by Kathleen Bradean
I’ve sold about seventy to a hundred short stories so far. I stopped keeping track several years ago, so I have no idea what the real number is. It doesn’t matter though because all that’s important here is that I’m somewhere between none and zillions and have some experience with the art form. Yes, experience, both as a reader and a writer, but I still think I barely know anything.
While reading an anthology last week, a short story that took place over a span of time– let’s say a week although I don’t remember– didn’t work for me. As I set the anthology aside, I decided the reason why was that short stories work best when confined to a short period of time, say over an hour or so. Hills Like White Elephants, I thought. But that’s just stupid thinking because A Good Man is Hard to Find.
It isn’t just short stories that send me into long bouts of contemplation. I frequently muddle over the problem of the erotic novel. Many readers want sex in every chapter. Pages and pages of sex each chapter, with more and more partners thrown into the mix and some kink as well, and oh what the heck, lets fall on our swords with that old trope that sex equals love, shall we? The problem with erotic novels like that is that the sex scenes tend to become skimmable. They’re wank fodder and while there’s nothing wrong with that, the characters in those sorts of stories tend to have as much depth as a hologram.The plot, what there is of one, is a thin excuse to string together sex scenes. To be mean about it, they simply aren’t good writing. Damn it people, erotica can be well written! We deserve better quality.
I look for something more contemplative and literary in erotica than a wankfest. Although, of course, I love to be aroused by a story. But because most published erotica tends toward a standard ‘let’s go on a sexcapade’ escapist fantasy, I often think erotica is at its best in short form where, strangely enough, writers seem to do a better job of addressing deeper issues and building dimensional characters than in long form.
But then I think of Donna George Storey’s Amorous Woman and Remittance Girl’s Beautiful Losers and change my mind. And oh, I wish the incredibly talented Teresa Lamai’s (ERWA veterans will correct her name for me) story set in Venice with the Russian dancer and American painter was available to readers because it was such an amazing work. It is possible to produce an erotic novel that’s literary, that’s art, that transcends. It’s just that they’re rare and don’t tend to find publishers because they are sensualist fiction rather then sexual.
This isn’t a terribly coherent post because this is one of those hamster on a wheel debates I have with myself. My thoughts run and run but only end up going in circles. Are short stories best confined to a short time frame? My thinking now is that confined, rather than time, is the operative word. Everything in a short story must be confined to the pertinent data. The story may occur over a long period but we only get the glimpses of things that matter, delivered in tightly written paragraphs where every word pulls its weight. The same is true maybe of erotic fiction in the novel form. No matter how long the work is, there’s no room for gratuitous sex scenes.
But you know, I’m not set on that. I could be easily convinced that I’m concentrating on the wrong things, that confined writing is the opposite of what’s needed, and that erotic novels work on a literary level more often than I think. Convince me. Give me examples.
Meanwhile, I’ll be puttering around inside my brain muttering “Hills Like White Elephants” and wondering how much I can leave off the page, as if writers can adopt the zen philosophy of art where we could make as much use of white space between as we do with words. Which is a different topic. Maybe.