Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Wednesday Chat: Writing Erotica vs. Writing Everything Else

by Shanna Germain

Yah! It's time for the Wednesday morning pop quiz here at Lust Bites land.

What? Oh, you need coffee before quizzes? Okay, go get your caffeine. I'll wait.

OK, Ready now? Good. Here goes: Can you guess who said this to me in the last year?

"You're so talented! What are you wasting your time writing that sex stuff for?"

Here, I'll give you some choices to make it easier:

A. My grandmother
B. My neighbor
C. One of my editors
D. One of my best friends
E. Another writer
F. A stranger making a comment on my blog

See how easy that was? Do you have your answer? Great, let's see how you do.

If you guessed all of the above, you'd be right. (Yes, I know that wasn't an option, but that's just the way we do things around here; we're always making you think). Give yourselves a big gold star and a hand (or a hand-job, depending on your mood).

Like many writers, I write about lots of things in lots of genres. In addition to erotica, I’ve written and published poetry, non-erotic fiction, essays, articles, shorts and even a book on interior decorating. And it’s true that people are always commenting on my "literary skills,” which is sweet and flattering—until they follow that up by asking why I continue to waste my time and talent writing smut.

For me, the question is absurd, but the answer is multi-faceted. First off, anything that I love to do—and that others love to read—never feels like a waste of time to me. Second, I’m a writer first, but a business woman second. So even if I didn’t love to write about sex, I’d write about it because I’m good at it and because it makes me a lot more money than iambic pentameter.

There are a million other reasons, of course, but I'm more interested in hearing what you think. Does erotica have as much "talent value" as other types of writing (and reading?). If you write it, are you just doing it until something more literary comes along? Does it deserve a higher place on the literary value scale, or should it continue to be just brain (and body) candy? (This part of the pop quiz doesn't have any wrong answers, so don't be afraid to jump in and say what you think!)


p.s. While we don’t have a prize for you if you answered our earlier pop quiz correctly (other than that warm-n-fuzzy feeling of being right), we are offering a chance to win some luscious prizes from Violet Blue, including her book Fetish Sex: An Erotic Guide for Couples. Just go here and leave a comment to enter!

p.p.s. Lastly, for those of you who are wondering (which is probably no one, but I can pretend right?), why yes, the photo up-top is of me. How nice of you to notice. Erotic? Literary? Both? You decide.


Anonymous said...

Some erotica is badly written. I read and enjoy a lot of badly written erotica becasue it pushes my buttons. A lot of erotic books do well that are badly written because of what they are about.

And it's hard to think of a genre where this isn't true. Even lit fic. But this could be more true in erotica.

Conversely there are some erotica books I have loved and loved despite them being about things I do not find sexy at all because of the writing, the observations, the cahracters... the literary merit.

Course, best is when you have both. That is when I start emailing the author and getting a bit giddy.

I'm writing a crime thriller. It's on the back burner a bit because of the werewolves. But, I have to say, there are a lot of people around me who are very keen for me to get it finished and be a proper writer.

MM x

PS Great post Shanna.

Saskia Walker said...

Love the photo, Shanna! Gorgeous.

I've never had that kind of response to what I do. That probably says vast amounts about me or the people I hang out with, hmm. LOL

I'm happy writing genre fiction, although I have had a couple of people comment that some of my work has literary qualities. It's not something I aim for. I tend not to think in genre, or of literary merit, but more about storytelling. My aim is to be a good storyteller, the best I can learn to be in this lifetime.

I'm not very good at articulating the reasons why I'm drawn to writing erotic stories, it's just a part of me, I guess. Our sexuality is such a fundamental part of us to ignore it in fiction would be wrong, to me, and I also believe that no story is ever just about one thing.

PS got any more photos? LOL

Nikki Magennis said...

I like to write about sex.

I'd like it if I had more leeway than one gets in erotica. It's strange how there are more restrictions in erotica than almost every other field. All of them moral. Other writing doesn't have to be moral, but we do. (Check the usual list of no-nos every erotica publisher hands out.)

I suppose it's because we're writing with the intention of giving pleasure, and something in our culture is suspicious of that.

Sexual arousal is something we feel we have to handle with oven gloves. Maybe there's something in that, because it is such a powerful drive. *shrug*

But yes, there are days when I write poetry, or articles about tea. I like writing about tea, too!

