She might wear a thick pair of glasses but the only ones short-sighted are those who won’t look further than their nose. Yes, because behind those lenses there is a lady with a strong determination and wild imagination who dared to get out of her comfort zone and reinvent herself beyond prejudices and stereotypes. Retired from a career in biotechnology, American Stella Fosse decided to press the reset button and finally embrace her life-long passion for erotica writing. At the age of 65, having run workshops and classes around the US, she had her first and groundbreaking book, ‘Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica After Midlife’, published. Since then, she encourages ripe women to explore erotic writing as a joyful practice.
Stella, you are the perfect example of how to reinvent your life after 50. It is not only possible but also liberating. What made you switch from a successful career into biotechnology to erotic literature?
Indeed, it is liberating to reinvent life after fifty. Or sixty, for that matter! Not long before I retired as a biotechnology writer, I read an article in the New York Times by a romance writer in her forties who was trying to help other midlife authors. She suggested that if they wanted to get published, they stick to writing characters in their twenties! That seemed just as bad as insisting women publish under men’s names. I was so appalled that I decided to begin writing erotica, with characters in their sixties. Then my friend Lynx Canon started a reading series in Oakland California called “Dirty Old Women,” and invited me to be a reader. It was so much fun that she and I started a writing group called “Elderotica,” which eventually led me to write a book.
How do you feel people typically react when they find out you’re an erotic writer? Is writing erotica something you ever thought you would do?
Most people are surprised to hear that a 66-year-old grandmother writes erotica. They seem not to know where to file that information in their brains. Prompting folks to improve their mental filing system about older women is gratifying. I never expected to write erotica after I retired. My mother, who is 94 now, finds it amusing and wanted a copy of my book. My grown children are getting used to the idea but naturally, stay as far as possible from my book and my website. Some women are instead so happy when they hear I write erotica. They realize that writing erotica could be a great playspace. I hope these women hop on my website, look at the resources, and take my free one-week online story writing course. May these women keep writing, and may they find my book helpful as they explore.
‘Aphrodite’s Pen: The Power of Writing Erotica after Midlife’ is a groundbreaking book. It offers tips, prompts, interviews with published post-midlife erotica writers, and samples of erotica to inspire you and help you create your own. Do you think writing this genre is another way to empower middle-aged women?
In addition to being great fun, writing erotica is a terrific way to push back on the combination of sexism and ageism that women face in our middle and later years. There is no better way to become visible than by creating passionate stories. Plus, being in an erotic writing group is a fantastic way for women to band together and support one another’s power. The book includes lots of information to help women set up their own writing groups.
Sex can be a powerful emotional experience and it’s certainly not only for the young. Unfortunately, when people think of erotica, they don’t usually link it together with middle-aged women. How do you feel about it and what have you learned from your journey?
A successful life often includes learning through our twenties, achieving in our thirties, managing others in our forties, and reaching executive status in our fifties and sixties. When images of women disappear after age forty from stories, movies, and television, we cut off our wisdom and power years from the public consciousness. It’s no surprise that calls for politicians to step down due to age are so often focused on women—even though our life expectancy is longer. The stereotypes of middle-aged and older women are not vivid or playful or sexy. Far from it. Yet, feeling sexy and alive is key to our power as older women. Maggie Kuhn, the founder of the Gray Panthers, famously said, “Learning and sex until rigor mortis.” Writing erotica is one important way to claim our agency and live fully in all parts of our being.
There are some great examples of older women’s erotica. Erica Jong wrote a sequel to her blockbuster book Fear of Flying called Fear of Dying, about the erotic life of a sixty-something woman. One of my favourite erotic novels is Free Fall: A Late-in-Life Love Affair by Rae Padilla Francoeur, a book filled with powerful sensory language that should grace the bookshelf of every woman over fifty. More of my favourites are reviewed on my website. But there is not nearly enough erotic writing by and for women after midlife. I hope that more women take up this fun form of creativity and activism.
