At the top of the stairs, in an odd corner just outside my bedroom door, is a stack of books. They are all paperbacks, almost all romance, and all have been read. We’re in the process of painting several rooms, as well as doing a little remodeling of a closet, and so we are short on shelf space at the moment.
My three-year-old daughter loves this stack of books. She alternates between treating them like blocks, and pretending to read them, just like Mommy. She makes them into towers, and sometimes she makes herself a balance beam of books, and she crosses it like it was a bridge.
She calls them “Mommy’s kissy books.” When I’m lying in bed with whatever I’m currently reading, she often demands to have a kissy book of her own. So we grab one from the “already read” stack, and she snuggles with me, looking at the words, occasionally turning pages, just like Mommy.
When she was not even a year old, and starting to reach out of her crib to grab anything and everything she could, she realized that the “kissy books” were something very important to Mommy. Instead of taking them away, I let her have one, and watched in amusement as she discovered the fascinating ripping sound paper can make. But her tiny face turned to confusion and then worry as she realized that she could not put the corner of paper back onto the page! She tried. She fit it into place rather carefully. When she looked up at me, the book in one tiny hand, the bit of paper in the other, it was all I could do not to laugh, but reassure her that Mommy would make it better.
She now has a fascination with tape.
Since becoming serious about my writing, I’ve looked at these books as my own building blocks as well. It’s not that I make little buildings out of them (well, I might, but that’s another blog post…) it’s that these stories form the basis of the settings and characters I am creating. How did Mary Balough create such memorable characters in a genre where so many characters can easily seem too alike? How did Stephanie Laurens manage to create a sensual sex scene without delving deep into the language of erotica? How did Courtney Milan make me root for this obviously unworthy hero? How did they all make me look for their names when I peruse a bookstore shelf?
There are so many pieces that must fit together to make an enjoyable, marketable book. I’ve built my world; I have the geography, political structure, backstory and social norms all mapped out in far greater detail than my readers will ever need. I have likeable, interesting characters, although I’ve found that I don’t necessarily impart their likability as well as I should; something ends up missing between my brain and the virtual page, so I have to rely on editing to fix that. I have plots with beginnings, middles, and ends.
Right now, I’m concerned about sex. I am capable of writing a very steamy and explicit scene; in fact I’ve actually put a lot of thought into whether I want to be categorized as romance, or erotic romance. Romance won out; I want my books to be driven by the characters and their relationships. Although I do include a heaping dose of intimacy in my books, those scenes are not the primary focus.
I’ve been reading more erotica lately, particularly in the GLBT category since that’s where my own stories were lacking. But I’ve discovered that certain situations hold no appeal for me, and it is difficult for me as a writer to imagine my characters enjoying these situations. So I have to make a decision; do I plunge ahead, and try to write about a character enjoying something that I, personally, would find uncomfortable? Or do I couch it in language that focuses on the feelings the character is having, without describing in detail exactly which body parts are connecting in what way?
I’m leaning toward the latter at the moment, though I wonder if I can be consistent about it. Will readers notice and complain if I write more detail about the hetero encounters, and gloss over the M/M encounters? Can I write well enough that it won’t matter? Are there readers out there who would appreciate knowing that a bisexual character has a happy, healthy sex life with their husbands and wives, without describing every encounter?
Time to go back to the building blocks. Because one of the most important things I can do as a writer…
…is to read.
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