Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's A Nice Girl Like You Doing Writing Trash Like That?


Erotica writers get no respect. (Apologies to Rodney Dangerfield.)

I'm sure every erotica and erotic romance writer has been mocked for what she writes. (I'm using the feminine pronoun only because most erotic writers I know are female.) We are told a squirrel could write what we write since it doesn't take much talent, and that women of little intelligence read it. That sort of thing normally doesn't bother me since I have a cast iron resolve, but I posted in a forum recently where I felt like "one of the guys", letting everyone know about one of my erotic books making it to #18 in Amazon's free erotic Kindle books. That's the highest I've ever ranked, and I was proud of it. I wanted to let everyone know so they could pick up a copy of the book and drive me to #1.

Didn't happen.

Instead they ridiculed me, which took me completely by surprise. They made comments like, "An erotic romance novel? I'm so scared I think I just peed myself." I was quite miffed, although I shouldn't let that kind of thing get to me. Ridicule may be one of the professional hazards we take as erotic writers, and we deserve combat pay for it. I've heard of other women tsk-tsked by family members, laughed at by friends, and given the hairy eyeball by work colleagues when these people find out we write stories with hot, steaming sex in them. Too many people who have never picked up an erotic book in their lives think the prose reads something like D. M. Dunn's Dishonorable Mention Romance winner in the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Awards contest: "Their love began as a tailor, quickly measuring the nooks and crannies of their personalities, but it soon became the seamstress of subterfuge, each of them aware of the others lingual haberdashery: Mindy trying to create a perfect suited garment to display in public and Sean only concerned with the inseam." Too many people who have never touched an erotic book or a romance novel think all of them contain words like "turgid", "throbbing man meat", and "burning slit".

What About Other Erotic Fiction Writers?

I interviewed erotic romance writers about whether or not those closest to them take their chosen profession seriously, and most had some horror stories to tell. I noticed common elements, such as ridiculing the writers by reading steamy passages aloud at family gatherings in order to get a few laughs at the writer's expense. Calling what they write "trash" or "smut" or "porn". Wondering why they "waste their time" if they aren't making much money at it, if any at all. After all, why aren't they making as much money as that woman who wrote "50 Shades of Grey"? Those from conservative or religious backgrounds bore a great deal of ridicule and tut-tutting.

Gina's ex-significant other did everything in his power to prevent her from working and he still does, although he's the biggest purveyor of porn she's ever met. Gina owns a small, independent erotic romance publishing company. She had no issue with his porn until he found it more preferable to masturbate than to have sex with her. Ann heard that one of her sisters had shown her erotic romance web site to older family members at a family gathering in the hope of shocking them and shaming her. She also read aloud snippets from one of Ann's steamy ménage romances, at the top of her voice, after dinner. This was not done in a supportive manner to promote her sister's books.

Similar stories abound, especially accusations that what we write is porn as if that's a bad thing. Sex columnist and author Violet Blue describes the difference between porn and erotica for Psychology Today: "Porn is something that is a graphic sexual image that conjures up an animalistic reaction in you. You like it or you don't," she says. "Erotica also is graphic sexual imagery, but it has an extra component or several extra components that resonate with the viewer—be it artistic, be it passionate, be it something that emotionally engages you, be it something that parlays into a fantasy that you have about sexuality or the way that you relate to the people on screen." When the general public sees "porn", it views it as gratuitous sexual imagery without emotional connection that serves no useful purpose, and this view is a negative one when it doesn't have to be. As Violet Blue said, you like it or you don't. It'a a matter of taste.

A woman told Jerry, a male erotica writer, that she refused to read or write porno. He elaborated on his chosen form of writing, saying he writes stories with sex scenes but she probably refused to listen. Shawn, another man who writes erotica, was also told what he wrote was porn and he was wasting his time since he'd never make any money at it. He was also told it was illegal. His family told him he was an embarrassment to them. He wasn't fazed, and continued to write erotica. His girlfriend's family even went to court to get a judge to keep him away from her. That didn't work. His girlfriend's family has a very large trust fund she'll get when she turns 35. They think he's after her money, which isn't true.

