I got a call from cousin Lori last week, who I love like a sister, not a cousin. There’s a difference, at least in my world. I have lots of cousins I never see and it doesn’t bother me that I don’t. I still care about them. I’m not a total asshole. But I don’t wish they lived next door like I do cousin Lori. She and I are soul mates. She’s laid back, funny, non-judgmental, and she enjoys her “adult beverages” unapologetically. I can count on her to always have my back, no matter what. I love her more than my luggage. She’ll get that joke too.
Back to the reason for her phone call. She’d bought a copy of Best Women’s Erotica 2013. Now, I have to be honest here and say I cringed a little when she told me. I had already read several of the stories inside BWE, and while all of them are extremely well-written and hot, I knew they wouldn’t all be to some folks tastes. Erotica, like a lot of other writing, is subjective. What some find arousing, others might find shocking or distasteful. I can’t tell you how much the support of my homegirls means to me (Lori and Daisy, namely), but sometimes I feel like Darth Vader leading them over to the dark side. They’re adults, I know, capable of making informed decisions on their own, but still there are times I feel the need to warn them – Ahoy! There might be a gang bang or two in this anthology with me. They’ve followed me to this naughty land of spankings and bondage because they want to support me, but in following me have I made them uncomfortable? It sounds silly when I write that out because I have no earthly idea what turns their crank or what they do in the privacy of their own homes, nor do I want to know. It’s none of my business. Yet I still have the strange urge to offer up disclaimers. Why?
I think it’s partly because the umbrella label of “erotica” has gotten so broad it has lost a lot of its original meaning. Does that make sense? The genre has been diluted down by books like Fifty Shades, and maybe even most of the sub-genre of erotic romance, which I write in too. Someone might read something labeled “erotica” and think “THAT was erotica?”, but then pick up something else with the same label and be scarred for life by the contents and vow never to touch another piece of erotica for the rest of their life. Does that make me a traitor to my chosen genre(s) to admit that I think that way? There are literary erotica purists out there who I’m sure will agree with me. Others might say there’s room for all of us under that giant umbrella, and I’m fretting over something that doesn’t warrant a fret. Humor me, dammit. I’m a fledgling writer. We fret and flail all the time!
The other reason might simply be that I don’t want them to be blindsided and abandon me. There, I said it. I have deep-seated abandonment issues, apparently, and I need counseling pronto. Or more wine.
Lori’s comment to me was that my story in BWE was the only one she read where she felt any sort of emotional connection with the characters. My first thought was how proud I was that I’d managed to convey a deep emotional connection between Sam and Jane in such a short word count. My second thought was is that a bad thing? Will others read the collection and think my story shouldn’t be a part of it BECAUSE of the romance-y elements I included?
Oh, holy hell, this was going to be painful. But didn’t I deserve it? Hadn’t I let him down? It shouldn’t matter to me. We weren’t necessarily a couple, though deep down inside I admitted that I wanted to be. He hadn’t expressed a desire for more than what we casually had. At least not yet. But it did matter. I hated that sound of disappointment in his voice, hated to see it buried in his eyes when he looked at me. He was the first person in a very long time that I could count on unequivocally, that I wanted to get close to. I wasn’t about to let that slip through my fingers, not when I might be able to fix it.
I mused on Twitter one day that I simply couldn’t write the asshole Alpha-hero. Just can’t do it. All of my men are soft as marshmallows inside. I might make them a little rough at first, like Sam in The Tow Job, but it’s not long before he’s softened.
“That’s my girl,” I heard him murmur softly, his pleased tone breaking something wide open inside of me.
The same goes for all of my short stories. I just can’t manage to write one that has the characters walking away from each other at the end. No HEA or HFN. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. I was originally going that direction when I wrote Bite. Just a quick, sweaty shag between a smitten student and hunky chef instructor, but nope. Kevin had to go and mess things up with his confession about the tattoo, which morphs Elle’s attraction into way more than just lust. She’s all swoony then, halfway to being in love with the dude.
The air I’d trapped in my lungs started to burn. I let it out in a slow sigh and rubbed my temples. “I’m still confused. Are you saying this”—I gestured to the room—“was all a setup? You, Brian, and Heather orchestrated this whole thing?”
He nodded, biting his lip to try and hold back a smile. A smug one, no doubt. “Not the cooking classes for charity. I really do that every year. The timing just fell perfectly for me to reserve a spot in hopes that you’d fill it.”
Even in A Sweet End, my short I wrote for the Writer’s Digest contest (you can read it for free here, if you haven’t already), has romance in it. It’s not obvious on the surface. I mean it’s a story about a woman who poisons her abusive husband. That’s not romantic AT ALL. But when you pay closer attention to Lanie’s relationship with her best friend, Annabelle…
They floated on their backs like fallen leaves, Annabelle gripping a piece of Bald Cypress with one hand while she held Lanie’s ankle with the other to keep her from drifting off with the current. She could always count on Annabelle that way, to be her anchor. She closed her eyes and let the sun warm her face while the water soothed her into a numbed peace.
Well, there you go – romance in a very pure sense of the word. And boy, do I love that piece. I still can’t believe it came from inside my head.
Obviously, Lori likes the emotional elements, otherwise she wouldn’t have said what she did, and Ms. Blue wasn’t bothered by them because she picked my story to be included in BWE, for which I can’t express my level of gratitude. Maybe I worry too much, but I can’t help it.
I’m interested in hearing your take on this – Is there room for romance in erotica? Do you like it there, or would you rather it not be included in favor of straight-up sex? What’s your preference? Do you think there’s even a difference in erotica and erotic romance any more? Thoughts, please!