Saturday, February 28, 2009
“What do you write?”
“Uh…I write porn.”
“You write screenplays for skin flicks?”
“No. But dirty stuff. Prose, but dirty prose. You know?”
“No, not really.”
Everyone has his or her own ideas about what porn is. One of the cleverest answers came from Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: “I know it when I see it.” It’s clever, but unhelpful. For one thing, in the context it was meant, it assumes that porn is a bad thing. It also makes the assumption that it is visual. The only intelligent thing about that statement is that it underlines the subjective nature of making a call.
Umberto Eco, author and professor of semiotics at the University of Bologna, wrote that in order for a reader to connect with his books, they had to share the same encyclopedia. He wasn’t talking about a real encyclopedia, but rather a set of understandings and values that were similar enough to mesh and communicate fluidly. He calls it a “social treasury”.
In essence, whenever the writer and the reader possess vastly different social treasuries, there is going to be a problem. The content, the meaning and the intentions of a piece of work are going to be mistaken, misinterpreted and misread.
There’s a great scene in the film “The Reader,” when the young man and his older lover are sitting in the bathtub and he is reading “Lady Chatterly’s Lover” to her. At one point she stops him as says, “That’s disgusting. How can anyone write that?” Even so, after her outburst, she still wants him to read on. It’s a humorous moment in a very dark film and it underlines this concept of the social treasury. Here is a woman who has existed in and helped to grease the wheels of a vast killing machine, but she finds the description of sex obscene.
Time, of course, has a great deal to do with those social treasuries, but not to the extent you’d imagine. I very much doubt Anais Nin, Henry Miller or the Marquis de Sade would think what I write now is obscene. Education, social status, economics and how close a person keeps to current social norms all play a role in forming individual social treasuries. And individual lived experience is just as much a part of forming them as well.
You might think all this talk of social treasuries is just a way of letting bad writers off the hook, and in recent times, it probably has contributed to the acceptance of a lot of crap as art.
Of course, anyone can write a clumsy sentence. Anyone can write a clunky plot, or bad dialogue. But it isn’t bad grammar or ham-fisted storytelling that makes something porn. Beyond the flaws in craft, it is the central concepts, the ways of seeing and being in the world, and the way those are expressed through characters and stories that are the ‘carriers’ of a writer’s social treasury.
This means that whatever you write, someone is going to find it impossible to connect with your work. But it also means that there’s a great likelihood that someone else is going to feel intense proximity to it. The reality of it is that no matter how good a writer you are, you aren’t going to connect with every reader unless you write something so simplistic it is essentially meaningless.
Really great erotica doesn’t just arouse physically; it resonates, it calls the reader home and plucks at something deeply embedded and essential in the reader’s understanding of the world, as does any great piece of writing. But erotica has an added level of intimacy. It asks the reader to open up parts of their social treasury that might not see the light of day very often and takes us back, sub-textually, to the place where our first sexual responses were formed.
* * *
If you would like to read more about the Eco’s understanding of the model reader and social treasuries, read “Beware of the Fallout: Umberto Eco and the Making of the Model Reader” by Gary P. Radford.
Friday, February 27, 2009
By Helen E. H. Madden
Unlike my esteemed colleagues here at OGG, I will not be reaching back into the golden years of my sexual youth, nor will I look at sex and censorship in our schools and libraries. Instead, I want to talk about recent personal history.
First, let me state two things. One, I am very secure in my heterosexuality. Two, being a heterosexual female, I like looking at naked men. Having said that, let's go aaaaaaaaall the way back to 2007. I had just signed a contract with Mojocastle Press for my first book, Demon By Day, and was looking for a way to promote myself as an erotica writer. There was a local science fiction convention coming up, one that I was quite familiar with, and lo and behold, on their programming schedule was a panel called "Love, Sex, and Romance in Science Fiction." It was scheduled for 10PM, and listed as a closed-door session. It was like that panel was made for me. Seriously, I heard angels singing Hallelujah when I saw it. I immediately e-mailed the convention staff and said I'd like to volunteer for the panel.
Since the convention staff knew me, and knew that I was an erotica writer, they said they'd be happy to have me. Oh, and there was one other guest who would be participating in the discussion panel. Helen, meet Author John Smith. Author John Smith, meet Helen E. H. Madden. Please, e-mail amongst yourselves and be prepared to host a panel together this upcoming weekend.
So I sent an e-mail introducing myself to Author John Smith, explaining who I was, what I wrote, and hey, here's my website at http://www.helenehmadden.com, complete with erotica art gallery! The very next day, I got a response back that was a little... surprising, shall we say?
(All quotes in today's blog post have been rewritten and names have been changed to protect the stupid, just so you know.)
From Author John Smith: "I never, I say I never have been more shocked and offended in all my life! How DARE you draw pictures of naked men?!"
