The exciting world of erotic fiction
Today I'm delighted to welcome erotica writer Candi Silk to my blog. I've often considered writing in that genre myself, so it's a special pleasure to talk with an author who's done just that. Together we'll explore the exciting, and sometimes controversial, world of erotic fiction.
Candi's latest novel, Thrill Driven, has now been released! Click the image to find out more or to buy it from Amazon.
Let's get going with the questions for Candi!
Tell us about the first erotic story you ever wrote.
That would be my first erotic romance novel, Find Me. But like many authors, I had drafted a few random paragraphs through the years, but nothing serious. I started writing Find Me in early 2013, and published it March 2014. It involves a self-made woman, Destiny James, who fought tooth and nail to make something of herself, and does so by her late 20s. She’s feeling pretty successful, until she receives a surprise phone call from an unknown attorney, and then everything she thought she knew about herself is challenged. She’s a feisty Newark, New Jersey woman, and resists meeting the small-town, laid-back attorney who not only has rattled her real identity, but also unleashes unsettling fleshly desires. As her womanly desires burst into flame, so do her insecurities. And then she’s caught between the crossfires of the “real” Clint Star. A good amount of conflict and suspense must subside before the characters find their pleasure. There is plenty of hot sex, but it is surrounded by full-sized backstory and drama.
The process of our evolving sensuality
Why do you think sex sells?
Sex sells because it is tightly integrated into the human being from birth, and our sexual entity continues to evolve throughout life. However, that evolving process is the interesting part. There are two sexes, male and female. Not really breaking news, but that’s just the physical anatomy. It’s the evolving sensuality and the sexuality of the human being that grabs our attention. Sensuality and sexuality involve the intake, or stimuli, and the response, or expressions in return. The incoming and the outgoing of that exchange, or transmission, is gathered through the physical, psychological, mental, and emotional complex network within an individual. Through the years our sexual entity is educated, encouraged, hindered, repressed, nurtured, violated, crimped, cramped, shaped, and/or influenced by individuals and our surrounding environment, which can extend and reach in many directions.
Sex is personal and intrigues us
Sex and almost anything connected with it intrigues us as human beings. Scandalous gossip, out-of-bounds sexual behaviour, surprise marital infidelities, seem to always make it to the top of the news. How can that be? Our sexual identity/profile can’t resist; we’re curious, even though we might disapprove of what we learn. So sex can sell almost anything, and most certainly books, especially within the romance, erotic romance, and erotica genres that speak directly to human sexuality/sensuality. I cannot think of another genre that connects with the human physiology like the overreaching umbrella of romance and erotica genres do. The human being does not have a physiological profile, identity, or anatomy that connects to mystery, crime thrillers, sci-fi, vampires, etc. Sure, people love reading those books also, but the connection is different. Sex is personal. I might get excited reading a thrilling sci-fi, or vampire book, but not the same way I would reading an extraordinary erotica story.
Do you think anyone can write erotic fiction?
I’d like to think any writer can learn to write erotic fiction, but I’m so new at writing I’m not sure. I’m still learning, and will probably always think of myself as becoming a writer, word by word, day by day. Even if a person learns to manage words, sentences, and paragraphs, I believe the best writer of erotic fiction or erotica is one who has feeling for the genre, and knows how to convey that through his/her characters. Without the conveyance of deep feeling any writing is reduced to ‘See Jane run. See Spot run. See the ball.”
Instinctive desires and appetites
What’s the difference between erotic fiction and porn? Do you think readers get it mixed up? What about romance and erotica?
Either everyone gets it mixed up, or everyone gets it right, and that includes writers, readers, and even non-readers. There is no concrete agreement on making the distinctions between the genres of eroticism, or how to classify them. Even the legal systems have struggled when sorting through cases involving books or other written material. For writers and readers it comes down to a subjective process. But I have a parallel that might help us understand how we view eroticism.
