Sexual Diversity in Erotica
What I’m about to tell you may be music to your ears, or drive you mad, because while it provides some insight into my process of editing an anthology, the tough part is, I can’t tell you what to write to guarantee a spot in one of my books. What I can tell you, though, is that whenever I’m editing an anthology, whether the organizing principle is stories of 1,200 words or less, like in Gotta Have It: 69 Stories of Sudden Sex, or my latest erotica books, Serving Him: Sexy Stories of Submission and Twice the Pleasure: Bisexual Women’s Erotica, I seek out both hot, well written stories, as well as stories that, as a whole, present a broad array of storytelling styles and sexual activities. It wouldn’t do to edit a book of bisexual women’s erotica and have, for example, all the stories be about threesomes, or all the stories be about bi-dykes or all the stories be about bicurious women, or first times with a given gender—unless that was the type of book being published.
So while all those aspects of bisexuality are represented, there are also stories that don’t mention the word “bisexual” and whose characters may not actually identify with that word, and that’s okay. That’s the kind of diversity I want to see, one that I believe is true to life. Not everyone who’s ever lusted after people of different genders is going to identify as “bisexual,” and I wouldn’t want to limit the scope of my anthology in that way. For one thing, that would mean readers would miss out on some hot stories, and for another, the erotic might take a backseat to identity politics. One thing to remember is that while erotica can certainly be political and make powerful statements about our culture, its primary job is to tell an arousing story. If you don’t do the erotic aspect of your story justice, you do a disservice to the genre.
That being said, I recognize that no single book of mine will be able to capture the range of diversity of an entire sexual identity, because like snowflakes, nobody’s sexuality is exactly like anyone else’s. To me, this is why erotica is such a thriving genre—we are curious about sex, we want to get off on it, learn about it, live vicariously through other people’s fantasies about it, and there are infinite ways to approach a given topic.
When I’m reading submissions for an anthology, I do usually have a few scenarios or types of stories I know in advance I’d like to include. But then it’s up to you—and that “you” I hope continues to cast a wider and wider net, of people who live all over the world, of seasoned writers and those penning their first erotic stories, of people for whom the prompt immediately floods their minds with multiple story ideas and those who struggle for just the right combination of character and plot.
I’ve found that with my own writing, the broader I cast my mental net of what “erotic” can mean, the more complex my stories, the more offbeat and, I believe, the more likely they are to be published, if they stand out in plot. That’s why I was intrigued, and challenged, by Alison Tyler’s recent calls for stories written in the second person, a style I find particularly challenging.
My best advice to anyone submitting to my anthologies (which I think is probably applicable to other editors, but I can only speak for myself) is to write the story only you can write. Of course, on a basic level, that applies to any story, since you’re the one actually sitting down at the keyboard (or picking up the pen). But probe a little more deeply and you may find a nuance or twist that involves bringing your own personal knowledge into the story. By that, I don’t just mean sexual knowledge, because I don’t think sexual experience is a precursor to writing good erotica. I mean knowledge of life, of human interaction, of relationships. Of love, lust, jealousy, anticipation, arousal, fear, curiosity, etc.
I’ve always promised myself that if writing or editing erotica get boring, I will give them up, and I stand by that, but over 13 years, writing over 100 stories and editing over 50 anthologies, I’m still not bored. I maintain that’s because I’ve pushed myself to go outside my comfort zone, to find ways to take my experiences and my research and imagination and meld them into stories that often surprise even me. I love the unruly stories where I think I know where they’re leading me and suddenly they twist and turn, occasionally leading me down a dead end, but more often leading me up a grueling mountain with a gorgeous view, or speeding down an open road.
One of my favorite of my stories is called “Doing the Dishes,” and it is indeed about a woman with a dishwashing fetish—a woman like me. My fetish, if that is indeed the proper word, isn’t a sexual one per se, but I do find dishwashing soothing and occasionally erotic. The story originated in much the same way the protagonist’s did—by washing a lover’s dishes when they rose up from the sink and seemed to breed on the counter. The story was recently podcasted by Rose Caraway and even though I wrote it in, I believe, 2003, I think it’s still fresh and the kind of story I strive to write, because it takes readers somewhere hopefully new and different and expands on the idea of what causes sexual arousal.
I recently issued 3 new erotica calls for submissions, and the one I’m excited to read about is female fantasies. On some level, all erotica is fantasy, but by making the theme explicitly about fantasy, I hope to call forth writers’ most twisted, outrageous, dirty, thrilling erotic imaginings. For this one, I don’t actually have any preset ideas of what I’m looking for, both because fantasy is so personal, and because I want to be surprised. For instance, the innocent virgin is a character we’ve seen many times, but author Nicole Camden, in her The Fetish Box series, gives it a new spin with a virgin protagonist who inherits a sex shop from her mother. In S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline, a woman gets to write down her most cherished fantasies and then live them out, even though their real life counterparts almost always have a twist she wasn’t expecting. I was blown away by Greta Christina’s new ebook Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories about Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More because even though I’ve read a lot of erotica in my lifetime, she still managed to surprise me. Her characters are varied, and approach their sexual desires and fantasies differently. She doesn’t shy away from scenarios that will very likely make many readers uncomfortable—and likely, uncomfortable and turned on all at once. But don’t try to emulate Christina in your writing—as I emphasized above, I believe the best erotic writing comes from figuring out what makes your approach unique, and committing to that. This doesn’t have to mean trying to outdo or shock anyone or reinvent the wheel (or the sex act), but simply tapping into the core of story’s and characters’ purposes and motivations.