Ooooooooookay. I immediately e-mailed back with an apology, stating it had not been my intent to offend; I was merely showing him my website as a way of offering my credentials for being on this adults-only panel. By the way, I added, I thought that adults-only meant we were going to discuss adults-only topics like erotica and erotic art in science fiction, and did you not see the warnings I put up on thumbnails page of my art gallery stating that there were images of male nudity on the site, so if you don't like that sort of thing, don't look?
Then I immediately e-mailed the convention staff to make sure I hadn't been wrong about the panel entitled "Love, Sex, and Romance in Science Fiction." Was it adults-only? Yes. Were we allowed to discuss sexually explicit topics? That was the general idea. Were we allowed to use sexually explicit terms and language. Oh hell yes! Wasn't that the point?
Relieved by the con staff's response, I e-mailed back to Author John Smith to let him know that I was willing to find some middle ground to work with him if he was uncomfortable discussing certain subjects, but did he understand that we were hosting a talk on sexually explicit material?
From Author John Smith: "Why yes, I did know. However, I saw those pictures of naked men on your website and I got scared. I don't like pictures of naked men. I am straight, so I only like to look at naked women. However, I guess it's okay for you to draw pictures of naked men if you want to. I mean, since you're a woman, I supposed it's only fair..."
Say WHAT? Excuse me? It's only fair that I, a simple female, get to create explicit images of naked men in a world that constantly deluges me with images of naked women? Why, how generous of you, you prick!
Imagine my outrage. Imagine me seething and frothing at the mouth as I read his follow-up e-mail asking if I had any images of a naked woman on her back, legs bent, knees spread, inviting someone to 'enter into a delicious wet treat.' Imagine my husband loading up the tranquilizer gun to keep me from hunting down this jack-ass and tearing him limb from limb. That particular evening was quite interesting, indeed.
I went to the convention, dreading what would happen. The last thing I wanted to deal with was some stupid sexist jerk who thought I had no business writing erotica or drawing male nudes. It would have been perfectly okay in this guy's mind for me to post images of naked and semi-naked women on my website, showing off their 'delicious wet treats,' but it must have seemed abnormal to him that I wanted to create sexual images of naked men, meant to appeal to me. Oh, the horrors he must have felt in being forced to deal with a woman secure in her heterosexuality and artistic freedom.
I got through the panel and dealt with the prick as politely as I could. But all that weekend he continued to repeat his request for me to supply him with images of naked women lewdly displayed. The first 40 or 50 times, I demurred politely. But eventually I got sick of hearing him say, "You know what you need on your website? Naked women doing nasty things! That's what people want to see!" So I turned to him and said, "Well, I'm rather busy right now, but if you care to commission a piece, I could put something together. I charge $50 an hour for digital artwork, and this looks like a 10-15 hour job. Shall I draw up a contract for the work?"
His silence was deafening. When he finally did speak, it was to stammer things along the lines of, "Oh no, I don't mean to bother you with paying work. It's just that if you happen to do any such drawings, maybe you could send them my way, because I certainly shouldn't have to pay for such things as porn customized to my sexual fantasies..."
Here's the thing. If I've got a hot button issue, it's this - women constantly have images of nude and semi-nude oversexed women shoved down their throats. Naked women are in the newspapers, magazines, TV, movies, etc.. But if we want to see a picture of a naked man? We have to search the internet for whatever grungy scraps the gay porn sites throw out to lure in paying customers. Even in the erotica industry, that hotbed of artistic sexual freedom, it's all about the naked girlies. Don't believe me? Check out the Erotica Cover Watch. They'll show you some prime examples of how naked men don't exist in the erotica genre. As for the rest of the world, I don't care how explicit we think things have gotten, for the vast majority, sexy = naked woman. Naked men do not exist, and creating images of naked men -- explicit, sexual images -- is considered so wrong it's ridiculous. Yeah, Justin Timberlake tears off Janet Jackson's top and the main stream media and polite society go nuts, but what do you think would have happened if Janet had reached over and torn off Justin's pants, leaving him standing with his dick hanging out? Can you even conceive that it might have happened? Or is the idea too radical to be imagined?
Last month I received a copy of Imagine FX, a digital art magazine I subscribe too. The cover showcased an image of a buxom blonde in skin tight, revealing clothing, sitting on top of a giant robot, sucking on a lollipop and reading a "Robots for Dummies" book. She was a pin-up girl, pure and simple, complete with pouty lips and nipple marks. I'm not mad that the image was on the cover of the magazine. It was a good image, well rendered, and it told a clear story. What pissed me off was inside that magazine, the female editor claimed that Imagine FX was breaking all the rules by showing a male samurai in full armor the previous issue's cover. Most of Imagine FX's cover images have been of buxom babes, so yeah, the samurai was a change in pace, but did putting a guy covered up in armor really qualify as breaking the rules? I e-mailed the editor with the following:
"I was very surprised to read your introduction to issue 40 of Imagine FX. You stated "We're breaking all the rules again... This time around we've got a beautiful creature on the cover." Well, the pin-up girl on the front cover... certainly was a beautiful creature, but she was hardly an exception to 'the rules' I've come to associate with IFX cover art... if you really do want to break the rules, might I suggest you put a pin-up **boy** on the front cover? Something pretty, pouty, and dressed in revealing clothing, maybe even sucking on something sweet while reading a 'For Dummies' book (because we all know that pin-ups, boy and girl, must be dummies)? Now that would be breaking the rules. But I suspect if you put a beautiful creature like that on the cover, you'd probably get fired."
