Saturday, March 14, 2009

"Not Even My Husband Knows!" The Secrets of Erotica Writers

Last weekend, when I was in Las Vegas at Epicon, the big annual gathering of electronic publishing professionals, I had the pleasure of meeting many others of my ilk: namely those of us who toil a good part of our lives away in solitude writing stories that we hope will entertain, inform, and provoke thoughts and emotions.

One woman I met at the Thursday night party seemed a cheerful sort. She came right up to me and began telling me about all the erotica she writes and publishes. She's quite a name among erotica e-book readers. But then she said something that surprised me: "Nobody knows I write erotica. Even my best friends and my family don't know. Not even my husband knows!" She laughed and I laughed with her, but then I was thinking, "But aren't you proud of what you do? Why would you spend all the effort and time on something that no one near and dear to you even knows you do?" I assume family and friends know at least that she's a writer and have just not delved into the subject matter of her work...or perhaps they don't know at all. Later in the conference, a male erotica writer confided that he needed to keep his identity as a writer of erotica separate from his real life because he also coached Little League baseball. He didn't think writing erotica would go over too well with the parents of the kids he coached. And I think he may have something there, though I think some of the kids might think it's way cool.

But the coach did make me begin to understand this need for anonymity the successful writer I met on Thursday felt she needed. And that was brought home to me the other day when I had lunch with a friend here in Seattle. I was telling him about Epicon and the people I'd met and happened to bring up that I'd met several people who wrote erotica.

He grinned and sort of rolled his eyes and said, "You mean porn?"

Now, this isn't the first time I have heard of erotica being equated with porn, but I did have a flash of further understanding about why someone would choose a nom de plume under which to publish their erotic writing. I don't think my friend's assertion was all that uncommon. I did try to explain that there was a difference, but found it hard to do. I think, the short answer would be that erotica uses sex as a way to bring out emotional themes and to propel a story, whereas porn is there purely for the sake of titillation. Porn does not need character development, a plot, or any commentary on the human condition. It's unfettered, one-handed reading. Nothing wrong with that, in my mind, if that's what you're in the mood for and no one's getting hurt. But all this talk at the conference about being "in the closet" as an erotica writer made me wonder how many others out there automatically think "porn" when they hear "erotica."

I am not above writing the occasional porno story. But the two book covers above, the first for Fugue and the second for MANamorphosis, demonstrate stories that are all about sex, but I don't think are porn. Fugue, in particular, is quite graphic, XXX-rated, yet I think,in the end, it's a story about power in a relationship and the varying ways we experience love...and it's themes like that, I think, that differentiate erotica from porn.

What do you think? For you, what separates erotica from porn? Really, I wanna know. Please leave me a comment below.

1 comment:

Jardonn Smith said...

Sorry, for most people, if your book describes sexual acts it is porn. They'll never see beyond that no matter how good the story. Throw in a story about two men and you really make them squirm. Family you can't do anything about, and as for friends, in my case at least, sharing books with them was a true test of loyalty. Several have conveniently, slowly and tactfully phased me out. It's ok, new ones, more enlightened, have taken their place.
As for the pseudonym, I am afraid I'll have to get Orwellian about it.
I see cycles. 1930's now. How soon before everyone forgets what we've just come out of? How soon before another round of McCarthyism? What group(s) will be the target(s)?
Are you comfortable with the fact the previous administration filtered all email and phone into the NSA where any could be monitered? Kept on file for future scrutiny? What's going to happen to all that info? Will it be subpoenaed? Destroyed? Will there be prosecutions of those who circumvented the Constitution? If not, how will the next round of Cheneys and Ashcrofts interpret what happened 2001-2009? What will they fear?
I can't predict it or prevent it. If it happens I'm already a dead man. Victor Banis's Angel Land come true. But hey, we're all just recycled souls. Maybe in my next life I'll be bacteria made to eat sugar so my poop will make fuel for combustable engines.