Discussion: ‘The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.’ Guest Eden Baylee.

I’m delighted to welcome Author Eden Baylee to the discussion. This is the final post in the month long series, thanks to all of you for participating.

   The discussion from the original post in 2011.

As sex exists today as it has since the beginning of time, I’d say it’s absolutely relevant in literature. If I didn’t think it was, I wouldn’t be writing contemporary erotica.

We all know that sex sells, but even in the genre I write, more sex does not necessarily make the story better. Given this, I’d like to approach the question a bit differently and ask “To what extent should sexual content be included in literature?”

What guides me in answering this question is simple. Does sex contribute to the story? If it’s included to develop the characters, then it’s relevant. If it’s a gratuitous scene that adds nothing to advance the plot, then it should be edited out. Sex without context is meaningless. Not only does it detract from the story, but it could also turn the reader off. Why? Readers are not fools, and they don’t like to be treated as such.

I’ll illustrate this point by using the medium of film.

Let’s start with car chases as representative of sex in literature.

Everyone loves a good car chase scene. It’s exciting, gets your heart racing, and should move the plot forward (even if only metaphorically). Some of the best car chases I’ve seen are from movies such as: Ronin; The Bourne Identity; The French Connection; and the classic—Bullitt.

Why did I like these films? Because they had a plot and characters I cared about. There was an intricate storyline that involved more than just a speeding car, but when the car chase did happen, it was integral to the plot. I didn’t feel as if the director added it as an afterthought or filler to make the movie more “saleable.”

That’s exactly how I view sex in literature. Page after page of sex is like watching a two-hour car chase on the big screen. Though it may be exciting for a little while, it quickly becomes tedious if you can’t answer some basic questions: Who are these people? What have they done? Why are they being chased?

In a well-made film, the requirement for car chases is balanced with the need to advance the story. This is the same balance needed for sex within literature. If you can’t answer the questions: Who are these people? Why are they having sex? Why are they having this type of sex? Then my prediction is you really won’t give a damn why they’re having sex at all.

The second point is realism. Any work of fiction is only successful to the extent that the audience can willfully suspend their disbelief. When the filmmaker pushes too far, the work fails—the same goes for authors, especially when it comes to writing sex. Most adults have experienced sex. For this reason alone, it’s essential to keep it real. The challenge is to write it in a way that is creative and yet sensual. Maintaining believability means characters are not engaging in acrobatic moves that even a contortionist could not muster. It’s sex, not gymnastics! Unless your writing involves the paranormal or shape-shifters, characters should not possess superhuman powers when having sex. That includes the frequency, type, and amount of sex they have.

The third comparison to film is genre. If you watch a comedy, you expect to laugh. If you watch a horror movie, you expect to be scared. The same expectations are inherent in literature. No matter what genre you write in, there is opportunity to include sex in your story—if it’s appropriate. Expanding on the car chase analogy, inclusion of one in a “heist” film would be expected, but not so for a mystery or science fiction film unless it makes sense to the story.

Erotica is a genre that obviously contains sexual content. Often misunderstood, some equate it to pornography, thereby discrediting it as nothing more than “just” sex. Because of this negative association, some writers of erotica have taken to calling themselves romance or erotica/romance authors—myself included. It’s not that I think romance is more credible or respected as a genre, but it does give me a wider audience. Some readers want more sex than is provided in the “happily ever after” romance novels. Good erotica delivers more sex—along with a strong storyline, riveting plot, and interesting characters.

It’s important to know what you’re getting when you buy something, and perhaps that’s the main reason to define the genres. At the heart of it though, does it matter if you call yourself a romance author, erotica author, or author of fiction who writes with strong erotic elements? I think not. Call yourself what you like, but if you are writing sex in literature today—do it for the right reasons: To draw your readers into the plot of the story; to arouse them to connect to your characters; and finally, to have them fully commit to your book, awaiting the next one with bated breath.

Eden’s update. 2016.

 

When the lovely Suzanna Burke, asked me to pen an update to an article I wrote for her series, “The Relevance of Sex In Literature in 2011,” I was shocked to realize how much time had passed.

I don’t usually re-read my old blogs because they tend to sound dated. Either my writing style has changed, or new information has come to light since its writing. In this case, I re-read the article only to provide myself with context. In the process, I made an interesting discovery. It was as if I were reading my words for the very first time. The post still resonated with me—five years later!

Of course, much has changed since I wrote that piece, both in the world of literature and in my own writing. What did not surprise me though, is that “sex is still relevant in literature,” and I’d wager that if Suzanna asked me to update my thoughts again in five years, I would give the same answer.