Imagine FX has reprinted my e-mail in their letters to the editor column this month, and I'm waiting for next month's issue to see if anyone says anything about it. I won't be surprised if I get burned at the stake. But seeing that cover image, reading all that hogwash about breaking the rules, made me feel like I was dealing with Author John Smith all over again. Although I must say, dealing with that jerk did provide me with inspiration to do some new artwork. I went straight home after that convention and turned out this little beauty...
Belleraphon, by Helen E. H. Madden, 2007
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Okay, I'm not saying that there is nothing wrong with the world today. Some things about sex, sexuality and explicitness are really screwed up.
However - some things are changing for the better too. I think it's easy to forget that sometimes. So here are some silver linings to go with the clouds.
Attitudes to different sexualities are changing - maybe not quickly enough, but change is happening. Take GLBT issues in the UK.
There are same-sex civil commitment ceremonies that grant couples exactly the same rights and responsibilities are marriage. Same-sex couples can adopt. Openly gay and lesbian men and women can join the military. We have openly gay and lesbian elected MP's (Members of Parliament). There are a hell of a lot of people who really don't give a damn if a man is married to a woman or to another man.
Yes, there's still prejudice and there is still bigotry, but not only are individuals attitudes changing - institutions are changing too. I know it's not the same all over the world - but hey, even a little corner of the world is a start. These things have changes as attitudes to sex and sexuality have shifted.
I think compulsory sex education in schools was a step forward too - maybe it is the parents responsibility to teach their child about sex. But the simple fact is, some don't. It's hard for the children of those who don't to fall through the cracks any more.
Yes, there are teenagers who will start having sex too young - haven't there always been? But isn't it still better to make sure everyone gets the basic theory before they try the practical? To me, that doesn't mean sex loses some special mysticism, it means people know what's going on - it means they should know how to avoid unintended pregnancies and STD's. After all, the mysticism isn't about what goes where or how to put a condom on - that's the connection to the person you're with - that the bit you can't teach in a classroom.
Another thing - access to contraception and safer-sex information. The right to decide how many children you want to have or if you want any at all. The ability to protect yourself from everything from AIDS to chlamydia. And it's available to everyone. Isn't that a good thing too?
Even the darkest end of the sexual scale - rape laws have changed too. Marital rape is now illegal. It's no longer acceptable for a short skirt to be used as evidence against a victim in court. It's another system that is far from perfect, but progress, however slow and grinding, is taking place.
There's a lot that's getting better.
And do you know the thing that gives me the most hope of all?
In a world that, as previous posts rightly pointed out, is full of free internet porn and sex everywhere you turn, and in a world in the middle of a recession - people are voting with their wallets. Erotic Romances publishers are one of the few sectors bucking the global downturn.
Where before you could either read sex or you can read romance. Try to find something that was all about both published too long ago and you'll struggle to do it. Now it's a huge growth industry. I don't know if I'm overly optimistic, but I like to see that as some little sign that people are looking for sex that is romantic, that is about love, commitment and happiness and well as physical release.
All that wonder that everyone things has gone from sex? I think it's still there. Sometimes it's hard to see, but it is.
I don't know anyone of my generation, who grew up with AIDS as a fact of life, who thinks about it on a regular basis - at least not past the point of remembering to put a condom on before hand. And the same generation that had access to all the internet porn - I don't think it dulls the senses or stops anyone appreciating the real thing, because strangers on a screen faking orgasms is not the real thing - the way things are now, it's barely more than irrelevant background noise.
I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but I think when you get right down to it, whatever age someone grows up in can be thought of as a golden age - not the same as another generations golden age though - each generation has to make their new golden age, their new sexual revolution and make their own mark on sexual history.
Is what's happening now golden? I'd like to think there are a few bits that glitter. But if you want the real answer, come back in twenty years time - things have a way of acquiring even more sparkle with hindsight.
I wouldn't be surprised if what we have right now is seen as pure gold when looked at from 2035 :)
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
“It seemed like a nice neighborhood to have bad habits in.”Raymond Chandler
Recently I checked out a copy of Anne Hooper’s book “Erotic Massage”, lavishly illustrated with nude photos demonstrating the moves in the text, nubile young couples, with bursting pectorals and yearning nipples, and the elderly librarian didn’t even blink. They know me by name there even though I never introduced myself. People talk about me when I’m not around.
