Meet the man who wrote personalised erotic fiction for horny Aucklanders

No Comments

Samuel Te Kani is an artist, short story writer and sexpert whose debut fiction collection, Please, Call Me Jesus, is out now. Maggie Tweedie talked to him.

Erotic fiction has always made me wince. I associate it with a stalker at university who wrote very graphic yet very unrealistic stories about his sexual fantasies, which oddly always took place in Massey’s music studios. It also reminds me of being confronted by my grandmother’s sexual appetite when she was “watching me swim” but actually enthralled by the pages of Fifty Shades of Grey, poolside.

After many years of avoiding erotic fiction, I received an email about Sam Te Kani’s debut collection of stories, a book called Please, Call Me Jesus. Maybe it was a sign. After all, I was a fan of Te Kani’s journalism about Aotearoa’s sex industry. I was further enticed by the provocative title. Before I knew it, I’d conceded and was sheepishly reading phrases like “Bradley felt Jimmy’s hot breath on his skin as he reached back and wrenched apart his own arse cheeks” amidst my busy Wellington flat. 

I chatted to Te Kani (Ngāpuhi) about reshaping erotica through sci-fi and fantasy, growing up as a horny gay tween in Whangārei, and how lockdown put a handbrake on casual sex in Tāmaki Makaurau. 

The Spinoff: What opened your eyes to the whips and chains of the business? How does one pioneer a career investigating sex? 

My career in sex journalism … whatever that even is, began back when sex blogging was a thing around 2013 or 2014. Back then it was quite unique. The blogging went really well, and somebody approached me to do those miniseries for Vice. 

As an out gay kid in a small town, I felt my reality rather unappealing. So, I guess my research for the book was a compounding of someone who’s really horny and has always liked writing and reading.

What small town did you grow up in? 

Whangārei so I guess small-ish. Growing up I realised I wouldn’t have access to the same rites as my heteronormative counterparts, so I began reading as an escape. I ended up spending entire summers in the library and obviously I was a very repressed and horny little gay tween so naturally I found erotic fiction. I remember the first time I found gay sex in a book was in Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis. In hindsight it was probably not appropriate reading material for a 12 year-old but I definitely loved it at the time. Then I discovered there was a micro tradition of similar writing in New Zealand. Books like Witi Ihimaera’s Nights in the Gardens of Spain were really formative for me and also Peter Wells. I feel like my first two loves were books and dick, that is what this whole collection is about. 

Sam Te Kani’s debut short story collection, via Dead Bird Books (Image: Supplied)

Were you always comfortable talking about sex? How did you evolve from a kid burrowing away in the corner reading erotic fiction in the library to publishing your work and as a “sexpert”?

Ha! Personally, I do not identify with the title “sexpert”, but it’s stuck! I’ve never had any trouble talking about sex. One of my earliest memories is when I’m about nine and my parents are getting called into the school to have an emergency discussion with my teachers because I just can’t stop talking about sex. That was mortifying for them at the time, but I look back and think it was always there, it was always going to be a thing. 

There have been a few moments where I’ve left your book lying around. One time a prudish friend opened it up curiously and was shocked by a graphic anal sex scene. I wonder who that person is for you? Who do you not want to read this book? 

My mum, she did try though and sent me a message to say, “Look I’ve read the first four pages and I love it, but I just can’t finish this.” She told me she loved the writing and asked me, “Would you ever consider writing anything lighter?” I said not really because that would be dishonest, and it would go against my experience and definitely my temperament.

You build such compelling worlds for the reader – even if the kinds of sex you’re discussing don’t always align with your audience. 

Yes, I hope that the dramaturgy is good enough that even if you’re not into anal intercourse you will be gripped anyway. 

Can you explain some of the worlds you develop and where you conjure them up from? 

Just from being a kid and using fiction as an escape. To me escapism is not a dirty word. I really like my media to be inherently world-building. I’m trying to take erotica which is too often deemed as a lowbrow genre and bolster it with more hefty elements like sci-fi and fantasy. Werewolves and the game Second Life feature in the collection. I want to create an alternative world you can step in and out of at your leisure.

Throughout the stories you develop a kind of futuristic terror. You use eco-terrorists, administrative drones and a fridge that sends dual alerts to husband and wife to let them know they’re nearly out of milk. Why sci-fi?

I love sci-fi categorically as a genre because it’s just a lab house for futures. It’s a space where we can project and reimagine where we are and where we are going. 

Also, there’s an idea that sci-fi as a genre [can be] defined as being two parts technology and one part sex.

