I was looking for some light reading and picked an e-book that boasted a modern gothic spin on my favourite childhood fairy tales. Red Riding Hood as a modern day biker! Goth my Grimm! What a great concept! I was severely disappointed to find that it was little more than an adolescent attempt at applying erotica to my favourite childhood fairy tales. Not only did the book not deliver what it said it would; it was also poorly conceived.
What gets me is that these writers were already riding on the backs of incredible stories and thus in a great position to ride right into another great story. Gothic fiction is not equivalent to erotica and erotica does not have to be equivalent to cheap and stupid. I am amazed at the use of the term ‘adult’ or ‘mature’ to the two-dimensional story-lines and characters that often make the erotica literature genre. Intelligence, including emotional intelligence, is way sexier; like all things that take more time … and effort … and imagination to get.
For example, think of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: this is a story where both the erotic and gothic successfully merged but did not beat the story to death. The story is about a vampire and his human victims, how they strive to exist and survive in the same world and how their natures clash. The Freudian metaphors in this novel are far from subtle yet the story goes without a single, sexual encounter. In this novel, the gothic and erotic were better developed because the whole story was better developed. The erotic scenes or elements actually did something to illustrate or develop the story or characters – not just as a result of oh, somebody hot showing up.
When I read the description of this e-book, I was hoping for a more kick-ass version of the damsel-in-distress archetype of Red Riding Hood, exploring a character who takes a more head-on approach to her path from innocence to maturity, and maybe even a reflection on her own primitive nature. That could have been very sexy.
Our classic fairy tales do what this fantasy-type fiction should have; compare our strangest and most impossible dreams against what we think we can’t do in our waking life regardless of whether we are emphasizing a specific genre in the telling (erotic, gothic, horror, etc.). This theory does not work with porn because that is not the purpose of this type of literature. If I was looking for porn and got a great story, instead, I’d have been just as irritated, right? Yet, this e-book seemed to aim for a hybrid between the two and, I guess, due to lack of focus, it failed.
I firmly believe that even the pulpiest writer is looking to eventually get into his/her ‘own’: the kind of stories that go beyond genre, formula or, in this case, using fiction as a tool. Because writers are artists, too.
Even as a kid, as much as I liked an entertaining, plot-driven story, it was easy to recognize the difference in the stories that momentarily distracted and the ones I cherished; these stories gave more. These cherished books weren’t all classics or critically acclaimed but they all showed a writer’s passion. Reading a person’s fiction is like stepping into the back of a person’s head. Because it’s fiction, I’m not stepping into blood, bones and brains; I’m stepping into the dream of that writer’s best craft: following a clever rabbit down his/her proverbial rabbit-hole. This is true even in the most formulated genre-fiction, if it is written well. These are the books that make the genres that other writers chase.
In fact, I think even porn could be literary. The writer just has to try! First and foremost, pornographic literature needs to have sex in it. To give its readership anything else for the sake of a better story would just by annoying. So, in that case, the best approach would be to start the story right in the act. Don’t even bother explaining who they are or how they got there. Cut out the superfluous, I always say. Dialogue? Forget that, too. Let the action speak entirely for itself and develop character and conflict based on how the players physically react to each other and their given environment. With this concept, a pornographic story can still fulfill its purpose and also provide an incredible stretch for any writer to develop a compelling story with such limitations.
I have heard that the type of erotica that I am criticizing in this blog has made a come-back in the market, bolstering fiction sales where the ‘literary’ kind has not. I must, therefore, accept that my opinion might not be the popular one. But, I ask, who cares what way the market is swinging, when, as a writer, you have a choice between making a real connection with your readers or just something you think they’ll buy? Especially when you are already working off another piece of art? Even a bad piece of art is better than not trying at all.