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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Glad you chose stories and character development over the soft porn. I stopped reading certain series (Anita Blake books) simply because they went from interesting concept to “who is she going to bed in this chapter, and how will we have this sex scene?”. Really boring, very fast, when there is no real plot, interesting story or interesting characters.
I’m pretty sure I have enough building blocks to build a full-scale house! For me I worry that I’m going to accidentally borrow something from someone I’ve already read. While my memory fully sucks in most every respect, I can remember absolutely ever story (complete with plotline), I have ever read. Which turns into me rejecting nearly every plotline I come up with because I feel like it too closely resembles another author’s work.
Part of the reason I hesitate to write romance is because while – like you – I am fully capable of writing some major steam, I don’t wanna. We’ve been trying to teach the boys that they need to wait until they get married to do the deed, so I’d feel sort of hypocritical writing about my characters doing it when you know they’re not gettin’ married ’til the end…and you can only write the marriage of convenience thing so many times! LOL
Stuart– I definitely wasn’t heading into the porn category, just erotic romance. There is a scale with very fuzzy lines that goes from Romance, Erotic Romance, Erotica, and then Porn. Some authors are very offended if someone lumps them into the “porn” category. There is a definite market for erotica (including happily married women on fertility drugs, as I was for a time! It definitely helped ease the raging hormones.) and it shouldn’t be lumped in with pornography.
Geri– Are you on Goodreads? It’s a website that lets you create a virtual bookshelf of “already read” and “currently reading” and “to read”. I had started an actual spreadsheet to try and keep track of my romance novels, particularly to keep track of which one’s I’d read already. I also needed to make a note when there was a book coming out sometime in the future that I’d like to read. Goodreads solved the problem for me, and I can also connect to friends’ lists and enter reviews for books!
Of course, the problem with reviews is, as a pre-published romance author, it would be very bad form for me to openly criticize another author’s published work. You never know who you might be sitting next to at a conference, or who you might ask to blurb your own book someday. It’s best for authors to leave critiquing to the critics! (Of course, being asked for comments, constructive criticism, or editing of a work before it is submitted is a completely different story!)
I think my biggest concern with the sex scenes at the moment is consistency. I’ve written 3 novels in this world, several short stories, and a few unfinished novels as well. In some, the sex is an important part of the plot; in others, not so much. I worry that this will be seen as inconsistent. But I think I’ll just use my own judgment, write what I think the story needs, and not worry about it till the (hopeful) day when an agent and professional editor help me make a team decision.