Thursday, August 31, 2006

Why do you read it?

In which, you will learn far more about Michele than you probably care to know.

I'm talking about erotica today, people. The sexy books, the books filled with sex, the ones you read under the covers, the (shhh) left-handed reads.
Have you ever read erotica? Would you like to try? Or do you sneer at their suggestive covers as you rush quickly by that aisle in the book store.

My first glimpse at erotica was Anne Rice's Beauty series. I'd never read erotica or anything faintly smutty before that. I hadn't even read a lot of romances at that point. I actually ordered the book through a book club, because, heaven forbid! I be seen purchasing it in a book store. This was the sort of stuff my mother would sneer it. so of course, I HAD to read it.

Ms. Rice opened my eyes. Wide. I must say that first book was quite interesting. It grabbed me. It whispered to me. It kept me reading until I'd reached the end and then I had to come up for air, back to the real world. What the heck was that? Had reading a book actually 'stirred' me? What a revelation! There were actually books that describe the sex act in such detail that...that...well, I'll leave that to your imagination. :-) I must say though, that there were two more books in that series, and after you've read the first, the rest are just boring. How many times can you slip part A into part B or add in characters C, D and E before you've read it all before? I decided after that, that erotica didn't interest me. It wasn't the clinical sex act that intrigued me about these stories. It was the story. I had to have story, because if I can't relate to the character, or fall in love with the hero, then it's just not going to work for me. And come on, I'm not willing to invest time in reading unless it satisfies on all levels. Otherwise, I can just page from sex scene to sex scene, if that's what I'm looking for.

But maybe, that's what erotica is supposed to be? Since it features sex on virtually every page, it's eliminated the need TO page through looking for those scenes. Hmmm... Maybe I'm coming to this erotica thing from an entirely wrong perspective. :-)

So my next venture in erotica knocked my socks off. (Don't read into that one too much, eh?) It was something written by Emma Holly, before she was Emma Holly. She hadn't even published yet. But here, in my hands was this amazing story with..STORY...and sex. Lots of sex. Startling sex. Daring sex. Menage sex. Caring sex. Regrettful sex. Heck, there was sex dripping off the pages. But you know what else there was? Story. Sure the sex was awesome, original (but not too kinky) and capable of doing things to a person that well...I'll leave that to your imagination. But the story grabbed me. I felt for the characters. It was interesting to me to follow them when they weren't having sex, and yet, I hungered for those scenes as well. Here was fine erotica. So I devoured Ms Holly's works (after publication) and then went on to check out a few other Black Lace titles.

You learn a lot about yourself reading erotica. Your likes, your disgusts, and your 'hmm, now that's interesting'. I understand there's a whole BDSM movement in the erotica/romantica books out there, but that doesn't appeal, probably for the fact that I just don't get it. I mean, come on, that would hurt! Spanking? Yeah, that's another tough one. Perhaps I'm not quite the erotica afficianado I think I am (well, heck, I'm not!). But at least I gave it a try, and came out of it knowing what works and what doesn't work, for me.

So what do you look for when you buy erotica? Can you recommend a great writer who really gets it, knowing that in order to appeal to our sexual natures you also have to appeal to our intellect, our values and tap into our hidden fantasies without insulting us? Do you think the erotica market will remain as hot as it is? Why do you think it's become so hot over the past few years? And come on, why do YOU read it?



Helen Brenna said...

Michele, I've never read erotica, but I'd like to try it out. Tell me what I should read!!

anne frasier said...

i've been hearing all this talk about these here sexy, sexy books. my agent says they're about the only sure thing in the market right now.

*pulling up a chair and leaning forward*

i know nothing!!

Anonymous said...

Michele, my introduction was also the Beauty series, and I have to agree that the first book was all you needed to read (well maybe the last 20 pages of the 3rd book). I have yet to pick up another erotica book after that. I am not so sure that I want to, yet I read the blurbs for some of these books and think (I might like to read this one) yet I am afraid that the best part of the book will have been the blurb.


Kathleen Eagle said...

AArgh! I just spent half an hr on a comment and it didn't post. What's going on with my system?

Anyway, erotica tends to leave little to the imagination, and I prefer to engage the reader's imagination. As a writer I repect the reader's role in bringing her fantasy to the experience. As a reader, when a love scene takes me to Yuck! instead of Ah! I feel cheated because the spell is broken. (That's not to say there should be no yuck! in fiction, mind you. Not saying that at all.) Words are our only tools, and it's all about balance. Too little and you lose the reader. Too much and you lose the reader.

I'm drawn into a story through character. Erotica is mainly about titillation, all too often at the expense of character development and story. Titillation is manipulative, and I'm not looking for that when I read.

