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There were four-and-twenty virgins come down from Inverness

And when the night was ended there were four-and-twenty less…
trad. rude song
As long as the plots keep arriving from outer space,
I’ll go on with my virgins.
Barbara Cartland
This topic started off as a conversation with my buddy Pam Rosenthal as part of our meanderings on our workshop at the 2006 Beau Monde Conference. (Yes, the workshop is called Pam and Janet Evening. It’s on writing erotic historicals.)
Virgins.
A dime a dozen in romance-land.
Why?
Granted, they were around. Virginity was by implication an important part of the business deal that upper-class marriage was even in the Regency period–the groom wanted to be sure that his heirs would truly be his, and not the in-laws’ third footman’s. Yet we still have extraordinary plot twists to ensure that the heroine is untouched when the Big Bang occurs–virgin widows, husbands who had to rush off to take part in Waterloo (sorry, honey, not before the big game), couples who didn’t want to marry and so therefore didn’t want to…you know. Or the hero turns out to be her first and last, with diversions in between (guilty as charged). And not just in historicals, where the concept of a virgin heroine is justified, but all through the genre.
Consider also the typical defloration/consummation, where after some minor carnage, the heroine gets to Nirvana with very little effort (and snorts of disbelief from me)…and despite the bloodbath, they keep doing it. Or, we’re told, if she has had previous partners, there (1) weren’t many, and (2) it wasn’t that good, so therefore she holds blank slate status.
Yes, I know these are huge overstatements and I can come up with exceptions too, but why do these conventions exist? Is it the only way we can show that this is IT, the Real Thing, the Big Banana?
Despite the boom in erotic romance and erotica, why are we still so wary of a true depiction of female sexuality?
Thoughts, anyone?
Last Sunday at church the sermon topic was “Sex and Attraction: An Embodied Spirituality.” (I go to a really cool church.) The minister made the point that religion has sometimes, though not always, created this duality of “spirit=divine and therefore good/body=beastly and therefore evil”. A lot of our culture has embraced this duality, along with the implication that what is good must be boring and what is fun must be evil. It ignores the intimate connection between the spiritual and the physical. Love as an abstract concept doesn’t mean much; it needs to be expressed through the physical: smiles, words, loving acts, including sex.
I think most romance authors understand this body-and-soul thing. But I have heard some authors of so-called “sweet” romance imply that their books are about the relationship and that the so-called “hot” books are “only” about sex. I don’t think so. The hottest erotic romances I’ve read are the ones with strong emotions driving the characters. The most moving “sweet” romances I’ve read are those where the author used the power of simple things like a smoldering gaze, the touch of a hand.
An erotic romance I read a few years ago bombed for me. The characters were so generic and the situation so contrived that it felt as silly as Benny Hill. On the other extreme, I’ve read several inspirational romances which were so careful to avoid not only the act of sex, but any hint of sexuality, that it felt unnatural. I don’t need to always read about sex and stories shouldn’t go further than makes sense for the characters and their situation. But if it’s a romance, I want to feel the sexual attraction, even if it’s expressed in subtle ways. If they kiss, let them enjoy it!
The other thing I’ve been ambivalent about is the fade-out, where the h/h start making love and the next thing we know they are smiling at each other over breakfast. I don’t think authors have to make a scene of it every time the hero and heroine make love. But if it’s the first time or at a turning point in their relationship, it feels like I missed something.
Anyway, what do you think? Does the dichotomy of “sweet” vs “hot” ever bother you? How do you feel about fade-outs? Who does “body and soul” best?
Elena
Posted in Reading, Writing | Tagged , | 7 Replies

Shutting the bedroom door. A euphemism in itself, it means that Nasty Sex Stuff is about to take place offstage in a book and the reader is shut out of the fun.

But not necessarily. As someone who has received the dubious honor of being accused of having both not enough sex in her books or too much (sometimes in reference to the same book) I consider myself something of an expert on when and how to shut the door. But I’m not convinced the door is ever truly shut.

So why end a chapter or section on a hook where it’s obvious what’s going to happen and then not follow through? It’s all to do with rhythm and pacing. I’m not a subscriber to the bang-bang-bang (literally?) school of writing—the theory that you have to establish and maintain a fast pace throughout the book. In very simplistic terms, it’s the difference between listening to disco and classical. You need a variety of shading and tempos; you need fast-paced excitement, slow reflection, and all points between.

It’s also about the relationship you’ve established with the reader. Have you hooked them? Is the reader willing to follow along, to be led where you want them to go; that your style and story have established trust with the reader. If you decide to leave something implied but not stated, the reader should trust you enough at that point to keep going, to imagine for herself what happens at that point. Even though it’s a romance and the love scenes are crucial to the genre, trust your reader enough to vary the amount of detail you apply to each one.

And trust your reader enough to let her enter the bedroom without you, if she wishes. That door never really closes, does it?

Here’s an excerpt from Improper Relations, which a reader told me was one of the sexiest things she’d ever read. She said it was the oyster that sealed the deal.

“Is this usual in marriage? Is everyone like this?”

He kisses me as if to stop my mouth. I am learning his kisses, their variety and hidden messages.

“I hope so,” he says as we come to the top of the stairs and he kicks the bedchamber door open.

Briefly, before I forget everything but Shad, I remember that soon Ann and I shall have the opportunity to compare husbands.

****

The next morning I am none too pleased to find that Shad has left early to breakfast with Beresford, for he and his lady came back to town late the night before. It’s raining—it has rained most of the night. During one of Shad’s half-hour regenerations (and that one was indeed half an hour for we had indulged ourselves mightily) we lay quietly and listened to the hiss of falling rain from the warm nest of the curtained bed. Beneath my cheek, my face pillowed on his chest, I heard the beat of his heart.

“Milady, the Countess of Beresford is downstairs,” the unpleasant Withers announces just as I’m wrapping myself up in the bedclothes to sleep some more.

“At this hour?”

She sniffs in reply and picks an oyster shell from the coverlet.

A reminder–The Malorie Phoenix is 99 cents for Nook and Kindle!

Posted in Reading | Tagged , | 7 Replies
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