Too Sexy or not to Sexy

by | October 15, 2012 | General | 10 comments

By: Craig J. Sorensen

I got the edits for a story soon to be published from one of
my favorite editors.  As expected, her
tweaks and tunes made sense, and readied this story for prime time.  She made some warm comments about specific
things, which I always appreciate.  A
busy editor does not have lots of time on her hands, and when she takes time to
make such a comment, that is a great compliment indeed.

But down deeper in the story, one comment:  “Nooooo! Not sexy!”

The line in question? 
“… fingers scattered like deformed spiders.”

Which begs the question, is there an idealized role of
sexuality in an erotic story?  I know,
this is a slippery slope, and there are as many opinions as there are readers
and writers of erotica.

I often toy with strange images.  To some extent, I do this to create tension,
and to some extent, I do this to provide depth to the sexual imagery.  But, in doing this, I risk taking the reader
out of the erotic mindset that stories in the genre are usually expected to do.

Yes, some of the things I write come from strange places.  I’ve had a few similar edits at other times,
and I understand where the editors are coming from.  When a story goes into a collection, it needs
to fit the theme and the vision of the editor. 
 I’m not bothered by spiders, but
I do know that this is a serious squick for some.  With that in mind, I see her point.  The descriptive was not absolutely essential
to the story, but I liked it because it gave a sense of contrast, and
illustrated the protag’s perspective on the character he was thinking about.  In the end, I had no problem with the removal
of this “not sexy” descriptive.

I love writing erotica because it challenges social taboos,
just by being explicit, but within the genre, I like to challenge as well.  Taking chances is what I do.  Editors will probably continue to trap and
consume my odd images that go too far in their web.

I guess it’s all in the game.  Works for me.

Craig J. Sorensen

One evening at the close of the 1970’s, I sat on a milk crate at my job du jour and looked over Tenth Avenue in the small Idaho town where I grew up. It may not seem earth shattering now, but to a man not yet twenty years of age, the revelation of that moment was defining: There must be more to life than pumping gas. A strange answer materialized in the cold, dry, Treasure Valley air. I joined the US Army where I learned to work with computers before the introduction of the IBM PC. Armed with a blitzkrieg education in the programming language COBOL, I embarked on a journey to define myself as a programmer/analyst. Perhaps if I had been a better student in school, things might have been different. I loved writing, though I flunked my first semester of ninth grade English. Typing too. And I typed seventy words a minute. But I digress. The bottom line was that I hated school, was unmotivated and disinterested, and had problems staying focused. Had I been born twenty years later, they might have loaded me up with Ritalin. So learning a trade in the Army was my salvation from a life of disjointed jobs, searching for something I’d be satisfied with. Study for a purpose, it seemed, I could manage. Throughout the thirty plus years after leaving Idaho for military service, I honed my skills and learned to enjoy the job I stumbled into. I think that this, “path less chosen,” has something to do with my perspective and my style as an author when I delved deeper into my passion for words. I’ve lived life, not as a student, but in a constant state of trial and error. This is true in most everything I’ve done. The first story I had published was so aggressively edited, that the number of words removed was in a double digit percentile, and rightly so. I resolved that would never happen again. It hasn’t. Determination and self-teaching are a big part of me. Have I ever reached a hurdle I didn’t overcome? Of course. In my early days getting published, I submitted four stories to a particular editor before she accepted my fifth; I’ve had great results with her since. More recently, with another editor, I submitted four that I felt great about, and realized that it just wasn’t going anywhere. Another fact: I’m a lousy poker player, but I do know when to fold. Story telling has been with me my entire life. A desire to share stories is engrained in me, but as a youngster, what did I have to share? I was a boring kid, so I used to make things up. I used to hate that I’d lie. Bear in mind, these lies were limited to boasting of things I had done that I really hadn’t, or telling that the very plain house we lived in when I was young was very ornate. “Little white lies,” some might call them. I couldn’t seem to resist this desire to make people believe the stories I’d tell. When something didn’t wash, well… I suppose it is all part of how I learn things. Writing is truly my first passion as a vocation. If I could make a living at it, I’d love to, but I know what that means. I look at those authors who do this with admiration, and I’m grateful that I have been blessed to find not one, but two vocations that I love. Job one allows me to write when I’m inspired. The luxury of this is not lost on me. When I was young, I was fascinated by sex. I wrote sexual scenarios, drew sexually inspired pictures. My head was full of erotic fantasies long before my voice cracked. But writing the first stories I did after I left high school, I tried to subdue the desire to write sexual themes. Sometimes, I’d let go, but I’d eventually “come to my senses.” I wanted to be respectable, after all. It was after I had gotten some serious consideration by a literary journal, but got the response “you write very well, but your stories lack vibrancy,” that it began to settle in. My wife, partner, and most avid supporter forwarded me a call to a new “edgy” literary journal that included erotica, and suggested that I send a particularly nasty, vibrant story I had recently written when the respectability filter was disengaged. I thought, “why the hell not.” Within 24 hours I had an acceptance. Another lesson learned by example: be true to yourself. In the end, I just want to tell stories about amazing people. I want to go out on a limb. I wrote a poem once:
Only the man who goes To the edge of the branch And does not stop when it cracks Will learn the true nature Of branches
I want to turn you on, then repulse you. I want to surprise you, sometimes make you grimace, share the realities of my life and the lives of those I’ve known, but bend them through the prism of fiction. Tell about people more interesting than me, and speak universal truths, tell little white lies. I want to make you guess which is which. The three stories I am honored to share with you are examples of my testing branches. “One Sunset Stand” from M. Christian’s Sex in San Francisco collection, was written merging humor, sexuality, and romance, allows me to explore from a woman’s POV. “Severence” which appeared at the website Clean Sheets, is drawn from a difficult time in my life, where as a manager I watched members of my team and coworkers slowly, systematically get laid off. It was a hard time, a frustrating time, and I found a way to express that frustration in the words, and the characters of the story. “Two Fronts” is one of my biggest gambles as a writer, and a story I’m very proud of. In it, I not only explore my feminine side, but my lesbian side. The story, set before I was born, explores a woman dealing with her awaking to her attraction to other women is set against the backdrop of ranching in Idaho. I was particularly proud when Sacchi Green and Rakelle Valencia chose it for the collection Lesbian Cowboys. The version I present here is my “Director’s cut,” with the original ending. In the collection, it was made more purely romantic by dropping the last section. This ending is more of what I would call a “Craig ending,” though I’m proud of both versions. Truly, I haven’t planned much in life, just followed the river where it leads. I write the stories that come to mind, and for as long as people will read my work I will write. And if they stop reading? I will write.


