Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ronnie Strong Author Takeover

In defence of smut
I really struggle with negative reviews. There is no getting around it; they are depressing. Recently I received this review, titled ZERO STARS, for one of my stories, The Laundromat.
This is smut, trash that shouldn't even be sold in porn shops! I am not a prude, I love the 50 Shades and Crossfire series BUT THIS IS NOT A EROTIC ROMANCE! I wish I could wash this story out of my brain! I would give it zero stars but Amazon requires that I give it a star rating. Shame on Amazon for recommending this!
Well, when you get a review like that, complete with ungrammatical all caps, you know you really have upset someone. My first reaction is to reminding myself that the same story has hundreds of appreciative readers.  Then I begin to wonder if this story will ever have thousands of paying readers. If not, why not? This review shouted at me that my story was trash and would never be a best seller, partly because my story was NOT A EROTIC ROMANCE. Were they right?
From the beginning my story was going to be erotica, not romance, and I saw these as quite different genres. My working definitions for these genres were along the following lines. Romance stories are about love between two main characters, ordinarily a man and a woman, whose love for each other is tested in some way before a live-happily-ever-after ending. Erotica is a story that explores sexuality in ways that are intended to arouse the reader. For some people erotica is a sub-category of Romance, but I personally see them as separate.
I think the hybrid category Erotic Romance can be confusing because people will differ on what should be the main emphasis: sex or love. Is it about sexy love or lovely sex? Can it be either of these as long as it is not smut? Thinking about this — and getting confused — I decided to look for a definition of smut. The first one listed from my search was the following from urbandictionary.com:
Highly developed stories with love lines and other things that appeal to women that also include a lot of sexually explicit scenes.
I read this definition and felt pleased. This exactly describes what I was trying to produce when I began writing The Laundromat. It seems like my ZERO STARS critic might have got it right. My story really is smut. I have a hero author, Philip K. Dick, who wrote a great story called Confessions of a Crap Artist. I begin to wonder if I should have called this author takeover piece Confessions of a Smut Writer.
I now also realise all my stories so far have been about a woman undertaking a journey. During this journey the main character explores what love and associated topics mean for them as they participate in a succession of sexually explicit encounters. I always really hoped my stories would appeal to women, which was one reason why I write from a woman’s point of view. I also thought this made them more interesting to write and read.
I wanted to explore a range of topics in The Laundromat including the potential benefits of submission as a liberating sensual force and how the joys of tantric sex might be experienced and described. Another issue I really wanted to explore was polyamory. I was hoping to celebrate the sexuality of mature woman who are no longer a twenty-something too.
In other words, with The Laundromat, I was aiming to write a highly developed story, a literary story, exploring lots of topics, and full of sex. From the beginning I was writing smut. I think I even said that at the time, half joking, without fully realising how highly appropriate a term it was for my writing.
The critic above was not the only person though who found fault with my story. Here is another negative review:
I'm so sorry to say that I couldn't finish this book. I made it as far as 53% of the way through. Maybe if it was shorter, much shorter, I'd have finished it but I just couldn't. There was way too much sex in it for me, so much so that it was exhausting to read. It read like a cheap porno. Lots of characters having lots of sex with lots of different strangers and to make matters worse, it went as far as different rooms at the Laundromat displaying different sexual scenarios. Too much of an unrealistic storyline to this book for me I'm afraid, but that doesn't mean that others won't like it.
I was grateful that this reviewer at least left the door open to other people possibly liking my story. The obvious conclusion to make is that not everyone likes smut. This review makes me begin to think that it is the frequency of sexual encounters recounted within the story that matters even more so than the level of explicitness. Clearly there is a line somewhere that separates those whose main preference is for sexy love from those who really like to read (and write) about lovely sex.
Ronnie’s girl is another person who didn’t enjoy reading The Laundromat, and she didn’t ever finish it either. She asked me to write a more romantic story, and gave me a brief story outline. She said to me: ‘write something I might like to read about me going out with another man on a date; remembering, holding hands for me is a really lovely intimate act’. She also said something like ‘you don’t need to write a whole lot about us having sex. Please just make it nice and something I would like to read’.
I found writing this story very difficult and about six months later published Kate Gets Marks. Ronnie’s Girl wouldn’t read it for quite a while and not until I insisted. When I asked her what she thought about it she told me it was alright, but it made her feel aroused. I took this as a compliment, even though the way she said it made becoming aroused sound troubling. I had written smut again, but I really do think this story also does qualify as Erotic Romance. I certainly hope so because it might sell better than smut.
I wonder what other people think about smut, erotica and romance as categories. Are they different points along a continuum? I think this is of more than intellectual interest because publishers and readers want to use categories to help them sift through what people might and might not like. I think I am going to use the term smut a bit more proudly though, even though it might have stigma attached to it. Please tell me if you think I am being foolish.

Link to The Laundromat and its reviews:

Kate Gets Marks:

Dolphin Heat (free, complete smut)

Ronnie Strong Website

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