I recently raised a question to erotic fiction authors on a panel at the Australian Romance Readers Convention in Brisbane. Do you choose to be ‘out’ as an erotic fiction writer and if not, why?
The responses were varied and fascinating.
Most erotic fiction authors start out wanting to be anonymous. They are embarrassed to admit to those closest to them that they write books about sex (see last Friday’s post). Many didn’t want to be judged by the other mums at the school gate, or by their neighbours or workmates. Some didn’t broadcast their ‘other life’ because it may jeopardise relationships or jobs where being an author of erotic fiction may appear to in some way compromise their integrity or capacity to do the work.
Suspicion and judgement abound. Apparently if we write about sex, we are morally lesser for it. Others can write about guns and killing and violence, but we are the ones who should be embarrassed, apparently. And we are living in modern 2013. Enlightened times – no? No.
Anticipated shame and fear of being ostracized has kept the enormous successes of many erotic fiction authors hidden away from our wider community. This is terribly unfair. The Australian literary community is small (although the romance genre community seems to me to be enormous). Many Australian erotic fiction authors are hugely successful overseas via their alternate personas. Angela Castle is a prime example. With 23 books under her belt, in her real life Angela, and many others like her, goes about her very ordinary life here in Victoria, her success and work unacknowledged on her home turf.
As a debut erotic fiction author, the question of being ‘out’ or not was one I had to grapple with early on. In the initial negotiations with Random Romance I was asked to come up with a pseudonym. I didn’t bother to ask why, I just went about the painful task of looking for an alternative name I could live with and readers could remember.
At the time I was keen on the idea. It provided some protection to my family, particularly my in-laws, from fans or stalkers (yeah, right!). It offered me the opportunity of having a more interesting name (my real name is common as proverbial muck). It also offered me the chance of anonymity, if I so chose it.
I thought long and hard about the how and why of being anonymous. After long consideration, my reasons were the same as everyone else’s: fear. Fear of being judged, mocked, leered at, stalked, of assumptions being made about me that simply weren’t true. I had to ask myself, ‘am I embarrassed about what I write? If I am, why?’ Anonymity at what cost?
As a writer these days you need to be able to interact with fans. Here I’m a bit old fashioned. I know it’s possible to interact anonymously via social media, but, for me, nothing can replace the face to face, hands on interaction with a live, flesh and blood author. Anonymity would condemn me to a world of virtual interaction, and that didn’t appeal to me much. Anonymity also meant I was buying into the fear, allowing it to control my choices and reinforcing the negativity and judgement that hangs around people’s view of erotica like a stale fart.
In the end two things made me decide to be ‘out’ as an erotic fiction writer. The first was that I already had an author presence in cyberspace and it wouldn’t take a genius to trace it back to Kate Belle. The second was I decided I didn’t need to be embarrassed about what I write. It doesn’t make me a pervert (no more than anyone else), or immoral (I donate to 6 charities and return lost things to their owners).
Sex is a normal part of life, and if I, as an erotic fiction author, treated it otherwise, I had no chance of influencing broader social views of erotica. And the first step to legitimacy is owning the moral ground on which you stand.
Do you think erotic fiction writers should be out and proud?
What would you think if someone you knew well admitted to being an erotic fiction author?