Sunday, April 24, 2011

Erotic Romance & the making of a STORY

I love having guest authors to Five Scribes, especially when they make me think. And my dear friend Maryn Sinclair had me nodding vigorously as she validated point after point in this article. Maryn's alter ego was a finalist in the Mainstream division of the 2010 Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. Maryn is equally as talented as her mainstream counterpart. See if you don't agree. Please welcome Maryn Sinclair to The Five Scribes.
~ Donnell
I write Erotic Romance. Gasp. That's the stuff with lots of graphic sex, right? Right! But that's not all it is, at least not in my books, which I'll explain later. First, let's not get Erotic Romance mixed up with Erotica or Porn. Unlike those two, ER must have a HEA: A Happy Ever After ending. I wouldn't dream of putting two people together in sexual situations and not have them find a way to be together at the end. What would be the point? If you read my books, you'll know that up front. It's how they get through all their baggage--my characters always have baggage--and to get over their pasts or deal with the present that makes their stories interesting. That is a totally objective viewpoint, you understand.

I've always incorporated sex in my stories. I've had critique partners suggest that if I eliminated the sex in my "straight" books--the ones I write under another name--they would be more salable. Yet I'm always amazed at those who have no problem reading or writing about killing people in every bizarre possible way. Poison? Sure. Which is the most obscure, and how can my main character get his/her hands on it? Stabbing? shooting, mutilation, blood spurting from the carotid artery? Why not?

But sex? Uh-uh. Shiver. Close that door and don't look.

What's wrong with that picture?

What could be more uplifting than making love to someone? To touch, feel, taste a person who makes your heart sing just by being next to him?

I guarantee that unless you're a reader or writer who's been involved in some form of law enforcement, most of you have never seen blood puddling around a dead body or had anything to do with a murder investigation. BUT, I bet almost every one of you has made love, knows what it feels like, and, heaven forbid, enjoyed the hell out of it. So what's your problem with reading it? Or writing it? Why does a sexual relationship make some readers uncomfortable?

Is it because you deem it too personal? Is it that the James Bonds of the world can openly indulge in sexual encounters without being judged but women can't? Men are rakishly sexy when they bed every woman in sight; women are, well, you know what they're called. Did we not burn our bras for equality? (Full disclosure: I didn't burn mine. I needed it.)

I do have limits, however. I don't write werewolves, vampires or shapeshifters. Nothing against them, but I don't understand that world. I have a hard enough time understanding the world I live in, let alone invent one. No heavy BDSM, although I will mix that element into my stories in more subtle ways. I haven't written dom/sub stories, or D/s, as it's often written. I have no problem with those, either. They're just not anything that turns me on to write about UNLESS it's an equal opportunity kind of thing. You know, what's good for the gander is good for the goose. I don't spank. I was spanked as a kid. I don't see anything sexy or erotic about being spanked. I do have a light bondage scene in SEXUAL PERSUASION, but there's a reason. Really, there is. And it's consensual. That's not to say I won't ever write anything that falls into that category, but like nude scenes in movies, there has to be a reason.

My characters have hang-ups or histories that keep them from getting what they don't think they want, which is a relationship. In other words, they have a story. And that's my point. Gee, it took me long enough to get here. Erotic romance can have a story and can and should be more than just about sex. The romance can be between a man and a woman, two men, or two women. It can be a combination of multiples. Sure it may start out as lust. Doesn't every romance start out with two people who click on some hormonal level? Call it pheromones or magnetic attraction. It happens, and we've all experienced it. At least I hope we have. Some are like shooting stars that burn bright, then die out on the way down to earth. Others develop into loving relationships and burn forever.

In SEXUAL PERSUASION, my first release for e-publisher Loose Id my hero, Alex, is immediately drawn to my heroine, Charlotte. It's the second time in his life that Alex has experienced that overpowering chemistry. The first time happened seventeen years before, and it was with another man. That relationship ended badly, and Alex has intentionally kept from any involvements.

Charlotte, my heroine, is pretty, smart, and a good businesswoman. Her weakness is that she chooses the wrong men to fall in love with. She's sworn off men, at least for now. (Come on, you know how it's going to end. I've already given that part away.) Alex is the attorney for Boston's number one racketeer, and the gossip is he's the racketeer's lover, which makes him another man in a long line of Charlotte's bad choices. But is he?

