Why is the average quality of f/f out there so LAME?
Okay, perhaps I'm being needlessly bitchy, but I recently purchased two books by Publisher Who Shall Not Be Named, one an f/f/m and the other an f/f/f. They were shorter works sold in the erotica section of an online bookstore, there was a sale going on that took a nice chunk off the cover price (which was more than I was willing to pay for works of that length) and being a glutton for punishment, I figured what the hey? Why not give them a whirl?
I mean, I'd stumbled across another short from PWSNBN (by a different author) during a giveaway recently, and it was damn good. Not everyone's cuppa, for sure, being a brother/sister story--not usually my cuppa, either, to be honest, but the story was well-written enough that the taboo of a brother and sister getting it on felt titillating and naughty and just dirty enough to jive with my mood when I read it. In fact, it was one of the better-crafted short erotica works I've read in a while.
And I'm pretty much open to anything if it's competently written--you know, with basic things like comprehensible grammar and proper word usage, as well as more advanced things like good character development, recognizable conflict, understandable motivation and a little thing called a plot, however simple it might be. I could not only accept the possibility that such a thing could happen between these two characters, I could envision it happening exactly the way it did, and despite the questionable nature of the sexual relationship, the sex itself was tender and evocative, as well as taboo and a little nasty because of that.
So being the brave soul that I am, I gave these two f/f books a try. And I want my $4 back.
The first--a contemporary f/f/m menage? Well, I'd like to tell you the f/f action was smoking hot--and maybe it was. But I don't know, because I couldn't force myself to read past page 3. Yes, page 3. I couldn't even make it to the first sex scene.
The first off-putter was the weakness of the writing: passive voice galore, too many adjectives, purple prose (when you're sitting there thinking the author used a thesaurus ten times for every page, it's too much. Not every verb needs to be a strong one, not every adjective needs to be unusual, and "salivated" is not--repeat, NOT--a dialog tag), POV issues (like when a character thinks of him/herself in ways people just don't--like the color of their hair or whether they're handsome), chronological problems (are we in a flashback? Hell if I know), and headhopping. The descriptive focus was...interesting. If I hadn't read the author bio, I'd have sworn the author was male. The last time I found such a detailed description of a woman's physical appearance (from her lip-gloss right down to the color of her toenail polish) without any description of WHO she is as a PERSON, was in a Penthouse letter.
I couldn't read any further. I just couldn't do it. There could have been scorching, down-and-dirty, girl on girl on guy scenes every page for the rest of the book, but it wasn't worth the pain of reading them. It just wasn't. Sigh.
The second book, an f/f/f, was hardly better. The writing was no more technically competent, though the lack of purple prose made it easier to read, and the descriptive focus was more non-existent than irritating. Plus, it was shorter. I managed to get all the way through. Still, I had to wonder if the author had even a basic (grade three?) grasp of grammar, and there were word-usage issues that were not simply typos (I can understand the breath/breathe thing, or the effect/affect thing, but when you have errors like perpetrate/perpetuate or palpable/pliable or whatever, it reminds me of an episode of Jerry Springer I watched once where one of the guests used the word "pensive" completely incorrectly, and then in the next ten minutes, four other guests used it in the exact same, incorrect way. Stupidity, it is contagious).
There was a little character development--just enough to make me not like any of the characters. One was an opportunistic sociopath who was happy to take sexual advantage of her friend's drunken state, the other was a passive wimp, and the "villain?" was little more than a dildo strapped to a mannequin. Again, I don't need to like every MC--some of my favorite MCs in books I've read have been total douchebags with almost no attractive traits to convey any sense of humanity. In fact, I adore the anti-heroes that abound in fantasy novels, like those written by Stephen Donaldson or George RR Martin, protagonists who are driven by their weaknesses and self-hate. But when you can't even tell who the protagonist of the story is, even after you're done, you know there's a problem.
There was no goal, motivation or realistic internal conflict to speak of--other than getting laid. The story had all the compelling drama of a really lame porn movie--like the kind where the pizza guy arrives and the housewife says, "oh, I don't have any money on me, whatever shall I do?" only without the bow-chicka-wow-wow to distract you from the bad acting.
The sex scenes were full of continuity problems (whaaa? How the hell can she put her mouth there when they're in this position? Wait a minute, I thought she was bent over the desk), pronoun confusion (who's doing the what now?), and a complete focus on physicality over emotion. I mean, things don't have to be all lovey-dovey--I'm a board-certified dirty old man, ffs, it's not like I need every sex scene to be a love scene--but for sex scenes to work there needs to at least be lust, even if it's of the unwholesome, dirty, nasty, leave a bad taste in your mouth variety. For an example of non-lovey-dovey, nasty f/f/m erotica that's emotionally gorgeous, I'd suggest The Dinner Party by Remittance Girl--I believe the theme of that was perfectly conveyed in the phrase "the corruption of innocence" and damn was it ever hot.
But nope. Nothing. No emotion, just lots of licking, fingering, dildo usage and orgasms. And with zero sexual tension, the orgasms fall flat. I mean, I suppose I could rub myself off to images of myself folding laundry and I'd get off eventually, but I'd rather think of things that make me feel emotions like, um...desire, maybe? Lust? Naughty titillation? Horrid, nasty humiliation? Shame? Shit, gimme something.
Sigh. So why is it that you can find a brother/sister incest story that's competently and engagingly written, yet the f/f stories put out by the same damn publisher have all the literary flair of the sex journal entries of a 14-year-old, illiterate boy with a bloodstream full of THC and fixation with boobies? Why?
I mean, PWSNBN has a whole list of "editorial staff", and yet I can't imagine either of these stories would have made it out of the slush-pile at my own beloved Samhain. If they had, by the time they'd endured the indignity of multiple content and line edits, they'd have been honed like soldiers, stripped of all their wannabe pride by repeated and focussed calling out of their inadequacies--"you call that a dialog tag, private!?? My six-year-old daughter could come up with a better euphemism for fucking! Drop and give me twenty words for pussy, move move move!!!"--and rebuilt into the perfect instruments for one-handed reading.
If this is the editorial offered at PWSNBN, well, I have to say I'm unimpressed. I'm guessing that the author of the incest story is rather like me--my manuscripts don't require much effort from my editor (one reason why she likes me so much)--and the book was mostly publishable right out of the slush pile.
But it's a common problem with f/f. The money, it isn't so great. Not compared to, say, m/m/f. It's largely a labor of love, and I'd imagine most writers who know their craft and have dabbled in it simply move onto more lucrative things.
But at the same time, I have to wonder if publishers who put out this kind of dreck aren't shooting f/f in the foot. I mean, I can see readers who don't think about the technical aspects of writing reading stories like this and assuming it's not the shitty craft turning them off, but the nature of the content, and not trying another f/f. More is not necessarily better, not if it's just more crap.