Thursday, February 18, 2010
Possibly Ever After
by Cara McKenna
I really thought I was going to spend this post pimping myself like a two-dollar whore, but you know what? I don't particularly want to. Brazen, my debut erotic novella, comes out tomorrow, but all I'm going to say about it is this:
It's short, it's cheap, and it's filthy. The good filthy, obviously.
If you like short, cheap, filthy ebooks, please consider buying and reading it, and if you see fit, please give it an appropriately nice star-rating on its page on the Ellora's Cave site. If you hate it, then I'll just cross my fingers you're feeling merciful or forgetful that day and fail to rate it. Here is a link with details, blurb, opening excerpt, price, etcetera:
Okay, pimpage is complete.
What I really want to talk about today is erotica itself, as a popular fiction genre. I guess I can use Brazen to illustrate why… Yes, the story of how Brazen came to be. Ah, relevant pimpage. Now I won't feel like such a promo-skank.
I love writing erotica. It's not because I'm a nympho—the sex scenes are actually the hardest sequences to write and I frequently have to put them off… Sex scenes are like soufflés and some days I am just not up to the challenge. No, I like writing erotica because I'm a weirdo. Or so I've been led to believe by industry professionals.
I've completed four mainstream contemporary romances since I began writing a year and a half ago (I know—Awww, look at the baby holding a pen! She thinks she can write!) and I've done a bit of the old submission-and-rejection dance. I wrote Brazen as a lark last summer. The original story (pretty close to the finished product) came out of an air-conditioned one-woman writing orgy during a two-day August heatwave. Although I really liked it, I wasn't invested in it like I was my romances. I hadn't lived with it long enough to construct it a sparkly pedestal and drape it in pageant sashes—Best Book in the Universe! And because of that emotional distance, I wasn't afraid of it being slammed. Off it went into the rejectosphere without a second's hesitation.
I wrote it to Harlequin Spice Briefs' guidelines, or so I thought, but they shortly sent me a polite rejection saying that, as best I could translate, I'm too weird for their taste.
Not kinky-weird. If you read Brazen maybe you can clue me in to exactly what's weird about it. Internal e-mails are confidential so I shan't name any names within Ellora's Cave, but once they accepted it and the contract was processed, my editor sent me a note that both flattered and unnerved me. She said, to grossly paraphrase, "I loved your story—it's so different from anything I've seen us publish before. I actually had to send it to my boss for a second opinion before I could offer a contract." Okay…cool.
A week or two later said boss took the time to send me a lovely e-mail. Again, paraphrasing: "I don't have the luxury of personally welcoming every new author, but your editor had asked me to read your submission before it was accepted because it was so unlike any she’d read. I'll second that. I’ve not read anything quite like it and I fell in love with it."
First reaction: Orgasm deep in the ego center of my narcissist brain.
Second reaction: Wait, she thinks it's different, too? What am I missing here?
I didn't set out to be different or break conventions when I wrote Brazen [then Beautiful Boys. Note to aspiring erotica authors: titles with the word "boy" in them do not sell well.] I'd set out to write something perfectly in line with the genre's guidelines so I could hopefully get published. Something conformist, but good. Now I was hearing that EC was basically taking a chance on my writing. I'm honestly not trying to be enticing, here—I don't know what about this story is so nonstandard. The storyline's racy but no crazier than any other EC title, certainly less-so than many. The orifices involved are your standard-issue human holes. It doesn't read like an X-rated E. E. Cummings poem, so I don't think it's my radical writing style. It's not written from a point-of-view that hasn't been done before in this genre. To this day, I'm stumped.
But what I took away from this was a) I've tried with both romance and erotica to learn the rules and write to them, and in spite of my best efforts, I can't seem to manage it. And more importantly, b) I am so lucky to have found a publisher and genre that not only deigned to forgive me my mysterious transgressions, they're encouraging them.
So basically, I like writing erotica because I'm apparently a weirdo and erotica is the genre that will have me. Its rules are different, and there are fewer of them. No pedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality (shifters are a different story, I guess), no playing with feces. Quintuple check, no problem. But there's no law that says you need a happily-ever-after, no 1 man + 1 woman = luv4eva. And I like that. In a strange way, erotica can snuggle up more closely with literary fiction than romance can, because the "formula" is more ambiguous.
Let's talk about the freedom of not being beholden to the HEA. Not that I'm happily-ever-after adverse, but as many authors will agree, sometimes your characters take over, and it may happen that they just aren't looking for The One. Maybe they're looking for the one who can fill a given night or week or month or the next ten years. I've come to terms in my own life that a relationship that doesn't turn into forever doesn't automatically get tossed unceremoniously on the "wasted time" pile. I don't believe things need to last to be valuable. It took me a long time to learn that, but it's become a personal motto. I've applied it to boyfriends and jeans and jobs and friendships and it's given me a lot of peace of mind over the years. If you can give in to that elusive "present" the Buddhists are always banging on about, a one-night stand can become a thing of great significance. Suck on that, permanence!
Now allow me to get myself torn a new asshole with the way I word this, but I love that since becoming an erotica writer I've been able to do away with my personal fiction bugbear, plotting. Okay, okay, don't jump on me! Of course I'm not implying that erotica doesn't require plot. That and character depth are what keep it on the other side of the fence from its oft-mistaken second-cousin, pornography. Part of what I perceive to be freedom from intensive plotting is simply freedom of length. The shorter you write, the "smaller" the plot can be. If you write longer (I'm looking at you, Michelle Polaris) then you'll want some external conflict to act as a spine for the story, to keep it from turning into a long series of disjointed boinking sessions [read: porn]. But if it's a short story, a glimpse into two [or more] characters' experiences together, you can keep the plot small. No, strike that—intimate. That's a more flattering way to put it. Complex plots versus intimate plots.
In a short story (or in a very well-written long story by an author who has an exemplary knack for developing meaty internal conflict) the relationship can be the conflict. I write very intimate plots, and I don't mean that in relation to sex. I don't write big-picture plot. No apocalypses, no world-at-stake, not even the old feud-over-the-family-farm or two-executives-gunning-for-the-same-job-type external conflict. My crucibles are small, only as big as the space between the lovers. Circumstances bring persons A and B [and occasionally C] together, they explore the intimacy that arises, persons A and B leave the story different than how they arrived in some way.
Characters + external circumstances + explicit sexual intimacy = character growth
Ta da! That's my entire formula for novella-length erotica. No commitment, necessarily, no thwarting the villain, no gigantic revelations. Not because I don't believe those things are good, but because I simply don't write that way. I write vignettes, not action-packed epics. Trust me, I love to read both, I just don't write the latter. It's not in my author wiring, at least not at this point in my career. I'll leave that to the folks who are doin' it and doin' it and doin' it well.
Part of me fears I'm lazy for embracing erotica and its relative lack of rules, like I've taken up a sport that's easier to excel at because the restrictions are fewer. This isn't true, of course—some brilliant romance authors would probably find erotica impossibly difficult to write, freedom be damned. Freedom can be its own challenge. But experience has shown me I don't necessarily thrive with restrictions, despite my best efforts. So here I am.
I think I'll put this post to bed, now. If anyone reads Brazen and can tell me what about it manages to be so different even in this relatively leashless genre, please feel free to get in touch. I'm dying to know.
Details, excerpt, blurb:
Brazen's quick and painless book trailer (40 seconds, rated PG): http://www.caramckenna.com/trailers_brazen.html