Tell you what. Georgia has a hell of a library system.
I wouldn’t have thought that when I first came here, after wandering like a prince among letters through the arrogantly lush aisles of the Midtown Manhattan library in New York City, and later the Pretty Good libraries of San Antonio. When I moved here the libraries of Richmond and Columbia county seemed poor and lonesome shelters for homeless books. I felt as though I’d landed in purgatory. Whatever Georgians were spending their property tax dollars on, it wasn’t books. I couldn’t bear to go in there after awhile for the sheer pain of viewing such intellectual poverty. Then one day, a maternal library worker who saw me staring at my shoes, drew me aside and told me an esoteric secret known only to a few. The card catalogs of all the libraries in Georgia are interconnected on the Internet. You can order a book from any library in the whole damn state of Georgia. Any book they have anywhere anyhow, flat out.
Library kung fu.
Say it brother. Georgia has a helluva library system. I’ve been slowly burning my way through Suzie Bright’s “Best Erotica” annual series year by year, culled from shelves in small God fearing Baptist towns around the state, Anne Hooper’s picture books for adults, Desmond Morris “The Naked Female”, comic book anthologies by Robert Crumb and the usual classics an apprentice writer must be well acquainted with. One of the austere ladies behind the desk, with glasses on a chain around her neck, thumbed through the Desmond Morris book with an air of respect and asked me to let her know when I was done with it. Mr. Garcia. (So you’re that guy.)
And then there’s Google.
Omniscient as God, Google is evolving the human species into a huge colonial organism. These days revolutions aren’t carried out with guillotines and cheering bodies flinging themselves over the barricades. They happen quietly with legal negotiations and HTML code. When Google Books solved their copyright problems last year a revolution occurred that has not yet shaken the world but will.
Take Henry Miller. Published in France, his books were banned in the United States for decades as obscene. A friend of his did prison time when customs munchkins fished out a copy of “Tropic of Cancer” from the bottom of his suitcase, probably taking a moment to peruse page five. Man, those were the days. Perhaps you’ve never read “Tropic of Cancer”, would you like to? For free? Without the prison sentence? Starting with tasty young Tania on page five? Sitting in Taco Bell with a wireless laptop and a beef gordito? You can read most of it here:
Hell, your kids can do a book report on it for English class. They can read Suzie Bright’s books too if they want to if they want to maybe do a book report on “How to Tell A Dirty Story”.
“Mommy? What’s a butt plug for?”
Times have changed. The first time I realized I was heterosexual, I was a young kid and wandered into a car repair garage in my little town of Gilbert Iowa. This would have been around the time of the Kennedy administration when people were still getting busted for reading Henry Miller. My friend Andy and I had been collecting pop bottles in ditches and fields. If you got about 6 of them together you could take them to Ruthie’s Drug Store (also a pool parlor) and cash them in for an ice cream cone, or maybe a new Spider-man comic that today you could sell on eBay for enough to pay for my kid’s college fund. I usually took the ice cream, what did I know. I knew I had to “go real bad” and the mechanic waved me into the back where the toilet was. Over the sink was a fold out pin up of a naked woman, the first I’d seen since emerging from my mother’s womb seven years before. Breasts the size of a catcher’s mitt and that downy delta of hair with its mysterious vacancy below. It was as alien and strangely compelling a sight as if a spacecraft had landed in our backyard corn field. I never knew there was anything like this in all the world and I forgot all about peeing and went to get Andy so he could see too. The forbidden image stuck in my mind for days and caused strange stirrings in me when I went to bed at night. Now its everywhere. In the movie “Spiderman”. Aunt May asks Peter Parker if he knows about the birds and the bees and he sighs “Aunt May, we’ve had cable for years.” There are no mysteries for kids anymore, they just grow up knowing everything and no knowledge is forbidden territory. I suppose that’s good, and yet I feel a little sorry for this generation. They’ll never know what it feels like to be stunned into awed silence by that first sight of a nude woman the way I did, or the feeling of doing something daring the way Jack Kerouac did when he got his hands on his first felonious copy of Henry Miller and suddenly knew what he wanted to write.
These days it’s been taken to an altogether new level of banality with something called “sexting”, which it turns out one out of five teenagers has done. This is where you take a cell phone with a camera or video cam and take nude photos of yourself and send them around to your friends. It seems like a kind of young whacky thing to do but kids are getting charged with child pornography over this. They’re playing with fire at the same time the walls are coming down.
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
When I was a child, I’m talking prehistory here folks, kids were kids. We rode our bikes wherever we went, we had hoola hoops until we began senior high, we obeyed our parent’s and we weren’t rushed to grow up—at least not to the extent the children of the new millennium have been. We respected our elders and police officers were our friends.
