The Power of Words: Smut

As a writer, words are both my peanut butter and my jam. (Yes, I’m hungry) Any writer know that choosing the right word is essential to conveying the meaning we wish to convey. In rhetorical studies, the term kairos means speaking the right word at the right time to the right audience to bring about the desired effect. That’s what we do as writers: choose the right word to evoke the images and emotions we seek to evoke in the mind of our reader.

Magical theory has long held that words have power. True names grant control. Incantations paired with intentionality can manifest results. Psychologists talk about the scripts we tell ourselves and how they impact how we see ourselves and the world around us.

But I want to talk about one word: smut. Such a little word, right? But it’s a word with such power that it evokes visceral reactions in people.

In my day job, I’m a college instructor. I am a state employee. As such, I am required to disclose any outside employment and get “permission” to have this job. So, I disclosed my work as an author, describing what I do as “I write lesbian vampire smut under a pen name.” Could I have described my work as “urban fantasy mysteries with homosexual paranormal romance subplots”? Yes. Could I have simply said “urban fantasy”? Yes.

I chose that descriptor with full knowledge of what I was doing. I chose to focus on the fact that I, a queer author, am telling queer stories with (and some points) sex on the page (see Blood/Lust). I chose to foreground that my work is queer and sex positive. My work also features enthusiastic consent at every stage. Why? Consent is sexy. So I chose to foreground a descriptive, queer relationship in my description.

Also, as a member of AuthorTok and BookTok on the TikTok app, I’ve noticed how women, especially readers and writers of erotica and romance, have taken to using “smut” as a positive descriptor. From my experience, women choose this word to claim (and in some cases reclaim) our sexuality and enjoyment of sexual content. Living in the southern United States, I am aware that a “good Southern lady” doesn’t speak about “s-e-x” in public. She won’t admit to enjoying it or to even thinking about it. Well, I love sex. I enjoy it. I think about it. I claim myself as a sexual being.

What’s funny is the pushback I’ve gotten from men. Men seem to have a problem with the use of the word smut. They see it as shaming sexual content and sexual activity. Men tell me not to use that word. I’m sure these men think they’re being progressive, but the act of telling me what words to use to describe the content of the books I write (especially when the men in question have never read the books I write) is mansplaining.

But that’s the power of the word “smut”. By using that word, I evoked such a sense of shame and moral outrage in men that they felt compelled to tell me not to use that word. Words have power, and we give that power to words. I claim the power of the word smut in describing the erotic content in my novels – whether that content is explicit or implied. If doing so evokes a sense of moral outrage in men, then so be it. Let them be outraged that a queer woman enthusiastically claims her sexuality and her enjoyment in reading and writing erotic content for queer women.

Promotional Hype

My debut novel, Liam’s Doom, is on sale at all major and minor retail outlets from Amazon to Barnes & Noble to Bookshop.org. I request that you support Bookshop.org, as their site supports local and independent bookstores. The eBook is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and through my webstore.

Carmilla’s Ghost is now on sale. The paperback version is available all major online retailers, including AmazonBookshop.org and at Barnes & Noble. Currently, eBook pre-orders are only available at Amazon and through my webstore.

And my prequel novel, Blood/Lust is also available as an Amazon exclusive.