Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Most Erotic Thing I Ever Read

Why do we write in the genre that we chose? Especially in our case, because romance writing and erotica – romance’s slutty sister – are not much respected. Among the literary world, writers like us are hardly regarded as writers at all. We are the infinite number of chimpanzees pecking at infinite typewriters who may accidently turn out the script of Hamlet in the next million years. And if they put your stuff on electronic books rather than paper, sometimes you’re regarded as even more of a loser. Why would anybody choose to do this?

When I walk through a used bookstore, anywhere I go, bookcases, whole walls and aisles are packed with forlorn romance novels who had their moment, now begging to be loved again, like walking through the desperate kennels of the Humane society. I look at them and think – how do you compete with all that? How do you get an audience when people are turning out these books like hamburgers? Roughly 50% of the books sold in the US are romance novels. Whole Canadian forests just massacred to produce romance paperbacks, with cover paintings of shirtless handsome beefcakes oddly devoid of body hair, and chesty maidens with half closed eyes, all “rape and adverbs”, that are here and gone as brief as mayflies.

I don't believe we chose the genre we write in. I think the genre chooses us.

That’s my experience. It’s a calling, like being a country western singer or a Jesuit. It requires a certain kind of horny nature, plus an inner lonesomeness, and a love of words, not necessarily in that order. The question I often wonder about is why most erotica writers appear to be baby boomers like me, rather than horny twenty somethings. My guess is that it takes time to find your voice or for the hormones to settle down long enough to put words to paper, until like Hamlet’s mum “the heyday in the blood is tame and waits upon the judgment”. Why write about it when you could be doing it?

In craft books, they often say write what you know. The problem with most of us is we don’t know very much. So what happens is, we usually write what we read and what we grew up reading as teenagers.

Fyodor Dostoyevsky was a huge fan of the penny dreadful true crime magazines in the Russia of his day and read them avidly. At some point he decided to try his hand at writing them, but he’s not just anybody, he’s Dostoyevsky, so his attempts at hitting it rich with popular John Grisham crime thrillers turned out to be “The Brothers Karamazov” and “Crime and Punishment”. He couldn't help it.

For the apprentice writer, genre serves a useful purpose, it tells someone like me what I should be studying. I study the masters in my genres. This is true for any art. The Beatles became the Beatles by playing Buddy Holly and Little Richard covers in violent German strip joints night after night for 8 hour long sets where if the crowd didn’t like your sound they threw wooden chairs at you. Ray Bradbury was a fan of carnivals, Flash Gordon Sunday funnies, and whiz-bang science fiction pulps and it was in those magazines he first made his name by imitating his heroes. Me, I study Bradbury, Nikos Kazanzakis, Richard Matheson, Stephen King and a pile of others, old school and new school. I’ve studied Lisabet’s sex scenes meticulously. I study Elmore Leonard’s dialogue. When I find a passage in a story of my chosen genre that knocks me out I hand copy out the passage in a notebook, word for word – note for note – to try to get a feelfor how that person uses language and imagination. I want to get in that writer’s skin when that paragraph was being formed in their head.

One of the most powerful things I ever read was several years ago in an Internet chat room when a young man posted a bewildered story that tonight he’d just had his first sex. It was with an old family friend he’d known all his life, a woman older than his mother. I think the most erotic thing is that thing you never see coming, the thing that just happens all by itself. They were watching TV alone on her living room sofa which they often did; the show wasn’t very interesting and they started talking about birthmarks. I have a birthmark here says the young man. I have one like that over here, says the woman. I’ve got one down here, but its hard to see says the boy. I have one inside here says the woman, lifting up her old bath robe - but you have to look close. A little more mutual showing and looking and that bath robe is getting pretty loose and she says to him “I think we had better stop this now. Unless. Do you think you might like to go in the other room?”

After it was over and he was washing up, the woman - a little panicked herself now - had called out to him from the bed “How do you feel?” He says he said to her “I feel like I just fucked my grandmother.” That knocked the breath out of me. What the hell just happened to us? Are we in trouble? The sense of guilt and awesome wonder mixed together in his written voice surpassed anything I’ve ever read or written. It wasn’t eloquent writing at all. It was bad clumsy writing, something no editor would ever publish. But it was poetry. You felt the freaky truth of it get under your skin. This kid’s life had changed tonight. If in a deadly moment his life ever passes in front of his eyes, that mature woman on the sofa with her bath robe spread open, and her hungry fearful eyes, will surely be in there somewhere.

That was erotica.

C. Sanchez-Garcia

Fiction By C. Sanchez-Garcia
Fiction By C. Sanchez-Garcia\csanchez_garcia


  1. I also believe the genre chooses us. I also believe that maturity allows us to write erotic romance in a more powerful way. Maturity affords us the tools to reveal all the emotions involved in sex--not just the "romance" part.

    Excellent post.

  2. Thanks Anny!

    I'm also glad you read this the right way. I don;t want anybody to think I'm disparaging erotica or romance as a genre, because after all this is where I've made my home. It would be like Stephen King disparaging horror fiction. What I'm commenting on in the beginning is the way oyhers view it, because this is a cultural issue in transition.

