Author Influences : Malin James

 

Malin began exploring erotic fiction about five years ago, with the first piece she ever wrote accepted by Rachel Kramer Bussel for The Big Book of Orgasms, published by Cleis Press. “I doubt I’d have stuck with the genre if Rachel hadn’t plucked it up,” Malin admits. “Writing it was kind17465824._UY446_SS446_ of a lark.”

Since then, Malin has created a wealth of captivating short-story fiction, often inspired by fairy tales, folklore and magical realism, exploring the themes of grief, isolation, alienation, connection, self-discovery, power dynamics and psychological expression through sex. She’s known for her originality, her powerful characterisation and her mastery of beautiful prose.

“Sharing my work with readers is a natural extension of writing. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the story and the reader. Without the reader, a story only gets a half-life, so submitting my work for publication has always been a natural part of 51M-N0h8tLL._SX315_BO1,204,203,200_the writing process,” Malin asserts. “As for what I’d like people to come away with…empathy I suppose. Or resonance. A sense of understanding — feeling understood and, more importantly, gaining an understanding of situations or people who may fall outside their realm of personal experience. My stories should feel like slices of other people’s lives that the reader can experience in some way.”

“The authors who inspire me — Angela Carter, AffinitySarah Waters, Jeanette Winterson, Anais Nin — explore what it is to live, love, hate, and hurt, and they do so beautifully (and arousingly) with sex. They’re an intersection between the literary and erotic,” asserts Malin. “Their exploration of sexual themes occurs with fearlessness and frankness; it’s the lack of implied apology that appeals most to me.”

driversseatShe adds, “The Magic Toyshop and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter, have made me aware of my sexuality in a much more complicated way, while Muriel Spark’s The Driver’s Seat has opened my eyes to my own lack of sentimentality, just as Affinity, by Sarah Waters, has made me aware of how deeply my empathy runs. Angela Carter’s emphasis on sexuality as mundane, profane 81026and transcendent has definitely influenced my storytelling. Muriel Spark’s work has given me permission to be unflinching and unapologetic with my characters, and Sarah Waters has taught me to pay attention to physical and emotional details, which are often more telling than paragraphs of exposition.”

Malin trained as a ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet until she was 18 before moving into NYU’s acting program at Tisch School of the Arts and, later, to San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre. In her mid-twenties, she began to concentrate her energies on writing. Malin double majored in acting and English, and has a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature (focusing on the medieval period in Spain, France and CretienEngland). She underlines, “My acting training (as well as the critical training I received during my MA) directly influences my writing in many subtle ways: particularly in how I approach characters and the circumstances that inform the narrative arc. I think of writing in terms of lenses and angles—sex is, very often the lens, but the angle is determined by influences, from things I’ve done and read.”

Malin tells us, “My fascination with form and narrative and, most notably, character is grounded in plays and staging.” She particularly notes Fool for Love, by Sam Shepard, for its ‘sparseness, violence and emotional interiority’. The play directly inspired some of the stories in Roadhouse Blues, Malin’s newly released short fiction anthology, event_venus_in_furpublished by Go Deeper Press. Malin also names David Ives’ Venus in Fur, for its ‘cleverly subversive viciousness’ and Prelude to a Kiss, for its ‘use of magical realism to examine a woman’s fear of death’.

“The SF Ballet’s production of Prokofiev’s Cinderella also touched me deeply,” Malin adds. “The Russian composers who drew from myth, legend and fairy tales have influenced me most: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev and Stravinsky’s ballets have taught me about pacing and the need for emotional hooks.”

Malin admits that, in watching films, she tends to pay more attention to the actorsRita-Hayworth-Gilda-Poster than plot. She names The English Patient, Bram Stoker’s Dracula (directed Francis Ford Coppola) and Gilda (starring Rita Hayworth) as influential films for her writing, as well as Hitchcock’s Rear Window, Shadow of a Doubt and Vertigo. “While they’re all very different, there’s something compelling in their emotional landscape: a tension and melancholic tragedy. That said, one of my favorite movies of all time is Clue; I love the ridiculous humor of it.”

Edward Hopper Summer Evening
Edward Hopper’s Summer Evening

Art is another important influence for Malin. She explains, “Often, a story will start as a central image and evolve from there. Edward Hopper’s paintings are a massive inspiration. All of them: his nudes, landscapes, and slices of observed life. His work has a human element and a loneliness that’s prompted much of my work, directly and subconsciously. Hopper is all over my Roadhouse Blues.

by nicolas laborie - malin james
Malin James, photographed by Nicolas Laborie

Malin is also a fan of Ansel Adams, Jack Vettriano and Jeanloup Sieff and the photography by Nicolas Laborie, Marc Legrange and Marco Sanges, as well as the wonderful studio portraits of Golden Era Hollywood.

Often listening to classical and jazz while writing, Malin says that it encourages her stream of thought. “Debussy’s Claire de Lune, Andras Schiff performing Bach’s Goldberg Variations, and Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, are the aural equivalent of meditation,” Malin explains, adding, “I love early Tom Waits. Oh, my god, do I love early Tom Waits. And electroswing. like Caravan Palace, and regular swing, as performed by Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. I also love Billy Holiday and Nina Simone, and Medieval choral music (like the Tallis Scholars). Really, I’m all over the map.”

About Malin James

malin james by nicolas laborie
Malin James, photographed by Nicolas Laborie

“I’m fairly boring in real life,” Malin jokes. “I love to knit and bake and do all introverted things with wild abandon. This restores my mental and emotional energy, for my work. I live with my husband and daughter, who are the loves of my life, as well as two lovely, meddling cats and many, many, many overflowing bookshelves. Outside of writing, I love to read. I would happily spend my life in books.”

Malin’s short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies for Cleis Press, including Best Women’s Erotica 2015 edited by Violet Blue. Her work has been narrated by Rose Caraway for The Kiss Me Quick’s Erotica podcast, as well as for anthologies for her Roadhouse Blues by Malin James jpgcompany, Stupid Fish, including the #8Authors project, Libidinous Zombie. The Master, her fencing novella, came out with Sweetmeats Press in an anthology called The Athletic Aesthetic. She has recently released her collection of linked short stories, Roadhouse Blues, with Go Deeper Press. Read my review (with commentary from Malin) here.

Find Malin at www.malinjames.com

Twitter: @MalinMJames

Facebook: Malin James

and on Go Deeper Press: www.godeeperpress.com

Roadhouse Blues, by Malin James: a review

Roadhouse Blues isn’t just an outstanding collection of erotic shorts, it’s one of the most impactful, heartwarming books I’ve read, in any genre. The residents of Malin James’ fictional town of Styx, in the American South, are vividly alive, their voices as real as our own.

Malin isn’t afraid to explore taboos: our desire for what we know is ‘wrong’, for violence as well as softness. And, she shows how grief and violence mark us – that we bear scars on the inside, as well as those visible on our skin.

Her characters’ dialogue flows seamlessly, revealing to us their inner struggle and their hopes. Malin reminds us that our sexuality is woven through our identity, and that, without it, our stories cannot be fully told.

Contradictions are at the heart of this storytelling, showing that many of the things we yearn for have the power to damage us. Malin shows us the bittersweet and the beautiful, as in Marlboro Man. Her stories have humour, and they’re hot as hell; I adored Down and Dirty, and Krystal’s Revenge Fuck. I love every inch of this collection.

Roadhouse Blues by Malin James jpgWhen authors move us, it’s because they reveal to us our own truths. They show us the best and worst of humanity: our jealousy and possessiveness, as well as our capability for love. In Roadhouse Blues, Malin James explores what we fear and what we desire. She brings us all this, and more.

Malin tells us that her stories always revolve around her characters. “Some, like Mick in Roadhouse Blues and Sarah in Love in the Time of War were inspired by specific people I happened to see walking down the street,” she explains. “Most of the rest are amalgams that pulled themselves together in my subconscious. I’ve always been a people watcher—I’d much rather observe than be the center of the action (I’m a serious introvert). People are endlessly fascinating to me, and observing people first hand kicks up a strong kind of empathy.”

“It sounds really boring, but most of my ideas come when I’m alone and very quiet. I get a lot of nudges when I’m running, or meditating, or awake late at night (insomnia). They usually come in the form of characters or questions, though images prompt them too. If I’m engaged in too much externally, they flutter away, but if I’m very, very quiet, they stay long enough for me to touch them, and then the story goes from there.”

“Saying that, I listened to a lot of early jazz and blues when I was writing the collection. More generally, I tend to go with Bach and medieval choral music, though Miles Davis is a mainstay too. Unless I’m editing. When I’m editing, I do best when there’s nothing but quiet so I can hear the rhythms in the words.”  Meanwhile, Malin drinks huge amounts of tea, which she finds helps her to concentrate. “Not the caffeine per se, more the having of it.”

As to her favourite characters from the collection, Malin loves Maybelline, from Marlboro Man. “Temperamentally, she’s deeply self-contained, but also emotionally vulnerable, in a way that breaks my heart a little. She was one character that came to me almost fully formed. I also love Krystal from Krystal’s Revenge Fuck. I’m not sure I’d ever actually want to hang out with her because wow, she’s a handful, but her intensity and sheer engagement in life are incredible. She was so much fun to write. So. Much. Fun. And Sam, from Good Love. I’ve gotten very attached to Sam. She’s so strong, and resilient, and healthy, and caring. I suspect she and I will see each other again at some point.”

Good Love, without a doubt, was the hardest to write. The recovery aspects were very, very hard and came from a deeply personal (and yet hopeful) place. There were a number of knife edges I had to walk, not least of which was the process of my own recovery from trauma. The Waitress was difficult too. In fact, it wasn’t clear to me where the center of the story lay until the very last couple of drafts. Vanessa’s healing came very close to mirroring my own, and I danced around that for a long time without getting too close. They both challenged me in a cathartic way. Writing them was hard but I’m very glad I did it.”

“I learned about sex from books. Anne Rice, Ian McEwan, Jeanette Winterson, Sarah Waters, Anais Nin and, most pivotally, Angela Carter. These authors introduced me to something new – deeply personal narratives that knowingly walked the line between the mundane and profane. They were my  first introduction to the relationship between sexuality and the psyche – between sex and the self – and it’s that relationship that I keep coming back to again and again.  That is what fascinates me – how people relate to each other, and themselves. Sex can be joyful, painful, wholesome, filthy, simple or profound. If people are the subject, then sex is the lens.”

As to what’s next for Malin, she says, “Something different, I think. Though I’m honestly not sure. I put so much into Roadhouse Blues that I haven’t been able to see past it yet. I’ll probably give myself a little quiet time and space. Whatever comes to me out of that quiet, is the thread I’ll end up following.”

Malin James Roadhouse Blues erotic fiction short stories

Welcome to Styx—a blue-collar, American town where people can do whatever they like, so long as they don’t advertise. From a 1950s diner to the back of a rocking Camaro, the stories in Roadhouse Blues reveal sex that is by turns romantic, raw, triumphant, and desperate. Meet two women grieving the same man, a bartender looking for anything but love, and a hot, brash newlywed who knows she married a cheat. The local garage is run by a kick-ass woman who gives as fierce as she gets, and the strip club is a place full of whiskey and smoke, where memories are exposed as easily as skin.

Malin James is an essayist, blogger, and short story writer. Her work has appeared in Malin JamesElectric Literature, Bust, MUTHA, Queen Mob’s Tea House and Medium, as well as in podcasts and anthologies for Cleis Press, Sweetmeats Press and Stupid Fish Productions. Her first collection, Roadhouse Blues, is published with Go Deeper Press.

Purchase your copy here

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Women Writing The Erotic: Part Three

erotic-fiction-women-writersIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One or Part Two,  it’s best to begin there.

Here, we look at what first inspired these women authors to tackle sexual themes, and the significance of gender to their work.

In writing erotic fiction, sex is the lens through which we explore our world and our identity. Our writing is a pathway to knowing ourselves: physically, mentally, and emotionally.

In expressing our understanding of our sexual self, looking at how erotic impulse shapes us, we recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

Ina Morata tells us, “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’ve 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.”

Remittance Girl urges us to write with honesty, and without fear, embracing whatever understanding of pleasure and eroticism is true for us. She notes, “Society offers rigid ideals of the right and wrong way to experience, pursue and satisfy desire… It’s hard to conceive of new eroticisms, because we fear that people will judge us if we veer too far away from the accepted.”

RG asserts “As writers, we all write a little of ourselves into our stories, and we all have a tendency to protect ourselves. This is especially true, I think, with erotic fiction. Our understanding of what is erotic, how to be erotic, how to ‘see’ pleasure, use pleasure, give pleasure seems to reflect so strongly back on ourselves.” She warns us to be brave in how we write, avoiding self-censorship through fear of judgement.

Meanwhile, writing the erotic can help in eroding sexual stigma, encouraging women, and men, to voice their desire more honestly. As Rose Caraway asserts, “I want to break down notions of sex being ‘bad’. We mustn’t be afraid or ashamed.”

First Inspirations and Influences

A remarkable number of the women taking part in the 130 authors survey have a background in the visual and performing arts, which they universally acknowledge as an influence on their writing. Jane Gilbert studied art history, as did Nya Rawlyns. Meanwhile, Renee Rose, Malin James and Adrea Kore trained in dance. Jade A Waters has studied circus arts. Madeline Moore has worked as a screenwriter for television, while Krissy Kneen and Tobsha Learner have worked in playwriting, and Adrea in stage direction. Jade, Malin, Lee Savino, Elizabeth Black and Suzette Bohne’ Sommers have also worked in theatre. I could go on…

Adrea Kore describes her search for ‘new and evocative ways of writing about feminine desire and describing the desiring female body’, influenced by her time as a sculptor’s life model, her study of dance and theatre, and her many years in stage direction. She notes her fascination with stories ‘of growth, transformation and dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body’ and ‘translating the physical arts into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling’. She relates, ‘…more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-eroticAlways this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.’ – read more here

Tobsha Learner began exploring feminist/sexual themes while studying sculpture, before moving into playwriting. There she continued to delve sexuality and gender, and became inspired to write her first erotic short story collection, Quiver.

(find out more about Tobsha here, in my interview).

Krissy Kneen similarly began by writing for the theatre, alongside film, and comes from a family of painters and sculptors, which she cites as an influence. She notes, “There are so many facets of the erotic. I’m drawn to those which lead me to extend myself. I explore. The surrealists taught me to go beyond the knowable and I have followed that call.She stresses her ‘never ending quest to express sex as a growing changing thing’ and emphasizes her ‘desire to transgress’, saying, “I’ve been boundary pushing since I started writing about sex. I experience the world in a very physical way. It’s how I relate to the world in general.”

Malin James trained as a ballet dancer with the San Francisco Ballet before being accepted into NYU’s acting programme, noting that her acting training influences her writing in subtle ways. She states that her writing of erotic elements wasn’t a conscious decision but the result of feeling stifled by avoiding sexual themes. Malin says, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.”

Donna George Storey describes her writing style as literary, feminist (focusing on the female experience) and realistic. She lived in Japan for three years, receiving a Ph.D. in Japanese literature, and her writing is influenced by Japanese poetics and the literature of the ‘pleasure quarters’. She states her desire to ‘report on the truth of the female experience’. Her storytelling ‘always turned to erotic themes’ and she believes that erotica can be intelligent, challenging and mind-expanding, exciting to the mind as well as to the libido’. She recalls being struck by Di Prima’s ‘brilliant description of several kissing styles’ [in ‘Memoirs of a Beatnik’], saying, “It still amazes and challenges me to capture the truth of the erotic experience in my own work.”

(more on first inspiration here)

The Compulsion To Write

Some women note a very early awareness of sexuality, and a desire to express this on the page. Cecilia Tan wrote on this topic in childhood notebooks and diaries, even from the age of six.

nya-rawlyns-erotic-fiction-quote-women-writersOthers discovered the liberation of writing much later.

Nya Rawlyns asserts, having spent ‘seven decades on this planet’, that writing is never passive. It is a ‘contact sport, dangerous, exhilarating, totally engaging’. She underlines, “I’ve worked at several different careers, and had an uncommon amount of tragedy and strife in my life. I have scars aplenty and I wear them with pride, along with the wrinkles of failure and the thinning skin of hope.” Nya notes her excitement at writers ‘peeling away the socially acceptable and revealing layer-by-layer the most intimate cravings of tortured souls’. She tells us, “I want to step far outside the boundaries of acceptable and explore the intersect of pain and pleasure, right and wrong, good and bad, need and desire.”

Elizabeth Safleur states,I can’t imagine writing anything that doesn’t involve sex on some level. Sex is part of the human experience. It’s one thing every human being has in common – either by avoiding it, being scared by it, recognizing its power (or not), having it, or trying to get it. How anyone can leave out such a powerful element in a story about love, I’ll never know.”

Cate Ellink recounts, “At a manuscript development week with other unpublished female writers, I realized that I was the only one comfortable writing fully depicted sex scenes. I began to see it as a strength, which gave me courage to move into the erotic genre and look at publication.”

Brantwijn Serrah recalls being ‘wildly curious’ about erotic novels. She tells us, “I read short stories first, as I imagine most do. Unfortunately, the first I read was incredibly disappointing. I felt so let down, I decided to write my own… and found compelling, emotive energy from the exercise.”lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-women

KD Grace comments that it was never her intention that her stories be only erotic, but that she has ‘always found sex to be a fantastic catalyst’. She asserts, “Few actions can change a story more dramatically than sex properly placed. I can’t imagine trying to tell a story without sex included. Neither can I imagine writing sex that isn’t an integral part of a story.”

Kay Jaybee admits to feeling surprised by her impulse to write erotic themes. “I had no intention of writing erotica that first day, sat in a cafe in Scotland at the age of 33. I was daydreaming out of the window, having not written a thing since I left university, when an idea suddenly came that was so naughty it shocked me. It wouldn’t let me go, so I wrote it down on a napkin. The story was taken by Violet Blue three months later. That was nearly twelve years ago, and I’ve never looked back.” She adds that it’s now ‘an obsession’. “If I ‘m not writing, I’m not me.”

Lily Harlem echoes this sentiment, saying, “I ‘have’ to write; it’s very much part of my daily life. I simply write because I love to.”

Telling Women’s Stories

One of Madeline Moore’s first erotically themed tales (writing as Madeline de Chambray) was for an anthology entitled Amazons: tall tales of strong women, about a woman who loses her breast to cancer.

nya-rawlyns-women-writers

Alexis Alvarez asserts her desire to see ‘female-centric’ portrayals of BDSM and sexuality in fiction. She explains, “Most stories, for all of their modern settings and vocabulary, remain stuck in a patriarchal mind-set.”

Donna George Storey emphasizes, “I definitely identify as a woman writer. One of the main reasons I write is because I believe we need more female voices in the chorus of literary expression. I know we are supposed to respect the creative effort of every artist and applaud a writer’s attempt to write across gender. When someone does this well, it is a pleasure to read (plus I applaud every effort to empathize with people who are different from ourselves). However, often, I find that when men write female characters, they don’t connect with the deeper aspects of the female experience. Women (and other groups discriminated against) have not had enough of a chance to share their own experiences honestly. Those are the stories I feel are worth my time to read and write.”

Malin James comments ‘being a woman is the only gendered experience of which I have first hand experience’. She continues, “There are issues, such as sexual abuse, reproductive health and abuse in relationships, upon which I take an entirely gendered view. My perspective on these issues is reflexively female and, while I strive for a balanced perspective, I honor and acknowledge that bias.”

Zak Jane Keir tells us, “I write as a woman; I identify pretty much as a woman and a feminist (this is not making any claims to superiority over men, transpeople or the gender fluid, just a statement that I am content to be me). I like to write about women and women’s sexual autonomy and their independence.”

Within and Beyond Gender

Cate Ellink asserts that she prefers to write from a female perspective, since it is the one she knows and feels confident with, worrying that an attempt at male perspective would weaken her storytelling. Similarly, Christina Mandara is adamant that she writes with strong identification as a woman and believes that, in writing men, she is less skilled than a male author would be.

Madeline Moore states, “Even when writing from the point-of-view of a man, I’m a female writer.” She believes, ‘the discrepancy between what men think women want and what a woman actually wants is enormous’.cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quote

However, a number of women authors note their desire to write without a predominantly female voice, preferring to focus on character, regardless of gender. Cecilia Tan underlines, The gender of the character is irrelevant. I’ve written more male protagonists than female, as well as trans characters and characters who magically change gender partway through. I’m biologically female, and my social identification is female, but my self-identification has never been particularly female/feminine.”

Madeline Moore tells us, “I’ve always written from a male perspective as well as female, just as I’ve always written characters of colour and I’ve written sexual orientations and fetishes that differ from my own.”

KD Grace raises an interesting point in her belief that writing from a male perspective gives her ‘permission to explore erotic themes more directly’.

A growing number of women authors feel the same way, choosing to write M-M erotic fiction, stating the motivation that protagonists can be more easily presented as ‘equals’, without navigating social baggage of the roles/expectations of M-F power balance.

Writing Our Own Truths jeanette-winterson-author-quote

Tobsha Learner notes the struggle to find ‘a sexy word for vagina – something that purrs as well as has claws’. Her comment is playful but she touches upon an issue at the heart of women’s writing of the erotic.

Our sexuality is multi-layered, and the ways in which we express our desire are just as complex. We are fluid. We are changeable. We are the tiger and we are the pussy cat.

We, as writers, are exploring the many facets of desire.

We are liberating our voices.

As the reader, you can liberate yours too.

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Inspirations: film, theatre, dance, fiction, art, music

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 KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Women Writing The Erotic: Part Two

women-writing-erotic-fictionIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’m sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction. If you haven’t already read Part One, it’s the best place to begin.

Here, we look at recurring themes within erotic fiction. 

What do we find to challenge and empower us?

What motivates us to write within this diverse, often liberating, yet sometimes misunderstood genre?

Writing ‘sex’ is a pathway to understanding. We recognize that we are more than intellect, and more than emotion. We are also ‘of the body’.

