A not-so-simple answer to “What do you do?”

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Ever since I’ve added “author” to my list of titles I’ve struggled a bit with the question, “What do you do?” When non-publishing industry people ask me I usually say, “Oh, I’m a wife, a mother, an office manager for a physician by day and an author by night.” Not too terribly difficult to answer, right?

What is hard to answer is the follow up question, the dreaded: “What do you write?”

That’s a bit more don’t-step-there-and-you-might-blow-some-unsuspecting-person’s-mind-ish. The truth is very simple and yet more complex than you might think. I write fiction—romantic fiction, including suspense and erotica.

I can make that declaration here with no problem. In my mind I’m shouting it at you so you hear me. In real life when I answer this question I start off in a normal voice and by the time I’ve reached the “e” word I can barely hear myself.

It goes something like this, “I write romance, suspense and erotica.” I actually whisper erotica. As if speaking the word out loud gives it some kind of crazy juju allowing it to mystically tattoo itself in scarlet ink on my forehead.

At this point, the people brave enough to have asked me this question in the first place have an insanely expectant look on their faces—eyebrows raised, head tilted in my direction, that eerie glow in their eyes that screams they darn well heard me but they want confirmation that I actually said that. Their ears become satellite dishes swiveling toward me with all the intent of an alien nation bent on wholesale takeover of Earth. Erotica? Did she say erotica? Holy moly, she said erotica.

embarrasedI’m not lying when I say normal, everyday people have been known to change when they discover I write erotic romance.

It’s not a subtle change either—there’s a noticeable increase in respiration rate, their cheeks grow pink like little boys hearing the word “boobs” for the first time and sometimes their hands go to their chests as if simply hearing the word has the potential to induce a cardiac incident. It’s difficult to tell if they’re intrigued, mortified or a combination of both.

It can all be incredibly awkward and almost inevitably leads to the follow up question’s follow up questions: “You write stuff like that whole Fifty Shades of Grey thing? Isn’t that what they call smut?”

You should know that I live in the Deep South. Deep is the operative word, folks. I’m in so deep there isn’t a shovel big enough to dig me out. I love my community.  Even though it isn’t all that open-minded I feel the roots that bind me here even if they aren’t accepting, I am.

church_ladySmut is a bad word down here. It’s akin to gun control, unsweetened tea, Saturdays without college football and well, prohibition. In other words, smut is the quintessential embodiment of all that is evil. And if smut is bad, well, let’s just say Fifty Shades of Grey rates you an auto-visit from members of your church—they won’t come in your house lest the demons of depravity decide to infest their souls—but they will pray for you as they stand outside and hold vigil.

My response is always, “I didn’t write Fifty Shades of Grey but what I write could be termed smut.” It’s an unsatisfactory answer because I want to scream at them that erotic romance isn’t a dirty genre. (OK, maybe it is—semantics, people, I’m trying to make a point.) By writing it I have nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t be led into hellfire and damnation by writing or reading it.

I promise. (I’m an author—you can trust me.)

I’ve gotten the OMG replies and the rude, oftentimes judgmental, follow-up questions but the truth is that many people are delighted and ask for details. I usually tell them how glamorous it is to be an author. It’s all chocolate bon-bons and Fabioesque male cover models 24/7, 365 days a year, don’tcha know? Sometimes I even tell them I practice what I write with my husband just to, you omg ladiesknow, see people nearly have aneurysms and make that TMI (too-much-information) sign with their hands.

There is no shame in my game—I proudly wear the EROTIC ROMANCE AUTHOR tattoo and I’m working on answering in a much firmer voice to non-industry people. I promise I am. I’m not letting any preconceived, rooted-in-my-subconscious-smut-killer thoughts run my life. In fact, this entire post has been a cathartic coming out for my smutty author side.

So my new answer to, “What do you do, Lea?” is this:

“I’m an author. I write romance, erotica and suspense, and you can suck a lemon if you don’t like it. And if you do like it, well, here’s a link to all my books.”

Lea Griffith 200Lea Griffith began sneaking to read her mother’s romance novels at a young age. She cut her teeth on the greats: Judith McNaught, Kathleen Woodiwiss and Julia Garwood. A firm believer that love makes the world go round, she still consumes every romance book she can put her hands on, but now she writes her own with alpha heroes that will melt your heart. Lea lives with her husband and three teenage daughters in rural Georgia. When not running her teens around, you’ll find her at her keyboard, using every spare second to write. Whether it’s romantic suspense or erotic romance nothing is off-limits when it comes to her writing.

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