Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lisabet Sarai in the Author Spotlight

What Erotica Isn't

My name is Lisabet, and I write erotica.

Some readers, I know, will stop right now, nervous about being subjected to material that might make them uncomfortable. Don't worry, I promise not to include anything the least bit explicit in this post. Other readers will nod sagely, imagining the sort of stories I might produce: lots of body parts and little if any plot; cardboard characters whose primary characteristics relate to their bra cup size and genital endowment; meaningless, anonymous sexual encounters in which the only goal is to have as many orgasms possible.

That's not erotica. At least, not the sort of erotica that I write.

I began my publishing career with erotica. Later, I started writing erotic romance as well. Since I've joined the romance community, I've found that both authors and readers sometimes harbor serious misconceptions about my original genre. Some authors seem eager to draw a line in the sand, insisting that erotic romance is focused, first and foremost on the relationship between the characters - that the sex is just added spice. In contrast, they assert, erotica is focused primarily on sex. Characters and relationships are of little importance.

That's not the way I see it. For me, erotica is not even about sex per se. The core concern in an erotic story is the experience of desire, and how that experience influences and interacts with a character's personality and actions. I maintain that it's possible to write erotica that is totally non-explicit, with no actual sex at all. I'll admit that this sort of story might not be all that popular, but I've read, and written, a few.

Erotica - at least the kind of erotica I enjoy reading and writing - deals first and foremost with the complex and contradictory emotions associated with sex.  This includes lustful attraction, to be sure, but also guilt, fear, grief, curiosity, the temptation to take risks, the pride of breaking down barriers, the joy of sharing pleasure. Not to mention love. Romance does not have a monopoly on that emotion.

My imminent erotica release, coming June 17th from Muse It Hot Publishing, is a case in point. Citadel of Women is not a romance, primarily because it lacks an unequivocally happy ending. Nevertheless, it is a story that is as much about love, loss and loneliness as about sex. Doa is a strong, self-confident woman from New York City. When her lover severs their relationship just before a long-planned trip to Angkor Wat, Doa stubbornly decides to travel alone. The marvelous sights of the ancient Khmer empire do little to heal the rift in her heart. Che, the mercurial young man who serves as her tour guide, offers her comfort and passion which Doa allows herself to accept. Meanwhile, he has his own history of terrible loss. Doa and Che connect on a level that goes far beyond the physical – but how can two people from such different worlds have a future? 

Citadel of Women includes several sex scenes. The story, however, is about how Doa and Che get drawn into a sexual relationship, how it changes them, what they learn about themselves and each other - not about the sex itself. I'll admit that the story would suffer if the sexual encounters were not arousing. I truly hope that they are. The rest of the tale wouldn't be believable if the passion didn't feel real and immediate.

I'll leave you with a short, PG-rated excerpt from Citadel of Women, which I hope will help make my point. The physical aspects of sex are uninteresting without a background of emotional complexity. Truly satisfying erotica requires three-dimensional characters and serious conflicts, not just bodies.


Dinner was served on the hotel terrace overlooking a small garden. The moist air was a soft, heavy blanket, laced with the scents of jasmine and mosquito coils. Two dim bulbs lit the scene with a golden glow. Our group sat together at a long table, consuming spicy fish, garlicky vegetables, and mounds of rice. I sat at the far end, nearest the garden, listening to the multi-lingual chatter, the clink of silverware, the droning of the insects in the trees. I had never felt so alone.

All at once, he was there, settling his loose-limbed frame into the chair across from me. He plunked an amber bottle misted with condensation down in front of me. “You look like you could use this.”

He took a swig from his own beer. Not knowing what to say, I did the same. The icy liquid slid down my throat.


I nodded and drank again before turning the bottle to examine the label. “Angkor Beer?” I laughed.

“Why not? One of our leading exports.” He tilted the bottle back. I watched his brown throat move as he swallowed. “Possibly the only thing most people know about our country.”

“Really?” It was difficult to talk to him, difficult not to stare at his mobile, expressive face. Fortunately, the beer offered a convenient alternative to conversation.

We drank for a while in silence. I wondered how I could politely excuse myself. 

He replaced his bottle on the table. “You really miss her, don't you?”

My eyes filled with tears. Somehow, though, it was a relief to admit it to someone, even to him. “Yes. Yes, I do.”

“Is she your lover?” I'd read Cambodia was a conservative country, but Che didn't seem shocked by the idea at all.

“Was. She broke it off just before we were supposed to leave on this trip.”

“Why?” The question was completely inappropriate, but I could see he wanted to know.

I buried my face in my hands. What could I say? How could he ever understand?

I heard the scrape of his chair as he rose. His hand rested briefly on my bare shoulder. “Whatever the reason,” he murmured, “I think she was crazy.” 

By the time I looked up, he had returned to his seat at the other end of the table. “Make it an early night,” he told the group. “We've got to be up at five tomorrow.” He did not look at me again, but still the imprint of his fingers lingered on my flesh.


A dozen years ago LISABET SARAI experienced a serendipitous fusion of her love of writing and her fascination with sex. Since then she has published three single author short story collections and six erotic novels, including the BDSM classic Raw Silk. Dozens of her shorter works have been released as ebooks and in print anthologies. She has also edited several acclaimed anthologies and is currently responsible for the altruistic erotica series COMING TOGETHER PRESENTS.

Lisabet holds more degrees than anyone needs from prestigious universities who would no doubt be embarrassed by her chosen genre. She loves to travel and currently lives in Southeast Asia with her highly tolerant husband and two cosmopolitan felines. For more information on Lisabet and her writing visit Lisabet Sarai's Fantasy Factory ( or her blog Beyond Romance (



Cate Masters said...