In writing erotic fiction, we use sex as the lens through which we explore our world and our identity.

We, as writers, look at how sexual impulse shapes our motivations, and how it impacts our relationships.

We speak our desire and, in doing so, our voices only become more powerful.

At its best, erotica reaches far beyond formulaic parameters and the ‘comfort’ of perceived ideals.

At its best, there are no parameters.

Kristina Lloyd asserts, “The erotic disrupts, destabilizes and threatens order, both personal and social, and its power is widespread and pervasive.”

lidia-yuknavitch-author-quote-truth-of-bodyChristina Mandara voices the opinion that women’s reading material is being dictated to them: a view shared by Sorcha Black, who believes, “The policing of women’s sexuality includes censoring what we read.”

While being receptive to critique (as would be expected in any genre) we, as authors, need to stand resolute in our belief that sexuality is a valid theme for literary exploration, and that we have the power to write as we see fit.

I.G. Frederick notes, with frustration, “It’s perfectly acceptable to use sex to sell anything from cars to beer, but we’re discouraged from examining the impact of sex on relationships in works of fiction.”

Many of the women taking part in this survey note commercial ‘constraints’ within the genre — such as are difficult to ignore for any writer seeking to earn an income from their work. However, we can argue that responsibility lies with us, as authors, to become less commercially risk-averse. If we write from a place of truth, we’ll find our audience.

Brantwijn Serrah praises erotica’s ability to play with possibilities, assisting ‘readers and authors in exploring new ideas about sexuality’.

Fiction Mirrors and Identifying the ‘Self’

In exploring the psychology of desire, how we behave ‘in the raw’, erotic fiction invites us to open our minds to all possibilities. It has the power to delve not just our fantasies but our truths. It holds a mirror to versions of our ‘self’ rarely let out in polite company; within that mirror, we gain deeper understanding.

nya-rawlyns-author-quote-erotic-fiction-literature-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassantRemittance Girl, in her article, On Writing Erotica, explains her desire ‘to articulate the conflict within ourselves, to make sense of it, and then to reach out to others via the page’. Nya Rawlyns believes the genre has the power to ‘redefine how we see ourselves and our society’.

Sessha Batto emphasizes that her goal is ‘to trace a character’s growth, as revealed through sex’ and to ‘dig deeply into a character’s personality and motivations’, as ‘catalysts for growth and personal discovery’.

Malin James states,Authorial intent comes down to one thing: I want to understand.” She underlines that fiction ‘can reflect the human condition in all its individual, specific forms. It can explore the cause and effects that drive our lives and form our emotional realities.” She adds, “I write to explore and reflect experiences. I like digging beneath a constructed, social surface to get at an emotional reality.” – read more from Malin on her intent here and hereremittance-girl-quote-fiction-reality-author-erotic-fiction

Fantasy v. Realism

Fantasy (all the ‘what ifs’ of our imagination) is a well-recognised aspect of erotic fiction. If not here, then where else, can we explore ‘the forbidden’. As Malin James stresses, “While a great deal of erotica falls into a realistic vein, much of what people actually want is that which they can’t (or don’t feel they can) have in real life. This is why rape fantasies, incest and other transgressive sexual acts continue to sell erotica and generate clicks.” – more on ‘fantasy’ here

 Janine Ashbless sees fiction as ‘a safe area in which to let our darker selves, our fears and our desires, out for a little exercise…’

It may seem contradictory to seek out greater realism within erotic fiction.siri-ousdahl-author-quote-erotic-fiction-21st-century-emmanuelle-de-maupassant-sex However, the majority of writers with the 130 authors survey assert a desire to write recognizable, diverse characters, and situations, with psychological depth, to better allow readers to empathize, and enter into alternate possibilities.

Siri Ousdahl declares, “I’d like there to be a larger place for high-quality, graphic sex writing: fiction that is not coy, does not romanticize or trivialize, and is psychologically realistic.”

Tobsha Learner comments,I like to make my characters normal people with fallible, normal bodies of all ages. The premise being that lust, sex and love is not just something that happens to gorgeous under thirty year olds, with ridiculously youthful and beautiful billionaires.” She asserts, “There is a certain joyful bawdy finger up to the Heavens when such coup de foudres fall upon our heads, whether we be 80, 50, 30 or 16.”

Similarly, CA Bell declares, “I’d like to see sexy, real, and honest writing: no billionaires who can shag for hours and come five times a night.” In her own words, Elizabeth Safleur writescontemporary billionaire erotic romance with a lot of fantasy’ but admits that she’d ‘like to read stories that involve real people, who aren’t great at being together (yet) and figure it out’. She adds, “Instead of the sex being amazing right off the bat, what did they do to make it great? I’d like to read something that allows for insecurities… vulnerabilities can be sexy.”

Diversity

Krissy Kneen tells us, “I’d like to see a broader range of people represented, fat people, old people, the disabled, all types of sexual orientations. I’d also like to see more gender fluidity. I think the masculine/feminine divide is boring and needs to be retired. Manly men and femme women is a cliché that really must go.”

Zak Jane Keir is keen to see more trans characters represented in stories remittance-girl-erotic-fiction-quote(where the plot extends beyond the surprise reveal of them actually being a §transperson). She laments the ‘generic’ in erotic fiction.

Sorcha Black also asserts her goal of challenging assumptions about gender roles and sexual attraction by avoiding ‘stereotypes’. She explains, “A lot of my characters are sexually fluid and are also into kink. I don’t have to limit myself to what’s expected. It’s far too easy to paint caricatures.”

On the theme of ‘perfection’, Madeline Moore states, ”We’re all looking for it and when we’re in love we believe, for a brief time, that we’ve found it.” However, she laments that women often feel that sexual encounters should be ‘perfect’, while men have ridiculous expectations of ‘perfection’.

Lily Harlem underlines her interest in exploring flawed characters, ‘because no one in real life is perfect or makes the right decisions all of the time’. Meanwhile, Donna George Storey notes that fantasy sex is ‘soothing’ but that she’s ‘now trying to capture something more real’. She explains, “I appreciate that erotic fiction often explores a world where characters are free of sexual repression. You meet a gorgeous partner, fall into bed immediately, and the physical tobsha-learner-erotic-fiction-quoteexperience is fantastic even though you don’t know his/her name. The female version usually has the gorgeous partner falling in love for the first time in his life after the aforementioned great sex.” Donna asserts, “I’d like to see more celebration of the magic of sex between people who know each other well. I’d like to acknowledge that time and trust are important in creating a situation where great sex can happen. Couples who’ve been together for a long time are not necessarily bored with each other. They can go deeper, they can play, they know each other well enough to trust it will be mutually enjoyable.”

Cecilia Tan notes her aim to write ‘power dynamics between lovers’ and the ‘ways they explore each other’s inner lives, imagination, and fantasies’.

In the realm of BDSM themed erotic fiction, Nicolette Hugo would like to see ‘alternate sexuality explored more positively’, stating her irritation with ‘sadism being relegated to villains.’. KD Grace explains, “I’m sick to death of weak, cardboard women being written as subs and mean, unlikable, men being written as Doms (or, even worse, as really creepy, stalker types). I want depth, I want a connection that has more to do with what drives the characters, and with the chemistry between them, and less to do with the trappings.”

Zak Jane Keir expresses her desire ‘to share a worldview that isn’t entirely mainstream’.

Meanwhile, Adrea Kore reminds us, “Human sexuality is vast, varied, and complex. The spectrum of people’s turn-ons and kinks is almost verging on infinite. And so is writing about it. As authors, we don’t all have to be covering the same ground… there is room for diversity.” – more here

Themes: Identity

Many authors view ‘identity’ as a prevalent theme, often expressed through understanding of the self (and what motivates our behaviour). Cate Ellink describes this as ‘finding your place in the world’. Malin James notes that she is drawn by the fluidity of the concept of self, and ‘sexuality as a window into deeper understanding of ourselves and each other’.

Cari Silverwood asserts that her stories aim to make us question our ‘relationship with the world and humanity’, to the point where we are ‘uncomfortable and, even, disturbed’. She embraces writing fiction with ‘an inherent moral challenge’.

Remittance Girl, in exploring darker elements of human nature — ‘guilt, emmanuelle-de-maupassant-erotic-fiction-writing-quotemistrust, fear and emotional wounding’ — shows characters obliged to ‘reconstruct their identity in the light of what they’ve done’ –more here. We watch her characters push through their inner-sanctions, and see how they deal with the consequences. In this way, her work exposes our uncertainty and our inconsistencies.

Elizabeth Safleur states her fascination with the theme ofbecoming more yourself’, telling us, “Most of my women are fiercely independent… [but] often find it difficult to reconcile that quality with their submissive and other kink/BDSM yearnings. I’ve noticed a new pattern lately, which is people believing they don’t deserve love, not deep down. Who said writing isn’t cathartic?”

Brantwijn Serrah also explores the theme of identity, of ‘who we are in our most naked moments’. She asserts, “It’s amazing to me how much can be understood through our sexual self.” Nicolette Hugo similarly refers to ‘acceptance of self’ as a theme in her work.

Themes: Truth and Deceit

So many authors, across the centuries, have sought ‘truth’ and, conversely, examined the deceits we perpetrate.

Erotic fiction well lends itself to exploring ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, to our unspoken motivations, to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others. Nicolette Hugo refers to this ‘moral duality’ in her own work, alongside ‘the marriage of sex and violence’.

Donna George Storey states her major theme as ‘the lies we tell, whether malevolent or benevolent… and especially lies involving sex’. Donna explains, %22we-must-kill-the-false-woman-who-is-preventing-the-live-one-from-breathing-%22-quote-helene-cixous“I love exploring the slippery relationship between truth and fiction. The stories I value convey truths that spring from careful thought and deep feeling, truths we often keep secret from others and ourselves. Exploring those truths is what I aim for when I write.”

Sessha Batto views sex as ‘a vehicle of revelation, a way to expose characters when they are most open and vulnerable’. She writes sex to ‘expose the parts we tend to keep hidden’.

Themes: Freedom and Constraint

Another common theme for exploration is that of the nature of freedom (as explored in Siri Ousdahl’s novel, ‘Constraint’). We speak of sexual liberation as a form of ‘freedom’: to make our own choices, without inhibition or shame.

The pursuit of freedom is a preoccupation of my own, although I little realized it when I began writing, exploring the myriad ways in which women are ‘pinned’, ‘exhibited’ and ‘dissected’ by society.

Cecilia Tan takes this idea further in linking sexual expression to creative expression. “Just last weekend I was in a workshop for writers where I discovered that one of my main underlying themes is equating sexuality with creativity at a metaphoric level. My characters tend to be not only on a search for love and sexual gratification; this is usually tied up with their need for creative or artistic expression.”

cecilia-tan-erotic-fiction-quoteShe adds that the public versus private face of a person can exist not only in terms of their sexuality (how they express it to the world versus how they are in private) but their art form (dance, painting, sculpture, music, songwriting, writing, and so on).

Themes: Connection, Yearning, Trust

Tobsha Learner asserts, “The erotica reader doesn’t just want to look; they want to be in the skin of the protagonists. They need to feel the aching frustration and longing and then the blissful release of orgasm, both in the emotional, physical and sometimes spiritual sense.”

Tobsha underlines the importance ofpsychological foreplay’ in erotic fiction (a factor that is largely irrelevant to pornography) – more here.

Lily Harlem asserts her exploration of the ‘many complications that arise from the emotions of love and lust’ – a theme mentioned by many who responded to the 130 authors survey. A significant number underlined, as we might expect, interest in delving the complexities of connection and, as Malin James calls them, ‘social and sexual power dynamics’.

Kay Jaybee, alongside quite a few of the respondent authors, is fascinated by the BDSM world. She tells us, “I don’t inhabit that world, but the psychology of it, the dynamic of total trust that it requires, is an endless source of inspiration.” Meanwhile, Madeline Moore tells us that she writes about people who are ‘in a state of yearning’ or ‘obsession’.

sign-my-death-with-your-teeth%22-author-quote-helene-cixousThemes: Mortality

Shanna Germain notes her desire to break open the relationship between sex and death, to ask her characters ‘How are you going to handle this? Will you grow and change? Will you show your true self? Or will you hide?’ Malin James, too, finds herself returning often to explorations of mortality and ‘the relationship between sex and death’, as does Christina Mandara. 

Cultural Relevance

Shanna Germain underlines that, of all genres, erotica (and horror) most reflect ‘the mores of our current culture’. She tells us, “Sci-fi looks ahead, fantasy looks back, literary fiction looks askance. But erotica looks right at the now and says, ‘This is happening, in the streets, in the bedrooms, in the bars.’ Where will erotica, as a genre go? It will go where the culture goes. I hope it goes somewhere open-minded, joyous, and hot as fuck.”

As Remittance Girl asserts, “I hope that I can play some small role in the evolution of erotic writing and help, if only in a tiny way, to push it into the light, and towards being recognized as a fertile and unconstrained form of critically recognized literature.” She urges us, “We are adventurers. We are explorers. Be brave. Dare to write what frightens and unsettles us, as well as what delights us. In doing so, we may write words worth remembrance.” – more here

It’s time for us to write our own rules.

We can be whoever we wish to be.

Own your sexuality, own your voice, own your words.

In Part Three: Inspirations, influences, and the relevance of gender

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Influences: music, theatre, dance, fiction, art

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 KoreKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet Darkwood, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth BlackFelicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson YoungEmma JayeDee Maselle, Christina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa WuJaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Women Writing The Erotic

women-writing-erotic-fictionIn this series (within the 130 authors survey), I’ll be sharing women’s views on exploring sexuality through fiction.

Which themes tug to be unravelled and explored?

What motivates us, challenges us, empowers us – as readers and as writers?

Women are not only the predominant readers of erotica but form the lion’s remittance-girl-erotic-fiction-author-quoteshare of authors, and our voices are growing louder.

More of us than ever are letting rip on the page, opening our sexual imagination. As we know, when it comes to erotic fantasy, it’s more fun when you’re sharing.

Women continue to face battle after battle for equal rights, respect and recognition, across every sphere imaginable, but when it comes to erotic fiction, our feet are firmly under the table.

Perhaps, just perhaps, we’re stepping into an age where we’ll have the freedom to read (and write) what we damn well like: within the pages of erotic fiction, and beyond.

In her interview with The Paris Review, Ursula K. Le Guin nailed it in saying: ‘Don’t shove me into your damn pigeonhole, where I don’t fit, because I’m all over. My tentacles are coming out of the pigeonhole in all directions.’

ursula-k-le-guin-women-writers-emmanuelle-de-maupassantThere’s still a degree of censorship, and traditional publishers remain somewhat cautious about stepping outside of the box, but, if we keep writing up against the boundaries, inch by inch, they will surely come down.

As Remittance Girl notes, on her website manifesto: ‘As a woman, I have inherited the burden of thousands of years of social, religious and sexual oppression. My understanding of self, my agency, my language and my sexuality were born, molded and twisted by that oppression. I am happy to have a discussion on why I write what I write, but I will not tolerate being told what I can or cannot write about.’

Brantwijn Serrah admits to considering using a pseudonym for her first title outside of the  genre, believing that preconceptions exist as to who can write what. She asserts, “Erotica, being conceived as a subgenre of romance, seems to be the realm deemed most appropriate for women to write, while adventure, fantasy and science fiction appear to be realms reserved for men. The perception that women are good for sex while men are the ones trusted with more “serious” business is an offensive and disappointing reality.”
adrea-kore-author-quote-erotic-fiction-sexuality-emmanuelle-de-maupassant

Remittance Girl comments, “Erotica can be breathtakingly beautiful because it’s about us at our most naked, our most vulnerable. It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.

I’m keen to see men embracing erotica too: sending a big cheer to all men writing and reading sexually-themed stories (read more about male authors of erotic fiction here). However, when women write ‘the erotic’ it makes my heart sing.

Some would argue that gender is irrelevant to how we approach the page as writers, that we have the ability to portray any human being, from any time in history, and from anywhere. All that’s needed is imagination.

emmanuelle-de-maupassant-author-quote-erotic-fictionIt’s true that some elements of the human condition are universal. We all, surely, know what it is to love, to despair, to smile, or to regret. We know the fragility of life and we share wonder in the world we inhabit.

And yet, as women, aren’t we best placed to portray what it’s like to walk in our skin?

Double-standards, Repression and Censorship

As little girls, we’re taught all the things we should never mention, and never do; for many of us, it’s a lifelong journey to free ourselves of inhibition.

Adrea Kore reminds us, “Women writing and speaking about their own desire, being open with what gives them pleasure and turns them on … even finding the words for that is something that is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in comparison to cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially.”

helene-cixous-author-quote-laugh-of-the-medusa-write-yourself-your-body-must-be-heardAs Cecilia Tan states,  “I was put on Earth to write but it wasn’t until I started writing erotic fiction that I found my voice. I want a world where sexual freedom, not sexual oppression, is the norm, and so I write about sexual pleasure and fulfillment.”

Ina Morata comments, “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.”

Adrea sees erotica writing, particularly as a female author, ‘as a political act jeanette-winterson-author-quote-books-fictionas well as a creative one’. She explains, “French feminist Helene Cixous phrased it beautifully in an essay called ‘Laugh of the Medusa’ – ‘Write yourself. Your body must be heard.’ I think this applies to all women’s stories, but particularly those around sexuality. The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert, is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”

Brantwijn Serrah notes that her focus is on women’s pleasure and the satisfaction of ‘the sexual spirit we are programmed, as women, to suppress or deny’. She notes, “When I write from a male point of view, I’m aware of the disparity, the ‘privilege’ of men to express sexual interest while women still struggle with this.”

Lily Harlem explains that she loves to write heroines who ‘break the rules’, but laments adrea-kore-erotic-fiction-author-quotethat some readers have criticized her writing of female protagonists who lack ‘the same moral compass’ as themselves. She notes, “I call these cardboard cut out heroines. From my personal experience, people make crazy decisions when it comes to love and passion.” She asserts that ‘flawed, impulsive, manipulative heroines’ breathe life into fiction.

Elizabeth Safleur underlines, “Men and women are still pressured to conform to certain standards. What’s odd is how hypocritical those standards can be. Be attractive! Be Sexy! Attract a mate! Yet, not too much. The minute anyone takes full ownership of their attractiveness, sexuality and relationships, they are deemed too aggressive or too [insert negative label of choice]. Both men and women fall under pressure, albeit differently, to conform to others’ ideas of what is acceptable. I can’t help but tell these stories because I see (and have experienced) the cost of burying yourself and your sexual urges under layers of ‘I shouldn’t be like this’ or ‘I shouldn’t want this’. I hope people find kindred spirits in my characters.”

Writing Beyond Conventions

Almost half of the authors responding to the 130 Authors survey mentioned, to some degree, discontent with formulaic, restrictive expectations and publishing ‘rules’.

Shanna Germain asserts that she wants readers to ‘question assumptions’. She explains, “I like to give people a slant-mirror. Not a perfect reflection of themselves, but a could-be reflection.”

Nya Rawlyns adds, “Much of what passes for erotica today feels stale, too often reflecting romance tropes. Lust and desire, needs and wants… all have consequences. I’m interested in how an individual changes under conditions of denial or when personal and other boundaries are smashed.”

Similarly, Jade A Waters states, “Sex is transformative. I tend to take my characters on journeys of discovery, often as an echo of something I’ve learned in my own life.”

Erotica lends itself well to exploration of ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner calls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, and to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others.

Adrea Kore emphasizes, “Erotica writes into areas of the human sexual psyche and behaviour that some genres gloss over or shy away from. Erotica brings into the light contradictions between our inner sexual desires and our outward behaviour. What do we secretly long for, and to attain that, what lengths would we go to?” (more here)

In particular, kristina-lloyd-author-quote-erotic-fiction-21st-century-literature-emmanuelle-de-maupassantsome authors mention a desire to explore the realm of non-consent.

Christina Mandara laments, “I love non-consensual elements in erotica but the world at large has decided that this isn’t acceptable. It seems that women, particularly, must have consensual, hearts and flowers stories.”

Kristina Lloyd feels similarly that there is potential to explore ‘the erotic’ beyond the ‘shackles of romance conventions’.

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), erotica writers seek freedom to explore. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice states:As a feminist, I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys. The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many cliches have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.” 

Sorcha Black believes that many books named as ‘too graphic or taboo’ are those aimed at women. She underlines, “The policing of women’s sexuality still includes censoring what we read.”

Malin James asserts that her writing of erotic elements wasn’t a ‘conscious decision’ but that she began to feel stifled by avoiding sexual themes. She notes, “It stifled my work and, as a writer, that sort of self-censorship was discouraging and unproductive. Censorship is a complicated issue and to ina-morata-author-erotic-fictionpreoccupy myself with it as I write would be to stymie the story before it’s even formed. While I acknowledge the reality of censorship, I try not to let it, or fear of it, influence my writing. I serve the story. If it trips censors, so be it. I have the luxury of pulling it and sending it elsewhere.“

KD Grace voices a view raised by a significant number of those who took part in the ‘130 authors’ survey: the lack of respect for the erotic fiction genre in the literary world. Ina Morata echoes this, saying that writers outside of the erotic fiction genre have challenged her, asking why she doesn’t write in a genre more ‘befitting’.

kd-grace-author-erotic-fiction-literature-quote-21st-century However, KD Grace stresses that this generates an attitude of ‘us against the world and circle the wagons’ and a real sense of camaraderie among erotica writers (with little of the petty jealousy I’ve seen among writers in some other genres).’ She feels the erotica writing community as ‘a family’, saying, “That encouragement has meant a lot to me through the years.”

Writing Women’s Sexuality

Adrea Kore remembers being in her mid-twenties, studying feminism and theatre, and dating a poet, when she discovered Adrienne Rich’s poem ‘In My Rose-wet Cave’. She recalls the image, of ‘being underwater, and yet botanical. Fragrant and secret. Hidden away, deep-hued and moist’. She tells us, “I was intrigued and delighted. And I began to search for more of this kind of writing, that could re-invent the feminine body, the feminine experience of adrea-kore-erotic-fiction-sex-sexuality-author-quote-taboo-underworld-emmanuelle-de-maupassantdesire. I think it put light on the seed already in me to find new and evocative ways of writing about feminine desire and describing the desiring female body.”

