“Never underestimate your readers.” How many times had I been told this by all genres of writers? Then a few years back, at least three houses ago, I had a shoe-hurling experience where I decided the saying needed a corollary.
To see if I could do it, I would write erotic short stories: the kind of erotica where the sex exposes or hints at something important in the character or the setting or the zeitgeist. The sex and sexy words moved the plot along.
On a whim, I submitted a story never thinking it would be published. Surprisingly, it was accepted into an anthology (Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers). The editor gave me an option of using a pen name but I thought, “Hey, we’re all adults here. I’m way over 21. Been married twice. No one is going to mistake me for a virgin. And readers will know the difference between fiction and reality.” Boy was I wrong. Let me give you an example:
Late one night, I lay contentedly in bed after adequate vanilla sex. Looking at my playmate thinking nice, warm, fuzzy thoughts about him. He has pretty hair. Nice long legs (dum de dum dum). His momentary lapse into sleep with the accompanying snoring wasn’t too bad. Maybe he’s a keeper. I spooned him and he woke up.
“Read me something you’ve written,” he said.
“Okay dokey,” I said pulling out the laptop. He rearranged the pillows to listen attentively to a mild little story about pickles.
“That was good. Read me something else.”
“Ah, I could read you a story called Icyhot.”
“It’s erotica. You know, there’s sex in the story.”
“I’m a big boy. I can handle it.”
So I read the cautionary tale about using Viagra in a hot tub. The room filled with condemning silence.
“How’d you like it?” I asked. During the ensuing silence, the comforter became heavier. I turned on the overhead fan giving him a little butt wiggle in the process.
“It was descriptive,” he said.
“Good. Do you want to hear some more?”
“No,” and with that he pulled down a pillow, rolled over and stuffed the pillow between his legs. Oh my.
Okay so not everyone likes my writing. Maybe he was tired from the earlier exertion. Shrugging it off, I cleaned my face, brushed my teeth and slipped beneath the sheets.
Sometime later, I woke up to a squeak. Reaching out, the cold mattress proved I was alone in the bed. Silhouetted by the various electronic blinks of cable box, TV, computers, and a 1980s cassette-playing alarm clock, the man stood at the head of the stairs, fully dressed but holding his shoes against his chest. Starting to creep down the stairs and out the door.
“What are you doing?” I asked, genuinely confused.
“The story was too descriptive. I could just see you doing that … having sex … you had to have done that … I have to leave,” he fumbled.
I reached around the side of the bed. My hand found a shoe. “It’s fiction, you moron,” I yelled. With that I threw the shoe at the man. In an act of kindness from some divinity, the shoe hit him squarely on the forehead, bounced off his noggin to tumble down the staircase. He shook his head for a moment before continuing towards the door. There was a muffled, “Shit,” around the halfway part in the not so stealthy retreat. Perhaps he tripped over the shoe.
This is a no-win situation. If I write erotica, will people think these are my experiences? If I leave out desire and sex, vanilla and not so vanilla, wouldn’t I be cutting out and dismissing a big piece of the human experience? Am I underestimating the ability of my reader to deal with life in all its bountiful body fluids?
For a few anxious days, I waited for a subpoena rationalizing my action as justifiable assault and formulated a countersuit for the price of a new pair of shoes. That thrown sole was mangled even bruised.
The necessary corollary to the saying, “Never underestimate your readers,” is “Always know your audience.” Or at least have a good aim and keep a shoe handy.