Category Archives: Confessions

ASKING FOR IT by Lilah Pace: The Fuck Political Correctness Review

Asking for It: the controversial romance of the summer that has stirred exactly no controversy because everyone who’s talking about it is being so careful not to judge, nor to remove the lens of women’s studies/fourth wave feminism/neo-Victorianism about triggers and consent and safe spaces from their analysis, nor to admit that they find rape fantasies erotic.

To all of which I say: fuck that.

If you want to judge someone else’s kink, go right ahead. Secretly we all do, in one way or another – but in this day and age of enforced tolerance no one is willing to admit to it. We tolerate anything except intolerance! Now I am not personally going to cast a judgment on a book that revolves around the safe enactment of a rape fantasy, because, as it happens, that’s my deep dark kinky kink. My number one most common complaint about dub-con erotica (dubious consent, AKA rape) is that it’s not dubious enough. Almost invariably the heroine gets too into what she’s being “forced” to do too quickly to maintain the facade of non-consent. So this book? Was pretty much written for me.

Except for the whole new adult thing. That romance genre (contemporary…college to post college…searching for yourself…heroine probably got raped or had a drug addiction because in this brave new (adult) world EVERYONE either got raped or has an addiction or is the wrong gender for their body) is not one that I relate to very much. NA also usually means first person (gag) present tense (double gag) point of view, so the barrier is tri-fold in that I am not interested in the setting/age bracket of the protagonists, find the conflicts and hyperbole laughable, and hate the way the books are written. First person in general tends toward deal-breaker for me. I find that almost all of it sounds the same, and none of it sounds like how I think. Actual stream of consciousness would be preferable because at least that would be interesting to untangle and decipher.

But I digress. We were talking about the fact that I am in the most important way the Ideal Reader for this romance.

Let me say this now – I have never been raped. Being bound/coerced/forced in some way is a fantasy that I can trace back to childhood and my earliest moments of sexual awareness; the very first sexual fantasy that I generated involved coercion. That said, I also have a clear mental delineation between what turns me on in the privacy of my own mind and what I want to experience in real life. For that reason I don’t read much dub-con set in the real world, because I don’t get turned on by imagining an actual rape that might actually happen to me. The “stranger in my bedroom” sub-genre squicks me out. Sometimes BDSM-scene stories work for me, because they do have the framework that makes non-consent consensual, but most of those stories are too much about the heroine’s mental surrender. Mental surrender does nothing for me. To me the eroticism of rape fantasy is the loss of control, not subsuming your sense of self to someone else’s will. I’ve blogged before about how not being in control is my biggest, deepest, ugliest fear; to me it seems a very natural extension that one of my most powerful sexual fantasies is having control taken away – NOT surrendering it. Big difference. Generally, then, the rape fantasy I read tends to be really out there, fantasy setting, fantasy creature type stuff…as I put it in a text to a friend before I started Asking for It, “Normally I just go with monster porn for that, no feminist sensibilities conflict there, but this one intrigued me so I figured I’d try and enlarge my mind a little vis a vis the new adult genre.”

Spoiler alert: I got what I asked for in terms of erotic satisfaction. (The book didn’t much change my opinion of NA, though.)

So what is the book actually about? Oh, you know, the usual story…. Girl meets boy, boy hears a rumor that girl has extreme rape fantasies and offers to fulfill them, girl says yes, they have amazing almost-anonymous sex, they realize sex is not enough and start emotionally bonding, just as they begin to fall in love they discover that the events in their respective pasts which gave them the same kink also make them psychologically incompatible as partners…or are they? The book ends on a cliffhanger where the couple is no longer together – an outlier in romance, which generally demands at minimum a happily-for-now ending. But this is book 1 of a duology, and the cover/release date for book 2 is on the last page after the book ends, so the reader is immediately made aware that the ending is an ellipses and not a period.

I loved this book. First and foremost, because the sex in it was smoking hot. Pitch-perfect, if you like that sort of thing. It felt real, authentically on the line between fantasy play and actual assault, with a clear demarcation in the aftermath to show that for both of them (hero, especially), it was role play.

