Brazen Encounters - the Blog - by Narrelle M Harris
The phone call in early 2013 was both unexpected and welcome.
'Clan Destine Press would like to branch out, said Lindy Cameron, my publisher. 'How do you feel about writing erotica?'
'Pretty damned good,' was my response, and I leapt into with a will.
After debating what, if any, pen name to choose for the endeavour, I submitted five short stories to Clan Destine’s new Encounters imprint under the not-very-disguised name of NM Harris.
My fingers had flown across the keyboard and I had: two stories about a pair of hard-bitten spies, Philip and Martine, who find soft spots for each other - the Secret Agents, Secret Lives series; and three stories about two young blokes who have a passion for trouble and each other - the Talbott and Burns series.
It was absolutely easy to say yes to the invitation to write for Encounters. Most of my other fiction contains love scenes of some description, and I couldn’t resist the challenge of writing more explicit yet still story-driven tales.
And it was a challenge, despite also being immense fun. Writing romance and erotica is difficult: keeping the balance of characterisation and plot right, and at the same time writing scenes of intimacy that are engaging and sexy without falling into cliché or awkward phrasing that can get one nominated for the ‘Bad Sex Award’.
Some of the other Encounters writers were attracted by the same sense of challenge that I felt in tackling a new genre.
Eve N. Wilder, who has written in a variety of genres including fantasy and speculative fiction, says: “I started writing erotica to prove that I could do it and do it well! For an erotic story to be written well it must have excellent characterisation. It must be a really good story, no short cuts.”
Eve also enjoys the opportunity erotica offers to do something different. “It gives you a chance to show another side to people.”
Binky Banks, who writes adult crime and YA fantasy, also found this an interesting writing challenge. “Describing foreplay and orgasm in a fresh way that is deeply in the point of view of the protagonist and her situation is a challenge. Also, do you use words like penis and clitoris, risking sounding clinical, or do you use less direct language, risking sounding vague, coy, or flowery?”
Binky also uncovered an unexpected bias while writing. “I was astonished to find that I was writing too much from a male point of view, using words like tits instead of breasts, and I realised it was because too much of my reading and watching about sex was from the male side. So I’ve worked on writing from as genuinely female a place as possible.”
Helene Eyre, who usually writes crime and thrillers, was attracted by the freedom of writing erotica under a new name. “It was exciting to write something out of the box under a pen name and feel totally unrestricted. I find writing erotica very different from my usual genre. The erotica operates on a number of levels – emotion, what is not said, what the reader might imagine or do in that instance, whereas the crime or thriller novel can be quite pragmatic and direct.”
Helene appreciated the challenge of balancing the story elements while showing just the right amount of restraint. She also enjoyed writing a woman discovering her sexual confidence and becoming more desirable as a result. “I like that strong women usually want a stronger man. That sex and eroticism is masterful and often involves dominance but not fear.”
The first in her Chandelier series, The White Dressing Room, is coming soon.
One of Encounters’ male authors, Anders, found his way to erotica in quite a different way. Usually a writer of dark urban fantasy under the name Dean J Anderson, Anders found that his work naturally tended towards the erotic. “I didn’t realise I could write romance – to me it was just how my characters interacted with each other.”
One of the key differences for Anders is that he is a man writing in a field more commonly associated with women writers. “I guess I’m a male author with a voice that can engage a readership in this genre without sounding ‘too male’. With my lead characters being both sexes, gay, lesbian, straight and paranormal in some cases, I find no issue in stating I write erotica. I think when I write erotica, it is me unrestrained.”
Anders also finds writing in this genre creatively and emotionally demanding. “When I’ve finished a novella, it’s like I have had that entire relationship in real time. It means I write in another genre for a while then come back to erotica for another intense relationship with my characters.”
Other writers have come to the erotica party for a sense of fun. Teeko Venir, a journalist and memoir writer in her other life, started writing erotica with friends in the wake of the 50 Shades success.
“It all seemed pretty goofy and harmless at the time, then it took on a life of its own. A storyline took root in my brain. Once that happens, I become compelled to write. It was the first time I had ever been compelled to write erotica. I had strong reservations, but my desire to create the story won out.”
Teeko, like some other Encounters writers, uses a pen name to cordon her erotica writing off from her more mainstream work.
