02 January 2012

Yes, I am a Judgmental Bitch

Whoa, what? Where'd that come from, you ask? Well, New Year, New Me! Okay, not exactly. And I'm not exactly a judgmental bitch... not all the time, at least. This post has been brewing in my head for some time now, and I figured what better way to open the new year than with a bit of spunk? The post title is fair warning to you all: I'm not about to be nice, and you might disagree with me, but I don't care.

Let's talk about erotica, shall we? A year and a half ago I first wrote my little Erotica Writer's Manifesto. It was partially serious, and partially facetious. One line in particular is especially important to me:  

I will not write trash.

I feel the need to reiterate this, and expand upon it. I know what some of you may be thinking: How do you define trash? One man's trash is another man's treasure. Or in the case of erotica, one person's squick may be another person's kink. I get that, I do. I like a good spanking scene now and then (as you can probably tell from my new short story), but that might totally turn off other people. That's fine. But for me, there is a line.

I joined a group of erotica writers late last year, excited to be in a group of like-minded people who write the same sort of stories I write. I love Agent Query Connect, and they aren't prudes by any stretch of the imagination, but I thought a forum specifically for erotica writers would be perfect for me. Well, I didn't stay long. I poked around for a couple weeks, interacted a bit, but then I deleted my account. I couldn't get anything more there than I do from AQC and my network of writing friends on Facebook and Twitter. That, and I didn't like some of the conversation taking place there.

I'll bring this back around to the issue of writing "trash" in a second, just bear with me here. Anyone who knows me in real life, or who's interacted with me frequently enough in any online forum, Twitter, etc. knows I'm generally very middle-of-the-road, don't like taking "sides", hesitate to make any sort of value or judgment statement whatsoever (because I don't want to offend anyone, and don't want to have to retract a statement later if I change my mind and decide I'm wrong). I have to feel pretty strongly to draw any sort of line in the sand. But here I am, drawing one.

There's a particular type of erotica that is immensely popular and sells very well. I happen to find it slightly morally repugnant. I won't buy it. And if it's not something I'd buy to read myself, I won't write it, either. The question came up on this other forum about jumping on the bandwagon, so to speak, and publishing these types of stories because they're a hot seller. Some said sure, it's a little squicky but I write them and they make me good money. Some said no, I wouldn't do it. There was plenty of "don't do it if it's not right for you" but also plenty of "set aside your own objections and go for it! It's a hot seller! You can do it!" I made a comment similar to what I just said above: I wouldn't read it, and find the subject matter morally questionable, and therefore you won't catch me writing it to make a few bucks. Someone came back with a gentle nudge to tell me I might not want to offend my fellow writers who are trying to make a living, just because they chose to do it writing stories that aren't necessarily what I would write.

Well, whatever. That pissed me off a bit, I'll admit. It made me laugh a little bit, too. I thought it was interesting that someone chose to single me out for my opinion, but not any of the people encouraging others to swallow their own objections and drink the Kool-Aid. But that's all really beside the point.

The point is this: I won't write trash, and I consider those types of stories to be trash. I've hesitated to name the particular theme in case... well, I guess I'm still worried about offending any of my potential readers (old habits die hard) but here it is: pseudo-incest stories. The ones with step-parent/step-child sex, or step-siblings, etc. Daddy/daughter stuff especially. (I'm sure there are other subsets and themes that I disagree with, but this is the biggest.) You wouldn't believe how well they sell. It makes me shudder.

But the fact that these stories are popular isn't the only thing that astounds me. The seemingly nonchalant attitude of some of the writers about the moral "grey area" they inhabit with such writing was pretty stunning. There are discussions among writers about how well some of these different stories sell, how to "get over it" and write this type of story ("it" being your own mental blocks/objections), how to toe the line of legality, etc. Of course the arguments against me go something like this: You don't assume a murder mystery author is encouraging murder, do you? You don't think an author who writes about serial rapists or baby-killers is endorsing that behavior, do you? No, of course I don't. But this is different. I'm sorry, but it just is. 

That's what I would qualify as trash. Subject matter that is morally reprehensible. And authors who pander to that market regardless. And without even bothering to write a good story. Because let me tell you, I followed the Amazon links and read some free samples, and in 99.9% of the cases, I found the writing quality to be sorely lacking.

