By Lisabet Sarai
Revealed wisdom – or perhaps unsupported mythology – states that it takes time to become an accomplished author. I wish I had a dollar for every blog I’ve read where the writer claims his or her first efforts were pure unadulterated crap. Not having been privileged to read these early tales, I can’t judge whether this is the truth or merely misplaced humility. However, I’ve been noticing recently that in erotica, at least, an author’s first novel often possesses a special quality that’s hard to recreate in subsequent work.
From a craft perspective, that first book might be flawed. Somehow that doesn’t matter. First erotic novels have a life, an intensity, that’s unique. They offer a riotous explosion of lascivious fantasy, unchecked and uncensored. The scope of imagination compensates for less than perfect execution. Passion carries these books, overwhelming other considerations.
I realized this anew when I read K.D. Grace’s post last month here at the ERWA blog. She was celebrating the four year anniversary of her first novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly. I’m a huge admirer of K.D.’s writing – check out her steamy contribution to the current ERWA Gallery to see why – but I found Ms. Holly particularly arousing. It’s full of offbeat characters involved in creative and kinky carnal activities. A delicious sense of sexual license pervades the novel. Reading it, I knew the author had not held back, that she’d poured all her personal desires and fantasies into her lovely fable.
In some ways, it’s hard to believe this was K.D.’s first novel. Certainly, I didn’t realize this when I read it. At the same time, the heady mix of prurience and innocence in the book is typical of first timers.
The book that inspired me to publish erotica has some of the same characteristics. Portia da Costa’s Gemini Heat aroused and delighted me with its diversity and sexual creativity. I became an instant fan, and I’ve read many of her other books, all good, some brilliant. Still, none of them, except perhaps Entertaining Mr. Stone, can compare with Gemini Heat, in terms of its effect on me.
Despite having a happy ending for everyone involved, the book totally shatters romance conventions. (Of course, it wasn’t written as romance, though it’s marketed that way now.) Everyone has sex with everyone else. Both gender identification and power exchange are fluid. The hero is half-Asian, slightly androgynous, a total sybarite who’s nevertheless ferociously intelligent – almost the opposite of a typical alpha male.
Just recently, Portia mentioned to me that Gemini Heat was her first attempt at erotica. If I’d known that when I first read the book, back in 1999, I would have been astonished. Now I think I recognize the hallmarks of one’s first time, the erotic charge released when an author bares her sexual soul and dares to write what pushes her own buttons.
My own debut novel has some of the same characteristics. Like many new erotic authors, I didn’t really have a clue about the publishing business, about writing for a market, about genre conventions. I’d read some erotica, mostly classics, but nothing (other than Portia’s book) that could really serve as a model. Mostly, I was burning up with self-generated arousal. I wanted to share my fantasies, to vicariously explore what would happen if I extrapolated on my (not insignificant) real life sexual experiments. In the previous decade, I’d had life-changing experiences with dominance and submission. I wrote the book to capture that intensity, and amplify it with what-ifs.
The creative process was intuitive and close to effortless (especially compared to writing now). I’d sit down at the computer and the words would flow unobstructed from my dirty mind onto the page. I penned 72,000 words in my spare time, over the course of about six months. I wrote an additional 10,000 words in a single weekend, after the publisher complained that I hadn’t honored my contract, which called for a minimum of 80K. (Newbie that I was, I thought that clause was just advisory!)
The result, Raw Silk, has been released by three different publishers and is still in print. I can’t say it’s a best seller, but it’s the only one of my books that ever earned out its advance. And apparently, people are still reading it. A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting erotic romance legend Desiree Holt. The first thing she told me was that she had loved Raw Silk. (Needless to say, that was one of the high points of my so-called career as an author!)
Depending on how you count, I’ve written seven or eight novels since Raw Silk. From a craft perspective, all greatly improve on my first effort, which suffers from wooden dialogue, an overabundance of adverbs, excessively long sentences and word repetition that makes me cringe. Still, I have the uncomfortable feeling none of my later novels can compete, in terms of genuine passion.
The more I write, it seems, the harder it becomes to tap that well-spring of pure sexual excitement that fueled my first attempt. At this point, I’ve read and written so much erotica that I’ve become jaded, I know. I’m sure the ebb in hormones as I’ve grown older has an impact, too.
As I continue to write, I hope that other factors compensate: original premises, surprising plots, engaging characters, polished and evocative language. Still, I look back wistfully on that first novel – so fully of naive sexual energy.
I wonder how many other erotica authors feel the same.