As long as we live, serious literature must at least acknowledge that sex exists. How this acknowledgment insinuates itself into the pages of a book is up to the author. Not all writing about sex will be good. For example, when I wrote my first article, Fifty Shades of Gray had not yet been released. Since then, opinions on the book have run the gamut. It’s been called:

The best thing for the erotica industry

A book that will get women in touch with their sexuality

A misogynist tale that has turned back the women’s movement

A dangerous and inaccurate representation of the BDSM lifestyle

The worst thing for the erotica industry

 

Confession time.

I never read past page 98 of the first book, so I won’t speak to the merits of the story. What I can say is the book came along at a time when people were open to a dialogue about sexuality. Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook made it possible for everyone to voice their opinions. Good or bad, the book allowed for conversation about sexuality, and denial that it existed was futile. Everyone was talking about it. It may have taken a popular (if not a great) book to kick-start the conversation, but it was a conversation, nonetheless.

I’m a firm believer that myths can only be debunked when we talk about them. This is especially true on the topic of sexuality, which is still a taboo subject for many. An open dialogue goes a long way to creating understanding and stamping out ignorance. Even if we agree to disagree, we can no longer remain in the dark.

My hope is the conversation continues.

 

+++

Eden’s updated bio:

Since penning several books of erotica, Eden Baylee has expanded her writing to the mystery and suspense genres.

In 2014, she launched the first novel of her trilogy with Dr. Kate Hampton—a psychological mystery/suspense called STRANGER AT SUNSET. She is now working on the next two books in the series.

Eden still writes erotica when given the opportunity, and many of her stories, regardless of genre, will continue to explore the basic human characteristics of love, hate, and sexuality.

Connect to her via her: Website | Twitter @edenbaylee | Facebook

 

edeneden 3

‘Talent Spotter’ #3.

Welcome to Talent Spotter #3. Again I’m delighted to welcome a marvelous collection of Authors.

If you care to join in and wish to be promoted on Talent Spotters, the details are at the conclusion of this post.

Please …Welcome, Author Kristen Stone.

             If the world hadn’t changed –

2019. Great Britain prepares for the election of a new prime minister, but just how great is this green and pleasant land? Who holds the power? Can the working man ever affect real change? Or are we destined to repeat the mistakes of the past in a perpetual re-telling of history. As today’s disenchanted, yearn for a rose-tinted yesteryear, the Smith family simply wish for a life without poverty and suppression, a world without the threat of war and disease in which they and their children might flourish amid fairness and equality. But things are rarely that simple… In this unique dystopian glimpse at a world unchanged by labour laws or advances in technology, we discover just how un-halcyon our days would actually be -If The World Ha’tdn Chagned.

 

 A dystopian future … Entrenched in the past.

Historical notes

Not until 1918 were all men given the vote. 1918 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, so this act was never passed.

 You will find Kirsten Stone on each of the following links

KINDLE UK http://dld.bz/eEmcG

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B&N NOOK http://dld.bz/eErpp

 Paperback is available at Lulu and coming everywhere else soon.

Please …  Welcome, Author, David Rix.

Talent Spotter David Rix COVER.jpg

A Suite in Four Windows

A fusion of modernist music and horror story.

Four Windows.  Four View of the city from the Haunted House.  Four music students working hard to analyse a unique and extraordinary musical composition.  Four minds about to take a ride through derangement and beyond as the clouds gather over the city of London.  From The Night of the Electric Insects through the Songs of Bones and Flutes all the way to God Music and the return trip, George Crumb’s Black Angels paints a unique picture of good and evil, madness and ethereality.  But listen too hard to it and it can do things to you – especially as the skies turn yellow and lightning flickers like burning alcohol in the distance.  As the sounds shriek out into the night, who shall fly and who shall fall?  Who shall look up and who shall look down?  And when the music whispers into silence – what shall be left?

Contact David,  on the following link.

 http://www.snugglybooks.co.uk/a-suite-in-four-windows/

Please … Welcome, Author, Chuck Lovatt.

“The Adventures of Charlie Smithers”

Talent Spotter Cover Chuck Lovatt.png

THE NUMBER 1 BEST-SELLER!

Harry Flashman, step aside, old son. Make way for Charlie Smithers.

“Poetic prose and humorous undertones that are wildly entertaining.” ~ Serious Reading

The time is the nineteenth century. The place, the Serengeti Plain, where one Charlie Smithers – faithful manservant to the arrogant bone-head, Lord Brampton (with five lines in Debrett, and a hopeless shot to boot) – becomes separated from his master during an unfortunate episode with an angry rhinoceros, thereby launching Charlie on an odyssey into Deepest Darkest Africa, and subsequently into the arms of the beautiful Loiyan…and that’s where the trouble really begins.

