What’s racier? Who determines that?
When I first started writing, my “rules” for what could and couldn’t be done between the sheets, err, pages of a romance novel were distilled from what I read, which was primarily lesbian romance and mystery. I wrote within those limitations for the first half dozen books or so because I was sure they were acceptable to the publisher (Naiad Press). Over time I broke a few of the rules, but in very subtle ways.
Fast forward from the mid-80s to the mid- to late 90s and sex writing for, by, about lesbians had come into its own as a genre. It was clearly not to be confused with romance. The “rules” I discerned from that genre were quite different, and they were much more fluid.
So, for me, my “racier” is whatever wasn’t on the original list of “rules” I wrote for myself years ago. And that includes a whole lot of verbs and certain nouns. What’s “racy” to me isn’t necessarily what would be “racy” to anyone else.
I didn’t start writing explicit erotica until the last few years, and published several short stories with various publishers. I realized that to me it felt as if there was a literal chasm between romance and erotica that could be bridged. For example, very few erotica stories are about long-term couples where romance is an essential ingredient to the passion. The creation of the Bella After Dark imprint was Linda Hill’s response to both writers and readers who were asking for edgier sex without abandoning the kind of characters and quality they expected from Bella writers.
Some writers, especially new ones, are wary of being “branded” by a label that excludes her from one market or the other (ala the erotica reader who won’t touch romance and vice versa). To them, my advice is write LOTS. Being labeled is just about unavoidable. Not only will publishers and bookstores want to label you for ease of marketing, but so do readers so they can talk about your work. The more you write, the more opportunities you will have to stretch the labels, move around them, tweak and transcend them.
When I began writing explicit erotica one of my goals was to get my name into the reader’s head under the “hot sex stuff” heading regardless of whether they had read any of my sci-fi, fantasy or romance novels. I want multiple entries in the relational database of the reader’s mind. But I also understand that there are readers who will not cross genres. After all, it’s their time and money. After All the Wrong Places came out I got emails that said they didn’t like the sex or the raw language (and a review from a lesbian who said it was “depraved”!) and others that said they didn’t like the smarmy relationship thing. Fortunately, however, most people said that in spite of that thing they didn’t like, they still enjoyed the read.
Since I strive to please myself (and I did with that book) and to please “most” of my readers, I’m happy with the response. Know, too, that I am an out and proud genre fiction writer. It’s what I do. All of my experience and advice revolves around that truth.
There is one other aspect about writing “racy” content that I won’t ignore, mostly to let other writers know they aren’t alone. There’s actually research into the dynamics of creativity and the link between creative arousal and sexual arousal (as in, yes, there is a link) is real. They both work the pleasure center when all goes well.
I think since each person experiences pleasure differently, the way we physically react to the Joy of Writing is going to be different, too. I will own that, when I made my faux pas with the Queen’s English and said I often broke writer’s block by “tossing off” some erotica it wasn’t that far from the truth! From time to time I’ve been known to ask the keyboard “was it good for you?”