Wednesday, April 04, 2007
I am constantly baffled by the way the erotic romance genre assigns new meanings to words and has that use adopted so quickly. For a while there is was "alternative lifestyles" for gay, now it seems to be "pornography" means a piece of sexy fiction has no plot, characterisation or themes and is utterly devoid of literary merit. So we have epublishers routinely saying they do not take pornography, but do take erotica (do take 'sensual' but don't take 'erotica' etc)--as if the difference is obvious to all.
Now, pornography is a crude word, I will admit. It has some associations outside the world of prose to magazines full of large mammaries and shaved... well, let's try to keep this PG. And this is not to say that is anything wrong with visual porn, either. But "pornography" is probably not the first word I would choose to describe my work. It can be a little startling like somebody saying 'fuck' instead of 'make love'. But its contemporary literal meaning is nothing more or less that writing meant to sexually arouse. Erotica and pornography are synonyms. Unless you think that writers of pornography get up in the morning with the purpose of writing work that has no literary merit whatsoever, inserting flat characterisation and poor spelling at every opportunity. Let's show a little respect here for the ancient and worthy goal of writing to arouse.
People who write sex fiction should, IMHO, not throw around words describing the genre as if they are insults. It suggests a lingering feeling that writing about sex is innately immoral and destructive. "No", the writer says. "We are writing romance and the sex is just something absolutely required by the plot!" Well, frankly... rubbish. The sex in erotic romance is only sometimes a vital part of the plot, it is often gloriously gratuitous, sometimes added in very awkwardly, and I know from experience that to have a lot of sex occur as part of the plot you need to consciously choose a plot that requires it.
I have even had erotic romance writers say it is not their intent to sexually arouse. Darling (she says, patronisingly [like I never would in real life]), if your erotic romance is not sexually arousing it is my honest opinion that you are doing it wrong--or are you just so embarrassed about sex that you need to put all the blame on the dirty, dirty reader who misunderstands the high literary intent of your threeway scene with the flogger and the lubed cucumber?
Bad erotic romance is bad erotic romance not another creature entirely that requires another name. And bad or good--erotic romance is pornography. One of the reasons people buy the genre so avidly, in fact probably the main reason, is the sex. Not to mention that non-romance and plotless erotica need not be treated with such arm's-length contempt. People like to have sex, people like to read sex, people like to write sex--and the increasing use of "pornography" as a derogatory term reflects only that people like to deny all of the above. But someone who writes sex for money and doesn't believe it is shameful, should IMHO get over the cringe factor and learn to embrace the word rather than letting it be used as a dumping ground for our lingering disdain for our own genre.
So the next time someone asks in that smug way if you write porn, do what I do: say yes. It really shuts them up. It also really helps sell your books to guys, most of whom have always thought pornography a very pleasant word associated with some very nice products indeed.