Erotica Readers & Writers Association Blog

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Good Night and Good Luck.



My post last month "The Club" garnered this clear-eyed response from Lisabet Sarai:
"Most readers, however, choose erotica because they want to feel, not because they want to think. Specifically, they want to feel good--aroused, satisfied, reassured, or like they're getting away with things they'd never attempt in the real world. To these readers, the deeper issues that concern you are close to irrelevant. Indeed, to many of them, craft and linguistic grace matters little if at all."
She is, of course, absolutely right about this. The vast majority of contemporary readers come to the erotica genre to "feel good--aroused, satisfied, reassured," most consider the themes that drive me to write "close to irrelevant" and don't give a shit about "craft and linguistic grace."

Many years ago, I was in the music business; I sang in a band. We got a record contract with a big company who then decided our music was too 'alternative' and pressured us into writing more commercially accessible music. I wanted to be loved so much. I wanted to be successful so badly. I thought it was the only thing in the world that mattered to me; that adulation. But even at the time, I knew I was betraying myself. Somewhere inside me, even as we made the changes they insisted would make us famous, I knew I was doing the wrong thing. I did it anyway.

It's a term I don't like and rarely use, but since I am speaking of myself alone, I feel justified in saying I whored myself for approbation. And the fact that you haven't got a clue what band I was in or what the music was like is proof of the fact that my choice to compromise my artistic vision was not a wise one. Had I stood my ground and refused to write more 'commercial' music you might still never have heard my work, but at least I would have kept my integrity. In the end, you can only account for your own choices.

I had something of a mental breakdown after that experience and, when I recovered, I swore that I'd never choose the lure of commercial success over artistic integrity again. Not because writing pop music is demeaning or requires less skill, but because it was a totally inauthentic act for me. For some people, producing accessible work is exactly what they want to do. And they do it well. They deserve the success they get because they're not faking it, they're not putting on the breaks of their intellect or dumbing down their ideas. They genuinely believe in the product they produce, and it shows.

I have never wanted to produce writing that facilitated masturbation, or made people feel safe and satisfied and reassured. Although I would be happy in knowing something I wrote might have turned someone on enough to help them to orgasm, I definitely have never been interested in making a reader comfortable in any way.

I remember many years ago having a drink with the lovely Lisabet in a bar in the Far Sast and saying: "Not only don't I want to write this stuff, but I don't think I can even do it." It's not easy to do. I don't want you to think that I believe that conforming to current reader expectations in the erotica genre is easy. Far from it. I literally have not got the skills or the drive to do it. But more importantly, I don't have the passion for it. I don't want to produce cultural work I would not feel proud about publishing. I don't want to write what I'm not interested in reading.

I believe that this has been coming for a while. The immense rise in popularity of erotic romance, its eclipse of the genre, and the sensational success of Fifty Shades of Grey has literally redefined the genre of erotica. It has led readers to expect something wholly different from what I can or am interested in producing.

For this reason, I think it is futile to continue to fight a battle that can't be won. It's an absurd fight and I should have realized this a long time ago. Moreover, I find myself in cast in the role of some stern, arrogant and, ironically, old-fashioned harridan in this debate. I feel like a crazy old Marxist with long, greasy grey hair who smells of body odor and cat piss, who stands on the corner of Oxford Street, screaming unintelligible gibberish at people who walk by, wrinkle their nose and go back to texting on their mobile phones. I am, in this genre, an irrelevance.

As Anais Nin said in the quote above, "we don't see things as they are, we see them as we are." And I am no longer an Erotica Reader and Writer. Time to move on. This is my last post on the ERWA blog. It has been a wonderful experience sharing this virtual space with all these talented writers and adventurous readers.  I wish you all the very best.

Good night and good luck.


21 comments:

  1. i am a reader who wants to think. i care about craft. yes, i read junk erotica that is an impetus for me to wank off to, but the work i remember is more than that, the images that come to mind come from the short fiction of Anais Nin, the Story of O, Diana Bataille's the Whip Angels & yes, the fiction of one, Remittance Girl, whose powerful work resonates. i need my mind to be engaged as well as my genitals. thank you for all that you've contributed here, RG.

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  2. I've always enjoyed reading your thought-provoking opinions and your shrewd, intelligent insights. I'm going to miss your voice on these pages. To echo RG's comment above, thank you for all that you've contributed here. To some of us, you've made a world of difference.

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    1. Ashley, RG is Remittance Girl, not me. just to clarify.

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    2. Thanks Amanda - I must have been typing without caffeine again. RG told me off for doing that last week :-)

      Ash

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  3. I'm not sure I understand how you have not won. Your voice is heard, your ideas transform. The majority? No. your very import is the fact that you are a voice in the wilderness, a lighthouse that draws some of us in to a difficult shore. It was here at ERWA that I found you and followed your writing and ideas for over a decade now. I'm a hack writer with moments of linguistic beauty and a desperation to emote, and because of your challenging thoughts, I aspire to more. To being diligent in what I'm doing and why. To being authentically me, whatever that turns out to be. I'm assuming this departure is just from here, not the world stage, so to speak. I need that lighthouse.

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  4. I am a white haired old harridan who has done my artistic whoring in my first career, and I shan't do so again. If it means I stand alone...I guess I shall have to do so. It won't be nearly as much fun.

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  5. You will be sorely missed RG. Not only here but in the greater world of Erotica. Been missing you since you stopped posting your valuable insight on the ERWA lists. Thanks for all you have given us to think about, and all best for your future efforts, no matter what they be.

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  6. RG, I always thought your voice was a good balance here - and the other places you post/write. It was always good to reminded that there is more we can aspire to as a culture.

