Something kind of strange and awkward is happening lately. I’ve been writing in the erotica genre for awhile now, though my choice to do so as an actual, paying job was more recent. Still, before I began actively marketing my books, my writing was largely a secret from people like my parents. Yes, I’m a grown-up, but you know how some people remain “Mommy’s/Daddy’s Little Girl” forever? Yeah. I’m one of those. The particulars, then, of what I write tend to be sugarcoated, if not avoided entirely.
Last week I went out for dinner with my mother. She had seen the paperback copies that I’d ordered for my mailing list giveaway a few days earlier and had begged to have one. I told her I didn’t have enough yet (mailing listers first!), but that I’d be sure to set one aside for her as soon as I was able…as long as she promised never to actually, you know, read it.
Over dinner, then, she handed me some cash. I quirked an eyebrow, wondering why money was being presented to me when we were only halfway through a meal. She explained: “Oh, I was telling Friend X about how pretty your books are, so she wants to buy one. This money is from her.”
Mildly horrified, I sat with my fork suspended halfway to my mouth. “Mother,” I said, as calmly as possible, “you did tell her what the book is about, right?”
“Well, sort of,” she said, waving it all away as though we were talking about the weather. “I told her I’m not allowed to read it because there’s a lot of sex in it. So it’s not like I could get specific. Anyway, she wants you to inscribe it to [Friend X’s daughter].”
“What??” I had all but forgotten about my food by now. Friend X’s daughter is legally an adult, but…let’s just say she wouldn’t be able to go bar-hopping in the United States just yet. Despite the fact that I’m hardly ancient myself, I seem to have become weirdly protective of “kids these days,” and I suspect I forget how much of a prude I wasn’t in my university days. That’s when I was writing my first sexed-up stories myself! Maybe it’s just the fact that she’s the daughter of my mother’s friend, a girl I’ve known since she was in elementary school. I don’t know. But it freaked me out a little.
Even so, the customer is always right. I did as I was asked. We’ll see how that goes over.
Fast forward to last night. I was visiting with my parents when I noticed that someone had put money on my purse. I should’ve known, being that it was the same amount as what my mother had handed me over dinner, but I foolishly asked anyway.
“Oh, that?” my father responded casually. “My buddy at work was telling me how he’d just finished reading Fifty Shades of Grey and he didn’t care for it, so he was looking for something better to read. I told him you have a book out, and he asked me to buy a copy for him from you. Autographed and such. You know.”
I think I gaped at him for a solid thirty seconds. “Dad…you’ve told the guys you work with what I write?” (In all honesty I wasn’t convinced even he knew exactly what I write, up until that moment.)
“Sure.” Just as casual as my mother.
Piping up, Mom added, “We’re just proud of you, dear. We like telling people you’re writing and doing well!”
And of course that’s true. My parents have been my biggest fans since I was born, always quick to heap praise on me for the smallest achievements. And they’ve both long wanted me to take writing more seriously, to make something of it, because they’re convinced I’m good at it.
But…I’m fairly sure what they envisioned was more…mainstream. Not erotica. Not taboo subjects.
The fact that my chosen genre hasn’t dampened their pride is heartening, naturally; how can it ever be a bad thing when your parents think you rock? But it does raise some weirdness. They know they’re not allowed to read anything I’ve put out so far, not ever, and they don’t ask why. They’re okay with that. But now their friends are reading it. Friends who know me. How is this not gonna become a thing? How am I going to stop myself from imagining Friend X or Work Buddy pulling one of my parents aside and saying something like, “Wow, Ella sure knows how to write some serious smut! I especially liked the part where…”
I’m cringing just typing that. Oh, god.
The rest of my family has no idea. I don’t see why any uncles or aunts or cousins would want to know that I make money by writing about sex. Graphically so. In some instances involving step-siblings. This is just not the kind of thing you want hanging over the table at Thanksgiving dinner.
None of this is to say that I see any shame in being an erotica writer whatsoever. I’m not the least bit embarrassed to tell the average person what I do for a living. Why would I be? Just as writing murder mysteries does not make you a homicidal maniac (one hopes), neither does writing erotica of most any sort make you some kind of a sexual deviant. I love how freely available erotica is nowadays, and how much the market for it is not only written but fueled by women. Sexual liberation at last!
Having said all of that, though…it’s still more than a little awkward to have those sorts of conversations mentioned above with one’s “proud” parents. And every time I get an email from my mother that reads, “Ella, honey, I’ve been handing them out to [everyone at the doctor’s office/grocery store/bridge club] and have run out of your business cards again – would you mind setting a few more aside for me next time I see you?” …well. I cringe a little more.
And then I set the cards aside, and let myself feel a little awkward before feeling grateful for having such supportive people around me.
Because what else is one to do, really?
I’d love to know if other erotica writers have faced the same sorts of dilemmas. To tell or not to tell? Forbid one’s family from reading, or let them review your work? Ask them to never spread the word to friends and colleagues, or allow them to boast and perhaps catch the interest of a few people who are curious to read erotic romance?
I’ll be sure to revisit this issue. Especially once my father’s Work Buddy and Friend X’s Daughter have had a chance to read the “Forbidden Tree“ trilogy. I suspect I’ll have a few funny anecdotes to share…even if they’re at my own expense.
P.S. If you, too, are among those who weren’t bowled over by Fifty Shades…, I simply must recommend you read the brilliant Anna J. Roberts’s incisive, hilarious recap of every painful chapter. You’ll thank me for it, I promise.