Sunday, May 13, 2018

#RomBkLove: Day 13 Closed Door

#RomBkLove is a social media hashtag and brainchild of Ana Coqui.  Last year she hosted an entire month (all by herself!) of romance novel-related chatter on Twitter and I'm sure needed about a 2-month long nap afterward to recover.  So when she opted to host the month-long extravaganza again this year - she asked for help, with themes and with hosting.  So here were are, on Day #13 and my contribution: "closed door" romances.

People, I have a lot to say on this topic and will try not to slip into deep ranting mode, although it's going to be hard (ha!).  I truly believe that the only thing romance novels have to have, what they have to adhere to, is the happy-ever-after.  Our romantic couple needs to ride off into the sunset at the end.  This leaves a lot of shading in between for the author to write the story that they wanna tell.

This is paraphrased: There's a moment in the documentary, Love Between the Covers, where author Eloisa James asks an aspiring writer, "Are you selling this to the inspirational market?  Because if not, it has to have sex."

I'm beginning to think I'm the only one who was heavily annoyed by this "advice," because nobody else called it out (that I've seen anyway).  If anything, trolling through GoodReads only seems to enforce James' advice.  How many of us have seen the reviews: "This was a terrible book - it had NO sex scenes!"  So the book was "bad" because you didn't get to read a sex scene?  Really?!  Because this makes me question why you're reading romance.  If you're just "in it" for the sex - there's alternatives outside of the romance genre.  Just sayin'.

Now before anyone makes the erroneous assumption that I'm a prude who doesn't like the dirty words and smexy times - ha ha ha ha ha!  It is to laugh.  I'm one of what I'm beginning to think is a dying breed in romance readership.  The reader who will, literally, read across the entire sensuality spectrum.  Skanky hot sex scenes that would horrify my father?  Yep.  Sweet, just kisses that I'd be OK with my niece discovering on my bookshelf?  Yep.  I'll read it all.  I've loved it all - and Auntie Wendy is here to tell you why.

At the end of the day, it's about the story.  One thing romance readers and writers have been chaffing against since the dawn of time is this idea that romance is cookie-cutter.  It's one thing and one thing only.  Yes, it's the happy ending - but we're literally serving all sorts of cocktails (ha!) and I guarantee there's something on the menu for darn near every taste and preference.

Sex, like anything else in fiction writing, needs to be organic to the story.  Some stories need the hot and steamy sexy times - while in other stories such shenanigans would feel out of place.  There is nothing worse, in my opinion, than reading a very good story to only get to a love scene that feels shoe-horned in and "out of place" - like the author had to fill a quota.  Or the other side of the coin: a very good story that desperately needs a love scene that doesn't have one.  Yes, it can happen folks - I know this because I've read examples of both.

If you take nothing else away from Day 13, I hope it's this: Just because a book doesn't have sex scenes in it doesn't make it "bad."  Just because a book has wall-to-wall sexy shenanigans doesn't make it "bad."  At the end of the day, it's about the storyWhat best serves the story?

Now, to get this party started, I'm going to mention a few of my favorite "Closed Door" romances.  I hope you'll have time to stop by Twitter today to follow along with all the discussion - which you can do without an account.  Just check out the #RomBkLove hashtag.

Some of Wendy's Favorite Closed Door Romances:

  • Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist - set at the Biltmore mansion, a "downstairs" romance.
  • Janice Kay Johnson - check out any of her SuperRomances.  When she does write sex, it tends to be G-rated and she writes some of the best darn conflict in the genre.  She's criminally under-appreciated.
  • Someone more well-versed than I will have to pick up this mantle on Twitter - but seriously, SO MANY TRAD REGENCIES!


azteclady said...

Morning Glory, by LaVyrle Spencer (my review here) is another mostly closed door romance I love, love, love! (mind you, I have since realized the issues with the characterization of Lula, but the rest? still fantastic)

Laura Vivanco said...

There's a moment in the documentary, Love Between the Covers, where author Eloisa James asks an aspiring writer, "Are you selling this to the inspirational market? Because if not, it has to have sex."

I'm beginning to think I'm the only one who was heavily annoyed by this "advice," because nobody else called it out (that I've seen anyway).

You can imagine me joining you in the heavily annoyed queue, and doing an impression of The Scream.

Laura K. Curtis said...

Oh, I was right there screaming with you in annoyance. I've also been told by both agents and editors in the past that I needed to be "edgier," by which they meant more violent and more sexy (this is true in both the crime fiction and romance market). I think the first actual romances I read were Supers. And I loved them. No sex, just so much longing and looking and FEELING.

Wendy said...

AL: I NEED TO READ MORNING GLORY! I checked it out from work, and then didn't get to it, so returned it. I need to check it out again.

Laura and Laura: First time I watched the full documentary I was at an RWA event. It's amazing I didn't jump up out of seat and yell "ARE YOU EFF'ING KIDDING ME?!" at the top of my lungs. But restraint won out.

Laura Curtis: I'm currently revisiting Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series on audio and while there's dark moments in the early books (hey, there ARE dead bodies) - I'm struck by the fact that they're not overly graphic. Which just further illustrates how the genre has changed over the years. These early books are almost cozy by today's standards while cozy mystery has moved firmly into Magical Baking Cats Who Own Cupcake Shop territory. I miss "old" cozy mysteries....

