Write Byte

(October 23, 2000)

(Corresponds to Another Rant from LLB about Sexuality – AAR Contributors Weigh in as Well)

Links provided at the bottom of this page for other pages at AAR on sexuality face>

Having recently heard that erotica author Emma Holly had signed to write a romance for Berkley, I thought she would be the perfect person to comment upon our new rant on sexuality. Over the weekend I found The Oy of Sex, an erotica anthology in which she has a short story. Not much for straight erotica myself, I did enjoy her story Pierced nonetheless.

When AAR Reviewer Nora Armstrong described Emma as “an extrovert trapped in an introvert’s personality,” I didn’t know quite what that meant, but after having posed several interview questions to her, I was surprised by her reticence in answering some of them, even after I pushed fairly hard. Still, the answers she did provide were intriguing; I hope you’ll think so too.

Laurie Likes Books: What, in general, are your comments about our current discussion on erotica?

Emma Holly: First of all, I guess I should say that since I’ve written straight erotica (for Black Lace), erotic romance (for Secrets) and now super steamy romance (for Berkley), I don’t have the mindset that, ooh, romance is good and erotica is bad – or vice versa, as some writers of erotica would have you believe! Sometimes I want to write a story with plenty of sexual adventuring. Other times, I want to delve into the development of a single, committed relationship. Like most women, I prefer sex scenes that involve characters I care about, and that have emotional context as well as physical mechanics. Aside from that, I don’t find any one genre inherently more enjoyable than the other. A good read is a good read. If a sweet romance writer makes me fan my face, my hat goes off to her. (Ditto, if a writer of erotica makes me cry.)

In an ideal world, everyone would find precisely the sort of erotic/romantic fiction they like. Variety is the spice of life, and all that. If the variety you want doesn’t exist yet, well, you might have to write it yourself. (Are you listening, Anthony? <g> )

Second of all, the minute you start talking to people about what kind of sexually explicit fiction they enjoy, you realize your assumptions can be very, very wrong. I know when I started writing erotica I figured, “I’m relatively normal. Most women probably like the same things I do.” Boy, was I mistaken. Women can be as different from each other in what floats their boats as women are from men. We all have different hot buttons based on how we’re wired: experientally, biologically, culturally. Even more interesting – at least to me – because so much of our sexuality is subconscious, there can be all sorts of stuff in there we never suspected. Reading and writing explicit fiction is one of the least dangerous, most fascinating ways to explore the hidden corners of your mind.

Which brings me to the reminder that the things we enjoy fantasizing about needn’t be things we actually want to do. Personally, I think it’s better to know what’s in my sexual subconscious. For one thing, it intrigues me. For another, when I know what’s in there, it’s less likely to lead me around by the nose!

LLB: Do you read romance novels?

Emma: I’m a big romance fan. I don’t think you can write it unless you are.

LLB: Now that I know you read romance, can you share for our readers your favorite romances/authors? When did you start to read them?

Emma: I started reading romance as a young teen and immediately gravitated to the steamy ones. Much of my early sex ed came from books like Love’s Flaming Whatever. (Now, if that’s not a thought to scare parents, I don’t know what is!) My curiosity did lead me to seek out more reality-based information, but I’ve never lost my fondiness for those erotic/romantic fantasies.

I have too many favorite authors to name them all, but recently I’ve enjoyed Jennifer Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation, Adele Ashworth’s Winter Garden, and Laurell K. Hamilton’s Kiss of Shadows, which isn’t a romance but managed to push most of the strange, kinky buttons I have so I’ll include it out of gratitude.

I read a lot of different types of fiction – readers interested in some of my other faves can find them listed http://www.mninter.net/~emmah/readlis2.htm. (This is a jump link that will open a new window in your browser.)

LLB: When did you start to write erotica? What made you decide to start with that as opposed to romance?

Emma: Actually, I wrote romance before I wrote erotica but couldn’t manage to sell it. My writing abilities hadn’t matured yet, I guess. In the course of collecting the usual rejections, I began to notice the one thing nobody complained about was my sex scenes. Since I really enjoyed writing them, I decided to play to my strength and try my hand at erotica. As soon as I did, I knew I’d tapped into a strong creative vein. Everything about my writing got better, not just the sex scenes, but the characters, the emotion, the conflict. It was like finding the missing piece of my artistic puzzle. The book, Menage, sold to Black Lace and did well enough for them to be re-releasing it this February. First published book or not, Menage is many people’s favorite of all my work.

That said, how did I wend my way back to romance? Part of it was my gaining confidence and skill as a writer. With each book, I tried to challenge myself a little more. Finally, I believed I could try the New York houses again and not be rejected. I’ve always loved romance, and all my erotic novels contain a strong romantic thread, to the point where some of the stories I wanted to tell wouldn’t fit into the erotic formula.

Another reason for my getting back to romance was sheer, dumb luck. A friend hooked me up with a really good agent who thought steamy stuff was the coming thing and had no qualms about trying to sell a historical romance by an author who’d never written one before. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off – all my previous novels had been contemporaries – but I closed my eyes and jumped and, happily, my agent turned out to be right.

LLB: What has made it possible for you to “mainstream” it out of erotica and into romance – not that romance is mainstream, but it’s not erotica?

Emma: I’m not sure I draw the same distinctions between romance and erotica that some people do, certainly not when I’m writing. I suppose I see the main difference between writing for Black Lace and for Berkley as the kind of story I can tell. The way I tell it is the same. There may be a different ratio of sex scene to story but, in each, I want the reader to be engaged in what’s going on: emotionally, physically, the whole deal. For me, changing from one to the other is more like switching gears than moving into a whole new territory. If my romance is “mainstream,” that’s because it more closely follows a formula with which a larger number of women are comfortable.

