Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why erotica? by Suz deMello

Well, why not?

I began my writing career pretty much writing whatever I wanted. My first manuscript was about the romance between an injured football player and his physical therapist, written back when sports heroes were anathema to publishers. The sex was racy and the acts clearly stated without any throbbing members or heaving bosoms, but less frequent than most current steamy offerings. Walk Like A Man has always been popular, and will be available in a couple of weeks as part of an anthology, Falling in Love.


My three subsequent manuscripts were in the same vein, with sex included as a part of a normal relationship.

Then I was signed to Silhouette Romance, where rules concerning sex were strict. No sex without marriage and I had to be careful about how that sex was described. Still, I got away with a lot because I got the characters married at the midpoint of the book, and by the fourth and last book I wrote for SilRom the sex was fairly graphic. No cocks and cunts, but female cores and male rods joining--that sort of thing.

Then SilRom folded and I was orphaned, but free to write what I wanted. I didn't know quite what to do with myself, and when a couple of friends confessed that they'd been doing well writing for the online erotica market, I thought, "Why not?"

So I sexed up an otherwise fairly staid holiday story and sold it to Ellora's Cave, then a leading purveyor of online erotic romance. While EC didn't buy everything I wrote, there were a plethora of other online erotic romance publishers who took what EC didn't like. 

However, the difficulty I faced was the other side of the coin from Silhouette Romance. Rather than avoid sex, I had to shoehorn it in constantly to satisfy the appetites of either my readers or my editors--couldn't figure out which and it really didn't matter.

I found a variety of ways to do this given that I don't like to confuse heroine and ho. In my books sex occurs in the course of a naturally unfolding relationship, just like it does in most people's lives (including mine) unless they're randy teens figuring out how to do it or twenty-nothing males with weak egos, seeking to scratch another notch onto their bedpost to compensate for some other failing.

The easiest technique is to start a story in the midst of a relationship, as I did
with Gypsy Witch. Here's the first paragraph:

Ben propped himself up on his elbows to better see the naked woman beneath him. Sheened with sweat, Elena’s lush curves glowed in the reddish half-light of her bedroom, curtained in exotically patterned swaths of gauze and silk. A curl of smoke from a lit incense stick scented the air with sandalwood. Otherworldly New Age music flowed out of a boombox in the corner, irritating the hell out of him. 

This is one of the better first paragraphs I've written. Not only does the story start with a bang, but there's a fair amount of characterization and conflict indicated. Setting is described as well.

Erotica is a great thing. Hey--there's a need for stroke books. However, as an author, I really do prefer to write romance that includes erotic content rather than erotica. Erotica is just less satisfying to me in terms of writing craft. There's something unnatural about a story that's just sex sex sex sex sex sex. Unless you're a prostitute, our lives are more full and varied. It's more interesting to write about a variety of human experiences rather than just one.


  1. Hi, Suz,

    For me, erotic romance is a subgenre under the umbrella of erotica. But then, I don't like labels and categories anyway, because I never fit into them neatly. A lot of my erotica is very romantic. And I can't seem to write romance without a good deal of sex.

    I do believe you're mistaken in your belief that erotica is just "sex sex sex" though. If that's what you've read, you are missing out. The best erotica (in my opinion) chronicles a journey. The characters are exploring who they are, from sexual as well as other perspectives. They grow and change over the course of the story.

    And indeed, I think you can write erotica with no physical sex at all. I've done it.

  2. Hey! What's wrong with writing ho's? :>)

  3. Or with being a ho? Even if it's in the past tense. ;-D Some of my most treasured memories of my youth...

    I think part of the delight in erotica is the build-up so that you know why it's so exciting that these two (or more) characters are finally doing the deed. Sex for its own sake is the porn of writing. Yeah, there are times when I like watching the pizza delivery guy yell, "Pizza here, and (zip) here's your pepperoni!" Or re-read my favorite sex scene for the quick release I get with it...every time. And there are times when I want to watch a romance unfurl that delights the viewer as it frustrates the leads, when they want but can't have...the old, angsty-thing done so well by some TV shows that find out, much to the producers' chagrin, that once the leads are having sex, the tension is gone, along with the viewers. (Though to me personally, Buffy and Angel was hot, but Buffy and Spike? Phew! Off the charts hot!)

  4. Fortunately there are no laws or even hard and fast rules as to what constitutes erotica. I've been lucky to work with publishers who are willing to call fully developed stories erotica as long as the overall impression is erotic.

  5. I've written stuff that's sex sex sex (described by my publisher as "relentless"). To me, as both writer and reader, that can be very interesting and very natural. I also enjoy reading sweet romance, and everything in between. I wish there wasn't so much tendency to attack back and forth between erotica and romance. It bothers me when writers of erotic romance say shaming things about sex, and it bothers me when writers of erotica disparage romance for being formulaic or predictable. It seems we've got enough shame to deal with in the world--we don't need to put it on each other.


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