The Rest Was Just Imagination
An excerpt from an interview with Lydia Millet on her time working for Larry Flynt Publications, which appears in full in the February issue and on believermag.com
LYDIA MILLET: To me, mass-produced pornography is excruciatingly boring and the industry only a little less so. I was mostly interested in the styles of neurosis I met there.
THE BELIEVER: Whose neuroses?
LM: My favorite was the reader mail. There, technically, I guess we’re talking full-out psychosis more than anything—inmates were our biggest correspondents. Once, Richard Ramirez called my editor up on the phone. Our readers sent us rude ephemera, potatoes shaped like penises—that kind of deal. The neurotics were mostly coworkers, people who did bondage sessions right in their offices, friendly cross-dressers, aging queens in bad wigs. I liked many of them very much.
BLVR: Would you be willing to talk more about the nature of the boredom you mentioned? I was interested in the distinctions you make between the materials and the institution producing them, as well as the specificity of your objection to “mass-produced” pornography.
LM: The porn I encountered then was pretty formulaic. Amateur stuff hadn’t fully hit, with the web still in its infancy. It was all fairly glossy and dull, I thought. I did like the comic aspect of it, sets of archetypal morons transacting sex in a series of coded clichés, but it wasn’t often interesting.
BLVR: Your writing is brutally satirical at times, but it never feels as if it were written without optimism. I say this because your characters are lovable, and they love. Even the more despicable ones, such as Dean Decetes, the would-be pornographer with delusions of messianic proportions, read as if they were written with a certain delight on your behalf, or at the very least a kind of wonder.
LM: I do love Dean Decetes—although it’s perverse, or at least revoltingly precious, to talk about loving people you made up yourself; moronic, finally. Still, with the proviso that I’ve pulled back a bit, as I grew up and wrote further books, from blatantly vile protagonists, I do find them funny and I like to read them even today in others’ work. There’s something I always savor about a corrupt, solipsistic, poignant mess of a protagonist. (Some of the principals in Everyone’s Pretty are named after Hustler cartoonists of yesteryear, incidentally.) Dean Decetes, the idea of whom drove the writing of that particular book—my second, though not published till years later; I wrote it when I was about twenty-six, I think—was based on about three men I knew at Hustler, each editors of separate porn titles in the Larry Flynt stable. One was a former porn stud himself who always seemed to be half-pining for those halcyon days. One was an angry, depressed, intelligent power-monger. The last was a decrepit, office-couch-sleeping worshiper of large breasts. I think it’s self-evident that they were intriguing.