When I put out a call to writers asking them to ‘share their secrets’, I could not have imagined that just over 130 authors would respond, giving their time generously, and answering my questions with such honestly.
I’ll be posting further results of the survey over coming weeks. The issues touched upon deserve further discussion; we hope that they inspire writers and readers alike.
Before entering into the meat of the survey, I believe introductions are in order. I’d like to share some insight into the background of members of our writing community, and to look at our writing intent. What has drawn us to write erotic fiction, and what keeps us here?
Myriad Faces, Myriad Pens
Writers of erotic fiction: Kinky? Sex-crazed?
The reality is that we hail from all walks of life, we are of all ages (from our 20s through to our 70s and beyond) and of various professions (yes, we have day jobs).
Many of us have written beyond the genre of erotic fiction, in the spheres of journalism, travel writing, and across other avenues of fiction and non-fiction. Some have written for notable editions, including such newspapers as The Guardian and The Times, and for magazines: Penthouse and FHM… and Good Housekeeping.
We tend to write only in our leisure time, having full-time jobs. A small number are in their retirement years. A handful of authors devote themselves full-time to writing.
The majority of respondents to this survey continued their education beyond the age of 18; some have Doctorates or PhDs. Around 10 percent are currently employed in the sphere of education, including higher-level academia. Around a third mention having formally studied literature; a quarter have studied music, visual arts or performing arts. These are incredible statistics, revealing not only the level of education of ‘our’ writers, but perhaps something significant about the relationship of the erotic in fiction with its expression across other art forms. A handful of respondents note professions in applied or theoretical science (also a highly ‘creative’ sphere).
Donna George Storey describes her writing style as literary, feminist (focusing on the female experience) and realistic. She tells us, “I lived in Japan for three years, receiving my Ph.D. in Japanese literature. My writing is influenced by Japanese poetics and the literature of the ‘pleasure quarters’: Japanese erotica of the pre-modern period.”
Cecilia Tan has worked in performing arts. Tobsha Learner began as a sculptor of marble (she credits the tenacity involved in helping her writing technique) before becoming a playwright, and then releasing her first erotically themed short story anthology, Quiver. Malin James was a ballet dancer until 18, before training as an actress in New York, working in theatre until she was about 25. She notes, “I suspect my experiences as an actress have informed my emphasis on character driven stories. Art is also a big influence – I often start a story sparked by a visual image. Edward Hopper and Jack Vettriano are particular favourites.” Adrea Kore has earned her livelihood as an actress, dancer and theatre director. Renee Rose is a professional dancer, which she notes inspires her writing. Jade A Waters has studied circus arts, as well as theatre. Madeline Moore has worked as a screenwriter for television. Krissy Kneen has a background in theatre, screenplay and visual arts. Lee Savino, besides studying English literature, minored in music and has been involved in theatre. Suzette Bohne’ Sommers has a background in performance and visual arts. Jane Gilbert and Rebecca Branch have an art history background. Nya Rawlyns studied art history and visual arts. Elizabeth Black majored in art at college and has a theatre background. I could go on… Many have worked previously in education (some still do so).
There is such diversity under the label ‘erotica’ that many authors dislike the umbrella, failing to identify their own writing with that of other titles similarly listed. While most readers currently appear to associate erotic fiction with ‘steamy romance’, the authors in this survey write erotic themes and elements across all manner of fiction, commonly exploring fantasy/sci-fi/speculative, and horror themes. Some write in historical settings, or view their work as stand alone ‘literary’ with eroticism either at the heart of the story or feeding in to support character development.
More than half of the authors within this survey describe themselves as writing across multiple sub-genres within the label ‘erotica’.
Most respondents have written elements of BDSM. A significant number have used erotic elements to enhance romantic plots (without necessarily classing themselves as writers purely of ‘erotic romance’).
Most dislike being categorized, feeling this to be an unnecessary restriction and a simplification of their concepts. Labels are often the product of being sold through such channels as Amazon, with authors having limited control over where they are positioned. Moreover, a significant number lament that the ‘erotica’ label can be a hindrance, since it relegates their work to a restricted zone within Amazon, losing visibility.
Around half of our authors additionally write fiction (or non-fiction) without erotic elements, commonly using an alternative pen name.
Remittance Girl adds, “It is a writer’s obligation to attempt to take their readers to new places. There are, it is famously said, no new stories under the sun. But there are endless ways of telling, looking at and approaching old ones. This can be as radical as presenting readers with alternate universes, or inviting them to examine the interior of an erotic relationship from a fresh perspective.” (more here)
Fantasy, Realism, Authenticity
40% of those taking part in the survey say that they are inspired by their own emotional or sexual history in writing. Meanwhile, 56% say that they call upon their fantasies, and 21% say they knowingly draw upon experiences they’ve read about or heard second hand.
