The War Against Erotica
*Warning: While I always endeavor to handle even adult topics tastefully on Cold, the subject of the following discussion may be offensive to some readers. If you are one of those readers, please join me again next week. Thank you.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about standards in Indie publishing, or as it will increasingly be called – just plain old publishing. And over the next couple of weeks, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of creating and maintaining standards in the wholly democratic industry that publishing has become.
I think it’s imperative that we all talk about what is acceptable, what is not, what is ethical, what is shady, and most importantly, what benefits us all – writers and readers alike.
Enter Travis Luedke (TW Luedke to readers), who is an incredibly talented, versatile, all around credit to Indie publishing.
Really, he’s a pro.
His Nightlife series is a lollapalooza of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll that mixes glitzy and glamorous city living (in glitzy and glamorous places like Paris, London, Vegas) with gory and bad-ass violent vampire lore. And recently, it and almost every other erotic title at WH Smith and Kobo UK (with the exception of 50 Shades of Grey, which apparently is just your average romance, according to online retailers), has been taken off the virtual shelves.
Are The Nightlife stories outrageous?
Are they erotic?
Are they for everyone?
But are they well done and tailor-made for an adult audience hungry for books that actually have a great story, in addition to being filled with fun and dirty sex?
The Nightlife series has never pretended to be anything different. For what it’s worth, except for a few vampires, and crime-thriller plots, there’s not a whole lot in The Nightlife that you won’t find in 50 Shades. But 50 Shades is being treated as an exception. And it’s being treated as an exception exclusively because it makes so much money.
It seems to me, that if you’re going to put erotica back in the proverbial brown paper bag, that ALL erotica should get the bag. But I have a very heavy disposition towards free speech – even free speech I don’t like one bit. And I’m also a fan of consistency as it is the cornerstone of principled behavior.
So, in the interest of having a dialogue about setting standards in Indie publishing, I thought I’d ask Travis some questions:
First, is there anything in the erotica genre that you, personally, find offensive and think shouldn’t be there?
It’s really splitting hairs on many issues. For example: were-shifter romance~erotica. There are readers who consider some were-shifter sex scenes to be right on the edge of bestiality. Obviously, book-banning activists are focused on bestiality, but they are targeting adult romance featuring people that shift to the form of animals.
Of course, I don’t advocate, condone or promote any kind of erotic material that would be a true representation of bestiality. But consenting adults, with paranormal-shape-shifting attributes, are not even close to the same thing as having sexual congress with, say, a sheep.
And I definitely don’t condone any form of incest or rape that is WRITTEN FOR TITILLATION. You have to take these matters in context.
What was the purpose of the scene?
How was it written?
Does it move the plot and storyline with horrific character development elements?
Example: Flowers in the Attic includes rape and incest, yet it is shelved as horror, or psychological thriller.
Why are these things OK?
Because none of these events are written in a romantic~erotic context.
So, when you start looking at the issue of these taboos, you must have the proper perspective and context.
If taboo material is written obviously erotic~romantic, then that is considered bad or wrong. But today, in adult erotica, especially BDSM, there is a category of writers/readers who revolve around fiction with elements of rape/fantasy. It’s called NON-CON (non-consensual). There is a certain subset of adults who enjoy reading this genre. I suppose it’s a way to explore things that are just too wild and dangerous to do in reality.
However, this is a very small minority by percentage of erotic~romance readers, probably down in the 2-3% range. And there are not many authors willing to cater to these readers. It’s a niche market.
I have harsh, abusive scenes in my books, where women are mistreated or even raped. These are scenes written as character insight and background, horrific and appalling. When I write about two characters falling in love (or lust as may be the case), you know the difference, it’s in every line of the scene.
When book-banners start waving the flag of righteous indignation, they need to make sure they are talking about taboo romance~erotic scenes and material, and not horrific~thriller scenes that might be included within a romance~erotic novel. It’s an easy mistake to make – especially when standing in the forum of public opinion amongst an angry crowd.
Personally, I am not interested in taboo erotic material as a reader or writer. But, that doesn’t mean I want to slam it. BDSM fiction is boldly pushing the boundaries, with daring literature that is, in many cases, very well written, compelling, and scorching-hot.
