Is Diversity a Liability?

by | December 20, 2014 | General | 9 comments

By Lisabet Sarai

If I were looking for a logo, I might choose a Pu Pu Platter.

Do any of you remember those pseudo-Polynesian appetizer assortments, complete with the fiery wrought-iron cauldron in the middle to heat up all the finger food? Do they still exist? When I went searching for images on my favorite stock photo site, I came up with zero hits. Are PuPu Platters totally passé? Have they gone the way of granny glasses and lava lights?

Modern concerns with healthy eating have probably played a role in the platter’s demise. It’s difficult to imagine a more fat-and-cholesterol intensive repast than the traditional fried wonton, crispy egg rolls, barbecued spareribs, battered giant shrimp, cheese-filled crab puffs, and all the other delicacies that might show up ranged around the flaming Sterno. One PuPu Platter can undo weeks of toil at the gym.

But God, how I loved them! Indeed, I recall that on my first real date, my companion (with whom I was highly enamored) ordered us one. This may explain my lingering fondness; PuPu Platters are somehow mixed up in my mind with sex. (Not that I had sex on my first date, of course, but a teenager’s hormones color everything in her world). And there are some similarities, after all. A PuPu Platter is decadent, all luscious flavor with little food value. You devour the components with your fingers and lick off the juices afterward. And you can’t eat one all by yourself. PuPu Platters are made to be shared.

The real attraction for me, though, is variety. (I also adore mezze plates – Middle Eastern appetizer assortments.) A taste of this, a hint of that, never enough of any one dish to be bored – that’s what I love. Diversity is my ideal in life. I want to sample a wide range of different experiences, rather than being forced to choose one dish, one path, even one person – although I have been married to the same guy for more than thirty years. (He likes variety, too.)

As a reader, I also seek out diversity. Anyone who scrolls through my books on Goodreads will find plenty of erotica, true, but also romance, mystery, science fiction, fantasy, classics, historical novels, biographies, plays, poetry, a bit of almost everything. If you focus in on the erotica, you’ll see I read and review work ranging from extreme hard core BDSM to sweet vanilla. I read and enjoy gay, lesbian, bisexual and multi-partner fiction – contemporary, historical, futuristic – really, whatever I can get my hands on.

Most authors write what they like to read. Hence it’s not surprising my books are all over the map. At this point I’ve published nine novels (defined as works over 50K words). Two are gay erotic romance – one paranormal, one sci fi. One is M/F and F/F erotic noir. One is M/F paranormal. One is steampunk BDSM paranormal ménage. My first three are even harder to classify, offering a bit of everything, from a sexual perspective – from exhibitionism to enemas – with many assortments of gender and in one case, a parallel historical subplot.

I’m proud of my books. I like the challenge of tacking new genres as well as new forms. However, lately I’ve started to believe that diversity can be a liability to an author’s career. When someone asks you what you write, “almost everything” may not be a strategic answer.

Think about the authors whose names are household words. Steven King writes horror. Anne Rice writes paranormal. P.D. James writes (or wrote) mysteries. Tom Clancy and David Balducci write political thrillers. John Grisham writes legal thrillers. Nora Roberts writes romance. J.K. Rowling writes fantasy. (Remember how nasty the critics were when she published her realistic contemporary novel, A Casual Vacancy?)

I couldn’t think of any really popular writers whose books vary as much as mine do, from one to the next.

Meanwhile, my favorite authors are the ones who can write anything – and do. M.Christian comes to mind as maybe the best example. His backlist includes science fiction, horror, and just about every sort of erotica you can think of. I’ll devour anything by Kathleen Bradean/Jay Lygon. Jonathan Lethem’s wild imagination produces something different in every offering. And though I haven’t read anything by him in a long time, John Barth used to delight me with each new novel. I never knew what to expect – and that’s the way I liked it.

Of course, in answer to the question, “what do you write?”, I could say “erotica”. That doesn’t pin things down much, though. Some erotica readers are pretty picky about the themes and topics they want to read. I know people who find anything other than BDSM fiction totally boring. Others have complained they can’t find hot vanilla M/F stories anymore. The segment of the erotica market that’s reading primarily for arousal wants stories that push their particular buttons. Someone who gets off on water sports isn’t interested in femdom. And so on.