I agree with Tilly that there's a lot of bad erotica out there (some of which I have probably written), but there's also a lot of very bad murder mysteries - who read 'The Da Vinci Code' for it's literary merit? Story is just as strong a drug as sex, I reckon. A spoonful of plot and you can get away with a very bad book.

I do think the line between erotica and 'real books' is growing hazier, though. Henry Miller, John Updike, Philip Roth, Charles Bukowski (oh look, they're all men) write about sex and it's also fine literature. Maybe one day I will just write books without labels. Then I will be very happy.

Oh, and Shanna, what a lovely back you have!

Jeremy Edwards said...

Shanna, I think writers like you are living proof that erotica can be top-notch literature. In my opinion, anyone who thinks the two things are mutually exclusive doesn't really understand what literature is about (nor, perhaps, what sex is about).

Janine Ashbless said...

I've had the "when are you going to write a Real Book?" question so many times I now just laugh.

One of the reasons I write erotica is because there's almost nothing out there that I really like reading for myself. Of course this is likely to be because I haven't read round enough so that could be my next project...

But my experience of published erotic fiction to date seems to find most of it falling into one of two categories:

1)Porn. It goesbonketybonketybonketybonketybonkety ... oops that's 75,000 words STOP. No plot, no drama and certainly no characters I could give two hoots about. I'm afraid a lot of older BL books fall into this category for me.

2)Literary erotica. This is really well written and inevitably is about women spiralling into prostitution/drug-abuse/degradation/death. It's completely nihilistic and seems to have no connection to actual pleasure at all. It leaves me feeling depressed and angry for days. Anything edited by Maxim Jakubowski falls into this category.

Since becoming involved in this blog and the writers involved in it I've had rather better experiences of erotica! So thanks guys. I'm still going to go on writing though because. I love writing smut. Hooray!

Olivia Knight said...

Once more appealing to art for my examples (though I still have a recurrent fantasy of a group of artists sitting around agonising about their paintings, saying "Yes, it's good, but is it *literature*?")

Degas to Toulouse-Lautrec: "When are you going to stop wasting your talents painting harlots and start doing proper paintings of ballet dancers?"
It's funny - paintings of people become Art, rather than portraits / commissions / etc, when the people in question are naked. But I'm going down a road of Art/Not-Art, here, so - back to the topic...

I write fantasy, fairy tales, science-fiction, realism, experimental pieces, poetry; I also write erotic realism, erotic fantasy, and erotic fairy tales, and as soon as I find a market for it I'll write erotic science fiction. Oh - and I ghostwrite other people's stuff, and I write letters, CVs, blogs, emails... THE WRITING'S THE THING. I think the worst thing one can do to oneself as an artist (yup, reclaim the a-word) is restrict oneself to Serious Art, Worthy Art, rather than just let your talents frolic through your whole spectrum of existence. If writing erotica started to hamper my creativity, then perhaps I would reconsider it or put it to one side for a while. In the meantime, my approach is similar to Shanna's: 1) Writing is writing is writing and I love it and no-one makes me write less well because it's erotica; 2) Writing that makes money means I get more time to write. I just wish my back were similar to Shanna's...

And yes, most of my family and friends ask about "real" writing - and I'm probably guilty of making that distinction sometimes too.

Has anyone else noticed the recurrent anxiety about our erotic writing being Real Writing? I'd say: of course it is! Rather than defend our erotica (as I've just been doing; guilty as charged) we should happily swap notes on how breathtakingly wide-rangingly creative we all are. So - who else writes formal poetry? Anyone else have imaginary countries?

Nikki Magennis said...

I have imaginary cunts, will that do?

femmegyrl said...

you Shana are a gorgeous writer and a beautiful woman. i for one feel lucky that you write erotica, because that just means that there is one more smart hot chick out there writing for me! i applaud you. and i think you are foxy too!
thank you.

femmegyrl said...

please please pardon my egregious misspelling of your name, it was a type-o and i couldn't be more embarrassed!!!

kristina lloyd said...

I’ve written 2 ‘proper’ books – one dark, one funny (well, I laughed) but I’ve never found a publisher for them because all I hear is stylish, compelling, witty, blah blah, but ‘lacks mass market female appeal’. Apparently, it falls between two stools ‘chicklit’ and ‘literary’ and the suits say there isn’t a market for that. It’s very frustrating because I feel there damn well is, it just hasn’t been tapped yet.

