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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.)
A dime a dozen in romance-land.
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?
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!

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No, this isn’t about the upcoming new movie adaptation of THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, even though I’m eagerly looking forward to it.

It’s about reader mail and its effect on the writer.

First I have to say I’ve enjoyed all the reader mail I’ve received so far. Most of the letters I’ve gotten were from people who enjoyed my books, along with a few from people who just wanted to share something they loved about the Regency. Even when readers don’t care for my books, it’s fascinating to find out what they are thinking. This one, from a reader I won’t name, is no exception!

Elena Greene:

My Lion roars his disgust, as to (sic) I after wading thru page after page of explicit sex in Saving Lord Verwood which I just finished. Yuk!

You are an excellent writer and the plot was good keeping one’s interest. I know explicit sex (leaving nothing to the imagination) seems to be the in thing. Surely with your writing ability you do not need to pander to or wallow in the antics that go on in the bedroom. Hopefully the trend will turn again toward decency.

With kindest thoughts I remain a Regency reader.

(name excluded)

P.S. Would you really want your young daughters to read such trash?

Initially, I felt a bit stunned by this letter. I’d never received anything like it before, and it wasn’t as if I were the first author to put a sex scene into a traditional Regency. But mostly, I wondered whether I’d slept through writing all those pages and pages of “explicit sex”! Had the copy editor gone wild with it? I reopened the book and looked through and yes, the love scenes were there, just as I’d written them, not particularly graphic at all.

The adult part of me (that sometimes thinks it’s in charge) shook off the label of “trash”. I don’t write with the intent of offending anyone, but I know I can’t please everyone either. I am not writing children’s fiction, so the postscript didn’t shame me the way it was clearly intended to. So I exchanged some emails with my critique partners and we all laughed it off.

However, there’s another part of me–the subconscious mind, the muse, the inner artist child–call it what you want, it’s the place ideas come from. That part of me wants desperately to please everyone. Soon after receiving this letter, I reached the wedding night scene in LADY DEARING’S MASQUERADE and found myself battling a fierce writer’s block. Finally until I realized that I was trying to write a scene that would 1) show, in a tender and realistic way, how the hero/heroine had overcome the problems of their earlier unhappy marriages and 2) not offend readers like this one. Rather impossible!

So the adult side of me counseled the kid. I told myself that one person’s spice is another’s poison and I had to be true to my voice and my characters. I also reminded myself that this particular reader had forced herself to read it, “page after page”! Perhaps writing the letter was just a way of easing her conscience over enjoying it?

Anyway, so far readers and reviewers are praising LDM. If at some point there are those who disagree, I can deal with it. Sometimes feedback may lead me to change my future work, but sometimes it just clarifies who I am as a writer.

So, my fellow authors, how do you deal with less-than-positive reader mail?

And readers, do please keep those emails and letters coming!

Elena 🙂

Posted in Reading, Regency, Writing | Tagged , | 10 Replies

Regency Era Smut

You may recall that last week I mentioned a Regency-era tale called The Lustful Turk. I suppose it’s erotica. I had high hopes for this book going in. After all, it’s Regency-era smexiness. What could be better except maybe pictures, which the print version has?

On the whole I would rather troll Shakepeare for dirty puns. (I’ll be right over, Amanda.)

In Preview This Book on Amazon, the pictures looked nice and clear.  In the book? Not so much. I could tell the subject matter was racy, but in the print book, the pictures were too small and pixelated. What a disappointment, because there was some artistic merit in them.

The Text of The Turk

The text wasn’t a disappointment, but not in a good way. Early attempts to tell extremely racy stories (de Sade excluded since he could at least write his way out of a paper bag) were predictably bad since 1) the desire to write hot doesn’t necessarily coincide with a talent for such and 2) there was a fairly universal lack of elements we today consider necessary to an entertaining story. Things like plot, character development and something– some nugget of something– that readers can care about.

I don’t know for sure if this is something peculiar to men writing about sex but for pre-20th century raciness, the lack of story elements is the norm. More on that in a bit. Although, I’m pleased to say that this book did have a discernible plot. I’m not saying it’s a good one, but stuff happens!

Great Lines in Literature

However, plot points aside, The Lustful Turk is notable for what I consider one of the greatest lines of literature ever written:

“Seize the virgin!” repeated Ozman, ‘she will be only too honored and happy to escape the pollution of this blaspheming wine bibber.’ 

Imagine this Regency buck sitting at his club with pen and paper and writing his magnum opus between drinks and bad jokes. What should Ozman say, he probably wondered at this point. He wants his heroine to get kidnapped at her wedding and then nailed by the Lustful Turk, who is not Ozman, by the way. Yes, it’s quite a turning point and full of conflict. Will someone pop her cherry before the Turk gets his chance? Our erstwhile author is at least attempting to create tension. He has another drink and inspiration swells!

Rest assured, the Turk gets his virgin. Several of them actually.

In Which Carolyn Sighs. Many times.

The women are all horrified at being raped until the Turk convinces them they like it, and then hey! Turk-y baby I love you because you can get that big engine ready on a moment’s notice all night every night.

I was not convinced, I’m afraid.

It was authorial wishful thinking with a big dose of stupid ideas that need to die a horrible death. It’s a distasteful trope that lasted well into the 1980’s when Feminists saved all our asses by pointing out how absurd, destructive, hateful and just plain wrong it is to think a man can rape a woman and she’ll eventually like it. It’s pervasive in too much literature and lingers still.

In fact, you can probably yourself think of several literary books that include such false and damaging notions. And, of course, early Romances aren’t sometimes called Rapetastic for nothing. But, then, these women didn’t have a better example. That they often turned that trope on its head is something to celebrate as we also celebrate having moved past that in Romance.

There are all kinds of slurs, cliches and stereotypes. Everywhere you look. Religion? Yup. (An abbott demands sex in return for saving a womans’ life, otherwise, he leaves her to die) People who aren’t white? You betcha! (the whole damn book) The lower classes? But of course! (The heroine’s beautiful servant is badly beaten but the heroine? She is too white and tender and upper class.)

While the distasteful representation of female sexual agency is front and center there’s plenty more in the background. (Dear Anonymous Author: Worried much about women?) I get that he didn’t know any better, but did it have to take us 200 years before we did?

Meanwhile, Back in the Harem

Anyway, the story is told in epistolary fashion, with all the extreme awkwardness of that device that you could possibly imagine. No, imagine more. More. More….. Yes!

Now you’re close.

So more virgins get kidnapped and deflowered and the Turk is indeed very lustful. But he is also a nice guy. Because his very last conquest cuts off his penis and he is totally cool with that! He sends all his ex-virgin white girls home to their loving families.  To be fair, one of them is Greek or something.

There is also sequel bait in the form of the heroine’s baby. She’s knocked up at one point, and I think we never find out what happened to the baby. Or maybe we do. But I’m NOT reading through that again to find out.


Any connection with Byron is quite a stretch. He may be inextricably linked now with the revolution in Greece, but he’s not the only Englishman to go there or be aware of the politics of the revolution. Mentioning Greece in no way connects this book with Byron except for the modern reader who only knows, yeah, Byron — he went to Greece. I doubt very much the author was thinking of Bryon. He was thinking about whether the Turk should deflower another virgin.

Thoughts? Reactions? Opinions? Share in the comments.

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