An Alt-Porn Pioneers Wildest Sexual Fantasies


I took a weird detour to get here, offers Joanna Angel.

Were seated at a vegan sushi restaurant nestled between fabric stores in Manhattans bustling Garment District. Angel, who is not vegan, chose the place; I, on the other hand, am dreading these harlequin morsels of pseudo-sushi. If I were a certain cotton candy-haired world leader, Id probably be inclined to call this my personal Vietnam.

Angels flown in from Los Angeles as part of a nationwide book tour for her debut novel Night Shift. Whereas the Stephen King book of the same name trades in horror-fantasies, Angels explores those of the erotic variety, billing itself as a Choose-Your-Own Erotic Fantasy. It follows Taryn, a sexually-inexperienced gal who aims to broaden her sexual horizons by working at an adult store in rural Florida. She accomplishes her goal, as Angels book takes you on a series of risqu sexual journeys, choose-your-own-adventure style. There will be riding crops.

The Jersey natives path to novelist, meanwhile, was a unique voyage on its own.

After graduating from Rutgers with degree in English literature, Angel moved to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and in 2002, co-founded BurningAngel, an alt-porn site featuring tattooed punkers like herselfa far cry from the blonde-and-buxom blueprint. What began as pinup-style nude photos graduated to hardcore porn, with Angel writing, directing and starring in hundreds of adult features. Shes now, at 37, considered an icon of the adult industrythe godmother of alt-porn.

Im not a porn chick that wrote a book; Im a writer that ended up doing porn, she says.

In 2015, Angel was also one of at least a dozen women who came forward to accuse the porn actor James Deen of sexual misconduct. Shed dated the controversial Deen for six years, characterizing their relationship as violent and scary.

Over vegan sushi rollswhich I hate do admit were surprisingly tastyAngel discussed how she wrote her first novel in just four months and so much more.

Its quite difficult to write sexy scenes well without it coming off like Fifty Shades of Grey or some dime-store pharmacy novel.

It is! Its difficult. Theres a reason why most erotica sounds the same: because theres only so many ways you can describe sex, so its the story around the sex thats going to make your novel stand out.

One of the things that makes Night Shift stand out is its unique Choose Your Own Adventure format.

I wish I could take the credit for it, but it was actually the publishers idea, and I really loved it so I went for it. Most books are mainly focused on just a few characters, and I think I was able to go in-depth with more characters this way. I came up with the idea of writing it about a porn store, since I felt it would work well with the format. Its all from Taryns point of view, but then different people come into the store and then she follows that particular person on different sexual adventures. But as far as writing goes, over the past fifteen years Ive written all the scripts for my [porn] movies, which are more intricate than one might think.

When I thought of starting a porn site it just gave me this sense of excitement and made sense to me. It felt easier to me than going up to a stranger in a bar and hitting on them.
Joanna Angel

With the porn store, I was trying to think of how I could use the knowledge I had about different types of sex and sexuality without making it be autobiographical. I was torn between setting it in a porn store or a stripclub because, as somebody whos spent a lot of time in both those types of establishments, the stereotype of who people think are coming into those places is not what people think. Everyone is coming into those places. I wanted the main character to be [sexually] inexperienced, much in the same way I was inexperienced when I came out of college.

As someone who was inexperienced, how did you know that you had what it takes to make it in porn? Thats almost like jumping straight to the NBA out of high school.

[Laughs] Yeah, I dont know! When BurningAngel first started it was just photos, but I was definitely getting to a point in my life where I wanted this sexual person inside of me to come out and I didnt know how I could get it out. Being in the punk scene I learned a lot about so many different things, but sex was something that we didnt really discuss. I didnt have some Sex and the City group of girlfriends where we sat around and talked about how we could give better blowjobs, we would just talk about what show we were going to go to next and what albums we were listening to.

I think I was just confused and really unconfident in that department, and when I thought of starting a porn site it just gave me this sense of excitement and made sense to me. It felt easier to me than going up to a stranger in a bar and hitting on them. Maybe some of it had to do with my weird control issues, and heres this controlled environment I can create where I could experiment with my own sexuality.

You were really a pioneer in the adult industry, starting your own company BurningAngel in 2002 out of an apartment in Williamsburg.

