Warning: The link contains language that is NSFW (not safe for work, if you’re new to acronyms). I don’t know why you’d be visiting an erotic romance author’s website if the f-bomb troubled you, but better safe than sorry.
At any rate. Kate Harding is a wonderful writer. She writes essays and blogs on feminism, fat acceptance, and more. I came to her site originally when I was asking Google for help with a friend’s situation – his wife had been a big woman before they got engaged, lost a lot of weight right before he proposed, and was back up to her normal weight before the wedding, and I was trying to tell him “Dude, this is the shape she is and all the weight loss tricks and products aren’t going to change that in the long run.” Kate says that with biting wit and incisive observation.
But what got me going most recently was this link, which was actually in response to someone else.
Women, generally speaking, waste so much time with self-deprecation. We don’t wait for the world to dismiss us. We come up with all the reasons why we’re not good enough to be successful. That’s some seriously internalized bull doots, right there. But wait, there’s more.
Erotic e-publishing is something nearly everyone does under a pen name. Some of us are doing it to protect professional reputations in other fields. But here’s the thing – out of all the various types of publishing, erotic e-publishing is the only genre where other writers sniff and say “Oh, you’re not really published.” Oh? I’m not? I’ve got a contract with Harlequin that says I am. “The standards are lower with erotic e-pubbing, anyone can break in.” There are a lot more e-pubs out there, because the demand for these stories is so high. New publishers that can’t pay well due to the lack of volume do exist – but at least they exist. New publishers don’t try to open in other genres nearly as often.
It’s for women, written by women, published by women, and acknowledges the sexuality of women, and therefore no one takes it seriously as art or commerce, despite racking up some of the most respectable and fastest growing sales numbers in the industry. And the people who write it do half the dismissing.
No. Today, I am Kathleen Freaking Dienne.
I used to sit around and complain that gosh darn it, I’m a good writer, I could write books if only I had ideas. Then I would read books and interviews with authors, and see them say stuff like “the idea is the easy part.” One of them even said that her pet peeve was people writing in to say “I had this idea. Write the book and we’ll share the profit!” Now, while sharing the profit seemed silly, the concept of the idea being worthless seemed somehow unfair. And the idea wasn’t the easy part. My ideas all made for interesting first paragraphs and painted themselves into corners (or turned out to be complete ripoffs of whatever fantasy series I was reading at the time).
Now that I have actually finished manuscripts, I’d like to travel back in time and just whack myself over my silly, clueless little head. I wasn’t a writer. I was an idiot with a fairly decent grasp on the mechanics of writing. A brain used to writing breeds ideas. The first idea I had for a story that actually came with a middle and an ending wasn’t bad, but while I was in the middle of the writing, I had another idea. I opened a text file and pinned down that wild idea like a rat in a trap on the spot because I thought I’d never have another idea again. As soon as I finished the first story, I started writing the second. While I was writing the second, I came up with a handful of new ideas. While I was writing the third, I came up with a dozen ideas, two of which were so exciting that I abandoned the work in progress and started writing them instead.
The problem now is discipline. Put the ideas into the text file, and finish something. (Robert Heinlein again – you must finish what you write!) I’ve got enough ideas in the idea file to keep writing for the next ten years at my current pace, but the new ideas won’t stop coming. I haven’t yet had any ideas like wizard boarding school or angsty emo high school vampires, but who knows what’ll pop out of the fountain spout next.
There are some unwritten rules in erotic romance that I’m okay with following. The heroes are always well-hung, for example. TOTALLY okay with that rule.
But there are other “rules” that don’t sit so well with me. Hair, for example. Real men have hair. They have it on their faces, backs, chests, and bellies. I don’t go out of my way to describe a hairy back, mind you, although I personally like it (there, I said it) but all of my heroes have chest hair – crisp, curly chest hair that holds the scent of soap and warm skin – and that hair gives my heroines tactile pleasure.
I was just reading a study where women’s preferences can be correlated to local health. In areas where the overall community health is bad, women dig men with lots of hair, thicker bones, visible musculature. In areas where community health is good, women go for thinner bodies, more delicate features, and less to no hair. The conclusion is that the heavily apparent secondary sexual characteristics are survival markers – denoting men whose genetic health gives them an advantage in an environment without a lot of available interventions.
I wouldn’t want any man who couldn’t defend me during the zombie apocalypse. Some of my heroes are gentle, kind of nerdy men, but they’re still men capable of kicking ass, taking names, and lifting heavy things. My guys don’t just act like alpha men – they look like alpha men. That means hair. Down with waxing! Up with surviving the apocalypse!
When I’m putting my toddler to bed, I use the time to think about my stories. Basically, it takes close to an hour, the room is dark, I can’t read or take notes… so I think things through and then race to the computer to type it all out as soon as he’s asleep.
The last three nights, I’ve had a particular image stuck in my head. There’s a man in his forties. He’s hiding a briefcase in an old house. Then he writes a note. The scene cuts to a nice house in a different neighborhood. Kids playing in the yard. Two police office come up. The lady of the house answers, covers her mouth in horror at what she hears. Cut scene to the first house. She’s cleaning things up, throwing out most of what she finds. She finds the briefcase. Inside is a whole hell of a lot of money.