The pill changed attitudes. Sex education got its toe in the door of most schools and we children learned where babies came from. (Here’s something to think about: When my mother was born, it was illegal to share birth control information or even explain where babies came from) I remember sitting in our guidance class, boys snickering on one side of the room, girls solemnly on the other, while a blushing middle-aged woman gave us the goods on pregnancy, gonorrhea and syphilis. Talk about an eye opener. And, all using stick figures and grainy film… LOL
To be honest, we didn’t learn much because the poor woman teaching was way too embarrassed to answer questions and she spoke in a whisper. The boys hooted, the girls blushed.
Today, we’ve got AIDS and some diseases we’d never dreamed about in our liberated ‘Free Love’ 70’s culture. Today we have girls 12 years old waxing their legs, and more. There are beauty pageants for babies, youngsters and pre-teens. Pre-teens made up to look like much, much older girls, stuffed into dresses that an eighteen year old would love. Yet, let a boy or man look at these harlequins of maturity and he’s called a pervert. Mothers berate the girls for not doing well in these pageants while plastering more make up on them. Read about a 12 year old who's already a veteran of this insanity.
Oh and let's not forget body image. It used to be married women who dieted to 'get their figure back' after childbirth. When I was a teenager, I don't remember anyone dieting. Now, it's not uncommon for a ten year old to be counting calories. Anorexia was unheard of in my younger years. Today, it's rampant among all ages, even the very young.
Sex sells! Yes, it does, but along with sex comes responsibility. What on Earth inspired a pageant that encouraged young girls to act much older? What parent thought bringing little Sally up as some pretty doll would make her happy, or make the world a better place?
The AIDs scare has made sex a roulette game. Do it and you could die. But, the advertisements and encouragements from ‘responsible’ adults has dragged these kids forward at an outrageous speed. They no longer have time to be kids.
Add the internet, with its free porn and sexually explicit sites, and you’ve got the makings of one hell of a wasted generation. Parent who would like to raise their children properly, discipline them, monitor what the view or who they see, etc., have been handcuffed by idiotic laws that won’t allow them to do it. Touch your child and you could be charged with abuse. Spank little Johnny and find yourself in jail, and Johnny in foster care, which could truly destroy him.
The pendulum has swung too far, one more time. We’ve gone from ‘you can’t explain what causes babies’ to creating miniature sex objects in our children. Explicit sex if fine, but along with it, you need education and maturity. I was a firm believer in giving a child as much knowledge as they asked for. If my daughter, at age three, asked me where she came from, I didn’t go into a long spiel about biology; I told her the hospital in town. If that wasn’t good enough, she’d let me know. It’s up to the parents to take back the control they were meant to have and to use it wisely. If that means we need classes for people, then let’s have them.
I pray that the next generation will find some middle, sane ground and let their children have their childhood, as well as the education they need. What say you all?
Monday, February 23, 2009
The lead story on the local news last week was that the library board, located in a nearby large town, voted 5-3 to restrict access to four books with sexual themes. The books won’t be banned, but access by minors will be restricted.
The four books are The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Gay Sex, The Lesbian Kama Sutra and Sex for Busy People. The whole debate stemmed from a proposal by a 'Common Sense' group I’d rather not name. They were the same people instrumental in getting adult magazines moved to the top shelves of stores with their covers hidden.
The vote followed two hours of public comment and discussion. The board chair was quoted as saying it was the most disappointing moment in her twenty-five year association with the library. She’s worried that the library will go from being a source of pride for the community, and instead become an embarrassment.
Debating whether to put the books on a top shelf, behind the counter or do something else with them, the board ultimately decided to leave the decision to library staff.
Apparently the board used a three-pronged statute to determine if something is harmful to minors. The statute is as follows:
1. The average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance has a predominant tendency to appeal to a prurient interest in sex to minors.
2. The average adult person applying contemporary community standards would find that the material or performance depicts or describes nudity, sexual conduct, sexual enticement or sadomasochistic abuse in a manner that is patently offensive to prevailing standards in the adult community with respect to what is suitable to minors.
3. A reasonable person would find that the material or performance lacks serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value for minors.
As an author, statute section 3 makes my hackles rise until I hit those last two words: for minors. As a mother, I’d rather not have a minor child exposed to adult subject matter-- but I have far more concerns about the internet than I do The Joy of Gay Sex.
When my son was about eleven and the internet was just becoming widespread, a friend of his was assigned a report on the anatomy of the body. For fun, she typed the word ‘butt’ into the search engine, and got the surprise of her young life. I heard a similar tale from an older woman who collected dollhouses. On one of her first forays into the world wide web, she Googled ‘dollhouses’ and got way more than she bargained for.
The new explicitness is upon us, and I don’t see it going away because technology rarely moves backwards. As an author I abhor censorship and think people should be allowed to choose for themselves what material contains serious literary, scientific, educational, artistic or political value.