Second, I really appreciated that the author was trying to take the baggage of the hero and heroine seriously and actually attempt to unpack it. Too often in romance really heavy backstory just sort of magically disappears or stops affecting a character’s life/decisions once it’s served its purpose of creating sympathy in the reader or creating a conflict in a situation that otherwise would have had no impediments (and therefore no story). Not the case, here. I mean, I guess in a way their respective baggage is driving the conflict (because if they were two otherwise healthy people who happened to share a kink, it’s pretty much boy meets girl, they are perfect together, the end), but it feels authentic. It’s an actual problem they have to actually solve, not a plot device that could have been replaced by…well, any other plot device. No. Replace these problems, and you have a different story. Some reviews I saw felt the book was kind of heavy or hard to read because it’s more serious, but I didn’t find it so. Just…realistic.

I did feel like the author imposed a frame of feminist rhetoric over the story that was heavy-handed enough to be distracting for me. Actually, my complaint about the frame is not that it existed – see above where I don’t like real-rape scenarios – but that it SO DELIBERATELY used phrases and topics from the politically correct handbook. Things like the hero saying he approached her at a party with other people in sight (and not, say, via text or email or asking her on a date) because, “I want you to feel safe.” It felt inauthentic for him to use that kind of language, and it pulled me out of the story. There are other ways he could have made his proposition to fulfill her fantasies, and for them to draw up a list of boundaries and limits and rules, that were just their words and their voices, not the cant of Political Correctness/Social Justice Warrior style activism. The whole book felt dipped in SJW rhetoric.

I like to think the author did that as a joke, that she used the trappings to create a Trojan Horse that could trick affirmative-consent proponents into reading (and perhaps even enjoying) about sex that actually offends everything they stand for.

Supporting this theory is the Easter egg for libertarian readers, of a side character’s kid being named Nicholas Gillespie Ortiz. You know, like NICK GILLESPIE, Editor in Chief of reason.tv? Because that happened. An unlikely coincidence given that the child was Hispanic and last I check Gillespie was an Italian name. Also supporting that theory is the fact that she wrote (fine: PUBLISHED) this book at all. (When I finished the book and found the “trigger warning” section as the very last page of the text I was convinced the entire thing was a giant middle finger to political correctness…it made me so happy to think that warning had been so blatantly and hilariously mis-placed…but when I looked at the Table of Contents, I saw the publisher had included a spoiler-free warning at the front with a link to the longer, explicit warning for those who needed more clarity about the triggers. Sigh.)

Here’s the real trigger warning this book needed: if you have ever lived in Austin, try to forget the city you know – she gets a lot of details wrong. The sort of things you can only know if you live there, about what the traffic and the parking is like and what the locals call certain streets, about the general vibe of the town and the countryside around it, etc. If I hadn’t been so intrigued by the premise I don’t think I’d have made it past Chapter 3. But the dirty sex more than made up for my outrage about “First Street” (which doesn’t exist because Austin has two, which are called South First and Ceasar Chavez, and I still don’t know which the girl lived off of).

Also I call bullshit on Pace being a YA author writing pseudonymously, or, at least, only a YA author. The sex was written too well to be a first-timer to writing romance.

Overall, well done Pace, and well done Randy Penguin for publishing a book like this. I’m sorry you had to include so much deference to the yeth hounds of outrage that drown dissent by screeching about their offended sensibilities. Maybe now you’ve established yourselves as “sensitive” and “aware” about such matters you can ignore them going forward. Keep fighting the good fight to bring down the walls of PC tyranny from within!

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Romance Novelist Whinge: Problematic Sex Scene Requires Fourth Re-Write

This is another of those posts where I am tempted to just leave it at the title.

In the never-ending novel revision project (never-ending because I am writing it 100 words at a session, and I have like…17,000 words to go), I am up to the first sex scene. And I’m writing it for the fourth time. Which, I dunno, maybe sounds like a lot of fun? It’s not. At all.

See, the first sex scene is basically the inciting incident for the whole rest of the book, so it happens REALLY early on. Like first chapter early. And it isn’t necessarily meant to be a sexy, hot sex scene. But I don’t want it to not be at all sexy, either, because it’s in the part of the book that would be in a sample download, and something that’s too either analytic or bad (in the sense of bad sex, not a bad sex scene, which are not the same thing!) might turn off (heh) readers who are trying out my work for the first time. So, since plot-wise what matters is that the hero and heroine have sex by mistake (it’s complicated), not what kind of sex they have, I would prefer it to be at least moderately good sex and a moderately good sex scene.

Hence writing it four (or more – God forbid) times.

