What’s in a Label?
Subjectivity in Art and Life
I’ve never considered myself a romance author (even an erotic romance author)—probably, admittedly, because as in life, the word “romantic” seems foreign and perplexing to me. I’ve never felt particularly romantically oriented in real life, and I sense my inclinations in writing have tended to reflect that. Though I have written—sometimes deliberately—stories that would likely be perceived and have indeed been published as erotic romance, in an underlying, foundational way, I still experience sex as the foremost focus. The sexual urge, connection, and/or action is how I am perceiving and conveying what is occurring between the characters. Genre-wise, I identify as an erotica rather than a romance author.
Thus, a few weeks ago when I had the utter joy and privilege to attend the inaugural Hot Mojave Knights (HMK) Romance Reader Event in Las Vegas as a featured author (at the very flattering and appreciated invitation from co-organizer Siobhan Muir), I felt some concern that I would seem out of place. I took care to emphasize my more romantic work there, but I was awash in a very new crowd of people who were far more familiar with and oriented toward the featured genre of the convention than I was.
I’ll get back to that.
One of my favorite things about HMK (and I’m not just saying this because it’s their blog—seriously!) was meeting the couple that writes as Adriana Kraft. Because we were in The Cougar Book (edited by Jolie du Pre and published by Logical-Lust) together back in 2010, I would have found this cool anyway. But I was blown away by how delightful and extraordinary I found talking to both of them regardless of our mutual publication. Conversing with them (especially when we got to sit beside each other for Sunday’s book signing) was one of the most glorious things about HMK for me.
Adriana Kraft and I also got to be on the erotica panel together, along with Marla Monroe (at 8:00 a.m. on Saturday, woo-hoo!). I anticipated and enjoyed speaking about our perceptions of the distinctions between romance and erotica. Then someone asked the panelists about our perspective around the difference(s) between erotica and porn.
While this is a question I’ve appreciated answering, for some reason it took me by surprise in this context. I was nonetheless delighted to receive it and that someone had thought to ask it.
The first thing I said is also the first thing I’ll reiterate here, which is that I have observed some of my highly esteemed colleagues offer compelling and articulate responses to this that diverge from my own, and I want to offer space for that. I haven’t experienced this conversation as antagonistic; we just disagree. The perspective I offer, obviously, is how I see it, but I don’t feel disturbed that others see it differently.
I profess no difference between erotica and porn. For one thing, I find any proposed distinctions deeply subjective in nature, which contributes to my not feeling strongly about somehow “defining” either as opposed to the other or attempting to draw some hard line between them. But probably the bigger reason is that it has often seemed to me that the word “porn” has a negative connotation in much of society, and for me it simply doesn’t. I do not experience any embarrassment or resistance to being associated with porn and don’t feel it’s a label from which I need to exert effort to separate my work.
The first two listed definitions of pornography in the online version of Merriam-Webster are 1) “the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement” and 2) “material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement.”
Works for me.
In a larger context, I feel our society experiences and exhibits so much repression and shame around sexuality that areas of labor that overtly relate to it have tended to be denigrated, undermined, and/or underrated (to put it lightly). The idea that pornography, a vehicle intended to sexually arouse, is an inherently negative thing not only does not resonate with me but simply makes no sense to me. Thus, I feel no need to dissociate my own work from it by emphasizing a difference between it and erotica. If pornography fundamentally refers to works intending to sexually arouse, it seems hard to me to make a case that my writing is not at least sometimes that. And I see no reason to argue with it.
To return to my own concern about appearing out of place amidst a conglomerate of romance authors and readers, it later occurred to me that perhaps, like some other labels, the distinctions between erotica and erotic romance may be perceived more subjectively than I have tended to see them. To be sure, there are requirements that writing labeled romance must fulfill in order to take on that label. And my work sometimes doesn’t. For one thing, rather than the happily-ever-after ending imperative in romance, many of my stories do end up with happy characters, but it has much more to do with sex that just occurred than with any purported ongoing relationship between them. In some stories, the ending might even seem more ambiguous than happy. But I have also written stories that seem to fit the general erotic romance delineation, and perhaps my own wariness about whether I’m doing that “right” is less significant than how readers experience it.
As a lovely incidental affirmation, the week after I arrived home, I received a contract for the story I submitted for consideration for Best Erotic Romance 2014, edited by Kristina Wright and forthcoming from Cleis Press. I am thrilled that my story “Rules” will be included in it when it releases early next year. 🙂
All labels aside, as it turned out, the concerns I felt about my place at HMK seemed not only unfounded but to actually reflect one of the most rewarding aspects of my experience there. I’ve been to conferences where I know most of the attendees and presenters. I have found these extraordinary, of course, just as I did this one, but there was an unmistakably different flavor being among so many unfamiliar names and faces. It didn’t take long for me to discover that more than anything else, the true gift of being at Hot Mojave Knights was the opportunity to be exposed to and meet so many new people—in this particular case, new, extraordinary, fabulous people. That there are all these authors out there of whom I was unaware and that I simultaneously got to meet and spend time with in person was a breathtaking delight.
Even though I was excited about going and prepared for it in various ways for months, I still found myself astonished by how magnificent a time I had at HMK 2013. It was a truly splendid event, and it was an honor beyond words for me to be a featured author there—all genres aside.
Emerald is an erotic fiction author and general advocate for human sexuality as informed by her deep appreciation of the beauty, value, and intrinsic nature of sexuality and its holistic relation to life. Her work has been featured in anthologies published by Cleis Press, Mischief, and Logical-Lust, and she serves as an assistant newsletter editor and Facebook group moderator for Marketing for Romance Writers (MFRW). She supports reproductive choice, sex worker rights, and sexual freedom and has been known to blog about these and other subjects at her website, The Green Light District.
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