Jean made a very good point when she told me: "It's the romance part that is the stickler, Lizzie. People don't take romance stories seriously. Somehow, they think romance is easier to write or less important or emotional or meaningful. And they are so wrong. But I don't bother trying to explain. I simply chalk them off my list." Drew told Jean she could always remind those people that "everything from Gone With The Wind to Romeo and Juliet to When Harry Met Sally are romances, and then tell them to shove it."

Religion plays a huge factor in disapproval, especially from family members. Shawn's girlfriend's family is extremely religious. They tell him what he writes is against God's will and he's tainting their daughter with his porn. (There's that word "porn" again.) Karenna told me: "At the church I used to attend, a woman I didn't know well asked me about my writing. She smiled and nodded when I said I wrote novels for teens. When I said I also wrote adult romance, her expression changed and she looked at me like she'd scraped me off the bottom of her shoe. My husband's grandmother and one of his aunts had similar reactions. The grandmother actually put her hands over her ears and said, "I prefer not to discuss that kind of thing. Times have certainly changed; that used to be private."

Creative Solutions

Not all is gloomy. I've heard from erotic writers who have very creative ways of handling the negative feedback they get. I proudly blurt, "I write smut!" when asked and I enjoy the shocked and stupefied expressions on people's faces. Then, once I have them off guard, I explain in plain, gentle English what I actually write. Interest in my writing is piqued enough for me to sell some books. Kendall's girlfriend constantly interrupts him when he's writing erotica. She looks over his shoulder, lets out heavy sighs, turns on the TV very loudly or has loud telephone conversations. It's very irritating and distracting, which is her intension. However, if he's writing something non-erotic like an essay or play, she leaves him alone. Gina had an amusing suggestion - the next time she sighs loudly, "grab her and toss her on the bed and do super naughty things to her. Betcha she won't bother you when you're writing erotica again for a while. When she does she'll do the exact same thing as she did last time, hoping for the same results - keep your ears open. Eventually it'll work out for you both. Trust me."

I am like many erotic writers in that I am very selective about which people I allow into my literary world. My parents and sister aren't supportive. They don't ridicule or give me the hairy eyeball. They simply have no interest in what I write, and they don't give me any support. I have a feeling if I discussed my writing at length they'd disapprove., but I don't want to test that theory. My writing never comes up in conversation, and I don't volunteer information. I also write horror, and even that is greeted with a blank stare. I've developed a close relationship with an older couple. They give me lots of support about my writing. My husband and son are also very supportive. I have writer friends online and in meat space I look to for conversation and advice I know I won't get from my family. One of my closest friends is a science fiction writer who is very supportive of my work. Laurie also is very selective about who she tells, as is Regina. Regina told me: "If someone brings it up I'm okay with it. But I never say anything on my own." Laurie replied that her husband will tell some of his friends that he wants to be married to a smut author. I imagine him saying that with a twinkle in his eye and a proud smile.

I work at home and I'm my own boss so I don't have a supervisor to worry about. Not all writers are that fortunate. Tessa cheekily asked how she should handle the fact that her day job boss knows about her extra-curricular writing job. Julez suggested she smile sweetly and give him a copy of her books. She would but she writes personal assistant/boss stories and she doesn't want to give him the wrong idea, something that could be very amusing.

It must be a work hazard all of us erotic writers must deal with at one time or another - negative feedback about our chosen profession from friends, family, and work colleagues. I also would bet my burning slit many of those who mock what we write have their own dog-eared copies of "50 Shades of Grey" shoved beneath their mattresses, hidden away as if they are teenagers keeping copies of Playboy away from mom and dad. Considering that erotica and especially romance novels sell like hotcakes - outselling books in all other genres - we may laugh at the ridicule and snippy looks as we deposit our royalty checks into our growing bank accounts. In the end, as always, success is its own reward.

12 comments:

  1. Yep, this all sounds too familiar! The good news is that erotica writers have a lot more fun than the folks who are invested in mocking and shaming them.

