Monthly Archives: November 2012
by K D Grace
One of the most intriguing parts of story for me has always
been the way in which the reader interacts with it, more specifically the way
in which the reader interacts with the characters in a story. I find that
interaction especially intriguing in erotica and erotic romance.
To me, the power of story is that it’s many faceted and it’s
never static. And, no matter how old the story is, it’s never finished as long
as there’s someone new to read it and to bring their experience into it. Like
most writers of fiction, I’m forever trying to analyse how a powerful story is
internalised, and why what moves one reader deeply, what can be a life-changing
experience for one may be nothing more exciting than window shopping for another.
In my own experience as a reader, there are two extremes. I
can approach a story as a voyeur, on the outside looking in from a safe distance,
or I can be a body thief at the other end of the spectrum and replace the main
character in the story with myself.
One extreme allows the reader to watch without engaging and
the other allows the reader to create sort of a sing-along-Sound of Music- ish
experience for themselves. As a reader, I’ve done both and had decent
experiences of novels doing both. As a writer, however, I don’t wish to create
a story that allows my reader to be a voyeur of a body thief.
As a writer I want to create a story that’s a full-on,
in-the-body, stay-present experience from beginning to end. I want characters
that readers can identify with and are drawn to but don’t necessarily want to
be. I want a plot that feels more like abseiling with a questionable rope than
watching the world go by from the window of a car. I want to create that
tight-rope walk in the middle. I want to create that place in story where the
imagination of the reader is fully engaged with the story the writer created.
That place is the place where the story is a different experience for each
reader. That’s the place where the story is a living thing that matters more
than the words of which it’s made up. It matters more because the reader has
connected with it, engaged with it, been changed by it. In that place, the
story and the reader are in relationship. Neither can embody the other, neither
can watch from a distance. The end result may be a HEA, the end result may be
disturbing and unsettling, but at the end of a really good read, the journey to
get there is at least as important as the end result.
Erotica and erotic romance are by their nature a visceral
experience. Though I think that’s probably true of any good story. I don’t
think good erotica can be watched from a distance any more than it can be the
tale of the body thief. While either will get you there, there’s no guarantee
that the journey will be a quality one. And I want a quality journey. I want to
come to the end wishing I hadn’t gotten there so quickly, wishing I’d had the
will power to slow down and savour the experience just a little longer. I want
to come to the end wondering just what layers, what subtleties, what nuances I
missed because I got caught up in the runaway train ride and couldn’t quite
take it all in.
A good read is the gift that keeps on giving. Long after
I’ve finished the story, the experience lingers, and little tidbits that I
raced through during the read bubble up from my unconscious to surprise me,
intrigue me, make me think about the story on still other levels, from still
other angles. When I can’t get it out of my head, when I find myself, long
after I’ve come to the end, thinking about the journey, thinking about the
characters, thinking about the plot twists and turns, then I know the story has
gotten inside me and burrowed deep. There was no pane of glass in between;
there was no body for me to inhabit because all bodies were fully occupied by
characters with their own minds and their own agendas. The experience extends
itself to something that stays with me long after the read is finished and
makes me try all the harder to create that multi-layered experience in my own
Erotica writers get no
respect. (Apologies to Rodney Dangerfield.)
I’m sure every
erotica and erotic romance writer has been mocked for what she writes. (I’m
using the feminine pronoun only because most erotic writers I know are female.)
We are told a squirrel could write what we write since it doesn’t take much
talent, and that women of little intelligence read it. That sort of thing
normally doesn’t bother me since I have a cast iron resolve, but I posted in a
forum recently where I felt like “one of the guys”, letting everyone
know about one of my erotic books making it to #18 in Amazon’s free erotic
Kindle books. That’s the highest I’ve ever ranked, and I was proud of it. I wanted
to let everyone know so they could pick up a copy of the book and drive me to
ridiculed me, which took me completely by surprise. They made comments like,
“An erotic romance novel? I’m so scared I think I just peed myself.” I
was quite miffed, although I shouldn’t let that kind of thing get to me.
Ridicule may be one of the professional hazards we take as erotic writers, and
we deserve combat pay for it. I’ve heard of other women tsk-tsked by family
members, laughed at by friends, and given the hairy eyeball by work colleagues
when these people find out we write stories with hot, steaming sex in them. Too
many people who have never picked up an erotic book in their lives think the
prose reads something like D. M. Dunn’s Dishonorable Mention Romance winner in
the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Awards contest: “Their love began as a tailor,
quickly measuring the nooks and crannies of their personalities, but it soon
became the seamstress of subterfuge, each of them aware of the others lingual
haberdashery: Mindy trying to create a perfect suited garment to display in
public and Sean only concerned with the inseam.” Too many people who have
never touched an erotic book or a romance novel think all of them contain words
like “turgid”, “throbbing man meat”, and “burning
What About Other Erotic Fiction Writers?
