Off the beaten path

William Walsh’s work spans from the porn business to Calvin Trillin
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  August 5, 2008


William Walsh first wrote Without Wax: A Documentary Novel as a short story about a young man caught up in the world of triple-X adult films while an undergraduate 20 years ago at Stonehill College. His cartoonishly endowed hero was pretty much the same, especially in being based in emotional realism, a kid just trying to survive.

The sunny side of smut: Sex makes the world go 'round in Without Wax: A Documentary Novel. By Bill Rodriguez
“I wanted someone who was sort of thrust into this world, based on circumstance rather than a need for attention or a drive to be part of that world,” Walsh says, sitting over a cup at the Coffee Exchange. “So if he were passively brought into that world, he would be a more sympathetic character.”
He used the prototype for Without Wax as well as other stories in his portfolio to get into grad school, earning an MA in writing at the University of New Hampshire. (Walsh’s day job now is at Brown University, where he is an administrator in the development department.)

The book wasn’t exhaustively researched. Walsh didn’t interview people in the pornography industry, for example. He did read some first-person biographies years ago, getting an idea of the production details and what it’s like being in a room making one of those films. The charm of the novel comes from what people think rather than the sexual calisthenics some of them accomplish.

“My own view, I think, is based on impressions from when I was younger, because I didn’t really encounter it in my daily life since I was in college,” he says. “I don’t think it’s something you have to examine closely in order to write about it.

“A few years ago I read some of the trade magazines, just to make sure I had the lingo down,” Walsh adds. “I was more interested in that part of it. I tried to minimize the amount of pornography that’s on display in the book, just to focus on how it’s produced and who’s doing it, and then how people respond to it.”

He wrote a short script for an adult film and included it in the novel, to get the mechanics out of the way. “Then the rest of it wouldn’t have to focus as much on the actual ac-tive making a film, how it’s made,” he says.

Along with everyone who has seen more than a generation of change in this country, Walsh has been struck with the increased acceptance of pornography here. What once could bring lengthy jail time for distributing is available now on cable in most motel rooms.

“It’s just out there,” he says. “Especially with the younger generation of buyers: it’s on in dormitory rooms all the time, constantly playing and everyone’s exposed to it. So it’s not something that’s tucked away or locked up in someone’s foot locker. I think that’s changed since I started writing it.

“That’s all about the whole consumer culture that I wanted to write about,” he notes.

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