Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Using the erotica label as a form of censorship

In the past few months, I have received multiple offers to join writing groups, post guest blogs, run free advertisements, and participate in interviews with other writers, only to have those invitations withdrawn when it was discovered that I write erotica. Apparently, many in the romance writing/publishing industry disassociate romance from erotica. To wit:

“We don’t consider erotica to be included in the romance genre.”

“We cover all types of romance, except for erotica.”

“I love interviewing all writers of romance. However, I consider erotica to fall outside that genre.”

Hmmm. Relationships in the romance genre are notoriously broad and wildly diverse: Women are paired with multigender shapeshifters, men engage in threesomes with vampires, and teeny tiny fairies steal the hearts and souls of entire football teams. Yet, when explicit sex enters the picture, a story about a love relationship no longer qualifies as romance? Oh, my.

Time for a reality check. In my more than 20 years of marriage, I cannot remember a single time when a passionate, erotic encounter blunted the romance. In fact, I can honestly say sensual sexual encounters enhanced it. So the actual fact that sex actually occurred can’t be the problem. I mean, seriously, we no longer live in an age when women are advised to give up their virginity with a stiff upper lip, laying on their marriage bed solemnly accepting their wifely duty as their husband’s “love handle” was used to commit “unspeakable acts.” Do we?

Wait. It must be the words, the need to use pretty metaphors and purple prose to cloak the sexual act in respectability. But the attempt to manage words and other forms of expression by denying people access to a marketplace is, in effect, censorship. Surely an industry (publishing) dedicated to the written word supports free expression for all writers, not just for writers who use only the words they prefer? I mean, they wouldn’t use the shaming and blaming scam to punish those whose word choice fails to meet with their approval? Would they?

Yup. They would. Because by kicking erotica out of the romance genre, I would argue that the romance industry is attempting to regulate the words of those who prefer to describe romantic, albeit sensual, encounters honestly and accurately. And they can do it without shame because they pack a mighty financial punch. The romance publishing industry has the power to censor without recrimination and some players do it simply because they can. And in so doing, they are consciously shaping the minds of the public with negative results.

For example, it may be possible to link the unrealistic portrayal of romance to an increasing rate of divorce in this country. Most people do not automatically become a pantiwetting, loin heating, passion rendering partner with just a heated look or a lingering touch. They have to work at it. So when someone reads that scenario book after book, and embraces it, chances are they are going to be woefully unfulfilled and find their partner lacking. Because to many, romance novels are not truly fiction, they are based on reality. And of course, this view of life and relationships is vigorously reinforced by television and the movies.

For many years, members of the motion picture industry sought to censor films with a strict rating system. Directors would reluctantly shave bits and pieces of their films, cutting just enough to obtain a respectable rating, guaranteeing a spot in more movie theatres. Similarly, writers of erotic romance are forced to alter or edit their books to qualify for the romance label, which provides entre into the largest bookseller market in the United States and many other countries. For that reason, some consider the erotica label a kiss of death.

My conclusion? Censorship does not require written regulations or legislative/judicial acts. All that is required is the denial of access into lucrative bookseller markets. These days, that’s accomplished by segregating erotica from the romance genre. And in this country, that makes a mockery of the First Amendment.

My name is Seelie Kay and I write erotic romance. Yes, that’s romance with an erotic twist.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A funny thing happened on my way to writing fiction

In 2017, after more than 30 years of writing nonfiction, I decided to try my hand at fiction.  It was most definitely a difficult transition.

As a former journalist, I was taught to deal in facts.  Not just any facts, facts that had been verified, usually by at least two credible sources.  I was also taught to be objective when covering a story, offering opposing views and contradictory facts.  As a journalism student, it was drilled into me that it was not my job to offer an opinion, but to provide enough relevant facts to permit the reader to make informed decisions.

As a lawyer, the search for the facts became more determined.  Lawyers not only collect facts, they also apply them to the law to determine where the legal issues lie. Then they identify the legal issues, apply all known facts, and determine what the likely outcome will be.  Faulty facts could have devastating consequences.  That’s why so much effort is put into discovering what the facts are, not what you hope they will be.

Throughout my career as a lawyer and journalist, facts were king.  So when I was thrust into a world where fact no longer mattered, I had to fight my very strong impulse to fact check my assumptions and justify my protagonist’s actions, because truthfully, that no longer mattered.  It seems that fiction encourages stretches of the imagination and flights of fancy, no matter how improbable or how impractical.  It didn’t matter if the story was believable, all that mattered was that it is entertaining.

I cannot tell you how many hours I wrestled with this conundrum. I had to fight thoughts of “No one is ever going to believe that” or “If someone did that, they would wind up in jail” because that was no longer of consequence.  The determination of how a protagonist acted and the consequences of those actions was solely up to me. I set the rules. Suddenly, I was judge and jury all wrapped up in a writer’s cloak, and that was somewhat frightening.  I was no longer accountable for the decisions I made, or the moral standards I ignored.  My job was simply to put words together in coherent sentences and tell a story.

However, a funny thing happened on my way to writing fiction.  I discovered that because I had existed for so long in a fact-based environment, people assumed that my stories were true and my characters were based on real people. I was constantly asked whether this character was that person or whether that situation occurred at a certain law firm.  It was baffling and concerning at the same time.  I had assumed fiction gave me the freedom to write wherever my mind took me, but it seemed some were still trying to hold me accountable.

Certainly, when writing fiction, reality may intrude at some point.  For example, a protagonist may not be based on any one person, but the sum total of their personality may be derived from numerous persons who have passed through my life.  Similarly, the descriptions of locations or situations may be pulled from personal experience, as well as from the headlines.  But in the end, my characters and my stories are not based on fact, they are fiction. They are figments of a very fertile imagination.

I have no wish to include people I know or situations I have actually experienced in my books, primarily I have no desire to be accountable for matters upon which others may disagree.  If I want to describe someone as plain, or a sofa as tattered, I want to do it without offending someone.

If fiction is indeed meant to be freeing, then I should be able to enjoy writing it. So please don't ask me whether my stories are based on fact, tell me that you enjoyed reading them!