Maasai warriors, xenophobic locals, or evil Arab slavers, the two forbidden lovers encounter everything that the unforgiving jungle can throw at them.

“A truly engaging read that will keep anyone’s attention from the hilarious beginning until the last word. I highly recommend this 5 star novel.” ~ Chapters & Chats

PURCHASE ON THIS LINK.

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Please … Welcome, Author Taylor Morgan, writing as Phoenix L. James.

Talent Spotter Fifteen Shards of Broken Glass Cover

“One choice can change your life…”

Rising from the ashes of her shattered past, Annie Clarke finds redemption in an unlikely place where she has a second chance to start over. With a sense of justice burning within, Annie’s mission is to rescue her little sister. But Annie’s journey is thwart with danger as secrets, lies and corruption seem to prevent her from ever knowing true happiness. Detective Oliver Bradley follows his heart – not the rules. As a third generation New York City police officer, Oliver is tortured by a past that he keeps secret. Living a lonely life, Oliver’s heart leads him astray. When his path crosses Annie Clarke’s, she causes him to rethink and question everything he ever knew about the law. Can Annie and Oliver rescue Annie’s little sister and extract justice from the corrupt system before the one man who has manipulated their lives destroys their future? “A story of healing, courage, love, and strength to rise above adversity and defy the odds. A must read that will touch the human.

This book is also available in Large Print.

PURCHASE THE BOOK HERE.

 

Please … Welcome, Author, RICHARD MCSTAY

SURVIVORS OF FLIGHT 387

Talent Spotter Cover Richard McStay.png

A mechanic who’s been to prison and a highly skilled plastic surgeon are certainly an unlikely match. Richard Buchanan, wrongfully convicted, is now looking for a new start by taking a job in China. Dr. Susan Ryan is taking a break from her controlling family and fiance to do some charity work in Bangladesh. But their plans go awry when their plane crashes into the Pacific and they are the only survivors. Only their ingenuity in building a make-shift raft from debris keeping them alive. After a week of eating raw fish and battling the weather and sharks, they reach a small island, thinking they’ve returned to civilization. But they’re wrong – they only find more problems. They get to know each other and fall in love as they fight off storms, injuries, and drug-dealing pirates who want them dead. If they succeed in returning to civilization, can they also fight public opinion opposing their love?

Purchase Richard’s work on the following links.

 

 

And take a look at:

“Acts Beyond Redemption” My Book. Author S. Burke.

Amazon Cover

“For those that enjoy a gripping, fast-paced, Psychological, Thriller. Buckle in … It’s one hell of a ride? Reviewer on Amazon.

In Book 1 of the ‘Unintended Consequences’ series Acts Beyond Redemption takes you on a twisted, deadly ,journey.

Mike Matheson is head of a Special Task Force set up by the F.B.I to track down and apprehend the serial killers responsible for 18 brutal murders.

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Revealing it and those that set it in motion would bring the most powerful country on earth to its knees. The corridors of power shake.

Who will be buried in the shattered remains of a country where freedom and honor are treasured above all things?

Just how far will those elected to protect and defend go, to keep the American dream alive?

Available here on Amazon.

If you care to have YOUR work promoted here, please email me … at  suzieb4burke@hotmail.com  Please include the following,  Your Book cover. Back cover blurb. And all contact and purchase links. Most important … please note “Talent Spotter” in the subject line.

I may also be contacted on TWITTER @pursoot

 

Discussion: “The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.” My guest today Sessha Batto.

cover for Relevance Sessha

I’m delighted to have Sessha Batto as my guest today. Please join in the discussion by leaving your comments.

2016

To be honest, I didn’t think I would have much to add to my thoughts of five years ago…and then I realized that indeed, there are some troubling new currents in erotic writing. The first of these is authenticity. Lately there have been a rash of blog posts calling out author after author for being inauthentic. This can mean anything from portraying men in a way that strikes the reader as feminine, or not including safe sex as a necessity. Some readers may indeed, turn away from these stories. But, bottom line, it is the writer’s story, not the reader’s. The author can write any story they want, from any point of view, and include or exclude such modern day staples as safe sex, and that is alright. It is fiction, not reality. Fiction can take any path, no matter how dark or transgressive. It can explore consequences of these paths, or not. Either is valid because the only thing that matters is that the story plays out the way the author intended.

