Nearly 20 years ago a young Brooklynite single-handedly launched the alt porn revolution, combining Punk Rock aesthetics, a heavy Horror influence, and everyone’s favorite (not so) guilty pleasure. Thanks to her business savvy, intelligence, and stellar sense of humor, Joanna Angel would go on to become an award-winning adult film star, director, producer, entrepreneur, and, perhaps most importantly, a feminist icon.
But Miss Angel is not stopping there. Now a best-selling author thanks to 2018’s Night Shift, she has parlayed her success into a writing career. With her debut for Cleis Press, the fiction writer introduced us to the erotic Choose-Your-Own format, a light-hearted yet still sexy twist that has continued into her second interactive fantasy. Entitled Club 42: A Choose-Your-Own Erotic Fantasy, her sophomore novel follows down-on-her-luck Naomi through Time Square and into a strip club, where she discovers much more than a desperately needed job.
As someone who is known for her love and appreciation of both music and Horror, Angel recently sat down to talk about everything from Club 42 and Choose-Your-Own Adventures to strip club music, 2019’s Midsommar, and more.
Cryptic Rock – You are an award-winning adult film star, director, producer, best-selling author, entrepreneur, a feminist icon, and much more. So what is there that you can’t do?
Joanna Angel – (Laughs) I don’t know. There’s plenty I can’t do! (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Okay, to get serious, your second work of erotica, Club 42: A Choose-Your-Own Erotic Fantasy, arrived in stores on Tuesday, February 16th, and you had an accompanying virtual book tour. So let’s discuss the book. I’m assuming you grew up on Choose-Your-Own Adventure books?
Joanna Angel – Honestly, I really didn’t. Of course, I think everyone did at some point, but it was not my specialty; I read Choose-Your-Own Adventure in passing. It’s not anything I expected to become my ‘thing’. I got a book deal and it was my publisher’s idea, not mine, but I was excited and ready to try it. It just sounded like a fun thing to experiment with, and, well, I did it. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – It’s a lot of fun and the Choose-Your-Own format even appeals to people who normally don’t read erotica.
Joanna Angel – That was my goal: I wanted to make erotica for people who don’t normally read erotica.
Cryptic Rock – Do you read erotica? Because a lot of it is bad. (Laughs)
Joanna Angel – Yeah, I don’t want to knock the genre I got put in. (Laughs) There’s definitely a lot of that, but, to be fair, a lot of erotica is written literally just for people to masturbate to. Sometimes too complex of a storyline can actually get in the way, so it’s a tricky thing.
Obviously I’ve been a pornographer for damn near twenty years, and I have made some really incredible projects with many layers of production, storyline. Sometimes those are not exactly the things that people want to masturbate to. I remember spending an ungodly amount of money on a very big film with costumes, special sets, art direction, and all that stuff. Then that same month I shot another movie that was just a guy and a girl on a couch. That scene outsold the other movie by a landslide, probably because people just didn’t want to masturbate to the other. But ultimately you do things for your brand.
Cryptic Rock – Obviously you published your first Choose-Your-Own Erotic Fantasy, Night Shift, in 2018. The main character in that story, Taryn, shares some similarities with Club 42’s Naomi.
Joanna Angel – Oh, so did you read Night Shift also? Which book did you like better?
Cryptic Rock – I prefer Club 42, but that could be just because it’s what I’m reading right now.
Joanna Angel – No, no. Look, I learned a lot. Night Shift was my first book and this was my second one, and I wanted to make it better—that was the goal.
Cryptic Rock – You definitely succeeded in that. It is great that you have a really good balance of sex and fun, but it’s still a good book. I’m a writer, so if I read something and it’s a little sexy but it comes across as pandering to the lowest common denominator, it feels a bit offensive.
Joanna Angel – Yeah, you’re right. That’s not what I wanted to do.
Cryptic Rock – You found the perfect balance of appealing across the board. It could appeal to men who just want to get off, and it will appeal to women because there’s a very feminine sense of humor about it.
Joanna Angel – Thank you. I think it’s actually more women than men that read erotica.
Cryptic Rock – Probably. But I assume that with your name you have a large contingent of male fans who will read it.
