Gene Weingarten: When it comes to smut, give a girl her props

WASHINGTON — I am writing the column today with a new friend, Kate Rothwell. Say hello to the nice people, Kate.

Kate: Hello.

Me: Please tell them what you do for a living.

Kate: I write smut.

Me: I think they might need some elaboration.

Kate: The technical, bookstore designation is romantic erotica, or "romantica." I write steamy novels under the pseudonym "Summer Devon."

Me: Why a pseudonym?

Kate: My children are already mortified enough by me.

Me: I don't read your stuff.

Kate: No man does.

Me: Do you think a male writer could do this as well as a woman?

Kate: No.

Me: Ahem.

Tiffany didn't walk into the room, she rolled in like thunder. Steve had noticed her before, but never in leather knee-high boots and a tight skirt. Choosing a seat across from him, she crossed one perfect thigh over the other as though this act was casual and unpremeditated, as though what next happened to the skirt was an unpredictable accident of physics.

"I shall have him within the hour," thought Tiffany smugly. And she did exactly that, in the nearest janitor's closet, their bodies mashing together with the fierce urgency of want and need and now. They would thrash in ecstasy as one being and never see each other again.

Kate: Clearly, you know nothing of the genre.

Me: What's wrong with it?

Kate: First, Tiffany's thighs are not "perfect." She is pretty but has a little cellulite, which might initially bother Steve, but which, in time, he will realize is completely irrelevant. Plus, they can't meet once for sexual congress, and that's it. They have to develop a relationship so Steve can do something cruel and thoughtless to Tiffany, who will then make him see how wrong he was and how much he hurt her, and he will grovel for her forgiveness over many, many pages. By his subsequent words and actions, he will make it clear that Tiffany's selfless love has transformed him into a better man. Also, you have given no hint that Steve is part lizard, wolf or raptor.

Me: What?

Kate: Yes, he is a "shape shifter." They are very popular right now. When seized by passion, shape shifters transform into feral creatures. This is a way to present savage, lustful behavior in a more acceptable light: Steve is in the thrall of his animalistic nature, obedient to urges that are overpowering. His actions, which might otherwise seem disturbing or creepy, are entirely understandable and forgivable. Why, Tiffany's scent alone will drive him crazy with desire. He is rendered helpless by her very being.

Me: Did I get anything right?

Kate: The janitor's closet. That was a nice touch. We're big on furtive, thrashing sex in inappropriate and uncomfortable places. Though you forgot to mention the size of Steve's manhood. It's almost bewilderingly large. All men in romantic erotica are midway between tantalizing and terrifying. And the heroines all have what we professionals like to call a "healing hoo-ha."

Me: Is that what it sounds like?

Kate: Yes. Mystical curative powers down below.

Me: If men read these books, they'd be terrified.

Kate: Why?

Me: Because what it makes clear is that, in comparative literary terms, female sexuality is James Joyce's Ulysses and male sexuality is The Hardy Boys.

Kate: I won't argue with that.

Me: How can we ever hope to compete with your expectations?

Kate: Interesting. That's what we say about the material you guys use for arousal.

Me: Maybe the answer is for men and women to abandon all these immature fantasies and work tirelessly to find joy and fulfillment in the simple reality of each other's love and understanding.

Kate: You're not very bright, are you? I like that in a man.

Gene Weingarten can be reached at weingarten@washpost.com.

Gene Weingarten: When it comes to smut, give a girl her props 02/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 5, 2010 4:10pm]

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