 

The other topic which has been hitting my hot button of late is diversity. Again, bloggers have been quick to punish authors for both including and excluding people unlike themselves. Some say you cannot write other races, others proclaim that you must. Some say women cannot write men having sex, that men can’t write women in love. Again, this is all codswallop. Writers do not experience everything they write about. If they did fiction would be hugely boring, a dull parade of workaday trivia and bland interactions. Of course we write outside ourselves, outside our race, outside our sex, outside of our tiny worlds. Why? Because it is there that understanding lies. It is at the margins that we see the truth. It is in seeing through the author’s eyes we can truly see the highs and lows of experiences we will never have.

 

2011

I’m in a confessional sort of mood, so I’ll start by saying this topic has had me floundering for weeks. I must have written fifty pages . . . and then erased them. Then it hit me, the one word that derailed me each and every time, relevance. Only one person can decide whether or not sex is relevant in a piece of literature, and that is the author. Anything else is merely one opinion. You may like or dislike a piece, but only the author knows the story they are trying to tell. Whether it succeeds or fails is always a matter of debate. Art is, after all, subjective. I definitely don’t believe anyone has the right to censor an author’s words, no matter how offensive I may find them. Yes, there are things I find offensive (seriously, there are . . . just not much), and I exercise my right to choose not to read those topics. Once you allow censorship it opens a dangerous door, who knows what will next be considered inappropriate? I certainly don’t want my writing constrained by any limits other than my own.

Since relevance is in the eye of the author, all I can really talk about is why I think sex is an essential aspect of my own writing. Now, before you start screaming about ‘the children, the children’ – nothing I’m going to say is intended for anyone under eighteen, although, frankly, I don’t have any problem with children reading about sex. I live in a city full of pregnant teenagers and, believe me, they did not have sex because of something they read. That honor goes to the media that bombards them daily – television, music, advertising, video games, those are the most powerful influences on today’s youth.

I should come clean – I write erotica, explicit gay erotica. Before I go any further, let me clarify. I’m talking about sex in all its permutations, from barely consensual sexual torture to tender lovemaking and the entire gamut in between. My only real boundaries are no children and no women. I write about men exclusively because of the wonderful shifts of power and control possible in a same sex relationship . . . and because I love men. No offense to the ladies, but I don’t think I could explore the same boundaries of pleasure and pain without seeming overly abusive, and that is at the core of everything I write. Beyond that, there is something wonderfully vulnerable and revealing about the decision to relinquish power, and the potent eroticism of two strong, powerful men being tender with each other.

Remember the old ads in the back of comic books for x-ray specs? For me, sex is my x-ray specs. It strips a character down to his core truth and spotlights who they are with far more accuracy than pages of exposition ever could. Sex is the ultimate act of trust. Who we trust, why, and to what extent reveals much of our psyche that we would normally keep hidden. Sex is the catalyst for revealing hidden baggage, all the events and experiences we think are safely buried but which bubble to the surface under pressure. Our kinks highlight our transgressive natures, throwing into clear definition the whys and hows of our alienation from society in general. In short, it’s the knife I wield to cut to the truth. What knife do you use?

Sessha Batto Website.

 

 

Discussion: “The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016”

Please join in the discussion with today’s guest, Maxwell Cynn.

Discussion sex

It is hard to believe it’s been five years, Soooz. Thanks for asking me back. Most of what I wrote in the post below still holds true today, though in the wake of fifty shades of everything the lines between “mainstream fiction” and hard core adult erotica have been smashed. The books and stories my wife once called porn are tame in comparison to YA romance today, and some of the current erotic literature is so graphic even an old smut writer like myself is appalled.

But I still believe it is the place of writers and publishers, not would be censors, to categorize and market their work. In todays market self-publishing is more and more common, which gives artists more creative freedom than ever—but also more responsibility. As content producer and publisher we choose how we market our work and to whom. It is our call if we promote a Triple-X narrative as YA romance or mark it as 18+.

Today there are no taboo subjects or editorial censors applied to literature. Anything goes and sex sells. It has been a long time since I’ve heard anyone even suggest parental labels or censorship. Sellers, like Amazon or B&N, have placed some restrictions on marketing by removing clearly adult content that is not marked as such. But slap on an 18+ tag and you can write anything. To me that is reasonable.

Some may say that the 18+ label is in itself a form of Parental Warning Label which I wrote against. To me, it is more akin to the old brick and mortar sellers who had a section in the back for adult lit. I think most writers of adult lit and erotica will agree the 18+ tag is often more of a marketing tool than censorship. If I’m looking for erotica I’m not searching YA on Amazon, I’m going straight to the adult section and searching 18+.

