I'm pretty open with people I know about the fact I write erotica. As I've mentioned numerous times, I'm just a little less open about my pen name. There are a few people I just don't want to ever share that with--like my nephews and a particular dude who keeps looking down my shirt and asking to read my stuff at the same time. (And I usually dress provocatively so there's no need to crane a neck to get a good view. Just sayin' it can be a little creepy when people are looking for more than I am already giving.) I just find some lines harder to cross.
So, yeah, people know I write and read erotica and have started to ask me for my opinion on the subject. Just recently, my minister approached me with a confused look on her face asking me if she could chat for a minute, privately. When we were off to the side of the crowd, she said, "Someone gave me this book to read..."
She didn't even need to add another word. I jumped in with "Fifty Shades of Grey?" She nodded. She had gotten through a few pages, but couldn't get into it--at all. Why would anyone think it is good? And, why would anyone think she might enjoy it? Oh-- a little more context. Don't forget that I am a Unitarian Universalist, so the notion of what you think 'church' might mean ought to be completely recalibrated. Also? My minister is a lesbian. There are any number of reasons that she might not enjoy 50SOG.
Primarily, however, she was appalled from the get go due to the lack of craft in the writing. We're talking about someone who has limited time to read and has, to my knowledge, no patience for crap. Content is one thing, but the quality is something else. So, putting aside the fact that 50SOG has a primary audience of het women, it's not surprising that a novel filled with a woman who refers to her "inner Goddess" repeatedly and whispers every other line of dialogue, is going to drive her bonkers.
Ultimately, two questions emerged from our little talk. What makes 'good erotica'? And, Why are so many people reading 50 SOG? The first question is much more difficult to answer, and I am currently compiling a list of novel length erotic works for a later blog post. The problem with the notion of defining 'good erotica' is that you have to also set forth a clear description of what is 'good' to begin with. This is so subjective a topic that it deserves some in depth consideration.
But, the second question is,maybe, easier to answer. While the writing itself is clearly inferior to...well...just about anything you've ever read, the story draws people in. And, it provides titillation. Sure, those of us who are used to reading graphic descriptions of sexual acts are finding it either quaint or ridiculous. Someone described the sex in 50SOG as "Vanilla sex with Spanking." (Please tell me where I read that!!) Let's face it. The majority of people in this country are practicing vanilla sex at home. BDSM is NOT the norm. Someone once recommended the "Outlander" series by Diana Gabaldon as being very hot and steamy. I just read it last month and found it to be very much mainstream with the lights going out just as things were getting steamy. The truth is, most people have not been exposed to graphic sex in the way that the erotica industry is used to. 50SOG is, at the very least, a gateway book.
It's selling because there is a story buried in there somewhere and most women reading it are diverted by their first exposure to candidly explicit (even if dorky and poorly written) sex that they've ever seen to not care about craft. Anyone who writes or reads Erotica has been panning and mocking it. (If you've not seen Laura Antoniou's Fifty Shades Of Sellout blog post, you really ought to read it. It's hysterical, and she's not read 50SOG.) So, while we can sit back and laugh at the poor writing, EL James is laughing all the way to the bank.
And the readers are left looking for "what next?"
Like it or not, for a huge number of women, 50SOG is their 'gateway' to a new world of reading. They are hungry for explicit sex, and I am certain that once they see where well-written erotica can take them--so far beyond what they've been exposed to in 50SOG--they will become voracious readers of the 'good stuff' too.
Every year, as it finally warms up enough to be naked outside, the hubby and I find a way to mark the change in season with a primal gesture of outdoor sex. There have been a couple of years where we haven't been able to find the time. After all, we live near Seattle, and there are months that go by when the weather is cold or wet, or the kids are around. The last time I had sex on the beach was in June 1985. I don't remember the exact day, but I can tell you it was on the Pacific Coast not far from San Francisco. The fact that I can give you a month and year probably te People write about outdoor sex all the time. It comes across as this wonderfully fun, spur of the moment, shrug off the clothes and get to it sort of thing. Personally, I find the reality somewhere in between.
Today is the last day of the blog tour for Voyeur Eyes Only. Here's a link to the last stop along the tour. As I read what Jade Melisande had to say this morning, I found myself wanting to go to another conference. It's not that I want to hit Vegas again, it's more that I want to find myself surrounded by all these wonderful writers I met and get another jolt of that "camaraderie" I felt while there. Being in a world populated by people who share my world is...simply...wonderful. Until the next conference though, I'll have to make do with the internet connections I'm making over Facebook and Twitter. Each day, I add new friends and connections to my erotic world.
In my every day life, I'm careful about how I share what I do. People tend to respond in one of two ways. Either they are interested and use my gentle opening as an opportunity to share their enthusiasm, or they are clearly not and change the subject. One friend, who is likely reading this post, said, "Oh, I love erotica. Read it all the time." Another friend, without hearing the details about the explicit nature of what I write literally began to back away from me. The look on her face was a mixture of confusion, shock, and clear disgust. (And that was without me being at all specific.) This friend is rather...erm...on the uptight end of things generally and one of those feminists who think SLUT Walks are not a good idea. It was clear she did not want any details, and I wasn't going to hand them over. We talk about other things.