Mind you, I'm a believer in "to each his own." Readers pick up erotica expecting bigtime titillation--as Michele put it "the left handed read." We're talking commercial fiction here, and writers must meet those expectations. Heck, if there's a big buzz about a particular book, I'll take a look at it. But I expect to be drawn into fiction through characters I can care about. If I don't find that, on to the next book. Have I read any erotica? Yes. But it generally doesn't hold my interest.

Why is it popular these days? I'm going to go out on a limb and say that it has to do with the political climate. I've heard that the subgenres recently experiencing the most growth are erotica and Christian. That says a lot. Think about the Victorian period. 'Nuff said?

Heck, no! 'Nuff from me, maybe, but what do you guys think?

Betina Krahn said...

I've read some erotica, found it stimulating and sometimes shocking. Bertrice Small was my first encounter with it, though some(maybe even she)would object to her work being described that way. There were large parts of her early books that were indeed erotica-- blatantly so.

I've read here and there over the years. Always, it's the books with real story and likable characters that get to me. If I don't like the characters, I can't lower my defenses enough to bond and identify with them. Is it possible to have erotica defenses? I guess I did, probably from the Baptist upbringing. There are probably a lot of women of my generation that have them. Kathy, that may be one of the wellsprings of this current craze for erotica. . . women freeing themselves sexually, if only in their minds.

Now I confide my secret terror. My current book was labled in RT as "MILD" for sensuality. I am so dead. I never thought about how much explicit sex was in it at the time; now I'm worried people won't count the plentiful sexual tension as part of the sexuality of the book!! Will I get hate mail from disappointed erotica fans?

Or are some readers sick enough of stuffing tab A into slot B that they could use a palate cleansing read? Is that what I've done? Become the literary sherbet?

Michelle Buonfiglio said...

Aaaaah, as Kathleen knows, my very favorite subject. Because it's as easy to define erotica as it is romance. Actually, I'm in the middle of compiling an interview series on the very subject.

There is for me a big difference between erotica and erotic romance. Erotica, I believe, is, or should be, driven by strong emotion, but not necessarily love. Could be hatred, shame, celebration of a feeling only stimulated by a particular fetish or sexual scenario, etc.

I read erotica clinically for my job, sometimes am blown away by the writing, creativity, ability to convey tension, sensual and emotional, and elicit strong emotions.

Sometimes I get turned on by it.

Erotic romance, well, different animal entirely for me. I love it cause it generally turns me on if I like the story. I like romance best (off the clock, of course) when it's hot and makes me hot.

But I've read Christian romance that had imagery that made the book sexy in what it didn't reaveal.

Why's it popular? Women are accepting their sexualities as their own, asking for what they want, and being empowered through it. Whether it's sexy sweet romance getting em hot so they can go have at it with husband -- or they want an SM fantasy to work through rape -- or simply love fantasizing about sex with 2 buff guys.

Plus, the demos skew younger, and younger girls aren't as hung up about sex, and they aren't hung up about buying sexy stuff. They grew up on Vickie's secret, right?

Anyway, and this is a HUGE revelation for many readers -- just cause a woman fantasizes about something -- gets turned-on by reading it -- doesn't mean she wants to have it happen to her in real life.

I really would like most of the stuff I fantasize to happen, but that's me.


Susan Kay Law said...

Doesn't work for me, I'm afraid. I've tried it a couple of times, and in one case I could even go: "wow, she can WRITE" but it doesn't do anything for me. I think because:

A) I'm much too practical. I'm forever thinking: "how do you DO that? Would that really WORK? Ow, ow, ow." Or "these people are gonna catch something."

B) I'm not at all interested in the guy having other partners. I want all the attention on ME, ME, ME!

I have the same problem with porn, actually. I go a couple of minutes thinking: "oh, this is interesting . . ." But then I start laughing, which isn't quite the emotion anybody was going for in that situation.


Kathleen Eagle said...

That happens to me, too, Susie. I bust a gut laughing at some of this stuff. I'm going, "Yeah, right, I'll bet that was tasty." Or, "Now, wait, what's the other guy doing all this time?"

One that really kills me is the notion of doing it on horseback at full gallop. No, the horse is galloping. Having sex on a galloping horse. Uh-huh. And it wasn't meant to be a comedy. It was billed as a very sexy read. But I'm laughing too hard.

BUT has anyone seen "Missouri Breaks'? Classic western. There's a very sexy horseback scene, but they don't "do it" and the horse is just plodding along. Lovely. Oh, and there's a scene in "Like Water For Chocolate," but it's meant to be mystical. See, that works. It serves a good story. I don't have any problem with a stimulating scene, and parts of "Like Water For Chocolate" are very erotic. But when all it adds up to is titillation, I want to know "Where's the beef?"

