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I wrote my very first erotic furry story in October 2001. I had moved to Japan less than two weeks prior and I’d just gotten my paws on the new laptop that would serve as my only real link to the outside world for the remainder of my time living there. My cable company hadn’t turned the Internet on yet, but I wanted to play with my computer, so I decided to write a short story.

It was about a red fox meeting and subsequently getting double-teamed by a pair of huskies (again, this was 2001, back before one-third of the fandom was huskies, and before three-thirds of huskies were stereotyped as total bottoms). It wasn’t a particularly good story, and it’s since been lost to the sands of time, or at least to a dead hard drive, but I had fun writing it. I wound up reworking the fox character into the central character of an online story series I went on to write a few years later, which then led to my first published novel, so in a weird way, I still look back with a certain amount of fondness at that not-very-good piece of animal-people smut I wrote over twelve years ago, now.

Now it’s 2013, and both my writing and I have come a long way, both figuratively and physically. I’ve been writing, posting, and publishing stories as K.M. Hirosaki for over a decade at this point, and in that time, I’ve seen my fair share of furry writing, clean and dirty, good and bad, professional and amateur, and maybe I’ve learned a few things from all of that.

All joking aside, the phenomenal success of Fifty Shades of Grey has shown us, as a society, that erotic fiction is in demand, and that it’s taken seriously, both by publishers and by readers (and sure, maybe Fifty Shades itself isn’t your particular cup of tea, but I guarantee you that most of the people who are into it are just as confused as to why you’re into the things you read on FurAffinity or SoFurry). And sure, there’s been plenty of debate, not just now but for years and decades and centuries, about the nature of adult fiction, its place or lack thereof in the grand literary scheme of things, and what it says about people who produce it, procure it, and consume it.

I’m not trying to settle any long-standing debates here. I’m just trying chip in my own piece, as someone who’s been doing this for a long time, to hopefully add something intelligent to the discussion, and maybe give some folks some food for thought.

You have lots of labels thrown around when talking about adult writing: erotica, pornography, smut, wank material, tripe, rubbish, and sometimes ‘the hottest thing I’ve ever read OMG.’ I can’t control what language people use, nor can I decide what certain words mean to certain people, but I do still think it’s fair to say that not all adult writing is created equal, and that not all of it is the same in terms of craft, in terms of intent, or in terms of interpretation. This isn’t to say that a story about a fox randomly meeting and then getting fucked by a pair of huskies is bad while a structured, romantic novella is good—merely that they’re different, and that sometimes, acknowledging those differences can matter a lot.

Perhaps the key difference that I want to focus on, in terms of this essay, is the difference between what might derisively termed pornography, and erotica. Again, I can’t control or decide the definitions that other people want to ascribe to certain words in their own discussions, but for my purposes, as a sort of shorthand, I’ll be using ‘pornography’ to refer to works of a primarily sexual nature where the sex is the effective end-all and be-all of the work, and ‘erotica’ for works where sex is a major part of the story, but wherein the story still exists for its own sake.

Or, perhaps more bluntly, sometimes people want to read about sex for reasons other than jerking off to it.

This is a point that a lot of people seem to miss, particularly when criticizing adult writing or dismissing its merit as a form of literature. The fact of the matter is that sex is an important thing, often a very important thing, to a lot of people (dare I say most people?). It can determine how people act, what they do, what they think, the choices they make or don’t make, how society views them—and it’s silly to think or to assert that the only reason to explore those themes is to arouse a reader in some base or vulgar way. That’s not to say that I think that everyone should or needs to read erotic fiction, or that they’re a prude if they don’t—merely that’s it’s not fair to label the people who do read such fiction as degenerates looking for a way to scratch a particular itch.

