Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Eye of the Beholder

By Brenna Lyons Someone asked me recently if you could go “too far” in writing erotic work, besides the obvious lines of pedophilia and bestiality. My short answer was “of course,” but this is a subject that I think requires the long answer. And what is that?

Going “too far” is a very subjective thing, and my initial question is: “Too far for what?”

Can you go too far for a particular reader’s comfort zone? Absolutely. This is the most common way to go “too far.” No individual book will be universally loved or hated, no matter how much an author loves his/her own book. Even with established audience for your books, you can certainly push individual readers past their comfort zones.

Technically speaking, pushing readers to the edge and even beyond the edge isn’t a bad thing. But pushing a large portion of your established audience past the comfort zone several times in a row may be. Since I write everything from straight genre through romance and erotica, I provide a convenient rating scale on my site to help readers find the books that will appeal.

If you--like me--write in a broad spectrum, it’s often helpful to shuffle the offerings. A drastic change in style and/or content that lasts for three or more books in a row may convince the readers that you’ve changed permanently, in which case, they may move on and stop checking back on your releases. That is never a good thing.

Can you venture past your own comfort zones? Absolutely. In fact, authors will often find that writing solid characters means allowing those characters to do things you, as an author, wouldn’t do and/or have no interest in doing. This extends past sexual choices into realms like the code of ethics or logic that a character utilizes; those have to be true to character but not necessarily match the author’s own. How to balance that and deal with it is a very personal thing.

Can you write something that is beyond a publisher’s comfort zone? All too easily. I often find that a work I thought would fit Publisher A is too hot...or not hot enough...or hits some nit that makes it unsuitable for A and therefore I offer it to B or C. Prolific authors that write more than a single style, genre, or heat level may well find it a necessity to have more than one publisher.

And then, of course, you have the laws. The laws are a tricky one, though.

In the US, the laws on kiddie porn, for instance, are very strict. But where do you draw the line? If you’re writing a historical, at a time and place when it wasn’t unusual for a 15-year-old girl to be married off, is it still kiddie porn to write that such a girl was married off and produced children soon after for her husband? In her time, she was considered an adult, after all. What about a non-human character and a non-Earth setting? If the character is adult by the laws of his/her time and place, is it still in violation?

Many publishers would agree that the point is to have a character that is physically, emotionally, socially, and mentally an adult, in whatever setting is relayed. Others would set the artificial line of 18, whether the character is a modern teen, a historical lass, one of Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Apollites (who are adult at 12 or 13 and have a lifespan of 27)...but ironically not one of my fairies (who are not adult until the age of 125 and would appear as human 6 year olds at 18). A fuzzy line, at best.

Complicating the matters further, in this time of a global publishing industry, the laws do not agree worldwide. What is legal in the UK or Japan is illegal in the US. Authors abroad who write for US publishers must adhere to US laws, but what about US authors writing for UK markets? Sadly, chances are there will be lawsuits to decide that matter.

So, can you go “too far?” Absolutely, depending on who is writing the bar, and perception is in the eye of the reader or law.

Coming in December from Loose Id!

Brenna Lyons wears many hats, sometimes all on the same day: president of EPIC, author of more than 80 published works, teacher, wife, mother... She's a member of ERWA, MWW, IWOFA, MFRW, WPM, and Broad Universe.

Brenna writes in 21 established worlds plus stand-alones (for between 6 and 8 publishers, at any given time), poetry, articles and essays. She's a bestseller in indie/e fantasy and horror, straight genre and cross-genres thereof. Brenna has been termed "one of the most deviant erotic minds in the publishing world...not for the weak."

Visit her at brennalyons.com

(From Lisabet)

Thanks for all your comments! After the Grand Opening, I'll normally try to comment in return. However, to help me keep contest entries straight, I'll keep quiet during the next two weeks!

Also, I'll notify the daily winner privately. I'll post a list of all winners on the 28th when I pick the grand prize winner.


lindseye said...

I find my comfort zone has been expanded the more I read and things I might have found eye-opening 2 or 3 years ago are now not worth mentioning. I do appreciate when an author or a web site attempts to provide guidelines that are easy to interpret so I know what I am getting. I am never unhappy with too much detail. What I find annoying is an author who will make a point in the story about how depraved someone is in thought or deed and provide no details. Is the author worried I will be disgusted or amused by her concept of depraved?

Tamsyn said...

In many parts of Asia, people marry as young as 14 and have kids the next year. Everything is subjective and I can imagine that it is difficult for a writer to say whether a book's contents is pushing the readers' comfort zone.

LuAnn said...

As long as a book states it's heat level, I think that would give readers the choice of whether or not they would feel comfortable reading it. I'm pretty open to most writing, but I do know some readers who can easily become offended. I recently purchased a used book in which the previous owner crossed out any cuss words they ran across, even such innocuous words as "hell" and "damn." Yet, they seemed to have no issues with the parts of the book that referred to the main characters openly gay neighbors. Go figure!

Sweet Vernal Zephyr said...

Whoa - I guess I never went so far as to think about the laws governing authors... that is a whole new level of walking the line.

Your rating scale is great! I know I love it when wine is rated and now your books are too... lol so I better know what to expect. It kinda sucks to get an oaky chardonnay when you are looking for a light white.;)


Judy said...

A very interesting post!! I knew the laws were there in different countries, but did not know they were so different in some of the countries. I always thought that they might be stricter in the United States.

Jennifer Mathis said...

I'm with luAnn as long as there is a warning level so I might know what to expect then I think everyone has a right to choose.

Wendy said...

I love the idea of a rating heat level....I would probably usually go for the highest level but I dont like uncomfortable issues...especially when it involves children. I do see the issue though with the historical and futuristic novels. I would think you would just have to write to the times so to speak. I mean look at the huge jump in gay romance novels. I didnt notice so many of them say 10-12 years ago. I think people just werent comfortable with it. Now that has changed...well ...some people still arent comfortable with it. But, they dont have to read it then right? Great blog btw@!!!

Sherry said...

I honestly can say that I had never thought about this before and how hard it would have to be on an author all I can say is that from what I've seen authors do and excellent jog. The only books that I've read that make me uncomfortable are the ones dealing with BDSM sometimes they go out of my comfort zone and I skip the parts that I don't really enjoy.

booklover0226 said...

I enjoyed the interview; it was quite interesting. I've never read a book that I felt "went too far", though...

Tracey D

Estella said...

Great post!
I don't thonk I've ever read a book that went too far.

Stacey Smith said...

So far I think that my Horizons get wider as I age.and grow in to new things.I can see that it would be hard to know how far is to far for some people.
Happy Holidays

BrennaLyons said...

Thanks. Yes, the laws conflicting from place to place might just be the hardest to deal with, in the long run. I don't think anyone wants to be the test case, and I can't blame them for that.

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