My family have always been book lovers, but on the whole they haven’t looked down on any particular genre, or on genre as opposed to “literary” fiction. Erotica may be an exception, but by the time I started writing it and mentioned it in passing when they’d ask if I was still writing, I was too old to scold, if there can be such a thing.
My parents couldn’t even get their minds around the science fiction and fantasy I wrote, so they didn’t expect me to share any more of my writing with them. The only story I ever published that they really understood and liked was a short story I wrote for one of those “One Hundred Little (whatever)” anthologies Barnes & Noble used to put out, in this case One Hundred Crafty Cat Tales. The stories were supposed to be mysteries, but it turns out that not very many mystery writers wanted to—or maybe could—write very short stories. The editor had connections in the sf/f community, so he circulated his Call for Submissions there, and I dashed off a story about a cat and a homing pigeon military station on the English Coast during WWII, where the pigeons were used to bring messages from the troops in Europe. (My title was Cat Among the Pigeons, but as it turned out, the cat wasn’t guilty of pigeon murder, but he did inadvertently help to catch a German spy.) Anyway, that story is the only one that has been shared with various relatives, most of whom have passed away by now.
My mother would have liked me to write mystery novels. She was a librarian who read widely and kept abreast of book reviews, etc., in order to know what to order for the library and recommend to readers, but mysteries were what she read for pleasure, along with some kinds of romances. She introduced me to Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances before I ever got to Jane Austen. My father preferred non-fiction history and biography, but his comfort reading was westerns. I don’t recall them ever prompting me to write “serious” or “literary” books, but I think they did wish I’d write things with a wider appeal.
At this point I kind of wish I did, too. I was in NYC this weekend—in fact I’m writing this post on a bumpy bus ride on the way home—and made a dispiriting discovery. I always go the Barnes&Noble Mothership in Union Square to see if they have my books, and they always used to have at least the newer ones. The B&N branch near my home stopped displaying any LGBTQ fiction a year or so ago (just in time for the edition of Best Lesbian Erotica that I edited not to be on the shelves,) but surely the big store in new York would still have them! But no. I asked where that section had been moved to, and was directed to a small table at the back of an escalator that had maybe a dozen nonfiction gay books spread on it,. That was all. I checked the small anthology section, too, where one used to be able to find straight erotica anthologies like Best Women’s Erotica, but still with no luck. I suppose the rationale (and reality) is that people only buy that sort of thing online these days, but not having them visible on bookstore shelves is bound to cut into our sales and readership severely.
My New York trip was not, however, all that dispiriting. I was there to do a reading with writers from my latest anthology (including our own Annabeth Leong) at Bluestockings Books, one of the few surviving and, as far as I can see, thriving “alternative” bookstores that were fairly common in urban areas a decade ago. All of my readers were outstanding, and so was the audience, absolutely filling the space, showing appreciation, and even, I think, buying a fair number of books. One of the workers told me she’d never seen such a big crowd in all the time she’s worked there, but I missed my chance to ask her how long that was. I’ve seen audiences that big there a few times over the years, but not recently.
What I take from all that is that yes, erotica writers are in trouble when it comes to showing up in major bookstores (if, in fact there are any “major” bookstores left,) but there’s still an appreciative audience out there, which is something.
I can’t resist going off-topic here to say that after the reading, several of us (including Annabeth Leong and Jeremy Edwards, who wasn’t in this book but has been in others of mine,) staked out a table at Katz’s Famous Deli and discussed the evils and occasional joys of the writing and publishing world well into the night. We don’t know how to solve the problems, but we sure know how to have fun ranting and gossiping about it. Actually, I may have been the only one gossiping; my mind gets fuzzy after matzo ball soup and too many blintzes. And mustard, but that’s Jeremy’s story, so I won’t tell it here.