Thursday, February 09, 2006

“Erotic fiction explodes” Romantic Times magazine on erotic fiction

In an article entitled “A walk on the wild side,” the current issue of Romantic Times magazine looks at independent erotic publishers and mainstream publishers as they move to establish a share in the growing genre. As part if it, Diana Laurence gives the following reasons why erotic romance is HOT and BOTHERED

It’s hot because:
--- it's romances fastest-growing genre
--- it’s exciting, satisfying reading for fans and easier to obtain than ever
--- more publishers are working hard to offer good, solid stories
-- publishers strive to give erotic readers high quality, creative new books

It’s bothered:
--- by confusion over sensuality levels and language
--- by complacent and inconsistent quality
--- because readers want erotic romance to be more than just sex

These are just the sort of comments to put the heebie jeebies into an author of erotic fiction! My first full-length novel is in the throes of being edited and will be published as part of a new erotic imprint coming out of one of the big New York publishers. Of course I’m not worried about the reasons why the genre is “hot.” Woohoo, let’s party! :-) I’m going to talk briefly about the reasons why the "bothered" part worries me as an author – and for the purpose of this post I’m not distinguishing between erotica and erotic romance, because they both suffer these same issues, IMO.

I know what Diana means when she mentions the “confusion over sensuality levels and language,” and if you pick up any erotica or ER anthology you find a wide variety of those very things. However, if we all had exactly the same sensuality level and use the same language, writing would become homogenised and the genre(s) would quickly become stale. Authors might begin to lose their voices. On the other hand, it IS important to know exactly what you are buying as a reader, and to get an idea whether the language or contents might offend you. Difficult one that one, and I think it’s going to be an inevitable ongoing problem. Readers have different comfort zones. Shrug. It’s hard (if not impossible) to please all the people all the time. A lot has to do with author delivery, and publishers do need to put clear warnings on the book.

“Complacent and inconsistent quality.” My first reaction to that is: "well, that’s not just true of erotic fiction..." ;-) But, yes. That is nothing I can control outside of myself. I give it my best shot, and I always worry about it. In the same edition of the Romantic Times magazine some of the erotica reviews are critical because they feel characterisation and plot have been sacrificed for the sake of hot, envelope-pushing sex. Ouch. That reminded me of a conversation I had with Kerri Sharp, editor of the groundbreaking Black Lace “erotica for women by women” imprint. I was quizzing her on the phrase “envelope pushing” and genuinely asking her where is there to go for erotica? Kerri explained to me that when she used that phrase she wasn’t necessarily talking about sexual content. Shock horror! She was talking about genre, about putting believable sexual content into different types of books, books other than the tried and tested favourite erotic scenarios. She said the ideal would be to buy best-selling mainstream books and see them with lots of red-hot sex.

I learnt absolutely heaps from Kerri Sharp, but those comments above all really stayed with me. Personally, I enjoy writing scenarios that I could imagine being on a TV series, or movie. I go for the worlds of high finance, international arms scandals, land quarrels, the life of artists, the music biz and the paparazzi. I couldn't write a dungeon/master story, it's not me. I was instinctively drawn to those subjects because of my background, but Kerri saying that to me was like giving me permission to run with my dream!

Marilyn Jaye Lewis – author, editor and founder of the Erotic Authors Association -puts a huge emphasis on hot sex in the literary context – yes, let’s get the erotica genre out of the ghetto through strong writing and good stories! Her recent anthology STIRRING UP A STORM is one example that did exactly that, publishing stories by big-name mainstream writers such as Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood (and some much lesser-known, such as me ;-) writing literary stories that didn’t hide sex behind a curtain. It’s the inclusiveness that is the important part, not separating it off as something we should be ashamed of. Sex is something we all do and enjoy, (or most of us.) My god, we wouldn’t be here if someone hadn't had sex! Of course readers don't HAVE to read about it, there is always an element of choice when buying a commercial entertainment product, ;-P but if we want to read about it, why should it be seen as dodgy and marginalized? It’s natural, after all. Take a look at the Michael Perkins quote on this page and tell me it doesn’t ring true. These are important moves to help break down the taboos about sex.

I agree with Diana’s comments, but at the same time I think the wider picture and the possible answers are complicated. Her comments are all important points to me as an author, though. I instinctively want to write well-rounded plots with characters that are believable --> who then have hot sex. Yes, I’m a writer of erotic fiction but first and foremost I’m a WRITER. That means I have to do (or attempt to do,) all the things a writer does, to create likeable, enjoyable stories. Contrary to popular belief, erotic writing is not easy to write. You’re throwing another complex aspect of being human into a story that should have all the well-developed aspects of a story without sex anyway! When I plan a story, it’s the plot and characters first. The sex that happens between them is almost dictated by the scenario and the dynamics of the relationship/story. Of course if I am asked to do a bondage story, I plan a story where that will be a believable part of the plot.

