So, this week, we’re going to talk about erotica. I know the subject makes some people uncomfortable, but surely not any readers of an Irreverent blog. Still, I am aware that even those who aren’t made uncomfortable by it often feel it is less legitimate than other forms of expression. After we talk a little, I’ll tell you why I don’t agree.
You may have noticed from my attempt at amusing anecdotes that I was not an “average” child. I was exposed, at an early age, to a variety of inappropriate material. Adults seemed to find it amusing when I’d pick up the Playboy magazine. I think they forgot I taught myself to read by age 4. No one grabbed the Penthouse out of my hands either, when I would sit still for a half hour deciphering “Oh, Wicked Wanda” and trying to figure out what in the hell was going on. I think their first cause for concern was when I found the Hustler under the bed, where they had at least tried to hide it, and attempted to act out things I’d read from The Story of O.
This was not the only source of “erotica” available to a young person with a good vocabulary. Everyone and their grandma read romance novels, and those were, in some cases, nothing much but prettied-up period porn. As I grew, I discovered the clean, beautiful work of Anais Nin, and the dense lush work of Anne Rice, whose very prose was erotic, even outside of the genre. As we read, so shall we write. I wrote about sex before I ever had it. After beginning to write, often terrible things of the fan fiction variety, I discovered others who wrote such things. In the world of fan fiction, I was exposed to homoerotic literature, and devoured it as readily as any story I loved. It was pretty to imagine these things, and reality, at first, was a grave disappointment.
So, what am I saying here? Certainly not that we should perpetuate puritanical attitudes about sex, or even quash childish curiosity. However, there are appropriate levels to anything. Talking to each other is the only way we figure all of that out. Talking about sex, especially to our children, is difficult depending on one’s background and upbringing.
This is exactly why I believe erotica is as valid as any other form of expression. We are sexual beings, and if we can’t talk about it, at least we can read and understand that others have been through the same sorts of things. All human experience should be the purview of the author.
Appropriate or not, erotica is literature that seduces and arouses, as opposed to porn that is like a semi-consensual quickie in a truck stop restroom. Notice, I said literature. Hence, there must be a story, in which adult things happen to happen. If your story starts out “So, there I was….” chances are you’ve written some porn. I have no objection to porn; the internet is certainly full of it.
As I have shared my thoughts with you, I’d like to share some authors and work that I have admired and at least one piece that I think misses the mark.
One of my favorite authors of erotic literature is a close friend of mine, currently writing as T. Baggins. T. writes M/M erotic romance, brilliantly. Whether writing a grim tale of prison love, in Protection, a modern day Coming Out/Cinderella story in Something Different, or a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant love story which manages to discuss politics, coming out, and death, and in a realistic and sometimes amusing way, called “Fifteen Shades of Gay (For Pay)”. T’s work is heavy on character, sparkling at conversation, and is erotic to boot. If your mind is open, or you already know you enjoy M/M stories, read T.’s work. I highly recommend it.
Recommended to me by T. was Beg (Los Angeles Nights) by C. D. Reiss, and I was grateful for the recommendation. I liked the fact that Monica, the first person narrator of this novella, refuses to put her work aside for romance. Again, there’s story AND passion. Great fun.
An author new to me, Ruby Red is a name to watch. Although Fill Me Up (Hollywood Pearls, #1) is a short story, it creates fully realized characters, and hot erotic action. The adventures of Lillie Kensington will continue, and I’d recommend them.
Now, the one that I think misses, and why. I will admit I didn’t finish it, for exactly the flaws I’ll detail. Love The Sinner, by Avril Ashton, had an intriguing concept, of a cop and a criminal drawn to each other against all reason and taboo. My issue was simple. Lust at first sight is perfectly possible, but love at first sight? Don’t stretch my credulity too much. When you add in the fact that these men are from opposite sides of the law, I need a little more to believe that they’ll fall in love instead of just in bed. This one jumped ahead too fast. I couldn’t get my disbelief off the ground.
Erotica is exactly as valid as other forms of expression. An author owes the reader honesty, even while spinning talks. Honesty can be found in every genre, and creates enjoyable reading!
Warning. There are spoilers ahead for A Clockwork Orange, both the novel by Anthony Burgess including the last chapter, and the movie, by the amazing Stanley Kubrick. Viddy this, and pop away if you are among the holdouts who have not neither seen nor read this amazing work.
I wanted so to have a new book to review for you, but I am not quite finished with the one I wanted to share with you next. I almost waited, but I didn’t want you to get bored. I have read literally thousands of books in my lifetime, so there ought to be something I could talk with you about in there somewhere. Indeed, there are many books I would love to talk with you about. As I said prefer to share new things with you, however. So, why are we talking about a book written before even I was born, shortly after the discovery of fire?
