I asked her how she distinguished between erotica, erotic romance, and pornography.
“Erotic romance/Erotica/Porn…the debate lingers. It’s all very different and yet as long as you know what you’re getting…it’s there because someone wants it. The definitions between erotica, erotic romance, and porn blur in a variety of ways so it’s really more of a comfort level. Anything can be romantic but some things are too extreme for some readers (me included). Other stories can be highly sexual but the story doesn’t end in a romance. If it’s a good story, that’s what matters.”
Cheryl went on to tell me that she’s not against porn, because humans are sexual beings and curious about what others do, but it’s simply sexual content for the sake of sex—no story or plot to speak of. The reader doesn’t care about the characters involved and it’s basically sex only, no romance, emotion or depth.
“It serves a certain purpose for those who enjoy it. And obviously there is a market for it so as long as all of these are clearly labeled–that’s the important thing. An erotic adventure is fine (I like that term better than porn)…the customer is always right and if someone wants it, they should go get it,” she said.
“Erotica,” she explained to me, “is a bit of a fuzzy area that doesn’t get as much interest as erotic romance. It too frequently gets dismissed as porn but it’s not that simple. The characters are finding out about themselves and what they want. Few of us end up married to the first person we ever slept with. Life isn’t that easy unless you live in a Regency novel. We learn about ourselves and what we need (sexually and emotionally) through relationships. The bad ones and the good ones bring us closer to what we really need so when the right person shows up we know it and don’t let them go. Whether it’s certain erotic play like BDSM or bisexual experimentation, or if it’s just what type of man really turns the heroine on…the odds of finding Mr. Right without sleeping with a few Mr. Not-Quite-Rights is against us. It might not be a love match, it might be too soon to tell…but the character’s journey is what makes these stories so much more than porn. We want these characters to find true love. And we hope for that sequel so we can see it. But I do see this market having some untapped potential for those of us women who haven’t met Mr. Right….it’s nice to know we’re not alone.”
There’s one big difference between erotica and erotic romance for Cheryl and that’s the “happily ever after.” She sees the romance as a “promise to the reader” and, even though the course won’t be smooth, true love comes at the end. This can also include ménage and more, because love isn’t something we can actually define.
“Whether it’s being a submissive or juggling a group relationship, love can take many forms and it’s the romantic high we want,” she said. “Everyone wants true love…and to have that feeling when they read a good erotic romance.”
Cheryl actually started out writing more traditional romances, but her fellow writers loved her sex scenes and they were the easiest parts for Cheryl to write. She tried submitting to Harlequin Desire, but her stuff was a little outside the box for them. She got close to publishing with Blaze, but at the time she was pushing the envelope a little more than they did. RWA had approved Ellora’s Cave, so she gave submitting to them a shot.
“Once I got in with one erotic romance pub, and found I could write shorts—I was off and running,” she told me. “I love the novella length and hot sex. No one says I can’t write something, or it’s too extreme. There is always a writer out there who will take it farther than I do. So I’m very content and free to explore in my writing.”
There are a lot of “ick” things she’d never write—she didn’t list them, saying, “They are well known in the industry.” And, nothing is off-limits in porn…she doesn’t think she could write that without it turning into a character’s journey, which would push it toward erotica. She wants the characters to have that happy ending.
“Or, at the very least, a learning experience with a lot of orgasms,” she clarified.
“We all have things we couldn’t or wouldn’t write. I couldn’t write hardcore BDSM, that’s not my area. Light and playful BD, that’s fun to write. Menage +, love it. Have a blast writing it,” she said with a wink. “A little m/m now and then is a good change of pace. M/F is a classic and I like to throw in a twist like BBW to keeps things fresh.
“Boundaries are really about how you handle the situation. Why would the character do that? How will they react? Why? But characters have needs so if they want to go to BDSM club to see what it’s like, then that goes in the book. How they react is what matters. My characters might watch, might show off, but when things get rough they’ll run for safer places to play.”
Getting away from writing, our discussion turned to food.
“What food do you consider best for eating off another’s tummy?” I asked.
“Chocolate is good. Honey is a no, that gets sticky and weird. Any liquor is always a plus,” she responded. “The stomach is rather bland. Chest, groin, whatever….the right person and the right food is a night of fun! And cherries. But those are best for games. Like using only your tongue, you have to roll it from the base to the tip of his shaft before you get to eat it. Where can I put that in a book?” She winked.
Her favorite food?
“Cherries,” she said with a smile. “No, seriously it’s French fries. They go with everything. Have that salty goodness and crisp feel. Some need ketchup, some don’t. But even bad ones are good. So unhealthy but in truth, that’s my favorite food….”
Her least favorite?
“I could never eat an onion. I hate the texture. The taste is okay, I’ll use onion powder in cooking. But I’ll pick onion out of stuffing, tacos, anything….I hate that feel. Mushrooms are the same way. I like the flavor but hate the texture. I’ll never try liver. My parents both hated it and never even tried to get me to try it as a child so that just says something.”
“Can you tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi?” I wondered.
“There are people who can’t tell the difference between Coke and Pepsi?” she countered. “Unless you never drink pop (it’s not soda in Chicago)…everyone has a favorite. I’m partial to Diet Coke with Lime. To get me to drink Pepsi, it better be diet cherry. But we’re neglecting Diet Dr. Pepper which is the supreme drink of this writer. Feel free to toss in a few cherries for fun but that drink has everything you need and it’s the underdog. Don’t we all love the underdog?”
Finally, I asked Cheryl what advice she would offer a new writer.
“My advice to a new writer would be to take the time to learn the industry. Read widely and find out what you do well. You must understand that just because you love to read a genre doesn’t mean it’s the one you should write. You may love m/m but when you try to write it, all that testosterone doesn’t work for you. So take input from crit partners and editors and listen. Ask ‘what do I do well’ and ‘what isn’t quite my thing’….don’t be ashamed to get that outside input. We all have strengths and you want to write to yours. Once you find what you’re good at, develop that sub-genre to brand yourself a bit and get your name out there.
“Also, trends change so if you luck into one..Great! Use it….but know that it will change and you need to be ready for that. It’s not your writing, it’s that moods and tastes change and you have to be flexible to work with that. But knowing that no matter how big hardcore BDSM is, I can’t do it….that’s a huge help to me in my career plan. So don’t be afraid to learn what you’re good at and not so good at. You’ll make more readers happy and make your writing career easier that way!”
You can keep up with Cheryl on her blog, http://cheryldragon.blogspot.com