[Laughs] I did things in kind of a bizarre way. When I was in college, I just thought it would be fun to start a porn site; I didnt even think of it as starting a business. All my friends were in the punk scene, and I was very much surrounded by people who, when they wanted to do something, they just did it themselves. It was a very strong DIY scene. So friends were running these zines or record labels out of their living rooms that turned into these huge companies. We didnt even think of it as entrepreneurial or think about money, we just wanted to get shit done and keep the scene going that we all existed in. I guess my answer to that was starting a porn site.

And BurningAngel showcased women with tattoos and piercings, the likes of which werent typically seen in adult films at the time.

It represented a subculture, yes. My ignorance was bliss. I was at Rutgers, living on the East Coast, and this was before Twitter and even before MySpace. It was way before a time when information about the porn industry was out there. I didnt know anyone in the industry or anything about pornI had barely even watched porn other than walking in on my roommates when they were watching it. After the website launched and people were calling it this groundbreaking thing to have punk girls in porn, I didnt even know it was groundbreaking. It didnt come from a place of rebellion, this website was just a reflection of my scene and my life. Im grateful that I spent my first five years in porn knowing nothing about how porn ran, because it allowed me to develop a style without the influence of everybody else.

We recently ran a column about this, but I was wondering what you thought about how, in the wake of Trumps alleged affair with a porn star in Stormy Daniels, its led people on the left like Chelsea Handler to have this strange reflexive reaction and lash out against porn stars because of their proximity to Trump.

I think people in Hollywood always look down on porn. They think theyre better than us. I think its always been that way, even if its not publicly spoken by celebrities. I know camera and lighting guys that work in porn who, if they do work on something thats not porn, they cant even mention their porn experienceeven though theyre doing the same thing they do on a porn set on a Hollywood set, that experience just doesnt count. I know a girl who worked in marketing at one of the big porn studios for a while and when she was trying to get a new job she had to just leave this big hole on her resume when she was applying to places that werent in the industry.

Its interesting you mention that, because there are so many people in Hollywood who started out in pornMichael Bay, Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stalloneand people dont even know about it because their CVs have been effectively scrubbed.

Idont know whats to blame, or who is to blame. Thats kind of the way it is. But you know, I feel very fortunate to lead the life I lead and do the things that I do. I talk to a lot of my other friends I went to college with and they lead pretty boring lives, and I feel fortunate that I get to be creative, I get to write, I get to meet interesting people, I get to make movies. I mean, yeah, I was bummed when I saw that Chelsea Handler insulted porn stars because I was a big fan of hers but it really doesnt affect my day very much. Im very happy with the life that I chose and I dont give a shit.

I think the taboo element when it comes to porn stars and porn keeps it exciting. Thats what drew me to porn in the first place, because it was wrong, and I dont want it to be totally accepted by people because the stigma of porn is part of what makes it exciting. Financially though, I do think things would be better if people would acknowledge that porn is legit, and Hollywood would actually hire people whove done porn. Like, why cant you do both?

Weve published a lot about James Deen not having enough professional repercussions when it comes to the numerous sexual-assault allegations against him. For me, from the outside looking in, I see him be up for all these awards nominations and it seems awful.

I made a decision to stop talking to him a long time ago, and a lot of people didnt agree with that decision when I made that decision. I think the good thing about porn is everyone can pick and choose who they want to work with, what they want to do, and if theres someone that makes you uncomfortable, you just dont have to work with them and can move on. I think he got plenty of repercussions. I really do. I try not to pay too much attention and live my life.

There was that very strange episode where one of his accusers, Stoya, was hosting the XBIZ awards and there he was walking the red carpet and up for a bunch of nominations.

I know I dont know. I really dont give two shits about James Deen. I dont care what he does, I dont care if he works or doesnt work. Ive cut myself off [from him]. I think he got what he deserved. I do. There were plenty of repercussions. There are plenty of girls and directors that really like working with him. I think the beauty of porn is that everyone can do what they want, so let the people who like working with him work with him. Why should they be denied that, as long as the people who dont want to associate with him dont associate with him? I mean, the guy has his own company; he hires people. A lot of the awards that he was nominated for were for movies that he made himself with his own money, that people chose to show up to.

