In writing The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Year Of Men In An LA Dungeon (hardcover, digital), former dominatrix Jenny Nordbak could’ve easily penned a salacious tell-all with more celebrities than an awards show. But in talking to her about this confessional tome, she explained why The Scarlett Letters was never going to be a name-dropper, why it’s not a snarky look at the life, and how she wasn’t the only professional whip swinger thinking of writing a book.
Photo Credit: Bobby Quillard
I always like to start at the beginning. So, what is The Scarlett Letters about?
It’s a memoir of the time I spent leading a double life while working as a Dominatrix.
What is the timeline of this? Did you go into this work thinking you would write a book, were you already involved in the scene when the idea of the book came to you, what?
I’ve always been a writer, so almost as soon as I started working there I realized how powerful the stories and experiences were and started to scribble notes to use later. But I was fairly open about my intention to write about it. Lots of people who worked there talked about writing about it because the experiences were so fascinating that many of us felt compelled to share them.
Given that, were you ever worried that your intention would color your perspective of what happened?
I wasn’t actively constructing any kind of narrative or focused on the writing process while I was working there, so I wasn’t worried about it coloring my perspective. I was mostly worried about how difficult it would be to remember what it was like for that world to be new and unfamiliar once all of it had become so normal. It’s hard to remember a time when any of it was shocking, so it was useful to have my notes from the early days to refer back to so I could authentically capture the journey.
What made you think this would be something you’d be able to write, as opposed to collaborating with someone on or talking to someone who’d write the book?
I get asked this a lot and it kind of makes me laugh because it never crossed my mind to have anyone else write any of it. This just happened to be the first story I wanted to tell. But there will be more books to follow.
Did the fact that you’d be doing this work in Los Angeles, and would thus inevitably be working on celebrities, impact your decision to write The Scarlett Letters in any way?
In a city the size of L.A., I actually thought it was pretty unlikely I would see celebrities, so I was shocked anytime I encountered someone famous.
But since it does involve celebrities, it would be easy for this book to be salacious in a celebrity way, as opposed to being informative in a sex life way. Which way does The Scarlett Letters lean, and why did you decide to go that route as opposed to the other way?
It’s a glimpse into a fascinating underworld and an attempt to humanize a misunderstood part of many people’s lives. It isn’t salacious, but it is captivating, steamy, and candid.
Is it safe to assume that if you had named names, you probably would’ve gotten a lot more money for the book?
I didn’t ever consider exposing anyone, so I haven’t really given any thought to whether I would have earned more by doing so. I would imagine so, but not enough to be worth my integrity.
In preparing to write The Scarlett Letters, did you read any other non-fiction books about sex workers to get ideas for how to write yours?
I was tempted, but deliberately stayed away from the few that I thought could be similar so that it didn’t subconsciously influence my own work. If one of them talked about a similar experience, I didn’t want to feel like I couldn’t write it too.
As a memoirist, I idolize Neil Strauss [The Game] and Anthony Bourdain [Kitchen Confidential]. Both are raw, funny, and sarcastic in a way that I adore. Neil, in particular, isn’t afraid to dig deep and be vulnerable, and I’ve tried to do the same.
There are a lot of different approaches that writers take when writing non-fiction. In writing, The Scarlett Letters, what kind of tone did you strike? No pun intended.
Ha! Own the pun!
I have attempted to have a sex positive outlook on the world I portray, while being honest enough not to make it seem like it’s all sunshine and rainbows. There were highs and lows, and I wanted to authentically show both the wonder and the grit. I also wanted to be sympathetic to my clients and coworkers to depict them as the vibrant, fascinating humans they were without judging them.
Did you ever consider a different tone for The Scarlett Letters, like maybe more of a comedic one, or maybe a snarky one?
There is definitely lots of comedy in there, but I wanted to be careful not to turn the whole thing into a joke. I caught myself occasionally sounding more snarky and judgmental than I really meant to be and had to correct it. It’s so easy to judge, but it was important to me to exemplify the open mindedness that I was attempting to promote.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Scarlett Letters, and they want to read an erotic novel, but preferably something better written than Fifty Shades Of Grey, what would you recommend?