Isn’t it Erotic, Don’t You Think?

angelTwo days ago the long-awaited (by me) second edition of the novel Angel was released by DSP Publications.

DSP is a new imprint of Dreamspinner Press, and the hope is that the new imprint will put an end to Angel’s “erotica problem.”

What I am referring to is the tendency of book selling sites to label it as “erotica.” This has much less to do with the content of the novel than the fact that it was put out by a publisher that is known for some steamy novels and the assumption is that anything from that publisher must be a little bit erotic. (It’s like ra-ee-ain on your wedding day! Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.)

So Dreamspinner, which has been branching out for some time into less romantic and erotic LGBT literature chose some titles that they thought would benefit from a different kind of presentation. I’m very glad.

I’ve been thinking about this word “erotica” a bit lately. A couple of months ago I was scolded in a review of my second novel Identity Theft for including a scene that depicts masturbation. “I don’t want to read erotica,” the reviewer said. Or words to that effect, it was a while ago and I am quoting from memory. The same reviewer went on to say that I was a smart and accomplished woman who did not have to resort to that kind of thing to sell books.

Whether or not the scene itself added to the plot or understanding of the character is an argument for other people. What struck me was the use of the word “erotica.” The word is supposed to indicate literary art created to spark the sexual imagination. It is not simply art that depicts sexuality; it is art created to turn you on.

Sexuality is a part of adult life, and something that has different meanings in different contexts. To my way of thinking, the scene she described was, if anything, anti-erotic. It depicts a person who is deluding himself to the point that he can’t really believe anyone outside his fantasy world exists and can be effected by what he does. It is a person who is isolated, and at that moment, self-absorbed and a bit ridiculous and pathetic. If the reader goes away from that scene thinking “Wow, that was hot,” I think I have missed the mark somehow as a story teller.

I’ve written a lot of books now, and I’ve gotten comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to like everything I do and that some things will resonate with one reader and annoy another. That can’t be helped. It is still odd, however, when you read a review and find that someone has misunderstood your motives in a significant way. Then it moves beyond a critique of the work to a critique of the character of the writer. This reader imagined that I made a calculated decision to “spice things up” because I thought it would sell more books. I have to say that until I read the review, I hadn’t given much thought at all to the sex in the book except as it was part of the story I was telling. The idea that sex was by definition commercial didn’t enter my mind. I am not sure that it is. Sure, someone had a hit with that Shades of Gray thing, but that is a publishing aberration, not the norm.

That little episode aside, it is still worth noting that Angel, which is a story of love and spirituality and includes no on-page descriptions of sex has consistently been called “controversial” whereas Identity Theft, which does show sexual behavior more directly, and which includes characters who make some highly questionable moral decisions, has never been given that label.

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