Remember Sasha Grey? It’s been a few years since the original digital Thinking Man’s Porn Star retired. Since you last caught her work, Miss Grey has been modeling, DJ-ing, acting (from playing a fictional version of herself on Entourage to a leading role in Steven Soderbergh’s The Girlfriend Experience, after years of appearing as a music video heroine for Eminem, The Roots, and The Smashing Pumpkins), and writing. Yes, writing. And we’re not talking about her bits and piece of prose in her 2011 photo book Neu Sex; no, this month with The Juliette Society (Grand Central), the triple-x ingénue makes her debut as a novelist. It’s a dark and sometimes funny romp through the universe of her alter-ego, Catherine, a film student, who enters a secret sex society underworld of the globe’s Illuminati-esque elite—and it will not be read at your mama’s book club. With a rawness and intensity that make 50 Shades of Grey look like Harry Potter, this is not for the faint of heart. We caught up with Sasha at her home in L.A. and tried our best to talk writer-shop and survive the newbie authoress’s inevitable u-turns into cum-talk.
GQ: You are an all-around creative person, acting, music, now writing?
SG: Well, I can’t stop. If I stop . . . [laughs] that’s when bad things happen.
Were you always interested in being a writer?
Yeah, I’ve been writing since I was 10 or 11. I started with poetry because that was the easiest thing. It just kind of came naturally. I think at that time West Coast hip hop was huge; all these kids around me were like “I want to be a rapper.” But I’m a white girl, not going to be a rapper.
Did you want to write a novel even back then?
So many people asked me to write a memoir. And that was when I was 18 or 19. What, so I’m supposed to write a memoir now, and then when I’m 40 go write another one? It’s kind of silly.
In the acknowledgments you mention Angela Carter and Voltaire! Are you a big reader?
I am, yeah. They were two big influences on writing this book.
Now we’re talking.
Well, the obvious comparison when I first started writing the proposal for this book was 50 Shades of Grey. Everybody was talking about that. But it’s already been done. So I wanted to go back to erotica and make it me.
Yes. I think your book is better written and more raw that 50 Shades actually.
That was one of the issues speaking with publishers and editors—they said, well, it’s your choice if you want to take it further or keep it at that same level. I’m not trying to repeat something, so I didn’t want to keep it at that level. It was really important that I use my own experiences to give life to some of the more intimate scenes in the book. So I didn’t want to hold back especially when I had the experiences myself.
The publishers were worried?
Only once or twice in the beginning when we turned in the proposal. They just wanted to be sure that each chapter wasn’t just a sex scene. They wanted to be sure the character and story was there. I think the only chapter that anyone had a problem with was the cum chapter but for me it was really important that it be there.
Okay, readers, the cum chapter begins: “Come.
And what is that if not a synonym for God.
Here’s another thing I’m going to state for the record:
I’m a true believer. I worship come.”
And later (truly gross thing, ah, coming): “I like to guess what he’s had for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between from the way it tastes and the way it smells. Salty, bitter, sweet, sour and smoky. Beer, coffee, asparagus, banana, pineapple, chocolate. From the texture and consistency. Sometimes it’s runny like half-cooked egg whites, sometimes thick and lumpy like semolina, sometimes both of those at the same time. And sometimes it’s smooth like cough syrup, which is how I like it best, because it goes down so easy.”
Let’s talk about the cum chapter. Pretend I’m an idiot: why did they have a problem with it?
They thought it was a male fantasy. And I said, well, when I was just discovering sex I thought cum was disgusting. And then when I started shedding myself of those stereotypes—what I’m supposed to think is sexy and what I’m supposed to think is dirty—I started to really enjoy it. Once you feel that confident as a woman, you don’t have to think it’s disgusting because we’re told it’s disgusting.
Now, everyone thought of you as the smart, witty porn star, even though the personality of porn stars is not always easy to decipher.
It’s funny, when I first started out one of my goals was to challenge the idea or perception of women in porn. I think that was important to a lot of people and humanized me in a certain way. Whereas before stars were an unattainable fantasy. I used the power of social network to communicate with fans, whether it was about film or whatever I was doing. I wasn’t just talking about putting a dildo in my ass. I was like hey, I’ve got a dildo in my ass and I’m playing Tetris at the same time.
Totally. You were 18 when you started, and you retired from porn when you were 21. You were in porn the years people are in college. Do you miss it?
I miss the consistency. I know that sounds incredibly strange. But I’m glad to have my normal sex life back.
Originally recorded for GQ – 2013