The first time it was waaaaaaaay too long and involved and tender. The second run swung too far in the other direction, and it was just too abrupt and selfish (on the hero’s part) and not fun to read (there was spit involved. It’s funny in a Joe Abercrombie book…not so much a full-on romance). The third time did a better job with pacing and mood, but was still a bit too ornate and also hinged on a revelation I decided the heroine does not make. Or, rather, one she makes but the hero misunderstands – it’s just one more part in their ongoing conversation where one says a thing and the other hears something different.

I’ve got the fourth version started; it’s written up to the end of the heroine’s POV section, and I will be able to use the intercourse section of the third version (also heroine), so I just need the hero’s perspective for the bit in between. I haven’t had a good block of time to sit down and write it, and I will say from experience here, that sex scenes really do read best when they are written pretty much in one go and gotten on the first take. Like, I can’t write this section in 100-word increments and expect to get a workable scene.

Coitus Imaginus Interruptus is the fucking worst.

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I don’t defend my genre

It’s Friday the thirteenth again, the day The Honest Courtesan asks non-sex-workers who support the decriminalization of prostitution to publicly say so. I do.

The most lauded article this week amongst my various news feeds was Emma Green’s piece in The Atlantic that rambles through the cultural subtext of Fifty Shades of Grey’s popularity and the intersectionality (heh) of desire, consent, and immaturity, as well as why the BDSM depicted in the book and film is an unhealthy example of such sexual predilections. If you haven’t seen it, you can find the piece here.

What struck me most about this article, aside from the fact that I have seen the titular theme multiple times in romance circles starting 2 years ago and so often since that it feels trite, is how damned ugly Ms. Green is toward the romance genre. You can quite clearly picture her sneer as she discusses “those books” and distills the genre in a reducto ad absurdum sense to “good woman reforms rake” – and then blames us for Shades. No, sorry, romance doesn’t have to take the fall for that one. We might be “trashy” and full of “those cheap books” and heteronormative cisgender-reinforcing bourgeois morality tales, but that atrocity? DID NOT SPRING FROM OUR LOINS. (Nor fully formed from our head, for that matter.) Pretty much every romance reader I know or have seen talk about the book agree it fails to meet our standards. So, sorry not sorry, Emma, but that one’s not on us. (She even implicitly admits this when discussing the phenomenon as millions of women discovering sex in a book for the first time. Yeah, romance readers knew about that 40 years ago and are able to set standards for craft and characterization.)

I felt compelled to defend romance against the spurious accusation of spawning Shades on a Facebook link to the article; I have said it in a conversation at work.

Yet, these denials are the first such defenses I have offered to my genre outside of spaces devoted to it. I have myself made comments equating romance to trash, even though I don’t believe it is – not all of it, anyway. For a long time I would pretend to my family that I wasn’t working on a book rather than tell them about the romance novel I was writing.

Why? Why should I allow the judgments and dismissals of people who haven’t the slightest idea about the genre to dictate my behavior toward it?

Obviously some of it is driven by shame or shyness about admitting both that I enjoy reading books that sometimes fit the bill of pornography and books that focus on the finding of one’s life mate. Truly intimate sex, and sentimentality, two things our culture still finds uncomfortable.

In today’s sex-saturated era, the discomfort our culture still has with the former is almost incomprehensible. Yet every tawdry display of T&A at the Superbowl halftime show, every glimpse of Lena Dunham’s naked ass on Girls, every reference in an editorial to sexual deviances (and, yes, the kink du jour is BDSM), really only serves to create more of a barrier between our cultural representation of sex and our actual experience with it – or perhaps the divide is between the experience we actually have and the one we yearn for. Most of what we pass around in our culture about sex is a front. It’s inauthentic or impersonal, and ultimately unsatisfying. Certainly the depictions I see in television and popular culture of liberated, sex-positive women who have one-night stands on a regular basis and brag about it feel hollow. In such depictions there is this utter separation of sex and intimacy, with no alternative source of intimacy offered to fill that void.

I don’t want to sound like I think sex requires emotional or spiritual intimacy to occur or even to be “good” sex, assuming orgasmic and good to be interchangeable (it obviously does not), or even that using it as an act of intimacy should be the ideal (although for me personally it is). What troubles me, however, is that our sex-everwhere-all-the-time culture has removed intimacy from human connections by making sex common and not replaced it with a different way to foster trust and emotional connection to our lovers. All we are shown is empty encounters, where the female orgasm has become the goal the same as the male’s.