To answer that, I pose you a question. I would love you to give your opinions in the comments. What does it mean to grow up? How do you know you have? I asked my dad, in one of our meandering philosophical conversations, if there was a magic age where I’d wake up and feel like a grown up. He said he was still waiting. He was 63 at that time. By many objective measures, I certainly haven’t done it.
I certainly wasn’t grown up the summer I spent watching A Clockwork Orange. Although the wisdom of letting an 11 year old watch such a violent movie is dubious, watch it I did. Every day, for a month. I can still quote huge sections of dialogue, in passable Nadsat. You may or may not know, the film was based on the American version of the book, which was missing the last chapter. As I fell head over heels in love with Little Alex, Your Humble Narrator, I was simply happy he was back to his old ‘orrible self again by the end of it.
In case you are one of three people on earth who don’t know, here’s what the story is about, via the Amazon blurb: A vicious fifteen-year-old “droog” is the central character of this 1963 classic, whose stark terror was captured in Stanley Kubrick’s magnificent film of the same title. In Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of the future, where criminals take over after dark, the story is told by the central character, Alex, who talks in a brutal invented slang that brilliantly renders his and his friends’ social pathology. A Clockwork Orange is a frightening fable about good and evil, and the meaning of human freedom. When the state undertakes to reform Alex—to “redeem” him—the novel asks, “At what cost?”
It would be years before I read the book, and I got to that last chapter first, in Rolling Stone. It was a pretty big deal to discover there was more to the story. These were the days before the internet, you understand, so we didn’t have knowledge at our fingertips. Nor were there scores of badly written bits of fan fiction to tide us over when cannon failed.
The gist of the last chapter is that Alex IS his old self, but that he discovers his old life isn’t enough. Eventually, he runs in to one of his old droogs, and finds that what he really needed was to grow up, to move on from his past into an adult life.
I remember thinking, “So it was all just a PHASE?!” I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed in this ending. I was far from grown up myself even then, and wondered if one HAD to change so fundamentally during the process. I hadn’t begun to feel very changed. And I STILL DON’T.
Many Gen Xers are experiencing an extended adolescence, or a second adolescence, just as I am. Many of us have had to go back home and our plans and dreams certainly have not turned out the way we might have hoped. I find myself having a lot of advice to share, but my essential self doesn’t seem to have changed very much at all. My dad’s earlier response seems to imply that everyone experiences this to some degree.
So I wonder about you, my readers. Do you feel like you’ve grown up? If so, what makes you feel that way?
I will say A Clockwork Orange is a Heavenly book, although you may feel you’ve gone through Hell before it is done.
First let me say that I hope all of my readers are safe and well after the Super-storm. Hopefully, the fact that you are able to read this post will mean that you are.
I’m warning you now, this blog post is not one of my typical ones. It’s mostly going to be opinion, without any real review. This has been a very dense couple of weeks for me. I don’t mean dense as in stupid, although I have been a little out of it. I mean dense as in packed full. Some good things have happened, like a trip out of town and getting a new job. Mostly, though, my brain is packed full, and the packing material feels like concrete. Much of this is due to the impeding election. I am always honest here, so I will share that I am an Obama supporter. Considering what I’ve already discussed with you about my life, and my irreverent attitude, this is probably not a real surprise to anyone. What HAS surprised me has been the complete inability of anyone, including myself, to discourse rationally on this subject. I am certain that most people feel the way they do for reasons based in what they perceive to be reality, although I had thought previously that reality was finite and agreed upon by everyone. I’ll be perfectly frank about my terror at the prospect of Mitt and his merry band of Right Wing Nut Jobs being in charge of me and mine. After Tuesday, I am hopeful reality will sync up, and the country I grew up in will return to some sense of decency. Either that or my next entry will come to you from a bunker in an undisclosed location.
In other wacky news, Amazon has decided that authors cannot review books on its website. At first I was like, “Wait… what?!” As I traveled the internet to discover what I could, I discovered that this appears to be because of authors behaving badly. The poison pen has been replaced by a keyboard, but is alive and well. I’ve witnessed a bit of this, and I am as appalled by incivility here as in our political discourse. It’s become acceptable to be an asshole. I don’t like this trend. Pointing out that someone’s work did not appeal to you, or even that it has technical errors, is possible to do without being rude. Some of these “authors” seem to be purposefully dragging down other writers. That’s not cool with me. Especially within the independent writing community, we surely benefit from pulling each other up instead. I read one author put forth the opinion that if people wish to be treated as professionals, they should act like professionals. That is the best piece of advice I have seen since middle school, where I was given most of my writing advice (including one piece that I will share for free—proofread your work!). Good authors are often voracious readers, and certainly have sensible things to say about what they have read. The misbehavior of a few should not have an adverse effect on the whole. I will always give you my honest opinion, and endeavor to do so without being a jerk. Feel free to take me to task if I don’t!
