Sunday, May 15, 2005

No Sex Please, we're Romance Novelists

The two hottest selling romance sub genres right now are inspirationals and erotic romance. I’m not sure exactly what this says about our country, other than we’ve got a collective split personality.

Inspirationals, of course, have no sex whatsoever – even kissing is iffy – whereas in erotic romance, we happily do whatever our editors and readers will let us get away with.

Now, being a Southerner, I understand the religious belief that sex is emotional nuclear waste, to be avoided at all cost unless wearing certain protective gear – namely a wedding ring. If that’s where your faith leads you, that’s cool.

What I have a serious problem with is the attitude expressed by certain letters to RWA Magazine lately suggesting in veiled terms that everybody who writes erotic romance is a slut who is only doing it for the money. It’s not just inspirational authors expressing this attitude, either – it’s the middle-of-the-road, no-sex-until-chapter-seven set.

THAT I have a problem with. It’s as though they’re saying it’s okay to write love scenes, but they must be sufficiently bland and mechanical as to avoid arousing either the writer or the reader. In other words, sex should be treated as a bout of diarrhea – a disgusting business that should be glossed over as much as possible.

Wait a minute – what are we writing, people? These are romance novels. Like it or not, the core of a romance is the formation of a profound emotional and sexual relationship between a man and a woman.

Sex, particularly sex between two people who are falling in love, is a profoundly powerful experience. In the act of making love, the characters express to one another and to us what their feelings are at that particular time. Stripping a scene like that of any hint of true sexual heat is the equivalent of having your hero and villain have their climatic fight off-camera.
Any act which is important to the characters and the plot arc needs to be shown on camera at its maximum impact. That includes the sex. Otherwise, you’re cheating the readers, the characters, and yourself.

Women read romance because they want to experience what it’s like to love this magnificent hero, and be loved by him. As a writer, I spend an great deal of effort setting him up in all his beauty and heroism, and detailing his journey to love with the woman of his dreams.

Yet I’m supposed to shortchange the ultimate physical expression of that journey because it’s somehow dirty? I don’t think so.

The standard argument for censoring sexual content is to protect children. But romances are in no way marketed or intended for children, and children do not read them. True, teenage girls have been known to get their hands on them, which is why we need to write sexually responsible characters. But it’s safe to say the vast majority of our readers are over 21.

Thus, there is no good reason to censor our work, other than the belief that "good" girls don’t like sex, and that if we write hot sex well, we are somehow "bad" girls. Well, I am not a girl of any kind. My primary responsibility is to my characters and the reader who plunks down her $7.50 for my book. My mother, my family members and any easily scandalized neighbors will have to fend for themselves.

If you don’t care to write sexual content for religious reasons, I respect that. If you are not comfortable writing sexual content because you are shy, that’s fine too. But if you do write sex scenes, don’t blast me because I don’t choose to hold back.

And given the current market, you might want to rethink whether holding back is a good move, either artistically or from a commercial standpoint.

For me personally, writing erotic romance has paid off handsomely. My new book, MASTER OF THE MOON is in its second week on the USA Today bestseller, list, having jumped 19 spaces from 87 to 68.

Angela Knight

32 comments:

Jenn said...

Go on w/your bad self Ms. Knight. I too, am attempting to write the so called BAD GIRL type of romance. IE real sex, not bland oh the sweet mystery of life at last I've found thee, but yeah, down and dirty, cute and flirty, all out sex. Hopefully, well written *crosses fingers*. Just know that here in the south (oh the lovely south *grins w/jaw clenched*) they still feel this way at least in public. But you and I know that someone is reading these books (erotica, romantica) or there wouldn't be so much demand for it. So? As the old saying goes? F*ck em and feed em fishheads and rice. Long live PFW (Porn for Women) LOL.

D. said...

That's me again, though you are probably well tired of my from the LIA loop :)

I think, aside from the puritanism blossoming in the USA (a movie can get worse ratings for sex than for violence), the core of those views is the usually gratuitous nature of sex in public entertainment as a whole.

Of course, on some level almost every area of art is sex-related, but here I mean only the obvious manifestations. For another parallel, notice how an actress is more blamed by some part of the audience if she takes part in an erotic thriller a-la Basic Instinct than if her naked scenes happened in some artsy, indie movie which screams festival gear.

