Like any avid reader, I have over many decades occasionally read erotica. Mostly I found it boring, sometimes titillating but vaguely uncomfortable, and on really rare occasion, good. The Way of a Man and A Maid was my very first book by that famous author, Anonymous. Way back in the day, my mother taught high school seniors American History. She noticed one of her male students never glanced up and seemed completely enthralled by something. Now mom, no one’s fool, strolled over to the young man, confiscated the book, and informed him he could have it back when he brought either his mother or father in to school to approve it. This scandalous reading at the time, but mom thought it hysterically funny and after a month she figured Mom or Dad weren’t going to show up, so she brought the book home and gave it to my dad. (I do NOT what to think about that.) Dad, however, was way more into Field and Stream than erotica, so he just ignored it. I, curious soul that I am, did not. My first erotic read.
Anyone who claims they read women’s erotic romance – for the politically correct crowd it’s Romantica, for the right wing conservatives it’s women’s porn – for the story is like a guy claiming he buys Playboy for the articles. Right? Well, actually, no. At least not for me. After the ‘thrill’ of erotic literature wears off, and believe me for most women that usually doesn’t take long, what’s left but a red hot romance of some kind and a story? And romance needs the same elements in an erotic story that they need in any other romance, lead characters you can like (or at least not dislike), an attraction between the two (or more) characters, some kind of obstacle to overcome, and a happy ending of some kind. But it’s what happens around all this that entertains me. Yes, the red hot sex scenes are great, but without a story, they get BORING.
There are some excellent writers out there who CHOOSE erotic romance as their only or primary genre. Maya Banks, Lora Leigh, Jet Mykles – even Christine Warren got her start there and now her series is mainstream with much of the sex amputated. Some move back and forth or use multiple names, one for mainstream and a different name for erotic romance. I imagine mainstream is both more lucrative and ‘socially acceptable’ than getting saddled with the ‘erotic romance’ author tag. There is still something of a stigma attached to writing ‘erotic romance’ – not to mention admitting that you read it and like some of it! It doesn’t help that there’s a LOT of crap out there with no story and awful writing and the editing sucks. (NOTE to the editors at New Concepts Publishing – ‘soul’ is a noun. ‘Sole’ is an adjective [unless it’s a fish, then it’s a noun again] and it means singular – like sole possession. ‘Soul possession’ is a whole different thing! No wonder erotic romance gets a bad rap. Or in the case of New Concepts – “bad wrap.”)
I started writing this little editorial several weeks ago and lo and behold – there’s an interesting thread over on Dear Author about it that tackles the Romance Writers of America’s position on erotic romance – it’s not its own category. I guess I see both sides of that. Certainly the Mystery Writers of America doesn’t have an Erotic Mystery category. That, and I think sex, even extreme sex and non-traditional sex, is well tolerated by that group. Perhaps it’s the language used (pussy gets over used as does fuck), or the untraditional sex, or the sense that erotic romance is ‘dirty’ somehow, that makes it less palatable to the RWA. It’s marginalized further by saying it represents too small a percentage of the market to warrant its own category. Yet of all the books I posted on PaperbackSwap it was the erotic romance titles that went to ‘auto buy’ on member’s wish lists. They were gone as fast as I posted them. When I went and checked, the waitlists had 20+ members waiting on each title! So don’t kid yourself about demand. And I noticed every member with erotic romance on their wish list also had mainstream romance there as well.
I really found the inside peek at how the RITA’s Awards were actually determined something of an eye opener. I’ll never look on a book flashing ‘RITA Award Winning’ quite the same way again. It’s interesting to read the remarks by writers of non-traditional and erotic romance about the RWA as an association. Very enlightening.