I interviewed erotic
romance writers about whether or not those closest to them take their chosen
profession seriously, and most had some horror stories to tell. I noticed
common elements, such as ridiculing the writers by reading steamy passages
aloud at family gatherings in order to get a few laughs at the writer’s
expense. Calling what they write “trash” or “smut” or
“porn”. Wondering why they “waste their time” if they
aren’t making much money at it, if any at all. After all, why aren’t they
making as much money as that woman who wrote “50 Shades of Grey”? Those
from conservative or religious backgrounds bore a great deal of ridicule and
other did everything in his power to prevent her from working and he still does,
although he’s the biggest purveyor of porn she’s ever met. Gina owns a small,
independent erotic romance publishing company. She had no issue with his porn
until he found it more preferable to masturbate than to have sex with her. Ann
heard that one of her sisters had shown her erotic romance web site to older
family members at a family gathering in the hope of shocking them and shaming
her. She also read aloud snippets from one of Ann’s steamy ménage romances, at
the top of her voice, after dinner. This was not done in a supportive manner to
promote her sister’s books.
abound, especially accusations that what we write is porn as if that’s a bad
thing. Sex columnist and author Violet Blue describes the difference between
porn and erotica for Psychology Today: “Porn is something that is a
graphic sexual image that conjures up an animalistic reaction in you. You like
it or you don’t,” she says. “Erotica also is graphic sexual imagery,
but it has an extra component or several extra components that resonate with
the viewer—be it artistic, be it passionate, be it something that emotionally
engages you, be it something that parlays into a fantasy that you have about
sexuality or the way that you relate to the people on screen.” When the
general public sees “porn”, it views it as gratuitous sexual imagery without
emotional connection that serves no useful purpose, and this view is a negative
one when it doesn’t have to be. As Violet Blue said, you like it or you don’t.
It’a a matter of taste.
A woman told Jerry,
a male erotica writer, that she refused to read or write porno. He elaborated
on his chosen form of writing, saying he writes stories with sex scenes but she
probably refused to listen. Shawn, another man who writes erotica, was also told
what he wrote was porn and he was wasting his time since he’d never make any
money at it. He was also told it was illegal. His family told him he was an
embarrassment to them. He wasn’t fazed, and continued to write erotica. His
girlfriend’s family even went to court to get a judge to keep him away from
her. That didn’t work. His girlfriend’s family has a very large trust fund she’ll
get when she turns 35. They think he’s after her money, which isn’t true.
made a very good point when she told me: “It’s the romance part that is
the stickler, Lizzie. People don’t take romance stories seriously. Somehow,
they think romance is easier to write or less important or emotional or
meaningful. And they are so wrong. But I don’t bother trying to explain. I
simply chalk them off my list.” Drew told Jean she could always remind
those people that “everything from Gone
With The Wind to Romeo and Juliet
to When Harry Met Sally are romances,
and then tell them to shove it.”
Religion plays a
huge factor in disapproval, especially from family members. Shawn’s
girlfriend’s family is extremely religious. They tell him what he writes is
against God’s will and he’s tainting their daughter with his porn. (There’s
that word “porn” again.) Karenna told me: “At the church I used to attend, a woman I didn’t know
well asked me about my writing. She smiled and nodded when I said I wrote
novels for teens. When I said I also wrote adult romance, her expression
changed and she looked at me like she’d scraped me off the bottom of her shoe. My
husband’s grandmother and one of his aunts had similar reactions. The
grandmother actually put her hands over her ears and said, “I prefer not
to discuss that kind of thing. Times have certainly changed; that used to be
all is gloomy. I’ve heard from erotic writers who have very creative ways of
handling the negative feedback they get. I proudly blurt, “I write
smut!” when asked and I enjoy the shocked and stupefied expressions on
people’s faces. Then, once I have them off guard, I explain in plain, gentle
English what I actually write. Interest in my writing is piqued enough for me
to sell some books. Kendall’s girlfriend constantly interrupts him when he’s
writing erotica. She looks over his shoulder, lets out heavy sighs, turns on
the TV very loudly or has loud telephone conversations. It’s very irritating
and distracting, which is her intension. However, if he’s writing something non-erotic
like an essay or play, she leaves him alone. Gina had an amusing suggestion –
the next time she sighs loudly, “grab her and toss her on the bed and do
super naughty things to her. Betcha she won’t bother you when you’re writing
erotica again for a while. When she does she’ll do the exact same thing as she
did last time, hoping for the same results – keep your ears open. Eventually
it’ll work out for you both. Trust me.”
like many erotic writers in that I am very selective about which people I allow
into my literary world. My parents and sister aren’t supportive. They don’t
ridicule or give me the hairy eyeball. They simply have no interest in what I
write, and they don’t give me any support. I have a feeling if I discussed my
writing at length they’d disapprove., but I don’t want to test that theory. My
writing never comes up in conversation, and I don’t volunteer information. I
also write horror, and even that is greeted with a blank stare. I’ve developed
a close relationship with an older couple. They give me lots of support about
my writing. My husband and son are also very supportive. I have writer friends
online and in meat space I look to for conversation and advice I know I won’t
get from my family. One of my closest friends is a science fiction writer who
is very supportive of my work. Laurie also is very selective about who she
tells, as is Regina. Regina told me: “If someone brings it up I’m okay
with it. But I never say anything on my own.” Laurie replied that her
husband will tell some of his friends that he wants to be married to a smut
author. I imagine him saying that with a twinkle in his eye and a proud smile.
