Contest talk has been all the rage this week, and I thought I’d carry over a discussion I’m having with my chapter mates about why an erotica/erotic romance category should be added to the RITA and GH. This is a complicated subject so naturally I’ll pontificate even though I seriously tried not too.
Erotica / Erotic Romance Defined
Erotica is a work of fiction in which the sexual journey of the characters and the emotional impact of that journey on the characters’ development is the primary focus of the work as the relationship between two or more characters is developed. The story may or may not depict the development and resolution of a romantic relationship between the characters.
Erotic Romance is a work of fiction with intense sexual scenes between characters who in a love relationship. Love is the primary focus of the story, and the sex scenes must advance character development with a HEA required to qualify it as erotic romance.
Reader Comfort Level
A reader’s comfort level is an important thing to consider in this issue. Erotica is not everyone’s cup of tea. Its one thing to ask a judge to score a romance that has explicit sex in it, as opposed to handing an unsuspecting judge an erotica book. And if you’re thinking that covers and blurbs can clue a reader in, that’s not always the case. Three by Nicole Mack has a beautiful cover, an interesting blurb on the back and I would place it in the erotica subgenre. Even if one were to disagree with my classification, I firmly believe that the sex in the book would really test the comfort level of a lot of people.
Its one thing when a reader says, “oh good grief this is such a ridiculous concept, why on earth do people go gaga over this “name a subgenre.” But it’s entirely different when a reader is exposed to a book where the sex isn’t between a hero/heroine or the sex in the book is based on emotions outside of love. There are many who would find that type of book offensive. In many instances, the “oh good grief” reaction of now becomes an “OMIGOD, this isn’t romance, this is porn. It’s nothing but trash.”
I don’t agree with people who say that, but there are judges who wouldn’t be able to move past the sex scenes to see the elements of erotica in the book. Let’s face it, not everyone is comfortable reading sex in their books. Some outright despise it. Yes, I know judges can return books they don’t want to judge, but how many returns does National ever get? I’d love to see numbers for comparative sake (no sarcasm in this statement, simply curiosity). Personally, I think most judges find it more convenient to just grit one’s teeth and plow through a book and score it low than go through the hassle of sending it back in. Few people are comfortable showing that they might have a bias against a particular subgenre.
For Wont of Understanding Erotica
There’s a distinct lack of understanding about the erotica subgenre with readers. I don’t read man-love stories. I don’t enjoy them. (Wish I did, because if I did, I’d write them, and they sell hot and fast!) If I were to receive an man-love work for the RITA or GH (even a chapter contest) I would have to send it back. I do this because I doubt my ability to be impartial with this type of work. Not everyone is me though. Not everyone is willing to open themselves up and look at their prejudices and accept them. And please understand the specific way I use the word prejudice here.
My prejudice about man-love can be likened to someone who doesn’t like paranormals. How others live their lives is their choice, and I don’t have the right to sit in judgment on them. Nor do the morality police for that matter. Essentially it boils down to the idea that if I don’t understand man-love or its components, it’s certainly not fair of me to judge it. And while I might not be able to judge a particular subgenre, I’ll firmly stand beside any writer whose subgenre is challenged or censored in any way, which has been happening with man-love.
Impartiality—Is It Possible For Everyone?
Many judges really do believe they can be impartial and put aside their prejudices and read anything and judge it fairly. And I know there are some who actually achieve this, but I question someone’s ability to remain completely impartial when they’re confronted by something that goes against they’re inner belief structures. I don’t believe it is. Questioning one’s prejudicial tendencies is not something most people do comfortably. It’s human nature to want to rise above one’s prejudices (or at least it is for most people), but how well can people really rise above something if it flies in the face of everything they believe about romance or their personal belief structures. Inspy’s aren’t a particular favorite subgenre of mine either. I’m not sure I could be completely impartial judging them given my viewpoint on religion and its context in Inspirational romance. Again, I will support anyone’s right to write whatever they want. I’m simply expressing my own personal preferences to prove a point. It’s difficult to be impartial, particularly if you don’t have a clue as to what some of the components are in a particular subgenre.
Some Might Respond
Most RWA members will say that erotica/erotic romance writers can throw their hat into the ring in all categories, which is why we don’t need an erotica/erotic romance category. I can somewhat buy this with regard to Erotic Romance, but not with erotica.
Not even the novel with strong romantic elements category will work. Why? Because erotica doesn’t have to focus on a romance within the story, it wouldn’t fit under this category, unless we decide to consider sex as a romantic element. Remember, not all erotica has to have romance, BUT some erotica DOES have romance.
We All Agree It’s Subjective
I truly believe there is a large segment of RWA that doesn’t like graphic sex in romance books. My impression is that they view graphic sex scenes as not only a detractor from the story, but as an insult to other sweeter romance books. I respect their decision to view sex in a book that way, despite the fact that when written properly, sex can be quite beautiful. And don’t get me started on that whole procreation-only stuff. He didn’t just give us sexual organs he gave us brains too, although most of us know at least one man who is fortunate to have two brains, although one of them limps along most of the time.
Sex can move a story forward. It can reshape and/or change a character. True, there are books out there where the sex is gratuitous, but an ER/Erotica reader will know the difference and score it accordingly. But an inexperience and/or biased judge will not be able to do so. I respect the viewpoint of readers who don’t like sex in a book; I just don’t think their viewpoint should affect those of us who do understand the genre.
For me, it’s all about trying to be fair and equitable. My biggest issue is not what authors write, but with how their works are judged. People want to believe themselves impartial, but I question their ability to do so. Personally, I’m willing to take my chances in an Erotica category over any other category.