Ah, the wild child of the Romance Family. The book that's hidden under your pillow or in the bedside 'goodie drawer.' The niche within the genre that even the regular romance readers wouldn't be dared caught with. So, is it really that big of a deal? Or has the E of the family garnered a much bigger rep than deserved?
Let's take a look...
Okay, let's face it, erotica is basically everything that non-romance readers (and therefore, ignorant) ridicule about the entire genre of romance. But is that deserved? I don't think so.
Once a reader can get over that Jr. High giggly feel of "oh my god are they really doing that?", erotica isn't all that abnormal. I think some readers would be surprised to know that sometimes, erotica can cross very much into the regular mainstream romance field. In fact, sometimes I scratch my head when finished reading a book that was published under the heading of erotica and wondered why it wasn't labeled as run-of-the-mill romance. And the reverse is true as well. I've been thoroughly surprised at some of the 'regular' romance and wondered why it wasn't published as erotica.
Here are some of my thoughts and theories...
Erotica, as many can deduce, usually combines much more sex within the plot. And yes, well written erotica actually have plots. The good ones are not just a few hundred pages of straight up sex. Sometimes, yes. The ones that are published with those little e-publishers or specific sections of e-books such as Samhain or Ellora's Cave where they have little novellas of a hundred pages can be pure sex. Sometimes good, but mostly bad without a plot.
But even those e-publishers can churn out pretty good stuff and some of it isn't even steamy. In fact, some very common romance names arise from those smaller e-publishers. Those who are fans of Lora Leigh know that the Breeds started as e-books and was later picked up by Berkley, as well as her Bound Heart series. Many authors that are a commonplace on today's Borders shelves began as e-books. So don't knock those e-publishers before you've tried.
Back to plot and erotica. Well written erotica have plots. But what makes it different from mainstream romance? The lines aren't all that well defined, but here are some of my thoughts. Erotica usually explore some kind of female fantasy. BDSM, threesomes, various toys, etc. You get the idea. Why would those appeal to a wider generalized female audience that might not actually be open to doing those things in their real lives, you might ask?
Well, let's remember that most, if not all, romance writers are women. So, there's already that female slant apparent there from the get-go. But erotica writers take those things mentioned above and twist those fantasies with a side of female perspective. Let's take the threesome fantasy.
Threesomes. Yeah, every college guy's dream to be sandwiched between two women, right? Well, erotica writers usually have two men instead of two women making up the threesome. Most mainstream erotica writers have two men because the base point of the threesome is giving the woman ultimate pleasure instead of the singular male taking pleasure from two women. And usually, the men don't interact with each other, solely concentrating on the female. Yes, there are authors who break the rules with bisexual male characters are fool around with each other and the female in question, but as a rule, there is no male to male contact happening. Why is this a female fantasy? The men in these threesomes are always written as channeling all their focus to the female. They are dominant, possessive, and protective of that female. And the usual ending is that the female ends with only one of the guys with the happily ever after. Though threesomes might not generally appeal to everyone, those who like their alpha heroes protective and possessive can understand that one upmanship mentality of this plot line.
As I have said, there are authors who break the rules. There's an unspoken romance rule that once the hero meets the heroine, he or she doesn't have sexual contact with anyone else. It's hard for the reader to reconcile that image with what they know will eventually become a happy ending for the main couple. Even if the rule is broken, there's usually a misguided attempt to protective themselves or the partner from what the character views as a necessity. In general, they just don't fool around with anyone else once they've met their mate.
Who breaks the rules? Well, Emma Holly comes to mind. She breaks the sleeping with others rule and the bisexual rule as well. You might have noticed that mainstream romance don't have bisexual characters. Emma Holly does. I've read a nice handful of her books and they're just not my style. I had a hard time in her books where the hero or heroine not only has sex with others even though the main couple has been established, but that they play for both teams. Just not my style.
Sometimes, I wonder just how erotica is labeled versus romance because just saying that erotica has more sex doesn't seem to apply. (More research is needed as theses are just my thoughts and observations versus actual knowledge of publishing). Take Shannon McKenna or Lora Leigh. Have you read a McKenna and sometimes had to put her down because all that child abuse, organ harvesting, sex for forty pages get too much for you? Or have you read a Leigh book as a Breed newbie and been shocked at the roughness of the sex? How do they get shelved as normal romance? Perhaps it's the amount of plot that balances the sex or maybe there's just not enough of sexual fantasies that qualify them as erotica.
Think erotica might be for you? How do you find the right one for you? Erotica is definitely not written for the general public. Especially the ones that have sexual fantasies versus copious amounts of (unnecessary) sex. Read for yourself. That's my advice. The ones that I've enjoyed more than once are ones that I would have never thought I would enjoy. And the ones that I thought might be my taste wore off their sheen much faster than anticipated.
For me, a good plot is necessary for my erotica. And the sexual fantasies have to have a viable reason to exist. I think one of my firsts was Lacey Alexander's Voyeur. Don't let the title fool you, it isn't just all voyeuristic stuff. It's actually a surprise hodgepodge of fantasies. Everything from threesomes, usage of toys, (semi) public sex, to yes, voyeurism. The plot, however, is very weak. In fact, when I do pick it up from time to time, I skip it. It was a fair introduction to erotica but tended to lean towards unnecessary and somewhat unbelievable sex.
Choosing erotica is very personal. (Obviously). One that I have enjoyed is Shayla Black's Decadent. Very surprised that I enjoyed it as much as I did, and still continue to enjoy it. I wasn't all that into the first one in this loosely connected series with characters who know each other. Wicked Ties wasn't the right fit for me. The dom/sub theme wasn't quite right. I did, however, enjoy the steady plot that accompanied it. When I tried out Decadent I was shocked to find that the story of the threesome to appeal. It was written with all the right plot points that made it work for me. Two men made up the menage, but it was clear from the beginning that it was only Deke that Kimber had deeper feelings for and not the other male, Luc. But with two alphas that were strong, protective, and covering all a girl's fantasy needs...well, Shayla Black is a go for my erotica.
For my mainstream need so-called erotica that sometimes crosses the line of romance into the big E is Lora Leigh. Her books definitely have a plot as a main function of the book instead of just seemingly random sex peppered throughout the book. However, a few of her books certainly have a harder edge to it. The new continuation of the Bound Heart series published through St. Martin's Griffin have a more selective brand of sex. It tells the story of the Trojan men who are a part of a Club that was well established in the e-books. The first oversized paperback was Forbidden Pleasure which was enjoyable but ultimately not my kind of book. The idea of the two men ending up sharing one woman was definitely a fantasy for me but wasn't my bag.
However, the second one, Wicked Pleasure, was more to my tastes. The hero, Cam, is definitely in love with the heroine while his twin brother, Chase, just holds affection and lust for her. Cam was always in the light as the hero for the book and Jaci was his ultimate heroine. Cam was scarred from some mysterious childhood nightmare that haunted his present. Leigh just wrote an alpha male that was delicious. All hard angles and arrogance. Possessive and protective to a fault. There's nothing better. Plus, Jaci took no crap from the men but was soft enough to provide the comfort that Cam needed and craved for his life.
And come on...is that not a sexy cover for the book or what? I like how the graphic artist paid attention to the book, adding in that pop art yellow belt and the rain detail. Great to see a cover actually have a legitimate tie-in with a scene in the book.
I am looking forward to seeing Chase get his own happy ending in Only Pleasure, a novel that comes out in January of 2009. All in all, Leigh is my more mainstream brand of erotica that blurs the lines between run of the mill romance and the "harder stuff."
So, is erotica for you? Maybe not. But you never know until you try...