One Smutty Insult
By Ember Leigh
Since age 14, it’s been very clear to me what my choice genre is: EROTIC ROMANCE. There’s never been any question, though I certainly didn’t have the words for the genre back then. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s that I discovered what I’d been writing for over a decade.
Sure, I’ve liked writing other things aside from erotic romance in the years since my teenage-dom: travel memoirs, non-fiction pieces, the haphazard short story. But I’ve never, not even once, been able to finish writing a novel that wasn’t inherently romance-based.
Erotic romance is my thang, is what I’m saying. And all writers have their thang, their jam, their hot toddy, whatever. I’ve come to embrace it, but it wasn’t always so easy to accept this.
Up until about a year before I published my first erotic romance, I was still mostly unable to admit to people that I wrote romance. I let my inner circle know, and one of my best friends even helped me edit my work. But meeting strangers and having The Conversation was always one I tried to shirk.
The Conversation, in this case, was one that I built up in my mind so much that it felt like one of those 80’s movies where all the kids are pointing and laughing in the school lunch room while the protagonist slinks off with a stain on their pants or something. But really, The Conversation I was trying to avoid went something like this:
Strange Person I’ve Just Met: So what do you do?
Me: I’m an author.
SPIJM: Oh? That’s so cool! What sort of stuff do you write? Crime novels? Literature? Educational textbooks?
Me: I write erotic romance.
SPIJM: [awkward pause] Oh. You mean like…smut?
What I was really shying away from was the possibility of judgement. Writing these romances has been one of the only lifelong passions I’ve known. It is so integral to the fiber of my being that I would scarcely know life without also having the desire to write. For anyone to comment negatively really fucking hurts.
Hence the general avoidance for roughly two decades.
Once I started claiming the title of Erotic Romance Author, it felt really good. I won’t bore you all with the psychological underpinnings, but hell—it was a relief to finally say out loud what had been true for so long. To admit it with a mostly straight spine and a firm lip, reactions be damned!
Despite the firm lip and the mostly straight spine, with the truth came the judgement. Because that conversation I had always feared did actually come to pass. Not always—but often enough. And it STILL happens. Except, it doesn’t stop there. Other comments include…Oh, so you write porn? That’s ridiculous. That sort of stuff is a joke. I can’t believe you write that! How hilarious. What smut.
I’ve even had close friends scoff and remark, Wow, I wish I had THAT sort of free time!
And on. And on.
Point is, writing erotic romance novels invites criticism. It also invites wonder, awe, envy, and fascination, but what sometimes sticks out above the rest is the criticism.
When people call my work porn, or smut, I’m focusing less on the words and more on the transmission. If a genuinely confused person asked me whether or not what I wrote was smut, I would gladly educate them about how my definition of smut is different, that my stories are actually love stories with explicit sex thrown in, etc.
And really, I’m not offended if someone calls my work porn and they love the porn industry. People get called to make porn, too! That is someone else’s passion. If someone tells me that as a compliment, then I’ll receive it.
But that’s not usually the case.
An article by Ruth Suehle summarizes nicely where the insult is buried within comments like these. Though she addresses creative types being told they have “too much time on their hands”, the variety of related responses—You’re ridiculous; that’s hilarious; oh, you write THAT sort of thing—touches upon the same core message: What you do is a waste of time and pointless.
It hurts to receive that message, whether the emissary intended it or not.
But what I’ve realized in the several years since I’ve “come out” of the erotic romance closet is that this sort of response is not reserved for erotic romance authors. It’s not even reserved for creative types. It is part of the standard repertoire of human reaction, based entirely on variables that a person could not ever hope to control. How the person is feeling that day; how they were raised; their happiness with their life or chosen career; their own psychological demons or standards that have nothing to do with the person being commented on. And on. And on.
This doesn’t mean that anybody can say anything they want simply because maybe they were raised differently than I. Really, it points to the fact that in our diverse and chaotic world, there will always be a nay-sayer.
There’s a naysayer to the investment banker. There’s a naysayer to the priest. There’s a naysayer to the HVAC guy. There’s a naysayer to the organic gardener. There’s a naysayer to the police officer. There’s a naysayer to the autobiographical author. There’s a nay-sayer if you decide to have kids; there’s a nay-sayer if you remain childless.
The important thing is that the nay-saying doesn’t erode, crush, or otherwise destroy the passion. When I receive comments like these, I take them in stride, or try to offer gentle education. Like, hey, I don’t know what sort of porn you’re watching, but my books are about two fully-formed adults finding each other and falling deeply into love, which leads to a relationship that also includes sex, which I just happen to describe explicitly because I want to.
I wish everyone I met could understand the fear behind living a passion or dream. The ways it forces your heart onto your sleeve, the myriad moments of crippling self-doubt and equally crippling excitement. The shaky and unstable path into the future, the uncertainty that drifts into piles around us.
It’s easy to say “get over it” or “don’t let it bother you”. But as an author and student of human beings, I know that it’s much more complicated than that. We don’t often control the sensations that arise in us, only what we do with them once they’re there.
Nay-sayers won’t stop me; it won’t even make me change my course. But despite what my higher self might wish for, I’m still human. And this is a very human part of the experience of pursuing a passion.
At the end of it all, I’m happy I even have the chance for someone to react incredulously to my chosen profession. It means I had the guts to go after my dreams..
A New York Minute
Kadir stood, hands on his hips, in a skintight black suit with a startling array of bright blue sequins. It was like a futuristic space suit mated with the gaudiest of show tunes. He grimaced as her gaze fell on his costume.
“I can’t wear this on stage,” he said, sneaking a glance in the mirror, a twinge of terror in his voice. “I’ve never worn something so overtly gay.”
Jenna bit her lip as she looked him up and down. He was right, the costume was laughable. Though it might look spectacular under the lights and grandeur of the stage, up close it was a hilarious mess. But it wasn’t all bad. Kadir was sculpted, a fact that wouldn’t go away no matter how much she tried to dodge the issue. And it seemed every way she turned, his biceps or an errant brush of his hands was waiting for her, tugging at her resolve.
It didn’t help that his cock was perfectly showcased in this get-up, caressed by the strange black satin in a way that made it impossible to look away. She cleared her throat, working hard to keep her face neutral and breathing even. He must be huge under there. Probably bigger than her favorite vibrator, the one she’d been using over the past few days as she entertained lurid fantasies about him.
“It’ll look great for the cameras,” was all she said. And every woman in America will be dying to put your dick in their mouth.
“Great? I’ll look like a fool. Nobody will take me seriously in America!”
“Oh, come on. There have been stranger costumes on this show, I promise you. Besides—” she did a slow perimeter walk around him—“it makes you look really ripped.”
Without a word, he kicked the door closed behind her. “Can you help me out of it?” Dark eyes gleamed with mischief.