Book Review: How to Write a Dirty Story:

Reading, Writing, and Publishing Erotica, by Susie Bright.

Susie Bright is one of the, um, seminal writers of erotic* fiction, editor of Herotica (lesbian erotica) and The Best American Erotica series as well as the author of a ton of other books (titles like Mommy’s Little Girl: On Sex, Motherhood, Porn, and Cherry Pie). She’s not one of my favorite writers, but she does a good, solid schtick: Sex is good. Also, it happens to touch on almost every aspect of people’s lives. Also, there’s a lot more variety than you think there is. And a lot of things to appreciate. And a lot of things to hate…

She brings the same attitude to her book. The writing advice is good, solid stuff, but nothing really original, in either the advice or the writing exercises (other than the one about taping yourself, but that seems a pretty direct, obvious suggestion). She spends a lot of her time (as I suppose she must) reassuring writers that writing about sex isn’t bad and is, in fact, as vital as writing about relationships or death.

Where the book truly shines, though, is the last third, which covers the publishing industry. She makes a good case for staying out of publishing: your hands stay clean. Publishing is the kind of work that some writers are never going to love. And how hard you’re going to have to work at marketing…

I’ve found better books on writing. They didn’t go as far as How to Write a Dirty Story does about sex, but really — once you’ve gotten over the forbidden aspect of writing about sex, it’s like fortune cookies: take all the advice you like and add the words “in bed” at the end:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Avoid cliches.
  • Plot is important.

Writing about sex is hard. Writing in general is hard. Not a bad little book, though.

*There’s a debate over whether you should call sexually arousing material “erotica” or “pornography.” While people generally use “erotica” to mean “pitched toward more literate/sophisticated audiences,” I tend to use it to cover written material, and “porn” (pornography being literally “the writing of harlots,” ironically) for visual material. Just the era I grew up in, I guess. “Porn” was what guys sneaked away to watch; “erotica” was the books we passed around at the dorm (the early ’90’s being the point at which “erotica” became a more commonly-thrown-around term).




Q: What does evil look like?

1 Comment

  1. SusieBright

    Ha! I really enjoyed your review. I liked writing the “Publishing” section the most because that’s what really enrages me, as I’m sure you can tell. If I was writing it now, though, I’d add a whole section about blogs and salvation.

    As for the writing tips… my emphasis comes from what I observe in my classes. Most people’s problems are basic composition skills, and fear. I tell them that they could read Strunk and White and get everything I’m telling them on the writing front. As for fear and apprehension about sex, it’s pretty deep. Reassurances dont’ even begin to address it, actually. But if they read enough quality material that includes sexuality, the worm begins to turn…

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