Ashley Lister's "How to Write Erotica and Sex Scenes" might best be described as "Erotic Writing 101". It makes a near-ideal primer for those just entering the strange, bewildering world of that more unconventional creative endeavor known as genre erotica. A well-known author, poet, editor and educator in Britain, Lister has apparently transcribed one of his own writing courses--as evidenced by the odd typographical style of the print edition, in which the author's own words appear in quotation marks. (First time I've ever seen that! An excess of humility, perhaps?) Material is presented matter-of-factly, and everything is very much to the point. Perhaps a little too much so, as the book seems rather dry in spots, akin to a rudimentary classroom syllabus. Topics are laid out neatly and patly at the beginning of each chapter, discussed briefly in the middle, and cursorily summarized at the end. Serious-minded readers (a student is literally "one who is eager"after all) may well appreciate this more formal, stripped down, academic approach. I wonder, though, if this same approach might well discourage the ones who need a book like this the most; those casually laid-back, if no-less curious or potentially talented auditors lurking in the back row, waiting to be inspired?
Lister has included frequent and generous examples of "good practice", excepts of first-rate erotic fiction drawn from the top of the A-list; the work of some of the most talented writers in the business sprinkled like cereal-box prizes throughout the text. Yet, at times, one might have wished for more in the way of inspiration from the author himself. Then too, I would have liked to see expanded and more deeply probing discussions of certain topics. I'd love, for example, to hear more about the differences between literary and genre erotica. (Lister suggests that genre erotica is almost always sex positive, while literary stories more often than not portray sexual relationships as broken, dysfunctional or unhealthy.) It would be fascinating--and fun!--to learn more about how erotic writers can use adult films as a source of inspiration. I suppose it would be possible to write entire books--or at least several extensive chapters--on those heavily-charged topics. As noted, Lister's outline is well-organized and thorough, yet I do think it might have benefitted from a little more depth in places. Perhaps he may do so in a sequel, say, "Erotic Writing 202"?
My impression is that if one were to take out all mentions of erotic fiction here, and replace them with a discussion of classic English literature or some other popular genre, one would still have a fairly decent general introduction to the basics of fiction writing. As it is, the book includes a lot of valuable general information, the sort of which one might expect to find in any respectable entry-level text. This leads me to wonder if, perhaps, more people might be encouraged to try their hand at writing if the prospect were sweetened, as it were, with sex; writing as a form of personal liberation; a way to express our too-long repressed erotic selves? Ashley Lister has given us much to think about. May the conversation continue for a long time, indeed. Recommended.