Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What Is Allowed?

By Kathleen Bradean

Lately, I’ve had to rethink my relationship to the word Artist. I never felt comfortable using it to describe myself, but now I’m using it as a defense of my work.

Artist -
A person who practices one of the creative arts.
A person who is skilled at a task or occupation.
A habitual practitioner of a reprehensible activity.*
I don’t see the word “But” in those definitions. “Paint what you want, but don’t offend anyone.” “Write what you feel, but not just for shock value.” “Create what you want, but to be a true artist, it must be aesthetically pleasing to the general public.”
As erotica writers, we’re aware of the big taboos. Many writers see the taboos as a brick wall at the end of a path and aren’t ever tempted to step toward it. Some writers climb the wall and precariously balance on the edge. Others see the wall as the beginning of the frontier and gleefully, or contemplatively, leap into the beyond.

I'm here to tell you that you can write the taboos. You may not ever get published, but publication isn’t the be-all, end-all goal of writing. Being published is a step down a well-trod path but it isn’t for everyone and it has nothing to do with the creative process. If your first thoughts in creativity are self-censoring (“I can’t write that because it won’t get published.”), you’re limiting yourself. Yes, yes, yes, if you make a living off your writing, you write with an eye to be published, but in reality, very few writers make a living from their work, so for the majority of us, why not put artistic freedom first in your hierarchy of needs and publish-ability further down? And even if you do write primarily with the goal of being published, would it hurt from time to time to let yourself run wild across the page?

As many of you are aware, I write a SFF series The Devil of Ponong under a different pen name. While it takes place on a different planet, readers tend to identify the main character and her people as Pacific Islanders and the other main race as being from southeast Asia or China. I’m white. Some people have asked me, ‘How dare you appropriate another race?’  That was when I had to admit I’m an artist.

An artist dares anything. An artist creates. That is their sole responsibility.

However, no one has to like what I create.

The accusation I dislike the most is that I’ve somehow stolen someone’s voice by writing this story. Stolen or silenced – both are terrible things to say. Just because I wrote a story doesn’t mean I’ve stopped someone else from writing theirs. Is it important to hear the voices of different cultures? Absolutely. My world gets bigger and smaller at the same time when I read a novel by someone with a different POV.  I want to read voices from other cultures. I’m not the enemy here! I’m a potential reader.

Is it wrong to speak for someone else? Well, (tiny cough), that’s been happening to women and minorities forever. Does it make it right? In what sense? No one questioned Tolstoy’s right to create Anna Karenina. Whether or not readers think he did a good job of depicting a realistic woman is another matter. So I’d say, yes, an artist has the right to speak for the other, just as readers have the right to say, ‘That’ isn’t like anyone I know from my race/religion/neighborhood,’  ‘This is racist or misogynistic,’ or ‘Yeah, this character is just like my aunt.’  And the thing is, none of us has to agree. It’s art. It’s subjective.  

*Oprah voice* You get and opinion, and your get an opinion, and everyone gets an opinion! Yay!

Bringing this back to erotica, from the practical side, you can always point to the taboos and let them be your guide. But from the artistic side, why not write what you want to? Create. Be a bit mad. Follow your imagination down rabbit holes and into dark corners. Let it creep through the gritty side of your fantasies and peek through the curtains into a parallel universe. What will it cost you? Or better yet, stop thinking of writing in terms of profit and loss and start letting yourself be an artist.

Are you an artist?
What is allowed?
Anything you dare to create.


*They meant 'as in con artist,' but I'm sure some people would include erotica writers in that category. Reprehensible. That word makes me think of prehensile, and suddenly I'm off in tentacle pornlandia.  <==This is why we can't have nice things. But we can have naughty.


  1. I feel like I'm quibbling with people a lot lately—people for whom I have great respect. My quibble here is about the implied dichotomy between writing for significant profit and writing for oneself. The idea of writing to be read often seems to get overlooked in these discussions. I don't make a living as a writer, but usually I write to be published because writing isn't nearly as meaningful or fulfilling to me if I don't have readers (though I'm also, in part, writing because of what I directly get out of it myself). That's not to say everyone ought to feel that way, of course, or that there's anything wrong with writing primarily for oneself (or writing primarily to make a living). But when I see that dichotomy—and I feel like I've seen it a lot lately—I feel I want to speak up.

    1. Jeremy - You're right. That's an important distinction and I didn't include that possibility. Many of us love to be read (while pacing and biting our fingernails and dreading the critique). But you can be read even if you break the taboos, if you take 'published' in the old meaning as in 'made public' versus 'accepted by a publisher.'

  2. The characters I write demand I tell their stories so they can live in the minds of readers, as well as in mine. How sad to think they might only make it as far as the pages of the book. I haven't yet stooped to begging readers to give me a chance, but I can't say I won't ever do that.

  3. Kathleen, this is a very timely post for me, because I'm in a place where I feel like I have, at least subconsciously, been writing for the market. It's dulling my appetite for writing. At the beginning it was an exciting challenge to write a publishable story and "read" the market, and I can't say that the work I produced was inauthentic. But it is time for me to reconnect with the artistic reasons to write, where the "reward" might be quieter, but more satisfying to the soul.

  4. Kathleen, you are so right. And I so hope that snipers who accuse you of "appropriating" someone else's "voice" (as thought hat were possible) don't ever silence your Muse.


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