Romance is different from erotica and modern popular culture both because it contextualizes sex around trust, intimacy, emotions. Not every encounter in every book; sometimes the journey of the book is moving from empty physical friction to spiritual conflagration. But overall, as a genre and as an individual journey within it, romance novels still treat sex as personal, private, and capable of revealing our truest selves. And that’s beautiful.

Middle-class though it might be, I want the dialogue we have about sex as a culture to acknowledge that it can be a powerful means of bonding, and that satisfying sex and orgasmic sex are not always the same thing.

The most intimate sex scene I’ve ever put in a book was the one I didn’t actually write. At the end of Courtship, when Piers is wondering if he’ll need more than 6 minutes to have sex with Catherine for the first time: he realizes that it doesn’t matter. The satisfaction to be had in the act is not from the physical release but the emotional bonding, the exchange of trust offered and validated that occurs with emotionally engaged intercourse.

Perhaps it has taken the current levels of soulless sexuality for me to stop being embarrassed by my sentimental notions; perhaps it is simply crossing the 30 year bridge. But for me, for the kind of sex that I value, romance is the only voice in our cultural dialogue whose perspective I relate to. Feminists and social justice warriors are free to hate it because it is generally male-positive; the pearl-clutchers who ate up Fifty Shades but would never dream of reading “those books” are welcome to their naive hypocrisy. But I’m tired of hearing that my genre is responsible for reckless depictions of abusive relationships and unsafe BDSM. No. We got that out of our system by the late 1980s. It’s everyone else who hasn’t caught up yet.

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I hate the fake identity trope

i would be done with him too bc that castle is swingin

I don’t want to speak for future Lily here, but the Lily of today can pretty definitively say at least one romance trope exists that she will not use: the false identity.

I can’t stand stories where the major conflict revolves around someone pretending to be someone or something they are not. On the one hand: yes, good job other writers for showing how destructive and counterproductive that behavior is. On the other hand: it is a scenario that makes me extremely uncomfortable, so I don’t find those stories entertaining, and since I don’t suffer from any need to hide my personality or try to be what someone else wants me to be, I don’t need the lessons they contain.

I cannot imagine writing a story that revolved around that.

Let me clarify: if a pretense is used by a character as a quick means to an end, and comes back to bite them, but is then moved past and an actual conflict follows it, I can let them go as both a reader and a writer. Even I have been known to just nod and smile rather than expound upon my actual thoughts in order to avoid a fight, only to get accused of hypocrisy when I disagree later because the person I didn’t disagree with took my silence for assent–social pretense IS part of human nature. What I am talking about as intolerable is when the only conflict in a story is the collision of pretense and reality.

This revelation came to me recently via my Amazon recommendations. I do try to look at those, partly as research (what kind of title and cover catch my eye and make me look at the premise) and partly because, hey, I am as much a romance reader as I am a romance writer, and maybe some of those “also bought” recommendations will be from people with similar tastes and turn me on to a new writer I will love. So I flipped through them and looked at probably five or six of the books. And in at least three cases, the main premise was hero/heroine pretends to be someone else and gets caught up in a romance/marriage with their true love, which is then threatened by the truth about their identity/station/past. In every single case I got that shudder of distaste up my back and flipped right on past.

That was the only premise, at least of the ones I encountered that day, that I rejected out of hand. I just found it notable that I was reacting so strongly to one story element.

What’s funny is that I’ve actually written this premise–What You Will–but I think the difference is in timeline. WYW takes place over the course of one evening. Even though a deception is the main conflict, it is resolved quickly. One of my favorite plays is The Misakes of a Night, or, She Stoops to Conquer, which also takes place over the course of one night. And now that I think on it, I can find at least a few examples of books I like that use this plot (Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss, An Arranged Marriage and An Unwilling Bride both by Jo Beverley). But in all cases the hero/heroine was something better than what they were pretending to be, so maybe the problem I have is just with deceptions to make you appear better than you are. If you can be worse and still make someone love you, hey, you know that’s legit. But when you’re hiding something that diminishes you, then it really might be a dealbreaker, and that is…immoral.

