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 Aaron Travis
gave this interview, about the origins of his interest in erotic writing, to Roger Gathman of THE AUSTIN CHRONICLE in August, 2000. (To read the entire article, “Dirty Words: Investigating the Collective Gestalt of Erotica,” click here.)

 I grew up in a world where there was a real hangover from the repression of the Fifties. I remember my mother being appalled when she found out I was reading Robert Heinlein’s STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND. That book was popular in the Sixties. It isn’t a dirty book, but it has this messiah-like figure who preaches free love. Well, she didn’t take the book away from me, but I can remember her doing the strangest thing. She read the book, too, and I remember, she’d sit there and read 50 pages of the book, and then she’d tear those pages out of the book and throw them away. She went through the whole book like that.

I started reading hardcore porn at 16, as soon as I found out it existed. I’d go to this place called the Commerce Newsstand in downtown Dallas. They would stock eight straight books to two gay books. This was back when the books didn’t have any pictures on the covers, just the title, so you would go by the name. You knew if it was, like, PRETTY BOYS MUST DIE, it was gay. This was back in 1972.

Then I went to UT [the University of Texas at Austin]. That was before there were gay magazines. I mean gay porn magazines. All the gays used to read AFTER DARK magazine — it was this entertainment magazine, but it always had these pictures of half-nude men who were all aspiring actors or dancers. I remember the premiere issue of BLUEBOY, because I had this very queeny classmate, and he got an announcement about it in the mail. And he wanted to know how they got his name. He probably subscribed to AFTER DARK, thinking about it now.

There were some adult bookstores in Austin that I’d go to. There used to be one downtown on Sixth Street, Mr. Peepers. It was huge, it had two floors, and you went in through the curtains into the quarter arcade, and it was wildly popular — all the businessmen would go there for lunch, and everybody would fuck in the booths.

The way I started writing was...everybody says, “Write what you know.” And you know, I wasn’t reading THE NEW YORKER, I was reading DRUMMER magazine. It was a leather S&M magazine, one of the first. At the time, it was very print-oriented. John Preston started there. He serialized MR. BENSON there. I sent them stories, and that was where I was first published, under the name Aaron Travis — Travis for Travis County [where Austin is located]. Then I went out to San Francisco with my lover, and I got a job editing the magazine.

What I like about writing porn is that, literally, you are attempting to create a physical response to a reader you don’t know, some reader on the other side of the country, perhaps. You are trying to cause an erection and an orgasm, which is unique. Porn is treated like hack work because it doesn’t pay well, but I would write a story over and over, and try to get it right. It’s like music, trying to get the notes right. You see a lot of bad porn, which tends to drag down the good stuff. But there is good stuff.

We had taboos. No Nazis, for one. DRUMMER once got in trouble because it ran some photo spread with Nazi regalia, and it got an overwhelmingly bad response. And bestiality was a taboo, for legal reasons. This was back when [Reagan’s attorney General Edwin] Meese had put a lot of fear into the community. The actual level of writing was higher then.

As to erotica in general, a lot of it opened up when Anne Rice published her A.N. Roquelaire novels. Her gay editor at Dutton, Bill Whitehead, let her publish three novels that are hardcore pornography, as mainstream fiction. To all of us in the smut industry at the time, this was just mindblowing. Now you see erotica sections in all the bookstores. Society’s become so fragmented now — everything has opened up in my lifetime — that there isn’t a canon anymore. That’s a good thing. It allows freedom.