Because there is a notion that sex as entertainment = cheap [entertainment]. That is not to say I share it, but it decidedly exists. If you cannot think of a better way to sell your entertainment, add a naked girl, because sex sells:)

And there we come to the discrimination.

If you put sex in something highly literary--especially some twisted sex, under which I don't mean healthy kink but something...else :) -- you will be regarded as an edgy, risque author. Sex in a novel which is mass entertainment, a genre novel, makes people say "she sold out." Or sex which is more or less normal, i.e. most readers/viewers can relate.

Why it happens? Hard to say. Perhaps because when sex serves as a part of the mass entertainment, it is simplified in a way... but then, so are other things.

Perhaps because the artsy sex looks as if it is not meant to satisfy the physical need, or at least, not only that need, whereas the more entertaining kind of sex, the genre sex, is more obviously a part of the readers' erotic fantasies. Notice all the "this book was so good, I ran for my SO" comments :) So the difference is perceived as a difference between, say, selling nude scuptures, and selling sex toys. The first one is more veiled.

So I think that's the reason. In the world of naked backs combined with high necks, the erotic romance authors wear a mini and a low cut top :) Many, many readers want the romance to be erotic simply because they want their sexual fantasies to be fuller. It serves to better get them off.
Most areas of art will deny such a reaction of the audience, or at least try to make it look more... I don't know, sophisticated.
Erotic romance authors admit it and revel in it.

Now Why the society perceives such open sexuality as Bad -- that's the interesting point. Why reading about two people having sex is perceived as a cheaper entertainment than reading about two people fighting?

So that's my theory -- sex in entertainment proved to be such an easy moneymaker that everyone who does it is automatically suspected in doing it in a gratuitous way, with the $$$ in mind.



>>> Women read romance because they want to experience what it’s like to love this magnificent hero, and be loved by him.

Though I must say not all readers identify with the heroine to such an extent. Some just want to read a story :)

JillNoelle said...

WTG, AK! An excellent post in defense of erotic romance writers everywhere.

Censorship sux.

Jill

Morgan Hawke said...

GO ANGELA!!!
- No sex in a Romance??? Then what’s the point of Reading it??? If I want the Pain of Love, Drama and Angst, without sex, I can get plenty of that when I visit my family at Christmas. (I escape ASAP.)

Anyway…
- There has ALWAYS been sex in fiction – especially in literary fiction. The difference, however, is that Only in Romances does Sex lead to a Happy Ending. In any other form of fiction, Sex brings Dire Consequences. For some strange reason, Sex is okay in any genre of fiction – as long as the participants are Punished, usually horribly.

Have you ever noticed how most villains are Sexually Attractive? Because their BAD. Only Bad people have sex, therefore the Villain is allowed to be sexually attractive. Gee, no wonder all these scarred and wounded Anti-heroes are showing up in all the new Erotic Romances. Technically they’ve already been punished for their sexual nature, so it’s okay if they remain sexual.

I for one have No Interest in reading a book where the sexually active participants are Punished! I like sex, and I refuse to read a book that vilifies the type of person I am, or the type of hero I wouldn’t mind sleeping with.

For those who think sex in fiction is Bad:
GET OVER IT!
- No one EVER got pregnant, or an STD from a BOOK! If you don’t want to read sex – then DON’T Read it! But leave those of us who enjoy sex in our fiction alone!

Just remember – we’re a far Younger crowd. Sooner or later, we WILL Outnumber you.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Morgan Hawke

D. said...

Sex brings Dire Consequences.

***thus confirming my theory :) For the bad-ending sex is not supposed to be enjoyed! It is supposed to prove the psychological things, to be used for reflections on the role of sexuality... etc. But you are not supposed to please yourself while thinking of it. And that's what brings the puritanical wrath--the sex that seems to serve as fantasy fodder, satisfying the audience, pardon the pun.

And re: not wanting to read the fiction where someone is Punished--you sure? ;)

Amie Stuart said...

*clapping for angela and morgan*

They gotta kick the bucket eventually *ggg*

Sasha White said...

WHoo Hooo, Ladies!

Sex is part of life, and part of living there is no reason we should back off on writing REAL characters.

