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.

50 Shades of the Next Big Thing Part 1

I have a friend that owns a bunch of small bookshops in Dublin. When there is a scheduling pinch and I’m free, I go in, sit behind the counter, read, and take peoples money. I could make a career out of this. Possibly the best job I’ve ever had. And get to sit around and read AND I get paid in books!!! Sweet!!!

So what have I noticed as I sit perched on my stool reading and drinking a latte? There’s always a BOOK. That one book that just about everyone walks in the door and asks for. Last year it was Game of Thrones. Every other person that walked in the door, regardless of age, sex, race, or fashion sense, wanted Game of Thrones. Couldn’t keep it on the shelves.

No shock, the BOOK that everyone has to have right now is 50 Shades of Grey. Disturbingly, I had a bunch of old ladies in when I worked a morning last week looking to buy 50 Shades of Grey. Even worse, they asked me about it. They were sort of cute about it actually. Very giggly and girlish. I had to tell them the truth. I hadn’t read it. Bondage isn’t really my thing. Besides, I’d heard that it’s not really that good. This comes from a few unrelated sources that I usually trust when it comes to books. The big critiques; poorly written, the characters are wholly two-dimensional, the sex isn’t all that great. One of the nice old women in her petal pink windbreaker with the Princess Cruises emblem on a sticker stuck to her boob, very rightly pointed out that I had said myself that I hadn’t read it. So, who am I to judge?

Absolute right! I haven’t read it. I am in no position to judge. Number one thing that bugs me about people smack talking a book or an author is when they haven’t even read the book themselves. Hand up – guilty as charged. They left with their books wrapped in discrete little paper bags and I picked up a copy of 50 Shades of Grey. I sat there on my perch with my latte in one hand and the current BOOK in the other hand. My mind couldn’t get into the story. I kept on coming up with alternative names. 50 Shades of Tie Me Up and Tie Me Down. 50 Shades of Smack Me on the Ass Because I’ve Been a Bad Bad Girl. 50 Shades of Please Don’t Make Me Read Anymore of This Crap.

Oh my… sigh… If we lived in a meritocracy where only the truly stellar books made it to the top of the sales charts, then 50 Shades of Grey would be lingering on EL James’ laptop never to see the light of day. I have writer friends that are working like dogs to get noticed that produce books of much higher quality than 50 Shades of Grey. Yikes it’s bad!

It’s not that I think it isn’t sufficiently erudite or contains the sort of verbal gymnastics most people with advanced degrees in English think books should have before they become worthy of our notice, it’s just really poorly written. I mean ehhhh…. I’m a firm believer that books should be thought provoking, entertaining, accessible, and have a plot that can be found by the average reader without the need of a compass and a flashlight. I would have cheered 50 Shades of Grey for being at the forefront of the push to make erotica mainstream accessible and acceptable. But it stinks.

So how the heck did it get so popular? How did such a badly written book become the next big thing? I don’t know. I have no idea. If I knew I’d be out doing it. I’m pushing my new release Memoirs of a Gigolo like it was one of a million other books available for download on Amazon… which it is. I know two marketing people. I’m going to try to wrangle them into talking with me about what drives this sort of mass hysteria when it comes to a book.

50 Shades of the Next Big Thing Part 2 will be available a week from today