Obviously, this observation is ludicrously out of date. If anything, writer's of today have the opposite problem, that of being able to describe the sexual emotions without by necessity also having to delve into descriptions of the sexual act.
Julian Barnes says, in this Telegraph article, that "Modern authors can feel commercially obliged to write about sex in all its lurid detail."
In the early 2000s, I wrote erotic fiction. It didn't last very long, and I didn't highly publicise it around my friends, but there you are. 10 years later, I came back after completely reinventing my writing and my online presence, and utilising some of the publishing contacts I'd made the first time round. Writing is a part of my blood, I was always going to come back to it eventually. I just needed to get out of my relationship at that time, finish my undergrad, progress into Honours, and find a part time job that didn't compromise my writing times too much.
And then today. Today, I sat down at my trusty laptop after a hefty 8,000 word haul yesterday. I have a new project in mind, a Steampunk venture, that I would dearly love to see picked up by the likes of Loose Id, or Samhain Publishing. I know a number of friends who are with those houses and hear nothing but the best of things. However, they are in the market of romantic erotica. In order to even be considered for one of these houses, the story that I write for them has to have a romantic content as well as an erotic one.
That's fine, I told myself. There's nothing that I haven't done before. And I sat down, determined to write an erotic scene between two of my characters for this new project and.... nothing.
Not just nothing at all, but also a not insufficient amount of annoyance to go with my healthy dollop of nothing.
On paper in my writing book, it seemed as though I had come up with a plot and a story that would support reasonable looseness of morals within this alternative historical setting. I was actually quite enjoying the idea, in my head, of putting together a saucy romp for the first time in almost ten years.
What happened instead, much to my devastation, was the complete drying up of any inspiration to write whatsoever. Not even an ounce of creativity was to be found even for Dahlia's fourth novel Harsh Light of Day.
With strangely amazing timing, my New Adult community of writers had just started a conversation on the saturation of erotica in publishing today. This article, also from the Telegraph, notes the virtues of novels stopping just short of the bedroom door and began our conversation. From there we went on, with such interjections as this scene read out of Madam Bovary being linked to to further highlight the point of view.
(Yes, the sex analogy is to be found in the description of the cab ride, which suggests the nature of activity going on within.)
In conclusion, it seemed to me a statement worth making that, just like you wouldn't include a horrifically gory scene within every novel or movie in which a death occurred, erotica shouldn't be the go-to for every single romance/paranormal fiction/urban fantasy novel being published by small (and increasingly larger) publishers right now. I would make a comment about popularity of novels like 50 Shades of Grey pushing the buck on this one but, truthfully, it's been going on a lot longer than that.
That said, I've thought a lot today about the above quote by Evelyn Waugh, and if not writing the sex scene is holding you up just as much, that obviously isn't the answer either.
When all's said and done, what I'm saying is I don't think that all books need to have erotic and/or horrific content, just because the sensationalism of it sells. What are your thoughts?
This post now has a follow-up post on the same subject: On Erotica, part 2.