The Sad and Shocking Truth…

… is that, although I write romance and erotica, I honestly don’t read a lot of either.

Because so much of it is bad.

I know! That’s a terrible thing to say! (Especially for someone in my business.) But here’s how it came about. I was down in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) last weekend, and made the inevitable pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books. (Don’t know it? You haven’t LIVED until you’ve been there! Hope remains for independent bookstores, yet!) Anyway, as anyone who’s ever been to Powell’s knows, it’s organized by genre. Eagerly I perused the aisles of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, graphic novels, classics brought to the forefront again, even the latest-and-greatest nonfiction on display. At last, my arms full of books, I ventured into the back corner, behind the cafe, where they stash all the romance and erotica.

From the moment I entered, I felt turned off. What met my eyes was shelf upon shelf of waxed, muscular, glowering male torsos (in various states of undress, to indicate their respective settings), swooning maidens, and cringe-worthy titles. (“His Christmas Bride,” anyone?) I did my best to give a couple covers a chance, but the blurbs had me running back. Back, back into the relative safety and dignity – indeed, the superior sexiness – of the other fiction aisles.

So what gives? Why is so much romance and erotica so god-awful bad? Honestly, it bums me out, because a story without sex is like bread without butter for me. (Hence my lackluster appreciation of YA… but that’s for another post.) Also, I know for a fact that there are many excellent erotica and romance writers out there, who do far more with their work than deliver the necessary bump and grind. And yet, romance remains a genre I am hesitant to read – despite my interest and appreciation of its content – because the vast majority is, sadly, unpalatable. (Even more appalling… might I be lumped in with authors of such books? Worse, is my writing just as – gulp – bad?!)

What is a person like me to do? I love sexy books, but I also love GOOD books. They have to be one and the same! And that, alas, is the pickle. Until we readers demand smart, literary erotica that stimulates our minds as well as our tingly bits, Powell’s is going to have to keep that section hidden in the far corner of the cafe. Where few people venture anyway, and with good reason.

The importance of a varied diet

We all know we need to eat our fruits and vegetables, limit fat and sweets, balance our whole-grain carbohydrates and healthy proteins. The importance of a varied diet is well documented. But the same goes for reading: if we overindulge in our favorite things (and be honest about your sugary favorites!) we end up with rotted teeth and diabetes. Or, in the literary sense, a lazy, mushy mind.

To that end, I encourage everyone — writers especially — to diversify their reading diet. Truly, it keeps your senses sharp, and offers plenty of perspective that can improve your own writing. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Period. (And if you don’t read many different genres and styles, you can’t write well.)

And just so no one can claim I don’t practice what I preach, here is a list of some recent books I have read and enjoyed, more or less in order. Amazon buy links included, as well as genre. With a growing stack on the horizon, I’ll be busily eating my literary vegetables for a long time! (And, you know, indulging in candy bars regularly too…)

Currently reading: The Things They Carried – fiction – The Vietnam War revisited through a series of brief, vivid tales, each a visceral reminder of the horrors of war.

The Cellist of Sarajevo – literary fiction – A gritty, wrenching portrayal of a city under siege, and the struggle to preserve humanity under inhuman circumstances.

Knight of Jerusalem: a biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin – historical fiction – Well researched and unique, focusing on a little-known character during the medieval Christian occupation of the Holy Land.

The Shipping News – contemporary fiction – Superb characterization, snappy writing, and a darkly humorous look at love, life and struggle in modern-day Newfoundland.

Saga – graphic novel/space opera – One of the best things I have read, ever. Great adventure story, excellent dialogue, and gorgeous artwork. Go get yourself a copy now!

The Sport of Kings – literary fiction – A new take on the dark, gothic Southern family saga. Incest, violence, wealth, and racism intersect in all the worst possible ways.

My Antonia – American fiction – It’s a classic for a reason. People just don’t write like this anymore.

I Won a Basket of Porn – erotica/humor – In case you needed another reason to love author Patient Lee! Hilarious fun poked at small-town politics. Plus sex.

Because Beards – erotica/romance anthology – A fun collection of sexy stories, all with some kind of bearded hero. Some were excellent; all were okay. Plus, it’s for charity!

A Heart’s Promise – romance – On the sweet side, a classic romance novel featuring a horse-loving gal and a hot, modern cowboy.

Little Birds – erotica – Sexy short stories, from back in the day when erotica was all about turning on classy, well-read rich people.

Ancillary Justice – science fiction – An unusual SciFi adventure, featuring a ship that is also, somehow, a person. Totally unique.

All The Light We Cannot See – historical fiction – The kind of book that moves you to tears… and makes you wish you could write like that. Utterly superb.

 

Why I don’t write children’s books

I recently did a spotlight interview on the ASPA blog on children’s literature. It was wonderful to hear about authors’ various experiences with writing and reading children’s books. This is an admirable genre, and a source of some of the finest stories in history. (Was ever a story of friendship more moving, or more real, than Charlotte’s Web?) Now, I myself am an admirer of kids’ books. I read them every day at work, in fact. Books for children deal with real issues, big questions, and tough history, and they do it with incredible grace and skill.

(Take a look at: Spotlight on Children’s Literature)

However, I will never write children’s books.

The reason is that, for many years now, I have been hyper-aware of my sexuality. Sex is everywhere I look; always just a thought away, and my brain keeps picking up on those signals – intentional or not – that scatter the world. No longer can I look at my environment with the innocent eyes of a child. My dirty mind is too busy figuring out what’s sexiest about it.

For example, if looking at a dining room table, my first thought might be: “Oh, I like the wood of this!” and my next thought, right at its heels, would add, “And it’s just the right height to bend over on top of… or sit on, and he’d have the perfect angle.” (By the way, never purchase a table unless it is the perfect height for standing sex! You’ll thank me later 🙂 )

Walking around, I cannot help checking out guys I pass. Doesn’t matter how good looking they are, really (although, I admit, I avert my eyes from absolute toads). I’ll do the quick eye-sweep — you know the one — and make sure I get a good (yet discreet!) glance at his package. Just let myself wonder what he might be like in bed, if he’d be dominating or lazy, how he would kiss. Sure makes a trip to the grocery store more interesting if I get to check out the cute ass of the guy in front of me.

Same thing for women: if she has a striking figure, or some other standout feature, she will always catch my eye. I notice the curve of a hip or jiggle of a breast, and think about how erotic that is, how sensual a woman’s body can be. Great fodder for my stories, to say the least.

In short, you won’t see me writing books for children anytime soon. However much I may admire them, I can no longer separate my sexual being from my storytelling, or my worldview.