As a mother, I’d rather not see it flaunted in my children’s faces...but, as Lisabet mentioned yesterday, sex is used to sell everything possible these days. Even cartoon movies aimed at kids have innuendo in them, supposedly to make them entertaining for adults, too. It’s all around us, and as parents we do the best we can and then cross our fingers and hope it was enough.
I still think the internet is where our children are going to get most of their information, right or wrong. (My son belongs to a Facebook group called ‘If it’s on Wiki it must be true, right?’ Pretty sure this is sarcasm.)
Sunday, February 22, 2009
I was born in the nineteen-fifties, into the world of McCarthy and Eisenhower, conformist and conservative. I reached sexual maturity, though, in a golden age – that fifteen or twenty year period after the invention of the Pill and before the onslaught of AIDS.
Women a generation before me indulged their sexual desires at the risk of becoming pregnant. (Perhaps they risked their reputation as well, but that was a far less tangible concern.) When contraception was unreliable or even illegal, surrendering to the moment could have dire consequences. Unwed mothers were ostracized and back street abortions claimed many lives. Premature marriage was safer, but often shattered a woman’s dreams of a higher education or a career.
Women of my daughter’s generation (actually, I don’t have a daughter, and I’m rather glad) bear an even heavier burden. These days, sex can literally kill you. What a horrible thought! Now sexual relations must be approached warily. They must be negotiated, predicated on the results of blood tests or the availability of “protection”. I bow to the indisputable need for safe sex, but I weep at the damage done to the joy and spontaneity of the sex that I knew.
The golden age. I don’t think that I’m romanticizing. In college, in graduate school and after I began working, I was free to explore who I was sexually, to discover what – and who – I really wanted. The so-called sexual revolution in the late sixties and the seventies was real and wonderful. I don’t want to turn this blog post into a sexual memoir, but I will admit that I had quite a few lovers during that period, including several serious relationships going on concurrently. True, this was a bit confusing emotionally, as well as creating some logistical problems. But it felt right at the time.
I had deep loves as well as my share of short-term flings. Looking back, I am intensely grateful for these experiences. Though I do wonder now where I got the energy!
How does all this reminiscing relate to “the new explicitness”? The opening of society to things sexual began during this golden age. Perhaps this was a reaction to the constraints of the drab fifties. Maybe it was just the natural cycling of society – after all, the nineteen-twenties was also a period of sexual freedom and explicitness.
Now, though, I believe that things have gone too far. A strange opinion, you may think, for an author of erotica. Nevertheless, I stand by it. These days, there’s too much sex in the media and on the Internet. Actually, the real issue for me is not the quantity, it’s the quality. There’s sex everywhere, nudity and kink, on the porn sites and in the evening news. Unfortunately, most of this sex is not arousing or erotic in the least. We’ve become habituated to the surface expressions of sex, and the emotion has slipped away.
Back in my golden age, sex was still naughty, exciting and fun. It could feed your soul and break your heart. Now, in the age of AIDS, sex has no mystery. It is used to sell everything from blue jeans to baby food, and the thrill is largely gone.
Indeed, it has occurred to me that the explosion of explicitness in the public sphere is a reaction to the terrifying reality of AIDS in the private psyche. We’ve deliberately de-sensitized ourselves, killing desire through over-exposure, in order to purge ourselves from the fear of dying through loving.
Maybe this theory simply reflects my history. Perhaps someone who has grown up with AIDS does not see it as the tragedy that I do. It’s not just that it has stolen the lives of so many millions. It has robbed the living, stealing the peak experience of irresistible, irrational passion. My story “After the Plague”, in my collection Fire, captures my feelings about this.
You were born to the plague. So were your mother and father. For you, making love has always been tainted by the threat of death. What a tragedy – an abomination! Can you even begin to imagine a time when two people who were drawn to each other could have sex without fear, without consequences, other than the fact that the emotional connection might or might not strike true?
It's nearly inconceivable to you, I know, the notion of spontaneous sex. No vaccines, no tests, no questions asked. No barriers – at least no physical ones. You might enjoy yourself, you might not. That was the only risk.
I lived in that age. The golden age, it seems now. You could revel in your own body, in someone else's body. Anyone you fancied. Maybe a stranger. Maybe your best friend's husband – or even your best friend herself! If desire called, you answered, as long as that was what felt right.
Every day was ripe with erotic possibilities. We moved through our world (well, perhaps I should speak only for myself) in a continual state of borderline arousal, ready to recognize and enjoy the next sensual adventure.
You're trying to be polite, but I can see your nose wrinkle with disgust at my "promiscuity". To you it sounds unthinkable. Irresponsible. Try to understand. Sex was safe – without drugs or viral inhibitors or any other "precautions". Oh, you could be hurt. You could fall in love with someone who didn't care for you, or with a stranger you'd never see again. But you were always free to try.
