“So, what do you write?”
Say “porn” to most people and they’ll think of – well, actually they’ll choke on their drink and think of how to get air back in their lungs, but when they’ve finished, they tend to think of the following. Plumbers. Policemen. Firemen. Hell, the whole cast of the Village People. “Schtopp! Schtopp! Dis blue movie is not ready yet. Vere is his mustache? Vhy is he actually fixing ze fridge?” Sex toys. You, naked. Latex. Neighbours (not the soap). Teachers.
“And the girls you have to tell
To pull their socks up
Are the ones whose pants
You’d most like to pull down.”
- Philip Larkin (the dirty bugger)
Doctors and nurses. Nymphomaniacs. Special “institutions”. Whips and chains. The full enyclopedia of sexual variations from anal to zoophilia with special attention to group sex, m/m, m/f/m, f/f/m, f/t/m/f, and no, I don’t know what 't' stands for either. And I don’t write any of this. I write stories. With the sex left in. Fantasy, sci-fi, realist, magical realist, mainstream, literary – and with the sex left in.
Erotica is a minefield for sexual tropes. From the Black Lace guidelines, you imagine the editor under seige, valiantly defending the parapets against a relentless onslaught of jet-set businesswomen copping off on planes, fashion photographers in fetish clubs, and Arab princes with foot-long schlongs. Also, mystifyingly, an army of women taking scented baths. All these tropes are clichés that, for various troubling reasons, people find horny. I’m not criticising. After all, I’m fine with fantasy tropes, and for deeply troubling reasons love nothing better than an undemocratic, feudal and rigidly classist society – as long as there are a few dragons about the place. But those sexual tropes aren’t story to me.
I develop ideas for my erotica stories as I develop all my stories – with a jumble of images, a resonant line, a sense of an issue at the core of the heroine’s life, a scrap of personal philosophy, a need, an academic idea, or a mood, or any mixture of the above, scribbling and staring and walking and daydreaming as the elements of story jostle into position, then writing it all down and figuring out how to sew it together, finding reasons why she won’t know this yet or how to keep him off the scene or where that information comes from or how it all started. What I never do is start with a trope: “I want to write an m/f/m scene” or “How about bondage?” I rarely even consider the sex, then I stare at my first rough outline, puzzled, and mutter to myself “Uh – where’s the sex?”
Where’s the sex? Everywhere. Give me a hero and a heroine who remain on separate desert islands for the duration of the novel and somehow, by the time I’ve finished writing it, it’s teeming with sex. As most characters aren’t marooned and isolated, it’s even easier. If anything, the difficulty is excluding sex from my mainstream novels, reluctantly fading to black, cheating my characters of their perfect moment and my readers of the romantic climax – just as I berate other authors for doing.
Sex is everywhere, like dust, and here’s the odd thing. Every novelist, at some point in their career, and often at some point in every book, will describe the dust – the golden motes dancing in a shaft of sunshine, glittering in the late afternoon stillness, spiralling like a stream of cosmic particles, twirling their infinitesmal and tiny brilliances, or what you will. Personally, I think this is due to how much time we spend in empty houses staring into space. But dust changes nothing. Sex can change everything – the shape of your home, the books on your shelves, what country you live in, whether you take that job, the coming-together or utter ruination of your life, whether you cry in the shower or sing in the street. You could lose everything. You could gain the world. So why describe dust and not sex? That’s why I write stories with the sex left in.
“Left in” is the crux. In a novel covering a year, ten sex scenes – some maybe not including the protagonist – isn’t an orgy by anyone’s standards. If there’s a relationship going on, you’re probably leaving out more sex than you’re including – you won’t describe every long lazy Saturday morning, unless something changes between them, that time. If the characters aren’t together, or were, and now want to be, their heads are probably teeming with sex. If you have more than two characters, there’s more sex than anyone can include in just one book. Sex is as ubiquitous as food, pervasive as air, and universal as love, and the latter is probably why sex will always creep into all my stories, because they’re all concerned with love – the epic kind, with armies, ghosts, castles, spaceships (still trying to get this one past the Powers That Be), dragons – destiny – a world gone mad! Widespread destruction! Betrayal! True love! A cast of thousands!
This picture from www.furiae.com
When my characters are chasing destiny, coming to terms with their true selves, and fighting for their lives, there’s just no room to crow-bar in some m/f/m – though it might happen. It depends on the story. Everything depends on the story. I do use tropes, in my own way – what else is a cold stone castle or a dragon, after all? Ancient fertility rites: guilty. Erotically charged magic: guilty. Inexplicable sexual desire based in powers what man is not meant to wot of: guilty as charged. I don’t see them as sexual tropes so much as metaphors, though, for a level of passion that’s as real as a Saturday morning and as mythical as a pre-destined king. I would write these things regardless, because to me the epic matters, and I leave the sex in, because I believe sex matters. More than dust.