The writing quality may even be what pisses me off the most. I have a message for these types of authors (and let me make it painfully clear, I am NOT referring to any and every member of that online forum I joined and then left, because they do not all fall into this category. I'm directing this toward any writer, anywhere, who writes these types of trashy storylines, especially if they also write trashily. No, trashily is probably not a word, but it fits here anyway.) Here's what I have to say:

You're giving erotica a bad name. You're the reason that people keep telling me I should use a pseudonym if I want to publish erotica. You're flooding the market with these books that I not only find disgusting, but that are also poorly written. Erotica can be so much more than just trashy sex. I'm tired of your predictable characterizations and plots. It makes me sick that many of these pseudo-incest stories feature a father figure who "teaches" the young woman about her sexuality. Or a mother figure who is a frigid bitch, leaving it up to the daughter to give the step-father the sexual attention he craves. I mean, seriously? WTF? Can't you at least think of something a little more imaginative? And hey, maybe a little less misogynistic?

Jump on the trashy bandwagon if you want, but you won't find me there. Not now. Not ever. You'll see all of my erotica published as J. Lea Lopez because I like what I write, and even if I touch on subjects or situations that some people may be uncomfortable with, I'll do it responsibly, and with some class. And talent. If I'm not willing to put my name on it, I'm not going to write it at all.


  1. you werent singled out believe me. I dont have a problem with Daddy daughter myself, but I respect your opinion on it. I dont write it because other things interest me more, but I too had the same "conform" message. I was encouraged to write romantic erotica because BDSM was too "niche" to sell. Even the covers need to be cheesecake hints at naked women so "Guys at the beach" (I kid you not) would be more prone to buy it.
    I think it would sell better if it was properly written. get an editor, put some time into it. Some of the crap I see out there is horrible.
    There isnt enough well written material for the readers to be choosy, and the whole frat boy mentality where anything with the word "cock" it will sell will forever keep this genre on the fringe.

  2. Thank you, Sir. Don't even get me started on some of these covers... Haha.

    I do think it's sad that writers we would like to align ourselves with and support/be supported are too concerned instead with conforming to some not-so-great stereotypes and standards. I wish with all my heart that good erotica will one day be a little more mainstream and respected/respectable.... I guess that'll be up to you and me to make happen ;-)

  3. Well, honestly, the title has taken a little steam from my sails, but here I go anyways...

    When I read "I will not write trash" I thought I knew what it meant. I thought you meant smutty, plotless sex, poor technical writing, flat characters, tab A, slot B, etc.

    Well, that turned out to be wrong. Because what you said really offended you was incest erotica. And, look, that can offend you all you want, but that doesn't make it trash. There are people who think spanking is trash. That think ANY sex in a book makes it trash. Hell, there's a subset of the population that thinks genre fiction is all trash. It's very narrow-minded.

    You think it's a problem that erotica would ever include incest. I think it's a problem that you choose to perpetuate the myth that just because we don't want to read something, that makes it trash. I can't stand zombie stories. They gross me out to the Nth degree. I can read almost any smut, any kink, but zombies gross me the heck out. Does that make it trash? ....of course not.

    You did include bad writing on your "trash" requirements, but it felt more like an afterthought. Like: "If I don't like it, then it's trash. Oh, and if it's bad writing, that also." Ugh! Don't even bother mentioning it, since it sounds like you'll condemn well-written incest erotica along with the rest of it.

    Look, fiction is fiction. It's fantasy. Stephen King was not recommending or condoning the act of chaining up your favorite author. Neither are incest stories making a stand for the practice. It's a fantasy, written BY people who like it and FOR people who like it.

    I would never suggest that you read or write something you don't want to. But to call it trash is way over the line, and is exactly that kind of condemnation that the erotica genre as a whole receives all the time. And no, it's not because of incest stories, puh-lease. Most of the people I talk to (non writers, just ordinary people) will laugh if a book contains a few explicit sex scenes. They don't even KNOW about the other stuff.

