Friday, December 27, 2013

Ninety-Three: Characters

I do think that I'd have to craft any erotica that I might write into some very specific forms.

The erotica I'd write would have to have an s/m storyline, as much for the element of ritualized sex as for the s/m itself.  I'd want there to be an sense of the very formalized about the story line. There would be a sense of cool (or even cold) formality and ritual. The characters would be able to look at what they were doing with a kind of stylized distance, a kind of abstraction. There could be romance, and even longing, but there'd always be a sense of distance. My characters would have read about the things they hoped to do long before they ever did any of them, and they'd always see themselves as being part of a story.

The characters would be age-disparate. There's never any question about that. The girl who's the heroine would always be much younger than the hero. However not? The hero would always be me, at least in some ways. The heroine would be a much younger, though she'd always be fiercely bright and well-read. Even as an undergraduate girl, as a co-ed, she'd understand the literary references implicit in the affair. It would be important that she knew those things, that she was aware that s/m existed, that she knew what any affair with the hero would involve.

My heroine would be young, yes--- perhaps just barely into her twenties. But she'd have lived inside books all her life, and she'd be visualizing herself as a character in a novel or a film. She'd have read enough to know what her older admirer wanted from her. The word "predator" wouldn't frighten her at all.

There's a moment that I'd insist on seeing, by the way. Imagine that early-autumn night in the city, and imagine her there on the stoop of a brownstone, holding hands with the hero, kissing him,  and knowing what's waiting upstairs in his apartment. She puts out her cigarette and stands and pulls him up by his hand. "Show me," she'd say. "Show me." That's very much what I'd want--- a girl who's willing to explore, who's prepared to overcome any fears with the desire to try new things, to just dive into experience. That would be important--- that she'd be willing to go up those stairs as an adventure.

He is older--- that's a given. How much older? Well...enough to make their affair suspect in most people's eyes. Enough of an age difference for their affair to be transgressive. But it's important that he not see her as a child or as simply a plaything. He admires her courage and her intelligence as much as he loves her long legs and sharp, visible hipbones and ribs. Whatever he wants to do with her, he wants her to be part of it, to know that she sees herself as a character in so many stories.

I can think about what's likely to happen upstairs--- silk blindfolds, silk bindings, riding whips and candle wax. I can think about those things. But what matters is that the girl who's the heroine walks up those stairs because she wants to see new worlds and new experiences, and that the hero knows that his own role in the story demands that he offer her up formal, ritualized experiences.

It's no less important that they talk, that the affair demands long conversations late at night. The story can be very explicit, but to the two principals, it's also about long conversations, about stories and dreams spun out late in the night. It's important that they know that each of them is creating backstories for what's happening.  For every kiss on a bare hipbone, for every new position and every enacted ritual, there must be long, intricate conversations. They'll be deeply enamoured of one another, deeply in lust and in love. But they'll be all-to-aware of what they're doing together, all-too-aware of being part of something very formalized.

I'm not sure at all if this makes any sense. The story I'd want to tell would be very passionate, but a passion that's mediated through literary references, through an awareness of all the books and films that my characters have experienced.  My characters would approach one another through their own knowledge of those things. Is that erotica, no matter they might do in bed? That's a question that I'll open up to any readers--- does self-awareness blight erotica? What are your thoughts on that?

Anyway... It's hard to imagine erotica that isn't about two people who want to experience new things, who are aware of so many things in books and films that they need in their own lives.  Erotica for me requires a kind of distance, an awareness of sets and setting, an awareness of what sets and props the characters have chosen--- brand names, despite anything Remittance Girl may have said. My characters would always want to be part of a literary world that embraces everything they do with one another.

Erotica for them has to be about be about dreams rather than flesh...or at least about something formal that's more than the mere collision of flesh.

I do wish I new how to write all of this down--- to shape a story around the characters I've seen in my mind's eye all these years.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Ninety-Two: Decor

A cold Christmas Day morning, and I am thinking about the idea of writing erotica. I'm still not entirely persuaded that anyone male--- straight, white, "cis/cis-presenting" male and of a certain age ----is allowed to write erotica at all here in the age of the gender wars. That's an issue that needs to be considered, isn't it? Is it permissible at all for anyone male (let alone male and embodying all the other things so despised by the gender warriors) to describe sex or create sexual imagery? Is it permissible for males to have sexual fantasies at all in the age of the gender wars?

I'm looking out from my rooms at a winter morning and trying to explain what I'd like to see in erotica, or what I'd like to write about.  Sets and settings, obviously. I always begin with sets and settings. Where something happens matters intensely to me. Place, time, decor--- the context matters. Sex, or at least a rencontre, means very little without the right mise-en-scène.  Setting matters.

A fairly well-known writer of on-line erotica, an expat woman in Indochina who calls herself Remittance Girl once angrily blocked me from a discussion because I disagreed with her about the use of brand names in erotica. I'm no fan of the sex-and-shopping novels ("shopping and fucking") from the 1980s that made having Louboutin pumps and a millionaire, hard-muscled lover totally interchangeable for  wealthy cougars in L.A., but I do like the idea of brand names in stories (and not just in erotica). Brand names provide context; they do help define a social background for the story. And, yes, they are aspirational. Brand names allow me the chance to make lists.  I've done that with all kinds of genres, and done it all my life. Lists and brand names do help shape the encounter.