    Sexual repression requires silence and secrecy, so anyone who has the guts to write about it, especially as something pleasurable, is going to face serious resistance. I like to think we're gradually chipping away at this, and new generations will be a lot more comfortable with sexuality and the idea it doesn't have to be automatically seen as stupid and embarrassing. But this shame is so deeply rooted, and still constantly reinforced, that we have to change it one story and one reader at a time.

    I did want to add that I don't think mainstream writers get much respect either, because everyone assumes if you aren't as rich as Danielle Steele and as acclaimed as Hemingway and Shakespeare, that you're nothing more than a wannabe. Writers threaten people, no matter what they write, even as they are envied for their courage and the fact they actually wrote and published, secretly or otherwise. Perhaps I say this because my sister read aloud from my stories in a mocking voice long before I wrote about sex. What is going on with these people? Maybe the next time this happens to me, I can turn the discussion around to a serious inquiry into the reasons for their responses?

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

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  2. Thanks so much for a great comment, Donna. You're write about mainstream writers. Writers in general are viewed as a threat because they make people question and think. Can't have that! I think one reason erotica and erotic romance has taken off is because of ereaders. Readers are now guaranteed privacy. You can buy your books in the privacy of your home. You read them on your ereader without snippy people giving you the raised eyebrow over the hot bodies on your book covers. Sometimes I think one reason writers of erotic fiction get such grief is because so many people - including other writers - are jealous of us and our success. We dare to write about what is pleasurable.

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  3. Really great post Elizabeth. I am one of the lucky few that hasn't met a lot of family backlash from my writing except my mother, who says she'd like it more if I didn't write filth, but then I expected worse from her so even that was a bonus.

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  4. Thanks for the comment, Julez. I have talked to erotic writers who haven't met lots of family backlash. It's refreshing to hear.

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  5. I am very careful who I tell I write erotic romance. Though I did tell my sister, during the time she was reading 50 Shades and she told her daughter, I did not tell them this name I write under. My husband knows and for a minute there I thought you were talking about me at a certain part in your post, lol. Though he has told his boss, all he said was that I am a Ghost Writer for 'those kinds of stories'. He was just here for his time off for Thanksgiving and his birthday. He bought himself a brand new truck, traded my car in on it. He can't wait to get back to work where the guys are always trying to figure out what he makes. So I told him to ask the guys if they watch Lethal Weapon where Mel's partner's wife write books and for him to just say, "My wife." and wink.

    Great post, Elizabeth.

    July Hunter

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  6. July, I noticed many of the stories I heard had similarities, so I'm not surprised you thought I may have been talking about you. Writers in general sometimes get grief from folks but erotic fiction writers get their own special grief. One thing I didn't mention in my post is that I've heard from plenty of erotic fiction writers over time who get sexually propositioned from those who think they are easy to get in bed because of what they write. This happens to writers of both genders but I've heard of more stories involving female writers. I took my head shot down from Facebook because strange, creepy men would send me private, creepy, sexually-oriented messages. This doesn't include good-natured teasing I get from some of my male fans. I switched to cover art as my profile picture. So there's another problem erotic literature writers face - we're sometimes hit on because of what we write.

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  7. First off let me just say, great article Elizabeth! (Now a fair bit of warning this is going to be quite long hahaha) I think there are many people out there that don't fully realize what it's like for authors of the erotica/erotic romance genre. Never had I realized how much of challenge it is to get support for writing erotic stories, until now. I must admit I'm a little ashamed but I have allowed people to use the word "porn" in reference to what I read and slightly agreed with them, but I didn't realize that that one word could be such an insult. For me using that word was just easier than really explaining what erotica/erotic romance truly is, mainly to my mother. Now..... she approves of what I read but would never read it herself she says that there is enough sex for her in regular romance. Which is great! I'm just glad I got her to understand that romance novels aren't just about the sex, there are characters with feelings and problems these books just happen to have sex and HEA's.

