Sunday, January 08, 2006

Between a Cock and a Hard Place



The other day I was visiting the website of an erotica author to check out her stuff. She had handily posted an excerpt from her latest book right on her home page.

Before I say anything further, I want to avoid getting into trouble again like I did over my column written for the website Novelspot in May 2005. I learned that the fans of erotica, God bless ‘em, are very protective of their genre. I am not picking on this author, whom I shall not name, nor on her readers, nor anyone else whose opinion differs from mine. I am simply speaking of personal taste. Are we clear on that? Good.

The passage in question was the opening of the book, and about six paragraphs in, the cock and balls appeared. Literally. Now to most people, that is erotica. Cock-and-balls is what it’s all about, and without that, it’s not erotica. I will grant you that’s the prevailing opinion. Ironically, however, not only does this kind of story not turn me on, it turns me off. It makes me cringe and click the back button. That’s just me.

So apparently I’m not an erotica reader, and yet I write books called “erotica with soul” and maintain this blog. Believe me, some days I find that as weird as you do. Nevertheless, I will persist, and for one reason alone: I think sex is wonderful.

How can a person who thinks sex is wonderful cringe at a cock-and-balls story? Well, because sex is a very individualized thing. Do we call a man who is not attracted to women a sex-hater? No, usually we just call him gay. I love sex and things sexual, I love desire and lust and sensuality. At the same time, I personally am not into sex without personality, or sex without seduction...and, alas for me, I am not into the words “cock” and “balls,” among others.

This has put me between a cock and a hard place ever since I started in this business. On the one hand, my publisher, New Age Dimensions, turned down one of my stories once for subject matter. Meanwhile, at the other end of the spectrum, some reviewers have downgraded my work because they don’t think it should call itself erotic. I write for readers who like sex with their romance, and it is graphic sex...but many erotica fans feel my books don’t deliver what they expect.

Well, I could never be comfortable writing prose like the author referred to above. Not out of embarrassment or shame, mind you. I am the sort of person who went topless in my neighborhood at age five, have done it at parties, and would do it in public occasionally if it were legal. No, it’s because I love to write beautiful prose, prose that is sensual and lovely and literary and full of all the richness language has to offer, insofar as I am able with my limited gifts. Again, that’s just my style.

So I am forced by quirk of personality to write about sex in a way that doesn’t read like erotica. My apologies to all who attempt to read me and are offended by this. But my hope continues to be that there are others out there like me, who flee in repulsion from the cock-and-balls stories but nevertheless, really, really do like sex. These are readers who like to warm up to the characters, to be seduced by them, so that by the time the clothes come off it is a supreme relief. These are readers who find a scene sexy because they desperately love these two characters and are dying for them to be intimate.

I personally feel it is difficult to write good cock-and-balls, but not impossible. In 2004 I judged the erotic romance category for the Eppie Awards, and although all four books I read and rated were in that style, one was really well done and I ranked it very high (and it won the category eventually). Two of the others were publishable but not great. The fourth book was so poorly written I was appalled that it was in print, but not because of a preponderance of cocks or balls--it was just bad.

And because of the insatiability of the erotica market today, publishers putting out that genre do get lazy sometimes. And few readers or reviewers are willing to express criticism towards erotica lest they be labeled prudish, judgmental erotica-haters (much as in today’s culture if you criticize a person in a minority group, you risk being called racist). Why, I myself have been called a prudish, judgmental erotica-hater.

To which I can only reply, “But how can that be when I really, really love sex?”

So anyway, there are days when I despair of this endeavor I have undertaken to write “erotica with soul.” I think, “why do I kid myself that I’m writing erotic romance?” I read a piece of cock-and-balls and say to myself, “Now THIS is what people expect from YOU, dear.”

But then I’ll get a fan letter from a reader thanking me for my stories, or a glowing review about my “fresh style,” or find out my last quarter’s sales, or simply finish writing a piece I find thoroughly arousing, and I set my worries aside. Regardless of what it is, people are reading it and liking it. And even if they weren’t, I’d write it anyway.

Just because I think sex is wonderful.

2 comments:

Erica said...

Diana you know this is something I'm torn between. The word itself does not bother me... IF it is being used by a man to refer to himself, because to me, this is how they think of their, umm most intimate parts. However, when writing from a woman's perspective I'm not a big fan of it. I don't know. It doesn't bother me when it's used but at the same time I hear what you're saying :-)

Diana Laurence said...

I totally agree with you that it is a matter of context. I can see writing a character who would refer to his cock, or even a female who would...it's a perfectly decent word and part of the vernacular. It's just that my style is not to employ it in the narrative, I think it's too jarring. But others have a different writing style and I'm not objecting to the words they choose to use. I just don't like it when someone demands certain words! No one insists that every horror story use the word "blood" or it's not a horror story. Know what I mean? Thanks for the post, I appreciate your comments!

Diana