I don’t think immoral is too strong a word, not for how I feel about it. I believe quite passionately in the idea of only surrounding yourself with people who like and accept you for who you are. I have been repudiated by enough people over the years to know that I am better off just being myself and knowing those who choose me really choose me, not some fiction of who I am, and giving everyone else fair warning and no judgment for passing on me. Aside, though, from the ease of relationships (if not life) lived by that rule, is the actual moral context. One of the most nuanced definitions I have ever heard of what rape is comes from The Honest Courtesan blog, essentially that rape is taking sex by force or deception when it would not have been given otherwise. So a man who doesn’t pay a prostitute his promised fee or a man who says “I’ll marry you after” but doesn’t is as much a rapist as someone who jumps a woman in a park–even if the act is not violent, the violation of her consent is. By that contextualization, a man who pretends to be virtuous and respectable but is in fact a degenerate rake (one of the book premises I rejected) is on some pretty perilous moral ground if he convinces a lady to fall in love with him and marry him without revealing his past. This isn’t to say that people can’t change, but…you should acknowledge where you have been. If the conflict had been a battle to get him accepted back into society now that he’s reformed, it would have been okay–since the conflict was, she wants to leave him when she learns the truth, it wasn’t.

I am really not sure why this one particular type of conflict is so problematic for me, except that it represents for me one of those intolerably “foreign” points of view and decision-making processes that happen when my little INTJ brain is asked to understand someone…else. Probably and ESFP or something. And “intolerable” is, I believe, the correct word. I literally cannot tolerate being in the mind of someone like that.

What about y’all? Are there any plot types or character types or other romance tropes you just can’t stand to read? And not just that you’re tired of, but that you feel this visceral, (meta?)physical rejection of?

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I Don’t Find Seduction Sexy

Let us begin by defining the word at hand. I consider “seduction” a pejorative term, because I read it as being talked into doing something that is against one’s moral code.  In essence my take on seduction is this:  just because you physically want to have the sex with him, if you morally do not want to, and he talks you into something you could (or do) later regret, the seduction cannot be a positive thing.

That is probably more absolute than it should be for me, but there it is. Seduction is not a positive thing.  And it bothers me when romance novels are focused on the seduction of the female as if it is. 

Jillian and Madeline Hunter  are two authors who come to mind as offending me on this point–basically the only discussion made about being the object of a seduction is “can he do the sex well? Then sit back and enjoy” rather than deciding if he can be trusted or if is he worth throwing away her future for.  I feel like the books where the heroine and/or her friends look only at the existential enjoyment take too much for granted that “this is a romance, and there will be a happily ever after, and of course we the readers know he can be trusted, so we can ignore all the very salient fears and what-ifs in favor of the sexiness.” That attitude grates against the constraints of the story if it’s historical romance, because a huge consideration for non-modern stories is the consequences of seduction; removing them kind of removes the point, or the weight, or the drama, of the story.

On the flip side, Anne Stuart is really good about showing the ugliness of seduction. Many of her novels focus on the negative consequences (and not pregnancy most of the time, because plot babies are really not the worst of the problems).

I think what bothers me more than anything is simply that seduction takes away the woman’s moral agency.  Romance as a genre has moved with the sexual mores of our culture into greater sexual freedom for women, and less misogyny and violence, but yet there still seems to be a stubborn streak of abjuring female responsibilty when it comes to sex.  Many romance novels still have themes of sex being forced on the woman. 

I guess seduction has become the new rape?

In old school romance the forcing was straight up rapey rape (even if he did do foreplay before penetration, sometimes), whereas now it seems to be more seduction against her will and/or better judgment….but it turns out she loves it, so it’s okay.  Which sentiment is almost as problematic for me as the actual rapeyness of old romances.

What’s hilarious is that I think the closest thing I have to a fetish with erotica (certainly as far as what I write in that genre is concerned) is dominance and submission, specifically male dom/female sub, but I think the difference is the permission angle.  A sub is sexually aroused by having their agency taken away.  A woman (or a man) who is sophisticated enough to grasp that about herself and makes the conscious decision to engage in that kind of sexual play with someone they trust is different from a woman who refuses to take responsibility for her sexuality and falls back on the excuse (even if it is only ever  used with herself) of “he seduced me until I was too swept up in it to think better of the idea.”  That is weak, and it is insulting to women as thinking individuals and equal partners in relationships, and it perpetuates the status quo of female as something to be conquered or won rather than an individual coming to the same action with the same level of choice and responsibility. 