The simple word appetite means any of the instinctive desires necessary to keep up organic life. Usually we attach appetite specifically to the desire to eat food. On the other hand the word libido means sexual drive. And within that context is the instinctual desire for sexual pleasure or self-preservation. I think of the desire for food and/or sex as appetites. And we know that appetites are constantly changing. At times we are content to eat meals methodically, mechanically, habitually, and at other times we’re adventurous, reckless, willing to take risks, and follow that daring impulse to indulge in a fully-loaded banana split, or a sinfully heaped chocolate sundae ten minutes before dinner is scheduled to be placed on the family dining table. Sexual desires are similar in that we follow them at times in predictable patterns, and at other times taking greater risks fuelled by primal needs and wants. However, layered on top of that are an individual’s aesthetic, moral, and religious preferences and beliefs. I believe those three ingredients or influencers enter into a reader’s final decision to purchase a book. But wait; there’s one more variable that can skew the decision and that’s curiosity. The desire to wonder, to look, to inquire, to imagine, to investigate, to fantasize, and, yes, to try and know for myself.
Perceptions and preferences
But even with the above simplification the discussion and debate rages on regarding the distinctions, while we look for the dividing lines between erotica, erotic fiction, romance, and porn(ography). I believe it hinges on two “p” words, and I don’t mean that “p” word, but perceptions and preferences. A quick look at the dictionary meaning of the four genre terms or categories yields some similarities. All have the intent of eliciting sensual and/or sexual feelings, especially in writings. It’s the degree and/or intensity of those feelings, and the display or description (writing) that seems to be where disagreement stems. And who is to say when one book has crossed over the line into a different erotic category, or the exact and acceptable combination of plot, words, feelings, and behaviours that should be included in a specific genre?
One highly successful female author of erotica used the “F” word over 400 times. That book spent a few weeks on the NYTimes and USA Today bestseller lists. The readers’ reviews are almost all five and four stars. The author’s social media following and readers are primarily women. Even though the word porn, in its earliest usage, referred to writing about prostitutes, today porn(ography) generally refers to writing that mainly describes mechanical human sexual activity. The emphasis is on the physical. Often included in that is the mistreatment or degradation of one or more of the sexual participants for the pleasure of other participants. But that’s not always the case. One label of difference expressed was ‘if it’s pain it’s porn; if it’s pleasure it’s eroticism.’ Romance is generally accepted to focus on the developing emotional feelings of the characters, with limited mention or attention to the physical aspects of the relationship. And if the physical aspect is present it’s generally subtle, off camera, or off page, as I refer to it.
Stepping up the physical heat
Erotic romance steps up the physical heat, although the story usually is heavily focused on the emotional aspects of the characters’ relationship. But I have found varying degrees of emphasis regarding the ratio of emotional content to physical content even within that category. I can say the same thing about erotica. However, usually erotica has a much heavier emphasis on the sexual interactions of the characters than a lengthy emotional backstory. To my knowledge there is no single measuring stick or standard by which books can be definitively categorized. Go to any bookstore, any public library, any of the online booksellers, and you’ll find variations, because each business or institution decides what their own system of categorizing books is going to be. And of course authors have the first choice in the process when they declare the genre of the book they’ve written, and how they wish to position the book in the market place.
However, that can also stir confusion and controversy. Suppose a romance author declares her/his book to be Christian romance. The book is published and categorized as Christian romance. Then the author discovers from a number of negative reviews, “does not belong in Christian books, too many ‘bad’ words,” or something similar to that. But maybe the author feels the overall content is mainline “respectable, good behaviour” except for half dozen slang expressions. Okay, maybe a couple of the characters kissed too deeply. For some readers that could be enough for them to raise an objection. Enough objections and the author is faced with the possibility of repositioning the book in a slightly different genre or subgenre, or leaving it and taking the “heat” from the religious or more sensitive readers.
Candi's 'Wicked Words' list
I think it’s safe to say most readers have perceptions and preferences regarding books they wish to read or are comfortable with. They have a view of what a romance book should be for them, and they either have or are evolving preferences regarding their reading. Perceptions and preferences tend to work in tandem when making choices. I believe the clearer authors are in declaring their work, the easier for readers to make selections in line with their preferences in reading. My books are clearly and solidly intended to be, and are written to be erotica. I have alerts and/or “warnings” in the front of each book, and on all my social media sites so readers will know without a doubt that I write erotica. I include enough plot to support the consenting adult, explicitly intimate, sexual relationships of the characters. But there is emotional passion with heavy emphasis on mutual pleasure and positive feelings among the characters. Readers of my erotica know that my characters liberally use selected “naughty” words to freely and playfully express their sexuality as they interact. To my knowledge, I’m the only erotica writer to include a glossary/dictionary of those “naughty” words in each of my books. In a fun tongue-in-cheek spirit I call the list Candi Silk’s Wicked Words. It’s my way of declaring how my characters use those words for pleasure during their passionate escapades. Most of those words are considered “no-no” words in polite company, but I decided to let my characters use those words to express the intensity of their passion and pleasure. Think of it; all major entertainments have a special terminology that goes along with it. Why not erotic writings as well?
