book talk / guest bloggers

Embracing Erotica: Death to the Dirty Little Secret

Please welcome wonderful author, Sharon Fisher, to the blog!

TheGardenRulesCover

I’m Sharon and I read, write, and edit erotica.

I’m far from alone in this — as my literary agent said recently, “smut has gone mainstream” — but that didn’t make embracing this part of my identity any easier. You see, you can take the girl out of Oklahoma … I think you get where I’m going with this.

One reason (maybe the primary reason) for the explosion in the popularity of erotic stories is the anonymity of e-readers. We like that the people around us can’t see what we’re reading. But why is that?

I think it gets back to that question of identity. If we tell someone we read or write erotica, we worry they’re picturing us having kinky sex. We worry they’ll believe we actually have kinky sex.

Or, we worry that it means we might be open to doing the things we’re writing or reading about, and there is sometimes real fear associated with those feelings.

Maybe we do have kinky sex. Maybe we don’t. Maybe we just experiment with it. Or maybe we’re single and only have sex with ourselves. Really, none of this is the point. Because we may read Stephen King too, and that does not make us psycho killers (or even a person who wants to hang out with psycho killers). Hopefully you can follow my logic here without thinking I’m equating kinky sex enthusiasts with psycho killers.

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons:  Charles Christian Nahl, 1871, The Rape of the Sabines: The Captivity

PHOTO CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons: Charles Christian Nahl, 1871, The Rape of the Sabines: The Captivity

Perhaps a better example is the fact that lots of women fantasize about rape while having sex. This is not an indicator that a woman wants to be raped. It’s a fantasy, where everything is happening in the safety of her own mind.

I explored this inner conflict in the first novelette in my new erotica series (THE GARDEN RULES):

I remember what the abnormal psych professor I work for once said to one of her undergraduate classes. “The mind is a ground for experimentation. Our thoughts do not define us. And even our darkest, most bizarre thought cannot separate us from the rest of humanity. Only giving in to impulses that lead us to be insensitive or cruel to others can create that distance.”

Until my FANTASIES IN COLOR series, I’d written only sci-fi romance novels with steamy content. Explicit, yes, but not erotic according to today’s understanding of the term. I remember the day I wrote my first erotica scene (procrastinating on a deadline, of course). I had this idea that it would be good to branch out. I’d only been traditionally published up to that point, and I felt strongly that it was important for me to get a toe in the door of indie publishing. Also, my novels are written for a growing but still niche genre, and sales do not pay the bills. With the explosion in erotica over the last decade — and considering I was already writing sex in my novels — I figured it couldn’t hurt to try.

A title from SilkWords, interactive erotic fiction publisher, where I’m editorial director.

A title from SilkWords, interactive erotic fiction publisher, where I’m editorial director.

What I was not prepared for was the fear that bubbled up as I got more serious about this endeavor. That fear reached its apex when my agent spoke these words: “Why would you want to use a pen name?” Okay, I’ve paraphrased. The point is, she strongly felt that using a pen name would be throwing away an opportunity to boost my brand, along with the sales of my other work.

And wasn’t that the whole point of doing this?

So I owned it. I finished that novelette, ran a cover contest, and published it under my own name. I announced it all over social media. I started the second story in the series.

And guess what? It energized me. It felt like artistic exploration. An expression of self (in a nonliteral sense). And heck, it was fun! You know those beautiful wedding cakes with the lifelike frosting flowers? I’m only a passable baker, but for me writing erotica feels like that must feel to a pastry chef.

With all that said, earlier this month I went to a creativity retreat. It was a week of meditation, yoga, and writing. When I say writing I don’t mean staring out the window at the ocean and fantasizing about writing, nor do I mean I got lots of work done that I could actually use in my job. We were writing to prompts, and in most cases those prompts unearthed deep emotions. Intense fear, grief, and joy.

In this place of close internal examination, I bumped up directly against all my fears associated with writing (and not just the erotica). One of the teachers at the workshop was an artist and painting instructor. She had genuine warmth and empathy, and contagious enthusiasm. She gave a presentation on her work, and I realized she was a person who could understand the questions I’d been asking myself.