Tabitha Rayne notes that writing erotic  fiction, ‘felt like discovering a new colour‘. “I couldn’t stop expressing myself in the erotic. It was like opening a door to myself,” she asserts.

Donna George Storey tells us, “When I got the courage to start writing again as an adult (after getting my B.A. in creative writing and then taking a long writing break as I felt I had nothing interesting to say), all the stories that came out had to do with sexuality. I still find the erotic experience the one adrea-kore-author-quote-women-writing-erotic-fictionthing that truly inspires me to silence the inner critic and just write and enjoy the pleasure of speaking the unspeakable.”

Susan St. Aubin comments, “I’m interested in the mystery of human life, and sex is a big part of that, perhaps the thing that most illuminates the mystery.”

Rose Caraway, speaking of her work in audio narration of erotic fiction, tells us, “Together, we’re helping people awaken, at their own pace. Each story narrated acknowledges sexuality, our own and others’, because it’s being read aloud. Those words want to be heard, making us stronger, so that we can better express and own our sexuality.” (more from Rose here)

Adrea notes her fascination with ‘feminine experience of the world’ and stories ‘of growth, transformation and dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body’. She explains, “These were the things that I began to write about: Love and longing. Loss. Translating the physical arts I most loved into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling. Then, more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. Always this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.” (read more on this topic from Adrea here)

Kristina Lloyd relates this to her own journey, saying, “Through writing, I’ve learned so much about my own sexuality and desire. Writing has given me an understanding; it has allowed me to own a sexuality I’d been conflicted about and confused by when I was younger.”

Emerging Changed

Remittance Girl tells us that ‘all fiction carries the traces of its author’. She asserts, “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.” 

In writing, we gain greater understanding of our motivations, our pleasures jeanette-winterson-author-quoteand our fears. We emerge changed and, as RG tells us, we ‘expose something true’ of ourselves (more here).

Adrea Kore adds, “Language and ideas, once encountered, live inside you, and can effect changes, both subtle and catalytic. Words endure. And the feelings they conjure up in the body can endure too, leaving traces, imprints in the cells, the memory.” (more here)

Write your own truths, write your own pages.

Our voices are here to be heard.

READ ON – Women Writing the Erotic: Part Two and Part Three

Women authors tell us what compels them to write in the erotic genre, including the themes which refuse to lie quietly, their influences and inspirations, and the relevance of gender to their work. 

You may also be interested to read:

Also coming soon…

Writing Craft

Authors’ Recommended Reads

Author Influences: theatre, music, art, film, fiction, dance

Among the women writers taking part in the 130 Authors survey were:

Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea Kore, Tobsha LearnerKristina LloydCecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri OusdahlZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersKD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsSessha Batto, Rose CarawayTabitha RayneElizabeth Safleur, Devi AnseviK. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterLucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezLily HarlemMadeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodVictoria Bliss, Jane GilbertCharlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Lee SavinoElizabeth Black, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoAmelia SmartsSue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Molly Synthia, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen Bradean, Stormchase, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young,  Emma Jaye, Dee MaselleChristina MandaraSue LyndonRebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Vanessa Wu,  Jaye Peaches, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Publishing’s Dirty Secret: erotic fiction in the 21st century

publishing dirty secret marketing self-publishing publishers writers marketing editing authorsHaving interviewed just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, this article tackles their experience of working with publishers, and of self-publishing, of the role of marketing, and the importance of releasing well-crafted work. Does erotic fiction remain publishing’s ‘dirty secret’: a genre without due recognition or respect for authors?

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

Around 20% of respondents to this survey have worked with larger houses, such as Penguin, Harlequin, Orion, Random House, Harper Collins, Hachette, Simon & Shuster, Little Brown, Pan McMillan, and Nexus.

Some have published with mid-sized houses, such as Cleis, Myriad and Serpent’s Tail, while the overwhelming majority have worked with smaller presses, such as Go Deeper Press, Stupid Fish Productions, Circlet, Little Raven, Stormy Night Publications, Totally Bound, House of Erotica, Accent, Riverdale, Two Dame Productions, Sweetmeats Press, Xcite, Baronet Press, and Blushing Books.

Around half have explored self-publishing with some of their titles, often in addition to having worked with a small press.

A handful have received readership only via their own website or other online platform.

Authors report most of their sales taking place in e-book format, regardless of short story/novella/novel form, while several note that audiobook sales appear to be taking off. Rose Caraway advises, “Make sure that you story works equally well in audio as in print.” She notes that most of her audience (for the KMQ Podcast) listen at work, or at home while doing chores and ‘prefer the privacy and intimacy of audio’.

 

Easy Money?

While it’s well-known that some writers enter the erotic fiction market hoping to earn ‘easy money’, the majority within this survey write, primarily, from creative impulse, with financial reward as a secondary consideration. However, a small number do rely on their writing as their main source of income.

As Wade Esley admits,Initially, I chose to write erotica for a terrible reason. I thought it would be an easy genre to break into, because, in my mind, there kay jaybee erotic fiction author quote writing Emmanuelle de Maupassant publishingwas so much poorly written erotica. How hard could it be to climb to the top of that dung heap? However, the more I read, the more I discovered truly talented writers, and became determined to write quality stories myself.”

Vanessa Wu warns against tailoring your craft purely with sales in mind. She asserts, “If you want to be mediocre and feel luke-warm about yourself and what you do, write for a market. If you want to free your subconscious, touch people and be radiant with pleasure, write for yourself. All the works I like have one thing in common. They capture moments of intensity with clarity and focus. You feel something when you experience them.”

Naturally, where the creative impulse is strong, we write for reasons other than significant financial gain. We write because the impulse cannot be ignored, or because we seek to share our voice.

Kay Jaybee stresses,Don’t expect significant financial return. I’ve been blessed with many private messages, via FB and my webpage. Readers have thanked me, saying that I’ve saved marriages, stopped them feeling lonely and generally improved their personal life. That sort of thing is priceless. Write because you burn to do it. If you are in it for money or prestige then you’ll be disappointed, whoever you publish with.”

Rose and Dayv Caraway note similar satisfaction from receiving listeners’ feedback on their erotic fiction online podcast (more from them here).

Sessha Batto comments,My expectations were high, as most people’s are when they start publishing. It is no surprise that they were dashed almost immediately. Without a following or much targeted promotion it is unrealistic to think sales will be high. As my work is niche at best, those odds are even higher. My best advice is to take a long-term view, grow your audience one reader at a time, and view the work, not the sales figures, as the reward. If you get bogged down in numbers you will always be dissatisfied.”

Brantwijn Serrah tells us, “I’ve put out stories I love and have received feedback from people who’ve loved them too; being a ‘storyteller’ has made me incredibly happy. Financial reward is icing on the cake.”

Speaking of her blog, Molly Moore states that her focus is upon ‘pushing boundaries’. She asserts, “If I never made a penny I would still do it.” She notes that having her own online platform enables her to share work without concern for publishing restrictions.

Rose Caraway tells us, “It’s good to look at your intent. Whatever that is, give it your undivided attention. Remember that it’s ridiculous to imagine that you’ll become a millionaire.”

 

A Living Wage?

While recognizing the pleasure that writing brings of itself, more than half of the survey respondents also mention their desire to earn some form of income from their efforts (modest though that may be). Accordingly, they lament online publishing platforms’ expectation of authors contributing content in return for ‘exposure’ and the low rates offered by some publishers: a position that writers perceive, reasonably, as devaluing their craft.

As Tobsha Learner notes, the Internet has been ‘a mixed blessing’. She says, “On one hand it provides (theoretically) a much larger readership, on the other hand the notion of not having to pay for intellectual property is virtually pandemic in anyone under the age of 35. This basically is suggesting that professional writers do not merit a living wage.”

Laura Antoniou notes that, being commissioned to write short story erotica for men’s magazines in the late 1980s-early 1990s, she received $50 per story. She notes wryly that ‘three decades later, the rate remains the same’.

The reality is that few authors can rely solely on their writing income to maintain a roof over their head; the majority have other employment (or are of retirement age).

Following on from this, Tobsha Learner notes the creative compromises authors are often obliged to make, saying, “’Commerce versus the artistic soul’ is the dilemma all working creatives have to face. In the last ten years, the publishing industry has changed remarkably. Most mid-listers have been wiped out to the point where the advances do not allow enough income to live, so established and highly skilled writers are forced to compromise their work (writing part-time or churning out a book a year to maintain readership and publishers’ expectations).”  

 

Risky Business

One of the most prominent comments by authors within this survey was the expression of disappointment at traditional publishers’ lack of risk-taking.  Jonathan Kemp notes experiencing censorship in 1999, having written an academic article about John Addington Symonds’ homosexuality.  He tells us, “My article quoted some graffiti that Symonds writes about in his memoir: ‘Prick to prick, so sweet’, written next to a crude Sessha Batto author quote erotic fictiondrawing of two pricks. The editor of the volume asked me to remove the phrase.” He felt obliged to concede, being a young academic and this being his first publication. He asserts that he would not do so today.

We might imagine that, of all publishers, those specialising in erotic fiction would be most open minded, and most willing to ‘push limits’ in offering readers diversity. However, being primarily in the business to make money, few wish to take commercial risks. They tend to play safe, either within the realm of romance, or on well-worn ‘trope’ paths. Where does this leave us as authors? Writing repeatedly down the same avenues? (more on this here).

Siri Ousdahl comments, “The erotic books they’ve embraced in recent years had proven track records… so the risk hasn’t been significant. When Random House or Penguin ‘take a chance’ on erotica, the works are far from transgressive.”

Even independent erotica publishers are prone to request ‘light and fun’ stories, with the accent on ‘happy endings’, which are thought to have more commercial appeal, ignoring the huge potential of the genre to take us into the deeper, darker (arguably far more compelling and fulfilling) spaces within the human psyche.  

Patrick Califia tells us,I’ve had publishers tell me they would take my books if only I would not be explicit about sexuality, or stop writing about gay sex, or stop describing kinky acts.”  Kristina Lloyd notes, “I wish more publishers would take risks instead of chasing the latest bandwagon.”

Maxim Jakubowski (known for writing crime and science fiction under his own name) makes note that his publisher advanced the use of a female penname for his co-written erotic-romance series, citing this as a sensible commercial move in the wake of the ’50 Shades’ phenomenon. As his female alter-ego ‘earns five times the level of advances’ he cannot afford to jettison her.

Donna George Storey muses, “I’ve published in over 80 print anthologies and, over the past twenty years, I’ve seen several market cycles. Mainstream publishers solicit erotica in the hope of making money (because that’s what they are about) and when they don’t make as much as they’d like, they blame erotica rather than themselves. But there is always an interest in intelligent, sexually explicit writing among human beings, if not business folk, so the wheel turns again and new editors seek out projects.”

Jonathan Kemp notes, “Getting ‘London Triptych’ published was quite difficult because of the sexual content. Rejection after rejection from mainstream publishers praising the writing but admitting it was just too risqué for them. A small, Brighton-based independent publisher, Myriad Editions, finally took it on, courageously, some might say. He recalls the surprise of a friend’s younger brother, upon hearing that ‘London Triptych’ was available to buy from bookshops, ‘positioned there on the shelf without any warning of its scandalous contents!’ Kemp notes, “That both amused me and made me feel a little bit proud.” He adds that Myriad ‘also brought out ‘Twentysix’, knowing it would be harder to sell than ‘London Triptych’, which was definite bravery’.

Speaking of risk-aversion, Will Crimson emphasizes that, if an author expects a third party to disseminate their work, then ‘their skills as a writer had better be commensurate with their subject matter’. He believes, “The responsibility of the writer isn’t to avoid censorship but to survive it by writing persuasively and beautifully.”

 

Marketing

The majority of authors believe that publishing houses should invest more effort in effective marketing. Lizzie Ashworth comments,Publishers want a big chunk of the profit while expecting the author to market the work. To me, the Cecila Tan erotic fiction author writing skills publishing Emmanuelle de Maupassantonly benefit of a publisher is the promise of reviews, which many small presses don’t bother to solicit.”

Tobsha Learner emphasizes that publishers expect authors to take on much of the responsibility of marketing, despite authors often lacking the skills of ‘natural performers’, so that they ‘struggle to brand their personalities’. She notes, “One of the first things a publisher will now ask a wannabe novelist is how big their ‘platform’ is – this is of far more importance than the actual manuscript.” Tobsha warns, “Do NOT expect ANY publisher (large or small) to market you aggressively – unless you’re already branded. This is an irony and a vicious loop; they will only market you if you are already branded.” 

Janine Ashbless finds, with exceptions (naming Sweetmeats and her work with Cleis some years ago), that larger publishers ‘just churn out books as a production line and you can get lost in the noise’.

Meanwhile, KD Grace comments,I suppose the thing that has shocked me most about the publishing industry is just how abysmal communication is between publishers and authors. There’s a huge disconnect, bringing misunderstanding and lost opportunities.  The right hand often doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.”

Ashe Barker tells us, “Not all publishers are as collaborative as I’d like, i.e. not consulting me when deciding to covert all my books to US English, or being rigid on pricing policy to the extent that books are not competitively priced and are difficult to sell. Overall, I’d suggest working with more than one publisher even if you do have a favourite. All eggs in one basket is never a good strategy.”

 Asserting his ‘extremely positive experience’ with his publisher, Myriad, Jonathan Kemp comments, “I’m consulted on cover images and they push their books and authors out into the world effectively, as well as organising great events.” Other praise was notably directed at Go Deeper Press (run by Lana Fox and Jacob Louder), and at Stupid Fish Productions (run by Dayv and Rose Caraway), particularly for work in promoting anthology contributors. Several writers working with Blushing Books and Stormy Night Publications also emphasized effective marketing and professional conduct.

Alexis Alvarez shares, “I started out self-publishing, and then published one with Stormy Night. Despite being of similar quality and content, the edition with Stormy Night sold far better, I assume because of their marketing machine and client base.”   

Jay Willowbay warns of investigating a publishing house carefully before signing your contract. He relates, “My only full-length publication to date was a Adrea Kore editing language fiction writing writers quotehorror novel through a small press. It was a disaster. There was so little editorial work done that it went on sale within a week of me submitting it. I should have smelled a rat. They did no promo and the company quickly went bust.”

Sue Lyndon echoes this, underlining, “I highly recommend that writers do their research…. Look on Absolute Write to see what other writers are saying. Email a few of their authors, and look at the sales rankings for their recent releases on Amazon. If a publisher doesn’t have a good readership, happy authors, eye-catching covers and catchy blurbs, reasonable contract terms, and a reputation for paying royalties on time, you’ll want to move along and look elsewhere.” 

 

Contracts

In offering advice, a great many authors warn against giving away rights arbitrarily. However flattered we are by the attention of a publisher, remain level headed, and read contracts carefully. Be wary of signing off on all your rights in one fell swoop. Separate payments can be negotiated for print, e-book and audio rights (and for print rights across various global regions).

It’s also wise to have a clause in the contract limiting the duration of exclusivity (anything from 3 to 12 months is typical) so that you retain the right to resell your work, or compile within your own anthology.

Moreover, ensure there’s a clause stating that, if a publisher fails to use your work within a specific time period, or ceases operation, that all rights revert to you, as author.  Molly Moore warns that, due to her contract terms within anthologies, a number of stories ‘remain unpublished and therefore have not earned any money or gained readership’.

Contracts do vary, and sums offered for short story submissions are often negligible, while royalty payments (where given) may have relatively high thresholds, and only become payable once editors have received their payment share. Sign with your eyes open.

Adrea Kore urges, “Read your contracts thoroughly – don’t be afraid to ask questions, seek legal advice and re-negotiate clauses if you feel something really doesn’t suit you or impedes your own vision of your work. Respect your own intellectual work and rights as a content creator and, as much as possible, only sign your work with publishers that appear fair, professional and respectful.”

Decide what’s important to you in handing over your work. Do you simply wish your voice to be heard? Is financial recompense a guiding factor? Or are you content with the commercial exposure you believe a publisher can offer you?

IG Frederick feels strongly that authors should ‘walk away from low paying offers’. At US$25 for 3,000 words, she points out that the author is receiving barely 1/10 of a cent per word, ‘while 6 cents per word is considered a professional rate’. She adds, “If you have a royalty share arrangement, be wary of how the prorating is distributed and when payment is triggered. Restricting the rights you sell (particularly the term) allows you to make money on reissue of your work in the future.” IG is desirous of more authors refusing to write for a ‘pittance’ or for exposure, or to sign ‘restrictive contracts’, noting that ‘it would be easier for all of us to make a living’.

 

Taking Control

Around half of the writers taking part in this survey have experience of self-publishing, with most voicing satisfaction at the level of control, being able to choose their own cover, make decisions on final edits, steer their marketing strategy and set prices. Moreover, in undertaking this work themselves, they maximize royalty payments.

Jaye Peaches stresses, “The big advantage of self-publishing is total control over the creative process. I’ve been able to publish books quickly and build my audience in the space of two years. Whereas big publishers move like snails and the lack of momentum is frustrating.”

Self-publishing offers writers the opportunity to make their voice heard, regardless of being viewed as too ‘edgy’ or ‘niche’ by traditional publishers. It invites liberation from compliance with a ‘commercially successful’ formula. In this way, authors are creating their own flavour, outside of genre stereotypes, accessing niche readerships otherwise ignored.

Siri Ousdahl tells us, “I have an extensive career under another name as a traditionally published writer of genre fiction. I was much happier with the indy press that put out one of my recent books than the big NY publishers I had worked with previously. This got me thinking about self-publishing as a legitimate venue for experimental and transgressive works. So far I have loved it. I have total control and have published a book I could not have done through conventional avenues.”

Cecilia Tan suggests using traditional publishing to access readers and marketplaces otherwise inaccessible, while using self-publishing ‘to build access to an audience that you’d be disconnected from if you relied on publishers alone’.  

In most cases, authors note the ease with which self-publishing is possible.

Will Crimson states, “If the author’s only goal is to be disseminated and read, and if the author is protected by anything like the First Amendment (US Constitution), then times have never been better. He or she need only start a blog. Publishing (or self-publishing) is as simple as writing a post─-instantly and easily available to hundreds of millions of readers. In that respect, the dissemination of erotica has never been easier.”

Cara Bristol echoes this, saying, “This is one of the best times to be an author because there are so many opportunities to be published and to market one’s books (although there are still no guarantees). For the first time in the history of publishing, self-publishing is a financially viable, socially-accepted option.” 

A common frustration voiced by authors is that the ease of self-publishing has encouraged some to believe that there is little more to launching a book than replicating another writer’s commercially successful idea, creating a first draft, giving this a cursory read through to check for errors, and choosing a stock-photo cover. The resulting glut of low quality editions has, in the eyes of most, devalued authorial craftsmanship and given self-published works a poor reputation.

Unsurprisingly, creating a polished work and engaging a significant readership involves discernment and persistence. It takes time, focus and certain talent (whether inherent or learnt). As Cecilia Tan notes wryly, “If you’re a terrible cook because you don’t have the skills, you either need to develop the skills or rely on someone else to do the cooking for you. Now replace the word ‘cooking’ Adrea Kore writing craft author quote lanugage reveal concealwith ‘publishing’ in that sentence.”

The foremost advice offered by authors is to invest in the services of a good editor: not only a copy-editor (to correct such issues as grammar and repetition), but a developmental editor, to help the author explore deeper aspects of their work: characterisation, and a compelling story arc, as well as building tension and creating layers of meaning, to fully engage the reader.

Finn Marlowe underlines, “Self-publishers need editors, end of story. Every writer needs another set of eyes, and not just beta readers [early readers of a story, who offer informal feedback to the writer]. If you’re going to publish unedited crap, you might as well not bother, as you will ruin your reputation and your brand before you even get started.”

Writers repeat time and again the necessity of ruthless editing, cutting away the dead wood of redundant detail.

Adrea Kore, emphasizing that every word chosen by the author should serve a definite purpose, underlines that words are like ‘breaths that keep the blood of the story pumping‘ and that ‘no word should be wasted’. Additionally, that the skilled writer ‘knows what to conceal, what to reveal, and the vital relationship between absence and presence on the page’. (more from Adrea on editing here)

Jaye Peaches admits, “I struggled to recover the start-up costs of editing etc. However, I learnt a lot from the editing process.”

Rose Caraway adds, “Spend time on your skills and, when you believe you’re ready for someone to offer feedback, pass it to them to read and critique.  Choose someone you trust, with a good eye for detail. It’s impossible for you to see everything in your own work. Do read aloud to yourself too, as part of the editing process (or have a friend read to you).”

The aspect of self-publishing most commented upon with dislike is the necessity of marketing: an activity essential to the visibility of books. Writers are, often, not natural extroverts, and find the immodesty of ‘blowing their own horn’ excruciating.

Tamsin Flowers comments, “I wouldn’t recommend self-publishing unless a writer is already established in the market and is willing and able to put in a huge amount of time and effort on marketing. It’s really hard to build visibility as a new writer, particularly in erotica.”

Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages to the traditional and independent routes of publishing, with each offering its own allure.

K L Shandwick states that being self-published allows her to avoid constraints, while ‘the down side is the amount of work that goes into trying to make the Vanessa Wu author erotic fiction writing publishing Emmanuelle de Maupassantbooks visible’. She asserts, “My advice to new authors would be to ensure you have built a brand before you set out. Know the image you’d like to portray to your followers and work hard to build on what you’ve achieved.” She also warns against expecting ‘instant success’.  

Speaking of ‘brand’, Tobsha Learner expresses regret in her chosen path of marketing herself as an author, telling us, “I have made the mistake of writing in several genres and not settling in one and exploiting that genre as a franchise. The concept of genre and placing authors into rigid boxes differs greatly from territory to territory. However, particularly in the UK, once you’re in that box, it is extremely difficult to break out of the way you are perceived. First-timers should not be naïve on this front. Be clear as to what you want to write, how you wish to be seen (not just by the reading public but also by the publishers).”

