When it comes to "the naughty bits" - I don't discriminate. I like logical behavior and consenting adults. Really, that's about it. Give me those things, whether it's a "gentle" story or massive orgies involving hanging upside down from chandeliers - I'll judge the books pretty much the same way. Did I like these people? Do I feel like they belong together? Did I get lost in the story?
As much as I've "judged" books over the years, I've tried never to judge The Reader. Readers read romance for a variety of reasons. The reason I read the genre isn't necessarily "the right reason" or even "the only reason." Plus you need to factor in personal baggage. As much as readers talk about getting "lost" in a story - we never go into any story totally alone. No, we're dragging a couple steamer trunks of personal junk along with us. There is nothing wrong with this. We're human. No matter how hard we try, we will never forget ourselves entirely. Which is why I always say that "relating" to a character is hogwash. Make me understand the character(s), and you've got me. I'll follow an author straight off a cliff if they make me "understand" the character(s).
Which brings me to inspirational romance. When describing myself I would have to say I'm not a religious person. Which begs the question of why I read the occasional inspirational romance. It's pretty much the same reason I read category romance. Sometimes I just want the romance. I want a strong focus on "the relationship." Sometimes I just want a nice story about nice people. And inspirationals can give that to me. Nice story, nice people, and common themes that play well into religious overtones without preaching from the pulpit. For example, I've read many an inspirational where forgiveness and redemption are common themes. I find these compelling as a reader, and while they play well into a religious world view, they are understandable and relatable to readers who don't necessarily believe in a higher power. In other words, when done right, inspirationals can be life affirming without truckloads of endless preaching and spoon-feeding doctrine to readers.
I thought I'd never say this, but now I'm wondering if my reasons for reading inspirationals is "wrong." OK, maybe not "wrong" per se, but just a completely different reason other than why 99.9% of hardcore inspirational readers read them.
A perfect example of what I'm running up against happened to me this past weekend. I'm in the midst of contest judging so cannot name the book outright, but in broad strokes - it's a historical mail-order bride story. Literally, in the first chapter, the couple is married. M-A-R-R-I-E-D. As in, holy matrimony. So the conflict is, essentially, that they are strangers and married. Got it? So being married, the couple does have sex. Now, this being an inspriational, the sex is behind closed doors - but the couple is attracted to each other. They have "feelings." They feel desire for each other.
I'm thinking this is a good thing, right? I mean, characters in romance novels who aren't eunuchs and/or dead below the waist are always a good thing. Sex is part of the human condition. I mean, God wants us to be fruitful and multiple, right? And if you believe in God, and God gave us sex, how can sex (especially sex between a consenting married couple who have the hots for each other) be a bad thing?
But apparently I'm barking up the wrong tree. Here are samples of some reviews I came across for this particular book.
"Throughout there is too much information behind their private doors."
Really? I must have missed the part where Vin Scully strode in the bedroom and started giving readers the play-by-play.
"However, the endless descriptions of the couple’s passionate moments were way, way too much in this novel. It got in the way of the overall story a lot."
The irony being that I was bored with a lot of the other "stuff" in this story and was really struck by the fact that the author chose to portray an intimate married couple without being graphic. Go figure.
"There was a little too much intimacy in the book to suit my personal reading preferences so I was a little disappointed in this book. Maybe there should have been a little pre-wedding story before the wedding."
So newlyweds being attracted to each other and doing what newlyweds do all while the author is giving us the G-rated rundown is "too much." Got it.
"Not that it was as bad as mainstream smut, but, it was way too much in my opinion. It didn't feel like a clean read at all..."
Words. Fail. ::headdesk::
So, let me see if I understand the issue here. We have a married couple (M-A-R-R-I-E-D) who have the hots for each other and have G-rated sex behind closed doors. The "passionate moments" are essentially heated looks, teasing banter, and the characters embracing.
And yet this is apparently "bad."
In which case I hope none of these women ever set foot in the Bat Cave and accidentally stumble across my collection of Black Lace novels. I'd probably find myself the subject of an exorcism. Or as the lead in a reenactment of the Salem Witch Trials. Either one = Not. Good.
Romance readers are often labelled as wanting to escape into a Fantasy Land because they can't handle "real life." Yes, some readers do read romance for escapism (I don't - but I also don't feel like there's anything wrong with "escapism" - hey, whatever floats your boat). Some readers like that emotional connection that romance gives to them. Emotions are universal human conditions. We all can understand hate, anger, joy, happiness etc. Romance offers that immediate buy-in. Then there is this business of "falling in love." A lot of us have done it, but it's never uniform. How one couple "falls in love" can be (and often is) totally different from most other couples on the planet. Love may be universal, but it's also a tad mysterious. It's not one size fits all. You can't bottle it. That's why it's so freakin' fantastic to read about. Yes, in romance, the characters fall in love. But they don't necessarily fall in love the exact same way as the couples that came before them.
Like all romance sub genres, I think inspirationals offer these things too. But these comments I keep running up against in some inspirational reviews begs the question:
What do inspirational readers want?
And for that matter - do I really want an answer to that question? (Probably not)
Because honestly, I'm starting to wonder. If it's not OK for a married couple to feel desire for each other - well I'm sorry, I don't know who to feel more sorry for: the women leaving these kinds of review comments or.....their husbands.
And yes, I just went there.
I refuse to believe that I shouldn't be reading inspirational romances and I refuse to believe that I'm wrong for reading them for the reasons that I do. I've always said that I read romances because I believe in the heroine. I believe she can be the hero of her own story. I believe she deserves happiness. And by extension, women in real life deserve happiness. They should be allowed to control their own destinies. They should be allowed to feel desire, to be open in their sexuality, to revel in being A Woman. And then I read comments like the above in reviews for inspirational romances and I think, "If married women aren't allowed to be sexual and feel desire for their husbands, what are we left with?"
Yeah, a big steaming pile of No Thank You Ma'am.
So who is the problem here? I refuse to believe I am the problem - because this is my blog and I'm always right on my blog. I refuse to believe that an inspirational author writing about the feelings and desires of a married couple is wrong. And while I try very hard to never tell another reader what they should feel, what they should think, and that yes, they are allowed to their own opinion - this is one instance where I want to stand on top of a desk, give my patented Librarian Death Stare and say....
Madam, you are wrong.
But instead I'll settle for blogging it.