An explosive debate over sexuality
What are your thoughts on the impact and importance of Fifty Shades of Grey?
First let me congratulate Ms. E. L. James on the success of FSOG. It has been a highly successful book in the market place, and the success has been driven primarily by women readers. Book sales of FSOG surpassed 100 million in early 2014. The income for Ms. James has skyrocketed above other popular authors James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, and J. K. Rowling. But those statistics are not as phenomenal as the debate stirred by the content of James’s bestseller. The debate has been explosive and focused upon the “real” sexual desires or feelings of women in general. Forever and an age women have been labelled as “uninterested” in sex as compared to men. The discourse stimulated by FSOG has dispelled that. What has been revealed about women is extremely interesting for the writing community to note. Discussion, debate, speculation, surveys, and research reveal that women are as interested in sex and their own sexuality as men. Another revelation is women’s fantasies are equal to, and many believe more creative than men’s. One of the key topics of discussion spawned by FSOG and featured broadly across the media is BDSM. Generally BDSM is a term from the late 60’s, early 70’s and carries the following: bondage and discipline, domination and submission, sadism and masochism. And no, I’m not about to debate the intent or merits of BDSM. But FSOG apparently brought BDSM out of the closet into the light of discussion, and there has been plenty of interest, particularly as it relates to women. So much interest that other writers have published works picking up on the theme(s) of BDSM/billionaire-bad-boy.
A woman's perspective on sexuality
Additional observations can be found in the wake of FSOG: (1) Women have jumped in the middle of those discussions, often sharing a woman’s perspective on sexuality including sexual fantasies. (2) The initial and continuing interest in FSOG stems primarily from women. (3) That raised the question primarily from men, What the heck do women really want? (4) That elicited the response from women, Glad you finally asked. (5) News articles indicate the initial tide of interest in FSOG came from women readers located in New York City, and the buzz spread from there. (6) Huffington Post conducted an online survey asking if FSOG was harmful for women. Turns out that “the house is divided” with only a 6 percent lead indicating it isn’t harmful for women to read. (7) Among the more than 100 million purchasers of FSOG, as of a few days ago on Amazon, only 26,793 reviews were posted. 43% rated the book average and below with 3, 2, or 1 stars. 56.9% rated the book with 4 or 5 stars. The overall rating is 3.4 stars, a little above average. Remember, reviews are never equal to sales; consumers may use a product, but never express a review one way or another.
Sex without the guilt
It is worth noting among the 11,538 posts that were average and below, the eye-catching frequency of reviews indicating the reader had only bought the book to “see what all the talk was about.” However, that is meaningless to a cash register; a book was sold. But it does indicate the “c” word, curiosity, at play in why or how we make a purchase or “try something.” With the above miscellaneous observations, where does this leave women, and their sexuality in light of BDSM, and what women want? I haven’t found an authoritative conclusion, but the following comment from an ultra-conservative, religious, female friend of mine gave me pause: “You want to know what women think and what they want regarding sex? I’ll tell you. For twenty years a woman in America, and probably other countries, is taught a series of ‘don’ts’. Don’t look down there, don’t touch down there, don’t think about down there, and don’t think about boys or let them do things to you. Don’t, don’t, don’t! And then on your wedding night everything is supposed to magically reverse itself. Sorry, but that doesn’t work for a woman. Is it any wonder then that women fantasize being taken by a stranger or imaginary powerful, rich hero who makes her enjoy what she’d like to enjoy but doesn’t know how to suddenly enjoy something, that has been off limits for over twenty years, without feeling guilty about it? I’m not surprised that a woman would fantasize that happening to her, and she probably doesn’t care how the man makes that happen for her, FSOG or not!” Not surprising, this candid response from one person mirrors what many in the world of psychology have reasoned that women feel on a deeper level: “Someone put me in this state of being, so someone else get me out of it, and make me feel good about it, without the guilt.”
Does art imitate life, or vice versa?
