One question we writer of erotica gets asked ad nauseum is if we’ve actually done the things we write about. In fact one of the big fears many writers, no matter their genre, have is that any sex scene they write will leave them exposed, will leave readers wondering if they’ve actually ever done what they wrote about, or almost worse still, questioning their sexual experience in general. This fear is probably, in part, why the Bad Sex Awards exist. That their sex lives might be the topic of speculation because of something they’ve written is terrifying to anyone as introverted as most writers are. By the very act of exposing ourselves through our stories, we are left open for readers to speculate on just which parts of our tale are fact and which parts are fiction. Anyone who has had even the most basic psychology class will know that there is a little bit of us in each tale we write. How well we’ve disguised that and how much of it we wantto disguise is also a part of our craft, though often at an unconscious level.
On a panel with four other erotica writers being interviewed at a literary festival, we were told that we looked more like librarians than writers of filthy stories. We all had a little chuckle and then told the naïve person interviewing us that actually we look exactly like the writers of filthy stories.
When The Initiation of Ms. Holly was published, I was asked by someone who was into the BDSM lifestyle how I could write BDSM when I had no experience of it personally. While we had a very interesting discussion on the topic, I was struck that it would have never entered this person’s mind to ask a crime writer how they could write detective whodunits or police procedurals without any experience of being a criminal or being a detective. Later, I realized that our discussion was, in itself, the answer to the woman’s question. From it I had gleaned valuable information on a lifestyle I sometimes wrote about, but did not myself embrace.
Those strange nebulous boundaries between fact and fiction are more troublesome to some writers, and readers than they are to others. I don’t know of any erotica author whose work hasn’t been affected by the required use of condoms in erotic fiction. The implication seems to be that readers of erotic fiction are perhaps not intelligent enough to realize that what we write is fiction and that if we should choose for our characters not to use condoms, then surely it must be safe enough to go and do likewise. To some degree that constraint in publishing, which does not apply to any other genre, is what drove me to write more paranormal fiction. While I am a complete advocate of safe sex, fiction is fiction, and in my erotic fantasies, condoms don’t much figure. Also, I seldom have people questioning me about which vampires or demons I’ve had sex with in order to write my stories with authority.
It came as a surprise to me to find that a writer friend of mine who has done very well in crime fiction told me she often finds herself having similar discussions. While no one has ever asked her if she committed the crimes she writes about, she often finds herself trying to explain to readers and friends that she writes fiction, and fiction is not the same thing as fact.
That leads to the question; just how realistic should fiction be? I’ve been in more than a few heated discussions about the need, or not, to make fiction – especially romance and erotic fiction – more realistic. It’s true that writers always has to be aware of pushing the believability limits to the point they lose their readers, and a story has to be grounded in a believable context. At the same time, I’m an escapist reader. I don’t want to read about people just like me, or people who do the things I do. I want to read about people who are larger than life. I want to read about people who get their HEA against all odds.
I’m a voyeur on every level, and never more so than as a reader. I want to see, and vicariously experience, that which I would never want to experience in real life. A part of what fiction does is allow us to live many lives through the eyes of many people. THAT is seriously powerful magic there! As a writer, a teller of tales, my whole vocation is based on a voyeuristic experience flowing from my own imagination with the desire to share that internal voyeurism with other people. And I promise you, while the characters might have certain traits that are mine, while
glimpses of my life that have inspired the tale might seep through, the stories are completely and totally fiction.
I may live in the real world, the mundane world, but I don’t want to read about it in my fiction. I think that’s a part of why erotica writers look like librarians. We live reality, but we write fiction, filthy, dirty, dangerous fiction. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, erotica is the ultimate safe sex, and it can be as dark and dangerous and kinky as I want it to be precisely because it’s safe … because it’s fiction.