In real life and in fiction, practitioners of BDSM ride the line of consent, mixing pain and pleasure. The average person might consider this bad or wrong, but for the adventurous, they discover unique and invigorating experiences.
I do not practice BDSM, but I have touched on it, briefly, skimming the tip of that iceberg, in the Nightlife Series.
What, in your opinion, is the state of erotic literature today?
I think erotic literature is in the midst of an explosive growth, evolving into a revolution of sorts in the world of fiction (and non-fiction).
Fifty Shades of Grey took a theme that was dangerous, sexy, somewhat violently sexy and fused it with the romance genre. That influence is bleeding over into other genres as well. Christian Grey and Anastasia have created a new ‘norm,’ a new paradigm for romantic fiction. And so, today, we are seeing the lines blurred between erotica and romance.
You could easily pick up a contemporary romance novel, and find yourself in the middle of an edgy, smoking-hot erotic scene. You could also purchase an erotic novel only to realize it’s basically romance with a more detailed expression of sex scenes.
And erotic sex scenes are becoming widely accepted in fiction, even outside of erotica and romance. Publishers and editors are instructing their contracted authors to write more steamy sex scenes, because its popular, because it sells.
So, in your opinion, erotica has evolved from the old days of pulp novels with names like “Spoiled Slut?”
I have heard it said that early erotica was basically porn on paper. I don’t really know, apart from having read a couple of short stories in Playboy.
I can tell you today’s erotic fiction is hot, not always because of sex but because of sexual tension and attraction between two characters. It’s about the emotional investment a reader feels in these people. If readers care about the lives and the intimate moments between the characters, then you have arousal.
A porn classic like Debbie Does Dallas doesn’t work on paper, because describing the physical act means nothing if there’s no emotional investment in Debbie, or any of the men in her life.
So, yes, erotica is, in many ways, a more enhanced version of romance. Its romance with the bedroom doors wide open.
What, besides the obvious, drew you to write stories with erotic elements?
I have always been a fan of escapist fiction like Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Robert R. McCammon, and Peter Straub. I found the horror/thriller novels centered on the supernatural were my favorites.
It was Brian Lumley who taught me the dark, wicked beauty of vampires. And then a few years later I discovered Anne Rice. I have always loved The Vampire Chronicles, but it bothered me that these creatures never had any sex.
Then I found Laurell K. Hamilton, and discovered an entire world of dark erotic~romantic fiction. Now, I’m a total addict of vampire novels and films, and that’s what I write. But I have my cake and eat it too. My vampires live in the real nightlife of today, back alleys, ghettos, strip clubs, casinos, drugs, prostitution, escorts, mafia, cartel.
I like it dark, gritty, violent and sensual, with thriller intensity. And I blend all these elements into my own wicked cocktail.
Let’s consider the point of view of someone who might be more conservative in their standards. Why do you think there remains an objection to erotic literature, even if sex has been so heavily mainstreamed since the 1960s (assuming, of course, that it is being read by adults)?
Though I will surely offend someone (if you’re not offending anyone, then you’re just not living), I think most objection to erotic literature is based on the religious foundations of our culture. Judeo-Christian religions paint sexuality with a very black brush.
You’ve heard the old joke, Jews do guilt and Catholics do confession. Hence, erotic literature is considered a guilty pleasure by both readers and writers.
So, after having enraged half of the world’s religions, I will add that it seems, in general, our views on sexuality are changing and evolving.
In other words, we’re all going to hell in a hand-basket.
Why, in your opinion, does erotica belong in literature?
I think erotic scenes are the natural conclusion of passionate romance. All the great stories of our time involve passionate romance. I don’t mean milquetoast “I care for you deeply Martha,” I am talking visceral, primal passion – that “I want to pin you against the wall and make love till neither of us can walk,” kind of passion.
And why should the bedroom doors stay closed in our great love stories? Erotic literature usually embodies the fantasy of an ideal lover who does everything right.
How often do you get that?
I imagine we could all stand to improve our performance in the bedroom. Or have fun trying. Is that something worth researching and writing about? Worthy of quality literature?
Sex is a natural part of our lives. A healthy sex life makes happy couples and stable families. Sex should be celebrated. Literature should be shining a light on this glorious expression of love and passion.