I’ve been waiting for the concluding book of Danielle Austen’s erotic trilogy for a while now and, with the imminent release of The Ancient’s Destiny tomorrow, I have to admit I’m very excited. Very excited indeed.
Writing is an exhausting art. The creation of imagery and believable, three dimensional characters who aren’t mere cyphers, takes time, care and patience. Something many writers out there don’t have enough of. I loved her previous two full length novels with their page turning, over arching storyline filled with mysticism, intrigue and, yes, buckets of sex. It is an erotic piece, after all, ;). She really has a very naughty mind and I guess, like me, she sits at her desk in her day job conjuring sexy little scenes while maintaining the cool aloofness of being the professional.
But there is an intangible skill in linking such vignettes into something greater than the sum of its parts, that compels reading to the end and satisfies more than the mere release offered by a bit of deliciously luxuriant fingerbobs.
And the lovely Danielle is a writer who possesses it.
It’s a path I have ambitions of my own in emulating, but my efforts, thus far, have been unfruitful. I so envy her.
I’ll let Danielle tell it to you in her own words…over to you Danielle…
Why writing erotica is just like being on Project Runway
Judge all you like, but I’m very happy to admit that I love Project Runway. For the uninitiated it’s a reality TV fashion design competition in which a group of aspiring fashion designers are whittled away challenge by challenge until there’s only one left. Talented creative people, fabulous clothes, gratuitous shots of New York City, and a little faux-reality TV drama? Sold. The designing and creation takes place under the helpful-yet-unbiased eyes of mentor Tim Gunn, teacher at Parsons School of Fashion Design, before the finished looks walk the runway for a judging panel comprised of the fashion elite. So how in the world can I claim that being an erotica author is the same as being a contestant on Project Runway?!
“She’s got too worried about what the judges will think,” said I, upon watching one usually solid designer deliver an incredibly boring dress. Earlier in the episode, interview sound-bites demonstrated how she was frustrated with never getting into the top three of the week, and would now be making a concerted effort to design something based on what she thought the judges must be looking for, rather than going with her gut and designing what was in her mind. That week she found herself in the bottom three, and almost went home. Ultimately she ended up winning the entire season. And that, in a very roundabout way, is how we authors are all reality TV fashion designers.
Just like fashion designers, struggling erotica authors are ten-a-penny. Just like fashion designers, we need a dose of luck to get to where we want to be. And just like fashion designers, our work struts before the eyes of critics who are quick to dismiss. As such, there’s the temptation – consciously or otherwise – to write for the critics, rather than ourselves. We include expected story arcs and character types and happy endings because that’s what everyone else is doing and therefore it must be the right thing to do. But ultimately, in Project Runway and erotica and any creative medium, the real success stories – the truly memorable artists – are the ones who create for themselves; who don’t compromise their creative vision; who, after years of hard work, combine their innate talents and well-honed skills and self-belief to truly excel at their craft.
That’s not to say that the judges aren’t helpful. Even the most negative critics can provide invaluable advice; regardless of the quality of the vision behind it, bad sewing is bad sewing and bad writing is bad writing, and if no-one tells us what we need to improve on then we’ll never get better at it. Sometimes we all need a Tim Gunn there to give us a friendly nudge in the right direction, or alternatively to accede to our belief that what we’re doing will turn out great; whether our Tim Gunn appears in the form of a loved one, friend, beta reader or professional editor. Critics are there to help us improve; but when one deliberately creates in the hope of critical approval, problems arise.
I know because I’ve been there myself. A couple of years ago my first full-length book, The Magician’s Lover (Book One in the Prophecy Girl Trilogy) was published through Xcite Books. The story was all me, but I’d be lying if I claimed that the creation and execution of it wasn’t at least in part influenced by what I thought I had to include in an erotica novel. And doing so didn’t earn me any favours with critics, with the book receiving mixed reviews across the board; the general consensus (and one, in hindsight, I agree with) being that it’s good but flawed – and the aspects of the book that people did really like were the ones that were all me. Taking my knocks and learning from my mistakes, I wrote The Magi’s Daughter (Book Two in the Prophecy Girl Trilogy) with no sense of obligation to anyone or anything; from the first page to the last, it is 100% my own vision. I went against traditional erotica topes, turning up the plot-related violence and the scope of magic, nixing the clichéd “poor vulnerable girl gets influences by a powerful man” aspect, and including rare plot elements such as a happy married couple and an unhappy ending for another couple. When I look back on the book I am still very proud of it; I don’t have a bad word to say about it, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that it was much, much better received by critics.
And now here I sit, nervously watching Heidi Klum’s poker face as my latest work walks the runway; an ambitious avant-garde couture piece I’ve named The Ancient’s Destiny (Book Three in the Prophecy Girl Trilogy). Will the judges find the intense action scenes and occasional surrealist influences fresh and exciting? Or will they just be confused by the amount of darkness in the story, and send me packing with a curt “You’re out” and a kiss on each cheek? It’s too early to say; but if there’s one thing that Project Runway’s taught me, it’s that it’s better to go home to a small but devout following for something you totally believe in, than to fail for trying to impress everyone but never displaying your true creative vision.