It’s the very definition of what is a ‘romance novel’ that is part of the barrier for me. My biggest stumbling block is the whole ‘happily ever after’ (HEA) or the ‘happy for now’ element. That means Gone With the Wind is not considered a romance, but a love story. HUH? Yup, there is a difference. Gone With the Wind did not have a happy ending because, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn,” does not exactly an HEA make. That means the greatest romantic movie of all time, Casablanca, isn’t a romance either. Who knew? You could have fooled me. And believe me, people get all worked over this stuff! Love stories are not romance, they’re fiction. I’m afraid that just doesn’t work for me.
The first rule of philosophical debate is to define your terms. In that sense, I guess a limiting definition of romance serves a purpose. I just don’t agree with it. I think it forces writers into an outcome for their characters in order to sell into a lucrative market. By virtue of that specific requirement, creativity is forced thru an inalterable final hoop. The action/espionage/thriller/mystery reader in me – and admittedly that’s a very dominant trait – dislikes the lack of chance at a surprise ending. It is a real tribute to romance authors that this restriction does not stifle their ability to retain a fresh and creative voice completely. It does, however, lead to an appalling sameness with many authors, though that is certainly not limited to romance. They are taking the only escape routes left open. Even so, ‘erotic romance’ remains on the outside looking in.
I have just started reading Beyond Heaving Bosoms – The Smart Bitches Guide to Romance Novels and aside from the fact I think I pee’d myself laughing a few times, authors Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, the women who run the Smart Bitches – Trashy Books blog, nailed many of the overworked character and plot devices cold. Their flow chart on pages 14- 15 and their diagnosis code on pages 42-43 were worth the price alone. (By the way, I am awaiting treatment by a blood-swapping ritual and copious amounts of doggie style sex. I cannot tell you how relieved I am that it wasn’t copious amounts of anal sex!)
While I think the RWA needs to get over itself and get more flexible in their thinking, romance will grow its next generation of fans on a broader base regardless. And I think the erotic romance publishers and authors need to understand that simply using words like ‘pussy’ and ‘fuck’ and having anal sex do not eroticism make. Jeeze. And while I’m whining, would someone tell Lora Leigh that “If you love me, you’ll let me fuck your ass?” is not hot, it’s a sure sign the guy needs serious psychological help?
No question, erotic romance has more than its fair share of characters that seem to have had their good sense lobotomized and their hormones in overdrive. Oversexed idiots are still idiots. At least half of what I’ve bought was a dead loss. Some authors blow hot and cold in quality. Not exactly unique to any genre. Editing and proof reading are a frequent disgrace, but I see glaring errors in print books and it grates me a even more, especially when it’s a hardcover best seller! Erotic romance can suck big time, and not in any good oral sex way either. I think some of the editors got hit with a stupid stick, and I KNOW some writers have.
In the last 6 months I’ve explored various areas and discovered what I do and don’t like. I’ve learned I’ll never be a fan of BDSM, even when the female initiates the relationship as in Patton’s Way. I’ve also found that certain overbearing, controlling alpha males tend to make me want to check the garden for available monkshood or cleaning closet for a handy bottle of cyanide. Strong alpha males with strong alpha females can make for some really interesting reading. Like Tracey and Hepburn with sex. Having learned, I make far fewer wrong picks now than I used to. It’s kind of like exploring a new cuisine. You educate your palette and decide what tastes good and what you’ll spit out – and what makes you want to bitch slap the author! I have found that ménage books can be good or bad, but having more than 3 partners sounds freaking exhausting. And I do NOT want to think about all that laundry! And brainless twits are just as annoying in erotic romance as they are Regency novels and send me off looking for the cyanide again.
I like fresh voices and clever stories filled with people and events that can hold my interest and make me feel involved, make me laugh, AND get my hormones in a happy place – that’s about as good as it gets. So I’ll go on giving epubs and ebooks (available in pdf format) and erotic romance authors a try so I can find my own personal gems among the ordinary rocks. I’m grateful someone is giving some very good writers a chance! And all that man titty is awesome too!
And a special note to the RWA – I don’t care what you say romance is, Casablanca is a romance, not to mention the best movie ever!