    I tell them the same exact thing I'm telling you: subject matter and writing skill are two different things. And if you see a correlation? I can think of a lot of reasons why that correlation exists. Not the least of which is Amazon won't publish out-and-out incest, and lots of publishers and editors won't touch it, meaning it's hard to get clean, etc. I'll grant you that the correlation seems to exist, but it does not imply causation...we learned that in middle school.

    And finally, since I have danced around the issue for awhile, I'll say where I'm coming from. I don't write incest erotica, but I have read it. I have a crit partner who writes it, and occasionally I will read, for my own pleasure, stuff that is incest-like (ie. step-father, uncle-by-marriage) The actual blood relation thing does occasionally squick me out. It's not my kink. But I would never call the whole idea trash just because it doesn't get me off, geez.

    I write mostly regular erotica, but occasionally I like to write nonconsent. And I definitely like to read it. Now, you might be saying "rape is morally reprehensible!" Of course it is. Everyone thinks that (except possibly rapists, and even they might agree). And look, no one want to be raped. It's pretty much the definition of rape, that you don't want it. If you did want it, it's no longer rape. But it's fiction, it's fantasy. You don't have to like it, you don't have to read it, but that doesn't make it trash. Since it can be published on Amazon and is a pretty common kink, I have read some high quality, well-written nonconsent fiction. You can call it trash, but you'd be wrong.

  4. I'm one of those people who likes relationships between caretakers and their wards-- like between Edmund and Haydee in The Count of Monte Cristo-- but only when there's no indication of the relationship ever having father/daughter connotations. Part of it is that I started reading romance that involved one of the parties being immortal, who often obeyed older traditions of a young woman needing a chaperon to keep her safe, not unlike a bodyguard. As soon as they start thinking along the lines of 'you're my daddy', though, I'm out the door-- especially when the relationship is parental from the get go (seriously-- stepfather/stepdaughter relationships are popular?!?! I'm pretty sure that's illegal EVERYWHERE).

    Aside from that, though, churning out a crappy work just because it's the popular genre at the moment feels like a betrayal of writing. Checking your work, proofreading, having a decent product out there-- doesn't that matter anymore?

    I salute you for sticking by your guns.

  5. Amber, thanks for stopping by. I suppose since I didn't elaborate on the "stuff I don't read but that I wouldn't classify as trashy" category, I can see how you might assume that I define anything I wouldn't read that way. That's not true. You won't catch me reading anything to do with water sports or various other activities that squick me out, but I wouldn't necessarily put them in the trash bin, either. As for non-consent, it's a fine line, and yes, it absolutely triggers my morality alarm, but I know there's at least the possibility for a much different (and potentially sexy) dynamic in that situation, that I don't think is the same with pseudo-incest.

    And sorry, but I just don't buy the "fiction is fiction. It's fantasy. Stephen King was not recommending or condoning the act of chaining up your favorite author." type of argument (which is the only argument I ever hear in favor of these stories). Pseudo-incest stories absolutely condone that type of behavior by showing them as a desirable, good, favorable, etc. That's a HUGE difference from the way criminal activity like murder, kidnapping, whatever is handled in, say, a Stephen King novel.

    I might have a little more respect for an author who chooses to write these types of stories if they actually were well-written, but no, I haven't encountered any. Not just simple mechanics, either, but the simpleminded plots and sexist, cardboard-cutout type characters that I mentioned above.

    If you want to point out some high-quality stories you think I'm missing out on, go right ahead, but I'm not sure we'll agree.

    Jennifer, I understand where you're coming from. There would be a tiny fraction of a percentage of situations where the pseudo-familial thing might actually appeal to me in erotica. But it's miniscule. Caretaker/ward scenarios can walk a fine squicky line, but like you said, instances where there's never been the implication of any type of family bond are generally okay for me.

    Sure, there can be trash in a lot of different genres, and there can be poorly written stories in every genre. I take issue with these stories (which are both trashy and mostly poorly written) because it's my chosen genre, which I would like to see given the respect it deserves.

  6. I don't write erotica, not really, but I do write stories with a lot of graphic sexual content. The 'trash' concept is an interesting one, but for me it's more about the writing (bland, mechanical and contextless) than the the theme or subject. I mean incest is not a subject that interests me, and I wouldn't read it, but I'm loathe to draw lines. Guest blogging elsewhere on a similar subject I gave Lolita as an example: I mean the subject is, I hope we all agree, 'icky', but the writing is superlative. Conceivably a well enough written incest work would also challenge preconceptions and prejudices, and hold the attention.

