Friday, February 20, 2009

A Porno By Any Other Name...

By Helen E. H. Madden

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I have a dirty little secret. When Lisabet asked us all to pick days for our posts, I deliberately picked Friday so I could crib notes off of everyone else before writing my own post. Then I toss all that in the trash and pull something out of my... assets, shall we say?


Anyway, in regards to this week's topic, I have recently had several discussions on erotica - what it is, what it isn't, what I read, what I avoid like the plague, etc. Many of these conversations have been had with other writers and podcasters (in and out of the genre). All of the discussions have been intelligent, and most hysterically funny, and after having debating the finer aspects of what is supposed to be the erotica genre, I can definitely tell you this:


I don't know jack about this stuff.


For starters, what is erotica? I looked it up once. Dictionary.com offers multiple definitions - literature or art dealing with sexual love; literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire; creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire (i.e. porn). I don't know about these definitions. Do they really reflect how and what **I** write? Keep in mind, I churn out a story a week for my so-called erotica podcast, so I do write a lot. Yeah I write about sexual love... maybe one out of every six stories. And yeah, maybe I'm out to make horn-dogs out of my readers... one out of every eight stories. As for the creative activity with no value other than to stimulate said horn-dogs to a frenzy?


Are you frikkin' kidding me?! Screw Dictionary.com if they think my writing doesn't have artistic value! And actually, screw them if they think porn doesn't have any artistic value.


Definitions for genre suck. How can anyone define what a genre is? I have said in the past that I am not a huge fan of the porn genre (Sex Trek VI: The Undiscovered Booty pretty much killed the genre for me), but that was before all the debating I've done on what the difference between erotica and porn is (it's not just the lighing!). Now I can't tell what is and isn't porn anymore. The super-talented Jay Lygon, who writes the hottest and smartest m/m BDSM I've ever seen, swears upon his mother's grave that what he writes is porn. I would just call it damn good story telling (it has plot! it has characterization! I love plot and characterization!!) that makes me attack my husband the moment he walks into the door (it has naked men being kinky! I love naked men being kinky!). And I do not kid on the whole it has plot, it has characterization thing. Jay's Chaos Magic has one of the most intriguing ideas behind it - a man recognizes the divine in certain people and they literally become his gods as a result. How that affects his life and his attempts to grow past an abusive relationship make for intriguing reading. I'd call it contemporary fantasy (with a healthy side-order of lust and kink) and put it on the same shelf with Laurell K. Hamilton, but to Jay? It's porn, and he's proud of it.


Then we come to Nobilis of the Nobilis Erotica Podcast. Nobilis defines his work as erotica. His stories have plenty of sex in them. In fact, his latest serial on the podcast was about spaceships powered by orgasms. On the surface, that sounds pretty porny, right? Maybe even Sex Trek VI porny. But the world-building behind it (how are the pilots selected and trained, how does their job affect their relationships) is pretty damned impressive. What really impressed me though was recently hearing Nobilis talk about how he finally realized he could write entire chapters without having any sex in them.


Tell me, if you don't have sex in every chapter, is it still erotica?


I could go on and on about other writers and what they call what they do, but it all comes back to the same thing. Different writers define their writing by their own terms. Then they must find a publisher who is willing to take their square peg story and stuff it into a round hole definition of a genre.


Aaaaaaah! See, that's the trick. Finding the publisher who's willing to do that. So many of our OGG bloggers this week all said the same thing. I don't write what other people write. I don't write what publishers say they're looking for. And this can be a real pain in the patootie. Or at least it used to be a real pain in the patootie, before the evolution of internet book stores and the e-book.


Now the e-book industry isn't perfect, but it has the delightful advantage of allowing individual books to be tagged with multiple genre labels, and this is key. If I write an m/m, BDSM, dark fantasy with yaoi elements story (Demon By Day, anyone?), then my book can be listed under: m/m, BDSM, dark fantasy, and yaoi. As long as the publisher sets the tags correctly, anybody browsing those categories will find my book. That's the beauty of the online bookstore. It isn't that we no longer need the stinkin' genres. We don't need the stinking shelves!


And for a freak-a-zoid like me, that's a godsend. I can write all the fantasy/horror/science fiction/romance/mystery/comedy/hard core porn that I like! And by producing my own podcast or maybe self-publishing my own book, I don't even have to answer to a publisher!! I can write anything, ANYTHING, and get it out there. I just have to find a way to let people know my writing exists, and the internet with all its social media tools like Twitter and MySpace and Yahoo Groups and everything else makes that possible too. No longer do we writers have to be pigeon-holed into what will and won't sell!! No longer must we be slaves to such narrow definitions of what constitutes erotica vs. romance vs. porn! If I want to write about punk lesbian mermaids who fall in love with paraplegics, I CAN! If I want to write about luscious plus-sized women being seduced by fuzzy green tentacle monsters, I can do that too! If I want to write a touching romantic story about clown sex, guess what!! I already did it, baby!! And YOU!! Yes you, the discerning consumer of great literature that you are, can find all of these goodies thanks to the wonders of e-books and podcasting and the internet!! Brothers and sisters, let me hear you say "HALLELUJAH AND PRAISE THE INTERTUBES!! I AM A SLAVE TO GENRES NO MORE!!!!!"


Uh... eh? What? What was this week's topic?


Oh yeah! Favorite genres. Um, I like science fiction, horror, fantasy and the occasional naughty tale. Thank you for asking ;)

11 comments:

  1. Your posts continue to crack me up. The links to punk lesbian mermaids, fuzzy green tentacle monsters and clown sex definitely had me clicking them.