The attack on erotic books is extremely disappointing and sad, especially as it seems to be coming from other authors, and not readers.

zoeyvonne said...

It goes to show you what the world is coming to... They praise you to your face and when you are not looking they stab you in the back. But I must say My World is a better place because of people like you, Angela. Thank you for being who you are AK.

Jaye said...

Take a bow ladies, well stated. When I read a romance I don't want to read about a eunuch and a only-doing-it-to-procreate chica. I want to see two people crawling outta their skins for each other, and each time they *express* their EMOTIONS for each other physically, it only grows deeper and stronger.

Puawai Ashley said...

You get em Angela !!!

I'm just going to say "AMEN"

Samantha Reynolds said...

Brilliant post luv...
Very well stated and I'm with Puawai...I"m just going to say "Amen"
Hugs,
Samantha

indigo said...

Angela,

I think you hit the nail on the head. Unfortunately, I don't see this changing anytime soon. You'd think with erotic romance selling so well, it would cause people to think.

Personally, I think a lot of the people who complain about erotic romance and explicit sex scenes, probably have a kinky streak that they don't want to acknowledge. People tend to fight vehemently when they are hiding the truth from themselves.

-Natalie

Julie Leto said...

Angela, I'm with you on the disturbing nature of some of the letters to the RWR. I was sufficiently concerned about the article written two months ago by Ethan Ellenburg regarding a rating system for romance novels that I wrote a response that was published this month.

I think that as writers of hot romances, we simply have to ignore these people--to a point. When they want to shut us down or restrict our trade, as it were, then it's time to speak up. But honestly, what they are saying is nothing new...their puritanical opinions are nothing we haven't heard before. Let them drown in their own self-righteousness and let us write the way we want to!

Congrats on your amazing and well-deserved successes. You're proving the point--super-hot sex, when written well with wonderful characters and stories, is what readers want!

Jonathan Wright said...

Full disclosure: I am a card carrying Libertarian, a flaming social liberal, and an erotica writer (Changeling Press). Consider the following in that light.

To follow on what you said, regarding the marketing of erotica:

I think one has to be careful with “if…then” analysis. I think you are right about the marketing – i.e. that it is oriented to adults only – but we really have no way of determining now many of our books that are bought by adults later end up in the hands of minors.

I know you essentially said that, but it sounded like you were trying to say the number had to be small, and my point is that most likely we don’t have a clue. It could be twenty or fifty percent of the books out there.

One thing: I used to sneak read all manner of “adult” books owned by my parents, without them ever knowing. I assume other children do this as well.

In any case (which is really what I am getting to), there is not one (count ‘em, not one) valid social or statistical study which shows that viewing sexually explicit media hurts children in any way. As parents, we all have instinctive “safety” concerns regarding our kids. A fellow I know, who is a even more of a liberal than I am, admits to problems with exposing kids to “porn” (see below for a cogent comment on the use of that word). As a parent, I know exactly where he is coming from.

But even so, personal anecdotal evidence (i.e., my experience with my own daughter, and discussions with other parents) seems to support the academic view that sexually explicit media is not harmful to kids. As far as I can tell, until puberty, most kids think sex is disgusting. During and after puberty, you cannot keep them from being involved in it in some way. Which leads us to a discussion of sex education, but I’ll save that for my own blog, if I ever get one.

By the way, according to a recent poll (administered by a respected statistical polling organization, whose name escapes me at the moment) regarding teenage sexuality, of those who took a pledge of chastity, 88% broke that pledge within one year. Nearly nine out of ten. What does that tell you about teenagers and hormones? Oh, yeah, here’s a follow on question I’d really like to get answered: How many of them did so safely?

Also, – as if we need to justify writing hot sex – it is worth pointing out that in the act of sex, not only do the “…characters express to one another and to us what their feelings are at that particular time”, they often express feelings that they would not express at any other time. In otherwords, I think it can be argued that to not write sex scenes into our books is a lie.

Finally, I had this thoughtful quote from a close friend (who happens to be a Bendictine monk):

“Pornography is what erotica becomes under repression.”

Rock on, Angela.

Jonathan Wright

Sam said...

