Erotica’s Lost Literary Roots

Recently I’ve downloaded a lot of free erotica through Amazon. I want to read what other writers write for a couple of reasons. Since my student days when I was learning the craft of writing it has been pounded in to me that writers read and they read prolifically. Message received. You want to be a writer? Go and read. I also like to know what that small coterie of erotica writers I run with is getting up to. There are hundreds of free books available on Amazon. I can both read what others are writing and not have to pay for it.

Four hours I’ll never get back later … I don’t even know how to comment. Where to begin? What can I possibly say? I want my four hours back. I was embarrassed for some of the people that produced the work. How is it possible to have so little pride in ones own work? Why put that level of unreadable crap out into the world with their name attached to it? Do the writers just not see how badly written what they write is? This may be. I’ve met a few people in my time that really didn’t get that their writing wasn’t that good. They didn’t want to hear it. Personally, I want to hear it when my book needs work. By wanting to hear it, I mean I want the critique to be both focused and useful. “You suck” doesn’t help. “You are using too many passive verbs and are slipping tenses” helps. Then I go and look at my work and fix it if I think it needs to be fixed, or leave it if I like it the way it is. I’m working on a fictional memoir at the moment. Sometimes I do things on purpose that wouldn’t normally work in a traditional narrative. This is me being fancy. Not me being lazy. I can’t explain away what I read as literary gymnastics that have perhaps just gone over my head. It’s just bad writing.

It boggles my mind. Is it because they’re writing erotica and there is a presumption that as long as there’s a lot of sex it doesn’t have to be well written? That there is no need to carefully craft a story? That the story should be the focus and the sex is just an element of telling that story? I’m angry. I’m insulted. I’m really really really pissed off that these hacks are polluting the waters with their bullshit. It is hard enough to get a work noticed without having to contend with it being lumped into the same stew as a book that confuses and winch for a wench and a “Japanse Komono” for a kimono and thinks that all a gay man really needs to go straight is the fine lovin’ of a panty-less vixen that can jerk him off with her foot?

Erotica has a history. It is coeval with the foundations of literature. Even the Hebrew Bible contains romantic, sexual love. Example: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth–for thy love is better than wine”.  From there it just gets steamier and is so beautifully written! “Let his left hand be under my head, and his right hand embrace me”. Nice!!

To compare and contrast, a passage from a work which I will not name lest I unwittingly promote it.  Setting the scene – a young woman who calls herself as Candi (with an I) describes herself as being a twenty-two year old co-ed, crowned with long red hair that “is so long it touches her cute tushie”, a “tight ass begging to be fucked good”, big “perkey” tits, a very pretty face, and a recently shaved “cunt”.  We join Candi (with an I) after she has gone into a gay bar in search of a “hot stud”. “I was hot and horney and wiggled my tight tiny butt in his face the spandex of my little dress moving up so he could see I had no underwear on with my g-string that covered my new shaved pussy … ”

Who wears a g-string and panties?

Not nice. I so wish that was a unique example, but unfortunately it isn’t. I call on the spirits of Collette, Anaïs Nin, and Sappho to spare us all! How can any writer of literary erotica expect to follow in the footfalls of the greats with so much static clogging up the airways? I’m not being rhetorical. I’d really like to know how. I really would.

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29 thoughts on “Erotica’s Lost Literary Roots

  1. Good blog, Livia. I agree with what you say and it is very sad to see how polluted the “literary” world has become. When I write erotica in my books, I endeavour to go inside the characteristics I portray and try to convey what they are thinking and feeling. That, to me, is the true essence of erotica. Correct me if I’m wrong.

  2. Hi Livia, Great post! Shared it on my timeline on FB too. Like you I sometime cringe when reading and curse the people who give self-publishing a bad name by putting crap out. Not to say, my work will be flawless or receive raving reviews, but at least I know I have gone the whole mile. Did the proof-reading, beta-readers, hired a pro for line editing and content editing. No “so he could see I had no underwear on with my g-string” (What is it? No underwear or a g-string? Please make up your mind.)

    Thank you and I hope this is finds its way to the world.

    • I still can’t figure out the underwear / g-string thing. Does the writer assume one normally wears a g-string with panties? I don’t get it. This goes back to the conversation we had earlier. Being invested in producing the best work possible is one of the things that separates the hacks from the dedicated professionals.

  3. Holy cow, this is opening up a flood gate of irritation for me. A smart teacher once told me that if it was as simple as writing “insert tab B into slot A”…then everybody would be doing it. Well, guess what?! They are — with or without any good writing skills to back it up.

    I wish I could say that this trend is only in erotica, but it’s not. It’s everywhere. A deeper question is why do writers feel the need to rush? If it’s worth writing, then it’s worth waiting until it is the best it can possibly be.

    Coming from a marketing and advertising background, I cringe every time I come across a self-made cover or promo image with poor composition and poor spelling. Come on, people. If you must design a digital postcard to promote your book, then make sure the 13 words on that piece are all spelled correctly!! :J

    • Part of me wonders if we are at the high water mark of this sort of rush to publish. There has to be a point when it will taper off. People will come to the realization that they aren’t making any money (because that’s what it’s all about) and they would rather do something else to make their fortune the quick and easy way.

  4. Livia, you’ve hit the nail on the head. There are some writers who don’t realize how bad they really are, and they think as long as you use the “hot words” that you’ll produce something worthy of inciting prurient interest. I find the use of most of their “hot words” demeaning, both to themselves and to their readership. True erotica is crafted well and does not rely on vulgarities.