at home and I’m my own boss so I don’t have a supervisor to worry about. Not
all writers are that fortunate. Tessa cheekily asked how she should handle the
fact that her day job boss knows about her extra-curricular writing job. Julez
suggested she smile sweetly and give him a copy of her books. She would but she
writes personal assistant/boss stories and she doesn’t want to give him the wrong
idea, something that could be very amusing.
must be a work hazard all of us erotic writers must deal with at one time or
another – negative feedback about our chosen profession from friends, family,
and work colleagues. I also would bet my burning slit many of those who mock
what we write have their own dog-eared copies of “50 Shades of Grey”
shoved beneath their mattresses, hidden away as if they are teenagers keeping
copies of Playboy away from mom and dad. Considering that erotica and
especially romance novels sell like hotcakes – outselling books in all other
genres – we may laugh at the ridicule and snippy looks as we deposit our
royalty checks into our growing bank accounts. In the end, as always, success
is its own reward.
by Jean Roberta
Years ago, my sister who has a Ph.D. in English, with a specialty in nineteenth-century fiction by women, claimed that referring to sex in a work of literary fiction is acceptable as long as the work is not intended to arouse lust. I was reminded of our mother’s amused response when I asked her (at age four, or thereabouts) why people in stories never go to the bathroom. Mom (who earned a Master’s degree in English during the Second World War) explained that it wouldn’t be appropriate to describe “private parts” in a story, and that I would understand it all better when I was older.
I am now approaching “normal retirement age” (as it is called in the university where I teach English), and I still don’t get it.
Let me revise that statement. I think I get it, but as I often remind my students, it’s never safe to assume. And even first-year university students should be striving to express themselves clearly and thoroughly in written words. A claim that certain subjects have to remain unmentioned – like Voldemort, the villain in the Harry Potter novels — for reasons that shouldn’t have to be explained just isn’t clear or logical.
By now, my mother has passed away and my sister no longer speaks to me, but the defense of literary standards is still a large part of the business of English departments in universities throughout the world. There seems to be a widespread assumption among the conservatives who hate “porn” that 1) all educated people can recognize this stuff when they see it, that 2) educational standards are declining in the public school system (at least in Canada and the U.S.), that 3) there is a widening gap between the literati and the masses who are kept ignorant so they can be exploited by a corporate-government alliance, and 4) allowing “porn” (sexually-explicit writing) into the Ivory Tower would be the ultimate surrender to the muggles, an admission that literate culture is dead or dying.
At the same time, advocates of sexual freedom and sexually-explicit reading-matter (fiction and instruction manuals) have been invited to speak in reputable universities that pride themselves on being avant-garde. Some post-secondary schools that have creative writing programs offer workshops and courses in erotic writing that are taught by erotic writers who have probably been disowned by their blood relatives.
As a university instructor whose job is to force a captive audience of young adults to write analytical essays, I can cautiously agree with points 2 and 3, outlined above. Every semester, my notorious grammar quiz gets more complaints and a lower class average. Is this because modern society is as decadent as Sodom and Gomorrah (offensive to God Himself), or maybe ancient Rome, and teenagers are now reading about body parts instead of learning the parts of speech? And are these activities mutually exclusive?
The lack of communication between porn-hating conservatives and radical advocates of literature that dares to tell the truth about Voldemort subjects is truly amazing. I’ve seen conservatives and radicals rub shoulders in the halls of the university, greet each other with big smiles, and agree in department meetings that we all really have the same goals.
I don’t think so.
By now, I suspect that all my colleagues in the English Department know what I write, but I never feel a draft of cold air coming from any of them. They have known me for years. I’m a silver-haired grandmother who teaches grammar. I don’t wear stilettos or fishnet stockings to academic social events. When one of my colleagues jokingly (rhetorically) asked in a meeting if writing “porn” could be considered an academic accomplishment (expected of academics who must “publish or perish”), he didn’t seem to be aiming a dig at me. Apparently what I write is thought of as something completely different.
It seems that no one wants to admit that “academic standards” are a bucket that can hold oil and water, elements that don’t mix well.
Five years ago (November 2007), a serious journal, The New Criterion, published an article* on “the grotesque carnival of today’s academy” by Heather MacDonald, who claimed that university education (particularly in the U.S.) has gone further downhill since 1987, when author Alan Bloom thundered about low standards in The Closing of the American Mind.
As evidence that educational standards have descended into hell in the 21st century, MacDonald refers to a book she picked up in the library of the University of California at Irvine: Glamour Girls: Femme/Femme Erotica, edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel and published by the Haworth Press (now defunct). MacDonald claims that this anthology is “undoubtedly not what California’s taxpayers have in mind when they foot the bill for new university books.” (Did she run a public opinion poll?)
After referring to a story in the anthology which was “as much as I could take,” Macdonald explains: “The jacket blurbs from various erotica writers assert that the collection makes an important contribution to lesbian literature by presenting ‘femme/femme’ (feminine lesbians) couplings instead of the usual ‘butch/femme’ stereotype.” This type of breakthrough is clearly not what MacDonald hoped to find in any book housed in a university library.
Egad. I was one of the erotic writers who wrote a blurb for Glamour Girls, and I still regard it as a literary anthology. I was glad to read a collection of stories that combine hot sex with a feminist challenge to the kind of masculine/butch chauvinism that still seems entrenched in some lesbian communities, not to mention mainstream culture. I can’t imagine a good reason why this book should be thrown from a library window onto a bonfire on behalf of taxpayers anywhere.