Joanna Angel – Yeah, I do. We’ll see how they rate the book. (Laughs) So what was your favorite part?
Cryptic Rock – Honestly? I really feels like the true passion went into the girl-girl scenes throughout the book. You read the story and feel like, that was where your heart was when you were writing.
Joanna Angel – (Laughs) That’s funny because I always say that.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, so going back to the original question: When you were creating both of your main female characters, Taryn and Naomi, was it important to you to have a relatability so that each of them feels like somebody that is a sort of an every-woman?
Joanna Angel – Yeah, that is important to me; that makes the erotica feel like it could happen to you. I like to take very unadventurous people and put them in very adventurous sex situations. I’d like the person reading it to fantasize and think, “Wow, if it can happen to her, it can happen to me.”
That’s what I like to do, but it’s also just who I am as a person. I look back on a lot of the experiences I’ve had and the things that I’ve done, and I’m just a very relatable person. So it just makes sense. Even though I’m very much in the thick of it, I still feel like some kind of crazy observer at the same time.
I want to write a good story that will make people want to finish the book. Finishing a book is hard, life is busy. I wanted to make sure that I wrote something that people wouldn’t want to put down.
Cryptic Rock – A lot of writers tend to put some of themselves into their characters, so I have to ask: Is there some part of Joanna hiding in Naomi?
Joanna Angel – Oh yeah, definitely. And I dedicated the book to my sister, because I feel like Naomi is actually a combination of myself and my sister. My sister is younger than me, she lives in Brooklyn. She lives the total hipster lifestyle. I’m old and in Los Angeles. So I combined some of her youth and my life experience, but there’s definitely a lot of me; the sense of humor.
Cryptic Rock – You must be very close to your sister if you dedicated an erotic novel to her. (Laughs)
Joanna Angel – (Laughs) Yes, she’s my best friend. We’re very close, and I feel like the character was very much me and my sister combined into one person.
Cryptic Rock – We’ve already touched on this a little bit, but throughout Club 42, you’re very careful to balance intense scenes with more light-hearted and quirky moments. And this is also a very sex-positive story where all sexual preferences are celebrated and welcomed. How do you balance all those elements and still manage to offer that playful sense of humor that makes the book so enjoyable?
Joanna Angel – That’s kind of who I am in a nutshell: I’m a quirky, self-deprecating, sarcastic person, then I make really filthy porno movies. (Laughs) So I’m very used to one minute being a self-deprecating nerd and another minute getting gangbanged. (Laughs) That’s just who I am!
Cryptic Rock – Combining those two elements, the scene in Club 42 that stands out in my mind is when Naomi is lying on the mattress thinking about who’s going to clean the sheets. (Laughs)
Joanna Angel – (Laughs) That’s funny. I’ve been doing this book tour, my virtual book tour, and I’m like, “Which passage do I read?” It’s fun for me, as a writer, to just kind of look back on everything.
I wrote this book about a year ago—where did the time go? I probably wrote most of it late 2019, beginning of 2020. I actually finished it right before COVID started and that was a very weird experience. When I was finishing the book I didn’t really see anyone or talk to anyone or watch the news; I was in my own writing quarantine. When I finished the book, I remember I went to get my hair done ‘cause I felt like I was coming out of a cave. I literally didn’t see anyone or talk to anyone, even my own husband—other than sleeping for a few hours. Anyway, I was getting my hair done and my hairdresser was like, “It’s a good thing you’re coming in now; things might get shut down.”
I was like, “What are you talking about?” I had no idea. (Laughs) Then three days later everything did shut down, and I was like had I known that I would have just written the book in quarantine. (Laughs) So I went from one quarantine to another quarantine. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Just out of curiosity, approximately how long did it take you to write the book?
Joanna Angel – I was given a year, but of course I did not use that whole year. After I agreed to do it they said, okay, you have a year to do it; they basically told me in February 2019 and they told me to be done by February 2020. I thought of an idea in February or March, but then I didn’t really do anything until around November. So I think it was a solid four months of my writing for 10 to 12 hours a day, which maybe is not the smartest way to do it, but that’s how I did it. I did Night Shift like that too.
