Friday, July 02, 2010

Writing what you don't know?

Today someone left a comment on Alana Noel Voth's interview.

'Women should not be writing gay and bisexual men's erotic fiction.'

It was, unfortunately, anonymous, so I'm responding into the ether. That's a shame, as I think it would be nice to be able to discuss this - well, if not face-to-face, then at least with some feeling of reciprocation. Anyway. I'd be really happy if you would come back and elaborate on your point, anon - or if anyone else would like to chime in on this.

Personally, I don't write much if any 'gay and bisexual men's erotic fiction.' Per se. I've written stories that include gay and bisexual men, perhaps some in an erotic context - I can't honestly remember right now because I've written a lot of characters.

You may think that means I'm not involved in this question, or that my opinion is irrelevant.

But for one, this is mah blog. And also I'd say that the very most wonderful thing about fiction is that everyone is involved, or at least can be.

Can fiction actually ever belong to anyone? Is it really possible to restrict not only the authorship but also the readership of certain writing?

'Imagining what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.'
- Ian McEwan, in an interview

I thought a lot about this and then I remembered that - before they committed a bizarre act of publishing hara kiri, Black Lace (my publishers) were of course an imprint 'by women and for women' - so, they restricted - attempted to restrict - authorship as well as readership. Although everybody knew that men read BL books but nobody said.

I also remember our long and tumultuous arguments on Lustbites about this very issue. The necessity for a restricted authorship policy.

The thing is, there is a slight difference between having some calls/imprints/publishers with restricted authorship* requirements, and deciding that no woman/man/centaur should ever even dare to try and write womens'/mens'/centaurs' fiction. I can fully appreciate that some groups wish to keep an enclave of their own - a private space, in some sense. Although that's a bit spurious because publishing is by nature kind of flinging open the doors to your psyche and inviting the world in.

Anon, I want to know - what is it you wish for? You can't restrict what someone else finds arousing, surely that must be most humdingerly and gloriously evident?

Oh hell can't we all just get along in a lovely filthy muddle without our cocks [or lack thereof] getting in the way?

*is authorship a word? Forgive me, I've not had much sleep.


Danielle said...

first of all..i m so happy to see you back here!!!!

and..i think that anonymous coment is silly..because..that would mean too that straight women arent allowed to write lesbian fiction or men not allowed to write gtay or lesbian fiction...i think everyone should write about whats in the reach of their imagination, their fantasy or..

stephen king once said: write what you know about....

plus..i m always a biut upset when i read calls for submission which are "female" only..i makes my stomach drop between my feet when i think about that i m not allowed to submit something because i m a bad writer, or maybe because i dont speak the language...or because whatever..just because the fact that i might dont have the right gender...the whole women for women concept is a relict from the days where women still had no voice no isnt perfect yet..but women nowadays are strong and powerfull...i hear you rroooarrrr:-) should be "everyone for everyone who wnats to read erotica" not only women for , or only blondes, or only centaurs for..."

writing erotica is somehow a female arent that much apreciated in there...i wish that would change...

anyway..alana is a wonderful writer and i hope that the anonymous comenteer would read some of her fiction before leaving statements like that...

Jo said...


I think the operative word in the argument is FICTION. It's all about writing what you don't know, because what makes writers writers is their capacity for imagination, and empathy, their ability to create characters and worlds and responses and tap into the human psyche, not just the psyche that belongs to their gender assignment. Because really, that's silly.

I mean, come on. There's a hell of a lot of serial killer fiction out there, and I'm willing to bet that if it was marketed as being only by and for actual serial killers it wouldn't be such a multi million dollar business.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey Danielle, hello! Nice to see you again!

Thanks for your thoughts. Very interesting. I'm sorry to hear how you feel about women-only calls. I appreciate both sides of this argument, really - but with Black Lace gone down the rabbithole, I don't think there are any 'women-for-women' imprints left, are there?

You're not the first person to say that erotica is a female world - I think that's a pretty complex issue. Women are so often the *subject* (in particular visually - see Erotica Cover Watch)of erotic material that I believe that may partly skew the perception. For example, I know a few men that write as women and use that female persona as part of their work's erotic appeal. Which is not at all to denigrate their work, it's just an observation.

And men writing as women doesn't bother me for an instant - whatever their sexual orientation.

Anyway, if erotica is seen as a female world, why is that? Are there more women writing fiction in general? Also, would you include erotica as part of the porn industry? That is a very female landscape, but the very great majority of it is not *for* females.

I read and enjoy erotica by both men and women.

Yes, Alana is a fabulous writer. I don't know of many people who consider their characters and motivations as carefully as she does.

Emerald said...

I wonder if the anonymous commenter feels as well that men should not be writing straight female and lesbian erotic fiction? That's not asked with antagonism; it is a sincere curiosity.

For that matter, does it mean that straight men should not be writing gay and bisexual men's erotic fiction? At what point does any line get drawn, so to speak? I guess actually what is occurring to me comes down to what Nikki said: "what is it you wish for?" I just wonder at what point or under what circumstances does it seem acceptable, from the perspective of the anonymous commenter, to write about something you have not personally experienced (is that the complaint, incidentally?)? Or is it wider than particular experience and based on a perception of identity? In which case, under what circumstances does the anonymous commenter subscribe to it being permissible to write about individuals with identities seemingly distinct from or contrasting with the author...?

Interesting. Lovely to see you, Nikki!! : )

Nikki Magennis said...

Jo, hello!

yes - there is such a frequent tendency to conflate an author's life with their writing. It's the root of all those tedious 'do much research har har har' conversations I've had. Some writers do write fiction very much involved in their personal lives, I suppose, but one should never presume that means all of us do.