So how can an author of erotica evoke this kind of emotion, in our pressurized, impersonal, hyper-sexual world? I’m not sure. Speaking for myself, I try to capture the emotional essence of my own experiences and transplant it into my characters. I write on the fringes of the acceptable, using taboos to recreate the delicious sensation of transgression that I knew when I was younger. And I focus on the feelings – not the sensations of sexual intercourse, but the characters’ emotions as they allow themselves to sink into passion.
It’s a challenge, and I take it very seriously. I’ll allow the unnamed narrator of “Before the Plague” to speak for me:
You're right, I'm a romantic, but don't you think the world today needs a romantic or two? Look, my conapt is just a few levels up. Wouldn't you like to come up and join me for a nightcap?
That swelling in your britches is answer enough. No, that's OK, let me get the tab. Come on now, don't be such a prude. You know that you want to.
Of course I have a supply of condoms, viricide, gloves and dental dams. I'm a woman of my times. But I hope that I can make you forget all that. I want you to relax, to trust me, to let me give you a glimpse, a taste, of what pleasure was like before the plague.
Because, so help me, if someone doesn't know, and remember, we're doomed. Or might as well be.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
What Alessia has to say about genre:
Genre. Such a little word. Two syllables. Three consonants. Two vowels. Other than the exotic pronunciation of its first letter, there's nothing special about it. I mean, writers like words that have some oomph, some hue, some style. Nouns that taste like chocolate-covered bliss rolling off your tongue. Verbs that make readers tingle in hot, pink places. But, alas, genre is not one of those words. It's merely a pretentious word for "category," which is just the fancier cousin of "type."
So, what type of books does Alessia Brio write? Damned good ones. Beyond that, I make no promises, and I accept no boundaries. Fiction? Um, usually. Not always, though. (Knead, for example, is damned near autobiographical.)
Throughout the past week, I read each of the posts on this subject with interest. The general theme seemed to be that no one's work consistently fit any particular category, and most spanned several categories, often at the same time. I sensed a grudging tolerance of genre labels in the interest of publication and subsequent sales. Yeah, I get that. It's a matter of pragmatism. A necessary evil.
A decade and a half ago, my son was born with a host of medical issues. For years, I fought the labels that professionals wanted to stick on him. Cerebral palsy. Mental retardation. I learned the hard way that those labels were the key to unlocking critical services he needed in order to maximize his potential. And yet, while opening some doors, they also closed others. He was herded into segregated environments for "special" care, cutting him off from interaction with "normal" peers. He became a second-class citizen, a parasite feeding on the bloated carcass of public assistance, a burden in the eyes of society, with nothing of value to add.
Much like the erotic romance genre is regarded.
I understand the need for labels while simultaneously bristling at the limitations accompanying them. Over the years, in the course of advocating for my son, I've learned that there are really only two types, two genres, of advocacy: in-your-face and under-your-skin. Neither is "better" than the other. Both are, in varying circumstances, powerful and effective. I think the same holds true of writing. A good book makes you feel or it makes you think. And, if it's damned good, it does both.
peace & passion,
~ Alessia Brio
Sapphistocated: Four Tales of Mirror Geography
Phaze, February 2009 (print & ebook)
Four rising stars of women's erotica come together in this sometimes funny, sometimes heartwarming, and totally engaging collection of stories about women who love women.
Double Decker by Alessia Brio: Tess is determined to win the big Karaoke contest at the Double Decker bar, and the heart of the woman organizing it. Will her evening end on a high note?
Also included in this anthology are the following authors and their stories:
I Know What I Want by Jolie du Pre: Allie is an up-and-coming model who catches the eye of a wealthy, dominating woman. While the attentions and money from "special" modeling sessions are welcome, Allie wants more... but how much is enough?
Better With Age by Beth Wylde: After nearly twenty years, Olivia runs into her first love, Aleesha. While time seems to fade as they reunite, Olivia isn't sure passion could possibly have survived. It takes a surprising discovery at home to convince her to find out for certain if she's gotten better with age.
Drawn by Yeva Wiest: Manga artist Sydney loves 'em thin and leaves 'em shortly afterward, so why is she obsessing over the big, beautiful daughter of her publisher? As her Yuri artwork torments her and friends advise her, Sydney struggles with these new feelings and learns that where love and passion are concerned, she doesn't have to draw the line at any particular size.
If you'd like to look Alessia up, here where you'll find her:
www.eroticanthology.com (Coming Together)
Friday, February 20, 2009
By Helen E. H. Madden
I have a dirty little secret. When Lisabet asked us all to pick days for our posts, I deliberately picked Friday so I could crib notes off of everyone else before writing my own post. Then I toss all that in the trash and pull something out of my... assets, shall we say?
Anyway, in regards to this week's topic, I have recently had several discussions on erotica - what it is, what it isn't, what I read, what I avoid like the plague, etc. Many of these conversations have been had with other writers and podcasters (in and out of the genre). All of the discussions have been intelligent, and most hysterically funny, and after having debating the finer aspects of what is supposed to be the erotica genre, I can definitely tell you this:
I don't know jack about this stuff.