The hero in a thriller drinks this kind of Scotch and wears these kinds of shirts.  He takes these items of equipment with him to the hills of Nuristan. Some writers do that deliberately, of course. Ian Fleming's James Bond novels were notorious for that. They were as much about teaching postwar young Englishmen how to dress for an upwardly mobile life as much as they were about the spy plots.  I do want brand names and lists, despite Remittance Girl's hostility to them. I want to be able to read erotica and look for class markers and style guides. Sex has to be about a certain kind of stylishness. The physical encounter is never as important as the presentation.  And I do judge sex by presentation. Flesh and bodies are never very attractive on their own, or at least they're not sufficient to make an encounter work, even if they are necessary.  I don't want to be inside a story, or identify with a story, that's not appealing to the eye, or to a sense of style. That's style in both senses, mind you--- literary as well as fashion. Maybe that's what Remittance Girl was objecting to.  Maybe she was angry that I was saying that sex--- an encounter ---is or should be defined and judged not by flesh or physical pleasure, but by presentation.  I can't imagine it any other way, though.

Writing erotica... Anything I'd write would have lists implicit. What the characters did and how they approached it would be shaped by locations and decor. It would be important to them that what they were doing be part of the stories in their heads. My characters wouldn't be the Beautiful People from the "Dynasty"-era shopping-and-fucking novels, but they would be people who wanted sex to be framed like a story, to happen in ways that would allow them to live up to the stories in their heads. If they're over-literary, well, so am I. The important thing is to have a correct setting and a correct set of symbols and markers to deploy.  I grew up reading things like "Story of O"--- erotica set in the places and social settings I wanted to visit, erotica set in what were always aspirational settings for me.

Erotica for me has to have a self-aware literary edge. And it has to have a certain kind of s/m flavor. But that goes back to the idea of literary style. What's more "literary" than high-end s/m, with all its roots in Catholic ritual and French novels...?

I need to think more about that, about what and how to present the kinds of characters I'd like to use. And about how to present s/m--- how to deploy it and how to have my characters understand it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ninety-One: Pages

Classic and antique erotica--- I've been writing about that. I'd love to have a well-stocked library with its own section for classic and antique erotica.  If you've been reading here, you already know that. I'd want the books to be not just titles that are classics, or at least exemplars of  sub-genres, but finely bound as well. I'm not sure what it means to collect first editions of erotica, but having original editions--- high-end 18th-century and Victorian editions ---is an obsession all its own.

There's still one question, though. Let's say that I could have a shelf or two of classic erotica, of things done from the early 18th-century up through the early 1950s. The question remains: what counts as "real" erotica, "serious" erotica today?

I'm not at all sure what counts as "serious" erotica these days, and I'm not exactly sure what I'd be looking for in erotica. Certainly nothing like "50 Shades" or its progeny. Nothing like the long list of "erotic romance" titles listed at GoodReads, where far too many of the stories seem to be Harlequin romances with explicit sex.

I'm a literary snob, and I'll admit that. I'd want erotica to be literary as much as anything else. I'd demand something that was aware of itself as literature. Explicit is fine--- graphic is better. But it has to be crafted the way literary fiction is crafted. But you know that about me. I want erotica to have the same quality of writing I expect from any other genre I read.

But there's something deeper here as well. Even if I decided to write my own erotica, what am I still allowed to write in the age of the gender wars? It strikes me that so much of the erotica produced in the last fifteen or twenty years has been by female authors, and I'm wondering if there's not a kind of social rule here. Are men who write self-described erotica regarded with suspicion, or at least with more suspicion than female writers? Are male authors of erotica regarded as working not just in a sketchy field, but as being suspect themselves for all the usual sins?

If I decided to write erotica, I'd have immediate problems. Writing about sex is regarded as having political overtones, as being immediately subject to political criticism in a way that, say, writing detective stories isn't.  I'm male, white, heterosexual, and of a certain age. (Should I add "cisgendered", too? And "educated middle class"?) There'd be a question of whether I was even allowed to write erotica. All the more so if what I wrote had age-disparate couples or told s/m-inflected tales.

The columnist Sarah Nicole Prickett is noted for dismissing anything written by "Dads"--- white males over 30 ---as being works she refuses to read. She sees no reason for such people to write anything anymore.  And when I follow on-line literary feuds, I see that she's not the only one to hold that view. And it takes very little imagination to imagine the abuse a male author of  erotica could face.  You'd never be able to write literary s/m, especially if you had a heroine who volunteered to be the submissive parter. You'd never get away with trying to be inside her head, and making her "conventionally" beautiful would only seal your fate in the eyes of the gender warriors and the social justice mob.

There have been times when writing erotica was a sin--- providing temptation to lure readers into sin and debauchery. That actually sounds amusing these days, and I suppose anyone who was serious about what they wrote would enjoy the idea of having that kind of effect.  Here in these latter days, writing erotica is taken as being a kind of political statement, as being "really" about issues of oppression. To write erotica as someone too male, too old, too pale, and too straight is to be instantly accused of writing erotica for all the basest or most ideologically-evil reasons.

I can have classic or antique volumes on my shelves. What I can't do is write the erotica I'd like to read without being immediately attacked on non-literary grounds. I told you this before--- I am a roué and a gentleman of a certain age. In the age of the gender was, there are no words for what I am that don't imply that any desires I may have are vile and oppressive.