Amen Angela!
Good post!
I think the problem is that some people are ashamed of what they're feeling when they read romance books and it makes them aggressive. They lash out, and it's hypocracy, pure and simple.
Or they're jealous of the success erotic romance is enjoying and instead of rejoicing, joining the parade, or just being happy that feminine sexuality is finally out of the closet and in romance books, they want to destroy all that - because they feel they can't enjoy it too.
...And a huge Thank You to those who are not afraid to use the word porn with its correct meaning! Now that's liberating!

Rachel Bo said...

*Amen*

It floors me that people are so negative about depicting sexual activity. I understand the concern about "encouraging" young people to do things they might not otherwise do - but hey! Reality check! Probably 90% of my high school acquaintances had already had sex by the time they were seniors. Writing about sex doesn't create sexual perverts any more than writing a character who has a drinking problem creates an alcoholic. And as for nowadays...I have three daughters. I firmly believe that my openness about sexuality and what it entails and what makes sexuality healthy or unhealthy rather than making it a "taboo", has helped them to make the healthy decisions about sex and relationships that they have all demonstrated. The reality is that although on the surface, people think they have to agree that sex without marriage is wrong, in PRACTICE, I would guess that there is less than 1% of the population that has not had sex on a first date, sex with a person they've just met, sex before marriage...and I hate hypocrisy! REALITY is, it feels good, and we all do it (well, yes, there are some who are celibate, but you get my drift), and in the real world, many do it with MUCH less emotional involvement than is depicted in our stories, so why be hypocrites and pretend we don't?

Rachel Bo said...

*Amen*

It floors me that people are so negative about depicting sexual activity. I understand the concern about "encouraging" young people to do things they might not otherwise do - but hey! Reality check! Probably 90% of my high school acquaintances had already had sex by the time they were seniors. Writing about sex doesn't create sexual perverts any more than writing a character who has a drinking problem creates an alcoholic. And as for nowadays...I have three daughters. I firmly believe that my openness about sexuality and what it entails and what makes sexuality healthy or unhealthy rather than making it a "taboo", has helped them to make the healthy decisions about sex and relationships that they have all demonstrated. The reality is that although on the surface, people think they have to agree that sex without marriage is wrong, in PRACTICE, I would guess that there is less than 1% of the population that has not had sex on a first date, sex with a person they've just met, sex before marriage...and I hate hypocrisy! REALITY is, it feels good, and we all do it (well, yes, there are some who are celibate, but you get my drift), and in the real world, many do it with MUCH less emotional involvement than is depicted in our stories, so why be hypocrites and pretend we don't?

Arianna Hart said...

Hear hear!!! I like all versions of romance novels, but I WRITE for Ellora's Cave for a reason. I don't want to hold back, and thank God my editor has never once asked me to tone down.

Oh, and I'm a married mother of three, and Catholic to boot. I really don't think I'm a "bad" girl, and would LOVE to debate it with anyone who has a problem with my writing!

Well done Ms Knight! (And it was great meeting you at RT!)
Arianna Hart
proud to write for Ellora's Cave!

Silma said...

The two best selling subgenres are inspirations and erotica? Hmm... This is definitively something to think about. It must be part of the Bush II era...

Kelly said...

Even though being of the no sex til chp 7 set of writers, I have to say I too was floored by the comments in the latest edition of RWR and the suggestion of ranking books according to content. It reeked a little too closely to censorship for my liking. I may not be an avid reader of erotica/romantica, but everyone has different tastes and plenty of us like a broad spectrum to choose from in our reading. I certainly don't need my books stamped with a rating, insinuating I am lacking the intelligence to flip the book over, read the blurb on the back and decide for myself if it interests me or not. I think this area is opening a lot of doors for new writers, and I for one, am glad to see it.

Rachel Bo said...

Well written, Kelly, and thanks for chiming in! It's nice to hear someone who doesn't necessarily read the erotic romance genre defending the RIGHT to WRITE (or read!) it!

Cheyenne McCray said...

You say it so very well, Angela. And congrats on being on the best seller list. You go girl!

Jaynie R said...

Wow AK, that was fabulous. Now let's hope all those stuffy old school women start realising that there is a new generation of readers out there, and we want sex in our stories.

*and I'm also clapping for Morgan*

Well said,

Jordan Summers said...

