At lunch on Saturday, my sister-in-law (one of the smartest, most well-read people I know) told me she doesn’t read fiction much anymore. “I feel like it’s a waste of time.” Her husband agreed. He hasn’t read a novel in years and has no plans to. She’s a professor of law, and he is a software engineer. These are not stupid people. They read articles relating to work, or non-fiction. She has a Kindle. He reads exclusively on the Internet.
A few weeks ago, my neighborhood had a community garage sale. Only two houses in thirty-eight had any books for sale. I sold not even a single fiction book, but the cookbooks went in record time. Consulting the other book seller, I found that he hadn’t sold any books either (until I came along and bought four). Even when offered for free at the end of the sale, no one wanted the books.
Our neighborhood book club broke up this Spring, due to a lack of interest.
This bothers me.
Maybe it disturbs me because reading is such an important part of my own life. My house would feel empty without the library full of books. Lazy Saturdays would be sad without a good novel to curl up with. I’ve learned many things from reading. I’ve found friends, sympathy, new hobbies and a love of prose that borders on worship. Reading relaxes me and takes me places nothing else does. Even still, I find it more and more difficult to find books that are well written, imaginative, and fresh. I drop in and out of Doubleday Book Club because pretty much everything they sell (all best-sellers, mind you) is the kind of crap that really IS a waste of time to read. I join when they offer five books for 99 cents and free-shipping, spend hours finding the few decent books on offer and then cancel as soon as I can.
I can’t imagine not writing fiction (though I also write a fair bit of non-fiction, and get paid much more for it) but lately I’ve thought of giving up writing erotica for the same reason my sister-in-law has given up reading fiction-the growing feeling it’s a waste of time.
What I’ve learned is that most people who still do read want it quick, easy and familiar. They want fast-food erotica (porn). Readers of erotica have gotten used to porn labeled as erotica and now want it fast and dirty with plots much like in porno films. If the point is to get off, anything else seems like a waste of time. If someone is not cumming or close to it by page two, they move on.
Many editors are like strip-mall builders. They’ve learned that people want McDonald’s, Chili’s and TGI Fridays and they give it to them. Publishers don’t care about much beside the bottom line (and if they say they do, they’re lying) so they continue to urge more of the same on editors and writers and the world at large. Porn is big business, and they want a part of the action. Literary erotica is dying out right along with mom and pop stores and book clubs.
I won’t write porn because I don’t like it. I don’t care how well written it is (and some of it isn’t terrible), it’s still basic, like a quarter-pounder or your corner Walmart’s garden center. It’s still about as challenging and thought provoking as a comic book or the latest Danielle Steele best-seller. It’s still about inserting part A into part B and cumming as fast as you can.
I once wrote a story that I spent hours on, days even. I worked it over at least twenty times. In the end, I think it is one of the best things to ever come from my pen. But, I knew the publisher interested in my work probably wouldn’t take it. It was too good. Seriously. So, I spent about twenty minutes writing something else, something I knew they would like. I didn’t even edit it. It was my own little experiment. What happened was exactly what I thought would happen-the publisher loved my tossed off nothing of a story (which was at least funny) but thought the literary piece was way above the head’s of their readers. Sad. Sad. Sad. It didn’t make me feel any better to hear that every editor involved in the reading group at the publisher thought my other piece (the good one) was one the the best works of erotica they’d ever read. No one would get to read it in one of their books.
By reducing sex to a catalog of parts and an accepted set of behaviors in a format as easy to handle as eating a bag of chips, readers distance themselves from the emotions of sex. This enables people to hide from themselves while feeling daring and worldly. But that’s another topic.
So, I’m still writing. I am working on a new novel and one day would like to finish my Oliver series. But, the days of agonizing over characterizations, fresh approaches and every single word of prose in my erotica may be over. It’s a waste of time.