One of the reasons I like writing smut is that it opens up a whole new imaginative space. I don’t just mean in terms of the shagging, I mean in settings, characters. The book I’m working on now, Split, is set in a puppet museum in the Yorkshire moors. It’s a bit creepy and odd, and slightly surreal. I don’t think I could do this in non-erotic fiction unless it was a crime novel or high-concept literary. And it’s not. It’s a dark twisted romance (and so, if you believe the suits in publishing, most women wouldn’t like it because all we’re interested in is shopping, chocolate and kittens).

I also love writing about sex because sex is about secrets, tension, uncertainty, risk – stuff I am very fond of. I’m fascinated by how sex and love affect our identity and sense of self, what we lose and gain through being with another person. I also like it because it’s dirty and hot, and it gets me off.

Janine, don’t ever read Asking for Trouble. You’d hate it. It’s about degradation, villains, whore-fantasies and sleaze. People also call it ‘literary’. But, like you, I got into writing smut because, years ago, I couldn’t find much I enjoyed reading. There are lots of sexual kinks in books that don’t work for me but, you know, each to their own. It’s not wrong, it’s just different. Personally, I like Jakubowski’s anthos. I like noirish stuff. But I like a female take on it.

And I do want well-written erotica. I can’t tolerate bad writing in books. Bad writing is fine in porn mags and jerk-off websites, but if I’m shelling out for a book, I want the writing to shine. I want to be seduced by it.

I’ve been told before now that my writing is probably ‘wasted’ on most of my readers. And that is such an insult to my readers.

Hey ho, Pinocchio (aka career suicide) is calling me. Great post Shanna.

Alison Tyler said...

Oh, Shanna,

How are we supposed to think now that we've seen a picture of you about to dive into bubbles?

I dislike the comment about "real writing" vs. "smut writing" so fucking much. Smut writing is real writing. You can be good or bad, but it's real.

One of the most annoying comments I ever got was on my piece "Wanna Buy a Bike?" (which is one of my favorite stories). A friend said it would have been a great piece if there hadn't been any sex in it.

Uh, yeah, okay. But maybe it wouldn't have made it into the book EROTIC Travel Tales.

I write about sex because it's a kinky, twisted, in-your-face thing to do. I think I'm good at writing smut because I've been at it so long.

People who want to detract from the power of erotic writing by saying it's less than a different genre are misguided.

But that's just my opinion.
Now, back to staring at your back, if I may...


P.S. I must also say, Shanna, that your writing is breath-taking. I am one of those fans who simply cannot get enough...

Gush, gush, gush.

Anonymous said...

One thing is that when I first started researching Equal opportunities I really wanted to make David, the disabled hero, impotent. I wanted to actually take it to the point where Mary was eroticising the fact he couldn't get an erection. And in the end, I didn't do that. I made all his sexual fuction pretty standard. A literary author friend of mine did say that I could have done it the first way if I'd switched genre, but I'm not sure. People have said to me that EO has the depth to reach outside the erotica genre.

Me, I'd just really like to write something about a impotent man someday.

There's one in sekrit thriller. The heroine's main love interest. This post is making me want to finish that.

Down, werewolves, down

Shanna Germain said...

Ooh, I just woke up (here on the US West Coast -- no, I'm not lazy!) and got to read through all these wonderful thoughts and comments. And to think, I was worried that this topic was too "done" to write about!

One of the things that I love about writing erotica is that there is, at least in short stories, quite a bit of room to explore. I feel like I'm breaking new ground every day, because there is so much uncharted territory in erotica. I can write a hot-hot piece about a cross-dressing private eye who gets it on with her mark or I can pen a soft, sweet, sexy piece about a couple who rediscovers their SM side -- and it's still considered to be in the genre. I haven't broken out my mad werewolf writing skills like some of us yet, but just wait!

Oh, and a friend of mine took the photo, and then we both looked at it and realized it looked like something of a faucet ad, so I've never used it anywhere. It's a Lust Bites exclusive!

Best, s.

rayandyoda@yahoo said...

If you ask me writing erotica is much harder to do an ones who are very good at it as ALISON TYLER is makes me appreciate the talent it takes to write. I have a few friends who have been published in prose and poetry and somedays I can write as well as them. Trying to write good erotica is a talent not many have truely mastered. Thanks and keep up the good works Ladies.


Lewis said...

I've enjoyed reading the comments and the original post.