I do, however, continue to believe we have saturated mainstream literature with adult themes to the point nothing shocks anymore. The sweet little erotic romances I once wrote are tame even in the teen market these days, and I considered them to be purely Adult Only when I published them. By the same token I could not compete in today’s adult market trying to sell my works as erotica, they are too prudish, but I refuse to market erotica to teens. In a way I have censored myself by removing all my adult titles from the market.

As I warned in my earlier post, we have pushed the limits to the point that our words become impotent. The teen sex scene in a YA novel is just another scene the reader has read time and again, and watched more vividly in movies or on cable, and perhaps even experienced first hand. There is no power in our words to draw emotions from our reader or provoke thought. I mourn the lost days of innocence when a heroine’s sideline fantasy of her hero’s kiss could make a reader blush with anticipation.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but when we live in a world where anything goes, and often does, there is little left in the writer’s arsenal to shock and awe the reader. Today sex in literature is as mundane as characters sitting at the table talking. Eros has lost his magic and we have lost the power and beauty of erotic prose.

The original post in 2011.

Maxwell Cynn

Should Books Have Parental Warning Labels?

Thank you, Soooz for letting me come on your blog and rant a bit.

Censorship is ever a contentious issue in art. We bring it on ourselves: pushing the limits, trying to be hip, begging attention by being controversial. “It’s art!” is the general cry–when someone pisses in a glass or takes a picture of something in their arse. When Hemingway, and those of his generation, fought with publishers it was about the odd curse word. Hemingway wanted his dialog and prose to be real–the way people actually speak. When romance writers battled against the censors they wanted to show the sensual side of romance. But those battles were over long ago.

Today I can drop the f-bomb in a book or on my blog without anyone batting an eye. I can describe scenes that would make a nun wet or a hooker blush without fear of being arrested. But still some people push the limits. When I first started writing romance my wife accused me of writing porn. But current YA romance makes what I write seem quaint and almost prudish, and teenagers are reading it without blushing. So writers and artists go to unbelievable extremes to be controversial, and then people scream for censorship.

There will always be those who wish to draw a line and keep everyone behind it. The line itself is arbitrary and changes with generations. And there will always be those who seem compelled to step over that line if only because it is there. But there is a difference between being true to our art and being controversial simply for the sake of controversy. Hemingway wanted characters to speak as men speak (he actually had a battle over the word “swell” because it was slang–not proper English) and romantics wanted to portray love as couples truly loved, without resorting to euphemism and purple prose.

The only good censorship is that which we impose on ourselves, for the truth of our art, not that which we impose on others. I often write fairly provocative erotic romance. In the context of those stories I feel it is beautiful and expressive. I enjoy fine erotic art for the same reasons. But I also write hard science fiction, fantasy, and romance, among other things. There is a different standard, a different feel in mainstream fiction.

In a recent manuscript set in the 1920s the dialog I wrote contained virtually no cursing. That fit the sensibilities of the period, the characters, and the setting. I threw the f-bomb into a scene that was very intense and violent. It fit, and added powerful emotion to the scene. The hero and heroine never kiss, until the scene where he proposes to her, and not even the professional girls venture beyond a ‘PG’ rating in their flirtatious behavior. Yet the story is at times highly romantic, the heroine is extremely sensual, and the villains are harsh and violent. It is an adult novel.

When we use sex, language, or violence simply to shock and stir controversy it lessens our art. It also lessens the impact of our words. When a villain in the above novel says, “I’m gonna stomp your ass and fuck your girlfriend,” it’s a shock to the reader. When the hero drops the f-bomb in the midst of an intense and violent scene the reader feels that intensity along with the hero’s fear and frustration. The words have power because they are rare and unexpected.

In the same way, less is more when it comes to sex in literature. If the romantic lead goes down on the heroine in the first few pages what is left for the remainder? Sexual tension is best achieved by no sex at all–the desire, the need, the longing, restricted and contained at every turn. Anticipation builds to a long awaited and often denied climax, yet if that climax becomes common place, mundane, there is no anticipation, but only rote predictable outcomes. His tongue slips over her clit yet again, yada, yada, yawn–let’s move on with the story.

And so we are left with only the most graphic, deviant, kinky scenes with which to titillate our readers, and the would-be censors scream foul. Sex has lost its power and our words are left limp and impotent. Sex in literature is like anything else we write–too much lessens the value of all. The same happens with violence, blood, and gore. Readers become desensitized, writers ramp it up to new levels, and censors try to establish new lines of defense.