I am an OG James Deen hater and all the journalists yelled at me and criticized me when I didnt want to praise him when he did his stupid Lindsay Lohan movie. They insulted me and looked down on me for not being his No. 1 cheerleader at a time when I was very uncomfortable, and I made a decision to cut myself off from himand I did. If he makes his own movies, people want to be in them, and people enjoy watching them, let them exist. Who cares. The beauty of the porn industry is that no one person can make you and no one person can break you.

One of the things that I thought was the most insidious when it comes to the James Deen allegations were his ties to the unofficial porn union, APAC. As far as the adult industry goes though, do you think there should be an official porn union so that workplace safety issues can be dealt with in a more professional manner?

I think the industry does a good job of regulating itself, and I dont think it needs anything like that. Im very happy in the porn industry; I dont have problems in it. Theres APAC, and I cant be part of an organization thats meant for performers. Im a boss, you know? So the person thats writing the paychecks shouldnt be in an organization where performers can speak freely about their experiences. I think APAC is a great organization, Im happy it exists, and Im happy that performers can go there, but I dont think porn needs another union outside of that. I didnt want anything to do with APAC because James Deen started itbut then he left.

Lets go back to Night Shift. Do you envision it as a series? It ends on a cliffhanger. Its also rather cinematic, so it seems primed to be adapted into a potential TV series.

I dont know, I guess Ill see what comes to me! I definitely want to write more fiction, whether its making Night Shift into a series or making something new. This is not going to be the last book I write. But yeah, everything I usually write is going to go into a movie, so I wrote this with a very visual aspect to it.

Did you look to any other writings for inspiration when penning Night Shift?

I did a lot of research and read other peoples blogs. Theres a whole section in the book about swingers, so I spent a lot of time looking on swingers websites, reading Craigslist ads, reading swingers message boards. The internet is great now, because you can actually seek out these real people and their experiences with the few clicks of a button.

The riding crop! That is one of the books most effective sequences, in my opinion, since Taryn is blindfolded and theres just all this sexual mayhem happening around her.

[Laughs] Yeah! I just thought, well, how do I make this seem like thirty different sex scenes at once? Its hard. Like everything I do, I try to keep the humor in it because it makes everything more comfortable. But you can get so much info on the internet now. When writing about Billys character, I found so many blogs and Facebook pages about different cross-dressers who write about the things theyre going through. I wanted to get in that headspace.

I probably had to do the most research when it comes to the Billy story, this cross-dressing trucker. I grew up in a middle-class Jewish family in northern New Jersey. There arent any truckers in my family. Jews arent truckers! So I had to do a ton of research about Florida, truckers and cross-dressers, and really went outside of my box. I had to dig deep for that one, so it was probably the biggest challenge. But I didnt want this book to be selfish. I wanted it to explore not just my own experiences, but other peoples, too. I wanted to step outside myself.

Did you happen to see The New York Times ridiculous Lets Ban Porn op-ed? There seems to be a lot of anti-porn rhetoric going on, with much of it tied to the recent deaths in the industry.

I didnt read it but Ive heard about it. Its exploiting it. It really isnt fair that the media goes crazy over a handful of porn stars dying when there are lots of porn stars who are doing well, flourishing, achieving a lot of success. Look, we live in tough times. Last year was a hard year for everyone. The singer of Linkin Park killed himself. Chris Cornell killed himself. There were a lot of amazing people who killed themselves last year. Nobody blamed the music industry when they died. Nobody said lets ban music when they killed themselves.

Theres a problem with mental health in this country, and I think that is a downside of social media. Im not necessarily blaming bullying for deaths, but when people were insecure they could just be alone with their own thoughts and now they log in to Facebook and see all these people in their bikini photos and their trophies and their travel pictures and their success stories. When I used to deal with my own depression in high school, the world was smaller and I could be depressed in my bedroom and not have to look out at the whole world and what everyone else is doing. Its a tough time to be alive.

Read more: https://www.thedailybeast.com/an-alt-porn-pioneers-wildest-sexual-fantasies

LA Ink - Joanna Angel

Corey Miller has his hands full with Joanna, an entrepreneurial porn actress who wants an empowering feminine tattoo. And watch out for the When Harry Met Sally moment...

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