God, I sound like a feminist theorist now, and, y’all, trust me when I say that is the furthest thing from what I am.  But in terms of romance writing, even current writing, I see the trope of “woman who refuses to make a choice about her sexuality has that autonomy taken away by a man who forces her into sexual behavior” far too often for where I feel like modern sexuality is, or at least where it should be.  The force may not be violent—it might be force of will or the force of passion, so let me be clear that I am NOT calling seduction rape; I am not one of those people who says that anything less than 100% consent is rape—but it is still a woman being denied a say in her own sexual experience because she refuses to take that responsibility for herself.

I think that’s what bothers me the most about it, not the behavior of the men, which (in the non-rapey variety) is basically whatever the women allow them to behave like, but the behavior of the women.  Are we still so uptight that women can’t say “I want to have the sex with him” and make a moral calibration of whether acting on the desire is acceptable (or not) and then following through accordingly?  If a woman decides she doesn’t wish to have sex with a man in a romance novel, why does she so rarely stick to that decision? 

Honestly, the way women behave in these books—if it is an at all accurate portrayal of real life female behavior—makes me think no wonder men have had the conquer/seduce idea for so long, since all the women seem to be right on board with the actual sexy times, they just didn’t want to have to admit it to themselves.  So if we have generations of women saying, “No, I don’t want that,” but secretly wanting it and secretly wanting the man to do it to them without their explicit permission…is it any wonder why we ended up with the fucked up view that a man should try to have sex with every woman he’s interested in, because she might want it and not want to say it?  And then how many girls felt date-raped or pressured to have sex when they really didn’t want to because they were too insecure or timid to say no or to say no in forceful enough terms that he listened?  See, unlike the feminists, I don’t think that all men are rapists who would take advantage of a woman given half an hour and half a chance. I think most men are pretty decent guys, and I bet plenty of them would be shocked to hear that women they thought were willing bed partners—thought this because the women kissed back, didn’t protest groping or undressing, didn’t say no at any point or give any indication that they did not want to be doing it—felt like they were not allowed to say no and cried about it later.

And the  romance novels that perpetuate this kind of female indecision, this inability to reconcile physical desire with moral imperatives or perhaps just their own self-image as a “good girl” or whatever, make me sick.  There have been authors with books I enjoyed who have other books I simply will not read because part of the description is her getting swept up in his sexuality and feeling helpless before it. 

I have zero issues with novels that present female confusion about their sexuality, because I think it’s realistic for women, especially young women, to have questions and uncertainties. I have no issues with novels that depict seduction, as long as the seduction is contextualized as being a negative, or at least something the heroine must learn from.

What I can’t stand and could live the rest of my life happily without ever reading again, is a book that presents seduction as something to be enjoyed because the heroine can’t be bothered to live by the moral standards she sets for herself (in this case, denial of pleasure) or embrace a morality that allows her to do what she wants. I have one comment for the women who like that kind of story and behave that way in real life: Grow up.

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Confessions of a Romance Hero: I Don’t Know the Difference Between a Cape and a Cloak

…or really any of your other sartorial decisions.

I know when you look nice. I know when I like a color on you and when it clashes with your hair.  I notice when you wear a bold shade or something glittery that catches my eye in a crowd. I know when your bosom is framed in a frustratingly tempting way, and I notice if you’re showing ankles.

Another gem from Longmire Does Romance Novels….

But I do not notice in a glance if your dress is a la francais or a la polonaise. I don’t think of your little spencer jacket as being jaunty–probably I don’t notice it at all, except to note that you are all buttoned up.  I don’t catalogue your evening cloak as being flannel or wool, and I’m really not even sure if what you’re wearing is a cloak or a cape. It has a front closure and hand-holes so it’s a cloak? Got it. I…can’t promise I will remember that tomorrow.

You should wear green more often. It looks nice on you.

Your servant,

The Dashing Lord Griffyndor

__________________________________________

Got that, romance writers? Can we please agree to stop cataloging outfits unless it is done by the heroine, of the heroine, and for the heroine?

Nothing annoys me more when I’m reading a section from the male point of view than when her outfit is described in detail, in precise and correct fashion terms. It’s one thing for him to notice the generalities–she’s in a green dress with lace at the elbows and the material is shiny so it must be silk…but he’s not going to think about whether it’s taffeta silk or satin weave silk, or that it has three rows of ruffles at the bottom and not five, or that it’s Brussels lace not domestic, or any of a dozen other things that a woman would notice because she would have been involved in making every one of those decision on her own dress.

