Wednesday, November 28, 2012
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.
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."
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.