    I'm not new to the truth of being ridiculed for what you write. I once won a book from an author that writes erotic romance sending me the book I won. But later she said "OH MY GOSH! I sent you this message with my real name and would really appreciate it if you didn't use it in reference to what I write because I can't have people from my not writing life knowing what I do." I of course assured her that i would never use her real name because it wasn't her writing the books it was her pen name. Now at the time I read this I was like why would you need to hide what you do? But after reading your article it makes a whole lot more sense.

    I never really realized how much of a support system the NOR chats are and can be. It's the perfect place where you can talk about what you do and be praised for it. It's just great that something like those chats exist! And that something like my group could be considered a support system as well is just a crazy thought for me. Though I'm incredibly happy that Romance Addicts is such an open and trustworthy/friendly group. This is exactly what I was going for and more. Not to mention all of the friends I have made through Night Owl chats and my group is just shocking to me, and that half or more are authors! When I first started writing reviews just for myself never did I imagine that having authors as friends, and getting ARC books from this author friends would be a big part of my life.

    But back to the article, I can see that erotic is a type of art. I also know how much work goes in to writing a book from first hand experience. It most definitely is not for the faint hearted, in a way you have to have a bit of a hard outer shell to bounce negative responses to your writing and book off of you. Now going into this I was a total writing Virgin besides the occasional review and just starting the book is on a whole new level of writing. Knowing how hard it is to write and get published is sort of part of the reason my books have not been completed. But mainly it's just I have no idea what I want to do with them, plus I have no idea how to write a "good" sex scene. Some may think its just blooming buds of pleasure and other girls words like that but the fact that its not makes writing one for me incredibly difficult. I'm not discouraged in any way and will eventually finish my WIP's but it could be many years still before they come close to being complete.

    That is why I am in awe of many authors, some of which I happen to call friends. I have great respect for those of you who manage to actually first off write a book let alone get it published. But those of you who manage to keep writing and publishing no matter how many negative reviews or remarks you get. I hope one day to climb the ranks and join you ladies and gents at the rank of Author.

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  8. Thanks for such a well-thought-out comment, Alicia! I agree with you about the NOR chats. I'm in one every month with a writer's group, and the NOR chats are the best ones, ever. Lots of readers and very friendly. I've met some wonderful people in NOR chat. It does take lots of work to finish a book and get it published. Finishing a book alone is a lot of work. Lots of people talk about writing the Great American Novel, but not nearly as many actually sit down and write let alone finish. Writing and finishing a book is worth praise.

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  9. Hi, Elizabeth:
    Great, great post. It got me going and I ended up writing a long enough response to transfer it to a Word document and save it to work on and then post. Due to circumstances I now find myself in, I totally identified with what you said, as much as I wish it wasn't true. Oh. Not the circumstances I find myself in - love those!, No it's the part about not getting the respect and acceptance of what we do and who we are from family, friends and one day, hopefully, from book reviewers.
    Thanks again for a really thought provoking post!
    See you on FB :)
    mj

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  10. Very nice post. I have worried about some of those situations coming up myself and that is why I try to stay mostly anonymous.
    That and I would be hugely embarrassed if people I know read my work. It's not that I think it's terrible in terms of quality, but the themes are just so personal. And some of what I write is based on my own experiences which I'm not ready to openly share with everyone. Plus my side of the family (mom excluded) already don't think very highly of me, there's no need to make things worse.
    My pen name allows me to express myself without worrying what people might think. I can be real and honest and pour my emotions and dreams into it. If someone decides to be mean about it, I can simply ignore them because in the end they're just strangers interacting with me online.

    Hedonist

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  11. Fab post, Elizabeth! And SO true! Back before I was published, I remember one of my mainstream fellow-wannabes telling me that I could probably get published a lot easier if I didn't write so much sex. She said just don't write about sex or religion. I remember laughing and asking her, 'what the hell do you expect me to write about then?'

    Yes, Lisbet! I agree, erotica writers have a lot more fun!

    KDx

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  12. Hi, Elizabeth,

    Welcome to the ERWA blog, and thanks for a fantastic initial post.

    I think we've all been through this period of frustration - even anger - because society does not take our work seriously. At this point, I'm happy if I can impress my readers and my fellow writers. I don't waste my mental energy on the unconverted.

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