I never want to see Parental Advisory labels slapped on the cover of books, nor publishers attempt to censor Free Speech, but writers do bear responsibility for their words whether they wish to admit it or not. With YA, and even Middle Grade fiction taking on ever more mature tone, Adult and Erotic fiction push the extremes to compensate. Writers are why the sensibilities of censors are inflamed. When teen heroes are slinging f-bombs and teen heroines are playing the slut it’s hard to blame parents for being upset with contemporary fiction.

Writers need to understand that by flooding literature with more sex, more graphic language, more violence, and more controversy we dilute the power of our own words. We must censor ourselves or be censored by others. Throwing our characters in bed is cheap and easy, while not letting them quite get that far may be more difficult it is far more powerful and often more erotic. Mama used to say that people curse because they have a weak vocabulary. I implore my fellow writers to use your words. Set limits on your characters and make them strain against the bonds.

Disclaimer: Of course none of this has anything to do with Literary Erotica, which is all about the sex. The above diatribe concerns mainstream fiction. Erotica is by definition pure eroticism–the triple X of the literary world. I write that too, and enjoy reading it as well. But as purely adult entertainment, different standards apply. Erotica is already branded as Adult Only and often resigned to a child proof section in book stores. Should all books with sexual content be likewise branded?

Please join in the discussion. Comment below.

 

Discussion: ‘The Relevance of Sex In Literature in 2016’ Guest: Dan Holloway.

BOOKS RELEVANCE

 I’m delighted to welcome my first guest in this JULY long discussion; say hello to Dan Holloway.  The article begins with Dan’s responses to this discussion circa 2011 … and concludes with his thought now, five years on.

2011

Crossing the Line

I was really excited at the thought of writing this because I thought I’d have a gazillion things to fire off. I’m still excited. But the main thing I think about sex in literature isn’t really expandable on. People have a problem with sex because it’s “different” from the other things we do. Simple as. It goes back to the early Platonists and the argument was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now. End of.

So what am I going to say? OK, here’s what.

I write transgressive material. By no means all of what I write is transgressive. Some of it is just normal everyday lives, like my novel Songs from the Other Side of the Wall, which has a reasonable amount of sex but just because sex is a reasonable part of what the characters do. Some of my shorts have no sex or violence or swearing or even drugs. Not because my characters don’t do sex, violence, swearing or drugs but because the bit of their lives I’m writing about happens not to have any. Just like the way in my transgressive work the characters often don’t sit in traffic jams (sometimes they do!), not because they don’t do that but because they don’t in the bit of their lives I’m writing about.

So what *is* transgression and why would I write about it?

Transgression is basically just stuff that most people don’t think of as normal. OK, it’s more than a penchant for marmite and eggnog sandwiches. It’s behaviour that “society” considers beyond the pale. I’ll get into examples later.

Now, there’s all kinds of stuff we could say about the line between sensationalism and art, and when it’s OK to write about transgression because it’s for a “serious purpose.” But that’s seven kinds of bollocks, as I hope 1997’s seminal art exhibition Sensation showed. The wonderful, liberating thing about so-called Young British Art is that it took the whole “is this art or is it sensationalism?” debate and gave it a well-deserved finger.

So I’m not going to say there are good reasons for writing about transgressive behaviour and bad reasons, or good texts and bad texts. And I’m not going to talk about copycat behaviour because that’s seven more kinds of bollocks.

I want to talk about why I write what I write. And mention a coupla heroes along the way. The first being the not-very-obviously-transgressive Banana Yoshimoto, the author of N.P., which is my favourite book of all time. It’s about a collection of short stories by a dead writer, and the existence of an unpublished final story. And an incestuous relationship that causes quiet devastation but is – and this is the transgressive bit – portrayed as the pure emotional heart of the book.

It’s this aspect that characterises Transgressive Fiction with capital letters, and is what interests me most: the sympathetic portrayal of behaviour considered to be beyond society’s pale. It’s something that makes readers extraordinarily uncomfortable, because rather like lab rats or Pavlov’s bow-wows we are conditioned to expect certain behaviours to be treated a certain way.

What refusing to paint those behaviours the expected way, or reward or punish them as expected does is jar our expectations. An illustration of how much people can’t get their heads around this kind of thing is the Oscar-winning film American Beauty, which received its 18 certificate in the UK…because it portrayed recreational drug use non-judgmentally…if you’ve ever heard anything so ridiculous.

Which brings me to another thing, which is that to create this jar through the sympathetic portrayal of unacceptable behaviour, you actually have to do a pretty good job of the characterisation. Otherwise you don’t get the sympathy. And part of that is to show characters in the round. Which a lot of writing both on the grim and the rose-tinted side doesn’t do.