Luckily, I haven’t heard of any book-burnings inspired by this article or by any other rant about the spread of “porn” into places where it doesn’t belong. Yet some academics casually refer to sexually-explicit writing as something that no one with talent or intelligence would write, or study, even as they claim to promote the pleasure of reading.
Like other academics, I am very concerned about government cutbacks to universities, especially the one where I teach. It concerns me that young adults graduate from high schools without knowing how to put the feelings and ideas that want to burst out of them into written words. It especially concerns me that too many students say “I’ve never been good at writing,” without adding that they were never taught how to structure a sentence.
Ignorance is such a bad thing that it might just be the root of all evil. So how is it related to sex, or descriptions of sex? I can think of several factors that contribute to low literacy rates, and sexual energy is not one of them.
I hope the English department where I hang out never becomes the site of an ideological war like the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s. If war breaks out, however, I don’t intend to claim there is no important difference between the radicals and the conservatives, or that I don’t believe in “taking sides.”
Sigh. I just hope to have lots of good company on this side of the barricades.
*”Another View: America’s Flaw or Bloom’s?” by Heather Macdonald, in The New Criterion (November 2007, Volume 26), page 24.
This is my first post for ERWA blog. Although I see that
Lucy Felthouse is also talking about her experience writing a novel, I thought
I’d write about the process as I’m working on one. Anyone who has ever tried to
write a novel knows this is tricky. I might not finish. I might get bogged down
in the middle and have no clue what to do next. And you’ll get to see me fail in
real time! Oh, wait…
Several years ago at a writer’s conference, Poppy Z Brite
commented that you don’t learn how to write a novel. You learn how to write this novel (as you’re writing it). I’ve written a couple novels since then and agree with her comment.
Where do you begin? With the idea of a story. That sounds
logical but I’ve seen people claim they sit down and ‘just write.’ I have no
clue how that works. It probably doesn’t. Have an idea of the overall story you
want to tell even if you don’t have the specifics, who the main characters are
(I suggest you have a solid fix on them), and where you want the story to end
so you have a goal to aim for. Sure, there are people who claim to be pantsers
–- seat of the pants storytellers who don’t outline—but I’m sure they have an
idea of what they want to do when they start. Otherwise it’s like entering a
forest without a path, walking for several hours in whatever direction your
feet lead, then the sun starts to set and you ask yourself where the hell you
are and how to get out. That’s how people end up writing two hundred thousand
word novels with no end in sight. That’s not the best use of your precious
Stephen King, in his fantastic book On Writing, admits he doesn’t know where his stories come from. In
the ‘writing is a talent’ versus ‘writing is a craft’ debate, I’m firmly in both
camps. However, I believe that the
ability to imagine a story is a talent. You either have it or you don’t. If you
have it, you understand why Stephen King can’t tell you where stories come
from. He can’t, and I can’t. But I can tell you how this novel began for me.
I had a vision. It’s sort of like daydreaming, like a
snippet of a movie, but so vivid that I swear I can smell and feel things.
These scenes hit me while my mind is wandering. I’ve never sat down and said,
‘I will now imagine something.’ This
particular story idea came to me after reading comments by Remittance Girl on
the ERWA Writer’s list as the group discussed what defined the erotica genre.
She (I’m paraphrasing) said that the central question of erotica is how we (the
characters) deal with desire. I mulled over that for a few days and this vision
came to me:
(I’m not going to record this in any attempt at pretty prose
since this would never go into a story raw. This is the way I would have jotted
it down on paper.)
Fog hangs heavily in the air. It condenses on the bare limbs
of winter trees and splatters on cobblestones. It’s just before dawn, and even
though my vision is in color, it feels like a black and white photograph, like
the movie poster from the Exorcist with the priest under the gas lamp in the
fog. Street lamps cast cold light on a small train station. A young woman in ratty
punkish clothing paces the station platform and stomps her feet to keep warm.
She wraps her arms around her waist and mutters to herself. I can’t hear what
she says, but she repeats it over and over, so I know she’s losing her mind. At
the far end of the station platform, a man appears. He’s been there all along,
but she (and I) just noticed him. The young woman is suddenly ravenous and
aroused. Her gaze lingers on the groin of the man’s jeans. He’s cold too, with
his nose buried in a thick scarf and his hands shoved into the pockets of his
thick coat. Just a guy, going to work on the early train. She walks over to him
and asks in German, “Want to fuck?” (although I’m convinced that she’s
That’s it. That was all I had to go on. It takes five
minutes to write down, but in my mind, it was only a ten or twenty second
movie. As I do with most of these visions, I immediately asked all the
pertinent questions. Who was she? Clearly the main character. Where and when was
she? The train station’s architecture said Eastern Europe. The gas lamps, black
and white tones, and train travel suggested the past, but her clothes said
1990s to 2000s, so I knew that the story would be set in current times but have
a timeless feel. I also knew from the lighting and the fog that the story’s tone
would tend gothic and share genre elements with either horror or noir (a term
which technically only applies to movies, but you know what I mean) Why is she
at the train station? She’s chasing someone. Why was she losing her mind?
Hunger. What was she hungry for? Sex.
