an official government document. Government reports, other than for classified material, are in the public domain. What really pissed off Nixon was that Greenleaf photo-illustrated it—basically going for visual flip strength, since a lot of the report was pretty dry reading. Since the report covered every type of fetish and perversion, it went quite a bit further than your normal hardcore fuck book. It was pretty damn extreme. I admired Greenleaf for having the guts to publish the report like that, and the conviction of the publishers was a gross violation of freedom of speech, but the real reason I hated to see Greenleaf shut down was because they paid better than any of the New York smut peddlers I was writing for.
What really irked me about the timing of this disaster, however, was that I had just finished writing a manuscript I was about to send to Greenleaf, and this was one I would have been proud to show my friends. I thought there was a good chance my new ploy to get humor past the editors might work. The manuscript mostly consisted of typical porn scenes, no jokes, no funny business, except for the fact that I never referred to any of the male or female body parts by the same name more than once. I’d collected lists of slang terms for penis, vagina, breasts and buttocks—and there were hundreds of terms for all of these—and after writing all the scenes, I went back over the manuscript page by page, checking words off the list as I inserted them (longhand) where applicable. When I took it out the next day to give it a quick read-through before typing it (writing was a real pain in the ass before computers with word processing programs), it was literally impossible for me to read a page without cracking up. A typical sentence might be something like: “He got a good grip on her hefty gazongas, as he thrust his turgid meat spear into her steaming hair tunnel.”
DISCLAIMER: My attorney has advised me to stipulate that the above sample sentence in no way represents the views or opinions of the write-aholic blog, the write-aholic board of directors, the write-aholic staff, nor any of the write-aholic investors, shareholders, or affiliates. In addition, I must stipulate (and a notarized document to this effect is on file with the State Attorney General’s Office) that when writing the words “hefty gazongas” and “steaming hair tunnel,” I am using these phrases only in the nonsexist sense.
When Greenleaf went belly-up after the obscenity conviction, I went from writing pulp fiction back to working at the post office. The publishing company was eventually sold to new investors and pretty quickly Greenleaf started publishing more of the same—no legal problems with the hardcore porn, different owners, no politics—but I’d had enough. Hack writing at the low end is a learning experience for sure, but it’s a pretty depressing way to scrape by in life, considering the minuscule paychecks. After spending three years writing pulp fiction, I wanted my brain back.
Years later, I learned that Greenleaf Classics had been the original U.S. publisher of Terry Southern’s Candy—published under the pseudonym of Maxwell Kenton in 1958. As Candy was a novel I loved, and one that was nothing but humor, I realized that Greenleaf was not opposed to publishing humorous erotica. To me, this meant one thing: the jokes I wrote in those manuscripts I submitted to them weren’t funny. Or, at least, the editors didn’t think so. I was submitting bad sex scenes, culminating in even worse jokes. I know I had fewer skills as a writer in my early twenties. But I could spell. I didn’t make many grammatical errors. And like all young men at that time, my sense of humor had been honed to a rapier-sharp edge by years of watching the Three Stooges…
What happened to the infamous “meat spear” manuscript? Shortly after my agent had kissed me off with the death of Greenleaf, I sent the manuscript to a NY publisher—one I hadn’t dealt with before, but that had books on a rack in a San Fran smut shop—and, despite having included a postage paid return envelope, I never heard back from them. Assuming it was ever published, and published as it was submitted, it was the one porn novel I wrote I would love to have gotten a copy of. I kept a photocopy of the manuscript for years, but lost it in a house fire in 1991.
[Editor’s Note: Arnold Snyder wrote for Greenleaf Classics under the name Lance Elliott (also spelled Elliot or Eliott on some of his titles, depending on his Greenleaf editor’s mood). The novels were published in Greenleaf’s Carnival Adult Library, Adult Books, and other imprints between 1971 and 1973.
His titles included More than a Father, Hot Loins on Ice, Her Classified Friends, Daddy’s Little Daughter, Reluctant Coed, and Make Me Come Daddy (disclaimer: subject matter was assigned by Greenleaf).
Reluctant Coed, Her Classified Friends, Daddy’s Little Daughter, and More than a Father are included in the Stanley Fleishman First Amendment Research Collection at UCLA.]
You May Also Be Interested In
Finding God on LSD (A Short Story about Schizophrenia) is a story about dropping acid in the ’60s with a beautiful young schizophrenic.
Frank and Rudy Camping Out is a story about childhood and violence.
And I’m publishing a series of short novels here at Write-aholic called Smut4Nerds. I’m returning to the smut I wrote for Greenleaf Classics (described above), but this time on my own terms.