It is my great pleasure to present the following interview from Matthew Stillman for his erotic retelling of the King James version of the Book of Genesis, Genesis Deflowered. Wonderful, detailed and insightful responses. Over to you, Matthew!
This kind of project has the potential to cause some controversy, considering the uneasy relationship sex and religion often have. What inspired you to take on this project (Genesis Deflowered being the first of several planned books I note), particularly since it seems, from looking at your website, such a departure from your usual work?
I was helping my friend Jill Hamilton of the brilliant and hilarious blog “In Bed With Married Women” do some research on a piece she was writing about strange erotica on Amazon. I found books about being bred by goblins, sexually inclined snowmen, lusty leprechauns and the like. I had never written erotica or been a big reader of it and rolled my eyes at this particular stripe that I was finding. But I followed the “if you liked this then you might like THIS” path that Amazon sends you on. I came across a book that was an erotic retelling of Mary getting pregnant.
I read the sample and ,to my mind, it was awful writing. Cliche. Brimming with typos. Sloppy.
But the comments/reviews were amazing. There were not only lots of them but they were summarily glowing.
“This book made me feel closer to Jesus”
“Now I know how scared and proud Mary must have been to have been approached by God this way”
“To think that my Lord Jesus came from a union like that makes me feel good.”
I was amazed.
Something about the “message” of this book broke through to a segment of readers who clearly desired to connect their spiritual urges with their sexual ones.
I believe in that message very deeply – connecting the spiritual and sexual urges. I was confident I could do better. Though I am not religious at all I have a great interest in the impact The Bible has had on literature and culture. I have been a very amateur biblical scholar since college and I have great affection for the language of the classic King James Bible published in 1611.
What came of my desire to do better and connect the spiritual and sexual urges is my first piece of erotica – Genesis Deflowered.
But I don’t see Genesis Deflowered as a departure from the work I write about on stillmansays.com at all. I write about how I help people look at problems more creatively. This book is a creative approach to the question “how can sex and religion not be at odds with each other?”
This may not be THE solution but is AN approach that is valid.
The new scenes feel seamless in the text – I can only really tell that they are new because I know the Old Testament writers would not have gone so far! How did you achieve this?
Thank you! I am really proud of that! It took a lot of attention. The translators for the King James Bible were some of the best collections of poets and scholars of the Elizabethan period. At the time I had started writing the book I was in a poetry memorizing group where we would memorize a new poem each week and keep on reciting the poems we had memorized on previous weeks. So all of us had to constantly keep poetry on our minds, reciting the new and old stanzas regularly, so we could present them to each other. In terms of the book that meant that poetic language was on my mind and on my tongue quite a lot. But beyond that I love much of the literature of that period and felt I could draw from it and echo the style. Also I had an amazing editor who was very conversant in Elizabethan grammar and language of that period. Veronica Tuggle made the book better with every edit she suggested in terms of sentence structure and comments on my textual additions.
Similarly, there is sometimes a sense of playfulness as well as poetic grandeur. Intended or not, and if so, why?
Intended. I find sex an incredibly human activity that is often at its best when it is playful. So I wanted the text to flirt with that. The poetic grandeur had to be there as well. Even if one has decided that The Bible has no place in your life, the words, the phrases, the metaphors we use everyday come straight from the Bible. You cant get away from it. So I wanted parts to seem quotable and stand up to the original.
The English poetic tradition post the King James Bible until mid to late 19th century was deeply influenced by the KJV in terms of subject matter (allegorical and otherwise) and stylistically. So I also imagined that if the version of Genesis I was writing was the original and wondered how it might have impacted English poetry for the next three centuries. To respond to that imagination I took words or phrases from major and minor poems and modified them slightly and inserted them in the text. Because of this the “poetic grandeur” is woven in because there are semi-fragments of Keats, Donne, Byron, Shelley, Owen, Swinburne, Tichbourne, Landor and many others in the text.
How did you decide which parts to ‘sex up’? Reading it, some are obvious (Jacob, Rachel and Leah for instance) but, at least to me, others less so (Joseph and Potiphar).
Have you ever painted a room in a house? After the first coat you step back and look a bit and you see that some parts are a bit thinner than others. When you fill them in the room actually looks more painted.
The process was the same. Do all the obvious stuff first and then look at the new text and see what was missing. Part of that was to find any whisper of a character trait and build on it. The characters in Genesis are so iconic but we know almost nothing about them from a literary point of view.
In the case of Joseph he is known for having his “technicolor dream coat” and being very proud of it. No other character in Genesis shows any real inclination towards clothing. But when I was researching other versions of the story from Islamic and other non-canonical sources it came out that Potiphar’s wife brought friends over to stare at him because he was so beautiful but he never noticed them.
Putting this together – you have a man who loves a multicolored coat and ignores the lustful and admiring gazes of powerful women…you have a gay man. And if that is true, what else is true? So I went through that process with all sorts of characters. Finding the smallest detail about them and building on it.