Since I am working on an erotic steampunk, and I don’t write thrillers, you can see why this mental image isn’t doing me any good. I hope writing it down here will be like it is with song lyrics, whereby sharing it will get it stuck in someone else’s head.
I’ve always loved the Victorians, especially their children’s literature and their erotica. I’m working on a steampunk right now, so my eyeballs gravitate to any article that might help. If you’re not a big fan of the era, and you haven’t read enough of their erotica to know how wild they were under those all-encompassing costumes, check out this link for a brief look at why you’ve been given the wrong idea: http://www.doublex.com/blog/xxfactor/what-victorian-women-thought-about-sex
I have said in earlier posts that I ended up writing erotic fiction because that was what I could write from beginning to end. My other stories suffered from sagging middles, me writing myself into corners, and just plain boring me too much to bother finishing. The one exception is a science fiction tale that absorbs me, but it’s a complicated story that takes more straight hours to focus on than I have with multiple jobs and a toddler.
So erotic fiction it is.
I did a lot of market research when I realized this was where I was going. I read tons of guidelines and tons of samples to get a feel for the tone of each publisher. I read author websites, writer forums, and more. One thing I learned is that there are a lot of unspoken rules that as a reader I didn’t necessarily see. But if I wanted to sell my work, I needed to know where those invisible lines were drawn.
For example, I figured out pretty quickly that even in erotic romance the heroine does not have penetrative sex with anyone after she meets the hero. If the heroine is married, she does not have penetrative sex with anyone except her husband. Straight up erotica allows both scenarios, of course, and fantasy worlds have different rules, but if you’re writing erotic romance set in this world, you need to pay attention to those rules.
At least so that when you break them, you do it on purpose. The novella coming out in June came from me trying to figure out how I could justify a girl having sex with two men, and still call it erotic romance. Solution: Both men are her husbands, but one is from a parallel universe. What started as a purely a mental exercise turned into something original enough that the editor in chief of the press said she had never seen that particular plot before. So breaking rules has some big benefits, as long as you’re doing it consciously!
But to people who don’t write this stuff, the conventions are as exotic as the rule breaking. I was talking to a friend about some of the guidlelines for erotic publishing. Since he doesn’t read the genre, he was heartily amused to hear that “human stumbling into fairy ring orgy” was not only a common plot, but one that’s been done to death. I think the one that really broke him was the guideline on many sites that publish paranormal erotica:
* Absolutely no necrophilia. Undead doesn’t count.
One of my WIPs (works in progress) is a steampunk. I’m mentioned before that this came about by accident. The house publishing my first novella had a blog entry from an editor saying she was looking for more steampunk. I mentioned this to my husband, who tossed out an entire plot off the top of his head. (My husband sparks off brilliant ideas like a unicorn’s ass shoots out glitter. He’s actually much better at plotting and world building than I am. The reason I’m the writer in the family is because I’m the one putting my butt in the seat and typing. Inspiration isn’t everything.)
It’s a terrific story and I’m madly in love with the characters. I am a huge fan of Victorian literature, and I even have my very own Godey’s Lady’s Book here in my office (a bound copy of ten issues).I started to type out the plot for you before I remembered that I wasn’t finished working yet and I don’t want to jinx it. I’ve done a ton of research on top of my existing knowledge of the period and my existing love of alternate history/worlds.
What I haven’t done is read a lot of steampunk. The giants in the genre don’t appeal to me, with the exception that I enjoyed Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon. Notice that’s not his steampunk work. A title that never comes up in steampunk top ten lists that I loved was Pavane by Keith Roberts, even though it’s an alternate world where the tech is steam powered. (Although set in the present day, the world is built on the assumption that Elizabeth I was assassinated, England went Catholic, and the Catholic Church repressed technology such that industrial progress evolved very, very slowly.)
But I felt like I should read more of what I’m trying to write. I went to the library and got Steampunk, since that one is recommended on every top ten list on the topic.
The reason I haven’t declared it a wallbanger is because I would never huck a library book at a wall.
Also, I have not read all the stories yet. I got pissed off by the scholarly essay at the front of the book, where it basically says that steampunk, without the “punk” aspects of thinking negatively towards the society so described, is pitiful. Under this theory, focusing on the imaginative aspects, the technology, the social norms, and the clothing, without writing the rebellion, make the story inherently less valuable.
Pish and tosh. You can’t write about Victorian era clothes without considering what those clothes suggest about the society’s expectations and desires. Ditto relationships between men and women. And I’m sorry, but some of the stories I have read so far are just gadget porn. Science fiction is infested with this kind of “story” – endless nattering about how this doohickey works and blah blah blah. So to suggest that anyone writing fiction for the pleasure of invention (as opposed to Making Statements) has taken a step down is to be one of those people who doesn’t read or write popular fiction.
I’ve read enough to figure that out. So thanks, but I’ll take it from here.