How I learn to stop worrying and love the porn.

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.

7 comments:

Alisha Steele,  11:49 AM  

A huge kudos to you, dear! To say I emphatically agree would be to down-play the enthusiasm of my agreement. I, too, tell people I write porn...plot-driven (I try) panty-soaking (I hope)...porn.

Alisha Steele

Elizabeth Parker 1:27 PM  

Great post, and I agree wholeheartedly! I'm sick to death of romance writers who are squeamish and apologetic, holding their noses and denigrating the very genre they're desperately trying to break into.

If I hear one more romance writer righteously intone, "I write character-driven stories," I think I'll scream. Get over it. Last time I checked, love between real men and women includes the glory and satisfaction of sex in all its ramifications. And THAT is truly "character-driven."

Drollerie 8:46 PM  

Thank you for the props in your last post. We like you too.

We're one of those publishers who say, "no porn." I think there are a few reasons for that. 1. I read really bad porn when I was too young to know there was something better, and it horrified me. 2. As a more discriminating adult I've read sexy stuff I enjoyed and the writer and/or publisher called it erotica.

I think the word "romantica" is pretty silly, but I understand the publisher's desire to separate their stories from the type many people expect when we/they hear the word porn. These are the things I know: Porn objectifies the characters. Porn limits the story to sexual hijinks. Plot, characters, themes (other than sex, of course) all suffer for the sake of one more description of cock. That might not actually be what porn is, but it's what porn has been for me.

You said,"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."

And that's not the case for me, but I do think that if an author is required to write a story that includes X number of graphic sexual encounters with Y number of male partners and A number of female partners, and, if possible, B number of multiple partners, within Z number of pages, then the focus is on the sexual acts and not on the characters who are (hopefully) enjoying the sexual acts.

So, we say that we accept erotic stories and we try to clarify as much as possible that we don't want the authors to focus on telling us about sex (though we'd love some, thanks) but it's about characters who sometimes have sex while involved in everything else that makes up the story.

Quoting you again, "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."

We have no problem with an author who chooses a plot that requires sex (woot! porn!), and gratuitous is okay too, as long as it looks like it might be plot driven, but we want it to be as organic as possible, and we'd really rather not have it if it's going to be awkward. We can have that kind of sex at home.

I've probably talked too much again. It's been known to happen. Thanks for an interesting post. I'll have to think about our submissions statement some more.

Kis Lee 11:09 PM  

hear, hear!! i stopped sugarcoating and feeling defensive. i write about sex, ok?! if you can't deal with that, that's up to you.

i write PORN, dammit.

ERiCA 8:01 AM  

next time someone asks in that smug way if you write porn, do what I do: say yes

Bwa! I'm going to have to try that. Usually those comments push my buttons and I start getting defensive (and loud). A yes and a shrug oughtta do the trick...

MariFree 2:40 PM  

Whoo Hoo...I’ve been saying this for some time now. I write stories that have a lot of sex in them. How the reader, editors, or anyone else wants to label them is fine with me. The only word I would rather not hear associated with my erotica is bad! Hehe.
~Mari

Anonymous,  6:01 PM  

Actually, one could argue that all descriptive consensual sex in a novel is essentially gratuitous, as you could encompass the feelings and convey the event all with the bedroom door closed, thanks. The only sex that must be somewhat graphic to advance a plot, IMO, would be bad sex, non-consensual sex or something yucky or weird that a character would have to describe to a police officer.

You see guidelines that insist the sex must advance the plot, but unless the plot centers on something ridiculous, like a contest as to how many pages of the Kama Sutra a couple can recreate, you can always, always close the door on it.

The word "porn" has some negative associations for me, because I have seen so much that is so focused on body parts it's more like an anatomy class performed by actors who make hockey players on commercials look like Oscar contenders. At least with badly written porn--if you can get past the spelling and grammar issues-- you can imagine the characters are having a good time, and not just planning next week's dinners and picking out paint colors while they go through the motions like sweaty automatons.

The difference is qualitative, and therefore not easily defined. But in the barest definition, it's all titillation, and that's fine by me. Even if it doesn't advance the plot.

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