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey Emerald - aye, yes, this comment provoked a lot of questions for me too! Is it only erotica where we find these 'should/should not' issues?

Jo said...

Of course - but it's not even the issue of whether you DO it, this is more about the issue of whether you ARE it - can you claim what you're writing about.

And that just doesn't seem the point of writing to me.

Nikki Magennis said...

I think good writing has to come from listening and observing, first. And then you have to try and empathise and imagine and yes, there may be mistakes made and projection involved -

And then we need to listen more.

Vida said...

*packs rucksack with pen, paper, and an enticing box of HomoTreatz and sets off on the field trip of a lifetime*


I really like this idea.

Jo said...

Ah, sorry, did it again. That was meee.

Nikki Magennis said...

Vida?! Jo! My god, I can't tell who you are anymore! It's like magic! But ... you are a woman, right?

; )

Hey, that's lovely, that means we've shared pages!

Craig Sorensen said...

Since I was a commenter at the original post, I got a notification of this person's "contribution" to the discussion, and here was what I thought to reply:

"And anonymous commenters should not make sweeping generalities."

I've written and been published writing from a female-straight POV, female-lesbian POV and male-gay POV, none of which I am.

As previously stated, this is fiction. We don't necessarily have to have lived through or be something to have a base of understanding. There are common threads that twine us together.

Each of us has something that resonates to us creatively. Some of us need to stay close to the things we personally know, others can work more freely, like an actor taking on a part.

The bottom line is, there are no simple generalities that can cover every facet of the human condition. We are so very unique, and we should respect and honor these differences.

Which brings me back to my proposed original reply to the anonymous commenter.

One last point, to Danielle's thoughts on erotica as a female world. I understand your point ov view, but I have to disagree that we male authors are not valued. We are most certainly outnumbered, but I have to say that I feel very welcome in this world. Probably 90 percent of what I've had published was by female editors and publishers, and they have been a joy to deal with, and have been appreciative of my contributions.

I'm not crazy about being excluded from calls, but I understand the mentality. At the heart of it, the decision is marketing. The BL model was built on the idea of women taking erotica back, and this absolutely had to happen for those of us who like to write intelligent, thoughtful, sensitive erotica to be heard. When I started writing erotica, there were almost no avenues to try to present my brand of story telling.

The BL model gave women the comfort to read something sexual that was crafted for them, not built on the model of predictable hip-grinding 1970's porn.

The current "women only" calls harken back to this BL ideal, and also lean on the success of Violet Blue's Best Womens' Erotica series.

If these current calls result in strong sales, they'll keep doing it. It's not personal. It's just business.

I apologize for the verbose reply, but it's been a while since I've seen you Nikki.

I had a lot to say. :-)

Nikki Magennis said...

Hey, that wasn't verbose, Craig, that was eloquent! Thanks! Good to see you again!

Willsin Rowe said...

I feel I should point out that there is serious doubt that J.R.R. Tolkein ever saw a Hobbit...which really casts a pall of doubt over the veracity of the entire Lord of the Rings series for me.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Like Craig, I got the comment notification. Unlike Craig, I rushed over and commented at the original post, not realizing yet that the round-table discussion was over here in conference room B. Anyway, I basically said that I thought people should write about what they want to write about. [This doesn't address the whole restricted-calls issue, but as some of you know I did a whole essay about that in '07. : )]

Jeremy Edwards said...

P.S. Hi, Jonny! LOL.

Kathleen Bradean said...

People get upset because when they read erotica, they feel the writer is going to an intimiate place with them, so they only want to be aroused by someone they'd be aroused by in real life. Except that we're writers, not their lovers.

Anon needs to remember that we didn't ask for his/her/hir permission. We're writers. We create characters. Those characters are either believable or they aren't. That's the only discussion worth having.

Heidi Champa said...

As a woman who writes m/m fiction, I have heard this sentiment before. In fact, an review of College Boys, which has one of my stories, said almost the exact same thing, that women shouldn't write gay male fiction.

I think that if you can write well, you can write whatever POV you want. Fiction allows for exploration, imagination and getting outside your own head. Wanting to explore sexuality that is not your own is sometimes a challenge, but saying that someone shouldn't be allowed to do it, is crap.

To Wilsin's point, I doubt JK Rowling is or ever was a boy wizard, but somehow she's a billionaire writing about it. And, I also agree with Kathleen. Writing is supposed about believeable and well-done characters and stories, or at least it should be, not gender.

Jo said...

Heh, Fantasy analogy saves the day!

Yup, Nikki, she is me, we do share pages and I'm honoured, honoured!

Adult Massage Sydney said...

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Janine Ashbless said...

Love the new-look blog, Nikki!

Not much to add to the debate except I cheered at the fantasy analogies and Kathleen's assertion that writers don't go round asking permission to write about things.

I don't like women-only calls/imprints, as I've said before. If I was a bloke I'd seriously consider subbing to them under a female name, and I'm normally the most pathetically rules-abiding person on the planet... (See me carry dog-shit for miles in order to put it in the dog bin)

And having the right genitals does not necessarily make you more authentic at description. I've read some female-written erotica which made me wonder if they actually have the same anatomy as me! Mentioning no names...

Alana said...

What Kathleen Bradean said, especially the last part.

Also, Heidi, thanks for your comment on FB.


Alana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Nikki Magennis said...

Somehow Blogger has not been letting me post - pah. Anyway, thanks everyone for your thoughts and opinions.

Yes, even 'Adult Massage Sydney' - tho I doubt I'll be clicking on that link anytime soon.

Erobintica said...

First of all, nice to see you back Nikki!

Lot's of good points. And of course, nobody should ever dare write about driving stick if they only drive automatic! ;-)

Could anyone who comments about what writers should or should not write about, possibly know anything about writing?