If you’re a tattooed individual who enjoys some adult entertainment, you know Joanna Angel. A superstar of the alt-porn world and the mind behind heavily-inked porn site Burning Angel, Joanna is one of the sex industry’s most recognizable faces and minds. But while many of The Pit’s readers probably know her onscreen work, some might not be as familiar with her written output, which is now hitting bookshelves around the world, and which will undoubtedly offer some fans a side of Joanna they haven’t seen before.
“I want to write things that I wish I’d experienced, or could have experienced, or take an experience and make it more interesting than that actual experience was,” says Joanna. “If I want to write an autobiography, I’ll write an autobiography. So while a lot of the characters [I write] are based off of people I knew, none of them are exact — some of them are fictionalized versions of people I know, and some are just made up. Sometimes I’ll just be out and about and we’ll see people and make up stories, so some of them are maybe based on people I met once and made up my own story of what their entire life was like.”
Joanna’s latest, Club 42, is her second choose-your-own-adventure novel, and takes readers on a journey through a New York strip club and the sexual subculture’s surrounding it. While the book’s format might throw off your average supermarket romance reader (Will protagonist Naomi do another strip routine, or dominate a customer in a private room? Up to you!), there’s an unpredictability to it that feels in keeping with the author’s brand. Part of Joanna’s appeal is the volatile attitude that punk, goth, and metal bring to sex and sexuality — something which Angel holds close to her heart to this day.
“I grew up in the punk scene, and I don’t even know how much of that scene exists anymore, so it’s something that people around my age really experienced,” she says. “I was a huge Rocket From The Crypt fan. I went to all of their shows; every time they came to the East Coast I looked forward to it so much. And back in the day, anyone who had a Rocket From The Crypt tattoo got to skip the line and get in for free. Tattoos used to signify you were part of a subculture; now everybody has tattoos, so you don’t know. On the first date I went on with my now-husband, I thought, Is this guy just a handsome tattooed dude, or is he a real punk? Then he lifted up his pant leg, and I saw a Rocket From The Crypt tattoo, and I thought, Okay, now I can marry him. And I did!”
What inspired you to write Club 42 in a choose-your-own-adventure format?
I feel bad, I’m an honest person, I can’t go back and lie: it was my publishing company’s idea. I wanted to write a book, and they had seen some fiction I’d wrote already — I’d contributed to Asarotica, this anthology by [pornstar] Asa Akira, where a bunch of different adult film stars contributed a chapter — and they loved my chapter and asked if I was interested in writing a whole novel of fiction. And I of course said yes! I got really excited, and a couple of days later the managing editor got back to me and asked if I’d be interested in tackling one in this format. And I said yes! It was not something that I envisioned, and it was something that really stressed me out and overwhelmed me at first. But now, I’ve done it twice! I actually don’t know what it’s like to write a book that isn’t choose your own adventure! I think it’s a really fun format for erotica. It’s almost like people used to do with porn DVDs — if you liked a certain thing, you could search for it and find that thing.
How much of this story did you already have mapped out in your head before you started writing?
I didn’t really have this idea, aside from the fact that I worked at a strip club and have been to lots of strip clubs. I didn’t really think about anyone or start to sketch it out until the book was assigned to me, but after that then I just started sketching the characters. Many of these characters didn’t even come to me until I started writing the book. That’s happened to me both times — I started with a really detailed outline that I threw out the window when I started writing, because things just came to me. I had some vague ideas, but nothing specific. I actually used a really strict outline for my first book [2018’s Night Shift], and this one, at a certain point, I just had to start writing the book!
Did you ever have to reel yourself back in while writing from Naomi’s point of view, to inject her surprise about something sexual that’s old hat for you?
Oh, yeah, because a lot of things to me in the sex industry are kind of common sense. It was very important for me, for outside readers to understand what it’s like in the sex industry. I try to do that all the time. I really don’t like the stereotypes that exist. There are the old stereotypes that I don’t even care about anymore because they’re so far off from the truth, and they’re just from people who hate the industry. I don’t really think it’s my job to correct them, because they’re never going to want to learn anyway. But there’s just a lot of misinformation — which makes sense, because porn is a weird, taboo industry, and there’s not a lot of accurate literature about it.
Also, everyone’s experience in porn, or stripping, or escorting, or the sex industry, is different, which I think a lot of people don’t understand. Just because you read something on one girl’s Twitter about how she felt a certain way about a certain thing doesn’t mean that’s how it is for everyone, or that it happened to more than one person. I wanted to really understand what it’s like through the eyes of someone going through it themselves. I’d have to go back and say, Oh, most readers don’t know what this means. To me, it felt like I was being redundant, but it’s not — it’s informative.
