Blame my over-exuberant spam filter, or perhaps the exigencies of getting a draft of my forthcoming book to my editor: I let my membership in my local San Francisco Area Romance Writers chapter lapse for a couple of months last fall.
I did send the manuscript in on time. If you want to find out more about the forthcoming book -- due out in November 2008 -- you can check my in-the-works web page for info as I feel myself sure enough of it to share it with you.
And I also rejoined the chapter -- making our poor membership coordinator reenter all my stats into her database.
When did you first join? she asked me.
Oh, that's easy, I said. Sometime in the fall of... um??? Well, some year in the late '90s. In truth, I wasn't sure which -- but I knew it would have been the year I began writing The Bookseller's Daughter in earnest.
'97, '98, '99? It wasn't like my romance-writing career took off fast. The years between my getting the idea for the book and beginning to write it were spent doing things like wandering around museums getting a visual understanding of rococo style (which slow process I heartily recommend, no matter how at odds it is with the way things are generally done in this biz).
Ah, but I did remember what else I'd been writing when I joined RWA. And so I knew I'd find out the year by going to the page on my website that lists my published essays, bringing up Molly Weatherfield's review essay on Francine du Plessix Gray's At Home With the Marquis De Sade, and checking the date.
And how, in 1998, did I ask Salon.com to describe me?
Molly Weatherfield is the author of the comic pornographic novels Carrie's Story and Safe Word, and is currently working on a bodice-ripper that takes place in pre-revolutionary France.
Sacre bleu! I said I was writing a bodice-ripper. Because I didn't yet know that the word was verboten to those of us in the romance-writing trade.
Perhaps it still is.
I'll see when I speak about at the Popular Culture Association Conference in San Francisco this March. The name of my comments (I'll be part of a panel) will be "From BDSM to Erotic Romance: Observations of a Shy Pornographer."
Yes, I mean the name to be provocative. But I also mean it as an honest end run around a vexing methodological problem: how can you have read enough to authoritatively discuss so huge a field as popular romance fiction? I'm not sure how romance scholars get around that one, but luckily I don't have to because I have a certain authority as, duh, an author. So I'll be starting from the case of my own trajectory, from Carrie's Story and Safe Word to my erotic romance novels. Because whatever I found out there in porn world, I (and others) it brought home to erotic romance, which seemed to be waiting for it, for us, for... something. (In any case the subgenre seemed to know what it was waiting for, or so will be part of my premise -- jamming all my speculations into 20 minutes will be like jamming Persuasion into 90 minutes -- and here's hoping I do better than the folks at Masterpiece Theatre.)
Part of what I'm going to speculate about is whether the bodice-ripper moved the romance genre forward. And whether what it moved romance toward was a discussion of erotic desire that paralleled some of the feminist (and -- let's never forget -- gay and lesbian) pornography of the 80s, where I found my Molly Weatherfield voice.
Because I'm beginning to think it was no accident that the bodice-ripper became wildly popular during the heyday of second wave feminism and the brave, heady post-Stonewall pre-AIDS years.
It certainly was no accident that when I wrote a scene in my first erotic romance novel where a bodice is in fact, ripped, I brought to it all the confusions of tense, agency, and consciousness that I'd been exploring in the Carrie books:
In future years Marie-Laure would never be quite sure what had really happened during the next moments. Of course she’d recall it with vividness and clarity, joy and delight. But she’d never truly be able to separate perception from imagination or distinguish memory from surmise. For how could she possibly have experienced every astonishment, decoded every sign, interpreted every wonder of that first embrace?Not to mention that I learned from the SM tradition to wonder where "reality" leaves off and theatricality begins.
He’d mumbled something when she opened the door and looked up into his dark eyes. Pardon me, Mademoiselle Vernet, I’ll explain all this later, was what she thought she heard; perhaps he’d also said something about “danger” or “protection.”
But the only words she could be sure of were “Mademoiselle Vernet,” the only emotions she’d be able to swear to were giddy delight and delirious elation -- silly, selfish relief and prideful vindication, in truth -- that he hadn’t forgotten her name after all.
He wasn’t wearing his coat or waistcoat. She’d caught a quick glimpse of his hips and thighs in pearl-gray velvet breeches. The lights and darks of the velvet, illuminated by her flickering candle, revealed rather more than she was prepared to admit that she’d understood.
Nonsense, she’d think later. Of course she’d seen the bulge between his legs. After all, she wasn’t a child or a fool -- the velvet was definitely stretched by the tumescent flesh beneath it. And even if she’d been embarrassed to bring it to consciousness upon first observation, there could be no doubt of what she’d felt a moment later, no mistaking the urgent press of him against her own hips and thighs.
And no use pretending that she hadn’t been thrilled by it.
The weave of his linen shirt had grazed her chest and shoulders; his hand cradled her breast. She’d gasped with surprised recognition: somewhere, in some secret place at her center, she’d wanted his hands on her breasts ever since she’d watched him pile books onto Papa’s desk.
Was that the sound of cloth ripping? It was hard to discern behind the sound of her heartbeat and her breath, hard to concentrate with his mouth against hers, opening it, probing and teasing it with his tongue.
His other hand was tight at the small of her back. Well, it had been tight at first. Yes, she was sure of that. He’d held her closely -- for a moment. And she was pretty sure of what had happened next, almost certain that his hand had loosened, had become more adventurous. It had moved downward, slowly but confidently lingering over the curve of her buttock, while it gathered her skirt and petticoat out of the way. And as for where his hand was poised to go next, and where he might put his fingers...
So since I'm gonna be yammering away on these issues until the conference and perhaps beyond, I'd love your help toward preparing my comments.
What to you think about all this? Where do you find the roots of your taste for erotic fiction -- in bodice rippers, writers like Anne Rice, classic French erotica, low-rent porn, or what? And where do you think this mix of genre and market is going?