Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Literary Smut" Goes Mainstream in Time Magazine

In Time Magazine this week there's an interesting article by Katie Arnold-Ratliff that talks about erotica, titled "(At Least) Fifty Shades of Erotica." I can't link because I read this in the print edition...yes I still have a few print magazine subscriptions (gasp) and I'm going to continue to renew them until I can't anymore.

For the people who read blogs like mine, and other blogs like this, the article says nothing new. In fact, it's about as "new" as power steering. But, it's one of the first and few times I've actually seen a mainstream magazine address the concept/word "smut." Or erotic romance for that matter. Up until recently, the entire sub-genre was usually laughed at.

For further proof, ask publishers of erotica and "romantica," which adds graphic, often S&M-tinged sex to traditional romance-novel formulas. These books have spiked sharply since Fifty Shades fever hit this spring, suggestimg that for readers new to erotica, James's work isn't a one-off experiment but a gateway drug.

Of course it's not hard to believe that most of the mainstream doesn't know what's been happening in e-publishing and erotic romance for the past five years...or longer in some cases. I've been writing erotic romance and erotica for twenty years. But it is interesting how the mainstream media is just picking up on it. I would have thought differently. And I find myself constantly wondering: where the hell have they been while all this has been happening on the Interwebs? Seriously!

"We're having a kinky moment," says Brenda Knight, associate publisher of the sex-focused Cleis Press, where erotic-book sales have tripled in the past five months. But Kinky contains multitudes, so specialization is key. The advent of the e-reader has brought a deluge of quickie digital erotica...a smorgasbord of hyperspecific smut.

A few years ago there was a *huge* discussion about the word "smut." Oh, the literary types went berserk at just the mention of smut. One rather prominent romance author seemed stunned. I watched readers and authors attack other authors and readers who addmitted they were writing smut. And what I didn't understand about the entire kerfuffle was that only a few seemed to get that the word smut is merely an offhanded term often used to describe erotica or erotic romance. It has nothing to do with "traditional" romances, nor is it a threat to "traditional" romances. It's not a literal word, at least not as literal as the word porn. It's not meant to be taken as a literal word either. Smut is more of a concept that covers a great deal of ground than anything else. And this article in Time Magazine validates this one fact for me. And I'm sure the author of the article didn't even know she was doing this.

The one thing she didn't mention in the article was m/m erotic romance...or m/m anything. This might sound silly, but I personally think it's a good thing. I never went into the genre to become the next "literary" trend. And frankly, I'm hoping that m/m erotic romance and erotica doesn't ever go that mainstream. I think it would kill the genre as we know it in many ways. The most devoted readers to m/m erotic romance and erotica are, indeed, serious readers. From what I've learned, most of them are discreet as well. And with that discretion brings a certain amount of secret pleasure that people don't often like the share with the world. I often feel that way as a writer in this genre. I get a little freaked out by things I see and read on the Interwebs at least two or three times a week. But to find out that Bret Easton Ellis jumped onto the band wagon and started writing m/m erotic romance or erotica would probably cause the top of my head to explode.

But I could be wrong about that. M/M erotic romance might become the next trend when the mainstream gets tired of FSoG books. I already know of a few mainstream authors writing m/m fiction with pen names because they think it's popular. I just thought it was interesting to read about all this in Time Magazine, of all places, in an article that speaks of erotic romance in a general sense as if it were just invented. I'll bet a lot of pioneer e-publishers like loveyoudivine.com smile when they hear things like this. I know I did.

3 comments:

Kathy H said...

I read BDSM erotica and romance I am not happy with 50 Shades. 1. the idea that idiots are out there experimenting with implements they have no idea how to use or what damage they can inflict makes me crazy. I have been involved in kink for many years and I don't like the new attention being given to BDSM. 2. It is definitely not the best representation of the genre.

I hope m/m can remain under the mainstream radar.

Rebecca Leigh said...

Interesting article, I might have to pick up the Time edition to read it. Also the title is interesting especially since we know someone who is publishing a book by a similar name. I've been proud to writ "smut" probably because the person who gave me my start has always called it that. I agree about m/m too . . . I'd like this to stay our communities' secret obsession!

ryan field said...

@Kathy...I think BDSM has always been popular...in secret. FSoG just seemed to open it up to the public. Even within the gay community it's kept quiet. When I wrote the Jonah Sweet book I actually talked to a friend who has a "playroom" and he's very discreet about it.

@Rebecca...I know who you're talking about and I agree 100%. The concept of smut isn't a slur against anything. It's just a way to describe something in a more specific way.