Anyway, the “erotica” answer isn’t strictly true. I also write erotic romance, which has a different audience. I’ve been told in no uncertain terms by some erotica readers that my stories were too tainted by romance. Meanwhile, I’ve had romance readers shy away from my work as “too hot” and “too much like porn”. I’ve considered adopting a new tag line: “Too raw for romance, too sweet for smut.” (I’m only halfway joking.)

I guess I have to accept the fact that the majority of readers does not value variety to the extent I do. Instead they are seeking predictability – the antithesis of enjoyment, from my perspective!

This is a bit depressing, if I allow myself to dwell on it.

Am I willing to focus on one sub-genre in order to become popular? If I were making my living as an author, I think I’d have to. Fortunately, I have the luxury of writing what I feel like – of indulging my love of diversity. As long as I don’t care if my work sells…

Now all I have to do is find readers with similar tastes.

Anyone care to share a Pu Pu Platter?

Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Monica Stoner

    I'll follow any author who gives me people to enjoy, across a wide range of genre. Me, I write Fantasy, and Paranormal and Romantic Suspense. Wherever the fingers take me.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Monica,

      Thanks for commenting. I suspect you understand my frustration with one-genre readers!

  2. Donna

    I loved Pu Pu platters! I'm vegetarian now, so not such a good selection for my tastes, but ordering the Pu Pu platter always meant exotic indulgence and festivity.

    I know this is idealistic, but there are so many other ways to judge success in writing than sales, so many other ways to be rich in life than bringing in lots of money. Knowing yourself and what you enjoy, exploring topics that fascinate you, that no one else could do as lovingly or as well–these are the treasures of writing. You are very rich by that measure! So sure, the market and its predictable tastes are depressing, but I actually found your post very inspiring to write what nourishes me and embrace exotic pleasures.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks, Donna! In some sense, I do admire authors who can work the system and sell tons of books. However, I admire the ones who are never satisfied writing the same story twice much more.

  3. daily hollow

    Lisabet, many do not realize Stephen King wrote Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me, two widely popular novels that were made into movies. Neither were horror, but I understand your point.

    I honestly do not think it matters if you write multiple genres provided you contribute a multitude of books in each, or become popular enough in one genre that readers will buy books published in others.

    Remember, while seemingly extinct at this time, Pu Pu Platters were at one time very popular.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hi, Daily,

      Actually the only thing I've read by King is "Hearts in Atlantis", which I think would probably be categorized as fantasy rather than horror. And I loved it. I'd avoided reading Stephen King for decades, partly because I don't enjoy most horror, but also because I was annoyed by his writing rules (things like "don't use adverbs"). Finally I decided that was prejudiced. I have to admit, I was very impressed with the depth of characterization and mood he could achieve with such simple prose.

      Live and learn.

  4. Bob Buckley

    You can still get a decent, old-fashioned, flaming-sterno, pu-pu platter at Kowloon on Route 1 North in Saugus, Mass. You must have driven past it once or twice when you lived in Massachusetts; a marvelously tacky Chinese/Polynesian joint with a giant tiki outside and an erupting volcano in the dining room. As for diversity, I also consider myself a journeyman, getting my fingers into everything … including the duck sauce.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Oh yes! I know exactly the place you're talking about!

      Of course, most of the time I'm a long way from Saugus. But just thinking about it brings back memories.

      Though I don't think I've ever been inside. I'm sure I'd remember the volcano…

  5. Jean Roberta

    Lisabet, I hear you. Even some small publishers (in my experience) have assumed that diversity in a single-author collection of erotica would be a selling point, but I haven't found that to be true. It's really unfortunate if your diverse talent never brings you the financial rewards you deserve, but as Donna said, you shouldn't let that stop you. And as a student of literature, I know that in some sense, there is always life after death (the life of the writing after the author's death). For what it's worth, you could be hugely popular in the mid-twenty-third century. 🙂

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