Helen Brenna said...


aaron21 said...

My first experience with erotica was the Ann Rice Beauty Series. I then went on to read her Exit to Eden. Which is also D/s in tone and also by Ann. While it's a lot like The Story of O, it's still a pretty cool idea.

The idea that there is a place to go to that you CAN be openly *and in the real world* BDSM. That is only possible online. Out in the real world it's kinda hard.

Also too I think can put ourselves in place of the characters as well. Not just that there is a hot sex scene.

Even though that is nice too :).

Michele said...

I like that you stated the difference between erotica and erotic romance, Michelle. I think some readers may pick up the erotic romance, expecting erotica, and be disappointed, and vice versa, the romance readers may be shocked if they picked up erotica, expecting romance.

Helen asked what to try. Not to keep recommending Emma Holly, but she really does do it right. Her first book, Menage is excellent. Now, she's doing erotic romance, which isn't as steamy as her first Black Lace stuff.

Oh, yes porn. I don't think that even belongs in the same discussion, because that's definately just sex for titillation and shock and well, I believe it's a man thing, though I'm sure many women appreciate it, but I haven't been able to figure that stuff out either. It is laughable, and cringe worthy, at least to me. Though I'm all for a good erotic scene in a movie (especially when we're allowed some frontal male nudity). Why is it okay to flash breasts in all the R movies but the penis is such a no-no? Hmm, definately fodder for another blog discussion.

I do have my own idea for an erotic romance, but it'll probably never get written, because I don't have the skill (yet) to make it readable, and to not stray into purple territory (which I tend to do already with my own sex scenes in my current books). So, probably I'll leave it for the more skilled writers. But it's not necessarily a greater skill, just a different passion, I guess.


Helen Brenna said...

aaron21 brought up a good point, putting yourself in the place of the character. Interesting. I think that's true of any genre isn't it? If we don't have at least empathy for the characters, the story's not as enjoyable?

Melissa said...

I don't read erotica. Just not my thing. Considering I write Traditional romances, not surprising. But when I was judging the RITAs this year, I got a couple novellas. One was what I would have thought erotica to be. A lot of sex, no real plot except for them to have real sex, and I ended up finishing thinking where was the story? How about the romance? No way would this last outside of the bedroom. Then I read the other one. It ended up being the highest mark I gave. She'd really made the sex so emotional and part of who the characters were. I found myself pulled into this world and really enjoyed every minute of it. I was actually sorry it wasn't a longer book.

Betina Krahn said...

Exactly my take, Melissa. There is a wide range in what can be termed "erotica." Some have marvelous stories that you can get majorly involved in. Others are just episodes of sex (great to awful and everything in between) linked together.

Question: Do you think in general people are more impressed (give you more credit as a writer) if you say you write "erotica" or "romance?"

Candace said...

Interesting question, Betina. From my own experience I would have to say I do, definitely, get a different reaction if I say I write "erotic romance" as opposed to simply saying I write "romance." There is more interest, more questions, and a general sense that "erotic romance" is more hip than plain "romance." I don't know if that translates into me being given more credit as a writer or the simply points up the fact that sex sells. I suspect it's the latter.

Betina Krahn said...

I can't help thinking that "erotica" or "erotic romance" is seen as stronger, more pro-active, more independent and assertive. Romance, whether we like it or not, has a lot of baggage that says "sentimental and unrealistic." Or "highly emotional and unrealistic."
Or just plain "wishful thinking." Which I think is the basis for a lot of attitude we get from non-romance readers. Romance is fairy-tale stuff, not real, not grown up.

But Erotica, they seemed to say, that's REAL grown up. REAL life. REAL grit and blood and passion. It's adult. Whereas Romance is naive and juvenile and somehow immature.

In other words, Erotica has a traditionally MALE SENSIBILITY. . . sensuality for the pleasure's sake. . . which has always been the "man of the world" attitude. The other half of the double standard. Sex and pleasure without a lot of "feelings" gumming up the works.

(Like it's more realistic to think that we can just go out and pick up two buff virile young males and have a good old three-day menage-a-trois with no strings attached and no guilt!!)

Interestingly, "Erotic romance" seems to satisfy both camps. The word erotic implies the idea of choice and embracing pleasure for the sake of pleasure and assertiveness of deciding how much to participate. But Romance implies something of relationship and feelings involved. So it seems to hit both camps. . . and as you said, Candace, seems to garner a different reaction from non-romance community.

Thanks, Candace! More comments, you guys! Maybe I should post about this later. . . get more input!