Rhoda Baxter said...

I write 'fade to black' sex scenes and that bit in Love Between the Covers made me want to weep (not least because I felt at the time that it was probably true and I really didn't want it to be!). As you say, sex scenes should move the story forward, just like any other scene should.

Laura Vivanco said...

I admire your restraint, Wendy!

Morning Glory, as Azteclady says, has issues. I took a bit of a look at them for the conclusion of my Pursuing Happiness and it looks like the whole section's visible online via Google Books.

Spinsterfun said...

I've seen Love Between the Covers twice and somehow missed that advice, but I'll join everyone's screams. When I started reading romance back in the dark ages I was evenly split between Johanna Lindsay and trad regencies and still read across the spectrum today. These days I often find myself skipping sex scenes. Too often they don't move the plot forward and are pretty generic.

CynthiaZ said...

I would have been every bit as aggravated at such a comment. I think that an admirer of Georgette Heyer's writing would have an enormous amount of ammunition to argue that no sex is necessary to tell a story with an immense amount of feeling. I agree completely that the story is everything, and the story for me is enhanced by the amount of emotion the writer can portray, or instill in the characters. One of my favorite authors was found in the Harlequin Romance line only. Jane Donnelly, though constrained (not really) by the Harlequin rules, managed to convey so much emotion/love that I was reminded of Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights. I collected her books (57 of them), and they have a prominent place on my bookshelf (I have over 4,000 books even after culling for 3 moves, and switching to ebooks to save space) so that I can easily find and reread them.

Wendy said...

Rhoda: Well, you'll likely get dinged for it - because I've seen reviews where authors have gotten dinged on just about everything. But take heart there are a lot of readers out there, like me, who read across the spectrum and are looking for "a good story" - whether that story has descriptive sex scenes or not!

Laura: I'm knee-deep in listening to mystery novels that were originally published in the 1980s - so yes, I get where you're coming from. Whenever I do have the luxury to reread old favorites I tend to gird my loins prior and remind myself "how did this book make you feel at the time I first read it?" Because, oh my, times have changed and so have I.

Spinsterfun: For me it's the question: "does this scene need to be here - what does it accomplish?" And if it accomplishes nothing other than beefing up word count? I tend to get annoyed. I've had this reaction with multiple sex scenes in "light historicals" recently - hence me laying off "light historicals" for a little while until I'm less cranky.

Cynthia: And now I'm going to look up Jane Donnelly. I came to the Harlequin Romance line rather late - I've probably only been reading them for the past 10 years? It may not even be that long. But they're now like my comfort food.

Bona Caballero said...

Don't worry, I don't think we, the ones that enjoy all the gamut of romance heat, are a 'dying breed in romance readership'. I think people still discover and enjoy Georgette Heyer and many Harlequin novels that are completely white or YA with 'kisses only'.
IMO, the level of sensuality has to be consistent with the kind of story or the style in which is told. Writers usually do it very well. I cannot explain why it happens, or give you examples, but sometimes I feel like there should be a closed door because a steamy scene it does not go with that story, and other times I feel like a sexy scene is missing.
Yes, in the end, it's about the story, the characters and the style in which the same old tropes are re-told.

azteclady said...

Laura Vivanco: That's very interesting reading; now I'm looking at entire section of Morning Glory in an entire different light!

Wendy, I hope at some point you get around to reading it; I gave it to a voracious male reader once, and he dubbed it "a rarity, a perfect book" Mind you, it was his first genre romance too ::grin:: Over a few years, he read dozens of my recommendations, and found several very much to his liking, from closed door to pretty explicit erotic romance.

cleo reader said...

I also read across the heat spectrum. I’m a big fan of flirting, courtship and sexual tension in romance and sometimes that done best in closed door romances.

Here are a couple closed door mm and queer romances:

Tigers and Devils series by Sean Kennedy - Australian set nerd - jock mm romance narrated by an extremely snarky artist.

The Slipstream Con by Michele Moore and S Reesa Herberth - mmf space opera / heist. It’s kind of like a polyamorous Thomas Crown Affair in space, plus nano technology. And excellent sexual tension.

Looking for Group by Alexis Hall - mm NA. I haven’t read this one but I know it’s mostly closed door because I remember some minor controversy re reviewers saying things like it wasn’t realistic to have no sex in the book because obvs all 19 year olds want to have sex all the time.

Wendy said...

Bona: I know exactly what you mean. It's hard to define, but it's about tone and authorial voice. When the story feels like it should be closed door - and the author wedges in a sex scene - it's jarring to that tone/authorial voice the reader has been experiencing up to that point. Likewise, I've read instances where the author is practically holding my hand, setting me up for a sex scene and then...nothing. Closed door. And I'm left feeling like the story needs the sex scene to further the emotional arc of the romance.

AL: I promise I shall get to it one of these days! I can even get it on audio via one of my library cards - so really, I have no excuse.

Cleo: ::slow blink:: regarding the controversy surrounding Looking for Group. Now I'm really curious to read that one!

cleo reader said...

@wendy - controversy is probably too strong a word, more like some people disagreed on GR ;) I think some of the early negative reviews on GR suggested that there was something unnatural or unhealthy about 19 year olds not having (on page) sex and others took exception to that.

Here's the author's post about it -