My Seven “Deadly” Sins as a Debut Romance Author
When I first thought about trying my hand at Erotic Romance, I was driven by a desire to give my main female characters the stories I felt women deserved, not the male-driven stories that were being published in droves on the heels of Fifty Shades of Grey. That is, I wanted to give my ladies the same extraordinary qualities and attributes—intelligence, beauty and wealth, not to mention sexual prowess—that were being assigned to the male but not female characters in the Romance being put out there. While, to me, that sounded like a good thing to do, little did I know that I would be violating what I’ve learned to be the cardinal rules of romantic fiction and getting my romance author cherry popped in the process.
1. No Bad Deed Goes Punished
The sheer number of “Billionaire” romances boggles the mind, especially considering how few billionaires there really are in this world—not to mention the relatively small percentage that are not senior citizens. I get the fantasy element. But why has our fantasy become being dominated by a rich, gorgeous asshole or alpha male? Perhaps it’s the challenge of taming the man that is exciting or intriguing. Regrettably, this not only perpetuates the notion that we can actually change men, but that it should be ours to do so. Frankly, as women, we have more rewarding things to accomplish and deserve better treatment. Moreover, though men aren’t the primary readers, with the commercial success of these stories that are being made into movies, these books also serve to perpetuate the notion that it is acceptable for men to behave that way towards women. The last thing anyone should want is for this fantasy to become a reality.
2. Smart Women with High Self-Esteem Need Not Apply
Perhaps it’s the trainwreck element—though she knows better, she just can’t help herself because he’s so hot that it makes her stupid in his presence. The female characters are reduced to stick figures who only come to life as soon as the “right man” discovers them. A substantial majority of us romance writers are women. Why can’t we create complex female characters who drive the story? Or has the fairytale narrative become so ingrained in our psyches that even though we know it not to be true, we still want to believe that a man can complete and save a woman. That love and sacrifice mean more than a woman’s self-respect.
3. Ladies, Cross Your Knees
The real world double standard also prevails in erotic romance: if a guy sleeps with ton of women, he’s just being a “man”; if a woman sleeps with a bunch of guys, she’s a “whore”. One of my female characters, Lily, has sex with a total of five men, yet one reviewer compared her to an excitable, horny teenage boy. (Note the gender comparison to a boy. Because teenage girls don’t get that horny?). Lily’s discovery of her sexual appetite is very much a part of her empowerment in the story, as she goes from a somewhat sheltered young woman, who had only been with one guy, to one who is very comfortable in her sexuality. In fact, through the course of story, she becomes aware of her own sexual desires and, with that self-awareness, comes strength and the ability to act on it.
4. Wrap it Up
The irony is that this is fantasy and yet, to my surprise, more than a few reviewers commented on the lack of condom use in my stories. Perhaps my characters are using contraceptives, but I don’t feel the need to write about it. To me, it’s an unnecessary detail and one that interrupts the flow of a hot sex scene. Moreover, on a more philosophical level, the notion of the woman having to “protect” herself from the male virility or, god forbid, disease, invariably shifts the power and focus to the male. While, of course, in real life I support safe and responsible sexual practices, I chose in these fictional stories to free the women of the burden of contraception or protection and hence empower them in that way.
5. Cheaters Never Win
I should have clued in when a substantial portion of the blogs I was submitting to for reviews of my first book (Gilded Lily) asked if there is infidelity in the story before accepting an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC). One blogger even informed me that she doesn’t believe that characters who cheat are redeemable. Ironically, the guy can be a total asshole, but so long as he’s monogamous, he’s redeemable. I get that perhaps it hits too close to home, but the reality is that a lot of men cheat. Hell, a lot of women cheat too. Take Ashley Madison, case in point. To me, infidelity is a complex issue in relationships that deserves to be explored, especially in the romance genre, which is fundamentally about love and relationships.
6. No One Wants to C-U-Next-Tuesday
There are only so many times that you can use “seam,” “sex,” “steaming hole” and “love tunnel” before it gets a bit old. Some of the other euphemisms are just too ridiculous and old-fashioned to even mention. “Love button”, come on, really? I was surprised, however, by the visceral reaction a number of readers had to my use of the “C” word. To me, it’s a beautiful word. Like “bitch,” you can either see the “C” word as a derogatory word or as an empowering one that points to a woman’s strength and power, which for women resides (albeit not exclusively) in our sex.
7. Thou Must Write in First Person
First person narration can be a powerful storytelling device. It allows the reader to see the story through the narrator’s eyes and can be quite compelling when telling a personal story. However, in erotic romance, where the stories generally feature a thin plot with limited character development, it can become mind numbing and make the story all too predictable. Being in the mind of a naïve character who’s angsting over whether a guy is going to like or love her or do her until she comes undone is like living in the mind of an obsessive preteen—messy, uncomfortable and lacking maturity. Or, where the first person perspective is that of the male character, it can, as in the case of Grey, read like a stalker manifesto.
I’ve always been a rule breaker, and I’m determined to continue to write romance stories that defy the narrative of a weak female whose personal and sexual identity is defined by the male character. While I am very thankful to have a wonderful core group of bloggers who get my stories and appreciate them, the reviews that focus on my characters’ promiscuity or lack of condom use do not dissuade me, as I realize that I have struck a chord. Yet, it shouldn’t just be a feminist goal to push women to the forefront in fictional narrative in a healthy and positive way that doesn’t portray them as victims. As women writers especially, we owe readers more than an escape from reality. We owe them a glimpse of a reality that’s possible.
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