Add Charlotte's sleazy, BDSM-loving ex-boyfriend (notice I get that element in peripherally. Sneaky, huh?), a crooked land deal, and Alex's old lover, and you have the makings of ...a story. See?

So, it doesn't have to be all about sex, although by the very nature of the genre that's an integral, no, a major part of writing erotic romance. You wouldn't write an erotic romance without, well, sex, any more than you'd write a mystery without mystery or a thriller without something thrilling happening.

I found writing erotic romance harder than straight suspense or romantic suspense. Not only did I have to develop that story I talked about, but I had to make the romance and the sensual moments believable. Oh, and original. Did I do it? I think so, but that will be up to the readers. My second novel with Loose ID, THE ESCORT--no release date yet--is nothing like SEXUAL PERSUASION, which if you haven't figured out the title's meaning, it has to do with Alex's, um, sexual persuasion. My third effort is nothing like the first two.

Many of my writer friends confessed that they've tried to write graphic sex scenes and couldn't. I'm not sure if it's those drilled-in inhibitions about sex that keeps them from writing the genre or if it's just too hard. Probably a little of both. I found it challenging, and I think I'll keep finding it that way. I also found it fun. And what could be better than to have fun writing every day? Hmm, I can think of one thing. Wanna guess?

Maryn Sinclair is a New England native living in the South who loves creating characters that murder, love, hate, and connive, but mostly love. She's lived in Italy and pursued a few careers, all having to do with the arts. Then writing took her by storm, and she hasn’t stopped. She speaks dialogue in the car while driving, makes notes in the middle of half-heartedly doing something else, and prays that no one notices her idiosyncratic behavior and carts her off to some place nice and quiet where she can be treated. She hasn’t been found out yet, so she's safe for the time being. To learn more about Maryn, check out her web site at


Linda Lovely said...

Maryn--A great explanation of erotic romance and how it differs from porn. As Donnell noted in the intro, your post also makes us think--why are some of us okay reading about bloody corpses but not sexual encounters? The fact that you enjoy writing every day is a sure sign your readers will enjoy the results--whether mainstream or erotic romance.

Maryn said...

Thanks for the post, Linda. I think there's still a Victorian attitude for many where sex is concerned. It's the contradiction that blood and gore are acceptable while love and sex aren't that has me perplexed. But I've already said that, haven't I?

Trina said...

I admire how erotic writers seem to be so much more comfortable pushing the envelope. Do you find this mindset also makes your more mainstream writing also edgier?

Maryn said...

Trina, I always felt my mainstream writing was edgy, and not only about sex. Some readers would undoubtedly question the things my characters do because they tread a line between right and questionable. Notice I didn't say wrong. In Sexual Persuasion, Alex works for a racketeer. He refuses to do anything illegal, but he twists his ethics to comply with that self-imposed rule. Questionable? Yes. Edgy? You bet. I have similar situations with my mainstream characters, so I guess it's the way I write, no matter the genre.

Susan M. Boyer said...

Maryn, you make excellent points. Why do we think it's okay to kill people in every conceivable way, but to limit how we love them in books?

I agree with Linda. Your joy in your characters' journeys will be contagious to your readers. Congratulations!!

Great interview, Donnell!

Donnell said...

Maryn, welcome! I'm one of those people who find writing sex scenes difficult, BUT I do have the ability to know when someone does it well and makes it appear effortless, when we both know -- as you said -- it's hard.

What I do not like, whether it's violence or sex, is if it's tossed in, gratuitous in other words or used for shock value.

It has to be part of the story. I just judged a contest where the author starts out with violence, shocking, abhorrent violence -- and the sole purpose of the act was to grab the reader. It went on for several pages. It did anything but grab me.

How do you handle this in Sexual Persuasions. And would you talk about the person you worked with to get the story just right.

Thanks for being here today!

Maryn said...

Thanks for dropping by, Susan. I wish I knew why one thing is acceptable and the other isn't. Maybe some writers don't want to expose their intimate sides. Go figure.

Kaye George said...

Now I'm going to be late for my hair appointment! I had to stop and read every word of this fascinating article. What is it about that word--sex?

Maryn said...

