When I first submitted a short story collection for consideration to 1001 Nights Press earlier this year, it was as a manuscript that contained seventeen stories, six of which were new and exclusive to the collection. I knew the book as a whole would be considered erotica and would not be marketable as erotic romance. This was mainly because of how a few of the stories ended.
As I’ve shared now a number of places, I interpreted Sharazade, the proprietor of 1001 Nights, as coming back with the suggestion that the manuscript be divided into two books. Essentially, upon our agreeing to do so, what I had submitted became two collections divided generally along the line between the erotic romance pieces and the erotica pieces. If… Then: a collection of erotic romance stories was released in September and has ten stories, including two of the new ones the original manuscript contained. (I got to go back and add three previously published stories I had pulled from the full manuscript due to length concerns. Yay!) Safe: a collection of erotic stories came out October 15 and also comprises ten stories, four of which are the remaining new tales from the original manuscript.
I feel much appreciation for Sharazade’s recognizing that the manuscript I submitted may work better as two books. Since I knew the intention with which I had written each story was along a similar line that made them all fit together for me, it is true that the outward tone and direction of some of the stories seemed different from a number of the others. Basically, I feel Sharazade was correct that the volume could be pretty distinctly divided between the erotica and the erotic romance stories.
I was and am aware that the audiences for erotic romance and erotica are different, and while I have seen the term “erotica” seem to be used as synonymous with “erotic romance,” I personally see the two as distinct and consider such a conflation a misnomer.
Probably the most tangible difference distinguishing erotic romance from erotica, as I see it, is the requirement of a happy ending. In my understanding, anything labeled “romance” (of whatever sub-genre of romance it is) must have the requisite happy ending. I completely understand this requirement of the romance genre as one that both draws readers and that readers expect. I also respect it and feel no desire to mislead anyone into reading something that may not interest her/him/them. I am delighted that I have a collection specifically for a romance-reading audience that embraces the personal connection and conscious commitment of romantic relationship in the context of erotic writing.
More subtly, I actually perceive the happy ending requirement of romance to be a happy ending of a rather specific type: that in which the main characters, who have been or are romantically involved, are implied to continue or remain that way (contentedly!) for the foreseeable future. Characters in my erotica, for example, may well end up happy as well, but it’s often had little to nothing to do with any kind of ongoing or developing relationship between them. Their sexual interaction may have left them quite content, but they may feel no desire to continue that interaction or develop a romantic connection. Many stories I’ve written have had these kinds of endings, and there are some with this type in Safe as well.
Perhaps most atypical of much of the contemporary erotica I have read, however, Safe also has stories that do not have particularly “happy endings” as they have often seemed defined in literature. And here there may be some readers of erotica as well who digress in preference from this occurrence. To some readers, as I have interpreted it, erotica is for purposes of arousal, and some don’t consider a serious or poignant ending to lend itself to such.
I can understand that perspective—though I will admit I don’t share it. For me, erotica (both reading and writing it) is for more than arousal. In writing erotic fiction, I aim to explore the human condition, connection, experience, and evolution via the force and energy of sexuality (one that is, it seems to me, to be reckoned with!). I experience Safe as an embodiment of my aim to do this.
As such, there are a few stories in <>Safe that do not end neatly and/or with contentment and satisfaction. At no point did I write anything for Safe (or do I feel compelled to write anything in general) that ends tragically or wrenchingly simply for shock value. That is not at all the point. Rather, the stories “end” as the closing of what we have glimpsed of the characters lives, and sometimes what appears to be going on in those may encompass challenge, pain, and/or loss.
I don’t want to give the impression that all the stories in Safe end poignantly—they don’t (from my perspective, anyway!). A few of them, as I see it, do. Personally, I understand the desire to read something I know is going to turn out a way that won’t likely elicit a challenging emotion in me. I have sought out that kind of work in the past and felt that way often. As an author, however, I also appreciate exploring what appears to me to authentically reflect the facets of human experience that come through me as I’m working. As I see it, that is one of the fundamental purposes of art.
Ultimately, the aspiration in me in writing every story in Safe was to explore and display the power of sexuality to heal, connect, awaken, and elicit growth. This is how I see the purpose and power of sexuality in life, and as an author of erotica, that is what I am aiming to write. Sometimes the result may seem uplifting, and sometimes it may seem painful. Sometimes, as in life, if we pay a particular level of attention, we may see both at once.
Blurb for Safe: a collection of erotic stories:
In this collection of ten erotic stories, attraction, heat, and connection serve as catalysts to take characters to places of climax, revelation, transformation, and abiding – sometimes all at once. From hypnotizing dreams to life-changing tragedies to moving on after the end of a relationship, Safe explores the power of sexuality in its myriad forms and manifestations.
“To Make It That Way” shows older woman Cole taking young Zack on a seductive and wild ride, exposing him not only to a considerable sexual education but to more subtle life lessons as well. “Power Over Power” channels the intense energy of a martial arts session, while “Hers to Keep” offers Leslie a surprising lesson in so-called “casual” sex.
Polyamory, masturbation, and BDSM all make appearances in <>Safe, as do scorching vanilla sex and budding romance. These stories reveal how eros has the power to bring us back to ourselves, propelling us ever deeper into the journeys of both sex and life.
Excerpt from “To Make It That Way” in Safe:
Cole’s eyes glinted. “Sex,” she said, “has the potential to encompass and represent all human experience. All the nuances, all the understood and not understood, may be experienced through sex. And that means there’s a whole realm of it we’re not going to understand. It’s beyond our common forms of understanding.” Her eyes bore into me like steel. “But it’s not beyond our experiencing.”
After a moment she broke her gaze, and I noticed I started breathing again. I also noticed my cock was rock-hard.
“The key,” she said, lifting her water glass from the end table near where we stood, “is in awareness, respect, openness, authenticity. We don’t have to understand it all, as long as we’re aware of ourselves. As long as we respect our partners. As long as we approach with openness what is happening between us. And as long as we are authentic in our dealings, our experiences, our examinations. If something is uncomfortable, examine that and see what it teaches you. If it feels inauthentic, stop doing it. ”
“That wouldn’t account for a lot of abusive situations where sex is concerned,” I countered. “Lots of people may think they’re aware of and like what they’re doing, but it hurts someone else or is even criminal.”
“Yes,” she agreed, setting her water glass back down. “But that means at least one of those pieces is missing.”
I pondered that, as she didn’t appear inclined to expound. She moved toward me and caught my mouth with hers, and I caught my breath at the suddenness, at the heat that zipped through me like lightning at her touch. She backed me up against the couch until I fell onto it, my hands groping her breasts. Pulling my cock out of my jeans, Cole dropped her head and sucked with fervor, going after my cock like she was possessed, as though she was taking something from it she needed.
With a final pump, she paused, running her tongue up the length of my shaft. Her cat-like eyes gazed up at me, hard lust and a hint of something else glowing in them. Abruptly she stood up on the couch, towering over me as she pulled off her shirt and stepped out of her jeans. Underneath them she wore an impeccable red lingerie set, glimmering bra, thong, and garter belt with rhinestones embedded around the rims and matching stockings. I caught my breath.
Cole didn’t need lingerie, but she sure knew how to use it.
Emerald is an erotic fiction author whose short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in anthologies published by Cleis Press, Mischief, Logical-Lust, and Sweetmeats Press. She is an advocate for sexual freedom, reproductive rights, and the rights of sex workers, and she serves as a Facebook group moderator and assistant newsletter editor for Marketing for Romance Writers (MFRW). Her first single-author books, If…Then: a collection of erotic romance stories and Safe: a collection of erotic stories, are out now from 1001 Nights Press.