By Dame Toni
Party Guest: I finally had an orgasm, and my doctor said it was the wrong kind.
Isaac Davis: The wrong kind? I’ve never had the wrong kind, ever. My worst one was right on the money.
-From Woody Allen’s Manhattan
Confession: I have a split personality.
When my alter ego, Virginia, comes out to play, things can get interesting. She’s messy. She’s sexy. She doesn’t have a lot of boundaries.
And she writes naughty books.
Seriously, a few of you may know that, in addition to the Mercy Hollings novels, I have also published a number of titles under the name Virginia Reede. Not all of them are erotic—the title that has the most suggestive name, Men in Chains, is actually a fantasy romance that has only a smidgen of explicit sex. Two smidgens, max.
I haven’t written a Virginia Reede book in almost three years, but I sat down and looked at the payments I will receive between now and the end of next year for my Toni Andrews titles, and realized that I had a few serious cash flow gaps. Ellora’s Cave, the imprint that has released three of my five VR titles, has a short production line (read: fast payments), and I’d recently received an email from my editor asking if Virginia was planning to write anything new, and letting me know they’d be happy to have anything she produced.
So, in the interest of having no interruption in heating oil or cat food, I am once again writing erotica.
The erotica market has changed. My first “Romantica” title (A term EC coined for Erotic books that contain all of the elements of Romance), Witch’s Knight, won over ten writing awards, and not all in the erotic category—it also won prizes for historical, paranormal, and fantasy romances. And yet, if I were to submit it today, I would be told it is not erotica enough. The sex-scene-per-page-count standards for a book
to be classified as erotic has gone up significantly. For a book to make it into print with imprints like Avon Red (Dame Jackie and I have both been included in their holiday anthologies), Aphrodisia, Spice, and, of course, Ellora’s Cave, it’s no longer enough to write a great romance, and then insert hot sex where appropriate. Now, the plot needs to be sexually driven.
In other words, they gotta do it. A lot.
There’s an old joke that says, when it comes to sex, women need a reason. Men just need a place.
After you get done chuckling, read that statement again. It contains the heart of the difference between pornography and erotic romance.
One of my male Book Rx clients sent me a scene that he described as an erotic scene. In it, two characters went from foreplay to “happy ending,” with several positions and most orifices considered.
And it was less than a page long.
After reading it, I told him that I had a problem. I couldn’t tell if the sex had been “good” for the characters. He responded that of course it had, and referenced the aforementioned happy ending.
Because Romantica is aimed at women, all of those explicit, juicy (pun intended) sex scenes have to include a lot of details about what the characters are feeling¸ both physically and emotionally, during the sex. Women readers want the reason. They don’t assume, just because peg A is inserted into slot B (and, often, C and D) that it is a good thing. And, in addition to emotions, they want details ranging from the texture of the sheets to the sound of the wind to the smell of the…
You get the picture.
This can present some writing challenges. One, I am single and have not dated anyone seriously for several years. So, in order to describe a lot of the sensations and reactions that my characters experience, I have to rely on imagination and memory. Lo-o-o-o-o-ong memory.
Two, although I don’t find it that difficult to come up with plot situations that give my characters the opportunity and will to have sex, I need to make sure that each sex scene feels unique—that they are not just doing the same thing, the same way, over and over.
Now, even though my internal Kama Sutra may be dusty, it still has all of its pages. I can produce plenty of positions, variations, tempos, locations, durations, etc., etc., etc.
But I really only know of two kinds of orgasms: Good ones, and REALLY good ones.
So, when each of these various scenes reach their (literal) climaxes, I must come up with a new way of describing the moment. One that not only have I not used fourteen pages earlier, or in a previous Virginia Reede book, but one that they did not see in the last erotica novel they read by some other author.
Sometimes, I resort to metaphor. A surprising number of these are related to disasters, both natural (volcanic eruptions, cyclones, etc.) and man made (fires, crashes). Some are elemental, especially water-based (waves and fountains) and some more reminiscent of space exploration (rockets and stars come to mind).
Ah, well. I’m creative. I’m sure I’ll work it out, as usual.
There is a third drawback to writing erotica, at least as a single woman. When I meet a man, and he finds out that I am a writer, he eventually wants to know what I have written. And, as soon as he finds out I have written some erotic books, he hears not another word I ever say. I have become the dirty book writer. Seriously, I could produce a Pulitzer Prize winning, great American novel, full of serious themes and social commentary, the object of book groups and literature curricula, but for any man who learns that I have published work that uses both C-words, I shall forever be Virginia Reede, professional slut.
And if one more guy offers to help me with my research, I’m gonna have to hurt him.