 

Finding Your Voice and Your Readership

The creative impulse is not borne of desire for financial gain. Any writer will tell you that there are easier (and more lucrative) ways to earn a living. For many, the art of writing and that of generating income make uncomfortable bed-mates; they compromise one another; they compete for attention; they thwart each others’ success. And yet, there is an argument for an author’s work receiving recognition not simply through praise, but through financial reward. Meanwhile, for those dedicating their days to writing full-time, monetary recompense is often essential.

Speaking of her desire to write with readers (and sales) in mind, Cari Silverwood comments, “Some people love to read about the bizarre, wanting to be taken to new places. However, the vast majority of readers want entertainment and they want a happy ending. You can choose to forge a trail that veers off the beaten path a little, and your readership may be willing to accompany you. Veer too far, and you lose readers. Veer a long way, and…crickets.”

Meanwhile, Sessha Batto is an advocate for placing writing craft above the pursuit of meeting reader expectations. She would rather remain true to her vision, and write for her niche. She reminds us, “There are thousands of formulaic books in every conceivable genre, but the ones you remember are the ones that are more, that push boundaries, that sing their own song.”

I believe in the value of our genre, and am keen to see its profile raised, bringing with it greater recognition of authors’ talent.

 Write boldly, write proudly, write with passion.  

Resources

Editing services tailored to erotic fiction

Adrea Kore: creative consultancy, developmental editing, writing workshops, and copy-editing services  

Zak Jane Keir’s Dirty Sexy Edits

IG Frederick’s Pussy Cat Press: editing service

Zander Vyne’s Full Sail Publishing: editing services – info@fullsailpublishing.com

  

Articles on effective editing:

Remittance Girl: Over Writing 

and 

Malin James: Character Limits

 

Workshops to develop writing craft:

Corporeal Writing (run by Lidia Yuknavitch)

and

LitReactor (Rachel Kramer Bussel)  

Further Reading

Coming in 2017

  • Author Influences
  • Writing Craft
  • 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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

What the Future Holds: 21st century erotic fiction

Interviewing just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, I asked what the future holds for our genre.

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

For writers and readers seeking access to an online community,erotic fiction 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassant where ideas may be further debated, and professional expertise shared, you may like to visit the Erotica Writers and Readers Association, or The Erotic Literature Salon.

 

Writing Craft

In her inspiring and uplifting article, On Writing Erotica, Remittance Girl describes the act of passionate creation: ‘Do you remember falling in love with someone and being so addicted to them that it almost made you sick? You could not leave them alone, and when you had to, they were like a huge, dark cloud that blocked out half your horizon, so that everything you did was in a half-dream?… You felt the ghost of their hands on you hours afterwards? Some of my pieces have been like that…The story, the characters haunt me. Those stories are like insatiable, brutal lovers…When it’s like that, I am in ecstasy. And when it’s over, I feel emptied of everything, but not abandoned. Because the story is there and finished and lives. I often wonder if my readers can tell which stories were like that for me. Part of me hopes they can’t. Part of me thinks they can smell the ones that were.’

Lily Harlem notes that skill is required to keep a reader ‘invested’ and ‘in the moment’. She muses, “Some only want to be thrilled. Some want only to be horrified. Erotica is for readers who want to be Horrified but Thrilled!”

With the explosion in self-publishing, many e-editions appear hastily written and, as such, are often felt to muddy the reputation of the genre, so that many readers are, perhaps Kristina Lloyd author quote erotic fiction 21st century literature Emmanuelle de Maupassantunsurprisingly, apt to denigrate erotic fiction as no more than ‘poorly written filth’.

Kay Jaybee tells us, “I fear a continued dilution of quality as more unedited self-pubs hit the e-shelves (across all genres).” She believes that the publishing system may adapt in some way to compensate. Zander Vyne underlines, “The market is flooded with crap. I sometimes wonder if I’m like a high-class call girl who doesn’t want to be lumped in with crack-whores giving $5 blow-jobs in alleys. Maybe, this explains why I’m gradually moving myself out of the ‘erotic fiction’ classification.” Elizabeth Black adds, “People are uploading poorly written porn and presenting it as erotica. Not only is it poorly written, it is a grammatical mess. The covers are ugly. There are misspellings and formatting problems. The whole mess is giving legitimate erotic fiction writers a bad reputation.”

LN Bey notes, “The influence of 50 Shades of Grey, combined with the self-publishing revolution, has produced an awful lot of junk to be waded through to find the jewels.” Making suggestions as to how we ‘solve’ this, LN urges writers, and readers, to ‘buy with discernment and promote work you love by leaving reviews on your blog and on various platforms… and promote great blogs!’

Catherine Mazur urges that we write sex so that it is integral to the unfolding story, rather than dropped into narrative ‘like cookie-cutter homogenized porn cheese chunks’. She asserts, “I’d like sex writing to be taken seriously, as part of culture and as an art. Writing an erotic story to what most would consider to be a high literary standard is very difficult, and this pervasive cultural idea that just anyone can do it, without years of practice and hard work, is insulting.”

Dee Maselle voices a common view that authors need to investsiri ousdahl author quote erotic fiction 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassant sex in their craft, including through editing “I‘d like to see better editing, with consumer dollars following the well-groomed and thoughtful written word.”

Meanwhile, Molly Synthia urges writers of fiction using erotic elements to avoid creating internal hierarchies of one style or sub-genre being superior to another. She explains that authors have a tendency ‘to celebrate all of the freedom in the genre while subtly (and sometimes not subtly at all) looking down on those who choose to write differently’. She’d like to see authors more readily ‘admit that they write some things just to help housewives get off… and not be ashamed of it’. She continues, “Sometimes we want a candlelight dinner, roses, wine, an incredible bath, and hours of sensual lovemaking. Sometimes we just want to be bent over a chair and fucked quickly. We need writers to accept that either is valid. In any other genre we’d accept a richly detailed world in one story and sparse writing in another.”

Meanwhile, Patrick Califia adds,Writing erotica for the sake of getting off quickly becomes predictable. I hope erotica can continue to develop as literature, with multiple layers of significance and drive.”

Kathleen Bradean states, “I’d like to see literary erotica get it’s due. Writers talk about some mythical golden age. Maybe it was when Anaïs Nin was writing, or George Bataille, but it seems to me that really good literary erotica is a rare thing. Commercially viable literary erotica even less so.”

 

Very Different Beasts

Erotic romance is enjoyed by millions of readers worldwide, providing inspiration and catharsis. Its authors weave emotional journeys and it is for this that fans return over and again.

For those who pursue the writing of ‘pure’ erotica, in which love is not the main focus, the rise in popularity of erotic romance is often perceived as a serious challenge, since readers are thought to now widely associate the entire erotic genre with love themes. They can be KD Grace author erotic fiction literature quote 21st centurydisappointed on coming across a book labelled as ‘erotica’, which does not meet their expectations for romantic elements. Meanwhile, erotic fiction authors may be ‘judged’ (and reviewed critically) against criteria they have never attempted to meet.

A significant share of authors surveyed recognize that traditional erotica, in its exploration of our humanity through the sexual lens, is a very different beast to ‘steamy romance’, in which sex scenes support the development of a love story.

IG Frederick voices a common view in stating, “I’d very much like to see a differentiation between erotic romance and erotica and see literary erotica come into its own as a separate genre. I don’t have any objections to writing, reading, and/or enjoying erotic romance. But, when people acquire one of my works (especially from Korin Dushayl) and expect a romance purely because it’s listed in the erotica genre, it does a disservice to the reader and to me as the author.”

Writers regularly express their desire to see greater recognition of the division between traditional, pure forms of erotic fiction, and erotic romance.

Jane Gilbert comments, Erotic romance, as a genre, seems to have taken over the erotica label post Fifty Shades of Grey. Erotica and erotic romance are two very distinct categories. That is not a value judgement of either but more an observation that the two categories are trying to achieve, in the main, quite different things. They need to be distinguished.”

How cruel it is for a writer of erotic fiction to be flayed for failing to meet ‘romance’ criteria they have never claimed as their own.

Kristina Lloyd asserts a desire ‘to see the erotic liberated from the shackles of romance conventions’. She believes it has a far more diverse role to play in literature, saying, “I’d like to see erotic elements appear more widely in mainstream fiction. The erotic disrupts, destabilizes and threatens order, both personal and social, and its power is widespread and pervasive.

Jacqui Greaves adds, “When I tell people that I write erotica they either think I write bodice rippers or Shades of Grey. There doesn’t seem to be an appreciation of the full spectrum of the erotic sub-genres.” Raziel Moore also asserts the need tobreak free of the current constraints of romance’, stating his belief that the post 50-Shades era has popularized erotica, but ‘within particular confines only’. He stresses, “Unfettered explorations of desire have taken a hit. I’d like to see that change.”

Elizabeth Black states thatRemittance Girl author quote erotic fiction men’s writing on the topics of relationships and sex is more often respected, being lauded for insight into human nature and named as literary fiction, while women’s work on the same topics is more generally dismissed. She states, “Romance has a bad reputation as being sub-par… as if what women choose to read isn’t as respectable or reputable as what men choose. The aggravating thing is that when women write about relationships and sex (romance novels), their books are viewed by some with disdain or disinterest. But when a man writes about the same topics, his books are viewed with great respect. He’s said to have great insight into human nature. His books are often lifted out of the romance genre and placed in literary fiction, which some view as having more clout. Women’s voices and insights matter.”

There is no doubt that erotic fiction is dominated by women writers, as well as by women readers. As to its lack of literary recognition, we cannot help but muse on whether the genre would gain greater respect were men to write more prominently within it…

Sue MacNichol tells us, “So many books in this genre transcend merely the romance aspect and actually have other important messages to give around the social aspects of life, being part of a community and promoting equality and diversity across colour, sexuality, gender, disabilities and ethnicity.”

 

Trapped in a Maze of Repeating Tropes

A great many authors note frustration at publishers and, seemingly, readers desiring a repetitive meal of the same ingredients, rather than seeking out innovative works. Of course, authors must also bear some responsibility for this, where they Nya Rawlyns author quote erotic fiction literature 21st century Emmanuelle de Maupassantare commercially risk-averse, serving up what they believe audiences wish to consume. The situation has become, largely, a self-perpetuating loop, of authors creating works within a ‘safe’ and market-proven zone.

Adrea Kore notes her desire ‘to see more unique voices in contemporary erotica’. Nya Rawlyns declares, “I’d love for erotica to become acceptable as part of our creative lexicon. I think there is room for the careful and circumspect, which is where we are now, but I’d love to see the genre expand to accept the truly transgressive, the type of story that redefines how we see ourselves and our society.”

Justine Elyot voices her frustration that the erotic genre appears so ‘trend-driven’. Zak Jane Keir emphasizes, “I’d like to see a moratorium on vacant virgins and bastard billionaires. We also need more diversity of theme and plot. I dislike stories detailing abuse of women. To me, it’s not daring or innovative to write a story about a woman learning to love her rapist, or to write an even-more-graphic-than-the-last-one story of erotically dismembering women.” CA Bell declares, “I’d like to see sexy, real, and honest writing: no billionaires who can shag for hours and come five times a night.”

Many writers would like to see a broader range of people represented, of all ages, sizes, abilities and sexual orientations. Krissy Kneen expresses a desire for more ‘gender fluidity’. She comments, “The masculine/feminine divide is boring and needs to be retired. Manly men and femme women is a cliché that really must go.”

Cecilia Tan asserts, I’d like to see the genre embrace greater diversity, both in types of character and of types of sexuality and sexual expression.” Lee Savino also states a desire for ‘more diversity’, and access to ‘fans for your niche’. She muses on being able to ‘write dragon dinosaur menage ageplay and find a market for it’.

Adrea Kore reminds us that erotica ‘permits the exploration of alternative sexualities, such as polyamory, kink, gay, queer and open relationships’. She emphasizes, “What I love about the erotica genre is that there is so much scope. Human sexuality is vast, varied, and complex. The spectrum of people’s turn-ons and kinks is almost verging on infinite. And so is writing about it. As authors, we don’t all have to be covering the same ground… there is room for diversity.” (more here) 

Kristina Lloyd notes, “My current focus is on writing outside of the genre by placing more emphasis on the psychological suspense elements in my work and less on the erotic elements. I always want to grow as a writer and to not write on repeat. Right now, I feel as if I’ve exhausted erotica – or it has exhausted me! Saying that, I continue to believe that erotic desire is a key driver for many people, and therefore for characters in fiction too.”

 

Delving the Psyche

Susan St. Aubin voices a common yearning for stories exploring ‘unfulfilling’ sexual encounters, and others delving into darker corners of the sexual psyche, including loss (an area she finds relevant especially when writing older protagonists). IG Frederick notes similar frustration at the fact that ‘it’s perfectly acceptable to use sex to sell anything from cars to beer, but we are discouraged from examining the impact of sex on relationships in works of fiction’.

Sessha Batto notes that she’d love to see ‘more realistic, nuanced, portrayals of the place sex holds in our lives and how erotic fiction author quote Shanna Germaiit shapes our thoughts’. Siri Ousdahl states, “I’d like there to be a larger place for high-quality, graphic sex writing: fiction that is not coy, does not romanticize or trivialize, and is psychologically realistic.

Patrick Califia tells us,My intent is to understand events from my own lifetime. The spiral of life takes you around a few bends, and you find that you are a different person and you have new questions to ask about the past. The past and the future are the same, really, it’s all my life, it comes from me, but I know a lot more about the past than I do about the future. By standing on the edge of the well of memories and throwing a pebble into the darkness, then counting to see how long it takes to fall, I can create an oracle for myself, for my own death, and for the unknown years I have between this breath and the last.”

 

Smut to be Tittered Over

Writers believe that there is still some way to go for erotic fiction to become socially accepted (more here – on Hidden Identities) and yearn to see it recognized by the wider literary community, by retailers, and by the media, for its merit.

Terrance Aldon Shaw notes, “I’d like to see erotica inspire serious discussion and thoughtful critique, with the best of the genre being recognized for the great literature it is, and the authors who write it to receive the recognition and financial reward they so clearly deserve.”

KD Grace underlines that she’d like to see erotic fiction ‘stop being treated like the bastard stepchild of the literary world’. Lucy Felthouse notes that much stigma remains attached to the genre, saying, “Local newspapers are reluctant to cover stories about erotica authors, and local bookshops soon lose interest when you mention the genre. It can be disheartening.” RV Raiment adds, “I’d like to see erotic fiction gain a place in the broader media. There is still too much guilt, too much prudery and too much persecution.”

As Remittance Girl asserts, “I hope that I can play some small role in the evolution of erotic writing and help, if only in a tiny way, to push it into the light and towards being recognized as a fertile and unconstrained form of critically recognized literature.”

Ina Morata comments that she has been on the receiving end of disapproval from authors who write outside of the erotic genre. She states, There is still such an ‘under the counter’ mentality about buying and reading erotica.” Meg Amor tells us, I’m irritated by the ‘nudge, nudge, wink, wink’ attitude and puerile labels like ‘pervy’ and ‘dirty’. It reminds me of pimply schoolboys giggling behind the school bike sheds with a couple of girly magazine and some pilfered cigarettes. Sex is part of life. Why shouldn’t it be written about?”

Brantwijn Serrah is saddened that erotica isdismissed as dirty, smutty, or cheap’. Donna George Storey adds, “There seems to be a need to demean it as pathetic fantasy fodder for bored housewives or horny bachelors.” Victoria Blisse is tired of the ‘tee hee, have you read this saucy book?’ attitude, wishing to see the genre accepted, as any other.

JD Lexx states, “I’d like to see it framed as less guilty pleasure and more the mark of a mature and adventurous mind.” Cate Ellnik comments, “It beats me why crime fiction is something people discuss so readily, yet erotic fiction is sniggered over or hidden.” Vinnie Tesla adds, “So long as the rhetoric around erotic writing embraces the notion that the sexual has to be ‘redeemed’ by other elements, it will be mired in shame and double-think.”

Meanwhile, Sylvia Storm notes, “I would love a closer connection between adult film-makers and the writers of erotica.”

 

Eroding Sexual Stigma

Many authors believe that writing the erotic has a valuable role to play in eroding sexual stigma. Felicity Brandon comments, “If my writing can help to contribute to this evolution, then that would be amazing!” 

Rose Caraway tells us, “I want to bring a wide range of stories to listeners, so that they feel not only inspired but comfortable, and so that they feel encouraged to communicate and be fulfilled. Foremost I want to break down notions of sex being ‘bad’. We mustn’t be afraid or ashamed.” Brantwijn Serrah adds that erotica can ‘communicate new ideas, draw people closer and improve intimacies, and inspire readers to discover new aspects of themselves’.

Terrance Aldon Shaw notes,Sex is neither dirty nor shameful. There must be a way of describing this universal, beautiful, multifaceted, complex activity in language that is neither overtly vulgar nor detached from feeling altogether. I believe that an unexamined life is no life at all. Ignorance and innocence are not the same thing, and society needs desperately to grow up.”

Tilly Andrews adds, “I’d like to see less judgement about the genre. It bothers me that books about murder can be promoted freely, yet books that contain sex cannot.”

Meanwhile, the popularity of BDSM themes inspires Alexis Alvarez to say, “I’d like to see a move towards female-centric views of BDSM and sexuality. Most stories, for all of their modern settings and vocabulary, remain stuck in a patriarchal mind-set. I’d like to see a new wave, showing how feminism can coexist with BDSM and D/s and erotica.”

Madeleine Moore adds, “I fear, post FSOG, that a heterosexual girl who doesn’t like a good spanking is ‘no fun’. If she’s pressured to succumb to a beating to appear ‘cool’, what the fuck has been accomplished? It might be better all-around if we focus on zero tolerance for sexual abuse and allow the BDSM crowd to find each other, rather than pushing to make BDSM some sort of cultural norm. Nothing is ever going to be acceptable to everyone.”

 

Greater Recognition and Visibility

Thanks to social media, writers in the erotic genre are showing more unity than ever; through collaboration, they are forming their own brand of literary collective. In working together, and offering mutual support, we may more easily make our voices heard, across so many platforms.

The UK’s ‘Eroticon’ convention, for writers in the genre (being next held in London in 2017), is a great example of authors and bloggers coming together to network and to share their professional expertise.

Authors are eager to see the genre gain greater visibility, not only via media recognition, but through prominence on sales platforms, online and ‘on the high street’. Visibility of e-books is particularly problematic, due to the proliferation of titles (in the erotic genre above all others). That the genre is capable of so much more remains unrecognised largely because even the ‘best’ examples lack sufficient visibility.

Authors feel frustration at being unable to advertise their titles through the Amazon programme, and books being hidden behind walls within the search engine. Cecilia Tan laments that Amazon and the other major retailers ‘treat their biggest money-maker like a dirty secret’. Laura Antoniou echoes this, saying that she’d like to see Amazon ‘get over the weird way they have Remittance Girl erotic fiction author quoteof hiding and downplaying erotica’. As Elizabeth Safleur puts it, “It’d be nice if Amazon didn’t bury our titles.”

Ashe Barker adds, “I’d like to see a lot more of our books on sale in major outlets – supermarkets, high street booksellers, airports. Amazon’s stranglehold over our distribution worries me, especially as Amazon is not exactly author-friendly. Their near-monopoly gives them too much power and influence and, ultimately, they are not on our side. Similarly the dominance of Facebook over our promo and communications leaves us very vulnerable. I’ve taken care to build a newsletter list over the last year or so and I continue to invest in my website, just to make sure I have alternatives. I don’t trust either Facebook or Amazon, not really.”

Rose Caraway tells us, “I want to put erotica on the map much more boldly, and make it easier to find. You have to jump through hoops to find it on retail platforms. The more writers out there using erotic elements effectively, the more visible it should become.”

Noting that readers have the choice to exercise discernment, Ria Restrepo asserts, “Let the market decide.”

 

Our Battle Cry

Erotic fiction has the ability to hold a mirror to society, and to speak where other genres do not. Shanna Germain underlines, “Out of all the genres, I think erotica (and horror) are ones that reflect a lot of the mores of our current culture. Sci-fi looks ahead, fantasy looks back, literary fiction looks askance. But erotica looks right at the now and says, ‘This is happening, in the streets, in the bedrooms, in the bars.’ Where will erotica, as a genre go? It will go where the culture goes. I hope it goes somewhere open-minded, joyous, and hot as fuck.”

Remittance Girl, in her article, On Writing Erotica, tells us, “To articulate the conflict within ourselves, to make sense of it, and then to reach out to others via the page: this is the path of the writer. As we look to what comes next, our only true desire can be to write freely and honestly, to write what refuses to lie quietly, to write what thrills us, emotionally, intellectually and viscerally. If we achieve this, then our stories will be worth telling, and worth reading. We are adventurers. We are explorers. Be brave. Dare to write what frightens and unsettles us, as well as what delights us. In doing so, we may write words worth remembrance.” 

 

Further Reading

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Women Writing Erotic Fiction
  • Writing Craft

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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

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Lines in the Sand: transgression and censorship

This article looks at the nature of transgressive fiction, and tackles issues of censorship, including the paradox of themes being permitted for exploration in other genres (such as young fiction and horror) but not in fiction classed as ‘erotic’. It is a transgression and censorship taboo erotic fiction Emmanuelle de Maupassant authors writers readersstarting point for discussion rather than offering any definitive answers.

To learn more about the 130 participants who contributed to debate on these subjects, visit here.

The Nature of Transgression

Erotic literature has traditionally worn a face of transgression, of the defiant questioning of cultural norms, based on the premise that knowledge is to be found by pushing to the edge of experience.

