BooksErotica for a Better Tomorrow wants to bring misogyny to its knees
With all of the misogyny and violent themes in adult literature, a group of New York-based erotica readers set out to make smut more progressive. This is their story.
“We were joking, 'Well we're open to anything. We're open to any ideas except, of course, bestiality,” the man who voices Johnny East is on the phone with me, recounting an exchange during the induction of new members into his New York-based writing group, Erotica for a Better Tomorrow. You'd think that a content ban on sex between man and animal would be fair enough, but, “There was a member of a group who was vehemently saying, 'Well no. There are consent-based things with animals, with horses in particular.” Since the member in question did not agree to be interviewed for this piece, he will remain anonymous, and truth be told, his identity has remained murky even after conducting a few interviews. East has some murky inkling that this person may have, at one point, worked for a law firm that represented defendants in bestiality cases. In the woman who voices Pepper Laramie's version of the story, the bestiality defender is, “An internationally renowned fister and he flies around places to fist people,” suggesting that knowing some wealthy people who are into horse play more or less comes with the territory. The two accounts aren't exactly diametrically opposed: you can know the law like the back of your hand, and then submerge that hand deep within an orifice. Maybe that's besides the point.
The writing group's openness is necessitated by its fixation on crafting progressive erotica, that offshoot of romance lit which has swollen in the mainstream consciousness over the course of the past few years.
Erotica for a Better Tomorrow was started last summer by Laramie and college pal Samara Nayaemi, with its core membership quickly expanding to include East and Kitty Bang (the people behind Bang, East, and Laramie have all asked to be referred to by their noms de guerre). They originally conducted meetings at Nayaemi's home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, but have occasionally met at the studio where East and Laramie initially met, Recorded Books. This is appropriate, since working in audio books unites the four: they have all worked at the studio Brick Shop Audio as voice actors, directors or, in Laramie's and East's cases, both.
Laramie, who has recorded titles including Taken by the T-Rex and A Day in Diapers says, plainly, a lot of what she encounters is “written poorly, it's misogynistic.” She recounts one day in the studio, directing a Broadway actor who was recording a lesbian prison novel. “Whenever the actor flubbed a line, I'd give him a cue, so I said, 'Ezra can we take it from, “Suck her pussy'?” And he said, 'Which, “Suck her pussy”?' Because every sentence ends with, 'Suck her pussy.' Because they couldn't come up with any other word. It was just like a jack hammer.”
Whenever the actor flubbed a line, I'd give him a cue, so I said, 'Ezra can we take it from, “Suck her pussy'?” And he said, 'Which, “Suck her pussy”?'
While interviewing them over the phone, a couple of members mentioned that the dubious sexual politics and sublimated violence that are common to pornography thrive like some nasty fungus in erotica as well. Kitty Bang recounts one book she recorded in which the female protagonist “was clearly [saying], 'No no no,' and he kind of rapes her. Then at the end she says, 'I'm in love with him.' And that message to me is a little bit weird.” East has another such story about some foul gender politics regarding trans sex in a book in which a frat boy gets transformed into a woman by a pharmaceutical experiment. Every person in Erotica for a Better Tomorrow has at least one story like this, and it seems that the central conceit of Erotica for a Better Tomorrow is, simply, if you can use literature to fantasize about anything, why fantasize about the regressive and sometimes violent normative attitudes which society so regularly propagates about sex?
So naturally, meetings of Erotica for a Better Tomorrow result in a lot of conversations. There are ones about fetish and sexual norms—like the one about bestiality—and about how to write erotica that actually reads well. As Kitty Bang puts it, “Clearly there is a market for this other stuff, it sells well and people like it and that's great. But is there a hole in the genre? Like hey, can something be super sexy and turn you on but still be well written and well thought out and not cliché?” For Bang, writing well entails representing the experience of sex—those ineffable emotions, the sensual aspect—which is so often lacking from the typically mechanical verse of erotica which describes sucking cocks and rubbing clits. In her own words, “It's not always rock-hard abs and giant tits.”
Let’s get down to it, I’m ready to retire and pass our clubs to the hot and young We must settle this now to prevent any scheming against each other down the road I have ordered my “daughters” to set up and play out their favorite daddy scenes to show me who among them is the most perverse and by rights the one to take the juiciest of our dowery Goneril, you’ve been with us longest, so please begin these ceremonies! Impress me with your decadence!"