LLB: How did you hook up w/the British publisher Black Lace? Was that before or after the Red Sage anthology?

Emma: I found out about both Black Lace and Red Sage through the Erotica Readers Association (http://www.erotica-readers.com). I sold to Black Lace first and then Red Sage. BL’s primary market is the UK and I submitted to the Secrets collection in hopes of increasing my exposure in the US.

LLB: What do you think of the erotica/romance hybrids as published by Kensington – Thea Devine, Bertrice Small, Susan Johnson, and Robin Schone?

Emma: I love the hybrids. More voices, more variety. I think that’s good for everyone. I’ll single out Robin Schone because she’s the newest. I really admire the sincerity she brings to her work. There’s no substitute for someone caring passionately about what they’re saying. Readers have responded to that and I think it’s stirred up fresh interest in a sub-genre I’ve always enjoyed.

LLB: Do you think the success of Robin Schone had something to do with your getting picked up by Berkley? How will your romance will differ and/or be the same as your erotica? With your background, what will you “bring to the table” when your Berkley romance is released?

Emma: Well, not having a direct line into my editor’s brain – which is probably a good thing – I don’t know that Robin Schone specifically led to my getting picked up by Berkley, but she certainly contributed to the overall interest in super sexy romance. Publishers like to buy what’s been proven and Robin Schone’s The Lady’s Tutor demonstrated how well erotic romance could do.

Writing Beyond Innocence, my sexy Victorian, allowed me more room to delve into my characters and my plot. It’s a more complex story than my erotic novels and I’ve utilized more “tease” – which I really enjoy – to lead up to the actual love scenes. The thrust of the plot (haha) centers on the development of a committed romantic relationship, although to a certain extent that’s also true of my erotica. I have softened the kinkiness a bit. Some things romance fans would just be too startled to read. I won’t say Beyond Innocence doesn’t push the envelope, but I believe it sits firmly within the romance formula. In other words, all the good mushy, gushy, happy ending stuff is there.

LLB: Can you help us with some terms we’ve had trouble defining? Erotica, pornography, the difference between the two, and, finally, obscenity?

Emma: You’ll have to excuse me if I come at this answer sideways. I think human beings have two powerful conflicting urges. One is to conform and the other is to rebel. When the desire to conform is uppermost, we want to know what everyone else does and thinks so that we can do and think it, too – or at least measure ourselves against it.

Defining erotica and pornography (or romance for that matter) is rarely a simple matter of deciding on the meaning of a word. Consciously or subconsciously, we’re trying to develop a consensus about what sort of sexual behavior is “okay.” When we say one work of art qualifies as erotica and another as pornography, we’re usually saying one is acceptable and the other is sort of sick.

Moreover, we’re not just passing judgment on the creative object, we’re passing judgment on the act it represents. We’re saying if you do or think this, you’re normal, but if you do or think that, you need help.

Because making those moral judgments can do so much unwitting damage to people, and because they can change from culture to culture and time to time (indeed, I think we’re in a period of change right now) I’d rather not be put in the position of pinning down such loaded terms.

LLB: What I liked about your Pierced story is that it wasn’t the outlandish, purple prose-laden stuff I associate with romance erotica. I said in my rant that, although I often find it disturbing, I prefer straight erotica because it doesn’t have that schmaltzy feel to it that I get when I read the hybrids. I clearly don’t “get it” because when I try to read romance erotica, I don’t like it while those AAR Reviewers who have read the very same books like them.

Emma: People have always had widely varying tastes when it comes to romance and erotica. There are plenty of readers who absolutely love purple prose. If there weren’t, the authors who write it wouldn’t be so popular. Likewise, some readers will only feel at home among the hybrids. Like any passionate reader, I can get quite peeved when other people love what I think is crappy. At the time, these differences of opinion are infuriating, but when I’m feeling more objective I realize they’re part of what makes the world of books so interesting. Too, if finding stories that suited us to a “T” were easy, I’m not certain we’d treasure them as much. Bottom line, as long as some authors are writing stories that move me, I feel very fortunate.

LLB: What makes writing erotic to you?

Emma: That’s hard to answer because I’m always being surprised but, in general, characters I care about, an author who isn’t “faking it,” but finds the story erotic herself. Creativity, whether in the situation or the way it’s described. Enough realism but not too much. Strong writing never hurts. I like a sense of optimism or fun, that sex is an important, healthy human need rather than something that will lead the characters down the road to ruin. And a compelling conflict is good, so that there’s more at stake in the love scene than a simple physical reward.

LLB: Finally, are you going to continue to write erotica?

Emma: I hope to. I can’t predict precisely how my career will unfold, but I’m sure I have a few more wild and woolly tales to tell.

Our Reviews:

Emma’s web site: http://www.mninter.net/~emmah (this is a jump link)

Post your comments and/or questions here

E-mail EmmaReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part IReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part IIReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part IIIReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part IVA Writer Rants about Sexuality – Writer Robin SchoneReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part V (This page derived from comments based on Robin’s article)Issue #75 of Laurie’s News & ViewsIssue #76 of Laurie’s News & ViewsReaders Rant on Sexuality – Part VI (This page derived from Issue #75 of Laurie’s News & Views)Issue #96 of At the Back FenceAnother Rant from LLB About Sexuality – AAR Contributors Weigh in as Well