This rounded characterisation, which just happens to include things that are “unacceptable” serves two incredibly important purposes which are at the heart of transgressive writing, or at least the kind I do and enjoy. First, it makes us question where the value of a person is located and even whether the idea of a person being good or bad makes any sense.

But even that doesn’t get to the bottom of it, because we’re still accepting the unacceptability of the acts portrayed, and for me the single most important thing transgressive writing does is make us question where we draw our lines. Which isn’t to say we should shift them. Not at all – but if we leave them where they are, we do so having thought about them. Take a person you’ve grown to love over the course of a book, whose tastes run to the exotic, shall we say? Does that mean you were wrong to love them? What does it say about you and your character judgment that you did? Does it mean their tastes are OK – because it’s them who chose them? Or does it just mean everyone’s who they are and there’s a story to be told about each of us that has infinitely more nuances of shade and depth than we can ever put down in words? And is *that* the point where what we read helps us to begin to know ourselves a little better, or at least to ask the questions that will get us on the way?

Let me illustrate a point using a non-sex example. Clothes. By preference I wear t-shirts, jeans a *lot* of accessories like gloves and bracelets, braces/suspenders, and a little make-up. I know several people who’d be offended if I showed up to dinner in that (though they’d always say “it’s because of my relatives” which is seventy times seven shades of bollocks as an argument). They’d maybe tell me whilst wearing a suit. And I might tell them I found their suit offensive. And they’d laugh and say “yes, but what I’m wearing is inoffensive but you’re wearing clothes you know could offend”. Now in case the reason they’re a fucktard isn’t obvious it’s this – if you accept the principle that clothing can offend, and that you as a subjective person can be offended, then you have to accept that any other subjective person can be offended – and if you’re all subjective then what offends may well be different in every case. Now I’m a come-as-you-are type so I *know* I’m a fucktard being offended by suits just because of their connotations with capitalist oppression and the denial of individuality and years of institutional violence to the mentally ill. So I’ll take it on the chin. But the fucktard in the suit better damn well be prepared to take it in the chin back. But they aren’t. They act surprised.

And that’s what transgressive fiction does – slowly makes people less surprised when individuals turn out to be, er, individuals with all the roundedness and unpredictability that entails. And step one in doing that is questioning EVERY stereotype, including the moral ones and those about the association between any two behaviours or any one or more behaviour and “character”. It asks “Is that too far?” and “OK, but is it *always* too far?” and “If it’s not always too far is it ever too far?”

Transgression doesn’t just point the finger at readers, though. We all draw our own lines and what and where they are form questions that constantly prod me in the side. There are things I will write – but not transgressively. Some forms of sexualised violence, for example. I have criminals carrying them out in thrillers. But that’s not transgressive. For me the transgression, the interesting questions, lies as much in the treatment as the material. It’s the tenderness of the incest in N.P. that makes it such a transgressive book ad makes it different from, say, Chinatown.

For me the hardest subject matter of all is nothing to do with sex. The most difficult scene I ever had to write, in The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Man-Painted-Agnieszkas-Shoes-ebook/dp/B004QGYH6M), is when a racist is tearfully cradling her dead son. I almost certainly should have made it a more tender scene, forced readers to confront their feelings for her, but I just couldn’t do it. So she remained nothing but a monster. Racism, homophobia, things that could generically be called “hate crimes” terrify me in a way that other behaviours just don’t. I think it has to do with the sheer scope of the hate involved. The most sickening of paraphilias remain between individuals – a single, secretive perpetrator and their desperate victim. Hate crimes involve the complicity of millions in the systematic act of eradicating other millions. I think it’s that group aspect that terrifies me most. Since the first time I was surrounded by a gang of schoolyard bullies, I’ve always found groups the very last transgression, the line I won’t cross. And yet it’s a line I should cross, and I wrestle with myself daily about it.

There’s a line in Paul’s letter to the Romans that says the law made sin sinful. It took away the excuse. I don’t often find myself in agreement with St Paul, but that’s one of the wisest things I ever heard. Complacency, the belief we have it figured out, accepting the status quo but not even thinking we’re accepting the status quo because it’s somehow just “there” – that’s the most dangerous, disgusting, nauseating, sinful trait that infects every part of our society like spores of rot. Transgressive fiction does exactly what St Paul says about the law – it takes away the excuse for complacency. It takes our deepest held beliefs, the things that seem to be the very fibre and fabric of what it is to be human and reminds us that every one of those beliefs is nothing to do with “the way things are” but represents a choice we made.