Do you think people are turning to erotica more now in Tāmaki Makaurau because they were starved of casual sex in the lockdown?

I have a really interesting relationship with this, things like Grindr were a very profound thing when I first began blogging at 22. The idea that I could find 10 guys just by scrolling (not swiping, I hate that swipe function on Tinder) really was profound. However, the sense of adventure in having a sexual encounter has been so reduced by apps. Now your sexual encounter is like ordering Uber Eats and that totally takes the fun out of it for me. Again, use Grindr and good god, when I’m out of that traffic light system I’m going to be on it 24/7! But ultimately, I’m up for critical engagement. 

You became an internet sensation last lockdown when you opened up your writing to personalised erotic stories. How did that develop your writing? 

I wasn’t working, and the wage subsidy was a drip feed so I asked people on social media if they would be interested in personal erotic fiction. It went kind of crazy. I charged $40 a pop and was writing two stories a day with a minimum of eight to 10 thousand words a day. Looking back now I probably should have had a template for some of this work. 

So how did the personalised aspect work, did each customer explain their sexual preferences to you before you begin writing? 

Yes so, they outlined a brief and I would craft the story. Honestly there was a lot of stuff about Britney Spears, I think the #FreeBritney movement was building momentum at the time, and she was flying around the zeitgeist, like some horny Victorian ghost. As a provocation I wanted to see if I could turn myself into a fiction-producing machine. Ultimately it went really well, and it changed my writing. The briefs were expansive for me because I had to change my perspective of what I found hot to what they found hot. 

A fascinating concept, personalised erotic fiction. 

It took a lot of coffee Maggie, a lot of coffee. 

Can you give me an example of a brief that someone gave you? 

I wrote 150-200 stories. People who wanted guy on guy action were pretty cut and dried because there’s a lot of given porn-idioms for that type of content; like jocks and first gay experiences and sport-related “no homo” locker-room incidents. That kind of thing. 

It was straight girls who got weirder with it. Lots of more intimate things with idealised celebrity crushes. A few John Campbell pieces. They’re all a blur to be honest. There was a strong vibe with guys in their late 30s and early 40s wanting “mixed” stuff, like MMF, from which I’m gauging there’s some sort of bi-comfort with that demographic, as if they’ve exhausted their hetero options and are in the market for something they’ve always pretended they never wanted, but which maybe their statuses as married/fathers and thusly “hetero-confirmed” finally frees them up to  explore. I’m being wildly speculative here obviously haha. 

Was there a clear demographic within your audience?

As far as demographics go – so so broad. I just had it as an IG offering and purely through word of mouth the briefs started rolling in. Really mixed demographic, friends and family of friends and then the less I knew a person the more earnest their briefs were. Friends were maybe just being supportive so their requests weren’t nearly as invested as those coming from someone who was less concerned with lending me a buck and more concerned with the product itself haha. Also there was a really diverse range of tastes and predilections expressed in the briefs so it was rare I’d re-cover ground. That said, repeat offenders were requests for fiction featuring Britney Spears and Ashley Bloomfield (respectively) in painfully specific roles and poses. 

What writers are you into at the moment, erotic or otherwise?

Theory theory theory, doing a bit of critical and journalistic writing right now so Kristeva stuff and dipping into classic Richard Dyer. Maybe trying to resuscitate a hyper-sexed gay antagonism a la Kenneth Anger for our depressingly vanilla times. I’m sick of looking at queers on screen in pretty little straight-configured coupledom and having to pretend like it’s some sort of win. It’s fucking boring. Gimme hell please – I feel like that’d be a more accurate reflection of our abject time, which remains abject despite woke posturing and obnoxious virtue signalling. I mean have your happily coupled queers, whatever, but show me desire running amok and wreaking the havoc we know it does, queer or otherwise. And Euphoria doesn’t count because it’s just Gen X cool-hunting repurposed for Gen Z’s. Soz. 

What books kept you stimulated in lockdown?

Theory stuff mostly, I know it sounds super pretentious but I kind of only wanted to shovel in political philosophy, if only because it felt necessary when the world’s going through a big pandemic-fuelled re-jigger; and sleazy online forums of erotic fiction because those are so much fun perusing. Bordering on probbo/illegal depending where you look. 

Please, Call Me Jesus by Samuel Te Kani (Dead Bird Books, $30) is available from Unity Books Auckland and Wellington.

https://thespinoff.co.nz/books/15-02-2022/meet-the-man-who-wrote-horny-aucklanders-personalised-erotic-fiction

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.