I write in a lot of genres. Science fiction seems to be my main source of income, but I have written thrillers and fantasy, mainstream and horror. I recently sold a crime story to Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.
For the most part, the genres I write in reflect the genres I read in–it’s very difficult to meet readers’ expectations if you have no clue as to how your chosen genre works. You need to know which rules to follow, which to break, and which your glowing, luminous prose can transcend (just kidding, but I do know a few authors who actually think this way although, in my opinion, their particular prose tends to be of the plodding, ponderous type).
And yet, I’ve sold a number of erotic tales over the course of my career, despite it never having been a genre I read widely–or much of it at all. The book in the illustration, Blood in the Rain IV (buy it here!!!), is an anthology of erotic vampire tales that includes my story “We Sail by Night”, and a good illustration of the principle. My novel Timeless also straddles the line between a regular thriller and the erotica section of the bookstore. I have another novel making the rounds that goes a lot farther than just straddling a line… although I think of that one as more of a literary effort than an erotic novel. There are a number of erotic stories of mine out there, too (here’s a short example).
So why? What makes erotica something that creeps into the work of so many authors despite the certain knowledge that A) people aren’t going to want to buy children’s books from you if they find out about it and B) that a lot of readers don’t like sex in their stories.
I personally think it’s because of the universality of sex in human lives. We all either practice the art or spend an unconscionably huge amount of time thinking about it. It’s the origin of everyone around us, and it’s also one of our most interesting sources of recreation. It applies to everyone.
And that makes it natural that it might creep into the work of your favorite author when you’re least expecting it. You can read a hundred of my SF stories and not find more than an oblique reference to the fact that, at some point, some of the characters might consider jumping into bed with some of the other characters. And then, you blithely come upon “We Sail by Night” or “Pacific Wind” and stop to scratch your head at the adult content.
Hopefully, at this point you’re thinking “wow, I never knew he could write sex so well” . and move along with the tale.
So why is my erotic work selling despite not reading all that much in the genre? Again, I think it’s linked to the ubiquitous nature of sex in the human experience, something writers share with everyone else on the planet. Of course mileage and emotions differ from one reader to the next, but finding the common ground allows the writer–even the one new to the genre–to tap into that commonality. If you can manage that, the story will work.
Of course, the true measure of a brilliant erotic tale is in the “one-handed-reading index”, but that is not something that readers ever send fan mail about, so it’s kind of hard to gauge…
On second thought, maybe we should limit that sort of correspondence to email… not sure I want to be handling letters about that subject matter.
Gustavo Bondoni’s latest novel, Timeless, is a thriller about bestselling books, ancient monasteries and modern criminals. You can buy it here.