Marie Mutsuki Mockett on Writing About Sex

First Draft: A Dialogue of Writing is a weekly show featuring in-depth interviews with fiction, nonfiction, essay writers, and poets, highlighting the voices of writers as they discuss their work, their craft, and the literary arts. Hosted by Mitzi Rapkin, First Draft celebrates creative writing and the individuals who are dedicated to bringing their carefully chosen words to print as well as the impact writers have on the world we live in.

In this episode, Mitzi talks to Marie Mutsuki Mockett about her new novel, The Tree Doctor.

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From the episode:

Mitzi Rapkin: You know, Charles Baxter has an amazing essay about writers avoiding difficult situations. I’m curious if it was hard for you to when you initially started this because you are writing so much about sex?

Marie Mutsuki Mockett: No, it was not.  But partly because I had decided that sex was going to be a big part of this novel. Years ago somebody had said something to me, like, you know, well, you don’t know how to write sex, or you can’t write sex. I think there was a panel that I wasn’t allowed to be on because I hadn’t written about sex and didn’t know how to write about it. And I was sort of pissed off and thought, well, okay, one day, when I have an idea, I’m going to write a book that has sex in it. And then I had an idea, so then I wrote it.  It was not, oh, I don’t know if I can do this or if I can’t do this. It was clearly Oh, this is part of what this novel is about, so I’m going to write these scenes. There were things that were more difficult to write about. It was very interesting to me. My editor, for example, wanted more scenes with the mother. Those were painful, those I didn’t enjoy writing. I really was trying to write something that would be an antidote to the fear that certainly I was feeling in the middle of the pandemic and that I imagined other people would be feeling. So, writing about a woman having an affair, and having sex and enjoying herself seemed like a really nice antidote. But leaning into some of the more painful emotions, I was worried would overwhelm the novel. But my editor said, No, we need a little bit more from the mother. Can you explain more? So those scenes got highlighted and drawn out more and expanded. So that’s something that was emphasized more later, but the sex scenes by and large, were in the first draft and were intentional and I thought were the kind of the focus of the book from the very beginning and to me it was one of those Well, if you’re going to write about sex, then write about it.  It wasn’t let’s just try it a little bit or let’s hint at it happening. You know, you’re either in or you’re out and I was in and I was committed to this is the subject so I wrote the scenes.


Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of the novels Picking Bones from the Ash and The Tree Doctor.  Her nonfiction books include American Harvest, which won the Nebraska Book Award, and Where the Dead Pause, and the Japanese Say Goodbye, which was a finalist for the PEN Open Book Award.


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