Putting FSOG aside, if that is the feeling of women, then as a writer of erotica I would say to men or partners of women: “You can help put the dilemma to rest, by rediscovering the special woman in your life. Truly get to know her. If she’s walking around with all these pent-up desires, then you need to learn how to help her discover the goodness within herself. Listen to her completely, nurture, and coax excitement from her. If you don’t you’ll be the loser, and never know the wonderful excitement of the woman beside you.”
But I have one final thought on the impact and importance of FSOG. If the sexual rage is BDSM in the bedroom, then there is a glaring inconsistency that won’t go away and it is this: Historically women have fought in every arena and venue for equality in every aspect of their lives, including political, economic, social, entertainment, their education and work, and in some countries or oppressive societies, have fought for their very survival against all kinds of bondage, submission, and suppression usually traceable back to men or a patriarchal system. But now all of a sudden there’s the raging desire to be bound in the bedroom? It would be interesting to know if FSOG has flown off the bookshelves, or is a hallowed bestseller among women in repressive societies or countries. Often times the fun and games people play spills over into other areas of life or vice versa. The notion also exists that access and excess open many doors and unknowns as there is idle time to satisfy one’s curiosity “to try things for myself.” It gets back to the cyclic question, Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art? None of my comments are intended to detract from E. L. James’s continuing success, but to add to the intriguing discussions that FSOG has stimulated. Bravo to her! Discussion and debate are good things!
Sex is the plot...
Tell us about your writing process. How do you come up with the characters? What about plot?
Some of my ideas come from news events, or events I know of from a closer source. However, I do not write about myself or anyone that I’ve known in the past or know currently. All of my characters are strictly fictional, imaginary. However, it is not unusual for me to have seen an advertisement or facial image somewhere that fits with the image that is forming in my thoughts regarding characters. I observe general behaviours (body language) of people, their conversations, and clothing to give me a feel for possible descriptions of characters. I was fascinated one day by a woman working in a public office in a nearby town. Her interactions with people were filled with tart confidence and efficiency. Her personality became the basis for a secondary character in one of my books. But I never spoke with her. I was with a friend at the time and just happened to observe the interesting woman. I also think of the character in relation to how they fit for a particular storyline or plot. I suppose that would be similar to casting characters for a movie. And we know how interesting that becomes with the public when a movie is based on a popular novel. Sometimes the actors fit the characters in the book, and sometimes not. And the public will let the world know about the discrepancy.
Probably the most frequent question asked of erotica is Where’s the plot? Some conclude there’s no plot, therefore there’s no book, nothing. So where’s the plot in erotica? As with everything else in the writing world there are varied opinions including numbered lists claiming a concrete number of plots existing in the world today, anywhere from 1 to 20, the last time I checked. If you boil all of the lists down you end up with one basic plot: Someone (protagonist) wants something s/he doesn’t have, and tries to get it. Often there’s a change or an event that triggers the story. My erotica titles range from 51 to 254 pages in length. Sex is the plot. Since sex is what got us all here, I consider it a rather serious plot. Someone wants sex, or they think they do, and they try to get it. There is an event or a change that precipitates the story moving forward. And who’s to say only one event ignites the story?
Providing anticipation within the reader
Imagine an ordinary housewife, with an inattentive husband, she turning 40 next week, a new neighbour, 28 year-old single hunk, moves in next door, and he continues smiling and making conversation with her at the mailbox every afternoon. Any one of these changes or events could contribute to her growing discontent or unhappiness. So who decides what they want first? The unhappy wife, who remains reluctant, or the horny stud who is aroused by the older woman, wife of another man? Bound to be some fireworks in there. So does the writer create a long storyline/plot that stretches over the next two years with “cat and mouse” flirting, and lots of introspection of characters, internal dialogue, innocent neighbourly chats and cookouts with the three of them, and maybe end up with an erotic romance, or does the writer fuel the plot with impulsive urgency so the characters can “get what I want now”? In this case I could see an extremely exciting 100 pages or so.
