As I was tooling around the internet, I found this copy of a letter that Kurt Vonnegut wrote. In a nutshell, Vonnegut discusses an idea that says you cannot be a writer (or artist of any kind) in a vacuum. In every situation, he says, “It isn’t a question of finding a Messiah, but of a group’s creating one—and it’s hard work, and takes a while.”
A professor and teacher he knew, named Slotkin, described how an artistic community (or “school”) is necessary for greatness:
The school gives a man, Slotkin said, the fantastic amount of guts it takes to add to culture. It gives him morale, esprit de corps, the resources of many brains, and—maybe most important—one-sidedness with assurance. (My reporting what Slotkin said four years ago is pretty subjective—so let’s say Vonnegut, a Slotkin derivative, is saying this.) About this one-sidedness: I’m convinced that no one can amount to a damn in the arts if he becomes sweetly reasonable, seeing all sides of a picture, forgiving all sins.
The problem, according to Vonnegut, is that he can’t find a school. He writes for his agents and such. He writes to make money, even if that means being commercial rather than creative. What is his alternative if he has no school to help him pursue greatness?
The obvious alternative is, of course, something to please the Atlantic,Harpers, or the New Yorker. To do this would be to turn out something after the fashion of somebody-or-other, and I might be able to do it. I say might. It amounts to signing on with any of a dozen schools born ten, twenty, thirty years ago. The kicks are based largely on having passed off a creditable counterfeit. And, of course, if you appear in theAtlantic or Harpers or the New Yorker, by God you must be a writer, because everybody says so. This is poor competition for the fat checks from the slicks. For want of anything more tempting, I’ll stick with money.
I do not compare myself to Vonnegut, because I am not an egotistical fool. However, I understand his dilemma. While I’m not writing for the slicks, I’m writing with the intention of selling to the e-book erotica publishers that pay the highest rates. Why?
As I become more serious about writing and due to the heavy erotic element I find fascinating (not just titillating, mind you!), I can’t find a group of people who seem to be doing anything interesting with erotica.
Oh sure. There are discussions for each sub-genres within the field…but each of the sub-genres feel to be copy-and-replace variations and not real stylistic alternatives. Cut “regency” and paste “werewolves”. Cut “werewolves” and paste “corporate raiders”. While you are at it, pick a topping or two: bdsm, straight/gay, romantic, married only, etc. Finally, pick a size: flash fiction shorts, novellas, series, etc.
There are also a bazillion erotic writing forums, and most of them are filled with discussions about how much you should charge for an e-book or how much money you “should” be making.
So: Lots of discussion on how to churn out something fleshy and sexy but little discussion about pushing the boundaries of erotica…
What I can’t find is a group of writers discussing erotica that makes me sit up and be interested (no pun intended). Erotica has one purpose: to arouse the sexual senses of the reader. But that purpose can also be directed to further ends, not just simple titillation. When I think of Georges Bataille’s Story of the Eye, I think of a book that is erotic and shocking and thought provoking all at once.
Where are the people writing today’s version of Bataille’s book?
Maybe it’s a problem rooted within internet discussion? Serious and detailed discussion is nearly impossible using software that encourages browsing, skimming, and multitasking by flipping between tabs. And even if you start to generate a serious discussion, it’s difficult to manage given that a single essay can receive dozens of replies…and how can you really answer or engage them all?
And if you aren’t finding people discussing the challenges writing erotica on the internet, where else do you look for them?!?