However, I do, very often have people ask what my nym is. Most recently my mom's sister asked me to share it with her. We had talked at our family reunion about writing, and I had told her rather quietly that I was writing erotica. (And, I do hope you're reading this right now, my dear aunt--because YOU ROCK!) After posting something nebulous on Facebook like "Another story accepted--Woot!" she asked me to share my work with her. So, I sent her this basic message, just so we were clear:
Her response was one that had me willing to send her my links and trust her with my pen name. I hate to admit this, but I could NEVER have shared what I do with my mother. Our only direct discussion about sex happened when I was ten when she handed me a pamphlet about menstration (pink) and a pamphlet about sexuality (blue). She asked me to read them and then ask if Ihad any questions. She added that she thought sex was wonderful, but it was like the icing on a cake. The cake, a loving relationship, had to be there to support the icing. At age ten, that just confused me a little bit. I was picturing something similar to the image at the top of this post. Sex on cake? What? (Oh...new story idea!) Anyway...I can hardly ever eat cake without a smile on my face because cake has forever and inextricably been connected to sex in my mind. I get what she was saying, but I also think icing is just fine on it's own.
Did I mention my aunt is going to be seventy-eight this year? I love that she's not judgmental, that she's still interested in reading about sex, and just such a cool person. I miss my mom tremendously, but I feel grateful to have my dear aunt in my life.
If you haven't heard about the new Paypal policy and the major controversy that surrounds it, you would do well to read about it. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's article has a pretty clear and succinct summary of the situation. As far as I can tell, the author of that article is not an erotica author, nor does she appear to have any vested interest in the subject.
The general consensus is that Paypal's new policy and the reasons they give for it is nothing more than a cover for puritanical censorship. Erotica writers have been quick to cry foul and claim persecution and vendors who are tied to Paypal have been split between pointing their fingers (albeit with their hands supposedly tied behind their backs) and openly coming out with some sort of quasi-moral statements in support of the new policy.
One of the most eloquent bloggers on the subject is Remittance Girl. Her posts here, here, and here cover the topic in great depth and with careful analysis. The comments and discussion that follow make for interesting, thoughtful reading.
If it were about the money, Paypal and the vendors like Smashwords would rally together to ensure the distribution of the works in question rather than squelch them. Database technology is advanced enough that it would be entirely possible for Paypal to work with vendors through some sort of verification system to develop an adult purchase vetting process. When I buy a sex toy online, I get a big huge warning that says "Sex toys are not refundable under any circumstance whatsoever. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO CONTINUE." Would it really be so hard to do this with an e-book with taboo contents? "This book contains graphic depictions of rape, bestiality, or other content (okay, the lawyers can mess with the wording on that.) No return credit will be granted under any circumstances." So, seriously, Paypal etal if you want me to think it's about the money, you need to try a little harder.
If it were about the money, you'd be working harder to please the customers, i.e. the readers. The consumers of taboo erotica are out there. Take a look at the graphic above. On Elliquiy, the roleplay forum I frequent, the largest roleplaying board is "NC: Human-Freeform Solos." After socializing, non-concensual roleplay is the biggest thing happening over there. Within the top ten, in fact, are two non-con boards and the extreme board. I do believe that says something. There is a market out there, and it's way bigger than people think it is.
The unfortunate thing I see in all of this, is that the typical reader of taboo Erotica is not very likely to stand up and protest this sort of censorship. It takes a great deal of courage and fortitude to do so. I can't even begin to count how many times people join Elliquiy and express their delight at the non-judgmental nature of the forums. I hear how people have been so afraid and ashamed of their fantasies that they can hardly even admit to them on a closed, adult forum. It's akin to coming out of the closet. Openly admitting to fantasies that broach sexual taboos carries a huge social burden. I don't honestly see readers openly protesting Paypal in defense of their often hidden and shame-inducing reading materials.
I don't know what the solution is. If I were an entrepreneur, however, I would be finding a way to start a new business called "Freedom To Purchase What I Want With My Money, Thank YOU" to go head to head with Paypal. The name might need to be a little more marketable and shorter to stuff it into an easy box for clicking, but seriously, where is the competition with some cojones?
EDIT: Given some further reading...particularly this response by Mark Coker, founder of Smashword, I will just say, that someone, somewhere along the line, has to stand up to the banks and funding institutions that are supposedly behind the whole mess. It begs the question, whose IDEA was the ban and what was really behind it? I seriously doubt the returns on erotica sales is much of a blip on the radar.
I’m a sucker for calls for submissions with themes. It’s like being in a writing class and getting a fun prompt. Here’s a theme…on your mark…get set….WRITE! As a matter of fact, I keep stickies all over my computer for various anthology prompts as a quick entry into writing. If I am ever stuck on something I am trying to do, I look at a writing call for submission as a way to get me to write about 'something.'
Essemoh Teepee announced an anthology open only to authors attending the first Erotic Association Authors convention in Las Vegas last September at the closing party. The idea was really simple and fun:
Imagine you are a guest of the towering Skylane Hotel. It affords the best views of the Las Vegas Strip, including hotel rooms of all the most famous Las Vegas hotels. That's right, you're a voyeur with a very powerful telescope and can see into the hotel windows of any of the other famous hotels that surround the Skylane. Take your inspiration from such famous hotels as the ornate Bellagio, Paris, the hotel that started it all, The Flamingo, the new and naughty Cosmopolitan, the Wynn, etc.
I had a couple of ideas pop into my head right away. I am, by nature, more of a voyeur than an exhibitionist, so it was fun to turn the table and develop a character who gets off on displaying herself to an imagined audience.
I am still a baby in the erotica market. In fact, this collection contains my first published short story (I have self-published elsewhere, and have other work 'accepted' but not finalized yet.) I am honored and delighted to be found in such quality company my first shot out the gate. I'm including the table of contents with a links to most of the other authors in the collection so you can check them out.
The proceeds from the sales of the book will be donated to help fund the Erotica Authors Association Conference. You can purchase the book at Amazon. The audiobook will be available on February 14th. A fun audio teaser can be found here.
UPDATE: The audio version is now available at Audible!