Where do those answers come from? Imagination. As I’m asking
myself these questions I’m filling in details. They may change as I’m writing
the story, but these are my characterization, setting and tone starting points.
This is also where I ask myself: What is the story about? The answer is one
sentence, hopefully under twenty words. I write it on a piece of paper and tape
it to the wall above my computer so it’s always there to remind me as I write. I
also get a summary idea of the story (which can and will change). This isn’t
the same as plot, but it’s similar.
I let my mind run with those answers for a couple days. I
sensed a novel in it, but was so caught up in the intensity of the story that I
wanted to get something down. Plus, I worried that a story about someone
chasing a lover (or lunch, depending on where I went with it) wasn’t a big
enough idea for a novel. So I threw myself into writing a short story which
ended up on ERWA’s blog in October under the title It’s Lovely. It’s Horrible. (If
you missed it, the story has already been picked up by an editor for a vampire
anthology even though it’s not what I’d call a vampire story.) Almost every
critique on ERWA’s Storytime list stated that the idea was too big for a short
story and I needed to expand it to a novel. So that’s what I’m doing.
A note about titles. I either get a great idea for a title off
the bat or I struggle. Orbiting in
Retrograde – flash of inspiration. She
Comes Stars – came from a line in the story. It’s Lovely. It’s Horrible – I settled on only after I mentally
shoved bamboo slivers under my fingernails. And believe me, that was the best I
could do after some truly awful ideas. That wasn’t the title I wanted to use for a
novel so it was back to the bamboo. Desire
was my initial title idea since a discussion about desire sparked the story idea,
but what the hell does Desire tell
the reader? Not much. It could be a great title for another work, but not this
one. I flirted with the idea of Consumed
for a while but I recognize a yuck title when I see one. I think I was taunting
myself with that one. “Pick a better title or you’ll be stuck with this one!” At
that point I gave up trying to find a title and forged ahead with the story.
You don’t have to have a title. It’s nice to have one, but you can work without
A couple chapters into the first draft I stumbled into a
title. I’m still trying to decide if it’s The
Night Creature or The Night Creatures,
and if I’ll drop The, but it strikes me as a good fit. The Night Creature warns you that the work will be dark. It hints
at horror. That’s the tone I want to set from the beginning.
Next time I’ll talk about how I decided where to begin the
By Lisabet Sarai
At the moment I’m in the throes of
editing stories for my upcoming charity anthology Coming
Together: In Vein. Despite my hatred of all things Microsoft,
I’ve decided that using Word’s Track Changes functionality (as all my
publishers do) is the most efficient way to communicate my suggested
modifications to my authors. Anyway, last week I was working on a
submission from a well-known and respected writer and found myself
breaking up her sentences: deleting conjunctions, inserting periods,
and adding initial caps. My intuition (which I rely on at least as
much as more analytical processes when I’m editing) told me her
sentences were too long. Paragraph after paragraph, she would string
three or four or even five independent clauses together with various
Her sentences weren’t exactly what I’d
label “run-on”. Normally there was a close logical relationship
among the clauses. However, they were certainly much longer than what
I’d write, especially lately. (My earlier work tends to be a good
deal more prolix.) Before long the pages of her story were a mess of
red and blue, cross-outs and insertions.
I worked at this for a while, then went
back to read over the edited text. When I did so, I realized my
changes had done some violence to the rhythm of the author’s prose.
Much as the long sentences bothered me, they were part of her
personal style. If she followed my suggestions and hacked the long
sentences into pieces, that might make the story “better” in some
formal, grammatical sense, or at least more readable. However, it
would be less distinctive – more like my own work, and probably
more like the other stories in the collection.
I went back and used “undo” to
reverse most of the edits. In my opinion, variety as one of the most
critical attributes of a successful anthology.
The experience started me thinking
about all the other pressures toward homogenization we authors face.
Genre conventions, for instance. Readers select a book in a
particular genre with strong expectations about its plot, characters,
and even its style. A murder mystery that ended without revealing the
identity of the killer would generate a lot of reader complaints.
Indeed, one could question whether the genre label even applied.
The conventions for erotic romance are
equally if not more stringent, as I’ve discovered over the past six
years writing in the genre. The main characters must be appealing
individuals who are at least somewhat attractive physically. The
narrative must focus on their relationship; the protagonists should
not have emotional or sexual attachments to other parties. The story
must hinge on some barrier, internal or external, to the characters’
mutual love, and ultimately that barrier must be removed, so that the
story ends happily.
I’ve got nothing against love, but I
don’t read many romance books, because honestly, I find too little
diversity for my taste. (There are, of course, exceptions.)
Unfortunately, I feel that erotica has
also become more homogenized over the past half decade. Genre
conventions aren’t so strict for erotica, but there are other forces
reducing originality and variety in the genre. One problem is the
fact that relatively few publishers command most of the market.
Several of the more adventurous and controversial erotica publishing
companies (e.g. Freaky Fountain, Republica) have folded. To the
extent that new companies have arisen, they seem to be trying to
imitate the few imprints that have remained solvent. I suppose this
is a rational business decision, but it reduces the diversity of the
erotica gene pool.
