Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing vs Asa Akira’s “Insatiable: Porn – a Love Story”

 

Elmore Leonard Asa Akira

illustration by Joe Ciardiello on the left, and Dave Choe on the right.

The problem with loving a really great book is knowing the next read will suffer by comparison.  I like to combat the letdown factor with a palate cleanser, so after reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks I decided to spend some time with Asa Akira’s Insatiable: Porn – a Love Story.  It was surprisingly good, and I say that as a person who has read his share of bad books and finished them just because they had sex on every other page.  Insatiable had stories that could have easily been part of any humorous memoir, a Kelly Oxford or a Hilary Winston.

That said, some of the humor came from poor writing choices.  Being an Elmore Leonard fan and a follower of his 1o Rules of Writing, I couldn’t resist putting this together.  Could I have picked a more difficult target?  For certain.  But it makes me giggle.

 

Elmore Leonard Rule 1

“I started this book hoping to shed a different light on the industry I love so much.  Not to say every day is sunshine and flowers, but I don’t feel a healthy, honest voice of someone currently looking from the inside out has been heard.”

Insatiable, from the Author’s Note.

Light?  Sunshine?  Out?  Sounds like weather to me.  Or metaphorically, the conditions inside the porn industry.

Okay, I’m reaching.  But they get better, I promise.

 

Elmore Leonard rule 2

See “from the Author’s Note,” above.

 

ELMORE LEONARD RULE 3 

 “It’s the Curious Case of D. Snoop,” I joked.

Insatiable, from “Art of the Blowbang”

“It’s my job to drill them,” he boasted.

Insatiable, “Glory”

“I’m so gross,” I whined.

Insatiable, “Food Porn”

I didn’t mark these as I went or anything, I just flipped through the book and stopped when one caught my eye.  Not much flipping, either.

 

elmore leonard rule 4

“I took the liberty of going through your camera,” he said sadly.

Insatiable, “No Sex in the Champagne Room”

“Wtf* is a hole saw,” I quickly replied

Insatiable, “Glory”

“Do you think..?” I carefully, yet excitedly questioned Dana.

Insatiable, “Shit Pornstars Say”

Okay, so only the first example has an adverb modifying “said.”  But I couldn’t resist including two examples of Akira breaking rules #2 and #3 simultaneously.  Again, it didn’t take much flipping to find these.  The word “rife” comes to mind.

* Yes, she wrote “Wtf” rather than “what the fuck.”

 

elmore leonard rule 5

California is great!

Insatiable, “August 12, 2008”

“That motherfucker!  And that stupid bitch!  I’m gonna scream!”

“That’s what I said!  But you can’t tell him I know or he’ll kill me.”

Insatiable, from “Craigslist”

Toni extended his stay in L.A.!  He thought he was going to have to go to Greece for a production, but it’s delayed!  Yayy!*

Insatiable, “Diary, 2012-2013”

Girl got more exclamation points than gang bangs got penises.  Hey-yo!  

Okay, I’m the idiot, expecting subtlety from a porn star.  Still, that’s a lot of enthusiasm.

* Yes, yay with two yys.  Not long enough to convey extra excitement (Yayyy!) but not short enough to be correct.

elmore leonard rule 6

Almost a year went by, when Raven switched to an all-vegan diet and started drinking alkaline water, and suddenly, miraculously, was cured.

Instatiable, “Shit Pornstars Say”

At no point does Asa Akira use the phrase, “all hell broke loose” but I think it’s more a reflection of her joie de vivre than her skill with prose.  She treats porn sets, roller coaster relationships, and drug use with such aplomb that it all reads as fairly routine.  Her routine, anyway.  The closest she comes to “all hell” is in “No Sex in the Champagne Room.”  She and her friends are at a male strip club when, “The crowd of two-hundred-plus horny ladies went wild.”  And in Akira’s defense, I bet they did.

You saw Magic Mike of course, but did you go see it in theaters?  People lost their frickin’ minds, and that was over celluloid guys, not even flesh-and-blood guys.

 

elmore leonard rule 7

“You gonna use that mayo?” my co-inmate asked me.  It was  the first thing either of us had said to the other.

“No, here.”  I walked up to her and handed her the mayo.  I thought black people were notorious for hating mayo, I thought to myself.

As if she were reading my mind, the next thing out of her mouth was “I must be the only black bitch who eat mayo.  Whachu in here for?”

“Shoplifting,” I answered as I sat on the bench next to her.  “You?”

“Prostitution.  My boyfriend about to be real fuckin’ mad, too.  I was drivin’ his car tonight.”

I didn’t know how to reply.  I had never met a hooker in real life.  I had never even met a stripper.

“I called that nigga like five times and he still ain’t pick up.  This phone probably a blocked number or somethin’.”

“How did they catch you?” I overexcitedly blurted out.

“Fuck, the police busted my club.  I own two clubs uptown; they busted one of ’em last week.  I got pulled over, next thing I know I’m here.  I was tellin’ my girl on the phone, why the fuck I’m here?  I got pull over for speedin’, now I’m in bookings?  That ain’t right.”

