Monday, May 04, 2009

Ravenous Ranting

There is a big, honking blog post today by Jane of Dear Author entitled Why I'm Not Wild About Ravenous Romance. In it, she outlines her reasons -- clearly and concisely, as usual -- for her dislike. I started to leave a comment there, then decided that my thoughts were better placed in my own space, since I'm liable to ramble off topic and wax pseudo-philosophic and make precious little sense.

Since becoming a published author in 2005, I have never hidden the fact that I primarily write erotica. I write about people (or other sentient beings) and how sex changes/evolves them. I tell their stories. I have also made it abundantly clear that I don't like being "shelved" with the romance genre. Unfortunately, that's where the industry puts most erotic fiction, so I inhabit Romancelandia as a matter of necessity, and I certainly enjoy some aspects of it. But from a strictly artistic/creative perspective, I do not fit that mold. Yes, some of my work does fit the romance genre, albeit in non-traditional ways. Most does not.

Romance is plot-driven. It is about the developing relationship between hero & heroine. (Aside: I cannot STAND the use of those terms. They do as much to marginalize the romance genre as miscategorized erotica, in my opinion. Want to be taken seriously? Stop using fairy tale words.)

Erotica is character-driven. It is about the transformative power of sex. It can occur in any permutation, from solo to menage. It doesn't have to be, but often is, explicit. It doesn't have to, but often does, sexually arouse the reader. Erotica, therefore, is NOT porn. (Porn's primary focus -- okay, that was overly generous -- porn's sole focus is arousal. It works on primal reflex.)

Erotic romance is NOT erotica. It is romance that includes explicit sex and is fully intended to arouse the reader. (This is going to piss off some people, but...) Erotic romance IS porn, in that sense. It is porn with plot, with happily-ever-after icing to make it respectable -- or less reprehensible -- to those who are offended by explicit sex for the sake of explicit sex. Ideally, inclusion of the explicit sex is integral to the story rather than gratuitous. Note I said ideally. This idealism, I believe, is the source of the schism within the romance community.

Recently, at the Romantic Times BookLovers Convention, I overhead a prominent, multi-published romance author repeatedly proclaim how "filthy" her books are and how that made her less-than-worthy to the romance powers-that-be (whoever they be). Good on her, I thought! The world needs more filthy fiction. But her statements also made me realize that every "romance" author, regardless of their level of success, feels marginalized by the publishing industry in some way. We all yearn for acceptance. That, I believe, is the sand in the swimsuit when it comes to Ravenous Romance. It is perceived as an obstacle to acceptance.

(Aside: Personally, I believe that our best means of achieving acceptance and respect is to lead by example. Tarring those who do not adhere to our standards, whatever they may be, achieves nothing. Snark begats snark. Excellence begats excellence. So... begat, damn it!)

Sure, erotica can (and often does) qualify as romance -- and vice versa -- just as fantasy can qualify as YA or inspirational as sci-fi. Genre is merely a label, and books often carry multiple labels. That is a GOOD thing. However, since love and sex cross-pollinate, a great deal of confusion and controversy ensue over which label belongs where.

Love and sex have been butting heads since the dawn of relationships. That sex is necessary for procreation just complicates the recipe. Add organized religion, which uses sex to control people, and stir. Voila! We have controversy soup. The fuss within the publishing industry is but a wee mirror of this overarching theme.

Back to the case against Ravenous Romance. Jane makes some valid points about the quality of writing and editing. In the examples I've seen, there is room for much improvement. (Does poking fun at these mistakes have a positive result, or does it just serve to make the pokers feel superior to the pokees? Smells like Star-Bellied Sneetches to me.) However, I can say that about many publishers, especially in their infancies. As it grows and matures, as with all houses, the quality of its product will improve, or it will flounder. Survival of the fittest.

In the meantime, I doubt Ravenous Romance will significantly tarnish the shiny *snort* reputations of either romance or epublishing. Its ability to ruffle feathers with its hubris (and the PR money behind it), on the other hand, seems unbounded and will continue to provide much entertainment within the blogosphere.

peace & passion,

OF NOTE: I have a very short story in one of Rachel Kramer Bussel's anthologies published by Ravenous Romance. (It is erotica. Not romance. At all.) As an insider, my view of the publisher and its business practices differs, and I believe there is much to learn from its approach to epublishing -- both pro and con. Further, I have a great deal of respect for Rachel's work, and am delighted to be included in any collection she assembles -- especially *TOOT* Tasting Him, which is a finalist in the IPPYs!

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Will Belegon said...

You're right dear, your re-definition of Erotic Romance has the potential to piss people off.

Gee, imagine that? You remain refreshingly willing to speak your mind. I love that about you, even when it is turned on me (I don't enjoy it in the moment, but I deserve it sometimes. *shrug* Don't we all?)

I think you make a good point about plot-driven vs. character-driven. It is similar to Thrillers in that way. That is not to say Thrillers can't include great characterization (see Eisler, Barry). But the essential component is the plot. The very defintion most use of what constitutes a romance is all about plot.

I'll be curious to see what reactions you get.

Leigh Ellwood said...

As authors of erotic romance, or romantic erotica - however you want to say it - we will always walk the fine line. I had people pass along concerns from other readers about our output, but when I ask for examples I get silence. I can see the potential for a romantic relationship with lots of hot sex, and how a couple can maintain emotional ties yet invite others into their world. Some will enjoy it, some will label it smut. I'd like to win everybody over, but it's not going to happen.

I don't know much about Ravenous Romance, but I have a free book card form them so I suppose I'll dive into that pool soon.

Anonymous said...

I typed up a comment about how cool you are and agreeing with you on several points..but this stupid form went boom and I don't wanna retype it. Meh.

Tom N.

Keta Diablo said...

Very well said, Allesia. I stayed out of the original hate-fest against RR over at DA last fall, didn't know it was happening, but I have watched my fellow authors there take it on the chin for everything from poor editing to breathing wrong since this all started. Apparently one of the RR authors started all this by blowing off her brag horn. Okay, nuf said about that. Can we move on and not put all authors in a box because of this? I don't care if they want to argue from now until High Noon about the differences between smut, porn, erotic, erotica because everyone from RWA to Mrs. Giggles has their own opinion on this. But when it comes to personal attacks against peeps, authors and publishing houses, and they cite names and CALL names, Keta has a very hard time taking it with a grain of salt.

This group of DA followers are vicious in the highest form. I do have a book at Ravenous (one) and it has received stellar reviews across the board, not only from professional review sites but from numerous readers. I resent it that they have now delivered me into the annals of history as writing "smut" and categorizing me as a very lowly writer indeed because I wrote a book for RR.

Good God, can we move on, write books and realize that while we may disagree on issues, we can agree to disagree respectfully.

So I will be their next target. They will now rip Land of Falling Stars to pieces, despite respected opinions to the contrary. In the words of Katherine Hepburn, "I don't mind if they talk about me, so long as they talk about ME!

I'm padding my chin. So be it.

I wish you would have posted your blog article as fodder for the snipers to read at RTB.

Thanks so much for the "sane" commentary.

Keta Diablo

Angela Caperton said...

Well said, Alessia.

So much of what I write doesn't fit easily into genres, so your insightful observation really hit home for me.