Remember that next time you see the tabloids calling for censorship. What do they really object to? Some words on a page? Or having something there, in their line of sight, making them think things they would rather not. What’s really worse? The things we write about? Or it being OK for a whole society to hold moral opinions they’ve never questioned?

Dan Holloway’s thoughts now…circa 2016.

It’s fascinating reading this five years on. I guess we always know that lots will change over that length of time, especially in something so rapidly evolving as the digital world. But we never know exactly what that lots will be!

In this case, looking back over what I’ve read, the obvious development has been the flame war that’s taken place over the notion of safe spaces. I said in the original piece that I felt racism and homophobia were more dangerous than any transgressive sexual storytelling because of the extent of their reach, so I guess I was foreshadowing the debate a little.

I don’t want to say too much here, because this is about sex. But I do want to say that I find myself increasingly angry and frustrated with the discussion of content warnings and safe spaces. There is so much misinformation. By and large I have never met a group of people as actively engaged in holding difficult debates as those behind the calls for such spaces – this is not “generation snowflake” or whatever other demeaning term people want to throw at them. This is generation engaged, generation compassionate, generation activist. These are the people working to provide answers to the challenge of the cult of anti-intellectualism, the people working on eradicating hate, tackling climate change. By and large I find it is their critics who are the easily offended, the ones who want protecting, who won’t face what they can’t accept – that the world is changing and changing for the better and that maybe they need to take some accountability for the fact that change was necessary.

But back to sex. My timeline is a little hazy, but I think the original series predates the Paypal battle that nearly sunk a lot of self-publishers and small presses, and it certainly predates the most recent disputes with Amazon over the definitions of taste and decency. In those intervening years we have had cause as a community to examine ourselves. There was the outcry over the publication of the P*dophile’s Handbook, which led to rather less soul searching than it might have done amongst writers who were quick to call for its banning without wondering what the implications were for drawing lines in the sand. And we have had the growth of dinoporn and Chuck Tingle’s unique eroticization of the inanimate, which has led the debate into – a very lucrative – comedic turn at times.

At the same time, the years have seen other areas remain static. Outside of the sphere of erotica there has been very little to question our notion of the obscene. Maybe this is because the preceding years had seen so much. On screen in particular the period leading up to this piece had given us Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible, Virginie Despentes’ Baise-Moi, Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist, and the oeuvre of Eli Roth. What have we had since? The reclamation of the erotic with Blue is the Warmest Colour, and Lars von Trier’s descent into self-parody through Nymphomaniac.

In print, I guess the closest to a debate we’ve had has been the question of the complicity or objectification of young men in relations with older women through books like Alyssa Nutting’s Tampa and Ben Brooks’ Lolito, but to be honest neither of those books is remotely good enough to have raised more than an eyebrow. Controversy comes when the art is so good you can’t ignore it and you have to face down its content. That’s what Lolita did that Lolito failed to do, what The Necrophiliac or Wetlands did. The very best writers just seem not to have really said anything about sexual taboos in the past five years. In a way 50 Shades makes that surprising. But in a way it also explains it. 50 Shades revealed to us a world that wanted to talk about stuff the art world had done with decades earlier. A world that will endlessly dissect such poor portrayals of the mildest forms of excess really isn’t ready to have the buttons of its extremities pressed in interesting ways. It just wouldn’t know what to do with that, would probably ignore it altogether – and being ignored is what the transgressive writer fears most!

Please Join in the discussion , leave your comment.

 DAN HOLLOWAY can be found on the following links.

 http://danholloway.wordpress.com 

 Dan Holloway (http://eightcuts.com) runs the eight cuts gallery (http://eightcuts.com) literary project and is a spoken word performer and novelist. His transgressive performance pieces make up the collection (life:) razorblades included (http://www.amazon.co.uk/life-razorblades-included-ebook/dp/B003QTDLBW). His novel The Company of Fellows (http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Company-of-Fellows/dp/B004PLMHYC) spent more than 2 weeks in Amazon’s top 100 fiction charts.

Discussion. “The Relevance of Sex in Literature 2016.”

Discussion sex

The list of guests continues to grow! Don’t miss the opportunity to express your views and insights into “The Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016.”

Scheduling has begun, and I’m delighted that Dan Holloway author of ‘The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes ‘ will be first up on July 1st.

There are a few spots left open, but you’ll need to be quick. I need your posts on or by June 30th 2016.

Send me your expression of interest at suzieb4burke@hotmail.com

Please be certain to note “Relevance of Sex in Literature in 2016” in the subject line.

No word count limit.

For those who don’t wish to contribute a piece themselves, the discussion is wide open, simply read and comment.