Adrea Kore notes her authorship of erotic fiction as a political act, as well as a creative one. She asserts that finding words for women writing and speaking about their own desire is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially. She stresses, “The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”

Erotic fiction offers not just a dissection of pleasure but of the painful consequences of our actions. We can argue that an exploration of the erotic is best served by striking at what discomforts us, by questioning our assumptions.

Remittance Girl states that, according to Bataille, ‘landscapes of transgression are places of discontinuity’, where our sense of self Jonathan Kemp fiction quote author Emmanuelle de Maupassant transgression taboobecomes disrupted’, through ‘extreme pleasure, pain or mental anguish’.  (more here)

Jonathan Kemp adds, “For Georges Bataille (and Foucault), transgression was a limit-experience.” [an experience on the edge of limits, where divine horror and divine ecstasy meet, where rules are broken until a place beyond all rules is reached]. He continues, “For Genet it was a slap in the face of the Bourgeoisie; and dependent upon the status quo remaining intact. Arguably, transgression was easier for Bataille and Genet, for they (amongst others) have paved the way for serious, literary attention being paid to the erotic.” Kemp adds that  ‘contemporary erotica isn’t necessarily transgressive (for example, Fifty Shades of Grey)’.

Malin James underlines, “While a great deal of erotica falls Remittance Girl erotic fiction quote Bataille transgression Emmanuelle de Maupassantinto a realistic vein, much of what people actually want is that which they can’t (or don’t feel they can) have in real life. This is why rape fantasies, incest and other transgressive sexual acts continue to sell erotica and generate clicks. The appeal of the forbidden is as old as the Bible, when Eve and the apple laid the foundation for centuries of sexual taboo. The fact is that we get pleasure from doing that which we’re not ‘supposed’ to do… While some taboos have been neutralized by an expanded notion of sex positivity (for the most part, gay couplings, anal and oral sex and extramarital situations don’t pack the transgressive punch they historically have), the amount of incest porn, tentacle porn, bestiality, non-con and various forms of edge play being consumed has risen…” Malin notes that, as such acts are ‘still taboo’, they ‘retain the power to arouse in ways that non-transgressive acts don’t tend to’. 

Janine Ashbless adds, “I’m turned on intellectually and erotically by stepping outside my comfort zone for a little while. A cozy tale of sex between two familiar lovers simply does not do it for me – there has to be tension. So I use my discomforts and my many fears to bring power to my erotic fiction. I challenge myself, and if that means challenging my readers then so much the better.”

Raziel Moore tells us that, when he writes to challenge his reader (or himself), he focuses on either challenging ‘preconceptions’ in how people behave or ‘to expose some raw thing, some ugliness living under my (or your) half buried log, and expose – and wallow in – its fundamental eroticism’. He notes, “I like writing characters at once repulsed and drawn in to some carnal transgression. The various wars between intellect and sensation, mind and body, and the subversion of one by the other in the short or long term is one of my favorite Raziel Moore author quote erotic fiction transgression Emmanuelle de Maupassantthemes. Not only am I turned on by this objectionable thing – I want to think about why I am.”

Zander Vyne asserts that ‘overturning assumptions’ is far more interesting than writing stories just for ‘fun’. She likes to explore ‘what we think we know’, challenging expectations, with the hope that the reader will ‘emerge with new feelings and understanding… [of] who we, and others, really are’. As she underlines, ‘why write a boring story when you can do all that?

LN Bey notes, “Great art challenges—our intellect, our beliefs, and most of all our perceptions. With erotica, we have unusual opportunities to look into the human psyche, the human condition, that other genres do not possess.”

Sorcha Black asserts her goal of challenging assumptions about gender roles and sexual attraction by avoiding ‘stereotypes’. She explains, “A lot of my characters are sexually fluid and are also into kink, so I don’t have to limit myself to what’s expected. It’s far too easy to paint caricatures.” Sorcha notes also her portrayal of  ‘the subjectivity of good and evil’, and emphasizes how point of view influences our interpretation.

Shanna Germain states, “I’m all about subversion and ninja-sneak-attacks. I want the reader to be so engaged with the story and care so strongly about the characters that they don’t even notice that I’m challenging their assumptions or attempting to stretch their boundaries until it’s all over. I think that it’s very easy for some people to be on the defense if they feel like you’re going to preach at them or try to change their mind about something, and I want them to walk into a story with all their shields down and their hearts exposed.”  

Remittance Girl asserts that it is possible to find something morally repugnant and still be fascinated by its psychological ramifications. She refers to Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon, set during the Stalinist Purges of the Soviet Union, which explores the developing relationship between the main character and his interrogator. She notes, “The sustained mental intimacy of one person prying violently into the mind of another produces interesting behaviour patterns. I was interested in exploring the fracturing of the self. Psychological extremes are intimate places.” (more here)

Malin adds, “There is always going to be a difference between what people fantasize about and what they actually do. Transgression and sexual taboo by-pass what many consider to be ‘realistic’ sex and appeal to that portion of sexuality that is driven by fantasy.” She believes transgression to be a driving force in erotica for two reasons: appealing to ‘our attraction to the morally and socially forbidden’; and allowing us, as readers, to ‘dance on the line between fantasy and reality’ in a safe way. She acknowledges the value in creating a ‘grey area’, in which we can examine ‘the tension between social conditioning, morality, transgression and taboo’, exploring ‘what would otherwise bring only repression and shame’.

Inner Limits

In our Western world, fiction including sex scenes is widely available, accepted readily as adult reading material (albeit read discreetly at home, or via Kindle on public transport). Accordingly, very little may be genuinely considered ‘transgressive’, pushing us into zones of discomfort (and therebyRemittance Girl erotic fiction reader author Emmanuelle de Maupassant inspiring deeper levels of reflection). This may be why historical erotic fiction is so popular, since the setting more immediately confers a transgressive stance: a feeling of ‘taboo’.

Since our modern society is accepting of most expressions of sexual behaviour, the transgressive perhaps has more significance as an exploration of inner limits (those we place upon ourselves: our own, self-imposed lines in the sand).

Jonathan Kemp tells us, “Homosexuality, which is the form of erotic behaviour my own writing mostly explores, is hardly taboo these days in most circles, so the question becomes how to make it feel transgressive? How to make it work against the norm? In ‘London Triptych’ I chose to write about male prostitutes from different points of view – two from the perspective of rent boys themselves, and one from the perspective of an older man whose sexual repression prevents him from paying for the services of the rent boy he is falling in love with. In the context of the world and characters I was describing, love became transgressive.”

Cari Silverwood highlights the importance of reader point of view, noting that interpretation can vary greatly. Our individual lines in the sand cannot but affect our response to what we read.

Our interest may lie in watching characters struggle and push through their inner-sanctions, and in watching them deal with the consequences: ‘guilt, mistrust, fear and emotional wounding’ as Remittance Girl writes. We see the character obliged to ‘reconstruct their identity in the light of what they’ve done’. (more from RG here)

The fingers of the erotic not only stroke us to pleasure but rend us, exposing our uncertainty and our inconsistencies.

Cari Silverwood tells us, “I try to take readers somewhere they may not have gone before. The unexpected is always in my sights.” She asserts that her stories aim to make us question our ‘relationship with the world and humanity’, to the point where we are ‘uncomfortable and, even, disturbed’. In writing ‘dark fiction’, she believes that ‘there is an inherent moral challenge’. Acknowledging storytelling’s intent to entertain us, she emphasizes her desire to engage readers viscerally, by immersing characters in conflict.

Remittance Girl adds that some of the most moving and thought-provoking writing involves ‘characters presented in extremis’, inviting the reader to consider morally ambiguous questions.  She believes, “It is my very discomfort as a reader Emmanuelle de Maupassant author quote erotic fictionthat has triggered deep and serious introspection on many topics. These are the books that will stay with me for life.”

In her review of Siri Ousdahl’s Constraint, Remittance Girl states: ‘In order to transgress a law or a taboo, one must recognize the moral authority, the intrinsic value to society, of the law or taboo being broken. Conversely, concepts like consent would have little importance or sacredness for us if they weren’t fragile and vulnerable to profanation. If we had no fear of the taboo of rape, gave no moral authority to the supremacy of consent, this story wouldn’t be truly transgressive.’

We can assert that transgression has no fixed ‘location’. Cecilia Tan, having been writing for many years, notes that the nature of ‘taboo’ has changed greatly. She explains, “Consensual BDSM and bisexuality used to be exotic but they’re now becoming more commonplace.”

Remittance Girl reminds us that DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover was transgressive because ‘it was socially unacceptable for people of such different classes to have a sexual relationship (especially where the woman was upper class and the man from the working class).’ (more here)

Jonathan Kemp notes that, in ‘Twentysix’, he ‘wanted to explore the romance of promiscuity, the almost-spiritual (for want of a better word) dimension of anonymous encounters’. Kemp explains, “The sexual acts I describe may seem transgressive to some (fisting, watersports, group sex, rimming), but within the context of the sexual subcultures I am representing they are a norm, so the transgression, for me has to come from elsewhere… from how the erotic is represented.“ He explains that he chose to create a ‘narrative transgression’ by using amulti-voiced and multi-valenced prose styleappropriating other registers, other voices’.

Transgression exists only in relation to our sense of ‘norm’, which is shaped by the ideologies we grow up with, by the social expectations placed upon us, by the lines we draw in the sand, for each other and for ourselves.

As Remittance Girl puts it, ‘The hand you push into your pants or under your skirt is stained with the everyday world you live in’. (more here)

Censorship

Jonathan Kemp comments of the ‘twins’ of transgression and taboo, “I might reconfigure them in one body, as two conflicting impulses: action, or restraint.” He imagines censorship, then, as ‘the nanny or governess of this child struggling with a desire to do something and a moral sense or fear that prevents the desire from transgressing into action’. He adds, “Censorship, in a sense, is like the Freudian superego: punitive, disciplinarian, body-hating. Censorship tries to control the transgression of taboos, to hide the body’s excess, its radical jouissance.” [a paradoxical pleasure, reaching an almost intolerable level of excitement].

We might imagine that publishers specialising in erotic fiction would be most open minded, most daring, most willing to ‘push the limits’, offering readers a feast of the surprising. Of course, some are attempting to do so, as far as they believe themselves LN Bey author erotic fiction quote human psyche Emmanuelle de Maupassantable within the limits set by major retailers (we cannot escape the fact that publishers are in business to make money).

However, in many instances, submission guidelines fail to encourage innovation. Rather the reverse. Larger publishers, whom we might imagine are best placed to take the occasional commercial risk, are often most guilty of playing safe, seeking out the same romance tropes and happy-ever-afters.

Siri Ousdahl notes the position of mainstream publishers and retailers, stating that they have a bottom line to consider, so it’s no surprise if they balance potential earnings against risk. As she notes, “The erotic books they’ve embraced in recent years had proven track records online, so the risk hasn’t been significant. When Random House or Penguin ‘take a chance’ on erotica, the works are far from transgressive.”

Publishers and retailers have, largely, taken an extreme stand on the portrayal of sex in fiction, creating their own, arbitrary, list of what is deemed appropriate for readers to encounter, as if the reader were incapable of exercising discernment, or were incapable of processing the words as fiction.

Where does this leave us as authors? Writing repeatedly down the same avenues, afraid to offend, or challenge?

Even independent erotica publishers are prone to request ‘light and fun’ stories, ignoring the huge potential of the genre to take us into the deeper, darker (arguably far more compelling and fulfilling) spaces within the human psyche.

Patrick Califia notes, “I think the difference between commercial, bland ‘erotica’ and radical sex writing is the author’s willingness to challenge limits… Most editors and publishers will refuse to touch the subject of young people and sex, and there is a whole list of other things they won’t put into print as well.”

In fact, publishers regularly reject plots involving extra-marital affairs, or those featuring characters displaying disabilities or who fail to meet general ‘standards’ of attractiveness, or who are older in age. Also ‘unpalatable’ are references to sexual thoughts/acts by or involving characters below the age of 18, Remittance Girl quote fiction reality author erotic fictiondespite the majority of countries worldwide (and the majority of American states) setting the age of consent below 18 years.

Coming of Age

Opinions on the appropriateness of telling characters’ sexual stories before they reach the age of 18 are perhaps even more divided than those revolving around non-consent.

‘Coming of Age’ stories are seen as a minefield, since there is no consensus of opinion on the age at which it becomes ‘morally’ acceptable to acknowledge sexual awareness. Is it permissible to describe the sexual thoughts of a 17, 16, 15, 14 or 13 year old? In Young Adult fiction, the answer is yes. Reference may even be made to sexual acts. In any work of literature classified as erotica, the answer is no.

For predominantly commercial reasons, few authors of erotic fiction attempt to write into this sphere. There is no graduating scale of permissibility. Rather, there is an umbrella ban on the mention of anyone under the age of 18 in relation to sexual thoughts or acts (within fiction categorized as ‘erotic’). Within the categorization of erotic fiction, it is a publishing no-no for anyone over the age of 18 to be shown to have sexual thoughts about a character under the age 18, regardless of whether such thoughts are acted upon. In fiction, it appears, thought is as damnable as deed.

This article makes no attempt to provide definitive rules for application. However, as many authors point out, if we may not explore concepts through the inventions of fiction, what avenues remain?

Wade Esley believes, “To ignore this important developmental period is ridiculous and, frankly, dishonest. How can you tell a more honest and heartfelt story than to describe the magic and wonder of experiencing something for the first time? The fear and excitement of venturing into the unknown is fertile ground for developing rich characters and compelling stories.”

Laura Antoniou is among those who express a desire to explore the sexual histories of characters before they reach the age of 18, while Krissy Kneen takes this further, in being keen to delve the psychology behind some people’s compulsion towards sexual acts with those not yet of legal age. She mentions that her latest book (not yet published) ‘takes some small steps towards exploring this area’. She asserts her concern about public reaction. “It is as if we can’t even speak of it,” she comments.

Patrick Califia underlines, In America, we eroticize youth to an insane extent and yet have draconian punishments for anyone who dares react to all that idealization.” Moreover, he adds, “We’ve become less and less realistic about the sexuality of young people. The penalties for raising these issues are huge and hideous.” As an aside, he notes, “I’ve written only a couple of articles attacking age of consent laws. To all intents and purposes they do not protect young people from abuse. Most molesters of children are family members, not strangers, and the current law enforcement focus ignores this completely. I will keep on talking about this as much as I can because I was abused as a child, and I’m very angry about the way my family’s dysfunction was rationalized or ignored by everyone around us. It took all the strength I had to escape from that world, but I was ill-prepared to leave home, and barely survived the transition from adolescence into adulthood. I think it is a crime that queer children have no mentors, so little help.”

In such cases, where publishers deem particular elements to be ‘non-commercial’, authors have often turned to self-publishing, to allow them to reach readers more freely. However, as is well-known, retailers also impose rules, making their own judgements as to what is ‘appropriate’ reading matter.

Most authors agree that censorship of fiction, in the name of ‘protecting’ readers, is nonsensical. While reading of murder or torture may disturb us (and, we would imagine, rightly and intentionally so) thinking, writing or reading about such acts is not the same as committing them. Rather, reflection on matters of moral dilemma is encouraged as emotionally and intellectually enriching.

The same logic can be applied to the writing of sexual behaviour (even, or especially, where it contravenes the law of whichever country the reader resides in).

Ironically, fiction is the very place in which we are ‘safe’ to explore deeds we would never indulge in real life; it is the realm in which we may muse on all the ‘what ifs’.

Nya Rawlyns states, “My writing is and isn’t me. I channel characters within my imagination. They constantly surprise, shock and delight. Some cause fear, others dismay, a few I Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic fiction censorship author quotedespise. They all answer one question, without hesitation… what if?”

Defending a non-censorship position, Janine Ashbless asserts, “Fiction is a sacred space, where the rules of real life do not apply. It’s a safe area in which to let our darker selves, our fears and our desires, out for a little exercise…”

Of Amazon’s banning of certain subject matter, LN Bey states, “I’m entitled to fantasize whatever the hell I want. No one gets to dictate the ‘propriety’ of my fantasies.” Stressing anger not only as a writer but as a reader, LN declares, “They’re keeping me from reading what I might enjoy. That is simply not their right to do, and I take offense at that… I will read and write what I damn well please.”

Zander Vyne notes that writers are prone to self-censorship through fear of penalty, and laments that, once a book is labelled as ‘banned’ readers’ perceptions become tainted. She stresses, “The censor’s falsehood replaces the writer’s truth.” Zander adds, “At its best, writing is ground-breaking. Revolutionary. Writers should have no barriers to creativity, and no subject should be off-limits.” She urges publishers (and retailers) to be braver, taking more risks, under the knowledge that readers are capable of making their own choices. However, she makes note that, as a mother, she does believe in ‘controlled accessibility for minors, and in the necessity for clear labeling to inform’.

Noting that we should be free to exercise our reading preferences and that it’s important to allow readers to make choices for themselves, LN Bey continues, “Avoiding a work of fiction is different than trying to stop it from existing. We’re in a bizarre age in which sexually explicit material is more available than ever before… but we are also in the age of Taking Offense. And when one Takes Offense, nowadays, one takes full, righteous action—this thing that Offends me cannot exist. “

Double-standards and Lack of Consistency

Regardless of which themes, we, as authors, choose to explore, and which sub-genres of erotica we tend to gravitate towards, we desire to be free to write as we choose, just as we desire to read ‘as we choose’.

Christina Mandara highlights double standards between genres, saying, “You can read all sorts in [the] horror [genre] with rape, incest, axes buried in skulls etc – but non-consensual erotica is frowned upon. I can’t understand why eBook stores are being so censorious in the erotica genre, but not horror.

Tilly Andrews echoes this, saying, “I could write a very graphic scene of torture and murder for a horror novel and this would not be censored. However, if I add a sexual element and include in an erotic book I am sure that this would be slammed.”

Delores Swallows voices frustration, noting a desire to write a story incorporating plot devices of abduction, torture and murder, and lamenting, “I’m not allowed to include themes like that in erotica – only in the mainstream!” KD Grace raises the same issue, declaring, “I always find it frustrating that those taboos are only in place for erotica writers and don’t apply to any other genre.”

Meanwhile, Remittance Girl notes, “I am free to eroticize staggeringly violent acts, but there’s no publisher that will touch a story about a man who wakes up one morning to find his wife dead, and in a moment of intense grief, has sex with her body one last time.” (more here)

Siri Ousdahl mentions the obvious paradox of our willingness to watch films and television programmes, and read fiction, depicting serial killers, yet our apparent unwillingness to engage with non-consensual sexual acts in fiction. She muses that this may be ‘because many more people are affected by real-life rapists than by real-life serial-killers’. 

Ashe Barker tells us, “I wrote a non-con scene in one of my earlier books, and my publisher insisted it be toned down to dub-con. I have never really warmed to the altered version, my first approach was the one I felt was right for those characters. Now, as a more experienced writer and working with a wider range of publishers I might well stick to my guns and either self-pub or find a publisher who shared my vision. I find non-con fascinating and harbour a desire to write something darker than my usual stuff.”

A significant number of readers appear to condemn the writing of such themes (not only non-consent but stories looking at the compulsion towards incest, or sexual themes for under-18s) in the same manner in which they would condemn them as ‘real-life’ acts, rather than recognizing them as themes being explored within fiction.

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), we need much more freedom for erotica writers. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice writes:I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys.’ 

In the same vein, Christina Mandara notes, “It seems that women, particularly, must have consensual, hearts and flowers stories.”

 While accepting that publishers have the right to avoid investing in work they don’t think will sell well, Sorcha Black notes that many of the books named as ‘too graphic or taboo’ are those aimed at women. She believes, “The policing of women’s sexuality still includes censoring what we read.”

Cari Silverwood voices an opinion shared by many authors regarding the lack of consistency in Amazon’s approach to censorship, making particular note of how this is manifested in the seemingly random acceptability of covers.

Shanna Germain asserts the position of publishers and retailers, stating, “I believe that in a free market, publishers and retailers are a business, and they can choose what they do and don’t want to provide as part of that business. To me that’s a business decision, not censorship. They’re not blocking something from being read, they’re just not offering it as part of their business model. As an author, I choose publishers that publish the things that matter to me. As a publisher, I don’t publish material that is racist or homophobic or misogynist. I’m not censoring those books by not publishing them. Someone can buy them elsewhere if that’s their thing, but I am saying, ‘those LN Bey author erotic fiction censorship Emmanuelle de Maupassantbooks don’t fit my personal beliefs, my business model, or my audience, so I’m not going to publish them’ and that has to be okay.” 

However, she adds that, where the market is dominated by a single retailer, the position takes a different slant, since ‘they are potentially blocking all kinds of things from being available’.

Raziel Moore notes the arbitrary and capricious rules of the major retailer(s) but, more significantly, the not-long-past crisis of payment companies refusing to process transactions, effectively blocking independent authors’ sales.

In the genre of ‘Literary Fiction’, it appears that almost anything goes. In the hallowed high-brow halls, are any subjects taboo? There, may even the most transgressive of themes be explored, and their authors applauded for innovation and daring? May incest and non-consent be explored in ‘Women’s Fiction’, necrophilia and extreme violence in ‘Horror’, and coming of age themes in ‘Young Adult’? All are off limits within erotic fiction.

We may debate the propriety of how themes are handled, and the way in which they may be ‘appropriately’ eroticized, but the fact remains that fiction is the realm of imagination. Fiction is not reality: it is a place of reflection and exploration. To write, and read, of what we find unsettling, uncomfortable or disturbing can provide us with valuable opportunities to better know ourselves, and our world.

Further Reading

  • 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.

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads

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.

Special thanks are due to Remittance Girl, whose numerous articles have been my starting point not only for this article, but for the entirety of this survey. Her website is a dazzling treasure chest of insight and challenge.

Tobsha Learner, Laura Antoniou,  Susan St. Aubin, Shanna Germain, Remittance Girl, Malin James, Janine Ashbless, Adrea KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will CrimsonSorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Hidden Identities: writers of erotic fiction

Interviewing just over 130 authors of erotic fiction, I asked how openly we discuss our workHidden Identities pennames  writers of erotic fiction emmanuelle de maupassant with friends and family and how far we keep separate our ‘writing identity’, to avoid social stigmatization.