I promised myself I wasn’t going to do that for Club 42. I was like, alright, I’m going to try to start ahead of time, and every day write 10 or 20 pages throughout the year. I’ll be good and it’ll be done early. That did not happen! I think I need that pressure of, alright, you better start now.
It takes a lot of motivation. Over the years a lot of people have said to me, “Why don’t you just self-publish a book? You have a following, you can make more money.” I could never ever. I need a publisher to give me a deadline and yell at me, and an editor. It’s hard! If I self-published a book it would never get done. It’s nice to have a team to bounce back and forth ideas sometimes when you’re stuck. I don’t take that for granted: whatever percentage of money, they deserve it. It’s not like I couldn’t have done it without some of the structure that they put in place, it was very helpful. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Another thing that you emphasize in the book is music, from Nickelback to Cardi B. I know you’re a music lover, so what was the soundtrack for Club 42 when you were writing?
Joanna Angel – It was kind of a bummed because there were a lot more specific music references in one of the drafts, but a lot of them had to come out for trademark and whatever reasons; things you’re not allowed to say. Some of that hurts me! (Laughs) I had a lot more specific references that had to go. There were so many different rules, like, you’re allowed to say the name of the artist but you’re not really supposed to say titles of songs.
Strip club music is always very Top 40 and kind of cheesy, you know? So that was going through my head the whole time. Some of the specific dance parts, I’m not even joking, I looked like a crazy person. Some of those dance parts in the beginning when she’s like, “Should I dance to R&B or should I dance to Rock?” I literally played certain songs while I was writing it, and I would take a break and get up and actually dance to the song and then write down what I just did. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) Obviously in the book, you have to try to stick to mentioning artists who are identifiable by the average reader. In your personal life, however, who are some of your favorite bands?
Joanna Angel – Oh, wow. I listen to Punk and Metal. It’s always so hard narrowing it down to just a few when you’re a person who’s listening to music all the time. One of my favorite bands these days is Ghost, I love that band. This morning I was listening to the newer Killswitch Engage album, if that gives you a gauge. (Laughs) I like a lot of harder Industrial/Electronic type of music like Youth Code and things like that. But I listen to Goth, Industrial, Metal, Punk, all that stuff—which they don’t play at the strip club. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Of course! Totally random, but, in the future, do you think you might publish a Horror-Comedy piece of erotica, something similar to 2016’s Cindy Queen of Hell? That was so much fun!
Joanna Angel – Thank you! You should watch—I also put out another one a year later called 3 Cheers for Satan (2019), that’s a really fun one. I still do my Horror-Comedies for Burning Angel, always do one a year, so keep looking at ‘em! (Laughs)
I had actually pitched that when I first got a book deal, and that was on the table. But the thing is that since Cleis is an erotic publishing company, a lot of their readers want to feel something real. You know what I mean? But, hey, I’d love to do it! I’d love to do something more supernatural with devils and angels, taking place not necessarily in this universe. I have toyed with that idea. This is my second novel and I want to do more writing in life. I hope my writing career continues to move forward, and you never know what will happen in the future.
Cryptic Rock – Okay, last question. It’s pretty obvious that you are a fan of Horror films, so what are some of your favorites, either from the past or recent?
Joanna Angel – I know everybody’s torn on this, but goddammit, I fucking loved Midsommar (2019). I loved it! I feel like people either loved it or hated it, but I thought it was brilliant. So I guess that would be more recent.
Cryptic Rock – Do you have any idea what you think Ari Aster was trying to get across with that film?
Joanna Angel – That religion is fucked up, that people are fucked up. That people fuck each other over. I think more just showing that people who follow the pack are fucked up. I really love movies that make you think, where you’re just like who was actually more fucked up? The cult or the people outside the cult? I love how the May Queen, or whatever, at the end you’re like was her life saved or was her life ruined? She’s happy now, that’s all that matters. (Laughs)
I thought it was amazing. So many people told me it was bad, which is why I never even watched it. Then under quarantine I watched it and I ended up watching it ten more times. This movie is brilliant! So I’m on team I like Midsommar. Okay? (Laughs)