In the interests of the aforementioned transparency, I must mention a book I attempted to read for review that I could not finish. Dark Descent, by R. G. Porter, has an interesting premise, but stylistically did not work for me. Of course, you must form your own opinion, as the shorter piece of Porter’s that I read was more enjoyable, but the novel was simply not for me. I am now in the midst of a completely entertaining fantasy work that I hope to finish and review for you soon, as long as I can charge my Kindle in the bunker.
“Harry Potter is all about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity … Twilight is about how important it is to have a boyfriend.”
— Robin Browne
This quote has been attributed to Stephen King. No matter who said it, I’m certain the Twihards would not agree, or perhaps they would point out how important it IS to have a boyfriend. I tend to agree with the quote’s assessment, but I’ll confess I’ve read the Twilight novels, and I didn’t hate them. I was not a victim of the hype, however. As for Harry Potter, I took a dear friend to the first movie because she’d loved the books. I enjoyed that so well that I became interested in reading the books. I don’t feel I was caught up in the hype on that either, although I did stand in line at midnight for the last one. LOL.
We aren’t here to talk about Twilight or Harry Potter. We’re here to talk about HYPE, and its relationship to the actual validity of a written work. The Urban Dictionary defines hype thus: “A fad. A clever marketing strategy which a product is advertized as the thing everyone must have, to the point where people begin to feel they need to consume it.” As a member of the Gothic subculture, I was deeply suspicious of hype when I was young. You may not know this about Goths, but they invented the idea that if it’s popular in the mainstream, it is unbelievably lame. With this attitude, I missed out on some stuff that turned out not to be lame after all, including several opportunities to see Marilyn Manson in concert. I later discovered I loved his music, when I had gotten over the need to appear cool.
Some people are jealous of success. This sort of person will put down the successful, claiming it’s just the hype. Sometimes that’s true, and sometimes it isn’t. However, E. L. James and Stephanie Meyer are crying all the way to the bank, I’m sure. Since I am older and hopefully more mature than my uber-cool Kindergoth self, I attempt to make my own decision on what I will read, and whether I like what I have read. I have tried to stamp out the desire to spew vitriol all over something just because a lot of people think it is awesome. It reeks of bigotry to me, and I wasn’t raised that way. It smells of snobbery, as well. Pretentious, I think, is the word I want. While I once wanted to fit in with the pretentious Elder Goths I knew, I am now pretty elder myself, and I want to encourage critical thinking among anyone I should happen to inspire.
You might call the buzz around The Hunger Games hype. Having been on the New York Times’ Children Series Bestseller List for 106 weeks, the series is undeniably popular. The movie version is the Number 1 rental On Demand this week as well. Hunger Games merchandise is ubiquitous. One can hardly walk through the mall without tripping over a mockingjay. I’d reserved my opinion, because I had not read the books. Both my mother and father had, however. I’ve always trusted their book advice, since I was a little bitty reader. Once again, it took a trip to the movies to inspire me. My dad takes me to a movie a couple of times a month and he wanted to see The Hunger Games its very first weekend. I loved it. It spoke to me about our current struggle between the 99% and our 1% overlords, and I shivered to think how close we are to Ms. Collins’ dystopian vision. I think the series resonates for just this reason.
When I’d read the books, which I did in a fevered rush, I was certain. Let the naysayers say nay. Let the haters hate. To quote the hilarious Mr. Katt Williams, “So what she/he keeps talking about you and hating on you? What do you think a hater’s job is…to hate. If you have someone hating on you right now you better think of how to get five more people hating by Christmas. You need haters to make you stronger…without haters most people wouldn’t try to become better. Just tell them, bitch, you just hate me because you can’t be me.” I believe those who have not or cannot find success love to hate those who have. Ms. Collins evokes powerful imagery, creates characters who live and breathe, love and die, and who leave a hole in the heart when they do. I can think of no higher praise for an author than that she can make me cry for her creations.
I promised when I started this blog to talk about the meaning I gleaned from things I’d read, and I have done so when I have found it. I learned as a younger person, reading The Danse Macabre, that the times an author lives in seep into his or her work with or without planning, and that the success of art lies in how well it resonates with its audience. If this is so, ignore the hype, or lack thereof, and decide what resonates with you. As a former member of the middle class, reduced to one of the (sometimes) working poor, I felt The Hunger Games viscerally in my gut. The series spoke to me about my life, and the direction in which our country is headed, and the nature of humanity and humanness. I think these are the marks of great literature, and that’s definitely more than just hype.