Each time I come across one of these I'm reminded of the quote "I don't know if it's art, but I know what I like."

Art, and literature, are all rather high-brow, rigidly judged things. That doesn't preclude me, or others enjoying them, and I love listening to some critics (Nigel Sewell being one) pontificating. But, if you look at my library, which actually at least one of you can, you would struggle to find much literature among the 2,000 plus titles.

Do you aspire to have Brian Sewell say your book is magnificent literature? Do you aspire to have readers like it? The two aren't mutually exclusive, but it's uncommon, at least while the artist is alive, to see the two together, unless they happen to be very much a part of the art establishment (Umberto Eco for example).

I live in hope that the standards will change, but I won't hold my breath. In the mean time - bear in mind great literature at some point is likely to become set reading, maybe for your great-grandchildren, it's just a shame you won't be here to see it.

Anonymous said...

I'd love Brian Sewell to say anything to me ever.

Nikki Magennis said...

Things wot I learnt at art school:

Since Marcel Duchamp made his 'readymade' objects (and probably way before then), the definition of what is and isn't art has become a moot point to say the least.

Olivia - this is a little pedantic, but, I'd like to point out that Lautrec did also paint ballerinas.

I think from an artist's point of view, there is a level where your subject matter isn't the most important thing, but the way you approach and explore it is utmost. Prostitutes or dancers, it ends up being all about colour, line, tone, form etc. That could apply to writing too - sex or not-sex, it's all about story and character and plot and words.

Now before I rewrite my bloody thesis and veer completely off topic, I'm off to explore some more imaginary cunts!

Madeline said...

Shanna, no one is looking at the faucets in the picture...
okay my whole comment just got eaten up by blogger so I'm grumpy.
To recap: Writers of erotica never get royalty cheques from libraries, or have their books listed for highschool or university courses. Our books are not likely to top the best seller list for years, as did Da Vinci Code. Nor are movies often made from our novels, and when they are, like 'In The Cut', the ending is changed to HEA. Yes, I'm only talking $$ here, but that's where my head's at these days. I think every form of writing has its drawbacks and advantages. Who knows what a gang of writers of literature would have to say? They probably also have to follow some set of rules. The thing is, a writer needs to write. I feel bad for poets, to tell the truth.
I might make a whole hundred bucks for a story, while it looks to me like poets get ten bucks if they're lucky. Jeez. Finally, I bet a whole lotta literary writers hear this commment - 'Very nice dear, but when are you going to write a real book?' We all have moms. Nice post, Shanna.

Olivia Knight said...

Nikki - yes, he did paint ballerinas eventually. He and Degas went out for a drink and had a big argument about it, by the end of which Toulouse-Lautrec had started to doubt the validity of his art and feel ashamed of himself. What made it worse for him, and easier for Degas to persuade him, was that he really fancied the tarts while the hard little bodies of the dancers left him cold - so in the end, he agreed in his heart that if he really enjoyed it, it probably wasn't art. But painting the ballet dancers depressed him so badly that it contributed to his alcoholism. One day, when his usual absinthe just couldn't rid him of the anguish of being torn between the art he longed to make and the art the establishment wanted, he sought solace in the arms of one of the prostitutes in the Moulin Rouge, and caught syphillis, of which he eventually died. So you could say that failing to make the art he enjoyed killed him.

Of course I'm making all this up. That's the great thing about writing fiction - NO FOOTNOTES!

Kate Pearce said...

grrr, blogger hates me today...
I wrote a fabulous post and it disappeared, so I'll recap, badly.

I just write what I write. It took me years to understand and like myself enough to find my writing voice and I'm not changing it for anyone-nah.

If you think it's bad being a print book erotica author try being an ebook one. No one believes you've done anything worthwhile.-here's a typical conversation.
me: I've sold an ebook to Ellora's Cave-yipee
mum: whats an ebook?
me: You can download if from the internet and read it!
mum: so you did it yourself?
me: no
mum: do you have to draw your own cover?
me: no
mum: do you think anyone will buy something you've put on the internet?
me: erm yes (reveals pay check details, mother swoons)
she still calls them 'the little books I self publish on the internet, dear'

I don't worry about whether I write literary style or complete crap. I'll leave that argument to posterity!

Nice piccy nice post Shanna!

Shon Richards said...