For many of us, our inner erotic landscape revolves around fantasy, with limited relation to any ‘real’ situation we’d find ourselves in. As writers, we thereby tread a tricky line between realism and innovation, practicality and originality. We wish to portray emotions and motivations which ring true, while offering the reader an unexpected experience.
Writers tend to conduct some degree of research (into historical settings or BDSM practice for example) in pursuit of realism, hoping that readers will be able to relate more easily to the journey of their protagonist and empathize with conflict on the page.
However, we are creating fiction, rather than an educational text, or a ‘how to’ manual. Saying this, most authors are keen to portray sex acts ‘realistically’ (do your legs really bend that way?).
Authors also emphasize that they can feel torn between creating powerfully arousing erotic writing, and creating a ‘realistic’ setting through which to address socio-political issues (such as advocating for freedom of sexual expression, or overturning racial/sexual stereotypes).
Another focus, expressed most especially by women authors, is that of writing for the ‘modern’ woman: the desire to create female characters with their own agency, forging their own path, rather than being passive recipients of sex/love. This presents particular challenges when writing fiction embracing predominantly submissive themes, in which a woman consents to ‘training’ and endures, often, activities involving dubious consent.
Questions of authenticity prevail also in relation to representing characters with disabilities, and of various ethnicities, and body types, and ages, and sexual orientation (including trans-gender protagonists and those with fluid gender identities). Writing ‘the other’ with realism is a concern, although authors argue their ability to place themselves within other minds, and within unfamiliar situations, through the application of imagination.
We want to write about how sex makes us feel, looking at the bad and the ugly besides the good, looking at regret, insecurity and obsession as well as transcendent joy.
As Remittance Girl assures us, “All fiction carries the traces of its author. The difference between really good writing and mediocre writing is not when the characters emerge changed, but when you know, as a reader, that the author has also emerged changed.” She asserts that no piece of writing should leave the writer ‘unscathed’, that we ‘expose something true’ of ourselves and that is always ‘a frightening thing’ (more here).
Ina Morata gives evidence to this, saying, “Sex is the medium I use to investigate psychological boundaries: my personal insecurities and fears. I explore who I am and see how far I can push myself. Erotica, more than any other genre I have worked in, allows me to do this without feeling contained or isolated. Writing erotica has been the best move I’ve ever made; I’ve evolved so much since I began.”
Importantly, the vast majority of writers agree that they pen their words with the intention of reaching out to an audience. As Cari Silverwood notes, “As a writer, I’m not an island. I need my readers. Would I write if I had no readers? No. No. No.” Erotic fiction invites intimacy on a level unseen across other genres, emotionally and physically. There is an electrifying thrill in the knowledge of touching readers, moving them at the most profound level.
Read on, to discover how we, as authors, lay ourselves bare. Which knots hold tightly onto their secrets? What thoughts come to us by night, and haunt us by day? What first inspired us to pursue ‘the erotic’, and what keeps us coming back? What compels us, and what future do we envisage for our writing?
Where are we going, and why…?
- First Inspirations
- Why Write Erotic Fiction?
- Fantasy and Realism and Erotic Fiction
- Lines in the Sand: transgression and censorship
- Hidden Identities: writers of erotic fiction
- What the Future Holds: 21st century erotic fiction
- Publishing’s Dirty Secret
- Women Writing The Erotic
Authors’ Recommended Reads
- You may like to view this post, on the Male/Female Hand, in which readers are challenged to identify writers’ gender.
- Men Reading Erotic Fiction – looking at why men seek out fiction in this genre, and their preferences for style and content.
- The Erotic Vein: the male pen – on trends in men’s authorship of erotic fiction.
My thanks go to the following authors for giving their time and for their candid answers; my thanks also to authors who contributed their views anonymously.
Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou, Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea Kore, Kristina Lloyd, Jonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George Storey, Kathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha Black, Cari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. Bey, Zander Vane, Tamsin Flowers, Krissy Kneen, Zak Jane Keir, Jade A Waters, Ashley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya Rawlyns, Terrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose Caraway, Allen Dusk, Tabitha Rayne, Marc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi Ansevi, Nicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina Morata, Finn Marlowe, Elsa Holland, Elizabeth Schechter, Aleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis Alvarez, R.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily Harlem, Thomas Roche, Madeline Moore, Ria Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Wade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane Gilbert, Jim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee Savino, C.P. McClennan, Elizabeth Black, C.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette Hugo, Frank Noir, Amelia Smarts, Nobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra Shaw, Ardent Rose, Sylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Jay Willowbay, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. Vermillion, David Flint, Delores Swallows, Rebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Jaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.