I was confused why she was in jail.

Insatiable, “Crime and Punishment”

Okay, Akira double-thinks to herself (as opposed to thinking to others), she overexcitedly blurts, and the “were”s and “was”s all over the place make her narrative voice too passive.  Clearly, we’re dealing with an English teacher’s nightmare.  But rather than breaking Rule #7, this example proves it down to the ground.  Leonard was no stranger to patois, he just knew exactly how – and how often – to use it.  Thinking to one’s self (much like holding with one’s hand or looking with one’s eyes), passive voice, and violations of Rule #2 and Rule #3 aside, this scene is a prime example of how to write dialect.  Not every black character in the book speaks like this, but the woman busted for running a prostitution club with whom Akira shares a cell does, and her voice rings true.

That’s what bothers me about Insatiable.  I didn’t write this for the non-revelation that a Porn Star’s memoir makes amateur writing mistakes, I wrote this because it would take very little to polish these stories into x-rated snippets of memoir gold but someone at Grove Press couldn’t be bothered.  This is just something for Asa Akira to sign at appearances that’s not a DVD or a picture, so who cares if it violates the written word?  It could have been good and strong and instead it’s just utilitarian.  Where’s the quality?  Where’s the care?

As Akira explains, she made her bones in the business on what’s called “Gonzo Porn;” no plot, just sex.  This is Gonzo Memoir.  It’s indicative of publishing-industry wide belt-tightening and general ennui, and it’s got to stop if we lovers of the written word are going to move forward on the premise that books have special value over other salable commodities.

 

elmore leonard rule 8

Physically, I supposed he looked like he could swing either way.  Tall, muscular, not quite handsome, but passable as an overall good-looking dude.  Totally the opposite of my type, Luke was too delicate.  Clean-shaven, manicured nails, perfect tan.  The authenticity of his nose was questionable, and his teeth were undoubtedly too white to be natural.  Originally a good country boy from North Carolina, soft-spoken and well-mannered.  He didn’t command anything of me, which is something I usually needed in a man.

Insatiable, “Penis Envy”

To know who Luke is and how Akira feels about him, that last sentence is all the reader needs.  The rest is basically a writing exercise, and it should have been trimmed.

 

elmore leonard rule 9

This is another rule Akira doesn’t break.  In each scene, she gives a sense of place and movement without trying to be an architect (building sets), artist (drawing you a picture), or puppet master (telling you so-and-so used the index finger on her left hand to scratch an itch just above her right eyebrow).

Sure, I could probably shoehorn an example in here like I did for Rule #1, but I feel like we’ve grown as people since then.

 

elmore leonard rule 10

I looked all around and everything was either gold or mirrored.  There was a flute hanging from a random corner in the ceiling, the significance of which I immediately grasped; a few years back, my mother had flown in a woman from Thailand to redecorate our entire house according to the laws of feng shui.  We had flutes, tiny mirrors, fish, dragons, strategically hanging all over our walls.  It’s still embarrassing to explain to when I take someone back home: Oh, the trashcan is awkwardly right smack in the middle of the kitchen because obviously, the way they built this place, any of the corners or against a wall would be bad luck.  And try not to knock over the cups of salt inconveniently placed throughout the house.  Don’t mind the sheet we put over the mirror in the bedroom when we go to sleep, either, but it’s inauspicious to go to bed facing a mirror.

The man introduced himself as Bill.

Insatiable, “Craigslist”

Wow, Feng Shui is crazy, amiright?  Now let’s get back to the creepy dude who invited you into his bedroom for massage training.

 

And now, so we don’t go from mentioning a creepy dude directly to a photo of Elmore Leonard, here’s a close up of the blurb on Insatiable‘s front cover:

insatiable nutting blurb

I wouldn’t say that reading Insatiable evolved my views on sexuality but it was a pleasant reminder that there are different strokes out there for different folks.

Sometimes very different strokes (nudge-nudge, giggle).

 

elmore leonard portrait
“All of these rules have exceptions but the most important one sums up the rest: if it sounds like writing, I re-write it.  Or if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go.  I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the narrative.”

The excitement in the room is unmistakable, and everyone’s voices are at least a pitch higher than before the shoot started.

“Holy shit, great fucking scene!” the director will exclaim.

“I actually got a boner!” jaded cameraman number two will joke.

“That was one of my top ten scenes ever,” I’ll declare.

It feels something like just having done a first line of coke together, and everyone wants to talk at once and pat each other on the back for their respective role in the production.

Insatiable, “The Perfect Scene”

Oof.  Just… no.

 

Some authors – particularly Lionel Shriver – are so well-versed in the English language that reading their work is also a vocabulary lesson.  Asa Akira is well-versed in other things, and reading Insatiable taught me about Accutane, Chikan, electrocution as sex play, and an alternative meaning for “airtight.”

Happy Googling!

 

For a less condescending review of Asa Akira’s writing, please visit Vice.

 

 

 

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