Sunday, August 30, 2009
Erotica, a Chick Thing?
Thirty years ago written erotica was written almost exclusively by and for men. The shady recesses of the bookstore had a few books old enough to be somewhat acceptable as classics (Moll Flanders, The Story of O) and some extended sexual fantasies (although the hay day of the "sleaze" paperback novel had already passed). Writing erotica mainly involved writing for brown bag magazines also aimed primarily at men.
Twenty years ago the internet was beginning to slay most magazines and many of the rest had lost their reputation for printed good fiction. There was a great outpouring of amateur erotic fiction at newsgroups and eventually formalised in sites like Literoritca (1998). Erotica in the public eye started to include rather more than two genders and fetishes previously unimagined by most memebersof the public.
Ten years ago Black Lace (founded 1993) was beginning to make inroads in erotic novels written by and for women, as a viable alternative. Starting with Ellora's Cave, epublishers (crossing over into print-on-demand novels) brought highly erotic romance into the mainstream. Novels with explicit sex started to dominate the acres of romance fiction in chain stores. Female fetishes were catered to by increasing numbers of small presses, now numbering in scores.
Most recently Black Lace, which never got on the romance band-wagon) ceased to publish new work. Writers on forums have begun to ask if there is any market for romance that is not erotic, and if there is any market for erotica that is not romance. Barnes and Noble has acquired Fictionwise, the largest vendor of ebooks. New ebook vendor AllRomanceEbooks opened their new all genre site (Omnilit, 2009). And erotica is listed only as a sub-genre of romance.
Written erotica seems to have become over-whelmed by backflow from the much larger romance genre. Small presses focusing on erotica of all types struggled to find a loyal readership, and to find writers who can combine a readable plot with titillating sexual material. I suppose it is a swing of the pendulum, having one read erotica as a kind of uninvited voyeur, the female gaze has now seized centre stage and squeezed the men into the wings.
Perhaps the reason a balance eludes us is that the male readers enjoyed erotica, but predominantly as a guilty please--not to be discussed in mixed company. And many women read erotica only as justified as an ostensibly secondary aspect of romance--a genre almost no men will openly read. We have marked out genres based on gender boundaries, and erotica can jump the fence, but not straddle it.
So to speak.