“We’re looking for erotic stories.”
“We’re looking for ménage…”
“We’re looking for BDSM stories. They don’t have to have HEA, but at least HFN.”
“Fifty Shades of Grey has sold more than 40 million copies worldwide, topping best-seller lists all over the world and set the record as the fastest-selling paperback of all-time…”
Of all the things I just typed, I find the last one the most disturbing.
I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination. I cut my teeth on romance novels by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss, Rosemary Rogers and Janelle Taylor. I rolled my eyes over Heather Graham’s time in the spotlight, but I read her books despite her “delicate, shell-like” ears and the “quicksilver” that seemed to run through everyone’s veins.
Even as a high-school student, what made those authors palatable to my mother was the fact that, aside from never having to explain the facts of life to me, these heroines were having awesome sex in a loving, monogamous, often married – or soon-to-be – relationship. The sex in these books was reasonably graphic in a purple prose kind of way and the language was seldom vulgar or crass but filled with flowery euphemisms that communicated the gist of the action quite effectively. The kinky, degrading sex acts were the purview of the villains. Heroes never treated a heroine with disrespect. Heroes cherished the heroines and their lovemaking reflected that.
It made an impression on me. So did my parents’ often Victorian sensibilities. To this day, I believe that some things are personal and private, and not meant “for the titillation of the masses,” to quote my own hero.
I originally wrote SOVRAN’S PAWN as an erotic science fiction novella in answer to a submission call from an editor I admire and wanted to work with. I read other novels and novellas that she’d edited for an idea of the kind of story she was looking for, and I crafted my book accordingly.
I finished the second draft and something odd happened. I remember being curled up in my office rereading the manuscript and noticing that my characters had subtly changed. The basic nature of who they were was different…harder…more brittle and infinitely less likeable. Blade Devon, my hero extraordinaire was a cruel misogynist who took particular delight in humiliating his soul mate. My strong, feisty heroine had devolved into a rabid bitch in heat who didn’t care how degraded she was, she wanted it and him all the more.
The coup de grace for this storyline occurred when my 78 year-old father picked up my printed pages and started reading aloud to my step-mom and husband. He paused, lowered the manuscript and peered over the tops of his glasses at me. The last thirty years slipped away and I was a teenager once again, slinking in after curfew. He didn’t have to speak to make his disapproval felt. To be honest, I was ashamed of myself anyway.
I’m a mom of daughters. I’m a grandmother of granddaughters. I wouldn’t want my 16 year-old granddaughter reading what I had written. I wouldn’t want her mother reading it either! Everywhere I looked the books that were getting the most publicity and the sales had lots and lots of graphic (and kinky) sex in them. It appeared that to sell my book to a publisher, I had to sell my soul as well.
After my father went home, I stared at the manuscript, trying to reconcile my own values with those the publishing industry seemed to give preference to. By accident I stumbled across a blog post titled “Killing the Porn Muse.” The author put into words what I’d been feeling. As writers it’s up to us to define relationships. I wanted to model for my girls what a loving, committed relationship looked like from the inside out, after all, that’s what I’m blessed enough to have found for myself. It’s what I want for them.
I’m not saying that being adventurous in the bedroom runs counter to that, quite the contrary. I think that in a loving, committed, trusting, monogamous relationship, a couple is only limited by their own imaginations and sense of propriety. What I am saying is that I don’t think the glorification of sex without the accompanying emotional attachment does anyone any good.
For myself, the intimacy of lovemaking between two people who are deeply in love is intensely personal. I can’t write a graphic sex scene without it being either too clinical, or too pornographic. It just feels too personal and I don’t see the need for it. Aside from that, for my children and grandchildren, I don’t want to advocate entering into a sexual relationship without first having a committed monogamous and loving relationship.
I will write you adventure. I will write you banter. I will give you nail-biting fight scenes and hovercycle chases. But do not expect me to invite you into my characters’ sex lives. You know they’re doing it. You don’t need to stand on the sidelines with a scorecard.
If you do find yourself in the bedroom with them, don’t expect to see anything glistening or heaving. This is one instance when I will tell, not show, what is going on. Innuendo is an art. I intend to practice it well.