As ever, this article is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments are welcome.

 

Slipping into a Pseudonym

While a number of authors do write under their legally recognized name, more than in any other genre, we pen our words from behind a pseudonym.

Some do this for commercial reasons, separating writing identities across genre categories, to avoid confusing readers. Cherry Wild comments, “There are benefits to compartmentalizing writing identities. I believe readers should understand what they’re going to read from an author, instead of having a shocking surprise that what they thought would be a standard murder mystery is actually a sexed-up erotic thriller.”

Male writers, on occasion, write under a female pen name, believing it will result in better sales (the market being thought to largely comprise women readers). Women authors, in turn, may choose a gender-neutral pen name, wishing to avoid being automatically categorized or labelled by gender. 

Laura Antoniou, famous for her ‘Marketplace’ series, notes that she used to pose under a masculine pen name, believing this would appeal to gay male readers. However, with changing trends, this has become irrelevant. She notes, “The number of gay male readers who would care who wrote their erotica is FAR overshadowed by the number of female readers who read MM, so there is no benefit in me writing as a guy.” 

 

Where Fiction and Reality Meet

There’s no doubt that the relationship between the author and their reader is never closer than in the genre of erotic fiction. What other sphere of writing taps so closely into the emotional and sexual psyche?

It’s perhaps unsurprising that readers do tend to initiate contact with writers, seeking to further their connection beyond the page. While such interaction can be flattering, and welcome, it’s not uncommon for authors to report readers stepping over the usual boundaries of propriety, assuming that the writer, by nature of their subject matter, is inviting ‘real life’ sexual intimacy.

Female authors of erotic fiction, particularly, are unlikely to have avoided invitations to engage in ‘sex chat’, or overt photographic overtures. As Will Crimson jokes, wryly, having written at times under a female pen name, “I knew I’d arrived as a female erotic writer when I received my first ‘dick pic’.”

In cases where an author uses their legal name, and/or an identifiable profile picture, other risks may arise, relating to unwanted attention.

 

Avoiding Judgement

The main reason cited by authors of erotic fiction in choosing a pseudonym is the wish to Cherry Wild erotic fiction authoravoid ‘judgement’, not just from co-workers or neighbours, but from family and friends, or to avoid negative consequences for those they love.

As Will Crimson notes, “I write under a pseudonym to protect my family’s friendships and associations.”

Whilst we, as authors, are proud of our writing achievements, the explicit nature of our work does not always allow us to openly share our success. Many admit to confiding in only the closest of friends. Some tell only their partners; some avoid confiding even in their lovers, fearing disapproval.

For those with school-age children, and those living in small communities, anticipation of marginalization is very real. Anxiety over losing employment is a palpable fear.

Patient Lee asserts, “As I’m a high school teacher in a conservative community, I guard my identity with my life. I believe I’d be fired if people knew what I wrote.”

patrick califia author quote erotic fictionAlthough the journey continues, we’ve come a long way in embracing equality of rights across sexual orientation, race and gender. And yet, whatever their ‘secret’ reading habits, some members of the public draw the line at rubbing shoulders with writers of what many term ‘filth’.

Certain assumptions seem to apply to authors of erotic fiction that apply nowhere else. Write a story in which your protagonists embed axes in zombie skulls and no one will blink an eye. Write a threesome fellatio scene and you’re assumed to be of dubious morals. Whether we’re believed to be writing from experience, or from the rich meadows of our imagination is irrelevant. In line with the prevailing trend of ‘sexual shaming’, our work makes us a target for judgement.

In writing of sexual desire, in all its variations, we are, piece by piece, dismantling social stigma. We are encouraging our readers to embrace their sexual nature, and to lay claim to the pleasure of their body. Sadly, in so doing, we may lay ourselves open to others overstepping the usual social boundaries of courteous behaviour.

While Patrick Califia has drawn from his own history as inspiration in writing fiction, he comments that people ‘believe I’ve done everything I’ve written about’. “They think that if I write about sex, that must mean that anything goes, and they can do anything they want around me—or to me—or with me.”

There is no doubt that first hand experience does provide some degree of inspiration for fiction; 40% of writers taking part in this survey name past experience as a stimulus for their work, but often only as a starting point. Whether writing from experience or pure fantasy, storytelling takes over; few erotic tales are unadulterated memoirs brought to life.

Unsurprisingly, where writers have used their own sexual history within their storytelling, there can be particular reason for wishing to remain discreet. As Patient Lee says,“My mother wants to read my books but I won’t let her. There’s too much of my own journey of sexual discovery in there for comfort.”

A far greater share of authors, 58%, mention fantasy as a main source of inspiration. Just as a crime or thriller writer might combine invention with human empathy and theoretical research to create their work of fiction, entering the mindset of a murderer, writers of erotic themed works apply the same techniques.

In taking on an ‘alter-ego’, we are freed from fear of causing offence or placing our social position in jeopardy; we can write as our imagination dictates. The ‘mask’ is liberating on many levels.

Ina Morata author erotic fictionAs Spencer Dryden notes: “If my friends, family and associates learned of my interest in erotica, they would drop dead in horror, so I use a pen name.

Tabitha Rayne tells us, “The strangest reaction I’ve had was from one of my sisters who will never read my work because she feels that to do so would be incestuous!”

Patrick Califia (originally Pat Califia), who has written under his legal name, relates, “I stopped writing for a long time because I was trying to be married to someone who, it turns out, hated my work and was ashamed of it. I’m slowly reclaiming my voice, but it’s like healing from a deep wound. I’ve been repeatedly shamed and treated with disgust and repulsion because I write erotica.”

Patrick continues, “Social exclusion and outcast status is imposed at every level. People are frightened of me, titillated, and judgmental. I’ve been declared an enemy of lesbian feminism and received threats. I’ve had people assume that I must be mentally ill for writing about sex. I’ve been attacked online by other trans people, who assert that someone as disreputable as me can only bring discredit upon the trans-community. It has been extremely difficult to keep a stable sense of myself through all of this brouhaha but I’m a very stubborn person.”

Siri Ousdahl recalls, “I sent my book, ‘Constraint’, to a number of agents, and, while they praised the writing, some expressed hostility or disgust towards the content. I treasure one letter from an Patrick Califia quote author erotic fictionagent who essentially said, ‘Yuck, don’t contact me again’.”

One writer, who prefers to remain anonymous, tells us that her daughter hates discussing her books, being embarrassed, and has asked that her two teenage daughters be spared from knowing about their grandmother’s writing. The author notes that they have discovered, and ‘have told me they are proud, despite their mom’s attitude’.

Cherry Wild writes both what she terms as ‘smut’ and more literary erotica. She asserts that most people show tolerance for the latter (and even enthusiasm) but that she is more circumspect in sharing that she writes the former. She admits, “I’ve encountered a few people who splutter and make it crystal clear they do *not* approve.” With my smutty erotica, I’ve told far fewer people, as I push more boundaries. I’ve written some things that I know people would be much quicker to object to, and have no desire to listen to those criticisms.”

Justine Elyot laments, “I’d like to be able to tell people about my writing. Very few people in my life know I do this, and it sometimes saddens me that my father died without ever knowing I had published a book – something he always told me I could do. But in our very traditional and strait-laced family, I couldn’t mention it.”

Sylvia Storm tells us, “I prefer to write under pen names and keep my anonymity, just because of the social stigma of what we do. I wanted to finally set my words free. I have grown through this, became a little braver, a little more confident, and a lot more intelligent in the ways of feelings and passions. This began as a bravery test, and it turned into self-discovery.”

Alexis Alvarez comments, “I cringe sometimes, because I know there can be some level of disapproval when I reveal to friends or acquaintances what I write. However, I try to push through, as I’m proud of what I write. The details aren’t appropriate for everyone and every situation, so I don’t announce the fact randomly but nor do I actively hide it.”

However, while some people are disapproving, others are more tolerant. Alexis continues, “Most people I choose to tell are initially surprised, but are then accepting, and often don’t show further interest. Like anything, life goes on and people move with it. I’m pretty much out in my real life as an erotica writer, and everyone knows my pen name.”

Meanwhile, it’s also the lot of authors in our genre to, on occasion, receive words of admonishment: for lack of decency, or morality.

Ina Morata notes that she has been on the receiving end of disapproval from authors who write outside of the erotic genre. She states, Those non-erotica writer readers who have discussed my work with me have either challenged what I have written, or have tried to persuade me to write in a genre more ‘befitting’. Indeed, the best line I think someone came out with was: ‘if she’s writing that, there must be something missing in her life’. To me, this said more about the reader than the author!”

Ina tells us, “I’ve encountered discouragement in my career choice generally from older members emmanuelle de maupassant erotic fiction author quoteof my family, but this has been exacerbated by my choice to write erotica. Indeed, I was told I should concentrate my energies ‘on something much better’ after I published my last book. The person involved hadn’t even read the book, and had no idea that, aside from the power play through the sex, it broached some serious subjects that have been prevalent in my family for decades, and that there was more to consider than which pages to bookmark and show their friends in secret! My children never cease to amaze me, though: they have just accepted what I write and are interested in me as a writer, regardless of genre. In fact, my daughter seems to find it pretty cool that I write erotica.”

 

Undervalued and Obscured

At the heart of negative interactions, there’s not only misunderstanding of the distinction between ‘real life’ behaviour and the exploration of possibilities through fiction but a sad lack of comprehension of what can be achieved through writing in this genre.

As Adrea Kore emphasises,Erotica seeks to arouse, but it may also confront, provoke, and subvert…Sexuality is such a vital part of the map of the human psyche. Sexuality reveals so much of ourselves.” Remittance Girl also comments on the potential of erotic fiction, declaring its ability to explore ‘us at our most naked, our most vulnerable’. She stresses, “It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.” 

Those who write erotic fiction know that, at its best, it can claim a worthy place in the literary constellation. To convince others that this is true, and to begin breaking down the prevailing stigma, we must continue, as authors, to set the highest standards in our writing. Whether we’re exploring the darker corners of the sexual psyche or its joyous heights, we should respect writing craft. As any author, writing in any genre, we should aim to move readers not only viscerally but emotionally and intellectually. We need to demonstrate the incredible potential of writing ‘the erotic’.

 

Support One Another

Seek out the work of fellow authors. Find outstanding examples. Review, recommend and applaud them. Let the whispers travel from ear to ear, from platform to platform. Let readers know that there IS talent in our midst, and that erotic fiction gives voice where many dare not speak.

 

Further Reading

Malin James: On Pseudonymns

More in this series:

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Women Writing Erotic Fiction
  • Writing Craft
  • 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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

Dancing the Line: Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction

Having invited writers to ‘share their secrets’ (more about the 130+ participants here) this article explores authors’ views on the use of fantasy and realism in erotic fiction. As ever, it is intended as a starting point for discussion. All comments welcome. Emmanuelle de Maupassant Fantasy and Realism in Erotic Fiction

For many of us, as authors and readers, erotic fiction operates within the realm of fantasy. It conjures into words thoughts we may hardly dare admit. It offers us the chance to explore our ‘what ifs’, within the safety of the page.

Nicolette Hugo muses, “All books are part fantasy or fear, we write to taste or exorcise them.”

KD Grace states a position voiced by many authors. “I can go places, do things sexually, in fiction that I would never consider in real life, allowing me to explore. I can have the thrill without the risk.”

Just over 40% of the writers surveyed stress that they draw significantly on their own real life sexual experiences to inspire their writing. The majority mention doing so in addition to, rather than instead of, exploring imagined fantasies. Only a handful write primarily from a position of recalling their own sexual history, or drawing heavily on events witnessed/related to them.

Saying this, all authors strive for a sense of authenticity in their work, to elicit reader empathy. However otherworldly the setting or outlandish the characters, behaviour and motivation must remain recognizable, or the reader cannot suspend disbelief, and join the author on their journey. Few would deny that small details of our own experience (emotional and sexual) will, even without conscious intention, find their way onto the page. It is these elements that ensure fiction its necessary gloss of realism.

As Dennis Cooper notes in his interview for Paris Review, his novels aren’t ‘transcriptions of the real world’. He states: ‘They’re highly organized missives from my imagination. When there’s a real-world resemblance, it’s there to create an atmosphere of familiarity that’s helpful as a comfort zone in which I can introduce things that are difficult and unsuspected. The characters are the main entrance into the work because they’re shaped like humans and they’re lit more brightly than their surroundings. But they’re not real… Everything in the books is half mine and half the reader’s, and the characters are just enunciations of my ideas.’

 

Plundering Our Fantasies

As Tamsin Flowers notes, “Our experiences are the lens through which we view the world and we can’t help but be influenced by them. However, you needn’t have experienced something to write about it (thriller writers aren’t killers and sci-fi writers aren’t spacemen). I’ve written about plenty of things I’ve read about or simply just imagined.”

Among the author respondents to this survey, 58% state firmly that their own fantasies are, at the very least, a starting point for writing.

Rose Caraway comments,I’m mostly inspired by fantasies, Nya Rawlyns erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantparticularly through dreams.” Jay Willowbay adds his belief thatany erotic author that doesn’t mine their own fantasies is ignoring their most bountiful source of vivid and exciting material, and letting it go to waste’. Cari Silverwood continues this train of thought, saying that, if we neglect to use our fantasies we’re unlikely to write scenes which ‘resonate’. Tamsin Flowers comments that fantasies feed into her work ‘either explicitly or less directly, lending shade and nuance’.

Adrea Kore tells us that writing erotica has increased her ability to pay attention to her sexual imagination, the place from which her sexual fantasies emerge. “Expressing from this place, and seeing the ways I’ve grown and changed has strengthened my belief that this aspect of ourselves has a vital connection to increased self-awareness, creativity, sexual fulfilment – and healing.”

It’s no surprise that authors commonly endeavor to write with their own sexual and emotional response to the fore, believing that this will bear most authenticity (and, thereby, have most impact on readers).

Adrea adds, ‘The slippery world of advertising is constantly trying to sell us things through tapping into common elements of sexual fantasies, but these ‘packaged dreams’ will never be as unique as your own.’

Spencer Dryden recalls, “At 63, I felt my sexual energy sailing away but I was also shedding inhibitions like dead skin. I gave myself permission to explore my sexual fantasies through erotic fiction as a way of keeping myself engaged.”

Adrea Kore erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantTabitha Rayne also asserts that personal fantasies are the engine behind her writing, saying, “No matter what I write, in that moment, it is my desire. It is absolutely my fantasy.” She notes that what stirs her one day can be very different the next.

In this way, each act of writing is a captured moment in time, a fantasy caught in the net of words.

Delores Swallows notes, “In my quiet moments (waiting to fall asleep, or doing some brainless task like mowing the lawn or painting walls) my mind wanders, creating short stories that facilitate a ‘fantasy’.

Ashe Barker recalls having spent hours commuting, allowing fantasies to run through her mind as she sat in motorway traffic jams. She tells us, “I had favourites I’d ‘replay’ again and again, and of course new ones would pop up. Over the years, I plotted lots and lots of snippets and scenes. I had quite a vivid collection by the time I started to write any of them down. In the last three years or so, many of my motorway fantasies have been developed and placed in my stories.”

Conversely, Donna George Storey voices the view, shared by several authors, that a fantasy initially conceived purely to serve a plot, having been dwelt upon, and mined for its detail, can ‘become my fantasy by the time the writing is done’.

The majority of authors note that, although their fantasies do, to some degree, inform their writing, storytelling tends to take over, adding embellishment and new direction. Siri Ousdahl mentions, “My writing began somewhat autobiographically, and featured my own fantasies, but as I progressed, I found that the characters and craft decisions took me away from my own personal fantasies and into storytelling.”

Will Crimson comments, “Agatha Christie reportedly wrote that she could turn anything into a murder weapon─ and me? I can turn anything into a sex toy/ erotic story. I use anything and everything.” Speaking of his ability to combine real life experience with his ability to fantasize, he states, ‘I’m an erotic sponge’!

Meanwhile, Laura Antoniou tells us,My books don’t even touch on some of my most twisted fantasies… they’d be illegal! Also, hard to sell in today’s market.”

 

‘Permission to Imagine’

The thrill of writing, and reading, about potentially terrifying sexual acts (such as knife play or non-consent) may be viewed as the thrill of taking control of these potential terrors. As is well-documented, a significant percentage of women enjoy some form of non-consent/forced seduction sexual fantasy.

To write about a non-consensual act is not to endorse it as a ‘real life’ behavior, any more than writing about murder is to endorse this heinous crime. To suggest otherwise is to misunderstand the purpose of literature (and art, and film, and theatre). We read, and write, to make sense of what haunts us.

Patrick Califia erotic fiction writing author quote sexualityThe key word here is ‘fantasy’. The very act of fantasizing allows us to control the details; we are pulling all the strings. Those fantasies are of our choosing, and we inwardly narrate them just the way we decide upon. This is not to say that writers, or readers, who enjoy the fantasy of ‘forced seduction’ are complacent regarding the brutal crime of rape. The fictional-fantasy world of ravishment is a different beast to real-life sexual assault.

As Remittance Girl states, such fantasies are about ‘permission to imagine’.

Entitlement to exercise discernment remains a key argument in any debate on censorship. Readers of erotic fiction adamantly assert their right to choose their reading material, just as writers assert theirs to explore any theme. More on censorship here.

Christina Mandara laments the double standards applied across various genres, saying, “I love non-consensual elements in erotica but the world at large has decided that this isn’t acceptable. I’m getting such a hard time in this respect, that I’ve stopped writing it for the time being. You can read all sorts of horror with rape, incest, axes buried in skulls etc – but non-consensual erotica is frowned upon. It seems that women, particularly, Adrea Kore erotic fiction fantasy quote emmanuelle de maupassantmust have consensual, hearts and flowers stories. I can’t understand why eBook stores are being so censorious in the erotica genre, but not horror.”

As Anne Rice notably stated in The Guardian newspaper (2012), we need much more freedom for erotica writers. With particular reference to women, Ms. Rice stated:I’m supportive of equal rights for women, and that includes the right of every woman to write her sexual fantasies and to read books filled with sexual fantasies that she enjoys… The whole world knows women are sensual human beings as well as men. It’s no secret anymore that women want to read sexy fiction just as men do, and there’s a new frankness about the varieties of fantasies one might enjoy. So many cliches have been broken and abandoned. And this is a wonderful thing.’ 

In the same way, those who fantasize age-play sex (e.g. between stern older professor and misbehaving student) are not condoning real-life paedophilia.

Will Crimson discusses further here as does Remittance Girl here

Naturally, there are abhorrent acts writers are uncomfortable with eroticising. Just over 20% emphasise that they avoid depicting any form of non-consent in their work.

Kristina Lloyd states: “Fiction occupies an uneasy place in the context of ‘consent culture’ because writing (as per other arts) has cultural impact, affecting thinking and behaviour. I want to be socially responsible in my Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote erotic fiction visceral intellectual emotionalwriting but I also want fiction to be an uninhibited, imaginative space where we can follow characters who are dangerous, or who are in jeopardy, or suffering, or who have unsanctioned desires. These wishes often pull in contrary directions. In erotica, non-con acts are often set within a framework of consent (as in BDSM practice or fantasy role-play) to indicate that the scenario is not real. However, this usually reduces the blood-pumping thrill for me as a reader.” 

Meanwhile, Remittance Girl asserts, “My day-to-day go-to sexual fantasies don’t prompt good writing for me because I know them too well. I’m too comfortable with them. There is nothing to explore and no questions left for me to ask of them. My best writing comes from the eroticism of things that frighten and challenge me, the ones I feel might devour me. The uncomfortable ones. I need that internal conflict to drive my desire to write about it and explore it in fiction.”

 

Fictionalized Reality

There are few scenarios under the sun yet to be covered by erotic fiction. Remittance Girl author quote erotic fiction emmanuelle de maupassantWe can safely assume that those featuring aliens, dinosaurs, yetis, vampires, werewolves and other monstrous and supernatural beasts are likely to spring from the imagination rather than from real life encounters, with the same logic applied to stories of pirates and Vikings and all manner of historical or ‘fantasy’ settings.

While we recognize that fiction is not bound to ‘reality’, having the power to transport us into any situation or mind, a significant number of authors assert not only their intention to write with authenticity and realism but to create fiction which is believable: stories in which the reader could readily imagine themselves.

Sessha Batto, stressing that her primary purpose is ‘unpicking the character, not plugging into the libido of the reader’, explains, “…it isn’t about the reader’s fantasies…with luck, it may be about the character’s fantasies…but even that isn’t guaranteed. I don’t put much stock in fantasy, I prefer reality, whether my own or my character’s.”

Following on from this, authors often emphasize the inspiration of their own sexual history. Just over 40% of the writers I surveyed write, to some degree, from a starting point of their own real life experiences (sexual and otherwise).

Nya Rawlyns tells us, “Generally, I write what I know and, after seven decades on this planet, that’s a large bucket of opportunities. My writing doesn’t dwell on fantasies, rather what interests me are harsh realities and the interconnections we make via random, uncontrolled encounters. I look at that which tears down the building blocks of what we believe and trust, rearranging them into new, sometimes frightening forms.”

Molly Moore adds, “My own life and experiences and my sexuality is absolutely my main influence. I am also greatly inspired by my self-photography. Most of my writing is semi-autobiographical.”

Elizabeth Safleur tells us, I’ve witnessed BDSM scenes in both private and public settings. This has helped with the physical aspects of writing a scene but seeing and experiencing are two different things. No one really knows what’s going on other than the parties involved. To gain an emotionally-laden experience, you need to participate.”

It would be a leap to assume that the majority of authors are frequent visitors to sex clubs and BDSM dungeons, or that they regularly engage in anonymous liaisons in public parks or in darkened alleyways. However, without doubt, there are writers who can relate first hand experiences.