Welcome Lisabet! Thanks for such a thought-provoking post. I love the excerpt too. Best of luck with your release!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hello, Cate,

Thanks so much for having me as your guest. I'm always happy to talk about erotica... ;^)

BrennaLyons said...

In some ways, I think erotica and erotic romance authors (romance authors in general) tend to pick nits and misunderstand each other a lot. It's not just those two groups misunderstanding each other, of course. I've dealt with a science fiction author that really believes that science fiction should have very little characterization and no emotions either. It's an old holdover from the days when only men wrote science fiction, and they didn't want any mushy lady stuff encroaching on their man cave experiences.

I'd counter that ANY decent writing including a character that isn't either psychologically flawed into being emotionless or a machine or an emotionless non-human SHOULD include realistic emotion, and I can even name classic science fiction written by men that includes it. Non-humans may well have emotional responses that don't match to human, based on their differing physiology, ethics, laws, etc.... Back to the subject.

One of the things that floors me is when reviewers (for instance) nitpick on my erotica book MAGMON'S HUNGER, because the main character doesn't meet his "heroine" until the last few chapters. They think I should ADD scenes about her earlier in the book, because it's unbalanced.

Their confusion is that they are taking an erotica book and trying to apply erotic romance sensibilities to it. The heroine was a virgin when she met Karliss. She'd been raised in a cold (physically and emotionally) situation and had never so much as thought of sex before him. There was nothing of note to show of her before she met him.

Karliss, on the other hand, had been sexually trained for half of his life to prepare him for meeting her. The book is erotica, and it focuses on his training, his confusion with who and what he is, his struggles to come to terms with the fact that he is nothing like the other people around him.

Why SHOULD that follow erotic romance mores? It shouldn't. Just because there is a HEA and the main character falls in love and marries, in the end, does not mean it's romance.


lisekimhorton said...

Pleased to hear your words vis a vis erotica and erotic romance and your description, which parrallels my own. And yes, too many authors (or aspiring authors)of romance seem to have a very narrow and often skewed understanding of what makes a romance an erotic romance (and that just adding graphic language is not the key), and likewise I have too often heard them refer to erotica as "porn" (and unfortunately sometimes even referring to authors of erotica as writing "smut"). I have turned blue in the face attempting to explain the genres and the complexity of the sex within an erotic romance or erotica. Brava, Lisabet, for saying it so clearly.

Good luck with your latest!

Unknown said...

Love that you're writing about this Lisabet. The misunderstandings are frustrating and this blog will take it another step to educate the truth of erotica. You've been a role model to this author and a role model in this industry. I appreciate all you do.

Cassie Exline said...

Lisabet, great post. As another author who also started out writing erotica, I was surprised at attitudes on the genre. Well said.

Maggie Nash said...

Excellent post Lisabet. You're spot on there. Some of the most erotic moments in books don't have any sex involved. The emotions are what involves the reader. Without that it's just an instruction manual about putting plug A into socket B.

Well done for explaining it so well.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article/essay on writing erotica - it takes one to know one (smile). You've given the genre validity through your stories.
You write awesome erotica romance.
Kay Dee

Remittance Girl said...

"Erotica - at least the kind of erotica I enjoy reading and writing - deals first and foremost with the complex and contradictory emotions associated with sex."

I think that pretty much encapsulates the very essence of what good erotica should be.

Janie Franz said...

Lisabet, I loved your post! The confusion in these genres is rampant. Though most of the books I have with Muse It Up Publishing are in the Hot! division and those I've had with another publisher that considers itself an erotica house, I'm not an erotica author--never have been. I write about relationships, yes. I write about sexuality, yes. But it is more sensuous. AND it isn't the plot of the book. Sexuality is a natural occurrence in my books and one of the themes, but it isn't the reason the book exists. There is more to this controversy than whether there is skin or bedroom acts revealed within the pages of the book.

Donna said...

Excellent article, Lisabet. I wish I could send you on a world tour with this message. It would enlighten and heal many. Come to think of it, your work does the job of ambassador for smart, genuine erotica already :)! Thanks for articulating some important truths so well.

Emma Lai said...

Beautifully said, Lisabet!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks to all of you for your excellent comments! (Sorry I'm chiming in so late. My Tuesdays and Wednesdays are from hell!)

Brenna, you're right to point out that the misconceptions cut both ways. I cringe when I read comments on lists about how romance heroines are all wimpy and heroes all gruff and alpha. Romance has broadened a great deal over the past decade. In fact, the distinctions between erotic romance and erotica are not nearly as well defined as some people would like to believe.

Lise - the fact is, each author really needs to develop his or her own definitions - what works for her writing. Then, find a publisher with a similar vision.

Karen - I'm blushing! Thanks!

Cassie - A lot of erotica authors are moving to ER because that's where they can find readers. I wish that the erotica market was as active and enthusiastic. But that is another post.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Maggie - I recently published a novella where the characters make love without having bodies at all! (Bodies of Light, at TEB). I took that as a challenge!

KayDee - Thanks so much. I only wish more people agreed with you LOL!

RG - Thanks for dropping by. I consider you a master (or mistress?) of the genre.

Janie - I'm fascinated by desire and so that's what I write about. It's not "sex" per se that interests me.

Donna - I'll take you up on that offer of a world tour LOL! Thanks for the encouraging words!

Emma - thank you - from the bottom of my heart.