When publishing maven Chiki Sarkar approached Sunny Leone, it was with a proposition: Would she consider writing short stories for the newly launched publishing house Juggernaut? Sunny, who says the last time she wrote anything was for her college English class, was immediately interested.
Juggernaut provided the subject (erotic fiction), and the format (12 short stories, 2,000 words each) and the platform (the Juggernaut app, on which the stories would be released each night at 10 pm). Sunny provided the words, the stories.
Collectively titled Sweet Dreams, the stories are available for download from 22 April. Before the launch, Sunny sat down for a chat with Firstpost about her newest role — that of a writer, the “bedtime” stories she’s penned, and the conversations she wishes people would have about sex. Excerpts…
You mentioned that you’d never written before (Sweet Dreams). Did you never keep a diary or journal?
I always loved the idea and I’m very envious of people who actually keep a diary. ( I didn’t) It might be because one time my mother read my diary. So it was a subconscious, traumatising moment! The worst was when she started quoted from the diary, in the midst of an argument! When I was younger, I wrote (a diary) for a little while. It might have gone in the trash!
What was the process of writing the stories for Sweet Dreams like?
Juggernaut gave me certain subjects, and there were a couple that I suggested. A really good friend in the US went through everything I wrote, marking the stories like a school teacher! The first story in the collection — Seat 7E — was difficult. I was trying to figure out a style, how to write the story…
As a woman, I like a lot of details about the characters. I’m more attracted to the description of a man or woman’s body than explicit (acts). If it’s a male character, I’d rather know about his broad shoulders, or his strong hands — because that’s what women fantasise about, having a guy who can hold you properly. So those were things I wanted to touch on in my stories, as well as certain physical and emotional responses: the butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands. Those are the details I enjoy when I’m reading.
Also, I wanted to write the stories in a way that, if a woman from outside the big, metropolitan cities of India, who had downloaded the app, I wouldn’t want her to switch off the screen because it was too uncomfortable for her to read. Or make her feel queasy.
We talk about the “male gaze” when it comes to how sex is depicted on screen. But erotic fiction is generally believed to be geared towards women. Do you think women are drawn more to literary descriptions of sex?
I think one of the most powerful things in anybody’s body is their mind — that’s one of the strongest sexual organs in your body. Women in general like the idea of a developed character. So if there is a man, then they may want to read about how strong he is, what his background is, how he respects women. When a woman is sitting and reading, she is using her mind to recreate what is being described. I remember when I was reading 50 Shades of Grey on the sets of Jism 2, I would be giggling away! Also, when it comes to intimacy, women hold that closer to their hearts. Women are more emotional.
On the subject of 50 Shades… it wasn’t that erotic fiction wasn’t popular before, or that there weren’t women writers who were incredibly successful. But El James blew it out of the water…what are your thoughts on the 50 Shades phenomenon?
50 Shades made it socially acceptable to read erotic fiction. If someone asked you what you were reading, you could say "50 Shades of Grey", and it wouldn’t be a scandal! I found that really interesting. I was surprised when I walked into Mumbai airport and I saw the book displayed there. I wondered if it was a censored version, but it was exactly the way it was written everywhere else, proudly displayed on all the shelves.
What do you like to read? Who are the writers in the erotic fiction genre or otherwise that you enjoy?
I don’t read a lot of erotica. Among the books I love is Jephte’s Daughter which is about a Hasidic Jewish family where the daughter has an arranged marriage, how she deals with her husband’s family, how she goes though these trials and tribulations but comes out on top. It reminded me in a way of how things are in Indian culture, where a woman goes into another family after she’s married… so that’s one of the reasons I like the book.
I don’t read in one genre, my reading is all over the place. A book that I continuously read is about Valdimir the Impaler. It traces his history, who he was, his family… I like reading a lot of biographies, getting a glimpse into people’s lives. I loved the Girl with the Dragon Tattooseries! Especially books two and three that really got into why Lisbeth Salander was the way she was.
Are you a history buff? Because you mentioned Vladimir the Implaer...
[Laughs] I like people who are just — a little screwed up… I want to know why. So I wouldn’t say I am a history buff, but I’m very interested in what this person went through (Vlad), why he became ‘Count Dracula’. He did all this crazy stuff, but in those times, that is what he had to do to stay powerful. I’m attracted to the idea of people and their crazy world, whether it’s in fiction or non-fiction.
As a writer, what other genres would you like to explore?
I haven’t really thought about it. I’m really interested in how the stories in Sweet Dreams do. I’ve never really thought of wanting to write a book. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer. Sure I always had stories in mind. But they are stories that I’d like to see turned into a movie. When Daniel (Weber, Sunny’s husband) was reading through the final drafts (of some of the stories in Sweet Dreams), he would say, ‘I really think we should make this into a movie’. So we’ve thought about it and talked about it. But, who knows?
Does being an actress help in writing? Do you inhabit your characters when writing about them?
I visualise them for sure. For instance, in the story Cinema Hall where a young boy fantasises about this girl and wants to make love to her, I would visualise that — not as the male character — but the scene itself. Visuale the river where he fantasises about making love to her...
But I’ve always been like that. Growing up, I would read a little slower because I was always picturing this movie in my head. That’s why I loved reading stories growing up.
What are the kinds of conversations you’d like people to have around sex?
There should be conversations about being protected, knowing who you’re with. Maybe a lot of young people didn’t get education in this subject. The idea of protection is really important, and not just to prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also STDs. There are so many children in orphanages because parents can’t afford to take care of them. It’s very saddening.
One thing that’s being said about your stories is that all the women in it are the sexual equals of men. And that’s very important because not a lot of conversations about sex are framed around the woman’s consent. Was that important to you?
It’s okay for women to make the first move. It shouldn’t be a big deal if there are two consenting adults. Maybe the guy likes the idea of a woman taking the sexual initiative! Then there are women who like the man to be the sexual aggressor. Everyone is different. Even with the stories that are from the man’s point of view, I made sure that he sought the woman’s consent. It’s not that he wants to sleep with her — but she doesn’t.
It’s important to show sexual equality between the genders. Sex is a beautiful thing. It shouldn’t be picturised as something horrible or nasty or one-sided.
What do you want readers to take away from your stories?
I just want readers to not hate them! [laughs] And if you do, don’t tell me about it!
Writing is so different from making a film. Writing is such a personal experience, and then you put it out on display and people are judging you. Also, it will be a different type of person who will eb reading these stories, not my regular fans. Maybe it will even be someone who doesn’t watch movies!
Sunny Leone’s Sweet Dreams is exclusively available on the Juggernaut app