    In short, I'm happy to judge the writing, but reluctant to judge the subject matter.

  7. Fair enough, JD. I suppose if I came across any of the above mentioned stories that were incredibly well-written and challenged ideas and all that good stuff, maybe I'd feel differently, but I haven't seen any yet. I also think it's a little different when the stories are erotica, pure and simple, meant to arouse sexual appetites and ideas.

  8. Interesting post, because I think the concept of "trash" is really broad. A lot of people refer to romance as trashy novels (hell, I say that *all* the time, but it's always tongue-in-cheek), and they say it for different reasons. Some people think a book with sex is trashy, some people think a book you only read BECAUSE it has sex is trashy, some people think a book about romance is trashy, and some people think that romance books are poorly written and that makes them trash.

    And that's just in the "respectable" (relatively) genre of romance... Erotica of course brings up a lot more judgment because the sex is kind of a given.

    So I generally stay away from using the word "trash" in any serious way because it's just too broad. I'm glad you defined what you meant.

    I'm with you on never reading or writing the kind of erotica you mentioned (not that I write erotica so far, but if I did...) However, I think there are some very gray areas as far as what's morally acceptable in fiction. A lot of people get really upset about non-consent stuff, when it's a tremendously common fantasy among women who, in real life, know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they don't want to actually be raped. Ever. The fantasy is different from the reality. So I don't get upset about rape scenes.

    On the other hand, if the non-consenting individual in a scene were a child? Yeah, I'd have a huge problem with that.

    Writing this response has clarified for me what my issue is (Thanks for that!). I think I'm okay with squicky stuff if I imagine that the more submissive role in the story feeds the fantasy of a person who is not about to become a victim in real life. A woman might have some kind of daddy fantasy and she reads erotica about it and I can sort-of-kind-of (okay not really) imagine that, so I don't care. But something involving a child (or true sadism, or maiming another individual, or anything like that) is so purely abusive that I can't imagine it fitting in with a "victim" fantasy - I can only imagine it being stroke material for the perpetrator. And then my squick radar goes off the charts and I can't deal.

    Wonder if that makes sense?

    Very thought-provoking post.

  9. Well, like I said, I just don't see a lot of incest erotica out there. I don't seek it out either, but since it's not allowed on Amazon, it's a pretty big problem for the sub-genre. But I don't think it's really about quality for you, which is the point I was making. Are you suggesting that a good writer couldn't write incest erotica? I mean, whether or not you or I have read it, well-written probably exists on someone's hard-drive somewhere, or it would if Amazon lifts their ban. But you're going to dislike it either way. That's fine, it's not your thing, but go ahead and condemn a bad book for being a bad book. Don't condemn a genre for having bad writers in it.

    You and I write erotica. I've read PLENTY of horribly written straight-up erotica. Do I want my work or the genre that I love to be judged based on that material? No, and I'm guessing you wouldn't appreciate that either.

    The positive-light thing is a good argument, and is how on-the-page rape can make it into a literary book but not certain erotic books. Still, though, there are thrillers and such that get into the mind of a killer or crazy person and romanticize what they do. Hell, look at series like the Black Dagger Brotherhood which, as a paranormal, gets away with all kinds of things. All of the heroes kill daily and they are revered for it. So is she morally reprehensible, promoting murder?

    I'm into nonconsent, so writing about it, for me, is not saying that it's right. It's also not saying that it's wrong. It's an exploration for me, something to think about. It's not for you or maybe even most people, but my readers are 90% regular women, professionals or suburban moms, etc. I just made that up, of course, but I do talk to them and look at stats as best I can and that's the impression that I get. They may be stroking to it, but they are not perpetrators. They are regular people being entertained. You hate incest, and to a lesser extent, nonconsent, so they are acting as blinders telling you that anyone who wants to read this stuff is a predator, but it's just not true. There are people who think that someone who reads any erotica is a slut. We can be interested in stuff without being bad people.


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