The first erotic novel I ever read. (Dark, literary erotica)

The first erotic novel I ever read. (Dark, literary erotica)

I cornered her the next morning and poured out my heart. I told her I was doing a thing that I believed many people would judge, but that brought me a sense of creative freedom and expansiveness. I told her that fear of judgment sometimes made me unclear that what I was doing was right for me. What I was looking for, really, was validation and encouragement.

Barbara beamed at me, and she said a lot of beautiful, encouraging words, but here is what stuck with me:

“Anything that comes from a place of opening and spaciousness and makes you feel energized and alive is something you can trust and feel safe in.”

She also said, “You should tell people about this. Share it with others. How you first felt one way about it, and now feel another, because this will help them too. Some people won’t understand what you’re doing or won’t like it, but that’s okay.”

I felt free in that moment, and I knew that she was right. Confession by confession, maybe that dirty little secret can finally die.

Do you write and/or read erotica? Any conflicting feelings about it? Why does (or doesn’t) it appeal to you?

An RWA RITA Award finalist and a three-time RWA Golden Heart Award finalist, Sharon Lynn Fisher writes stories for the geeky at heart — meaty mash-ups of sci-fi, suspense, and romance, with no apology for the latter. She lives where it rains nine months of the year. And she has a strange obsession with gingers (down to her freaky orange cat). In addition to her erotica stories, she’s authored three science fiction romance novels for Tor Books: Ghost Planet (2012), The Ophelia Prophecy (2014), and Echo 8 (2015). Visit her at www.sharonlynnfisher.com.

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31 thoughts on “Embracing Erotica: Death to the Dirty Little Secret

  1. applause!! Well said! 🙂 I like reading elegantly written erotica. There is a lot of difference between erotica and smut scrabbled together. I find that I mind tedious romances as opposed to erotica, lol. More power to you! Well done! Keepin’ sex classy… 😛

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    • “Elegantly written erotica,” love it! 🙂 With both romance and erotica, tastes certainly vary. In my other erotica role, as editorial director over at SilkWords, it’s a question that often pops up over submissions — is this erotica, or just porn (and which do our readers prefer)? For myself, I definitely need some story and character development in order to identify with the heroine’s journey. Thanks for stopping by, PP!

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    • Yes, that’s a good point, Pauline. I have struggled with that as well. People would ask what I write and, depending on who they were, I might say sci-fi and I might say sci-fi with romance. All comes from the same root, I suppose – worrying what others will think of us. At the retreat I mentioned, because there was a lot of meditation and silence, I really became aware of how much time I spend worrying about such things!

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  2. So well said, Sharon! Very powerful thoughts on freedom of expression vs. fear of letting the world see those expressive thoughts. And you are so right that the story is NOT the writer, but I do think authors fear that perception.

    Although I write “steamy” and not erotica per se–believe me, I tried when all my peers were breaking into publishing with erotica and romantic erotica stories but I don’t seem to have a talent for writing it well–there are other expressions in my writing that may be controversial, and I fear putting those out for public consumption. Right now, I’m struggling with telling my day job coworkers that I’m about to be published, when I know I really need to just own it.

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    • Thanks, Laurie! I agree with you that this can apply to many aspects of writing. As SF authors we also jump right in the middle of all sorts of political and environmental issues. All comes down to anxiety about putting ourselves out there, whether or not we identify directly (or literally) with our characters and the choices they make.

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      • Yes, another great point! My characters often make choices I wouldn’t or share beliefs I don’t. I DO worry that readers will interpret my characters’ beliefs, actions or agenda as my own. (And that goes double for writing in first person!)

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  3. Erotica, erotic romance or sexy romance? I call myself a writer of erotic romance but I actually think I write sexy romances. I have to admit – I read more thrillers and suspense stories than I do erotic romance. I think after writing romance all day, I like something different in bed – er that sounded wrong! Sorry, husband

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    • Ha ha! Poor hubby. You write erotic romance, Barbara. At least what I’ve read of it! 🙂 Maybe you’ve just gotten so used to all that hot content it doesn’t phase you!

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  4. This is a GREAT POST! I just wrote a post about how written ’emotional porn’ is more stimulating than visual porn because it leaves more to the imagination. However, like real porn, the romance genre can hyper-stimulate drama and empathy so that readers can’t be fulfilled with normal, real life, levels of empathy stimulation. Pretty much, I’m not impressed with the main characters in the romance I’ve read. I LOVE the way this writer owns it. More depth to her than her peers, IMO. WTG!