  1. Jo

    Well… someone read a story for me and made the same comment about the play of muscles under the heroine's skin. For me, it meant she was visibly strong and lean, but for my reader it sounded like Alien.

    Who was right? I dunno, but spiders are a particularly touchy subject with so many of us I can sympathise with that particular edit 🙂

    Um, also, scattered like individual fingers all over the room? Because that's the image I'm getting now, but I'm guessing I need some context 🙂

  2. Donna

    First, wonderful, creepy pictures! It definitely puts me in the (erotic) Halloween mood :-).

    Many people claim to be bored by the question "what's the difference between literary erotica and pop porn writing?" but I still find the arguments fascinating. Here you give us another possible approach to distinguishing the two. Readers, including editors, want to know what to expect from popular fiction of any genre. Literary fiction has always been allowed more leeway with the unusual and the challenging theme, image or use of language. When my sister gave my novel to a Hollywood screenwriter to read (unbeknownst to me and probably to determine if a professional thought I cut it), his reply was that "every time I started getting turned on, she used a big word and ruined it." So, that attitude is out there.

    On the other hand, if it's a fairly minor issue, I tend to go along with the editor's desires. Hemingway encouraged writers to "kill their darlings," but it doesn't seem to have the same character-building satisfaction when an editor does it for us!

  3. Craig Sorensen

    Hi Jo. When I cut the line down to the phrase in question, it didn't occur to me what the sentence might read like on its own, but I can see how you envisioned it like that. Hopefully by seeing how the character was holding her hands at the time, it would make more sense, but then, it's a moot point since the sentence got cut!


  4. Craig Sorensen

    Hi Donna, I'm definitely of the mind that one should choose one's battles. If the feel of the story is lost, or if a change loses the context, I'll argue the point, but this case, the rest of the paragraph gave the feeling I was looking for.

    That's quite a trip about the screenplay writer. It does not surprise me at all, sadly.

    Anyway, regarding Hemingway's "kill your darlings" comment, I have to say I disagree. Some of the warmest comments I've gotten from readers about something I've written were about "darlings!"

  5. Remittance Girl

    Really good post Craig. Personally, it is exactly those sort of unexpected descriptions which make an erotic story stand out of the crowd for me. They invite me to see sexy from a new angle. So I have to disagree with your editor.

  6. Craig Sorensen

    Thanks RG. My reader said the same thing. She liked the description, and she has a serious spider squick…

  7. Harper Eliot

    Yeah, I think I'd agree with RG. It's that kind of bizarre and strange simile that jolts me awake and really creates atmosphere for me. Although I do understand, in this particular instance, why an editor might not be happy with a reference to spiders…

  8. Craig Sorensen

    Hi Harper.

    As I mentioned, she is an awesome editor. She published one of my most "risky" erotic stories, so I'm very happy to make adjustments for her preferences!

  9. Lisabet Sarai

    Hi, Craig,

    I've had the same kinds of edits – more often when I'm writing erotic romance. Sometimes I fight, other times I don't.

    One does have to think about the reactions of one's readers. I know that the typical erotic romance reader isn't much like me. Images I find intensely arousing might well not work for them. Images that are perhaps a trifle obscure might slow them down. Some readers consume erotica and erotic romance like candy. They want it fast and sweet.

  10. Craig Sorensen

    I think that is to the point, Lisabet.

    I do know there is a certain editor I will no longer send spider imagery to! 😉

    Since I don't really write the candy form, maybe I can get away with adding a little sweet glaze to the spicy dishes I'm serving up.


    If not, so be it.

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