Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Interview: Rachel Kramer Bussel, "The Lusty Lady"

She's funny, smart, sexy and a helluva good writer - this quadruple threat is New York's own Lusty Lady, Rachel Kramer Bussel. A former sex columnist for the Village Voice, Rachel is probably the best-known authority on New York's naughty scene. She not only writes prolifically on everyone's favorite hobby, but she also interviews creative people and hosts readings series for new writers to present their work. Best of all, she shares Mr NYC's deep abiding passion for cupcakes. Rachel was kind enough to answer some of Mr NYC's questions.

1. How did you come to be a sex writer in NYC and is it as glamorous as on "Sex and the City"?

Well, I can definitely say my life is nowhere near as glamorous as
Sex and the City, and that’s perfectly fine with me. Not only don’t I get to lounge around like Carrie, but I am nowhere near as wealthy as her.

I moved to New York in 1996 to go to NYU Law School. I was 20 and really thought that’s where my interests lay, but I didn’t know much about the day-to-day of being a lawyer, and once I figured that out, I wasn’t too impressed. I wound up quitting and working various temp/day jobs for a few years, freelancing here and there reviewing books or writing essays. I got asked to work on a few projects and slowly built up my writing resume, and then in March 2004 took a full-time job as Senior Editor at Penthouse Variations, then in October 2004 started writing the Lusty Lady column for The Village Voice. Along the way I also began editing erotica anthologies and by the end of next year will have more than 20 of them!

2. While always a fun subject, how do you keep writing about sex without it getting repetitive or (perish the thought) boring?

I would say that for me writing about sex doesn’t get boring because sex (so far) hasn’t been boring. I think if you’re only writing about the mechanics of sex, the in and out, so to speak, that can get old quickly, but there are so many nuances and I think everyone approaches it differently. By that I mean both how they conduct their sex and dating life and what they want out of sex, how they prioritize it, what turns them on. I’m such a voyeur and I love hearing about what other people are up to.

I really like the fact that, while I am not an expert in any way, I’m someone that my friends can talk to about things they might not have anyone else to ask. I was at dinner with a friend the other day and she looked around and then lowered her head and whispered, “I was told I have to ask you about this. Have you heard of this thing called ‘squirting?’” Her boyfriend wanted her to squirt (female ejaculate) and she was freaked out by it and we discussed it and I assured her that it wasn’t weird but also wasn’t mandatory. Then I sent her a copy of my friend Violet Blue’s book The Smart Girl’s Guide to the G-Spot.

I think sex, as a topic or an act, can get boring, but there are so many ways we can make it interesting that so far I haven’t run out of things to say. But another way I keep it interesting for me is to write about other topics, like books and pop culture and events, so that when I go back to writing about sex, I’m not rolling my eyes.

3. Tell us about your "In the Flesh Reading Series" and your love of cupcakes.

I started In The Flesh in October 2005, and it got off to a kind of rocky start. We had pretty small crowds, but the good thing about Happy Ending Lounge (well, one of them!) is that even small crowds fill up the cozy bar well. Then a few months in things took a turn and we’ve been pretty packed. Basically, each month I have erotica writers come and read their steamiest work. I also sometimes do special nights, like True Sex Confessions Night (that’s coming up November 15th, but first we’ve got Virgin Night on October 18th, featuring first-time readers and authors). It’s sexy, but there’s always humor. I love looking at the crowd and seeing them laugh or hang on an author’s words.

It’s really made me appreciate that writing doesn’t just happen on the page. Having to read my work in front of people month after month also makes me notice things in my stories I wouldn’t have otherwise, both good and bad. It makes writing a little more social for me than it would be otherwise. Oh, and because I’m secretly a total Jewish mother, I like to feed people, so I always give out candy and mini cupcakes and brownies. I just think that’s a fun little extra and people seem to enjoy it.