Most of you reading this probably know that I co-host the Unsheathed Podcast with my fellow furry writer Kyell Gold. Through that, I’ve seen pretty directly that my fans and readers—people who are reading erotic fiction, mind—are interested in much more than just Character A and Character B boning (or sucking or scissoring or what have you). There’s a definite interest in story, and in craft, and (perhaps especially) characterization. They’re asking questions about stories that may or may not involve sex, but even if they do, they understand that very often, they can and do and should involve other things, too.

With some of my fellow writers, I’ve jokingly commented that my stories about the character Reylin Saticoy are ones where I’ve ‘tricked’ my readers into reading adult fiction where no sex actually happens. Now, I know that, in reality, most of my readers don’t need to be tricked into anything, and that they’re not reading what I write just because they want to read about fucking (see above), but the fact is that the two main stories about Reylin to date (not including my 2012 summer short) don’t actually involve him having sex with anyone on the actual page.

Now, he’s a highly sexualized character in sexualized situations. There’s frank discussion of sex and sexuality throughout those stories, and I certainly wouldn’t want my seven-year-old kid (who doesn’t actually exist) to read them, but you’d be hard-pressed, I think, to call those stories pornography. They’re stories about a character whose sexuality is such a defining part of who he is, to what you could reasonably argue is a detrimental extent, in fact, and while he’s meant to be an attractive character getting into potentially arousing situations, I can say as the writer that my intent isn’t for people to furtively jerk off to these stories, and I’m guessing most readers who have read those stories could see that (though it might be interesting to see how many of those readers noticed that no actual sex happened while reading them).

This isn’t to say that all of my adult fiction is meant to be detailed character studies or anything grand and noble. The story of mine with the most hits online is about a pizza delivery fox getting fucked against a wall by a frustrated coyote, and sure, there’s a bit of a twist in there that makes it an actual story beyond just “here’s a scene with a fox getting pounded like a slut,” but I’m comfortable acknowledging that the story is more pornography than erotica, and that this one was written with a deliberate intent to arouse more than anything else. I have plenty of other stories like it, along with other stories more like my pieces about Reylin, and plenty of things in between. Different stories are meant for and do different things, and lumping them all together because “they’re all about people having sex” is unfair and possibly even disingenuous.

Within the furry fandom, there’s also a fairly prevalent belief, both amongst supporters and detractors of erotic fiction, that writing adult material is an automatic fast-track to fame, success, adoration, and all the tea in China or something similar. Yes, there’s the time-honored saying “sex sells,” and that’s as true for churchgoing housewives as it is for CEOs as it is for the guy in the otter fursuit at Anthrocon. We are not unique in this regard (and trying to claim that we are is another annoyance of mine, but that’s another essay entirely), but as true as “sex sells” is, you’ll notice it’s not “sex is the only thing that sells, ever.” Otherwise you wouldn’t be able to buy cereal or whatever recent remake of the board game Monopoly has just been released.

As I mentioned earlier in this essay, I’ve been “K.M. Hirosaki” for over a decade, at this point. Beyond that just being a mind-blowing and somewhat sobering thought, during that time, I’ve also been, well, myself, someone who isn’t K.M. Hirosaki, someone who also writes furry fiction and doesn’t necessarily write about things that have sex in them. And in that more-than-a-decade, I’ve been much more well-known and successful as “myself” than I have been as K.M. Hirosaki, regardless of the lack of foxes getting double-teamed by huskies. Writing about sex isn’t a magical cheat code.

The seemingly perpetually fiasco-ridden Ursa Major Awards have had this sort of talk happen a lot in recent years. There have been some, shall we say, vocal discussions about Kyell Gold having dominated the Novel and Short Story categories for many years, and what could/should/must be done to fix that. Now, leaving aside that it’s perhaps a silly notion to try to “fix” a popularity-based award because it was consistently being won by someone whose work was popular, there have been a number of very outspoken, very angry people who had and have been casting aspersions that said popularity stemmed solely from the fact that Kyell Gold writes erotic fiction and that that’s why he was constantly popping up on the list of nominees and winners.

