Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Changing the genre

Recently Colette asked us to share our sexual fantasies, and there seemed to be one recurring common theme--of being forced and helpless while Mr. Naughty with or without his friends, had his wicked way with you. And naturally it got me thinking about how erotic romance is probably the only place you could go in genre literature to have those fantasies addressed without judgment or moralizing.

And that's refreshing, considering what a very preachy genre romance is, or has been, with the emphasis on the "good" marriage (read any Harlequin contemporary and it saves you having to read Pamela by Richardson); or, the bend over backward virgin heroine--and by that, I don't mean an exotic sexual position, but a heroine who is a virgin under extremely unlikely circumstances. Working in a brothel? Check. Widowed? Check. Accompanying an entire regiment on campaign? Check (bless her, she's been darning socks and writing letters home for the lads). A critic of my Signet Regency with bondage scenes complained that one of my characters didn't get her come-uppance (I'm not sure which one she meant since so many of them were behaving in less than stellar ways.) But I digress. It's always struck me that not only has there to be a HEA but order restored to the universe, the good rewarded and the wicked punished--no messy loose ends flapping about.

I hope that the rise of erotic romance can give us a little more moral ambiguity and a little less political correctness. Don't we want men to behave badly between the sheets (of a book)? Look at all the flap online about Anna Campbell's marvelous Claiming the Courtesan which had, gasp shock, a forced seduction and a heroine who was a courtesan. If the book had been written and published as an erotic romance I don't think anyone would have turned a hair (because those who don't read that sort of thing wouldn't have read it and/or felt compelled to be shocked online whether they'd read it or not).

I'd also like to think it would give us a little more tolerance for the loose ends-ness of it all; that our notion of "a love story" might become less simple HEA than together and facing the complexities of what lies ahead (which certainly doesn't lead to a good acronym). Will we erotic romance writers make the genre grow (or grow up?)? I'd like to think so.

What changes do you think erotic romance will make on the romance genre?


Colette Gale said...

Great post, Jane. You're exactly right about the genre/placement of the book--not so much in stores, but in our minds.

It's okay to read about whipping and bondage and force and tears and begging and pleading--when it's an erotica.

But not for a romance.

I think we'll see more books like Anna's, that cross the boundaries.

My UNMASQUED has lots of "erotic" elements (as noted above), but one thing my editor wouldn't let me do (being a traditional romance editor) was to allow my heroine (Christine) to actually have coitus with anyone other than Erik.

Though she does come (no pun intended) close. :-)

I'm hoping that for my Monte Cristo book, which I'm getting close to being finished with, I'll have a little more leeway. I know I'm pushing the envelope...but how far will it go?

Pam Rosenthal said...

Correct me if I'm wrong, Jane, but it seems to me that unlikely virginity is on its way out as a romance strategy. At least unlikely physical virginity.

Because certainly nowadays lots of historical-set romances have their h & h doing it before they marry -- and there are quite a lot of widowed heroines out there. What becomes more important than a heroine's physical defloration is a kind of spiritual one (an introduction to whatever kind of sex/love combo she didn't have before).

While in some historicals, the penultimate panting can't-wait-for-the-wedding tumble has become an obligatory ritual -- a little premarital impetuosity as necessary to marital perfection as a good set of china.

For me, the task of writing a romance is to make myself and the reader believe that sex and love before the end of the book are important and problematical enough to continue to make life interesting for my couple after the book ends.

Which usually means taking some liberties with form and reader expectations -- though I have to admit I'm not sure why this should follow. Perhaps because I think that particularly great sex might take some liberties with form and expectation. And that a life-long love always does.

Kate Pearce said...

God, I hope erotic romance broadens the romance world or I'm done for...most of my upcoming books have deliberately vague endings which depict couples or erm thruples as happy at this point and probably in the future but who knows?

Elizabeth Parker said...

Over the years, I've done informal surveys, which admittedly aren't scientific at all. But the #1 fantasy women mention most often is their own helpless/forced seduction that you mentioned. The #1 fantasy men mention is two women with one man.

So, yes -- since people are fantacizing about these things in private, I hope the growing erotic romance genre will help to dispel some of the "PC correctness" that encourages us to feel ashamed of ourselves.

Pam Rosenthal said...

There's nothing more luxurious than to believe you were forced to do what you most wanted to do and perhaps shouldn't have.

Sharon Page said...

Terrific post, Jane. In a couple of my books, Blood Rose (August 07) and my current WIP, Hot Silk, I wanted my heroines to have experiences relationships that devasted them. In Hot Silk, I really wanted to go out on a limb. My heroine makes love with one man, whom she is mad about and who promises marriages and then renages. And insults her. The hero comes to her rescue--by making her see sense and stopping her from all the drama of blaming herself. They have such a powerful emotional connection, and each challenges the other intellectually and emotionally so much that they make love, because the heroine realizes that this is the man she should have given her virginity to.

I realized, while writing this, that it's risky, and I also realized that I would be worried to try this anywhere other than in erotic romance. I think it's true that we can push boundaries with our characters and their emotions, as well as with their sexuality. I love to write about heroines who have made mistakes, "behaved badly", but are good, strong women who deserve love.

And I write happy endings. I can't help it. I like to see my heroine and hero (or heroes) forming a partnership that will give them even more strength to negotiate life.

Colette Gale said...

Pam, you said it most brilliantly!!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Colette. And Jane, I love the Botero graphic.