"One of the things that I love about writing erotica is that there is, at least in short stories, quite a bit of room to explore. I feel like I'm breaking new ground every day, because there is so much uncharted territory in erotica"

Well crap, that was going to be my comment. I often feel like there is so much unexplored places to go in erotica. Too much of porn focuses on the lowest common denominator while so many more interesting erotica topics are left untouched.

Shanna Germain said...

Oh, yes, Kate, the e-book dilemma. It's a tough one, isn't it? I actually subbed to my first e-anthology this year, mainly because e-books were kind of off my radar before that.

But when I announced the acceptance, I did have a few people say things along the lines of, "But you're published in real books. Isn't that kind of going backward?"

Ugh. My only consolation is that we're in a place to push people's perceptions and expand their understanding, which is one of my fave things to do!


Kis Lee said...

i've had the SAME EXACT conversation as kate pearce regarding ebooks.

i'm lucky that my circle of friends have been extremely supportive. they're happy to say that they know a smut writer. :)

Olivia Knight said...

There's the reverse effect of writing erotica too. Once I'd told my colleagues about that, they couldn't see past that for a moment. Of course, they're enchanting, accepting and open-minded people who were quite gleeful about it all. But the conversations would go a bit like this:
Me: I'm having so much fun working on my new novel - it's not an erotic one, it's about...
Colleague: You're writing another erotic novel? (Smacking lips) Goodie...
Me: No - it's not erotica. I want to explore the idea of five dimensions and the nature of time...
Colleague: Five-dimensional sex? (smacking lips) Yes, please...
Me: NO, it's NOT erotica...
Colleague: (addressing others) Hey, she's writing another dirty book!

If people accept my erotica, I whine they ignore my other stuff. If they overlook my erotica, I complain about that. There's just no pleasing some people!

t'Sade said...

I'm just happy if anyone likes any of my writing. I have two pennames for that, t'Sade for sex religion and politics, and my... other one for everything else.

However, its pretty obvious which one people read. I get comments every couple weeks from people who say they like my writing, but no one has mentioned "my other name." Mostly, I get rejections for those, or kind of a muted "oh, that's interesting" type of response.

I just like writing, it doesn't matter if it is porn, prose, poetry, programming, or professional. I just write, it is who I am and I embraced it with all my life.

I just keep them separate because its harder to explain why you want a job as a manager when a background check brings up my novel or website. :)

Erin said...

Maybe he was offended by all the lesbian scenes Toulouse-Lautrec was slapping up. For me though, paintings of harlots is definitely a lot more intriguing than staring at pristine, alabaster-white ballerinas all day long. Well, OK, maybe if the ballerinas were doing something degenerate, like touching each other or using a banana on themselves or in the back of slimy, grime-encrusted alleyway bent over a crate of rotting fish, with a fist yanking their braids and taking it from behind, all the while crying out 'No-no' when what they really meant was 'more-more' and deep inside their stomach is twisted in knots because they're so ashamed for enjoying it and they know they really shouldn't but they're just too afraid to call out 'cuttle-fish' and end it all.

Phew. I don't know if it'd be considered art, but I know what I like when I see or read it. Sigh, I really need to finish that book. Fuck it, it's "Art" to me.

kristina lloyd said...

Ha, Erin - thank you!

I was halfway through reading your comment, thinking, Ooo, fuck, yeah, that sounds like my kind of thing ... and then I realised you were actually talking about Asking for Trouble. It made my brain go weird for a moment.

Anyway, much appreciated - truly, because that book does sometimes get slated for being too dirty and degrading. Hope you enjoy the rest of it.

Anonymous said...

w00t big (pretend) prizes to everyone who can lure Kristina into a sexy chat and then suddenly turn around and say, 'Boo! Cuttlefish!' to her.

If you don't know why this is hilarious (really *hilarious*), you must one of the three people in the world who have not read Asking For Trouble. Shame, shame on you!

kristina lloyd said...

Oh, too cruel. You're messing with my mind, both of you. Stop it.

Dayle A. Dermatis said...

When people ask what I write, I generally say "fiction," and only clarify if they ask what kind. Then I say, "romance, erotica, science fiction, and fantasy," because they never understand "fantasy" without the "science fiction," even though I've sold only one actual SF story. But almost all of my erotica has some element of romance in it, so I'm comfortable listing it that way. And I guess I've just been lucky, because nobody's ever asked me about writing "real" books! It must have something to do with living near Hollywood...?!

t'Sade said...

Heh, I always say "really trashy romance." And that magically explains it to people.