Sunday, July 21, 2013
I discovered the Erotica Readers & Writers Association in the year 2000. Google was barely a gleam in the eyes of venture capitalists. Social networking meant going to the local singles bar. The word “blog” had not yet been coined. I was living in rural New England and accessing the Internet via a 36 kilobaud dial-up line.
I wasn't looking for a critique forum. Although I enjoyed reading erotica, I wasn't seeking a source for sexy stories or reviews of the same. No, I was searching in clueless newbie fashion for ways to get the word out about my first novel, Raw Silk, which Black Lace had published a few months earlier. Somehow I happened on a page of erotica-related links on the ERWA website (which at that point had been around for about four years, and was known as the “Erotica Readers Association”). So I emailed the webmistress and asked if she'd be willing to include a link to my brand new venture, www.lisabetsarai.com.
Adrienne sent me a kind reply in which she explained that ERWA wasn't really about advertising. However, they did have email lists for authors and others interested in sexy stories, including a list for discussing craft (Writers), a list for sharing stories and critiques (Storytime) and a list for chitchat, often about sexual topics (Parlor). Isolated in my remote, somewhat conservative town of 1500 people, half a world away from my British publisher, I eagerly accepted her invitation to join all three lists.
I canceled my subscription to Parlor in a matter of days, after being swamped with posts about returning versus not returning your supermarket cart to the designated areas. (What was sexy about that?) However, Storytime provide new thrills. I read more, and more varied, erotic stories in the first month or two on Storytime than in my whole previous existence – and found some of them both wildly imaginative and truly arousing. Furthermore, I was able to apply my excessive education to the useful task of writing crits and providing comments to some of the authors – though I read many more stories that I could critique. Participating in Storytime turned out to be a highly intimate experience, as writers tended to share pieces that revealed their own desires and fantasies.
Storytime inspired me. I wrote and posted my first flashers (only 100 words back then), painfully cutting out words to get below the limit. Targeting a short story contest announced on ERA, I wrote my first erotic short story, “Glass House” and received both warm praise (what we authors all live for) and useful suggestions for improvement. A few of my stories were selected for the Gallery. I began to read and respond to the calls for submissions on the Author Resources page. I wrote the first three chapters of my second novel, Incognito, and sent a proposal to Black Lace, only to have it roundly rejected (with the comment that Miranda wasn't the sort “kick-ass heroine” they preferred). I might have given up writing at that point if it had not been for the support of folks on the Writers list. Instead, I girded my loins and started looking for a new publisher.
Over time, I became more and more involved with ERA (which added “Writers” to become ERWA at some point, as the management recognized how important authors were to its well-being). I wrote reviews for the Smutter's Lounge, plus an occasional article for Authors Resources. In 2004 (God, has it really been that long?), Adrienne convinced me to take on the role of writing the monthly Erotic Lure newsletter. In 2006 I edited and arranged the publication of Cream: The Best of The Erotica Readersand Writers Association, which is still (in my humble opinion) one of the most satisfying and diverse erotic anthologies around (and which incidentally includes a great forward by Adrienne, covering the early history of ERWA). Last year I produced a year-long series of articles (“Naughty Bits”) covering various technology topics relevant to authors. Controlling and bossy as I am (yes, I know that's kind of odd for a submissive), I also agreed to serve as ERWA blog coordinator.
Looking back now, after thirteen years, I'm astonished at how much this place means to me. I've come to know individuals here whom I'd place in the circle of my dearest friends – even though in some cases, we've never met in person. When I have had the chance for face-to-face time with folks I first encountered at ERWA, it often feels as though we've known one another forever. In the real world, there are very few people to whom I can reveal my identity as an author of erotica. At ERWA I'm free to be myself.
For me, ERWA is a community of spirit. Someone who just learned about the place might think that the biggest draw was the ability to speak and write frankly about sexual matters, in an environment where such topics are welcome rather than taboo. Sure, that's a great feature, but today there are many adult-oriented on-line communities. ERWA is special because of its literary focus. The people who end up on the Writers list, at least, are passionate about reading and writing – and not just in the erotica genre. They care deeply about words. They recognize that storytelling is a definitively human activity. And many have a profound understanding of both the mystery and the craft involved in spinning an effective tale.
We tend to whine about how hard it is to succeed as an author these days. In fact, I've watched many of my colleagues here move from amateurs to professionals with dozens of books to their credit. Pick up any recently published erotica anthology and you'll see familiar names from the Gallery and Writers. Search Amazon and our members come up as editors of award-winning collections. Several members have even gone on to establish their own independent publishing ventures. As far as I know E.L. James has never been a member of ERWA, but considering the difficulties involved in getting anyone to take erotica seriously, I'd say we're doing pretty well.
And of course, ERWA has been instrumental in my own career, such as it is. I'm an old-timer now, but when I first joined, I knew nothing about publishing or marketing. I barely knew that the genre of erotica existed, and I'd never read an erotic romance. I had lots of arousing fantasies, but my dialogue was wooden and my convoluted sentence structure like something from the nineteenth century. Now I have a back list that's pages long – I've stopped counting since it's hard to know exactly what criteria to apply, but certainly nobody could claim I was a one-book wonder.
I suspect that without ERWA, I'd never have gotten this far. Without the support (moral and immoral) of my fellow authors, I might not have wanted to.
If you've been around this community for anywhere near as long as I have, I think you know what I am talking about. If you're new – if you've been trying to get your erotic visions out of your head and into a manuscript, if you feel ostracized because of your fascination with things sexual, if you've always loved to read and write but haven't dared to think about publication - all I can say is welcome. You probably belong here.