You get Naomi’s inexperience across really well, especially in less traditional sex scenes, like the BDSM scenes.
I had a lot fo fun writing the BDSM. That was even different for me, because writing regular erotica — whatever regular erotica is — is much different from writing BDSM erotica. The sensations are different, the sexual acts are different, and while I have experienced probably more BDSM than your average person, I wouldn’t say I’m as experienced as some of these lifestyle people. So I took a break from writing and read some BDSM erotica, and talked to some of my friends who are more full-time lifestyle people. I have to admit, every time I’ve done BDSM is at work. And that doesn’t mean I don’t love it, or I don’t get excited about it, but while I’ve been to some play parties, I’ve always been the one on the side, watching. I really wanted to get the real experience of it, and I took it seriously and wanted to do it justice, because if there’s anything that I know about the BDSM community, it’s that it’s very serious! I actually had a few people in the community read it over to make sure I was right.
Did you have to do that throughout the book, or specifically for BDSM?
With a lot of it, because I wanted to get it right. There’s a part later in the book where Naomi has a fling with a trans woman, and while I’ve had sex now with many many trans women on and off camera at this point, I wanted to have a trans woman read it over just to make sure I used all the right words. When I’m having sex with someone, I’m not explaining it, I’m just doing it. So I wanted to make sure from a trans woman’s point of view that I was using the right pronouns, adjectives…I didn’t know how to refer to their penis! I didn’t know that in erotica, you call it a girl cock!
That’s interesting — in my mind, you’re an expert, and would have a been-there-done-that attitude.
Yeah, there was still stuff for me to learn. In erotica, you’re really describing every single thing that’s happening. That’s not what happens on a film set — you’re living through it!
Let’s say I wanted to start writing erotica professionally. What advice could you give me?
The sex will write itself, if that makes any sense. I do the same thing with a porn movie — when I think of a porn movie with a plot, I need a good story. Writing the sex is sort of the least-challenging part of writing erotica. Once you have these two characters — or three, or four! — that are engaged and intertwined and have a story together, by the time you get to the part where they start fucking, you know what to do. And all those other things can be changed — if you think you’re being too repetitive with words and adjectives, you can change those later. But a good story has to come from within you. You’ve got to think of a compelling story with sexy people who you want to see fuck.
And it needs to be interesting, that’s another part. I face that making porn, and I face that making erotica. You don’t want to do something that’s been done a million times. And the reason some things have been done a million times is that they’re the most obvious things. That’s what I think the difference is between some erotica and others. Some erotica is more to the point — it’s just meant to masturbate to. The characters are not very well-developed, it’s just very descriptive sex. But I like story, and I think a good story is really important. And that’s why I was excited to be part of Cleis Press — because they are a real publishing company. They value stories.
That’s interesting — sometimes, really good sex has no story behind it at all.
Definitely. Not to stereotype, but more women than men read erotica, from what I understand, and women love the build-up. It’s almost like the story is the foreplay. You already know these people are going to have sex, so you need to make the reader excited, put them on the edge of their seat.
So, since we’re a metal site, I have some non-book-related music questions…
It’s cool to be on here! It’s been really rad to be on so many metal sites. And I was shocked — I didn’t think so many metal people would care about my book! When you think of erotica, you think of a housewife, not a guy in a Slayer shirt! It’s very exciting to me!
I was wondering: is there a type of music fan you associate with great sex? Or, on the other side, is there a type of fan you’re in no way attracted to? Like, I will never bang another cybergoth ever again?
Music to me has always been very important in my personal life…and nothing is more of a turn-off for my off-camera life than somebody whose favorite band is Sublime, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers. That’s very…not okay. Nothing is more of a turn-off. Though the only pass is if you’re from Europe, because their music scene is different.
Now that I think about it, there is something about a German Sublime-style hippie that’s special.
Yes! If you’re from Europe, you can listen to a whole other set of things.
It’s cool that even this far into your career, you’re keeping East Coast punk attitude alive.
My biggest trigger — you can call me ugly, you can call me fat, you can call me a whore and I don’t care. I’m made of steel. But if you call me a poser, I will cry. That is not okay! I will sit there and prove to you I’m not! If you were a poser, we could not be your friend!
Joanna Angel’s Club 42 is out now via Cleis Press and available for purchase.
Words by Chris Krovatin