A month or so ago, I bought a book reading journal. It’s very cool. The title of the journal is Book Lust, and it’s full of blank entries for me to record all the books I read. Each entry has a space for the title, the author, and the date I read the book, and then a page of space for my comments on what I thought of the book. I was really excited about this idea of recording what I’ve been reading, because lately I’ve changed interests. I grew up on a steady diet of science fiction and fantasy. In the last few years I’ve added horror and historical mystery to that as well. But very recently I’ve dropped all that for more “literary” stuff. By literary I mean I’ve been picking books that show up either on the NY Times bestseller list or on the “What’s New” shelf at the library and book store.
It’s quite a change, like suddenly going from eating meat to being a vegetarian. But I like it. I was getting tired of reading a lot of the same stuff over and over again, to the point where I had quit reading all together because I couldn’t bring myself to pick up another sci-fi book. Of course, I don’t always like what I pick up in the “literary” section either, but then I made a deal with myself. If I don’t take a shine to a book within the first two chapters, I don’t have to keep reading. This means I’m getting most of my books from the library, because I can’t afford to buy a bunch of books and then put them down after two chapters, but my local library does keep a pretty good selection, so I’m good.
One of the things I’m most interested in reading right now are books put out by the major publishing houses that are billed as “erotic.” Now you know I write erotica, so I have very particular ideas about what is and isn’t erotic. To me, an erotic story means a tale with sexually explicit writing whose purpose is to arouse the reader. There is no “fade to black” when the sex takes place. There are also no veiled euphemisms or purple prose used to describe sex acts and genitalia. Things like that only smother what’s erotic. They don’t add any value at all.
So I’m reading what the big wigs in the publishing industry consider to be erotic. And my conclusion is these guys have no frikkin’ clue about what’s erotic. I’m not saying the books I’ve read are bad. One book I read, Vertigo by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, was actually quite good. Vertigo is the story of Emma, a Victorian housewife, who makes a resolution one year to be a better person. Her husband, a novelist working on a book about prisons, suggests Emma write letters to a prisoner he’s met during his research, to boost the man’s morale and act as a friend. Of course, Emma falls in love the prisoner, named Chance Wood, and the rest of the story focuses on their affair and Emma’s discovery of her sexuality. The book was interesting, thrilling and suspenseful in fact. I do not think it was erotic though. There were sex scenes in the book, and to Ms. Baratz-Logsted’s credit, she covered sex acts that most folks won’t discuss even in the privacy of their own bedroom. But the way she wrote those scenes made them seem wooden and dull. Again, I blame the use of euphemism and purple prose. She came close to going into detail about what was going on, but never really hit the target. It was like watching ants mate – biologically interesting perhaps, but in no way arousing to me.
I have this fear that all the “erotic” big sellers I intend to read are going to be like that, and it annoys the hell out of me. Why won’t people write about sex in a way that shows how exciting it can really be? We write about murder and violence with so much abandon, but sex? No, we can’t do that. Or maybe I should say, they can’t do that. You know I can. I do it all the time. In fact, I’ll be busting my ass today to finish up a short story I intend to submit to Best Women’s Erotica 2008. An older woman with a porn addiction seduces a much younger man. Hot stuff. And you better believe that the sex scenes are explicit. In fact, I have more sex scenes in this one 7,000 word short story than Lauren Baratz-Logsted had in her entire book, a fact I find to be quite funny. And once I’m done writing this short story, I’ll be starting on another erotica book. I’ve been e-mailing my editor at Mojocastle Press about some ideas I have and she’s very gung-ho, so I’m feeling pretty good these days. In fact, I’m feeling like a professional writer, which feels better than I ever possibly imagined it could feel.
I love reading. I love writing. I may never get published by a big printing house like some folks, but that’s okay. I love getting up each morning and knowing that I’m going to be doing the stuff I want to do. So life is good, folks. Life is very good.