I think the last point that Diana makes about readers wanting “more than just sex” is the clincher. As a reader that is what I want too. For me plot and characterisation are a must. Meshing all the excitement of a hot sexual and/or romantic relationship into that is like the total icing on the cake! Writing hot is natural to me, sexuality is part of being human and exploring a relationship develop without that just wouldn’t work for me. And yet...I look at Diana’s comments and I start sweating blood over my work. I have to reassure myself that I am doing the best I can to make my erotica a good all-round read...sigh. But I’m sure I will have many sleepless nights before DOUBLE DARE gets to the point of being reviewed....


wendywoo said...

Is this in a copy of RT that's just arrived? I'm expecting one any day... Will have to read this article *very* closely! Then read this post of yours again...

However, I agree with your 'clincher' remarks. Erotica and erotic romance does have to be about more than just sex. It's a pointless exercise and unpleasant to read if it doesn't have fully realised characters who interact emotionally with each other as well as physically. And just as in a sweet romance, a romantic thriller, a saga or a contemporay women's fic [or indeed any other kind of book] there needs to be a dramatic conflict of some kind, a dynamic, layered relationship and character growth, and some kind of satisfying and realistic resolution, even if it's not a traditional HEA.

Gosh, I'm preaching to the choir here. I've read your work and it's got *all* the good stuff!

But Diana Laurence has clearly picked up some books that don't have it...

As you so wisely say, all *we* can do is keep striving to do the best job we can.

ZaZa said...

I think one of the big handicaps for erotic romance, of whatever stripe, is that it and the ebook market exploded together. They were natural matches - quick to market, little prep required (on the publishing end), and lots of money to be made, quickly. The Internet drew in readers eager for books with a heat they couldn't get so easily before, or so cheaply.

With watchwords like quick and cheap, pretty much anything went when it came to feeding this starving market. So, a lot of what was published was crap, and the good stuff got tarred with the same brush, so to speak. Am I overdoing it on the cliches??? \;+)

I hope, now that mainstream publishers are getting into this market that they'll hold their erotica authors to the same standards as they have their other authors, although, as you say, the standard for non-erotic fiction isn't exactly solid across the board. You write literary erotic fiction, so you're a great one to help launch an imprint.

Once the book is in the editor's hands, all you can do is rely on them to do their job. And you do get a final pass at it, too. \;+)

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies!
On one of the lists I'm on, someone commented that with all these new imprints the market may be flooded. If that does happen, only the srongest writers and publishers will succeed. This puts an additional emphasis on us as authors to produce high quality erotic fiction if we want to survive. Anyone who thinks it's easy is kidding themselves.

Saskia Walker said...

Wendy, yes it's RT just arrived. When it flopped through the door Mark said "I'm not picking THAT up." I was busy and shouted out "Why?" and he said "Man boobs!" LOL! He also said he'd never be able to look the postman in the eye again ;-)) It is a bit.. well.. hmmm. Let's just say it's not my cup of tea!

ZaZa said...

Manboobs? Why haven't I gotten mine yet, and I live in the States??? I want my manboobs. \;+)))

Poor Mark. ;+)

Diana Laurence said...

Hi Saskia,

I came upon your blog about my comments in RT and read the exchange between you and your associates...what an intelligent and articulate bunch! It can be a real struggle writing for this genre, in ways only erotica/erotic romance writers understand. Your comments were all very well taken and I was honored to be quoted. And the March RT cover?...uh,yeah. :-)


Saskia Walker said...

Thanks for calling by, Diana. I'm glad you didn't mind me poking a bit deeper into the points you raised in RT. ;-) I guess you didn't have a lot of space, but there was certainly more to be said on all the points your raised.

Martin said...
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Parag said...
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Lilith Pane said...

I loved your thoughts on the planning of erotic fiction. I've recently started writing some myself and have come across these same challenges. I've been a professional writer for many years, but erotic fiction brings those new dynamics you mentioned to the table.

It's very interesting reading your blog and I think I will get some great advice from it.

-New follower :)

Love, licks and lashings,


Saskia Walker said...

Hi Lil, and welcome! :) Glad to see you here. I don't get to post about the genre as much as I'd like, but I still wrestle with these issues. ;)