My article Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey features the expert opinions of ten professionals who comment on the cultural implications of the series, and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.
I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the guest contributors #8-10!
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8. Russ Linton, speculative fiction writer and former FBI Investigative Specialist:
Hi Jess: Glad to have inspired you in your writing and I’m amazed that anyone ever found that comment of mine buried on Bransford’s high traffic blog. While I have much respect for any writer making it in this tough industry, I couldn’t fathom the Fifty Shades apologist responses. The book was poorly written. I won’t deny it was extremely successful, but to argue it was -not- poorly written was hard for me to understand.
I’m not sure I’m an expert on the subject. I am a writer and I read enough of Fifty Shades to know it was badly executed. I don’t regularly read erotica, however.
But, to answer your questions (may require a bit of editing):
Of course people deserve better. We deserve better books, film, television — all manner of stories which explore sexuality.
Mostly we deserve better quality in literature, especially from traditional publishing houses which continue to claim some sort of supremacy over self-published authors. If they want to maintain the illusion that they are the gatekeepers of that quality, they can’t then snatch up poorly written work and sell it solely based on the titillation factor. If they want to legitimize sexuality in writing, they should find a manuscript that isn’t an absolute train wreck and put their resources behind those authors – they do exist.
Fact remains, however, that erotica is firmly a self-publishing and indie publishing pursuit. As a society, we are much more willing to let mutilation, murder and blood letting of all kinds infiltrate our fiction than we are to allow people to explore their sexuality. Amazon has shown its contempt, along with many distributors, by tightening rules on erotica and at no point did traditional publishers come flying to the rescue. So the “better” stuff is out there if you want to look beyond the high-profile, traditional channels who have only opportunistically grabbed the spotlight of this genre.
I have to recommend the work of fellow critique partner, Jennifer August. I’d recommend any of her books as I’ve critiqued her prose and even learned from her detailed writing and plotting processes. She writes erotica, but at the same time, is concerned about the craft as much as she is the authenticity of the experiences which her characters share. Well-written, well plotted, character-driven smut of the best kind.
9. Cliff Burns, (outspoken) literary pioneer and founder of Black Dog Press:
YES, men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Because the sexual act, regardless of your orientation, is a ballet, a perfectly breathed and measured poem. It is peerless brush technique and faultless meter and syntax. It reveals the paucity of talent in the Mona Lisa and makes a mockery of the Grand Canyon. It is NOT a tuneless, idiot orchestra, conducted by a tone deaf four year old. It deserves better than Crayola scratchings of sexual congress, stick figure intercourse. Cheap graffiti in a filthy toilet stall. Sexuality is our most fearless and pure expression as human beings. Fifty Shades reduces it to a mere bowel movement.
The hottest sex scene I can think of, at least on paper, is a torrid moment about forty or fifty pages into Terry Southern’s Blue Movie. There are also erotic poems like Yeats’ “Leda & the Swan” and verses of quiet yearning by Sappho. Long, sumptuous passages in D.H. Lawrence’ silly, pornographic “routines” scattered throughout the work of Wm. S. Burroughs. Henry Miller’s up close and personal couplings, genital lice and all. Something for all tastes.
* Cliff Burns’ thread on LibraryThing contains more suggestions for quality sexual literature.
10. Nick Shamhart, public speaker and contributing writer to Esquire and Vibe:
(1) On whether men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey:
Art is of course subjective. Personally I shudder to label a Bodice Ripper as art, but some people consider Robert Mapplethorpe to be an artist. It’s a matter of personal choice — the externalization of the internal.
That said, to tear apart the Fifty Shades trilogy would be unfair. The phenomenon that the books stirred about had little to do with the quality of story telling, the prose, or the presentation. What happened was that the populace brought it upon themselves. Worldwide reading trends are quite sad. Entertainment on demand fired a bullet pointblank into the floundering corpse that was the publishing industry. The statistics for the USA are nothing shy of terrifying. 58% of Americans will not read a book after high school. One in ten thousand Americans is an avid reader, meaning they read more than one book a month.
What happened with the Fifty Shades books was a direct result of those numbers. When people don’t read they have little to use as a basis of comparison. So, instead of E.L. James’ books being swept into the growing heap of erotica, with the likes of Steele, Collins, and other ladies that have been working that trade for decades, people took notice.
Social Media, and its fickle trends helped word spread about the books.
It was the same ecumenical ripple effect that Rowling’s Potter books had. They were fine for what they were, in that case fantasy for Fifty Shades erotica, but for true avid readers that could compare the books to a much broader and larger personal library they were nothing special.
That’s why children like simple, brightly colored toys. They are stimulating, and the child has no previous experience to say whether the toy is good or bad. Most of the staunch supporters of the Fifty Shades book that I have met read very few books annually. Half a dozen at best, so if they have read less than a hundred books in their lifetime. Who is to say what they are basing their love of Fifty Shades against?