Do you plan to give the same treatment to the entirety of the Bible, or just selected books? If the latter, which ones?
I would love for this series to cover the entire Bible. Currently I am working on Exodus Deflowered presently. I would love to have the entire Bible Deflowered. Reader response is a big part of that though. Truth be told Leviticus and Numbers will be a challenge. Proverbs also might be tough. But there is huge potential with Old Testament – Samson and Delilah, Ruth and Naomi, the major and minor prophets. And of course when you get into the New Testament…well, as a writer of biblical erotica, that is the promised land. See? Biblical metaphor is everywhere!
Be honest: this is all part of a plot to get more people to read the Bible, isn’t it? 😉 (As an aside: it just may have worked – since none of the text, apart from your additions, have been changed, I can definitely say I’ve now read the Book of Genesis!)
Hilarious! Yes and no. I do think it is important for people to understand seminal texts to the atmosphere of our culture. I am actually not a big fan of Shakespeare at all, but I have read and studied him and his works because his influence is so tremendous. So in that regard I do think reading the Bible is important as a cultural artifact. But I also think that not being afraid of changing our relationship with sacred cows (biblical metaphor!) is also important. Love and religion get along just fine. Sex and religion have never really got along very well. But in order for them to get along you have to put them in the same space.
Aside from writing, you have a varied and, from what I can tell from your website, rather exciting career. How did this idea of creative problem-solving come about?
For anyone who doesn’t know what you are talking about…since 2009 I have been regularly sitting in Union Square in New York City with two folding chairs and a table with a large sign that reads “Creative Approaches To What You Have Been Thinking About” and a smaller sign that reads “Pay What You Like or Take What You Need”. I have worked with over 3000 people helping them look at any situation, big or small, personal or professional, weird or completely quotidian, in a more creative way.
I don’t give advice and I don’t promise solutions. I only promise a creative approach.
People had told me that I was extremely helpful with transforming relationships with problems for many years. In March of 2009 I had just finished a three month course. At the end of it everyone in the course wrote an anonymous “love letter” to everyone else in the course. I received a 24 page little book where every single person had lauded me for this capacity. I was very touched. The same week I was laid off from a consulting gig I had due to the worldwide economic collapse.
My first, and at this point only, film was coming out in theaters in November 2009 and I was going to be working on the film, full tilt, starting in August (I conceived of, wrote and co-produced “The End of Poverty?” – a feature length documentary about the origins of poverty and why it persists in a world with so much wealth, premiered at Cannes, went to 40 festivals around the world, I spoke at the UN four times about it. It’s free on YouTube – go watch it!). So there was no way I was going to be able to get a summer gig with the world economy in shambles. So I thought I would lower the bar and put myself out there and see if I could help people. On the first day more than 30 people showed up and I have been doing it ever since.
With doing so much, how do you manage to do it all? What kind of habits or routines do you have in place?
Bad ones? I don’t know. I have become a plate spinner. I work furiously on some things, sometimes, to let them keep going by themselves. Then step back and see what needs attention next. Other things can go slower and don’t need as much attention all the time. I have a sitcom pilot with an agent…I cant do much on that except check in periodically.
Who or what are your influences? Not necessarily other writers, but anything at all (music, art, people you’ve met?).
I was raised in an occult bookstore in New York City by two parents who were deeply interested in spiritual work. That is a huge influence – Eastern and Western mystical/spiritual traditions.
My study of long form improvisational comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade since virtually the day they set foot in New York has been massive. Amy Poehler was my first improv teacher in 1996. I have been studying and performing in that space ever since. The improv way of thinking and looking at the world is happily indelible for me. I can really go on about this, so I’ll leave it there.
Economics – Henry George
Writers – James Carse, Leonard Shlain, Marshall McLuhan, Homer, Dante
Theater – The Upright Citizens Brigade, Augusto Boal, TJ & Dave, Improvised Shakespeare, Baby Wants Candy, John Osbourne Hughes
In the first chapter of Marcus Aurelius’ book “Meditations” he ascribes the source of every good quality he had (and he had many) to the person he learned it from i.e “of fair dealings in business I learned from my Uncle Rufus and of care of workers I learned from Tullius.” The list is shockingly complete.
My influences feel like that – they are everywhere, and from many people, places and things.
What is your next project (outside of the Deflowered books)?
As I write this, I am in midcoast Maine. Later in the day I am hoping to visit the Hope Elephant Project and give massages to elephants (they probably wont let me do that). Not sure. There is a possibility I might get an economics position with an elected official in NYC if he wins his election. There is also a possibility of running a personal development related non-profit.
We will see.
Thanks for these interview questions. They were really thoughtful!
Genesis Deflowered can be purchased at the following places:
Matthew can be found at:
The is part of Matthew Stillman’s blog tour brought to you by Writer Marketing Services: