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.