Thursday, March 8, 2007

Is It Art?

'Tawdry, misogynistic, and unrealistic.' I'd pressed one of my best friends, another writer, to read my first erotica novel, Wild Card. Now she was giving me her honest opinion of the book. I was stunned.

Tawdry? As in cheap, flamboyant, and tasteless? OK but …misogynistic? Impossible. Wild Card is a Black Lace novel – written by women for women. Unrealistic? The action primarily takes place in a hotel room over a couple of days – the classic dirty weekend. Or did my friend think a good paddling followed by twelve strokes of the crop was more than a real woman could stand? Not if that woman is a pain slut!

Then the kicker. She called me an artist, and said I have a responsibility to the world. Just like her.

Well, I'm a writer, I know that. But an artist? What's that even supposed to mean?

Is erotica art? Is genre fiction art? This is a just a little essay and my first post as a member of Lust Bites (as is evidenced by the ungainly topic I chose) so I'll get to the point. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It depends on who wrote it and when. It used to depend on whether it originally came with a hard or paper back, and, although 'trade paperbacks' and the lovely new covers introduced by traditional erotica imprints like Black Lace have blurred the distinction a little, it's still possible to judge a book by its cover.

Here's what I think about art: It evokes a feeling. Sometimes, the public response to art translates into action, (Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe for example) but not always. Mostly, aren't we simply awed by art?

Genre fiction writers are charged to evoke a particular feeling. Writers of horror set out to scare the reader. The High Priest of Horror, Stephen King, has only recently been acknowledged as a possible literary figure. Mystery writers lure the reader into following the chain of evidence and puzzling over clues. Elmore Leonard is the latest mystery writer to make the cut as an artist.

We erotica writers are charged with the task of sexually exciting the reader. Anne Rice comes to mind as an author who has transcended the erotica and horror genres to take her place among the mainstream literary figures of the day. These days, she's writing about Jesus!

Genre writers only get to be artists when they're old. (Who wrote it and when.) Or, to put it another way, when they have amassed a quantity of high quality books. New writers who are published by the mainstream publishers have a shot at being considered artists. (Hard cover or soft.) Newer writers identified by their publishing house as genre writers, don't. (Hard cover or soft.)

These days, Black Lace is looking for literary writing and believable scenarios, more chicklit with our clitlit, if you will. Meanwhile, romance publishers are looking for more clitlit with their chicklit. Chicklit may be a perjorative term, but it's a name for the books that the female population wants to read, and that's exciting. Clitlit, of course, is just plain rude.

Artists are free to add dollops of incest and child abuse and alcoholism to their work, (Fall on Your Knees by Anne-Marie MacDonald); it's almost de rigueur, these days, to imbue a book with substance by heaping on the substance abuse. Black Lace authors follow rules that prohibit that practise. Bestiality is another taboo topic for erotica genre writers that is used to good effect by literary authors. A Black Lace writer can't use it no matter how well-written it is. (No Bear by Marion Engle) for us! Our literary erotica guidelines forbid it.

We Black Lace authors are happy to move in the direction of literature, as much as the fairly tight schedule laid out in our contracts will allow. (Generally we get six months to complete a book.) If we create art, I know our editor would be overjoyed, as long as it's sexy art. But it isn't expected of us. We are expected to write extremely well and make our readers extremely horny. If we don't do that,it doesn't matter how pretty the prose is, we've failed. My book, Wild Card, like all erotica, is written for 'the one handed reader'. I think I accomplished that, and I think my editor thought so too. That's not only good enough for me, it makes me proud.

My friend said she wants her work to 'leave the world a better place,' and I said that my mission is 'to entertain, using my voice.' I also suggested that she is hobbled by her high ideals. While she struggles with the morality and message of her work, producing almost nothing, I write short stories (as Madeline de Chambrey)and novels (by Madeline Moore) that get published. There's no better way to become a better writer than to write.

In the volley of emails that ended a friendship, she had the last word. For the purposes of this essay, I thought I'd give the last word to Oscar Wilde...

'There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written.'

...but then I decided, to hell with it, I'll give the last word to me.

From Wild Card by Madeline Moore:

'"After you cover my feet in your creamy come, Ray, I will spread my thighs and let you sink your fingers deep into my hot steaming naked cunt -" she made her words as crude as she could. The sudden revelation of her inner predator could shock a weak man into impotence but it always had the opposite effect on a strong one.'

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