    Write on, girl! LOL

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  2. I think I may be a punk, lesbian mermaid trapped in the body of a sportswriting epic-fantasy-geek heterosexsual little league coach. Just sayin'.

    *wink*

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  3. LOL! Ain't it great to not be constrained by genre? I talked to writer John Ringo last month about where writers end up on the shelf, and from a print published POV, he said it's best to start out in non-genre fiction, get established there, and then get into genre fic. He said career-wise it wouldn't work the other way. Once you're marked forr a particular genre, you could never get out. However, if you were a big enough name and you could call the buyer/distributors for the various book store chains, you had a shot at getting your book assigned to another shelf. But that's the print published author's POV. Being e-published, and selling through an online store seems like a whole different ball game to me!

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  4. Okay, I chuckled through most of that post. You're slightly bent there, lady. Not a bad thing at all.

    Genre, I never expected the topic to go this way at all. As for the porn vs erotica debate, I gave up trying to figure that one out years ago.

    You're happy where you are and I believe that's a huge thing when you write this stuff. Maybe any stuff.

    As for writing to a specific genre, I've done it and enjoyed it. The challenge was pretty cool and definitely stretched me as a writer. I'll do it again if the money's good. Oh lord, how commercial is that?

    Have an awesome weekend!

    Hugs

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  5. Uh... my Mom's not dead, yet.

    You're sweet to pimp my story. I have no clue what genre it is, but it's got a beat and you can writhe to it...

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  6. Helen, I loved The Fire Eaters! (i.e. clown sex) - read it a few weeks ago when I was working on the ERWA newsletter. And I second your opinions on Jay's work. Completely original and hot as burning phosphorous!

    I appreciate your thoughts about ePublishing releasing us from the genre box. But there's still the problem of readers in pigeon holes. Readers who want MM but are afraid they'll be squicked by BDSM. Readers who think they hate sci fi but love vampires. And so on.

    And the publishers DO worry about this. You can publish anything you like, with multiple genre tags, but can you sell it?

    Anyway, thanks for sharing your unique voice...!!

    Hugs,
    Lisabet

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  7. Hi Helen!

    Good post. I especially like what you see about e-publishing. I think in the long run this will really open up thedoors for a lot of writers who wouldn't have gotten a shot at first.

    Garce

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  8. It's a great point that different people tend to stick different labels on the same thing.

    As for defining erotica/porn/erotic romance/ whatever? Gave up a long time ago.

    The only definition that works for me is twisting an old one around in the opposite direction.

    "Porn is like art, I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

    Great post.

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  9. I find genre useful when browsing the book shelves. I find the multiple labels even more helpful. What I actually use once I get that far are the blurbs on the author site, the excerpts and the trailers. Back of the book blurbs may or may not be useful depending on who wrote them. My absolute favorite book that got me to join the author's Yahoo group was picked because of the way the cover said buy me, buy me.

    As to erotica or porn. Erotica has a plot. Porn is a technical manual as far as I am concerned.

    I have read books with no sex that are more erotic than many with.

    I really enjoyed the blog and the entire week was just perfect.

    Ray

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  10. Hey Helen, you mad woman, I love your posts!

    I write what I like to call Smut. I used to call it porn but people got mad at me. I know, you wouldn't really think I'd give a shit, but they said I was cheapening my art. My art. Huh... yeah, well, OK.

    So now I say I write smut, and sometimes I even call it erotica. Actually, I call it erotica more and more often now. It's still just as porny as it always was because I like that stuff--the kinkier, the better.

    But call it smut or call it erotica, it's still very difficult (and mostly impossible) to attach the word "romance" to it, and there's the rub. E publishers will publish a veritable cornucopia of genres, but mostly only if they can somehow be considered romantic in some way.

    When I write about a guy who hires himself out for a weekend of abuse at the virtual hands of anonymous women or about the woman who goes to buy her first piece of latex couture and ends up getting it on with the designer, it just doesn't fall into the category of romance.

    Sure, sometimes I manage to fit love in with the sex, but even then, most e publishers don't seem to be into my particular literary voice. I think my publisher was the only e publisher who would publish my novels, (even though boy gets girl in the end and everyone's happy about it) which is fine. I'm just saying that e publishing isn't the great panacea for all.

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  11. LOL! A million minds, a million different opinions. I LOVE IT!

    E-publishing may not be the panacea, and genre labels aren't going away anytime soon, but I do feel more confident about my ability to get published thanks to the fact that I don't have to worry so much about being on any particular shelf in the bookstore. Emily Veinglory has talked about this before, stating that her books have ended up anywhere from in the self-help section to the romance section, but still not where they belong (how about the sci-fi/fantasy section, because that's what her books are, even though they include sex?).

    The book blurbs are helpful in selling a book, and I think a good book blurb and good cover art can go a long way toward selling books. As for browsing for books in a store, I've recently had some issues with that myself, looking through the categories in Fictionwise.com. Their categories are so broad, I end up spending hours trying to find anything I might want to read. The downside to this is that I can't narrow in on a particular sub-genre if I want, and have to turn to another resource (like Amazon.com) to browse the virtual shelves for something I **might** find on Fictionwise. But the upside is that if I only search through Fictionwise, I end up finding books I never would have looked at otherwise. So the genre and sub-genre labels do and don't work.

    Thanks for reading, everyone! I've certainly enjoyed writing my little rants and seeing all the responses ;)

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