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    • Thanks, SR, and glad you enjoyed it! I agree that with erotic fiction, the ability to experience the main character’s thoughts and emotions makes it a horse of a different color, and I’d say that’s true whether or not it’s actually romance. Regarding the romance genre and reader expectations, my thought about that is that romance and erotica readers alike know what they’re reading is fantasy and love it for the fun and escape (as with all good genre fiction), as well as the emotional payoff! 🙂 Thanks again for reading, and for your kind words!

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  5. Great post, Sharon! I write and read erotic romance and sure, there are times and places that I don’t feel comfortable talking about it. Lots of things that have nothing to do with my psyche factor into that discomfort. My poor psyche has plenty of other things to worry about! LOL. I feel really strongly that including physical intimacy in a piece of fiction is an important tool for writing about emotional intimacy, self-understanding and self-acceptance. For me it adds a depth that has real value and that is what I want for my writing. Thanks again for being here today!

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    • “Including physical intimacy in a piece of fiction is an important tool for writing about emotional, intimacy, self-understanding and self-acceptance.” Yes, this! And I know what you mean about not always feeling comfortable. There are some audiences who probably would rather not know! Thanks so much for inviting to me to post.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your journey with us. Beautiful. Yes! Been there, done that. I love erotica! Read it often. These days it is the closest I get to any kind of sex, so why not make it kinky? I even got to the point of reviewing it. I review and interact in the literary world under a pen name that I created out of respect for my mother. She did not like sex in a book at all. Made it rough trying to trade books with her. In spite of that effort, most people who know me well, found me anyway. 😉 My mother has now past on, but I still choose to use the pen name because I like it and have gotten used to it. Not because I am trying to hide anything anymore, but because I don’t care one way or the other. Interesting how that worked.

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    • You’re welcome, thank you for reading! I definitely think there are times/reasons pen names make sense. And for a lot of people that may enable them to feel more comfortable about doing something they enjoy, and that’s a wonderful thing. I’m lucky enough to have a mom who is not easy to shock. 🙂

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  7. Sharon Lynn Fisher today you win the internet!

    I have gone through angst about writing erotic scenes or sex scenes; I worry @ what people will think. I worry about the giggle factor too often associated with any romance writing.

    But I like what I do. I have fun with it & I can express myself in ways I can’t in daily life.

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    • Aww, thank you, RK – it’s my first time to win the Internet! 🙂 I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. And good for you for writing despite the angst!

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    • Yes, I totally get that. Pen names definitely make sense in many situations. I know one author who also writes books for children, so she felt (reasonably!) that using her real name was not an option.

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  8. Sharon,

    Thanks for sharing your journey. It is indeed hard to ‘own’ our sensual writing at times, but then one gets the fan mail begging for the next book. Makes opening up worthwhile!

    Agree that the erotic scenes worth reading are those that express character/plot/romance ARC development. If they don’t, I skim to get to the next dialogue/action scene. Which is hilarious, as I used to do the opposite.

    Re: SmoothReEntry’s comment; ‘ However, like real porn, the romance genre can hyper-stimulate drama and empathy so that readers can’t be fulfilled with normal, real life, levels of empathy stimulation.’

    Really?? Aren’t we past that old cliche yet? Do men who read James Bond novels expect real life to equal that adrenaline-laced experience? I think not.They lead normal, fulfilling lives, and most readers of romance have normal, fulfilling relationships.

    As far as finding emotional depth in most romances, true, there is plenty of fluff, but there are also plenty of romances and SF romances that will rip your guts out emotionally while delivering a great story.

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    • “one gets the fan mail begging for the next book. Makes opening up worthwhile!” – yes indeed! That is the best kind of reinforcement. 🙂

      I do think reading erotica can take some getting used to. I remember one of the early erotic novels I started I gave up on pretty quickly because the nice bit of character development in the beginning had soon taken a backseat to sexy times. But I eventually figured out it’s just a different kind of reading experience. And everyone’s tastes seem to differ regarding how much story there should be.

      I absolutely agree with you that there are plenty of romance that have wonderful depth – my favorite kind!

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Cathryn!

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