But when it comes down to it, there’s not exactly a shortage of furry writers who focus on adult fiction. There isn’t even a shortage of prominent ones. If all it took to get recognition for work in this fandom of ours was “write stories about animal-people having sex,” we’d have a hundred Kyell Golds, but (at least as of the last time I checked) we’ve only got the one. To imply—or, worse yet, to accuse that level of success as being based on just writing about sex like it’s some kind of cheat to instant fame is hugely disrespectful, not only to Kyell Gold, but to anyone else who’s ever worked hard on writing, furry or not, adult or clean.

Of course, as many of you readers also know, Gold willingly withdrew himself from consideration for the Ursa Major Awards this year. And, lo and behold, without him on the playing field, the Short Story category now has Mary Lowd as the author of five of the six nominated stories, none of which are sexual. To my knowledge, Lowd doesn’t even write anything erotic, and yet now she’s the category frontrunner that people are talking (many of them complaining) about. And while it may be unprecedented and not ideal for five-sixths of an award category to be taken up by just one individual, credit has to go to Mary Lowd for doing (at least) one thing right: writing well enough to build up a devoted fan base who’s passionate about voting for her. The only real thing difference there, between her and Kyell Gold, is subject matter. You can’t look at that situation and logically say that it’s writing about sex or not that’s what makes or breaks them. Moreover, to sneer at either of them for success that they earned through their work is unwarranted and petty.

As we progress into the 21st Century, our society is (perhaps slowly, in some areas) becoming more sex-positive. Hell, one simply need glance at prime-time TV and compare it to what it was like in the 70s or 80s to see the changes in what’s considered the accepted norm for “not too sexualized to raise eyebrows,” as it were. Yes, some people take that as a sign that the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket, but I like to think that the prevailing consensus is that sex is an okay and natural thing, that people have and enjoy and talk about and think about and, yes, even read about. And write about.

Trying to cast erotic fiction as a “lesser” form of writing isn’t fair to the people who enjoy reading it or the people who try hard to write it well. Someone can write a sex story to be pornographically arousing or to be romantic and thought-provoking, just like how someone else can write a war memoir to be poignant or to arouse hostile feelings of militant jingoism. And hey, it’s not necessarily bad write or read something that’s meant for sexual gratification.

When it comes to “good” and “bad” in writing, leave those labels for the quality of the writing itself, not for the content. You’re allowed to think that Fifty Shades of Grey is poorly written while still enjoying it for what it is. You can accept that Ernest Hemingway was an extremely talented writer whose works simply aren’t to your tastes. You can be an intelligent, educated, cultured individual and still forgo reading Ulysses in favor of a story about a fox getting spit-roasted by a pair of huskies, whether you’re planning on jerking off to it or not.

Comments

ferdiaferlin
Mar. 22nd, 2013 08:22 pm (UTC)
Although I enjoyed furry art, I avoided reading erotic furry fiction for some time simply because I had the perception that it would just be about sex, with no real plot or character development, just as enough to tie several bits to tie several sexual scenes together.

A friend of mine had a copy of Kyell's Volle, and because of my friend's praise, I read the cover description and then the first chapter, and eventually the whole book. What I really enjpyed about it (and kept meaning to tell Kyell in a fan-boyish email) is how the sexual scenes seemed to be well integrated in to the plot and in fact did help with character development. It seemed rather than sex scenes hung loosely together that the sex scenes that were present helped flesh out an already well-developed character and plot.

Personally I do not read furry fiction for sex, but for a good story. As a result I had been shying away from erotic fiction. Now that I am open to the idea of erotic books, I have an even more stories available to me, and in many cases, the fact that there is sex referenced or spelt out simply adds another dimension to the characters.

I think there is still part of me that is somewhat hesitant and would prefer to read an author's non-erotic work before trying an erotic story (especially an explicit story), but I feel a bit more the way I do with trying a new mystery author or sci-fi/fantasy author--there is certainly the risk of getting the occasional story I dislike, but the joy of finding a gem far outweighs it.