I agree completely with your post. Why is the biggest fuss coming from authors who do write sex scenes in their books? Fear, perhaps. Are they truly that worried that the authors of the spicier books will somehow take their 'spot'? Hmm... Now there's a thought. (evil grin)

Michele said...

OK, I HAVE to respond to this.
If anyone remembers when they were dating and say that they NEVER fantasized,dreamed or wondered about first, second or third base with their current beau at the time AND Absolutely,Never Ever even crossed their minds about the ultimate "Home Base" then I'd say they've got some serious swamp land in AZ to sell us. Its human nature. It's at those times we feel the most alive ... full of anticipation, expectation and we thrill ourselves into goosebumps when there's skin to skin contact. For me, personally, it was an education. I started reading Linda Howard. I had read those "tame and Lame" books for years. (they have their place though, my Mom will ONLY read those) Once I got ahold of Ms. Howard"s and then Jayne Ann Krentz, I blossomed. Why? Because it became apparent that I never allowed myself to accept my sexualtiy. In those books, there were thoughts and experiences that helped me understand that thinking about "things" was OK, normal and perfectly natural. Acting on them would not only benefit me but my marriage. OK, mine may be a situation totally in from left field, but without those writers doing what they do so well, I wouldn't have this better relationship with my husband that I now have. I say, Keep writing the way you want, because even though you are writing fantasy and dreams, you touch people; you reach people and in my case, you HELP people. AK, don't stop what you do. It is truly a gift that you can not only write about the sensuous nature in relationships, but that you do it so well, with honest passion. You have my respect.
Warm regards, Michele

J o r d a n said...

I love romance novels, and I'm 18. I agree with you completely. I think sex is a part of adult relationships, and part of being a write is being allowed to creatively express yourself, and make money off it right? So if you have someone breathing down your neck about censoring content in romance novels then doesn't that kinda hurt your muse a little?

FerfeLaBat said...

I haven't read the letters to RWA or RWR and I am just beginning to hear about the dust up over an erotica chapter for RWA, but on the subject of RWA and sub chapters expressing individual opinions on erotica and inspirational I do have a word or two that I would add.

RWA seems to have an identity crisis going on lately. What I think they fail to see as a group is -- there are bad writers, good writers and great writers. The genre is irrelevent. The Age of Innocence glove scene proved that a love scene can be mind bendingly erotic with out graphic sex. Steve and Jenny under the wagon clearly shows that graphic sex can be mind bendingly erotic.

RWA should stop worrying about industry respect and stick to providing their members with everything they need to be great writers -- regardless of genre.

In my lifetime I do not expect to see women writers and writers for women's tastes ever accorded the respect they deserve from the literatti elite. Why would that be? Because our stuff sells, gets read and provides entertainment. God forbid people should actually read for fun. What would the world come to?

Loving Master of the Moon BTW.

Sincerely

Cindy Cruciger
www.FerfeLaBat.com

Mechele Armstrong said...

Congrats Angela on the best seller's list!

And you rock.

Sex is a part of life and a part of romance. Why not write as passionately about it as you would the rest of your book? If you don't care to that's fine. But don't condemn those who do.

Morgan, you rock too.

Annalee Blysse said...

So true, I think it is too bad there isn't more unity within the genre as a whole. Everyone who writes romance has to deal with the ideas from the outside that romance is somehow less worthy than other forms of fiction.

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Saxgoddess25 said...

I worry about the state of our society sometimes. I honesty do. There are SO many more important issues out there than whether writers include sex *oh gasp!* in their romances. I guess the hypocrisy is what bothers me (and probably a lot of you) the most.

Though another thing that gets me going, as another poster said, is the idea that romance or erotica is somehow less worthy than other forms of fiction because it does deal with sex and sensuality. I'm not yet a published writer, but I was writing a serial piece purely for the enjoyment of fellow posters on an online message board. Most of the ladies there loved it but there were the few that went off on it as "substandard porn." In that particular case, I do believe it was jealousy because the person who said that apparently worked for a large newspaper in the UK - like that was supposed to make her the queen of all things literary! I digress, I suppose, but one thing I know is that the crap that the narrowminded spout from time to time can be quite hurtful and were I less confident in my own abilities and my love of writing, that errant comment might have stopped me from writing completely. Or even worse, it might have left me writing bland little crap stories without any real passion.