Naturally a particular publisher will
produce books with commonalities of style and content. Thus, a
limited set of publishers tends to push the genre in the direction of
Now, you may be jumping up and down
right now, because it seems as though a new epublisher opens its
virtual doors every week. So how can I say that the number of erotica
publishers is limited? If you check the fine print, you’ll discover
that about ninety percent of these new companies publish exclusively
or primarily erotic romance, with all the attendant literary strings.
Furthermore, rather ironically, this
flood of new publishers seems to reduce rather than enhance
diversity. Many are founded by refugees from other publishing houses.
They bring with them the preferences, assumptions and house styles of
their former companies, and tend to be rather heavy-handed in
enforcing these styles, sometimes with limited understanding. I’ve
had editors strike out every single use of “that” to introduce a
subordinate clause; replace every single one of my semi-colons with
an em-dash; insist on the total elimination of passive voice; require
that I rewrite a first-person story in third-person. Sometimes I
resist these changes, but many authors will not, especially the
thousands of brand new writers who are joining the authorial ranks
every month to feed the public’s massive hunger for romance.
Market forces are perhaps the most
powerful homogenizing agent. When a particular book succeeds, for
whatever reason, publishers (naturally, I suppose) look for other,
similar works. I remember the first couple of spanking anthologies,
which were wildly popular. How many spanking collections have hit the
shelves since then? I don’t even bother to pick them up anymore,
unless I’m working on a review. Give me something different!
But instead we see a flood of vampire
books, or a slew of BDSM romances featuring naïve heroines and
sadistic, damaged heroes. I encounter volume after volume of gay
erotic romance, featuring well-hung young hunks who seem to live in a
world where there are no heterosexuals and there’s always lube close
at hand. The same well-thumbed plots and characters appear again and
again. I started posting a shape-shifter romance serial on my web
site last year. After a couple of chapters, as an experiment, I asked
my readers to tell me what should happen next. Reader after reader
outlined essentially the same plot – the same story they’ve read in
a hundred other books about were-wolves, were-tigers, were-bears,
Do I sound like I’m whining? If you
think you detect a note of frustration, you’re correct. I don’t want
to read the same thing over and over. And I don’t want to write it,
either. These days, though, sameness sells.
I know my work has some distinctive
stylistic properties, but I consciously try to produce something new
every time I sit down in front of my keyboard. I’ve written a lot of
BDSM, yes – because that’s what interests and arouses me – but
I’ve also written gay and lesbian stories, menage and polyamory,
science fiction, paranormal, historical, steampunk, fairy tales, even
a bit of horror. I’ve never written a sequel or tried a series, at
least partly because I don’t want to revisit the same
characters, setting or theme. I want to try something different.
Originality lies close to the top in my
hierarchy of literary values. Nothing thrills me like a story with an
uncommon premise or an unusual point of view. My favorite authors are
the ones who surprise me, with their fertile and outrageous
imaginations. And I dream that there are at least a few readers out
there who pick up my books because they’re looking for
something new and different.
I’ll continue to resist the pressures
toward homogeneity to the extent that I can.
It’s certainly a good thing I don’t
dream about being rich and famous.
By: Craig J. Sorensen
Recently, a good friend has been going through the sort of
relationship that has more pivot points than a double jointed hand with six
fingers. It started before I left
Pennsylvania in June. It ended before I
left in June. Started again after I
left, ended again. Started, ended… well,
you get the idea.
She’s a beautiful young woman, highly intelligent, very
creative, and successful in a field that is not easy to be successful in. They have a lot in common, and just one or
two things where they differ.
But they are big things.
Each time relationship 2.0 and 3.0 and etc. ended, he gave
me a post mortem of how wonderful it felt when the relationship started, how
she was so understanding about his want to take it slow. He described how quickly it changed toward
the end. As he described the cycles in the most recent
release, it occurred to me what he was describing. And maybe you’ve seen or felt it too:
When I described it in those terms to him, he practically screamed it out: “That’s exactly what it is!”
Cocaine love: Quick on the uptake, full of chemistry and biology and
euphoria. More often than not this kind
of relationships end with an equally resounding crash.
Ultimately, each time this cocaine love began with her
accepting his position on a fundamental point.
By the end, the actions spoke louder than words, and this flexibility fell away like a mask. And the principle he
is operating on is one that really shouldn’t be asked to change. Each time the relationship finished, he said how stupid he was, how he won’t get caught in that trap again.
It comes down to a person who will “give everything” if he
just “change one thing.”
But the essence of true love is not asking one to
change their fundamental principles, especially when they are the same core
values that make that person special.
And that is the case here.
There are many things that can lead to a cocaine love, but
the bottom line is that it is hard to live on a steady diet of cocaine. Maybe cocaine love can work, if both partners
are committed after the high wears off.
And sometimes that means enduring the withdrawal. Together.
The great relationships are like a fine meal. Invigorating, and can be exciting, but
sustaining as well. A good meal doesn’t
have the potential to emaciate the way that narcotics can.
Usually one person is the narcotic in a
cocaine love, while the other is deep in the high.
Again, this is not to say that a couple truly in love cannot
have an intense sort of desire, but there is a certain false-front that defines
cocaine love. And the essence of being
able to see past it, is being willing to take a look at the relationship in
The essence is seeing the difference between being high and
I’ve used the dynamic of cocaine love in stories. It makes great material, especially in erotica, but a lot better explored in fiction than lived through in life.
