Joanna Angel has been an innovator within the adult film industry for years, starring in, directing, producing and in many ways defining, the alternative porn genre. Meshing punk and fetish styling with gender inclusive sex-positive themes long before it was a social media mainstay, she continues to explore new ways to seduce fans. For Valentine’s week, she releases her second “choose-your-own erotic fantasy” book called Club 42- an alluring adventure for men and women that proves the imagination can be hotter than anything depicted on film, especially when the reader is the one in control. We spoke with the steamy multi-hyphenate -who has two virtual book events this weekend- about it all.
LA WEEKLY: What made you want to start writing books and how is the process rewarding versus directing or staring in adult films?
JOANNA ANGEL: Well, what a lot of people might not know is that writing was always my number one passion. I did, once upon a time go to Rutgers University -from 1998-2002- and I graduated as an English major with a creative writing concentration within that major. I took various writing workshops after school back when I was even in high school. I attended open mic nights regularly, and one summer in college I attended the “Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics” – yes that actually exists- and it wasn’t even accredited. I just did it for fun.
I definitely think a lot of your fans probably don’t know this about you.
Throughout my years in the porn industry, I have contributed both fiction and non-fiction short stories to numerous published anthologies, penned sex advice columns, and of course, written countless amount of porn scripts, which believe it or not, I did apply all the creative writing skills I learned in college.
I actually recently won the AVN award for “Best Screenplay,” which I hope all my past writing professors took note of! Needless to say, that even though I didn’t go the typical route of getting a writing MFA or attending journalism school, I never stopped writing. It was always an aspiration of mine to get a book deal, and I suppose most people get them by tirelessly shopping around manuscripts and getting countless amounts of rejections. Instead, I spent 15 years getting railed in the ass on camera and well, Cleis [publisher of erotica and sex-themed books] came calling.
What has been challenging about writing for you?
I repeated the phrase “be careful what you wish for” to myself time and time again as I wrote both my novels. I always wanted to write a novel, but god damn, it is the most daunting and difficult task and definitely the most un-glamorous, un-celebrated and possibly most un-profitable art form. It’s very easy for a musician to get just about anyone to hear your new song, but it’s not quite the same when you’re an author trying to get someone to read your book.
So true! It can definitely feel ungratifying at times.
Coming from the world of producing and starring in porn, I became used to a very quick turnaround on anything I worked on. Films are released within a month or two of when they’re shot and sometime, literally even just a few days later. The porn industry is the quickest and most efficient production machine, and it’s quite the opposite in the world of publishing. It takes a year to write a book, and then another several months of edits and re-edits and then the printing and binding and what not takes several months on top of that as well. From the idea to the completed project it’s at the very least two years, and after the release of the book it takes many months before anyone actually reads the book. So the first time you ever hear “Hey, I just read your book!” it feels like a century later. Working in adult, I can shoot a scene, post a few screen-grabs or a GIF that very same day and get immediate praise (or insults for that matter), and I’ve become very used to or even actually addicted to, this immediate gratification of ‘Hey world, look at this thing I did and tell me what you think!’
So being an author is rewarding in different ways?
The reward for writing a book is a long hard arduous process, but as I hold my finished copy of Club 42 in my hands and read back on the words I wrote, I truly, have never felt so incredible, so fulfilled and so accomplished in my life.
Sex culture has changed a lot in the past few years with positivity and freedom to express desires gaining more acceptance. To what do you attribute the shift?
I think if you look back through history, sexual positivity and freedom drastically changes every decade no matter what. I mean, in the 50’s the only form of acceptable romance was between two people, of different genders, and the same race, who slept in separate beds and had occasional pro-creational one-position sex. This drastically changed even in the 60’s and 70’s with all the -you know.- free love and what not. So, history was moving in that direction anyways, and it continued to do so through the 80’s and 90’s. Then, the internet and especially social media just sped it up for change to happen exponentially faster. It’s impossible to keep the younger generation in the dark about sex anymore, and they don’t have to learn about the birds and the bees from their parents.
How have you adapted to these changes in your work?
In my work in particular, I think porn being more and more acceptable, has made the industry grow, it made the talent pool grow, and it made more and more directors and talent come into the industry who deliberately tried to get into porn with dreams and aspiration of making it in porn as opposed to decades ago, where I think a majority of the people in the industry on both sides of the camera just kinda just wound up here, or got stuck here. As a result, there’s just a whole lot more porn being made, and the bar has been raised very high on production. Porn is not exciting just because it’s porn- it has to be good porn. It will be reviewed and criticized the same way Hollywood movies are. So I suppose this shift created more competition in the market and I have adapted by doing my damnedest to try to stay current, and try to keep up.
What are your latest projects at Burning Angel?
I am not sure if you knew this or not but I actually sold BurningAngel to Adult Time in 2018. They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse, and well- like it was always a goal of mine to write a book, it is every small business owner’s dream to one day sell their business. However, I still direct and produce for BurningAngel (it was part of the buyout deal) but I also direct and produce for other adult time properties as well.
Aesthetically are you still focused on alternative porn (tattooed, punk styling) or have you sought to expand your niche?
Not being the owner of BurningAngel anymore, my role has changed a bit, but I am still in creative control of the movies I produce for it. With this said, tattoos are so mainstream I wouldn’t call it a niche anymore. Long before I even sold the company, BurningAngel had become more known for its style of filming rather than just the aesthetic of the girl cast. I still hire, and even prefer the edgier looking tattooed talent, but that is not all that I hire. Lately I have been adding a fair amount of trans and Bi content to BurningAngel, throwing it into the mix. I don’t really like to pigeonhole myself into any ‘niche.’ I don’t even like to use that word. I just shoot hot sex, with creative and interesting themes and storylines, with talent I find inspiring, whether they have tattoos or not.
Let’s talk a bit about your books- Night Shift and the newest, Club 42. What can readers can expect from the choose-your-own-fantasy format?
Night Shift is about a girl (Taryn) who works at a porn-store in Florida, and Club 42 is a story about a girl (Naomi) who enters the world of stripping/ exotic dancing in New York City. In both books, a story line is set up and then splits into different paths and the reader gets to choose where they want to go! It’s quite fun. Does Naomi tell her boyfriend about her job or does she not? Does Naomi dance to rock or hip-hop? What should Naomi do when she sees an old high-school crush as a customer at her club- should she give him a lap-dance? Should one of the other girls do it? Is Naomi falling in love with one of her co-workers? Should she quit stripping entirely and work as a Dominatrix? These are just a few of the decisions the reader gets to make and – and there’s a beginning, middle, and most often -wink- happy ending no matter what you choose. I encourage people to have fun with it!
What will you be presenting in your upcoming digital book promo events and why will they be fun for Valentine’s Day?
I will be reading passages from the book, and doing Q&A’s with some other very notable incredible women- Rachel Kramer Bussel, Tristan Taorino and of course, Asa Akira. While it’s a bit of a downer in these COVID times to not get to travel and experience a “normal” book tour, the good thing with it being virtual is that anyone can log in from anywhere and it’s not limited to just the people in that particular city. Plus, I don’t have to put high heels on, or even pants on… and that’s definitely a plus for me.
Joanna Angel is hosting two free Valentine’s Day online book events this weekend:
With Tristan Taormino on Sex Out Loud via Zoom, Fri., Feb. 12, 5 p.m. PST (email Tristan@puckerup.com for link).