    Too many writers push crap out just to get it on the market, and the sad thing is a lot of it sells, which encourages them to write more. They don’t want to take the time to hone their craft. Of course, it wouldn’t help some to do so either.

    Very interesting post!

    • I wholly agree with you. Adding to what you’ve written, I think there are a lot of people who truly believe writing is an easy way to get rich quick. They just don’t get how many hours of dedicated practice it takes to write something people want to pay to read. They write something up over the weekend, pepper it with a lot of blue words, then call it the next big thing.

  5. Hi Livia,

    I don’t believe there’s any difference in the erotica genre than there is in any genre. Independent publishing, while wonderful in a number of ways, has allowed a great many unreadable works to be published. I think there are just as many bad thrillers frustrating good writers, just as many terrible horror books frustrating those who’ve honed the craft, and just as many terrible young adult novels frustrating those who take that genre seriously as there are bad erotica works hurting our genre.

    The difference, I suppose, is that bad erotica sells better than bad works in other genres, but ultimately, I believe the issue is one that hurts our egos more than our wallets. You’re absolutely right that Erotica has rich and beautiful literary roots, from the Song of Solomon to Anais Nin as well as Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence. Nonetheless, erotica writers are perceived as one-dimensional sex peddlers. Personally, I have nothing against the sex peddling, but horribly written and poorly crafted stories with or without the sex are disturbing. They’re certainly not new, though.

    Long before a few clicks of the mouse made incompetent writers published authors, there were many horribly written works available for sale. The problem, really, is that our genre is singled out because of the content. Thus, misspellings, verb disagreement, and the various other errors are lifted up as prime examples of the genre, not unlike the way politicians take a three second phrase in a forty-five minute speech and pretend it’s the sum total of a candidate’s position.

    Ultimately, the answer to your question is simple: write. You can follow in the footsteps of the greats. What others write is irrelevant to that goal. What others market is irrelevant to that goal. W.E. Deming said, “A businessman pleases the customer, but an artist pleases himself.” Write to please yourself, and forget about Candi with the tight ass begging to be fucked, ten inch cocks on every male, and misspelled kimonos. Faulkner said the key to writing is believing you’re better than everyone else–that your story is better and you’re style is better. With the majority of erotica out there today, you should have no trouble with that. Follow the greats with your keyboard. It will be a hell of a lot less frustrating than following Amazon with your mouse.

  6. Leaving everything else aside and going just by the snippet you posted I’d say the writer is male. The name on the cover may be female or appear that way but this is a male author. The wording and the fact that they don’t know panties from a ‘G-string’ is a dead giveaway. Male authors write differently than female authors. They also write for a different audience than the one most female authors are trying to reach. It’s not the ‘higher class’ audience you or I may be searching for but the “Penthouse Forum” crowd. It may be cheesy and misspelled but it sells like hot cakes and men love it because their minds work differently. They’re not interested in a long flowing story because for most of them that just gets in the way. They’re mainly just interested in ‘getting to the good stuff’. Don’t let the fact that Candi is spelled with an ‘i’ bug you, it is short for Candice which is has no ‘y’. I knew a few girls growing up who spelled the shortened version of their names with an ‘i’ instead of a ‘y’.

    • I immediately thought the writer was a man. The language was a giveaway. That and the fact the writer described Candi (with an I) as petite despite her monumental prow (she wears a 40GG bra) told me that either we measure tiny women with very different sticks, or he/she has no clue about foundation garments.

  7. I was judge for a literary fiction contest sponsored by a magazine connected with a prominent MFA program, and I was appalled at how bad the writing was in many of the submissions. And yes, at the top of the “burn it” pile was a piece of thinly disguised porn obviously written by a man….who expected me to believe that a woman chained to the wall of a basement would actually be reflecting on the fact that she was wearing a “Victoria’s Secret DD bra and matching panties.” Blech. It ain’t just “erotica” that’s awful.

  8. Lovely post. I agree. Erotica has lost it’s beautiful language, which is a shame. I blame the porn industry for making it so crass, but perhaps, it’s writers who have gotten lazy or don’t know how to make beautiful prose when it comes to sex.

  9. I have also found free erotica very poorly written and usually nose-wrinkling. And yet, erotica can be wonderful – it can be erotic, as it’s supposed to be.

  10. Totally agree! I’m an erotica writer, and I couldn’t even get through 50 shades of ‘muck’. I grew up on literary erotica, and wish there was more of it. Personally, I miss the flowery descriptions.

  11. Pingback: Erotica’s Literary Roots | bakarimuhammad

  12. Pingback: Life, The Writer And The Struggle To Keep Writing « Pittsburgh Flash Fiction Gazette

  13. I may be in love with you. Thank you so much for this post. I think the day has come where erotica needs to be split into Literary Erotica and Porn. I know no one will ever do it or take it seriously, but the difference between the crap out there and the amazing work of eroticists who take their craft seriously is astounding. It exists in every genre, yes, but in erotica the bad seems to be SO. MUCH. WORSE.

    • There needs to be a split in the genre between Literary Erotica and Porn. I couldn’t agree with you more. It seems as if when erotica is written well it’s very good. But when it’s written badly it’s like stepping in dog poop. I’m going to write a blog post on this. You hit on a point I would love to try to make.

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