For starters, what is erotica? I looked it up once. Dictionary.com offers multiple definitions - literature or art dealing with sexual love; literature or art intended to arouse sexual desire; creative activity (writing or pictures or films etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire (i.e. porn). I don't know about these definitions. Do they really reflect how and what **I** write? Keep in mind, I churn out a story a week for my so-called erotica podcast, so I do write a lot. Yeah I write about sexual love... maybe one out of every six stories. And yeah, maybe I'm out to make horn-dogs out of my readers... one out of every eight stories. As for the creative activity with no value other than to stimulate said horn-dogs to a frenzy?
Are you frikkin' kidding me?! Screw Dictionary.com if they think my writing doesn't have artistic value! And actually, screw them if they think porn doesn't have any artistic value.
Definitions for genre suck. How can anyone define what a genre is? I have said in the past that I am not a huge fan of the porn genre (Sex Trek VI: The Undiscovered Booty pretty much killed the genre for me), but that was before all the debating I've done on what the difference between erotica and porn is (it's not just the lighing!). Now I can't tell what is and isn't porn anymore. The super-talented Jay Lygon, who writes the hottest and smartest m/m BDSM I've ever seen, swears upon his mother's grave that what he writes is porn. I would just call it damn good story telling (it has plot! it has characterization! I love plot and characterization!!) that makes me attack my husband the moment he walks into the door (it has naked men being kinky! I love naked men being kinky!). And I do not kid on the whole it has plot, it has characterization thing. Jay's Chaos Magic has one of the most intriguing ideas behind it - a man recognizes the divine in certain people and they literally become his gods as a result. How that affects his life and his attempts to grow past an abusive relationship make for intriguing reading. I'd call it contemporary fantasy (with a healthy side-order of lust and kink) and put it on the same shelf with Laurell K. Hamilton, but to Jay? It's porn, and he's proud of it.
Then we come to Nobilis of the Nobilis Erotica Podcast. Nobilis defines his work as erotica. His stories have plenty of sex in them. In fact, his latest serial on the podcast was about spaceships powered by orgasms. On the surface, that sounds pretty porny, right? Maybe even Sex Trek VI porny. But the world-building behind it (how are the pilots selected and trained, how does their job affect their relationships) is pretty damned impressive. What really impressed me though was recently hearing Nobilis talk about how he finally realized he could write entire chapters without having any sex in them.
Tell me, if you don't have sex in every chapter, is it still erotica?
I could go on and on about other writers and what they call what they do, but it all comes back to the same thing. Different writers define their writing by their own terms. Then they must find a publisher who is willing to take their square peg story and stuff it into a round hole definition of a genre.
Aaaaaaah! See, that's the trick. Finding the publisher who's willing to do that. So many of our OGG bloggers this week all said the same thing. I don't write what other people write. I don't write what publishers say they're looking for. And this can be a real pain in the patootie. Or at least it used to be a real pain in the patootie, before the evolution of internet book stores and the e-book.
Now the e-book industry isn't perfect, but it has the delightful advantage of allowing individual books to be tagged with multiple genre labels, and this is key. If I write an m/m, BDSM, dark fantasy with yaoi elements story (Demon By Day, anyone?), then my book can be listed under: m/m, BDSM, dark fantasy, and yaoi. As long as the publisher sets the tags correctly, anybody browsing those categories will find my book. That's the beauty of the online bookstore. It isn't that we no longer need the stinkin' genres. We don't need the stinking shelves!
And for a freak-a-zoid like me, that's a godsend. I can write all the fantasy/horror/science fiction/romance/mystery/comedy/hard core porn that I like! And by producing my own podcast or maybe self-publishing my own book, I don't even have to answer to a publisher!! I can write anything, ANYTHING, and get it out there. I just have to find a way to let people know my writing exists, and the internet with all its social media tools like Twitter and MySpace and Yahoo Groups and everything else makes that possible too. No longer do we writers have to be pigeon-holed into what will and won't sell!! No longer must we be slaves to such narrow definitions of what constitutes erotica vs. romance vs. porn! If I want to write about punk lesbian mermaids who fall in love with paraplegics, I CAN! If I want to write about luscious plus-sized women being seduced by fuzzy green tentacle monsters, I can do that too! If I want to write a touching romantic story about clown sex, guess what!! I already did it, baby!! And YOU!! Yes you, the discerning consumer of great literature that you are, can find all of these goodies thanks to the wonders of e-books and podcasting and the internet!! Brothers and sisters, let me hear you say "HALLELUJAH AND PRAISE THE INTERTUBES!! I AM A SLAVE TO GENRES NO MORE!!!!!"
Uh... eh? What? What was this week's topic?
Oh yeah! Favorite genres. Um, I like science fiction, horror, fantasy and the occasional naughty tale. Thank you for asking ;)