Documentary Review: Female authors find equality, success and tribulations writing “Naughty Books”

Call it “Adult erotica” fiction, or adult erotic romances, but chances are, you hadn’t heard this literary genre mentioned in polite company. Then “Fifty Shades of Grey” blew up the best seller lists and the motion picture box office.

And that opened the floodgates, not just on wider cultural exposure, but on the literary dreams of scores of would-be authors — women, mostly. All of a sudden, their ambitions to join the gold rush and culture shift that turned fiction of the Harlequin Romance variety into “rape fantasy” erotica were within reach.

Thanks to self-publishing and the playing-catch-up publishing industry, “Mommy Porn” became all the rage. And thanks to the Internet, women from all walks of life could get their work published and let the online marketplace decide if they deserved careers.

No middle “men,” no publishers-as-gatekeepers, no limits.

That’s the story that sweeps through “Naughty Books,” the playful feature documentary directing debut of Austin Rachlis. She got access to authors, famous and/or notorious, publicists and publishers, agents, booksellers, bloggers and academics and has them tell the story of this literary moment — “wish fulfillment fantasies” meet “feminism.”

Writers like Laurelin Paige, CJ Roberts and others playfully bicker about whether or not they’re writing “porn.”

“Well, it is a LITTLE porn,” one laughs. They can joke about being “the girl that writes dirty books” and whether or not any member of “my Catholic family” or any other relative should be reading their tales of “really good sex” and “the magic, the healing power of a billionaire’s orgasm.”

Oh my.

Writers of real ambition — Jamie Blair had a home in Young Adult fiction before taking on the name Kelli Maine and trying her hand at erotica — struggle with being dismissed for writing in this genre, even as readings (set to animation) from their works show flashes of genuine writing talent.

“Nobody wants a lot of plot with their sex.”

Rachlis takes us to a Vegas convention where erotic romance writers and sex toys and male strippers are on display, and we get a generous sample of how they’re a lot like their fans — “curvy,” salty (f-bombs), often rural and looking for a little escape.

But Rachlis gets into not just the industry that they’ve upended, but the fickle tastes of the public (Fame here can be like “youtube celebrity,” short-lived.), the “freedom” of self-publishing vs. the demands of major publisher book contracts to the flipping of gender roles in their often traditional, suburban marriages.

Some of those marriages end. A husband recalls the depression he felt upon realizing “We no longer needed my income.” One of the divorced authors allows that “The more successful I got, the less successful he got.”

One writer tears up over what she gave up to be a success, another takes a hard take-stock look — with friends — at the sales math and shifting to “darker and dirtier” tastes of readers, and a third decides she’s done what she can with it and backs away from this world.

The academics are here to put this “fad” into perspective, to praise the way these women have leveled this one corner of publishing’s playing field and warn about the dangers of “rape fantasies” in such fiction.

All in all, “Naughty Books” is a pretty good introduction to a publishing and reading phenomenon that came after Harlequin Romances. Here are women writing, publishing and purchasing books by women, for women and taking taking inspiration from the women who came before them.

“After I read ‘Twilight,'” one writer admits, “I thought if SHE could do it…”

Cast: Kristen Proby, CJ Roberts, Laurelin Paige, Kelli Maine (Jamie Blair), Glorya Hidalgo

Credits: Directed by Austin Rachlis. A 1091 release.

Running time: 1:22

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