Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Have we lost our way?

I've been chatting online with some other writers and what started as a "where have you been and what are you writing now" discussion turned into something else: our concern about the state of erotic romance.

Many of us felt that erotic romance was losing its romantic side, and, worse yet, wasn't even story telling; that it was becoming formulaic and more like porn.

(Now, I don't think more like porn is too bad. If we could let go of the "nice girls don't ..." baggage and admit that, yes, this should turn you on and I hope it does, I think that would be a step in the right direction.)

But the issue that really worried my friends was that of recent erotic romance they'd read, there wasn't enough emphasis on plot and characterization, the nuts and bolts of storytelling.

And it was an embarrassing thing to admit, because we've said all along that it wasn't just all about the sex--that in fact they were agreeing with those harrumphing comments you see in letters to the editors columns and on boards online, that this is what erotic romance is, or is in danger of becoming.

The trouble is, of course, that's there's a huge amount of material out there, in all romance subgenres; how do you tell the good stuff from the mediocre? Can you believe the back cover blurbs? Are publishers, anxious to jump onto the bandwagon and hang on for dear life while it lasts, letting their standards fall? Do readers of erotic romance really not care (at last, all the good bits without any tedious plot stuff)--and don't want to say so, because then they'll be accused of that greatest of sins, enjoying porn?

And here's a question for everyone: If you were to introduce someone to the joys of erotic romance, what book(s) would you suggest?


Unknown said...

I think it's symptomatic of a genre that is oversubscribed.

Look what happened to chick lit when it wrote itself into a corner of the heroine having to be a ditzy city girl who can't balance her check book. If you read some of the original books by Helen Fielding, Marian Keyes, Anna Maxted, Lisa Jewell you see a far wider range of character plots, emotion etc.

I haven't noticed a difference in the erotic romance field to be honest, but I'm very selective about what I read. The major problem that I see is too many books and publishers glutting the market. That, of course, will sort itself out when the next big thing comes along:)

I also have to say I read everyone on this blog and admire them all-I really mean that! I also enjoy Emma Holly, many of the Black Lace authors and the Aphrodisia gals, who imo, are getting it right.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Kate-the market is oversubscribed.

I haven't been around Romanclandia to see a trend come and go like this-although, I don't think it's going anywhere. I think it's like an overinflated stock-it will balance.

Erotic Romance, right now, is like a guy who is getting into bed with you and jumping right to the penetration. (amen!, they all cheer *g*) Plot, good plot, is like foreplay. It makes all the rest so much better.

And I would point them to anyone on this blog. :-)

Eva Gale

Erastes said...

I can't comment in m/f fiction, but it does seem that m/m has come to this from the other end (snorts at the image) and there is a lot of - well, lets call it porn - calling itself erotic romance. I don't like to spend good money on a book - either £10 on a print one, or £3 plus on an epublished one, only to find that out of 80K words, 50K of that are sex.

When I find myself skipping the sex scenes just to find out what happens next, then that's when I know I've been basically ripped off.

At the danger of repeating what I said on my interview, it's perfectly possible to have a nice balance of both, and to make the sex part of the plot rather than something that happens Every Single TIME the protagonists see each other!

And it damages the genre, imho. People see "gay romance" and they equate that with Too Much Sex, or Wank Book, basically.

m/m books that get the balance right?

A Strong & Sudden Thaw by R W Day
Ransom by Lee Rowan
Peridot by Parhelion
Anything by Logophilos (free online)
The Highwayman by Emily Veinglory

Pam Rosenthal said...

Part of the problem is that we're living in very weird times, sex and culture-wise. The mandate to prove how PRO-SEX we are, no matter in what situation.

I've always thought that what made erotic literature interesting and compelling is that it asked questions about the complicated nature of desire. But now that we're all so sure how great it is, even if we never have it, what are the chances?

Consider this article in the NY Times of a few weeks ago, about Tom Perrotta's new novel The Abstinence Teacher.

The paragraph that gives me chills is a description of a real-life abstinence rally Perrotta attended to research the book:

In the introductory act the kids were pummeled with pop music and clips from Will Ferrell movies. A man whose peppy shouts recalled a college fraternity rush chairman exhorted them to scream, "Sex is great!," only to be followed by ominous videos warning of the dire consequences of engaging in it before marriage. (Your hair could fall out from a sexually transmitted disease; your heart could be irretrievably broken.) A slender blond self-declared virgin in snug jeans and stiletto heels promised them sexual and romantic nirvana on their wedding nights if they followed her advice on how to forestall temptation now.

The mythologizing of Perfect Sex under the aegis of social control. Everybody encouraged to outshout each other about how great sex is. All the time. Porn as life. Life as porn. How can literate smut compete?

ChristyJan said...

I just finished reading Caine's Reckoning by Sarah McCarty and Nauti Nights by Lora Leigh. I enjoyed both of them. Great plots!

Anonymous said...

Perhaps if authors promoted the plot rather than the sexual content this wouldn't be an issue.

JRMullany said...

Thanks for the book recommendations, Erastes, Eva, and Christyjan. Kate, I'm a great admirer of the few Black Lace authors I've read--do you think it could be the result of a culture that threw out their Puritans? (And I love Anna Maxted--she's a brilliant writer who isn't at all afraid to take on big, serious issues.)

Anonymous, I think the trouble is that the publishers' promotion of sexy books is all about the sex (except for my publishers' promotion of Forbidden Shores, which is a rare aberration). I don't think they've ever really figured out what women want.