As for cupcakes, well, they’ve just sort of taken over my life. I started my blog Cupcakes Take the Cake in December 2004, and the interest in cupcakes has only risen since. Pretty much, they’re everywhere, and a New York State Assemblyman has even introduced a bill to make them the official New York State children’s snack and keep them from being banned! They are just so fun and I adore seeing what creative ways people have come up with to decorate them. There are bakeries sprouting up all over and I really love that I’ve become this cupcake authority and can rattle off the names of bakeries all over the country (and even internationally). What’s funny is that I don’t eat cupcakes all that often, maybe once or twice a month, and am not much of a baker myself - I leave that to my fellow cupcake blogger Allison. But finding out as much as I can about the world of cupcakes is something I’m happy to do. I look at photos of cupcakes every single day and by now can’t imagine my life without the blog.

4. What other things do you like writing about and what are your aspirations for the future?

I write about whatever catches my eye, really. I’ve interviewed dozens of authors, performers, artists, and other creative, interesting people, for Gothamist.com, Memoirville.com, and other sites. I cover the publishing industry for Mediabistro, where I get to interview editors and literary agents, and it’s really fun because I get to bond with other book nerds. I also interview bakery owners and fellow cupcake fans on Cupcakes Take the Cake and I love that because for so many of these people, their bakery is their first business and they’re so excited, and learning about their cupcake innovations and plans is fascinating. Someday I’d love to do a cupcake tour of the country and visit these people I’ve only corresponded with.

The future…I don’t really know what the future holds. I definitely want to continue editing erotica books and writing longer work, and eventually a non-fiction book about sexual politics. I’d love to do some talking head spots on TV. But mostly I look forward to being a mom in the next…let’s say five years. I don’t have a plan yet on how that’s going to happen, but I’m working on it. I’d ideally like to be making a living writing from home and taking care of my kids.

5. How do people react when you tell them you're a sex writer and how has it affected your personal life?

I think it depends on the person. For the most part, people are intrigued and want to know more about my career path, but in a respectful way. Sometimes I just say I’m a “writer” because I don’t want to get into a whole big discussion about it that could be potentially awkward. I think how I come across in person and the explicit nature of a lot of my writing is a bit at odds; I don’t tend to talk about sex or my personal life, and sometimes am the one shushing my friends for doing so. One friend of mine jokingly calls me a prude cause he always manages to make me blush!

There have definitely been people I’ve dated who were freaked out by the fact that I write about my personal life, but it’s not the type of situation where the minute I get home from a date or am done having sex, I’m racing to my laptop. For me, it’s more the people and situations that linger on my mind that make me want to write about them because they’ve had an impact on me that goes beyond the moment.

The people who I really connect with the most in my personal life are the ones who get that as much of a workaholic as I can be, I have a lot more going on that just being some girl with naked pictures of herself on the Internet. The phrase “sex writer,” when said in a judgmental way, is an easy and lazy way to categorize me. I can be a vamp and an exhibitionist, but I’m not in this for the sensationalism, and I’ve learned to let go of the people who only want to see that side.

6. Tell us what you love about NYC and does the city make you a better writer?

Wow. What don’t I love about NYC? (L train delays.) I really feel like this is my home and always will be. I love the energy and the people and the fact that there is just so much going on here. There’s always something new to discover, and I love that in a given month I can play trivia, eat cupcakes with strangers, go to comedy shows, work out, and whatever else comes along. You can never get bored in this city and I’m constantly discovering new scenes and things to do. In the past year, I’ve become friends with a whole bunch of comics artists like Dan Goldman, Molly Crabapple, Nikki Cook, and I love that even though I don’t have an artistic bone in my body, they’ve welcomed me wholeheartedly into their crowd and I get to explore this new world and learn all about it. I love having such a creative group of friends, so I can go to a bookstore and see their work up on the shelves.

The city definitely makes me a better writer because there’s so much to look at and absorb. I go to one party and meet someone who sparks an idea that sets me off. Walking across the Williamsburg Bridge, which I don’t do often enough, is often the catalyst for all kinds of ideas. That’s my little oasis from the noise and stress of the city.

Thanks Rachel!

Make sure to check out Rachel's website and Lusty Lady blog.


  1. Cupcakes and Sex !? I love it, its GENIUS! wow, sex nights where authors read, imagine those people hinged at every word, and how every word stimulates the mind.
    that is profoundly invigorating to the soul, people should try that more that one night stands, its so much more meaningful and you actually learn something!

    Astoria Chick

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