You said your erotic life blossomed in your late fifties. Do you think midlife is the right time to finally allow ourselves to explore a bit more? If so, Why?
Each woman makes her own decision about whether, when and how to explore her sexuality. Some women are grateful to leave behind sexuality after menopause, to focus on different aspects of learning and growth. Other women continue unabated, and still, others are late bloomers who really discover sexuality and sensuality when the children have grown and career demands lighten. And, too, it can take decades for women who have experienced sexual abuse in their youth to heal to the point where they can fully engage sexually. When they arrive at that level of healing, the messages they receive from the culture tell them it’s too late, their sexual lives are over. Those messages are simply not true. Sexuality is our birthright, throughout life. As Virginia Woolf said, “The older one gets, the more one likes indecency.” While there is no one right time after midlife is certainly a great time.
Do you feel that all voices are properly represented in this particular field? If not, which do you feel are predominantly misrepresented or underrepresented?
This question is timely because of the controversy that recently emerged in the Romance Writers of America. That organization is in crisis because of how they handled a charge of racism made by one writer about another. And while romance and erotica are not the same things, they are related. In erotica, the erotic aspect of a woman’s life is part of her character development. In romance, the heroine and the hero enjoy sexual experiences on their way to a happy romantic ending. We have a long way to go to create a fully inclusive community of older erotic writers. I know many older queer women, as well as straight women, who write erotica. But the women I know who write erotica after midlife are mostly white, middle class, and able-bodied. I hope that women with more diverse backgrounds and life experience are able to come together in groups to write.
In your opinion, what are the best things for women that come with ageing?
For those of us who enjoy the privilege of retiring in good health, ageing can be a chance to do everything you wished you could do earlier in life when you were too busy. I took up weightlifting at 65 and am just starting to explore Tai Chi. I’m making new friends, travelling, hosting writing and collage workshops, and have just finished writing my first screenplay. I still enjoy reading about biotechnology and doing some consulting, but for me, as for many women, this is a time to develop new passions. My wish is for every woman to age playfully, and for those who choose, to write disgracefully.
Nowadays menopause seems to be a very trendy topic for the press but sometimes the way it is covered reminds us more of disease to overcome than a natural stage of our midlife. What are your opinions on this?
Like childbirth, menopause is a many-faceted life experience that involves developmental and spiritual changes as well as medical aspects. I remember when the natural childbirth movement spurred a partnership between midwives and physicians, and that kind of partnership would be an ideal approach to menopause as well. We, women, know our own bodies best and need to be on the team that plans our care. With so many of us now in menopause or living in the years after menopause, we can and should be advocating for that kind of partnership. We focus on menopause from a medical standpoint partly because it is not well understood. Too often, the male body is considered the default and the female body is considered a sort of variant. We need to advocate for the female body to receive the same research dollars, the same level of attention, as the male body. By now the effects of estrogen treatment on everything from cardiac disease to Alzheimer’s should be much clearer. And, too, management of Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause (GSM), which affects half of all women after menopause, should have received as much research attention and funding as genitourinary conditions in older males. More knowledge and better treatment will enhance our freedom to age playfully.
Here at CrunchyTales we do believe playful women don’t get old. Is being an “Elderotica Writer” a way to smile at the time passing by?
Writing erotica as an older woman is a great way to reframe ageing as a time of exploration. Telling our stories helps us connect with every aspect of our being, with who we are now and who we have been at each stage of life. Through writing, we enjoy the freedom to remember and to fantasize. We recapture our own bodies and celebrate the gifts we enjoy each day.
Stella, what projects are up next for you?
I’ve just finished writing a screenplay called Brilliant Charming Bastard, about three women scientists in their sixties who discover they are dating the same con man. When they learn he has been stealing their ideas, they decide the best revenge is getting rich. Next, I’m writing a novel version of the same story. I’m also planning to publish a series of stories online. More to come on that subject!