If the hero is thinking about those things, the heroine has bigger problems than the villain of the story.

I am sure this is one of those conventions of historical romance that at some point became like the fourth wall in theatre, part of the suspension of disbelief we go into the story willing to give. After all, we read historicals in part for the fabulous costume drama angle of the genre, so we want to know what the heroine is wearing at all times. We rarely see her full-length from her own perspective, and since romance doesn’t offer points of view other than heroine and hero, that leaves him to tell us about her fabulous dresses. I just find it unrealistic when he spends a paragraph describing what she has on for their walk in the park.

Men don’t pay that much attention to the details of fashion–they look at whether it looks good on you, if it’s appropriate (for the outing and time of year and decade you’re living in), and if it looks like it was expensive. Impressionist painting style swaths of general form/color but no real attention to the details. 

Certainly my husband can’t remember my clothing. I am not sure he could describe his favorite of my dresses other than to say “that 50’s dress.” Maybe he would get that it’s black and white polka dots. But he’s not going to talk about cap sleeves and under-bust gathering and bias-cut swish on the high-waisted A-line skirt. I bet he hasn’t even noticed that the collar and belt are a different fabric with the same pattern, or that all of it is a crepe gauze over a black slip. He knows he likes it on me, though, and that’s all I need him to notice.

That’s all I need my romance heroes to notice. In fact I’d rather have a paragraph of him watching her dress move and wishing he could be somewhere taking it off than a paragraph giving me the details of her wardrobe.

Jane Austen had it right: “Woman is fine for herself alone.”

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Confessions of a Romance Writer: I Don’t Like Supra-Quotidian Stories

In direct violation of the edict in Lucky Number Slevin that “Two people should only fall in love if there is a good story behind it, seeing as you have to tell it so many times,” I actually find romance novels that take place over the course of some grand adventure to be problematic.  Especially if the grand adventure is something completely outside the bounds of normal life, that real life could not possibly encompass even as a special event (such as suddenly discovering the world is full of magical beings or having to go rescue your sister from drug smugglers in South America–that kind of outside of life, not a “trip of a lifetime” expedition that you planned and saved for for three years). 

 The issue I have with romances that take place under extraordinary circumstances is…what happens to the relationship when it hits the mundane wall of reality? If every interaction between hero and heroine took place when they were full of adrenaline and high emotion, how does the dynamic between them work when the only excitement is what kind of tea to brew that morning?

I think this dynamic actually becomes more clear when characters who had some big adventure together in their book show up as minor characters in someone else’s book. They always just seem so boring, settled into their normal lives, even if they spend the entire span of the adventure longing for their normal lives.

As well, I think more often than not falling in love on an adventure relies more on coincidence than falling in love via the course of everyday life. What are the odds that you meet your soul mate on that crazy adventure that takes you out of your normal sphere versus the sum of all the places you spend the rest of your life?  I guess it depends on this: are you the sort of person whose soul mate is likely to be found in the same place you spend your life?  So in that sense, if your romance novel heroine is a Princess Leia type who is bored by princes, it might make sense to have her fall in love with the Han Solo-ish rogue escorting her on her adventure. If she is escorted by a man of her own class and background…why didn’t they fall in love normally? There has to be a reason they wouldn’t have fallen in love, otherwise them sharing the adventure and falling in love during it is just one big coincidence.  And storytelling that relies on coincidences is weak storytelling.

As a reader, picking books for myself (versus, say, having a friend put something in my hands and say “read this”), I tend to be drawn to stories that seem realistic.  Events and circumstances that could happen without serious suspension of disbelief, that do not raise doubts about whether the characters really find each other exciting or if they just find the situation exciting. As a writer, I am not inspired to write grand adventures and interludes that take place in a time out of life.

I know romance readers tend to split on this issue. Some readers love the wild stories, because they want not just a fantasy romance but an escape from the doldrums of reality. And if I sat here and pondered long enough, I could come up with examples of romances I absolutely love which take place against a backdrop of adventure. I certainly am not writing this to condemn that half of the genre! It just hit me the other day, talking about romance with a friend at the local bookstore, and how we have maybe a 2% overlap in books and authors we have both read, that I have a definite and decided preference for romances that are…more plausible than not.

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