Last summer, I wrote a novella for XCite (a UK erotica publisher) called Safe Haven. It’s a sweet novella, a romance full of sweet and funny sex between two people who are looking for love and laughter and life. Recently, the publisher released it as an ebook, and it’s been doing really well and getting good reviews. Which is always a moment of pride and joy for writers. I know I say this all the time, but without our readers, writers are nothing. Without readers, we are the trees falling in the forest that no one hears (I wrote ‘hearts’ instead of hears accidentally, and I believe that’s also true).
Yesterday morning, a friend and fellow writer sent me a link to the Amazon UK site, in which she excitedly told me that Safe Haven was number 5 on the Erotic Bestseller List. When I looked at the link, I realized that not only was the book in the top 5, it was creeping up on the hugely best-selling novels 50 Shades of Grey.
Traditionally, I’m the kind of writer who spends far more time writing than selling. This is a marketing flaw, I know, but I find far more joy in putting stories together than I do in keeping track of sales and doing marketing. But for some reason, seeing my book at the top of the Amazon list made my competitive spirt kick in. I hit my social media sites with a dorky, overly excitable bout of yelling and a bit of “Man, wouldn’t it be awesome to see Safe Haven rise up and beat out 50 Shades of Grey?”
Now, my social media people are incredible people. I’m very lucky that way. Every single one of my Facebook friends is either someone I know in real-life, someone I know via work circles, or someone that has been recommended to me by someone I know and trust. It’s a select group, and if you’re in it, there’s a good reason. Twitter and G+ are, of course, more open and harder to pin down, but I’ve still been very lucky. People are mostly positive, they help create a space for interesting, thoughtful discussions without being assholes, and they are hugely supportive of me, something for which I am eternally grateful.
That’s why it was such a shock to have someone in my circle of Facebook friends post this response regarding Safe Haven:
I think it is pretty vain considering all the starving, homeless, abused people in this world. I would be excited if you wrote a novel that inspired people to unite for a greater cause – but not one that simply satisfies a primal urge in every species.
There are so many things that I want to say that I’m not even sure where to begin (even after thinking about it all day). While I wish I could say that this blog post is going to be a compassionate, comprehensive and cohesive response, I’m afraid that might not be possible. There are so many angles to look at, so many views to take and topics to cover that I can only start with a very wide lens and see what happens.
What I don’t want to do is call this particular person out or to reiterate the “Troll Heard ‘Round the World” sentiment. This person wasn’t a troll — it was someone that I know — and I’m much more interested in discussing the world views that might bring a person to have such a visceral, negative and dismissive reaction to someone else’s work.
Things I’m thinking about, in no particular order:
1. The implication that there is only one valuable way to change the world.
I believe that doing what you do best means that you have abilities and skillset to create change. I knew from the time I was old enough to write that I was born to be a writer. From a very young age, I wrote about the things that fascinated me most. Love, family, sex, death, the emotional truth of what it meant to be human, to connect with ourselves and others, to live. Writing is my first love. It is what I’m good at. I am not good at protests, writing legislation, taking the law into my own hands, or signing petitions. Sure, I could learn to do those things, maybe. But my heart wouldn’t be into it. Someone else can do it ten times better and faster than I can, and with more passion — and why not let them?
What I can do is write. I can put words on the page and make them sing. I can tell stories. I can inspire people to take action or to rethink their opinions. I can ask them to look at things differently, to take a wider view, to question before the believe. I can also make them laugh, make them love and make them grieve. It is power in my hands, and despite what many would say, I try to wield it wisely.
I can (and have) written about a wide variety of topics, but sex and death are my natural places from which to begin. They just feel right to me. There is no logic that I have for why this is, or why other topics aren’t my starting point. Some people’s writing themes are flowers or food. Others naturally gravitate toward topics of war or politics or the economy. One is not better than the other. They are only different lenses through which artists see the world.
2. The implication that writing about sex is not a valid way to urge people for a great cause.
First, “a greater cause” must be defined. Stopping wars? Saving the environment? Saving lives? Reducing disease? Redefining gender roles? Bringing pleasure to more people? Helping people recover from rape and sexual abuse? Helping people explore their gender and sexual orientation? Where do we draw the line in deciding what is a greater cause?
And in essence, does it matter? Erotica can teach self-acceptance, which can prevent suicides and depression. It can urge people to use condoms and proper lubrication, which can prevent STDs. It can remind people of our humanity, of our hearts, of our passions and fears. It can do everything that “great literature” can do — and will anyone argue that there is no value in that?
3. The implication that sex has no value because it is a primal urge in every species.
Eating is a primal urge in every species. How many books are there about eating, cooking, growing food? Why is one valued and the other is not?
4. The implication that it’s okay to pass judgement publicly on someone else’s work, just because it does not meet your criteria.
Okay, I’m not saying that right (I’m still wrapping my head around all of this stuff, truly), but we’ve become a culture where it is considered absolutely acceptable to knock someone’s hard work and creative impulse just because it doesn’t fit into your expectations or value system. The internet is a breeding ground for this, as we all know, but does that mean it’s acceptable? Doesn’t publicly berating someone for their work go against the notion of “urging people to unite for a greater cause”? Or is the hope that if you ridicule someone, they will come to see your side and instead create the thing you had hoped they would?
5. Vain. That’s such an odd word.
Writing is my job. It’s my livelihood. Yes, I’m vain about it. I work very hard at it. I bust my ass, in fact. I’m not the best. I will never be the best. BUT I am the best I can be, and that’s something I’m very proud of.
Which makes me ask:
- Would it be considered “vain” if I was male? Because I am female, am I supposed to take on the role of caregiving the world and fuck my own creative impulses and desires?
- Are there any jobs (outside of the creative fields) in which someone would be tagged as vain if they were proud of their work? Who would call a truck driver to task for being vain and not helping the rest of the world in his 9-5? What about an IT guy? The guy at the grocery store? The postal worker? A gardener?
6. This is an age-old argument
From the moment I started getting published in the erotica field, I heard a lot of, “Wow, you’re such a great writer. When are you going to stop writing about sex and write something real?” or “Your writing is so good I bet you could write a real book.”
Sex rings that alarm bell in people, doesn’t it? For something that’s so undervalued, it sure does create a huge reaction.
After all of that, here’s what I really think:
- I write about sex because I believe it’s important.
- I write about sex because it’s fun.
- I write about sex because I believe it tells an emotional human truth.
- I write about sex because I think we can learn a lot from it — mostly about ourselves.
- I write about sex because I believe that the more love and pleasure we all have, the nicer we are to each other.
- I write about sex because I believe it can change the world.
- Sex writing doesn’t have to want to change the world in order to be valued or valuable.
- No one else gets to tell any of us what our work is worth.
- The ACT OF DOING THE WORK is, in itself, a way to create positive ripples of change in the world.
- There is no better way to urge people toward greater good than to be, as best as you can, the greater good.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I’m sure I’ll have more to process and share as I continue to think about the experience.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.