Hey, remember my quick drive-by bitching about the accusation by Susie Bright that romances = formula, erotica = literary? Maili provided me with a link to her blog, where she goes into even greater detail on why this is so, peeving me even more in the process.
Cutting and pasting commencing NOW!
Because Romances are written so tightly to genre, and the predictability factor is so important to their buyers, they can’t overhaul their image that much. The explicitness of the sex scenes is the only wiggle room they have.
Whuh? Has this woman checked out the romance section in her local bookstore lately? Horny vampires (color vision optional). Chaste Christians. Werewolves. Spies. Assassins. Navy SEALs. High-in-the-instep aristocrats. Fairies. Witches. Mermaids. Rock stars. Poets. Actors. Nurses. Doctors. Threesomes. BDSM. Murders. Betrayal. Adultery. Secret babies. Cowboys. Sheikhs.
So, uh, sex is the ONLY wiggle room romance authors have? Bull. Fucking. Shit. The only requirements for romance novels to be considered as such, near as I can tell are:
1. It must be a love story and focus on the budding romantic relationship (usually between a man and a woman, but erotic romances are fast changing that).
2. There must be some kind of commitment and happily-ever-after ending.
Draconian constraints, indeed.
When a woman buys a traditional Romance, it’s like a hardcore porn fan buying a XXX video. She wants her money shot. She does not want distractions. She wants familiarity, to connect with “the childhood masturbatory feeling,” as my friend and offbeat Romanticist Pam Rosenthal so perfectly described to me.
You can say very much the same thing about ANY book in ANY genre. Do mystery fans buy a book just so they can read about how the mystery is unsolved, the investigator is dead halfway through the book and the murderer/other variety of Very Nasty Person still running loose? Do erotica authors buy a book so they can be lectured on the evils of sex? Hell no. People buy books because they EXPECT something. If I pick up a literary novel about a Jewish family’s internment in a concentration camp during WWII, then by golly by God I expect a story about just that; I certainly don’t want blue fairies with tentacles to show up out of nowhere and turn it into a Merry Gentry novel.
The point is: Closure matters. Expectations matter. There’s no difference whether the book is literary fiction like A Sacred Hunger (can’t recommend that book highly enough, by the way—GO GO GO READ READ READ) or an SF novel like Hyperion or a romance like Bet Me. If enjoying fiction and the closure it brings = shooting my wad into my own hand, then consider me a chronic masturbator—and proud of it.
The tension between Erotica vs. Romance isn’t sex, it’s writing style.
Nope. I’d say three things separate erotica from romance:
1. Romance focuses more on romantic relationship, erotica more the sexual relationship.
2. HEA is de rigueur for romance, but not for erotica.
3. Erotica HAS to include sex. How’s that for conforming to formula? Romances can skip the sex entirely and still work. How’s that for busting a genre convention?
Let me examine one of these desires as an example: Inter-racial relationships. Even though they are an exploding statistic in American life, they are still frowned upon- to say the least. (…) However, in “Romance World,” everyone is likely to be in bed with someone of a different “colorâ€ than themselves. White women with black men, and black women with white men, is a hot ticket.
I know I’m not up on the hippest, happening-est romance trends. Fergawdsake, I discovered MaryJanice Davidson and Emma Holly just a couple of months ago. But inter-racial relationships are common in romance novels? What. The. Fuck. I have read hundreds—actually, come to think of it, I’ve read well over a thousand romance novels in my lifetime. Romances featuring inter-racial couples that I’ve read are as follows:
The China Bride by Mary Jo Putney
Harvard’s Education by Suzanne Brockmann
White Tigress by Jade Lee
In each book, the inter-racial aspect was NOT glossed over (though I read the Brockmann book so long ago that I can’t remember much about it); the concerns about two different races marrying were very, very real and are central issues in the book.
Now, if she’d addressed how class issues are handled in European historical romances, THAT would’ve been more on the money.
Another Romance fetish is overt bondage, and domination/submission. Rape/forced sex is de rigeur.
Oh yes. That infamous preponderance of rape in modern romances. I’ll just repeat what I said in my drive-by bitching, with minor modifications: “Do you wish that Susie Bright has read romance novels that were published in the last 10, 15 years instead of being stuck in Woodiwisslandia, circa 1975? Yeah, me too.”
You know how women’s bodes are the ones that always have to be perfect in porn, even if the men are kinda droopy or overweight? It’s the same with romance, in reverse. The men’s bodies are all PUMPEDâ€” the women can be whatever. Her imperfections are irrelevant or sympathetic; the hero has to be an oiled stud muffin. Fabio is Jenna is Fabio.
OK, she has a point here. But not all romance readers find grotesquely muscular men attractive, and not all romance readers find Fabio to be the beau ideal. I certainly don’t. I love me a nice, skinny nerd hero like Jack Langdon in The Devil’s Delilah. Oh, wait, it doesn’t feature rape, which according to Bright is de rigueur for a romance. Maybe it’s not a romance novel after all. *wrinkles forehead in deep thought*
The biggest difference between my Best American Erotica and one of the “Sexxxyâ€ Romances isn’t the sex… it’s the style of the writing (genre vs. literary fiction). Every romance has a â€˜happy, monogamous endingâ€ while BAE stories are more diverse, without that guarantee.
She’s clearly talking about two different things here but conflating them into one. One is writing style, and the other is genre constraints. Erotica has a genre constraint, and it’s every bit as inflexible as the HEA ending demanded of all romance novels: it has to have sex. Loads of it. In fact, it has to BE mostly about sex. What constitutes a literary writing style is certainly up for debate, and I’ve encountered romance novels that feature beautiful, literary prose. Laura Kinsale, for example, does quite well in that regard.
In the same way that sci-fi and mystery novels historically became more psychological and complicated, the same thing is happening to romance, which has been the infantile genre the longest. The women still love their romances—like loving their Barbie Doll—but they’re buying other things now too.
Yowwwch. Not only am I a mental masturbator, I’m now a child for reading romances. And apparently my reading tastes are not diverse. I guess reading everything from SF/F to veterinary textbooks to literary fiction to children’s books to old adventure stories to romance novels to scientific non-fiction (I need to spend more quality time with Fabric of the Cosmos, dammit) doesn’t qualify. Maybe I need to read more erotica?
Romance readers are not remaining “monogamous;â€ their reading interests are diversifying.
Heh. From what I’ve heard and read, romance readers are some of the most voracious, diverse readers there are in the market.
If they break formula, they’ll be a better writer.
Sweet. I want to become the first erotica author to write an erotic novel all about the salubrious effects of abstinence, with nary a sex scene in it. How’s THAT for breaking formula?