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    C. Sanchez-Garcia

  3. I think the genre tends to choose the writer rather than the other way around too. I intended to write in a completly different genre for a long time.

    You're right that there are a lot of authors of a similar age group. Although I'm not sure Anny's right about age neccessily making a person a better writer. Although, at 25, I'm probably bias ;)

  4. A twenty five year old! A woman at the height of her hormonal potential. I'm glad you're writing now. I tried to write when I was your age but got sidetracked for about twenty years.

    C. Sanchez-Garcia

  5. Another incredibly thought provoking post, Garce. Now, where to begin. Ugh!

    Write what you know. I guess that's true to an extent, although I've written from the male POV and about things I've never experienced. What I have, though, is empathy. I believe that's an enormous aid to any writer. Yes, age and experience give us a lot of help, but if you can't 'feel' what others are feeling, I believe it's nearly impossible to show it in your writing. (I hope that makes sense)

    As for the genre choosing us. Possibly. I've been writing erotica since I was in my mid-teens, although back then it read more like porn. I used it as a way to keep my sanity. I never stopped writing, although I believe the reason for writing did change. I simply was, and still am, a writer. It's a bit like breathing. *G*

    Can I write in horror or some other mainstream genre. To be honest, I've never really tried, not seriously. I have dabbled. I do have this book idea though. LOL Within the erotica/romance genre, I've written all manner of different genre, from hard core BDSM to soft and sexy lesbian. I write what I feel, and for the calls of submission that attract me.

    Have I read the masters? Some, but I can't say I've read many. I seem to find an author and if I like em, I'll read all I can find of them. I love authors who make me feel what's going on. I love to sink into a book.

    Sigh, I could babble on for some time, but I've got these edits waiting for me, so I'm off. Thanks for such an interesting post.


  6. I think of all things the most desirable is empathy, because that would be the source of truth in writing, the desire to tell life truly.

    I tried writing from my mid teens also but it took me awhile to be consistent at it.

    Thanks for reading my stuff!

    C. Sanchez-Garcia

  7. I skipped the genre stuff and went straight to the most erotic thing you ever read. I was hoping it was one of my emails to you, but I forgive you.

    my belly feels warm after reading your description of that "surprise" encounter. I feel like a voyeur reading it.

    I'll go back another time and read the genre bits.

  8. Hi Garce,

    You wrote "If in a deadly moment his life ever passes in front of his eyes, that mature woman on the sofa with her bath robe spread open, and her hungry fearful eyes, will surely be in there somewhere."

    There might have been sex in that story for the teller, but there was eroticism for you in the reading of it.

    I'm going to venture to say that eroticism is in the 'reading' of the event. If you think of writing and reading as a pitcher and catcher scenario, then in erotica, the catcher has to be in the mood. I think more than many other genres, readers of erotica need to be willing to be aroused, pulled along, open to the adventure that the text offers.

    Have you ever tried to read erotica when you weren't feeling receptive?

  9. Renee;

    Well, certainly your emails are high on the list of erotic things, but you must remember I haven;t heard from you for a long while.

    You can always catch up.


  10. ".... I'm going to venture to say that eroticism is in the 'reading' of the event. If you think of writing and reading as a pitcher and catcher scenario, then in erotica, the catcher has to be in the mood. I think more than many other genres, readers of erotica need to be willing to be aroused, pulled along, open to the adventure that the text offers..."

    I think this a really key point. One of the things I twigged on from fielding stories on ERA is that what people catch onto varies a great deal with the reader. A story can fall flat with everyone and still light up the world for one person. You remember "The Dying Light"? You saw it the way that I do. But a couple of other people were turned off by it, especially Delmar's internal dialogue ("Why all this shit about fountain pens??").

    For erotica its even more personal. What turns on some people goes right over my head, while there are very specific things that get to me.


  11. I missed commenting yesterday due to Internet problems, but this magnificent post deserves a response (and not just because you plugged my sex scenes ;^) ).

    Members of my family say to me every so often, "You're such a good writer. Why don't you write something serious?"

    How can I explain to them that this is serious, for me? That sexuality is my personal window into a whole range of themes and conflicts? I really don't think that I could write a novel without some sex in it. Well, I probably could, but I'll bet that it wouldn't be very good.

    One more thing, triggered by RG's post. Eroticism and sex are different things. Eroticism has nothing, fundamentally, to do with the body. I've read endless sex scenes without a spark of the erotic. Eroticism is elusive, emergent, not to be commanded. That only makes it more precious.

    Thanks again for another wonderful piece!


  12. Anyone who thinks romance is not serious writing is not worthy of being taken seriously. Most people who disparage romance are just saying what is expected by the pseudo intellectuals who tell you what you should like. They are properly referred to as sheep.

    I recently read an erotic novel by Morgan Ashbury that wasn't about erotica at all. It was about not judging people by stereotyping.


  13. touche' Garce.
    okay I went back and read the beginning of your post.
    I liked it just as well as the birthmark/bathrobe passages.
    I like knowing that little detail about Dostoevsky; I treasured my reading of the Brothers Karamozov.

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