    Yes, while you may not express the (apparent) majority view we see in popular culture (erotic writing that challenges and enlightens rather than simply "reassures"), most of us are readers and writers, and certainly appreciate this struggle you bring up. To judge ourselves based on best selling lists is madness.

    But you can't change it. Can't fight city hall, as they say.

    All you can do is speak the truth and be fearless, which you do and are. And that is very inspiring. Those who recognize it will follow you anywhere, even if they are small in number. I for one am a big supporter of your work and your mission, and do this for more than HEA and writing JO material. We'll miss you here if you really decide to move on.

    Best, Roger

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  7. I wish you well in whatever you do, RG. I agree with you on all of your points. I turned back to sci-fi with erotic content because of the reasons you outlined above and many more.

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  8. I think the irony is the fact that the readers to whom Lisabet says "craft and linguistic grace" matter little - the readers who just want to get off -may not have the slightest clue of the craft and linguistic grace it takes to get them off.

    Humor writing is unlikely to make readers laugh without craft and linguistic grace of its own kind. Horror writing is unlikely to frighten readers to their cores without a hell of a lot of craft and its own linguistic grace. And the same goes for erotica. So although such readers may think it doesn't matter, I think it does matter, and I think they don't know it. "Craft and linguistic grace" is not synonymous with big words and adherence to all the "rules." Sometimes, it's breaking the rules. Writing, in fact, is similar to sex. If it's proper, it's not worth doing…my two cents.

    I stopped calling myself an "erotica writer" awhile back, too. I only called myself that, in fact, long enough to get into a few anthologies, size up the lay of the land (no pun intended), and realize that I've never thought that it's the sex that matters. Even sex isn't just about sex….

    Having written this stuff just long enough to call myself precociously successful at it (a very short period of time compared to the real veterans floating around here), I see no reason not to write sex in any story at this point, if and when I feel like it. No more "at least three sex scenes per 5,000 words" restrictions for me. (And by the way, what's a sex scene? Unfulfilled desire can be hotter than actual fucking….)

    I've enjoyed your blog posts and wish you the best of luck in whatever lies ahead.

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  9. This is a sad piece, RG, but everyone else in this thread has made good points. Descriptions of sex can be insightful in whatever the genre is called for marketing purposes. Please continue sharing your thoughts with us on your own site.

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  10. P.S. Many of us erotica writers, including RG, have had day jobs as English teachers at various levels. (So few of us can earn a living from our writing.) This means that we've seen what a lack of linguistic skill looks like in student work. Olivia Summersweet nailed it: bad writing simply fails to communicate anything clearly, so fans of particular genres (humour, horror, erotica) are actually looking for writing that works for them. The importance of craft will never be irrelevant.

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  11. I hope to be still learning my craft on my death bed. Good luck with your new endeavors, RG. You will be missed.

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  12. When you told me you planned this to be your last post on the ERWA blog, RG, I didn't expect this level of bitterness and disillusionment. To be honest, I find reading this terribly distressing (especially since it begins with a quote from me). How can you possibly think that your voice doesn't matter or that you have not made a difference in the world of erotic fiction? Both your analytical and your imaginative capabilities astound me -- as they have from the first time we met. Just because the "average" reader seeks something different from the genre than you (or I for that matter), that doesn't detract from the richness offered by both your fiction and your deconstruction.

    I figure you were burned out, as well as busy with other aspects of your life including your doctoral work. It never occurred to me that you might consider that you'd failed in your efforts to shine the spotlight of your formidable intellect on the nature of the genre. Certainly, you have not.

    We will definitely miss you. But I'd rather see you walking away with the sense of accomplishment that's appropriate, rather than a sense of defeat.

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    1. Hey Lisabet, I really saw the truth in the comments you left on my last post. You are by no means the only person who has pointed those things out, but you said it most concisely. I'm sorry if my quote of your comment distressed you.

      The ERWA blog was always about the ideas and practice of writing in the erotica genre. I didn't feel I should continue to speak to that; what I have to say won't make anyone a more successful writer of erotica. It was simply time to take my grumpy self elsewhere.

      Hugs.

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  13. And as a P.S., my recent reader survey suggests that my respondents at least (more than 200 of them) DO care about style and especially about the quality of editing.
    http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2015/07/reader-survey-results-part-1.html

    http://lisabetsarai.blogspot.com/2015/08/reader-survey-results-part-2.html

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  14. For what it's worth, you are the opposite of irrelevant, at least to me. In fact, it is your work that first drew me, and it continues to push me farther in mine own work now. I can very much understand what you're saying in this post, but you made (and continue to make) a massive impression on the landscape of this genre, as well as on what erotic literature can do if given the room.

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  15. This is so saddening. I love your "cat piss and greasy hair"!!! It's one of my favorite things about you. Every time you have written a post, I've read it. You fulfill a vital role in this genre that needs to be filled. I think you underestimate your influence. I do hope you come back. I will faithfully go to your RG site to get my personal fix of your "unintelligible gibberish".
    Much love and respect.

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  16. Still thinking about your nm novel Gai Jin. Will you continue writing in places we can find it?

    Ifind, for the experience I posted inmy blog here this month it's hard for me to write too. I do think these things go through phases. At some point quality work will find itself out. That time will come. I just try to have faith in that. Don't forget about us.
    Garce

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  17. RG, I will greatly miss your bracing and brilliant columns here, but will continue to enjoy favorite stories from the past, and will look for your work elsewhere. This column, too, is an inspiration to keep writing what I must whether or not it is marketable. Many thanks.

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  18. Thank you RG. As a writer, you astound. As an editor, you excel. This may be the end of your ERWA era but I know it's not the last we have heard from you."Shine on, you crazy diamond."

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