Just ask my friend.
In the past month, the subject of how to discuss what we write has come up an uncanny number of times, from diverse quarters. I have a friend who writes erotic fiction, but never admits to it, because his wife doesn’t like it. Another fellow writer says that he is uncomfortable about admitting what he writes, because he has children and (this must be an American thing) worries that people will somehow feels he’s an unreliable father if he writes erotica. I know many erotica writers who use a pen name because they fear an admission of what they write will imperil their careers.
When people, in everyday sorts of interchanges, ask me what I do, I say I teach and I write. They’re never all that interested in what I teach; they ask me what I write, and I tell them. Since the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, the next inevitable question is: oh, so you write stuff like Fifty Shades of Grey? No, not really, I say.
Their reaction – the knowing smirk, the sly wink and, occasionally, some far too TMI confession – constantly reminds me that what we do is still considered deviant and transgressive.
In the world of academia, it’s even more interesting. As a graduate student, you spend a considerable amount of time going to seminars, interacting with other graduate students, and the question of your research comes up all the time. In the last 2 months, I have had to sit in a group and fess up to exactly what I write and what I’m researching over and over. From time to time, I will encounter a genuinely thoughtful response: wow, what a compelling area of study! Good luck with it!
But more often than not, after the initial, very studied attempt to appear unfazed, I am met with the same ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ follow-up that I receive from non-academics. Frankly, it depresses me. I suspect, being an intellectual snob, I expected something more intelligent from my colleagues.
Eroticism is a dangerous subject; so dangerous, in fact, that our society consistently prefers to deal with it at arm’s length by mythologizing it or turning its subjects into caricatures. Either that, or they try to reduce it to anthropological study. Eroticism is not sexuality, although it is often expressed through sexuality. It has more in common with religious ecstasy than it does with procreation. It is so mysterious to us, that we try and explain erotic attraction by aligning it with animal mating displays and successful reproductive strategies in the wild: i.e. men are attracted to red lipstick on women in the same way apes are attracted to females in estrus with inflamed backsides, or, masochists like to be whipped because it produces endorphins that get them high.
Let me put an end to this nonsense: male baboons don’t have fur fetishes and masochists are not drug addicts.
Eroticism is the story of our negotiation between self and other on a very deep, very visceral level. We are born alone, die alone, and yet, in extremely special circumstances, we sense that there is a way to escape the gravity well of our hermetically sealed existences. And very much like ecstatic religious experiences, profound erotic experiences offer us, if only for fleeting moments, that sense of there being something more. This is why, I think, so many of the French theorists, reflecting on eroticism, felt it was existentially connected to death – not death as a negative, but death as the greatest of all transformative experiences. What makes eroticism more interesting, to me, is that you can live to talk about it.
And that’s the challenge for erotic writers. It is easy to describe a sex act, easy to list the attributes of a person you want to fuck, easy to trot out the slang, the jargon, the tropes, the memes we have all come to recognize as signifiers for activities that lead to orgasm or ejaculation. This is the use of cliche in as much as we wave textual imagery in front of our reader that we know will predictably trigger the reader’s arousal: “He pounded into her tight, wet pussy.”
But that is mistaking pleasure for eroticism. Pleasure is part of eroticism, to be sure, but not its entirety.
The erotic experience, at its zenith (which may be at orgasm, or may be at some other point) renders us almost without language. To attempt to approach it, in writing, will never be entirely successful. Authors will often, at the height of an erotic moment, slew sideways into romantic love, as if that will do duty to fill the vacuum of language that the erotic experience leaves us with. I’ve certainly been guilty of this.
I don’t have an answer. But what I have learned is that eroticism is best understood as the journey to a fleeting and liminal state rather than the destination. There is no end-game to eroticism. It is about our yearning, not really our getting. We reach, we think we’ve grasped that elusive prize, only to find out that what we’re holding either is too slippery to keep, or is not the prize we were after.
Like pathos, like nostalgia, like joy, terror or sadness, eroticism is a way-station, not a terminus. However, unlike those other human experiences, our culture has not found ways to explore its depths or heights comfortably or unflinchingly. We turn its subjects into objects and depersonalize them because the spectacle of the real experience is thriling, utterly intimate, and overwhelming.
But our challenge, as writers of the erotic, is to take that on. Not to flinch, not to look away, not to cheat by reducing the acts or the characters we write to caricatures or myths, or take refuge in the more socially acceptable sanctuary of romantic love. And that’s why, unless our culture changes radically, we will always be transgressors in the literary world when we pursue the task of writing the erotic.
Before I begin (again),
a bit of disclosure: While the following has been written in an attempt to be
professionally and personally non-biased I am an Associate
Publisher for Renaissance E Books.
Now, with that out of the way (again)…
The last time I wrote an intro like the above it was for my
Streetwalker column Self Or Not? – about why I feel that,
even though it can be very alluring, I still recommend writers work with a
publisher rather than go the self-publishing route.
After writing that column I’ve been thinking, a lot, about
what makes a good publisher … especially these days. Not to (ahem) brag but I’ve been in the
biz for quite a few years and have worked with a lot of publishers – both when
books were printed on (gasp) actual paper, as well as in the new digital age,
so I think I can say a bit about what makes a good publisher.