Of his own writing, Patrick Califia underlines, I could not do this work without an extensive sexual history of my own. If you rely on fantasy, you make mistakes, as in Anne Rice’s works and that poor girl who wrote ‘50 Shades of Gray’; it’s so full of nonsense. Saying that, some of my favourite stories are based entirely on my own fantasies. I can go back to them like old friends and receive comfort and arousal. Sometimes, it’s about gratifying the reader. I want cis-gender people [those who identity with their biological gender] to be aroused by trans-people, and I want trans-people to be aroused by how hot and fantastic WE are, just the way we are, right now. This kind of erotica is more like a form of sex education, I suppose. I continue to feel that writing erotica is a wonderful way to Kristina Lloyd erotic fiction author quote emmanuelle de maupassantencourage people to examine their assumptions about sexuality and live closer to the edge.”

 KL Shandwick has drawn from her own experience of having worked with rock bands, when girls were often ‘chosen’ to entertain musicians. She shares, “Although the sex appeared consensual, the girls were treated with little regard. It was a pretty raw experience for me, being young, and I spoke up on a few occasions when they laughed about a groupie and discussed her after she’d left.”

There can be few writers who fail to use, at the very least, remembrance of emotions accompanying past encounters, and their knowledge of how it feels to enjoy sexual pleasure.

As Tabitha Rayne explains, her writing tends to reflect her ‘emotional sexual life’ rather than her ‘physical sexual life’.

Will Crimson states, “My writing expresses my erotic imagination, my emotional experiences and certainly my sexual history. Every writer is creating fiction from a life of experience. Given that all erotic experiences happen in the mind, the line between real and the imagined isn’t always so clear. Was Shakespeare writing from experience when he wrote Richard III? Was he a scheming sociopath? No, but a whole lot of us have betrayed friends, used others for their bodies (not their minds; God, no), plotted our advancement at the expense of others, and have taken indecent glee in the downfall of competitors.” He adds that though he’s never ‘enjoyed the pleasure of a slave girl, he has ‘immensely enjoyed treating various lovers like sex slaves─-as have they’. “Everything I write has a component of emotional, experiential and sexual history.” He adds that he uses ‘everything and anything I read, hear or am told ─ comments, personal stories, eavesdropping’.

Adrea Kore notes, “Even though my characters may be fictional, I aim to infuse the sensations and emotions my characters are experiencing with a visceral reality; thus, often, I am drawing (at least in part), on my own experiences. Anais Nin said that, as writers, we ‘write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect’… at this stage in my work, there is often (not always) a personal element to my erotica writing. The ‘line’ analogy between fact and fiction isn’t relevant here – think more an intricate collage of these elements on the page.” (more here)

 

Dancing the Line

Malin James emphasizes the ‘difference between what people fantasize about and what they actually do’ and the appeal of ‘the morally and socially forbidden’. She notes fiction’s role in allowing us, as readers, to safely ‘dance on the line between fantasy and reality’ and acknowledges the value in creating a ‘grey area’, in which we can examine ‘the tension between social conditioning, morality, transgression and taboo’, exploringEmmanuelle de Maupassant erotic author quote dark erotica ‘what would otherwise bring only repression and shame’.

Within fiction, we can unpeel our motivations, examine that which unsettles us, probe our emotional responses, and, in so doing, learn more about ourselves.

Our sexual fantasies and our ‘realities’ offer rich fodder for reflection. Which memories and dreams tug at us?

Turn the pages, enter our stories, find the mirrors to your own preoccupations. Look deep and look again.

 

Further Reading

 Adrea Kore‘s article on Honouring our Sexual Imagination 

Will Crimson‘s artcle on The Erotic Writer’s Dilemma

Remittance Girl‘s article The Problem of Careless Language & the Deconstruction of Rape Fantasies

Interview with Dennis Cooper for The Paris Review

 Exhibit A‘s collated fantasies, raw and beautiful

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Writing Craft
  • 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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Will Crimson, Raziel Moore, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker and Catherine Mazur.

Why Write Erotic Fiction?

why write erotic fiction Emmanuelle de MaupassantSeveral months ago, I invited writers to ‘share their secrets’; just over 130 responded, writing honestly of their experiences – more about them here. It’s been a delight to see how various authors approach the writing process, and the manner in which we choose to focus our erotic lens.

As Adrea Kore reminds us, “Society is hungry for more ways to open up dialogue about sexuality – between women, and between men and women. Erotica, and the sharing and discussion that takes place around the reading of erotica, is one such conduit of dialogue.”

Erotic fiction can move us, disturb, confront and warm us. It compels an emotional, intellectual and visceral reaction.

While porn strikes a blow to the groin, erotic fiction adds an upper cut to the gut, wrenches the heart and arm-wrestles the mind. Erotic fiction follows protagonists not just in their pursuit of pleasure, but into the spaces they find fearsome. It examines our choices, and the resulting consequences.

Jonathan Kemp explains, “I don’t consciously set out to write something that will arouse eroticism, I set out to describe and represent sex, or sexual encounters. If it turns the reader on, great, and I know from some readers directly that it has; but my main consideration is the language I use, the ‘reality’ I try to convey, the experience I try to explore, the subjectivity or subjectivities I am aiming to articulate or express. I’m very interested in sexuality as a form of sociality, of bodies being together, sometimes in public spaces, sometimes private. I think there is an almost anthropological or ethnographic element to why I am drawn to these situations and encounters. I want to show erotic forcefields at work, hopefully as a way of entering the territory of what it means to be human through a different doorway.”

In exploring compulsion, and destructive relationships/liaisons, we reach into the darker corners of the human condition. It’s obvious that this constitutes intent beyond writing ‘to entertain’ or ‘to arouse’.

Shanna Germain asserts, “I write to fuck with your brain, your heart, your morals, and your sense of self, to make you question your assumptions, to unpack your moldy baggage, to open your heart with your bare hands to see what makes it beat. I open people’s minds like a sneaky spy. They come for the naked; they stay for the accidental learning. I like to give people a slant-mirror. Not a perfect reflection of themselves, but a could-be reflection. One that helps them feel less alone if Shanna Germain author quote erotic fiction Emmanuelle de Maupassantthey’re struggling or uncertain or scared. One that says, ‘Look, everyone’s been there. Everyone’s failed.’”

Our genre allows us to enter the psyche in unexpected ways, distilling motivations and fears. We access a realm often defying words.

Remittance Girl tells us, “I’m interested in looking at where boundaries leak and fail, where human eroticism bleeds into the non-sexual parts of our personas, our lives and our society.” She encourages readers ‘to think about how their erotic desires constitute and shape and twist the very complex individuals they are’.

As Adrea Kore underlines,Erotica seeks to arouse, but it may also confront, provoke, and subvert. This is why I am drawn to writing in the erotic genre. It’s why I feel proud of my craft. Sexuality is such a vital part of the map of the human psyche. Sexuality reveals so much of ourselves.” (more here)

Remittance Girl comments on ‘bone-deep erotic yearning’, saying, “Erotica can be breathtakingly beautiful because it’s about us at our most naked, our most vulnerable. It is an exposure of both our passions and our hideous flaws. Our destructive jealousy, our brittle pride, our hunger for what doesn’t belong to us, our need for the strange and the transgressive.” 

  

Exploration and Transformation

The majority of writers note the importance of ‘transformation’ within fiction. As Adrea Kore notes, “…where there is transformation, there is always a story.”

Brantwijn Serrah states that she wishes to create fiction exploring how sexuality informs the Self. Catherine Mazur echoes this, saying, “I’m interested in how sex impacts a person’s world view.”

Transformation is at the heart of every story arc, even within flash fiction. The reader should be able to feel their way into the margins, filling in the gaps, invited to create their own ‘backstory’ for protagonists, and projecting possible consequences onto unfolding events.

To engage us beyond ‘insert tab A into flap B’ we need to witness an element of transformation or growth within a story, to see how a protagonist has gained greater self-knowledge.

Nya Rawlyns asserts, “Much of what passes for erotica today feels stale, too often reflecting romance tropes. Lust and desire, needs and wants… all have consequences. I’m interested in how an individual changes under conditions of denial or when personal and other boundaries are smashed. What excites me is when a writer peels away the socially acceptable and reveals the most intimate cravings of tortured souls. I want to step far outside the boundaries of acceptable and explore the intersect of pain and pleasure, right and wrong, good and bad, need and desire.” 

Sessha Batto asserts, “My goal is not to arouse the reader but rather to trace a character’s growth, as revealed through sex.” She notes that some of her sexual scenes are ‘disturbing’ rather than arousing because those situations ‘dig deeply into a character’s personality and motivations, as well as being catalysts for growth and personal discovery’.

Jade A Waters adds, “Sex is transformative. I tend to take my characters on journeys of discovery, often as an echo of something I’ve learned in my own life.”

LN Bey notes the attraction of accompanying characters on a journey, saying, “They change, but not always for the better. They’re exhausted. Maybe they failed. Maybe they failed Adrea Kore erotic fiction sex sexuality author quote taboo Underworld Emmanuelle de Maupassantgloriously, or succeeded but had to make sacrifices. These are elements I enjoy exploring in my erotica.”

In reaching into ourselves, through fiction, we cannot but emerge changed, better understanding the light and dark of our nature.

Adrea (whose last name ‘Kore’ is another Greek name for Persephone, meaning ‘maiden’) explains this through the metaphor of entering, and emerging from, ‘the Underworld’. She explains, “I resonate with the idea that writing about sex and sexuality is akin to going down into the Underworld of our bodies, and of society; sometimes speaking the taboo; sometimes bringing things up and out into the light so they can be seen more clearly.” She imagines Persephone rising up from her subconscious, bursting onto the bright white page to spill over with insights and stories. Adrea stresses that, like Persephone, she feels ‘deepened and transformed’ by her time in darkness. (more here)

 

Engaging Mind and Body

Some authors note that they began writing erotic elements into fiction from a young age, while a far greater share turned to these themes later in life. As to what keeps us writing in this sphere, authors repeatedly underline a feeling of ‘addiction’, asserting that writing ‘the erotic’ allows deeper exploration of the human psyche and that, once accessed, this cannot be put aside.

As Zander Vyne asserts, “Few other genres allow such creativity and freedom.” Catherine Mazur muses on how far sexual arousal produces an altered state of consciousness not unlike intoxication or a dream state’ while Madeline Moore is intrigued by the shifting sands of our sexual preferences. She notes our fundamental sexual nature, saying, “Even the absence of sex is sexual. How long can you miss kisses? It fascinates me.”

Susan St. Aubin tells us, “I’m interested in the mystery of human life, and sex is a big part of that, perhaps the thing that most illuminates the mystery.”

Erotic fiction invites intimacy with readers on a level unseen across other genres, emotionally and physically. Most authors feed on the positive energy of feedback, and it drives them to write on, probing deeper into ‘fearsome’ spaces. We may write ‘for ourselves’ but there is an electrifying thrill in the knowledge of touching readers, moving them at the most profound level.

As Kathe Koja puts it, she seeks ‘connection’: the ‘profoundly human action of mind speaking to mind’. Malin James notes her desire to reach ‘under a reader’s skin and make them feel something’. She stresses, “I want to bypass the intellect and connect with the reader in an emotional or experiential way.”

Erotica lends itself well to exploration of ‘grey areas of morality’, as Tobsha Learner Remittance Girl author quote erotic fiction Emmanuelle de Maupassant intent self-reflectioncalls them: to the small lies we tell ourselves, to our unspoken motivations, to the ways in which we manipulate or make use of others.

Adrea Kore emphasizes, “Erotica writes into areas of the human sexual psyche and behavior that some genres gloss over or shy away from. Erotica brings into the light contradictions between our inner sexual desires and our outward behaviour. What do we secretly long for, and to attain that, what lengths would we go to?” (more here

Shanna Germain adds that ‘sex and death’ are recurring themes in her work, having the potential to show us at ‘our most human and naked’. She notes, “How we react in those moments is something I’m fascinated by. I want to break those moments open in my characters and ask, ‘How are you going to handle this? Will you grow and change? Will you show your true self? Or will you hide?’”

Adrea Kore emphasizes the power of words to change us at a physical level: a truth we can attest to. Certain images, painted in words, once read, refuse to let us go. She advocates, “The ideas we consume contribute to our growth or our atrophy. Language and ideas, once encountered, live inside you, and can effect changes, both subtle and catalytic. Words endureAnd the feelings they conjure up in the body can endure too, leaving traces, imprints in the cells, the memory.” (more here)

 

Fear and Arousal

Several writers mention the connection between fear and arousal, drawing direct inspiration from film and books in the horror genre. In fact, almost 20% of writers within this survey also write ‘horror’ (under alternative pen names) or blend horror elements with the erotic.

We are drawn to what terrifies us: not just the gore-taloned goblins of childhood nightmares but the horror of our mortality, and the transience of all we care for, the destructive, selfish impulses we battle to control. 

Raziel Moore notes, “I like to write people encountering their monsters – interior or exterior, and being devoured by them, or not.”

What horrifies us invites investigation; it’s here, where we are most unsettled, that we find insight, that we learn more fully who we are.

Kathleen Bradean asserts,Horror and erotica both seek to evoke a physical reaction; they’re the most closely linked genres. There’s a Venn diagram where they intersect. That’s where I like to hang out. Erotica teaches you how to evoke the senses as no other genre can.” She adds, “I’ve been drawing on that heavily of late, to convey the heat and humidity of a tropical island.”

Erotic fiction quote intimacy Emmanuelle de Maupassant authorMadeline Moore echoes this, saying, “Many of my ideas could be erotica or horror, depending on the way I twist the tale. I find it interesting that it’s so easy to see a concept going in either direction. I wonder if there’s always a horrifying aspect to sex; or a sexual aspect to horror. Adrenalin is adrenalin, after all; same physical experience interpreted in different ways. It’s all in the mind.”

Adrea Kore tells us,I believe an audience comes to any art form wanting to be shown the known in the unknown, or the unknown in the known. Even if this desire is in the subconscious, even if the audience is only partially aware of this desire, it is present. Erotica as a fiction genre plays constantly on this tension between the known and the unknown, between concealing and revealing.”

Remittance Girl explains that we, as writers, can manipulate the mind of our readers. She believes that the better we know someone’s psyche, the better we penetrate their vulnerabilities. She states, “What do you fear? What do you fear you are? What do you fear someone sees in you or believes you to be? What turns you on and turns your stomach at the same time? For me, good mindfucks are really about the dark recesses where you fear to go, and yet they have an irresistible allure.” (more here)

 

Visceral Reactions

As in any genre, authors note their desire to engage readers emotionally and intellectually, exploring our vulnerabilities, insecurities and anxieties, addressing universal human experience..

In examining the choices we make in pursuit of sexual pleasure, we unpick the threads of Adrea Kore author quote erotic fiction sexuality Emmanuelle de Maupassantour compulsions, the dichotomy of pain versus pleasure, and the enigma of sexual connection as the route to ‘loss of self’.

Remittance Girl writes, “There is a unique exposure that occurs in authentic moments of erotic desire that can strip away all our contrivances, our courtesy, our sophistications. I write with the intention to arouse, but not at a specifically genital level. My aim is to prompt the reader into what I would call an aroused state of self-reflection.” (more here)

It’s evident that the fist of ‘the erotic’ has the power to reach far beyond a punch to the genitalia. And yet, such arousal is part of the recipe.

Authors consistently note pleasure in engaging readers viscerally. Moreover, a significant number of authors state that they view a piece of writing to be a success specifically if it arouses them while writing it.

Adrea Kore explains how she views the dynamic between sense-memory and the writing mind, and between the author and the reader. “In my erotica writing, I reach for a tryst between the truth of sensation and the tease of imagination. I’m engaged in translating the sensations of sex into imagery, in a way which will transmute back through the body of the reader into arousal. In this way, erotica is a kind of sex. This, I believe, is what all effective erotica does. It’s also a core part of what makes the act of writing pleasurable for me.” (more here)

Devi Ansevi calls herself ‘a narcissistic authorial voyeur’. Rachel de Vine admits, “I just enjoy sex – reading about it, writing about it, doing it. What can I say…?” Allen Dusk notes that, while writing, he often needs to ‘stop and take care of matters’ to allow him to return to the page with ‘a fresh perspective’. Aubrey Cara describes her short stories as ‘up to thirty pages of a specific kink, gratuitously dished out’. Sylvia Storm states, “I write to turn myself on. Arousal has to be there when I write erotic scenes, and it has to transfer to the page. I have to be able to come back to a scene later and have it turn me on when I read it again.”

Does every piece of erotic fiction have the power to arouse every reader? Surely not, since we each display our own preferred palette. It would thereby seem unfair to judge the ‘value‘ of a piece of erotica only by its sway in physically arousing us, in being able to ‘twang our personal kinks’.

 

Promoting Ownership of Sexuality

Most authors note some desire to battle ‘sex shaming’, wishing to promote open-minded attitudes and tolerance, to raise awareness of the breadth of sexuality, and encourage acceptance and ‘ownership’.

Adrea Kore author quote erotic fiction Emmanuelle de Maupassant

Adrea Kore affirms this, saying, “There’s more than enough shaming around sexuality in the world. Erotica as a genre can contribute to the dialogue of ideas around sexuality… It has the power to allow people to claim their kinks, predilections and desires more confidently in their actual lives, and also to transform negative or misinformed attitudes towards certain aspects of sexuality.”

Rose Caraway, speaking of her narration of audio erotica, sees it as an ‘antidote to the sleeping potion we’ve been under‘. She explains, “With every story I narrate, that spell begins to lift; lust is no longer a hidden dark secret within us. The moment I speak the words, I’m removing another layer of shame. The author begins this process when they put pen to paper. Together, we’re helping people awaken, at their own pace. Each story narrated acknowledges sexuality, our own and others’, because it’s being read aloud. Those words want to be heard, making us stronger, so that we can better express and own our sexuality.” (more from Rose here)

Frank Lee comments, “Erotica has the potential to empower people, women especially, to help us stop stigmatizing sex and view it rather as a vital, healthy force.” Terrance Aldon Shaw echoes this, saying,Sex is neither dirty nor shameful. Ignorance and innocence are not the same thing, and society needs desperately to grow up.”

Kristina Lloyd relates this to her own journey, saying, “Through writing, I’ve learned so much Emmanuelle de Maupassant author quote Erotic fictionabout my own sexuality and desire. Writing has given me an understanding; it has allowed me to own a sexuality I’d been conflicted about and confused by when I was younger.”

Nicolette Hugo states, “I write about domination/submission and sadism/masochism in a way that is accessible, to show that a woman in a BDSM relationship can also be a feminist, empowered and fulfilled.”

Elizabeth Safleur adds her desire ‘to help other women be brave, to discover and be true to themselves’.

Patrick Califia states, “I always thought sex was one of the most important aspects of the human condition and deserved its own celebration and interrogation. I also wrote as an act of political outrage, to rebel against standard heterosexuality and push back against repression of queer and female-bodied pleasure.” However, he adds that people ‘are so obsessed with the indecency of my topics that most seem unable to assess whether I have said anything new or moving about human nature, or if I’ve described people’s emotions and behaviour in a striking way’. He continues, “Few seem to understand how much I care about the quality of the writing itself. I feel that I’ve always pushed myself as a writer [having been published since the 1970s] though critics would have it that the only thing I’ve cared about is shocking people and attacking mainstream feminism.”

Adrea Kore also views her writing, particularly as a female author, as a political act and a creative one. She underlines, “Women writing and speaking about their own desire, being openwith what gives them pleasure and turns them on … even finding the words for that is something that is still seen as taboo in corners of Western culture, let alone in comparison to cultures where women are more repressed ideologically, and socially. I think this applies to all women’s stories, but particularly those around sexuality. The political aspect of it, the desire to confront and subvert, is a strong motivation for me – as strong as the desire to seduce and arouse.”

Tobsha Learner has written of the fates of minorities under political regimes, ‘illuminating stories yet to be told’. Jonathan Kemp cites similar motivation, noting a desire to ‘give voice to the voiceless’. Krissy Kneen adds, “I’ve pushed towards exploring marginalised sexualities, from the viewpoint of older people, disabled people, people with obscure fetishes. It’s an unending quest to express sex as a growing changing thing.” Charlie Powell also writes on themes of disability, body confidence and feminism.

 

A Larger Universe

Jonathan Kemp tells us, For me, one of the tasks of the writer is to push boundaries, explore the unexplored… to speculate, experiment, challenge readers in subtle ways, have them consider something new, or consider something in a new way, visit places they have never been, take them Jonathan Kemp fiction author quote Emmanuelle de Maupassantinto worlds that are foreign and slightly magical or dangerous, or squalid… I don’t look for identification in the fiction I read, I look for difference…”

Laura Antoniou voices a dominant motivation for authors exploring ‘the erotic’: the desire to write beyond what is expected, beyond the familiar, beyond what we find comfortable. In her mind’s eye, “Trying to write a heterosexual, male dominant, eventually monogamous story? That’s just too weird for me. My world is so much bigger. I keep writing for my small but supportive readership: those who like a larger universe to play in.”

  

Further Reading in this series

Coming Soon

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Writing Craft
  • 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.

Articles by Adrea Kore: here and here and here and here

Articles by Remittance Girl: here and here and here and here

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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Will CrimsonRaziel Moore, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Rebecca BranchJaye Peaches, Molly Moore, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

First Inspirations

writing erotic fiction authors Patrick Califia Jonathan Kemp Tobsha Learner Remittance Girl Janine Ashbless Kristina Lloyd Adrea Kore Emmanuelle de MaupassantOn inviting authors to share their thoughts regarding writing ‘the erotic’, I couldn’t have imagined that so many would respond, nor that they would answer with such honestly. To find out more about them, click here.

This series of articles is the result, tackling our inspiration, our motivation and our intent, our use of fantasy, and our desire for authenticity. Why do we write in this genre, so maligned, so sneered at, so disregarded?

These issues deserve further discussion and analysis; they are a starting point for onward debate.

 

First Inspiration

There’s no doubt that, as writers, we tackle more than ‘sex’ in our storytelling. We write conflicted emotions, shame, regret, obsession, and the compulsion that sits alongside desire. We write the complexity of the human condition.