From "King Leer an erotica tribute to Willy Shakespeare"
As of press time, there are 273,375 romance e-Books in Amazon's kindle store making this the most popular fiction category outside of the actual “Literature & Fiction” category. A quick perusal of the bestsellers there include a number of books about billionaires, assholes, or billionaire assholes like Knocked Up By the Bad Boy, Stepbrother Charming: A Billionaire Bad Boy Romance, and Pucked. Such is the trend spurred by the massive, thumping success of E.L. James's Twilight fan fiction-cum-S&M series, the 50 Shades trilogy, which stars an asshole billionaire. A similar trend was spurred by the success of Twilight, and there are countless paranormal erotica titles centering around vampires and shifters: usually werewolves and werebears, although Johnny East recounted a story he read in which two gay lovers turn into a dragon and a rabbit, respectively.
While it was 50 Shades which catapulted erotica into the mainstream, the genre has been gaining steady steam ever since the advent of the e-reader. It used to be that if you wanted a smutty novel, you had to go shop for it and look a sales clerk in the eye as you handed them cash and hope that you didn't run into anyone on the way home who would try to make polite conversation by asking what's in that brown paper bag you've got there. No longer. The Amazon Kindle's launch in 2007 led to a boom in the e-Book industry and, as seems to be the case with any information technology designed for home use, the pornographic arts were among the first to colonize the medium.
Perhaps naturally, as the only consistent members of Erotica for a Better Tomorrow all come from the audiobook realm, they investigate if e-Books are the only great mode for erotica.
As Pepper Laramie puts it, “Kindle really frees people... I think it's because there's a little bit of a sense of decorum [among erotica readers], but it's also incredibly enjoyable to have a secret in front of a bunch of people, to be potentially titillated.” And indeed, Kindles help readers eschew the lurid covers with shirtless cowboys and pseudo-cursive typefaces that betray exactly what's going on between those covers. According to the Romance Writers of America's website, the typical romance reader is a Southern woman between the ages of 30 and 55. It's not a huge leap of faith to imagine that basically the same demographic is buying up all of the erotica, and imagine all of the situations in which such a demographic could benefit from some covert stimulation: waiting around for Aiden to finish up pop warner practice, lounging in the orthodontist's office while Madison gets the rubber bands adjusted on her braces, killing some time while the rest of the house is getting ready for church.
Perhaps naturally, as the only consistent members of Erotica for a Better Tomorrow all come from the audiobook realm, they investigate if e-Books are the only great mode for erotica. One team project included penning erotic retellings of Shakespeare plays—Nayaemi wrote a short blurb in promotion of a play called The Merchant of Penis. There is also the question of how the group will put its erotica out in the world, with discussions of a literary-minded journal of erotica and a choose-your-own adventure styled tale. “You go down a path and there would be adjacent stories to each section. It might relate to the kink being discussed, it might be the polar opposite. It might be a straight story, then there's a male/male story in the next column.”
East has been using the group as an opportunity to workshop his Bigfoot stories. “I found out there's a lot of Bigfoot erotica out there, [and] lots of [it is] non-consensual. I started joking more and more if I'm ever going to write erotica, I'm going to write about Bigfoot and give the man his props.” So far, he has written the exquisitely titled, Cuckolding Bigfoot. Pepper Laramie has gone in the opposite direction, gunning for a kind of realism with her series of erotic stories about a woman who works the overnight shift at a bus stop. An idea that seems to guide Erotica for a Better Tomorrow is that there are not just different genres in erotica—paranormal, historical, so on—but different people waiting for their erotica to come along. In a big way “Erotica for a Better Tomorrow,” seems to entail erotica that is simply different, and hopefully, more inclusive.
Gene was working her way downwards while Anna was licking and groping her way upwards, then ended with them both on their knees, eyes level to my erect cock. Elongated, it sprung from the rough patches of brown fur on my crotch with my apple sized testicles beginning to tense up and move behind. Anna took to those drugfilled orbs, massaging the skin between them while alternately cradling and giving gentle squeezes to each, and the occasional movement underneath, tickling my taint.
From "Cuckolding Bigfoot"
photography: Turkina Faso