As always, keep in mind that this is somewhat subjective:
what I like in a publisher may not be
what you like in a publisher … but
the somewhat is there because, tastes
aside, it’s a publisher’s job to get your book out so, hopefully, people will
buy bunches of copies.
The world – as I mentioned – as totally changed, and so has
what publishers not just can do but should be doing. It may sound a bit … emotional, but I like a publisher I can
talk to – and who talks to me.
Sure, many publishers are simply too busy to answer every email
immediately but that they get back to me eventually is more than enough to keep
me happy. I’ve dealt with far too
many publishers who I have to write, write, write and write again to get an
answer to even the simplest question.
Sure, I think its very important to work with a publisher
who respects you as an artist but more than anything they should understand the
business of publishing. I’ve had some great experiences with
very supportive publishers – only to be disappointed that even though they tell
me I’m (ahem) The Greatest Writer Who
Ever Lived they totally drop the ball in getting my books out. These days it is absolutely crucial to hit as many sellers as
possible: amazon is fine and dandy, the publisher’s own site is expected, but
if they don’t get books onto places like Barnes & Noble – and especially iBooks
– then that can mean a serious cut in revenue. The same goes for print versus ebooks: the cold reality is
that that print books do not sell as well as ebooks … so a publisher that
focuses on print rather than ebooks is, to be polite, way behind the times.
Publicity and marketing is a very sore point for a lot of
writers in regards to publishers.
Not to kick a hornet’s nest, it is very important to have a publisher
that at least tries to get the word out about your book – but that in no way means that authors
should just kick back and complain.
Yes, you should be annoyed by a publisher that does nothing to promote your book but if they are working hard – or as
hard as they can – then get out there and add to their efforts.
By the way, if the only thing a publisher advises you to do –
publicity and marketing-wise – is Tweet or join Facebook … well, let’s just
say that there are a million other ways to get the word out rather than doing
what everyone else is doing. Yes, a
digital presence is essential – if anything to give you’re a place to see, and so
buy, all your books – but the simple fact is that your friends on Facebook are
not the people who will be buying your books. A good, smart publisher will be working to reach actual
readers and buyers through not just traditional channels but through a wide
range of alternative methods.
More than anything publishers are businesses and, as such, they have to operate effectively,
efficiently, and intelligently. That
means that they can’t give their writers 100% of their time … mainly because while
they are trying to find new authors, getting books out, working on promotion
and marketing, but they also always keeping an eye on the bottom line. Sometimes I feel if a publisher is
spending too much time with me – the
flipside of being totally ignored – I worry that they should be doing more for
the company rather than obsessing over just one book (even if the book is mine).
Experience in a publisher is essential, but only if that
experience has been educational: if a publisher tells me that my book needs
anything – (different cover art, new title,
different marketing strategy) – I will do what needs to be done, but only if I
feel that the recommendation comes from looking, and understanding, what sells
a book. I hate to say this but
I’ve run into a few publishers that want to be PUBLISHERS (meaning they are in the business only to boost their ego)
and not a publisher (who is trying to create a successful company): the
former’s advice is usually based on trying to look like they know what works rather than really understanding the
I could go on – and will in my next column – but this should
at least give you some food for thought.
If you have any comments about any of this, or want me to chat about
anything specific in regards to publishing, leave a comment or shoot me an
I promise to answer … though it may take me a bit of time.
Just like a good publisher should 😉
By Ashley Lister
Two naked bodies
Intertwined twixt midnight sheets
Slick silvered shadows
I can’t believe we’ve gone almost a year on this blog without discussing haiku as a writing exercise. The haiku is one of the most accessible forms of syllable based poetry. When used as a warm up device before writing, it’s a form of poetry that can help a writer focus on the essence of the words in her or his vocabulary.
As most people know, the traditional haiku is a three line poem based on a strict syllable count. Obviously there are some variations.
There’s the pop haiku, characterised by Jack Kerouac’s interpretation of the form.
There are senryu, identical to haiku in form, but with a content that is wry, ironic or whimsical.But today we’re looking at the traditional haiku with its rigid format:
1st line = 5 syllables
2nd line = 7 syllables
3rd line = 5 syllables
It’s worth noting here the definition of a syllable. The definition below is taken verbatim from the trusty dictionary sitting on my desk.
a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word; for example, there are two syllables in water and three in inferno.
Pearsall, J., Hanks, P., (2005), Oxford Dictionary of English, 2nd Edition, Revised, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
However, even with such an authoritative definition, there will obviously be anomalies in the words we select. We hit words like sure, fire and wheel and can’t
decide whether the word includes one or two syllables. Is it ‘shoor’ or ‘shoe-er’? Is it ‘fire’ or ‘fie-arr’? Is it ‘wheel’ or ‘wee-ell’? My usual response to such observations is: How do you pronounce the word? It’s your poem. Own the word.
And that’s all there is to this form. Obviously haiku can be studied in greater depth. There are some forms that demand the author should mention a season or kigo. There are some forms that require a break at the end of the first line and insist on the juxtaposition of two images in the whole poem. But, for the purposes of this warm-up exercise, it’s enough to craft seventeen syllables of serious sensuality into a single haiku.
After the climax:
Glossy flesh lacquered with sweat
As always, I look forward to seeing your poems in the comments box below.