But it really isn’t about length; it’s about providing anticipation within the reader. The reader knows there’s bound to be sex, but the writer can make the journey exciting and interesting. It’s about writing erotica, not counting exact pages. But there is another important ingredient on the reader’s side of the equation. What is the reader “ready” for? If I’m in the mood or “ready for” a passionate, sensual erotica story, I might turn to a Kirsten McCurran title that has enough plot and emotion to carry the heated sex. However, if I’m “ready for” an extra 250 pages of summer porch swings, hand-holding strolls, and light kisses, I could easily settle down with a title from Nicholas Sparks. And if I need a psychological thriller, I’ll turn to my favourite, Maggie James! Very different reads, but I enjoy each one! (Thanks, Candi! - Maggie)
Sublety can be just as erotic
Who do you see as your typical reader?
A balanced, bold, smart, open-minded, male or female, probably within the age range of 25 and beyond. Age doesn’t necessarily limit a person’s interest in reading. I’m also thinking, probably a reader who has seen their share of life’s dramas, therefore their feelings have a bit of seasoning, even maturity. And I see a reader who enjoys reading from multi-genres. I’m imagining a reader who is curious, inquisitive, imaginative, and one that enjoys a bit of humour. I’m envisioning a reader who enjoys sharing and discussing books with family and friends. Knowing I have talented readers like that, motivates me to become a better writer for them!
What is the most erotic scene you’ve ever written, in your opinion?
Ah, that’s a tough question. I’d have to pick two. One scene comes from Find Me. Even though the female protagonist is a self-made woman from New Jersey, she’s had a couple of events that shake her confidence and uncover her insecurities. The man she meets is particularly sensitive to that, and takes his time nurturing her passions during their first sexual encounter. The quiet mountain setting adds to the intimacy. The other erotic scene is one from my recently published erotic escapade, Thrill Driven. The scene involves two women who are exploring and discovering they are bisexual. Both are divorced. Although their female-to-female passionate encounter is complete and pleasurable, it’s the loving “afterglow” they share that adds an even deeper layer. Their looks in the eyes and their whispers to each other speak to the reader of something beyond just the physical. I personally enjoyed writing the tenderness that’s there after the shattering effects of their passion. Everything in erotica doesn’t have to be blazing hot; subtlety can be just as erotic.
Plenty of drama, ripe for harvesting
What are the most important components to writing good erotica?
Of course likable characters, which sometimes translates as relatable to the reader. But especially in erotica context is important, even to certain specificity. Some readers are drawn to sex that involves a particular setting; big city, sea coast, upscale living, fast-lane living. Add to that sex with men in uniform, sex with professional women, older woman with younger man, threesomes, bisexual, or other scenarios. Some readers enjoy the college context, and it isn’t so much with just the cheerleader as the context, but the time period of fun, hormones, risk, and new experiences. Others love the workplace setting which can be an exciting gourmet of experiences for erotica writers. But through all of that anticipation must be felt by the reader. That means placing conflict, tension, challenges in the paths of characters. And characters making tough decisions that “cut across the grain” or create some kind of opposition internally or externally helps keep readers on the edge of anticipation. One particular context that draws my attention, and I plan a couple of projects, is the married woman in the middle-age of life, somewhere crossing into her forties. That area is ripe with drama, emotions are alert, changes and transitions are rampant, kids leaving home, job changes, bedroom boredom often casts a long shadow, and life’s goals are under fresh evaluation. There is plenty of drama, just waiting for writers to harvest for readers.
What feedback do you get from your readers about your erotica?
I’ve been fortunate to have positive response from readers’ reviews and also through other social media connections. Included have also been suggestions that are extremely helpful to me as a new writer of erotica. Two in particular: (1) make the erotic escapades longer to get to know the characters better. (2) Don’t make the endings become too “sweet.” Both suggestions were excellent. Although a writer knows her/his characters better than anyone, the reader can only know them on the written page. And a “mushy” ending can detract from the adult nature of the very passionate story the reader just finished. Those reader suggestions and others help me remember a book has a destiny; it’s called the rendezvous between the writer and the reader, and it far surpasses the contents of any book. It’s the mingling of two souls, two minds, writer and reader. That interaction of the two thoughts is more intimate than any erotica story. That’s a fact, not fiction!
Maggie, thank you for the invitation to share thoughts on erotica with your inquisitive readership, and I’ll be happy to answer follow-up comments or questions.
Thank you, Candi!
I'd like to extend my thanks to Candi for her thoughtful and insightful replies to my questions. You can find out more about Candi via her website, www.candisilk.com, or through these links: Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Goodreads.
Do you have any questions or comments? Candi would love to hear from you, and so would I. Leave a comment for us!
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