“Many people associate erotica with rubbish, so writing it can mean putting your credibility as a writer at risk. On a social level, there are plenty of people who find erotica scandalous and pass inaccurate judgment on the author’s moral integrity as a result. Those perceptions and their potential consequences can be quite inhibiting in you're using your real name.”
Despite some public misapprehension about the genre, Teeko finds value in writing erotic fiction. “I have a particular interest in writing about contemporary women’s issues. Erotica allows me to expand the realm of women’s issues that I can explore. The research for this piece was also interesting. Interviewing escort services and their clients to get a realistic sense of a woman’s experience in hiring an escort was a colourful change from the daily material I work with.”
Another writer with a keen interest in the female perspective is Frances Arden. “My usual genre is fantasy with a romantic twist. When I started writing in the ‘90s I wanted to create strong women characters who owned their sexuality and weren’t bogged down in being nice girls the way so many heroines in those days were. One of my pet peeves is the fact that, still, many female characters in fantasy are bogged down in keeping their reputations peachy keen.”
Placing more emphasis on the erotic has meant a different balance in the storytelling. “In erotica, people need to get to the sex as quickly as possible, so you need to gloss over the back story. This has been a challenge for me in writing it. I need a reason and motives for people to have sex. I need logic. So surprisingly enough for me to write an erotic story needs a lot of background work and I’m still working on that balance.”
Jaycee Winters, who writes thrillers with a touch of romance under another name, also found the move to erotica a natural progression from her existing work. “It was a natural segue from the hot sex and passionate love scenes in my thrillers,” she says, adding that the main difference is that such scenes are more explicit in her erotic works.
“As in all genres, there's good writing and bad writing in erotic stories. An author's job is to write the best story they can, no matter what the genre or avenue of publication,” says Jaycee. “Sensuality is important, as is getting into the characters and exploring their feelings and emotions and not just their sexual reactions. I want the reader to become so involved in my characters' story that they feel they are experiencing it with them.”
Not all contemporary erotic fiction is heterosexual, of course. There’s a huge readership for M/M romance and erotica out there.
One of the other Encounters authors (apart from me) who writes in this very popular field is Tamsin Baker, though she writes all kind of pairings. When asked what appeal she found in writing erotica, Tamsin (who has also written historical and contemporary fiction as well as fantasy and vampire stories) says: “The joy I get from it and the titillation aspect. My body loves it too! Absolutely, I love it! Every single day!”
Mary Borsellino, who has a track record with dark YA fantasy with a strong queer sensibility, also enjoys the genre immensely. “It's fun to write straight from the id. Also, to be perfectly frank, it's the only genre where it's consistently possible to get short fiction published with relative ease.”
The genre offers Mary an interesting contrast of challenges and pleasures. “Erotica is the only genre I write where my characters are always adults, so that's a nice change, but at the same time it means they're less likely to be ruled totally by instinct and emotion, which sometimes limits the options available for interaction – everyone's got to be at least passingly sensible at least some of the time.”
As to how her erotic fiction compares to her dark fantasy and music journalism? “I have a postgraduate diploma in creative writing. I am not sure this is what the lecturers wanted their students to do with their education. But I'm having a lot more fun this way.”
Perhaps the last word should go to Kerry Greenwood, writer of science fiction, detective, children’s, YA and historical fiction as well as erotica, including M/M. She refers to her writing in the genre as ‘herotica’.
When asked to describe her upcoming Herotica series, Kerry says, with a gleam in her eye: “Gorgeous gay men shagging each other senseless in impeccable historical settings.”
“Writing erotica is very satisfying,” says Kerry, “It can be it can be any emotion – tragedy, comedy, stark and unadorned or pure and delicate; any time and any setting. I wanted to find the right words to describe encounters which would reach Farenheit 451 and set fire to the paper. I'm an arsonist at heart.”
She loves the breadth that the genre offers, too. “My herotica is set in any time from the Trojan War to the Second World War, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, troubadours, soldiers, pilgrims, any time in history that I know a bit about. I loved writing about Leonardo da Vinci: putting some meat on the bones of queer history.”
“It's addictive to write. I hope it’s addictive to read, too.”
Increasing interest in and sales of erotic fiction certainly indicate that it’s a growing addiction.