Some authors emerge in creative fireworks, realizing almost instantly what they wish to achieve, and blazing their trail brightly, capturing startling nuances of the psyche.

However, in many cases, we begin by dipping our toe in the water, writing primarily to arouse, rather than stir intellectual or emotional debate. It’s a good place to start too.

Remittance Girl quote on Erotica Erotic Fiction TransgressiveSometimes, the revelatory urge to write in this way can come as a huge surprise to the author, as if characters have turned wayward, leading us down a path hitherto hidden.

Commending our thoughts to paper is wholeheartedly liberating. We emerge braver, and that’s a wonderful thing.

As the seed matures, we begin to see layers beneath layers. We seek out the deeper psychology of our characters, and more intricate reflections of our own passions.

Perhaps, more than any other, writing ‘the erotic’ lends itself to this exploration.

 

Early Awakenings

While the majority of surveyed authors began writing fiction with erotic elements well into adulthood (in their 30s and 40s, with some even finding their inspiration much later, in their 60s and 70s) a significant portion mention first writing in this way as teenagers. A handful recall having written ‘excitingly’ at an even younger age, being unaware fully of what they were exploring, but realising, on reflection, that they were expressing first awareness of sexuality.

Patrick Califia tells us, “I started looking for sex in fiction and non-fiction as soon as I could read! I was hungry for acknowledgment of what went on behind closed bedroom doors.”

Cecilia Tan adds, “I have some notebooks from when I was 11 or 12 years old, but there were some earlier diary entries (that I destroyed) probably going back as early as 7 years old. It began as a private exploration of my own interior mental life and became the drive to express myself creatively and as an activist, trying to create a world more cognizant and tolerant of my sexuality (which is to say bisexual and BDSM-based).”

A voracious reader from a young age, Adrea Kore recalls finding a steamy paperback at the age of just five or six. She remembers, “I felt guilty as hell, but I scoured those pages looking for the ‘rude’ scenes – and let me tell you, I was well rewarded in that book! I remember being both fascinated and horrified. I knew what a penis was, but it was for peeing, so the fact that women were described putting one (well, several) in their mouths was pretty shocking for me.” (more here)

Catherine Mazur relates a similar experience, saying, “I’ve had an intense, almost academic, interest in sex since childhood. I find everything about it fascinating, from the scientific and anatomical/physiological aspects, to its influence on culture and language. I recall wanting to know everything about it (and continue to feel that way).”

Janine Ashbless echoes this, mentioning telling herself stories from adolescence, whichEmmanuelle de Maupassant quote erotic fiction she later recognized as being ‘paranormal erotica’. She notes, “It just needed me to discover the genre and realize there was an outlet!”

Shanna Germain recalls writing fiction using erotic elements from the age of about 16, although without full understanding of either fiction or the erotic. “I was definitely trying to figure those things out,” she asserts.

Tilly Andrews remembers crying on reading of the death of Ginger in ‘Black Beauty’, and realising that writing ‘could have a physical effect on a person’. She adds, “A few years later, I stumbled on my brother’s ‘girlie’ magazines and I read some of the stories; of course they also had a physical effect on me. That is when I realised the power of erotica.”

LN Bey comments, “I’ve been kinky since before I knew what sex was—BDSM chose me. I finally decided to apply what writing skills I have to the creation and study of it.”

 

‘Truthful’ Perspective

Adrea Kore remembers being in her mid-twenties, studying feminism and theatre, and dating a poet, when she discovered Adrienne Rich’s poetry.  “There was a line: ‘in my rose-wet cave’. It entranced me, I associated the image with being underwater, yet it was also botanical. Fragrant and secret. Hidden away, deep-hued and moist. This evocative image for the female genitalia set off something subtle but profound in me.” She began to seek out women’s writing that was ‘re-writing the experience of feminine desire and describing the desiring female body’, and began exploring those ways of writing herself in her journals.

Adrea Kore author quote erotic literature writing craftAdrea tells us, “What I most felt drawn to reading was the feminine experience of the world, and stories of growth, transformation or dislocation, felt through and mediated by the body. These were the things that I began to write about: Love and longing. Loss. Translating the physical arts I most loved into words: my experiences of dancing and life-modelling. Then, more arduously, carving out narratives of sexual trauma. Death. Then, the sensual pleasures. Sex. Light, dark, light, dark. Always this dance, and writing has helped me embrace the totality in the supposed contradictions.”

Donna George Storey notes, “I wanted to read about real experiences. So I figured I had to write them! I wanted to tell my truth about the female sexual experience. I know there are many truths. I felt that literary fiction always focused on the negatives: adultery, frigidity and social censure. Good girls were not allowed to write about pleasurable sex; they and their characters couldn’t enjoy it without some negative consequence. Male writers never got our experience right, in my opinion. The first sex scene I remember reading was that between Sonny and Lucy in Mario Puzo’s ‘The Godfather’. Even in my [limited] experience, I knew it was not how women got off in real life.

Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic fiction quoteSimilarly, Devi Ansevi recalls wanting to portray an authentic woman’s perspective. She underlines,“Most of the stuff I found when I first started writing fell into two extremes: written from the male perspective – too short, too mechanical, too much like Playboy porn, too unlike how I experienced pleasure; or written from the female perspective – hyper-romantic metaphorical descriptions of making tender love after both parties have declared undying adoration. I wanted hot, detailed, messy sex from a woman’s perspective.”

In the same way, Jonathan Kemp tells us,“The impulse to write about sex was twofold. It came from reading others and seeing what they did with it. People like Edmund White, Genet, Neil Bartlett, Oscar Moore, Kathy Acker and Alina Reyes. But it also came from a desire to write about my own sexual experiences and describe the subculture of gay cruising in London: to celebrate promiscuity, hopefully push boundaries (creative or otherwise), and give voice to the voiceless, in the case of my first novel, ‘London Triptych’.”

Around a third of the authors taking part in this survey state that they wrote first in other fiction genres but found themselves drawn towards exploring protagonists from a sexual angle, which inspired a new writing persona. Most compartmentalise their genres for commercial reasons, using alternative pen names for other writing.

KD Grace explains,“I’ve always had an open bedroom door policy with my fiction, no matter what I was writing. Sex is as much a part of our lives as eating, sleeping, and interacting with other people, so why shouldn’t it be part of our fiction as well. I first brought erotic elements to the forefront when I wrote a little piece for the now defunct UK women’s mag, ‘Scarlet’, which had a section called ‘Cliterature’. That was the first time I was published.

Susan St. Aubin recalls, “As a student of creative writing at San Francisco Erotic Fiction Yellow SilkState University in the 1970s, I wrote the usual stories about sex and human relationships, which begin with a couple meeting, going to the apartment of one or the other, going to bed . . . and then the next morning. One day I saw an ad asking for erotic stories for a journal called ‘Yellow Silk’. I had one of those flashes of inspiration, a realization that I’d been writing erotic stories all along, and all I needed to do was fill in what happened during those three dots . . . In 1984, my first erotic story was published in ‘Yellow Silk’; it won first prize, worth $25, which was more money than I’d ever made from writing.”

Sue Lyndon tells us, “I’d been reading ‘naughty’ books for years, but didn’t consider writing one until about a year after I’d been writing mainstream sci-fi and fantasy. One day, my heroine misbehaved, and the hero was upset with her, so I thought, “You know what, she really needs a spanking!” From there, the book became a spanky smutfest; I was hooked!”

 

Revelations

A great many authors report feeling a sudden, almost revelatory, compulsion to dissect their characters in a new way, taking them into the realm of the erotic.

Kay Jaybee asserts that the impulse came very much as a surprise, saying,It came from nowhere, with no warning. One minute I was eating a Mars Bar cake, the next I was writing a cross-dressing story on a napkin.”

 Victoria Blisse tells us, “I had a dream (this is my lesser known ‘I had a dream’ speech) it was an erotic dream and it wouldn’t leave me alone. I told my husband and he wisely suggested that I write it down. He read it, liked it and said it was good enough to show others. So I popped it onto literotica.com and, having receiving positive feedback, I continued. I might never have started without my husband’s encouragement.”

Tabitha Rayne notes that, as soon as she began writing erotic elements into her fiction, ‘It felt like discovering a new colour‘. “I couldn’t stop expressing myself in the erotic. It was like opening a door to myself,” she asserts.

Almost a third of the writers surveyed mention sharing early attempts with their bed partners, writing to arouse. Many continue to do so after decades of writing, finding their lovers to be reliable critics.

Raziel Moore notes that his writing began as correspondence with a lover, then grew Emmanuelle de Maupassant quote erotic fiction visceral intellectual emotionalinto exploring more deeply, probing into how people tackle their monsters.

Will Crimson jokes, “The most important question any male erotic writer should be asked? Have you ever used your erotic writing superpowers to seduce women? His answer is, Yes. Shamelessly. (Well, maybe a little shame.) My first piece of erotic writing opened the hearts (and more importantly the legs) of several women. This was before I was married and before I fully understood or appreciated the extent of my XXX powers. You know, with great power comes great responsibility… Truth be told, I write all my erotica for women.”

Some authors identify their yearning to write the erotic with a particular life event. Meg Amor experienced her revelation on hitting fifty. She emphasizes, “I realized that I wanted to ‘rebel’. I wasn’t ready to hang up my sexual slippers and sink into plain cotton underwear and sensible shoes; that impulse became a compulsion.”

Patient Lee wrote her first story while pregnant with her third child, explaining, “My libido was going haywire!”

For Ashe Barker, the idea of writing erotic fiction grew as a slow burn. She recalls, “I used to commute a lot. I spent more hours than I care to remember in motorway traffic jams, and would run erotic fantasies through my head. I had favourites I would ‘replay’ again and again, and of course new ones would pop up. Over the years I plotted lots and lots of snippets and scenes. I had quite a vivid collection by the time I started to write any of them down. In the last three years or so, many of my motorway fantasies have been developed and placed in my stories.”

 

Seeking the Echo of our Desire

Siri Ousdahl admits that her writing was borne of dissatisfaction with available fiction, “I’ve been very sexually active; kink was part of my life even before I was sexually aware: stained into my bones. I wrote the book I did in part because I was sick of the fact that the most common (and most commonly accepted) narrative about women and BDSM was predicated on innocence: she doesn’t know anything and someone more experienced leads/corrupts/tempts her into it. To me it felt insulting, and it had little to do with who I am. I really enjoyed writing ‘Constraint’, creating a complicated emotional arc for my characters. I’d now like to unspool more of their psychological tangle, following them through the consequences of their actions.”

Patrick Califia explains that he too was inspired to try his hand at writing because he wasn’t finding what he wanted. He tells us, “There was so little same-sex erotica, and almost none that featured sadomasochism. I wanted fiction set in the time that I lived in, with characters facing dilemmas about sex that I too pondered late at night.”

Sessha Batto tells us, “My motivation is to write the books I want to read that no one else is tackling. It’s hard to find anything that captures my interest, that isn’t the same old tired plot in a new wrapper. The only way to get around it is to tell my own stories.”

We each tell our own stories, our own truths: the truths that creep upon us until we cannot help but speak them.

Read on, to discover what keeps authors writing: their lasting inspiration, their motivation, their intent, their dark dreams and white-hot flashes of transcendence.

 

Further Reading

Coming soon…

  • Authors’ Recommended Reads
  • Women Writing the Erotic
  • Writing Craft

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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe KojaRaziel Moore, Will CrimsonSorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Kier, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen Dusk, Tabitha Rayne, Marc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia Storm, Renee Rose, Rachel de Vine, Cherry Wild, Patient Lee, Pandora Spocks, Suzette Bohne’ Sommers, Charlie Bee, Meg Amor, Lizzie Ashworth, Cara Bristol, Finn Marlowe, C.A. Bell, Brantwijn Serrah, Aubrey Cara, Kathleen BradeanJay Willowbay, Lisa Fox, Allyson Young, Vinnie Tesla, Emma Jaye, Dennis Cardiff, Dee Maselle, Frank Lee, Christina Mandara, Big Ed Magussun, Sue Lyndon, T.J. VermillionDelores Swallows, Vanessa Wu, Ian Smith, Jaye Peaches, Stormchase, Rebecca Branch, Molly Moore, Molly Synthia, David Flint, Justine Elyot, Ashe Barker, Tilly Andrews and Catherine Mazur.

130 Authors of Erotic Fiction

Authors Erotic FictionWhen 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.

Earlier this week, I launched the first two articles: ‘Men Writing Erotic Fiction’ and ‘Men Reading Erotic Fiction’.

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?

Perhaps!

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).

Categorization

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.”

Emmanuelle de Maupassant erotic author quote dark eroticaImportantly, 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…?

Further Reading 

Coming Soon…

Writing Craft

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 KoreKristina LloydJonathan Kemp, Patrick Califia, Maxim Jakubowski, Cecilia Tan, Donna George StoreyKathe Koja, Justine Elyot, Raziel Moore, Will Crimson, Sorcha BlackCari Silverwood, Siri Ousdahl, L.N. BeyZander VaneTamsin Flowers, Krissy KneenZak Jane Keir, Jade A WatersAshley Lister, KD Grace, Kay Jaybee, Nya RawlynsTerrance Aldon Shaw, Sessha Batto, Rose CarawayAllen DuskTabitha RayneMarc Angel, Elizabeth Safleur, Jeremy Edwards, Spencer Dryden, Devi AnseviNicholas Tanek, K. L. Shandwick, I.G. Frederick, Jacqui Greaves, Ina MorataFinn MarloweElsa Holland, Elizabeth SchechterAleksandr Voinov, Lucy Felthouse, Alexis AlvarezR.V. Raiment, J.D. Lexx, Lily HarlemThomas Roche, Madeline MooreRia Restrepo, Scarlet DarkwoodWade Esley, Victoria Bliss, Jane GilbertJim Lyon, Charlie Powell, Cate Ellink, Chase Morgan, Lee SavinoC.P. McClennanElizabeth BlackC.J. Czelling, Felicity Brandon, Nicolette HugoFrank Noir, Amelia SmartsNobilis Reed, Sue MacNicol, Cassandra ShawArdent RoseSylvia 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 BradeanJay 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.

Relentless and Destructive: a review of Libidinous Zombie

The full version of this review appears on Cara Sutra’s Pleasure Panel, alongside others.

What is theLibidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology nature of our erotic drive, relentless and destructive, the ‘Libidinous Zombie‘ within? This innovative collection takes up the torch, and dares to lead us down the twisting passageways of the labyrinth, each  author unravelling the threads in their own way, leaving their footprints for us to follow. As Remittance Girl describes it, here is an anthology which presents ‘the delicious marriage between horror and eroticism’.Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

From the dystopian setting of a post-apocalyptic world (Tamsin Flowers‘ poignant tale) to the confines of an early 20th century mental asylum (Malin James‘ compelling depiction of descent into the madness of sexual obsession) we are taken on a shadow journey, where nothing is quite as it seems.

Their charm lies in the unexpected, in their twists, as tLibidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthologyhey arouse and horrify, provoking both disgust and a compulsion to continue.

Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthologyThese tales offer not just entertainment but a deeper commentary on what we choose to conceal, or reveal. They offer insight into the voracious nature of lust, and into our darker side, into the thoughts we rarely admit to. And, they offer warning: be careful of what you wish for, and how you behave.Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

Follow the rich pathways of the maze, seek out the minotaur, and, when you find him, look deep into his eyes. There, you’ll see your own self reflected, your own image, prompted by the author’s lens. Remember that each reader brings their own interpretation to the page, and what you find in the labyrinth reveals your own preoccupations, as much as those of he or she who wrote the words.

Enjoy the feast: rich and spicy; grotesque and violent; heart-breaking and bittersweet.

Devour these dishes course by course, without rushing. Savour them to the full.

Libidinous Zombie - an erotic horror anthology

 

A collection worthy of your time, featuring:

Rose Caraway, Raziel Moore,Erotic HorrorRemittance Girl, Allen Dusk, Janine Ashbless, Jade. A. Waters, Malin James and Tamsin Flowers.

Wanted: Intelligent Smut

 

 

Yes, yes YES!!!

Such is the battle-cry of millions of insatiable readers in the erotic-romance genre: currently worth around $1.5 billion Dollars annually (more than any other).

Yes, women have sex drives (as do men).

Yes, women have fantasies (as do men).

Yes, women sometimes just want to get down and dirty (need I say more).

Fear of Flying - erotic fiction

It’s clear that the popularity of e-readers and tablets has aided sales of erotic fiction, offering as they do the chance to enjoy any amount of knee-trembling ‘naughtiness’ with anonymity.

Looking back to the 1970s, Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying was one of the first to gain international bestselling status, with the uninhibited ‘flying free’ of Isadora, on a wild journey of liberation and self-discovery. Nancy Friday’s taboo-shattering My Secret Garden (1973) not only sets out to show us that we are not alone in enjoying fantasies (the kind that nancy_friday  erotic literature still have women wondering if they are the only ‘bad’ girls thinking saucy thoughts) but that, whatever spice your imagination can conjure up, someone else is undoubtedly doing the same, and possibly adding quite a few jalapenos on top.

Although I grew up on the salacious 1980s offerings of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper, eating up each morsel like a dog falling upon a plate of fat sausages, these days, I much prefer my fiction without ‘hearts and roses’. Erotic literature is widely classified as exploring sexual themes for their own sake, viewing our humanity through the  lens of erotic desire. The development of a romantic relationship is not obligatory to the menu.

Classic examples come from the kinky pen of the late 18th-century’s much fanny-hill by-john-clelandimprisoned Marquis de Sade and John Cleland, whose Fanny Hill (1748) inspired over two centuries of obscenity trials and censorship. Brazen for its time, Theophile Gautier’s Mademoiselle de Maupin (1835) sees a woman use her beauty to captivate not only a young poet but, disguised as a man, his mistress! It oozes sexual deception and intrigue. Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) similarly shocked readers by its Mademoiselle de Maupin heroine seeking out passion for its own sake, beyond the confines of her marriage. Also published in 1899, The Torture Garden, by Octave Mirbeau, follows desire and depravity to a shocking, sadistic paradise, where debauchery knows no bounds, its premise being that self-knowledge and fulfilment are only attainable by experiencing extremes. Reaching back even further into the annals of sexy literary history, there is The Perfumed Garden. Written in the 16th Century, it looks at the sexual customs and behaviour of Arabia in the Middle Ages (much as the Kama Sutra reflects ancient Hindu culture).

Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer Other storm raisers, banned from public consumption for decades, include D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (bawdy adventures in 1930s Paris) and Tropic of Capricorn (debauchery in Lady Chatterley's Lover  erotic fiction 1920s New York).

The question is, amidst a sea of erotica, how do you locate the more challenging, intelligent sauce? The sort that not only arouses at a visceral level, but inspires us to rethink sexual conventions: to challenge our minds as well as delivering a thwack to the groin.

In Delta of Venus, Anais Nin pens several provocative and elegantly Delta of Venus, Anais Nin - intelligent eroticastyled tales: a Hungarian adventurer seduces wealthy women then vanishes with their money; a veiled woman selects strangers from a chic restaurant for private trysts; and a Parisian milliner leaves her husband for a mini-break to the opium dens of Peru.

Another titillating collection is The Gates of Paradise: 35 stories exploring the infinite variety of erotic experience, by such authors as Tennessee Williams, Marguerite Duras and Isabel Allende. Ms. The Lover - Duras - erotic fiction Duras is best known for her poetically scribed The Lover.

Belle de Jour (1928), by Joseph Kessel, inspired Luis Buñuel’s film Belle-de-jour  Catherine Deneuve (starring the luscious Catherine Deneuve). A wealthy Parisian housewife seeks fulfilment of her own vivid, sadomasochistic fantasies via a brothel, where she submits to her customers, revelling in (yet also repulsed by) her ‘debasement’. Each evening, she returns home to her oblivious husband.

Another French novel better known as a film adaptation is Emmanuelle Arsan’s Emmanuelle (1959), whose protagonist embraces the full Emmanuelle - erotic fiction scope of her sexual nature. Served with a dollop of French philosophical reverie, it’s smut at its most stylish.

There is a wealth of contemporary erotic fiction for you to explore, covering every nuance of kink and desire. The more time you spend looking, the more likely you are to find a tantalising surprise. Standing on the sado-masochistic shoulders of Pauline Réage’s Story of O (1954) is Anne Rice’s 1980s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy Story of O - erotic fiction BDSM(written under her A.N. Roquelaure pseudonym). It has spawned a rich seam of fairy-tale inspired erotic tales. Meanwhile, Twilight has brought forth a host of alpha-male werewolves and lustful vampires.

My modern day recommendations are Tobsha Learner’s kaleidoscopic anthologies of short stories: Quiver, Tremble and Yearn. Highly original, provocative and Tobsha Learner - Quiver - erotic fiction often shocking (erotic encounters at the dentist’s and a disembodied penis providing endless nights of pleasure), they admirably challenge conventional notions. More a ‘wake-up’ call than overtly sexy, I find Tobsha a breath of fresh air.

For a dystopian erotica mash-up, treat yourself to a look at Steelwhisper’s masterfully written George. Disturbing, and infinitely touching, it is one of the most powerful pieces I’ve come across in the erotic genre.

For hauntingly beautiful, evocative and challenging short-stories, visit the sites of Malin James and Remittance Girl.

Indulge the paradox of sexual agony and ecstasy via Jonathan Kemp’s 26: ‘visions of excess’ burning brightly beyond the civility of language and manners, taking us on a journey of transcendence, of sexual gratification and drug-induced otherness.jonathan-kemp-26-erotic-fiction

Or venture into the radical sex writing of Patrick Califia; I recommend his gothic classic, Mortal Companion, as a great place to start.

We are in charge of our sexual choices: we don’t need ‘permission’ to bed as we please, and the same applies to what we choose to read. I say, dare to be as adventurous with your erotic reading as you would be with any other genre.

Make free to add your suggestions for reading below…

(you may like to visit my Author Page on Amazon to see where my pen has been tickling…)