Donnell, there's almost no way that a reader will find all the sex scenes in Sexual Persuasion necessary. I do feel at least one of them may be gratuitous. There, I've said it. It's the genre that demands those scenes and it's what readers want. I hope it comes off as more sensual and not for shock value. It is hard to walk that line without tripping over it.

I worked with two editors to get the story the way they wanted it. It was a learning experience for me, and one that will bode well for my mainstream work. The first one got me in touch with the characters' feelings. Yesterday, on Ellis Vidler's The Unpredictable Muse, I explained the deep POV that the editor eased me along to understand. Also, how about a scene like this here? Never insisting, always suggesting. Of course, I took their advice, and that's why I think the book works.

Leslie Budewitz said...

Maryn, thanks for an excellent explanation of the genre. Can't help but notice you snuck some crime in there, too -- an influence of your other genres?

Maryn said...

Kay, I don't know what it is about the word SEX. It's just three letters, but it makes some people uncomfortable. Maybe I'm just too old to worry about what others think about the word, the genre, and what people do with the door open. :-)

Maryn said...

Leslie, I'm writing the same books I've always written. They just have more SEX. My second book deals with tough issues, as does this one. There's no reason an erotic romance can't deal with subjects that matter and make a statement. If crimes are involved, all the better. :-)

Donnell said...

I just think this is such a thought-provoking post. You are definitely targeting a specific market, and thanks to Loose Id, you may have found the ideal audience.

IMO, thriller readers read to turn the page to enjoy a ride at a fast-paced clip. Throw in a sex scene that has no purpose in the book and it slows the story. Throw in too much horror, and it sends the novel over the top, too.

The overall mystery readers have come to expect the closed-door sex scene, but are okay with *some* blood and gore on the page.

Then of course cozies, you wouldn't have sex or violence in the book. Everything happens off scene.

It all boils down to audience. And from Loose Ids success, it's clear there is one who wants what you're writing.

One more comment, because that's what I do. As a reader I don't want to be pigeon holed. I like that there are myriad genres at my disposal.

Imagine if we could only read the genre we wrote. How boring would that be? I cannot WAIT to read Sexual Persuasion, mostly because I know of the talent who wrote it, plus of the mystery element in it. You've definitely piqued my interest!

Ellis Vidler said...

Excellent post. You put me in mind of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. In it, Fight was the unacceptable word, but F--k was fine. He created a world where violence was unacceptable but sex was a very good thing. I always thought it made sense. However, I enjoy a good murder and a little violence along with the sex--just no torture or extreme situations. I'd much rather read about sex between consenting adults. And your stories really do a good job of it. I have Sexual Persuasion on my Kindle and can't wait to read it. Again. With the final editing and enhanced POV. Good job, Maryn!

Vince said...

Hi Maryn:

I have never bought into the argument that sex is verboten but violence is welcome.

Sex is everywhere. It is used to sell almost everything. The prohibition is against explicit sex depiction.

Violence is not as ubiquitous as sex. There also is a prohibition against explicit violence depiction. Most bodies are found dead after the fact on TV. Only a few shows go into violent detail. CSI likes to gross out the viewers with little snippets of autopsies and the TV show “Crminal Minds” is built on the premise of explicit serial killer violence but even here there is a minimum of actually explicit details.

For another thing: most people are not going to go out and engage in violent acts. However, most people expect to engage in sex at some point. Seeing explicit sex depictions may provide an encouragement to those not ready for sex.

Even if violence was accepted as wonderful that in no way would justify explicit sex depiction. The real question is: does explicit sex depiction stand justified in its own right?

Is the by-the-numbers, explicit, love making methodology necessary for fulfilling the needs of the plot and story? What do you learn by observing the mechanics of lovemaking that advances the plot better than simply saying the hero and heroine made passionate love?

If knowing the exact details of how the hero and heroine engaged in the lovemaking process advances the plot and/or the character ARC, then I feel this is fully literarily justified.

But this assumes one needs justification. If an author wants to show explicit lovemaking to entertain the reader, then why not? The entire book is meant to entertain the reader.

My personal preference is this: if details of the lovemaking tells me important information that I could not have received any other way, then I enjoy the love scenes. If it is just gratuitous sex designed to delight the reader, then, if it is well done, I can enjoy that too. However, I want to know in advance that such scenes are part of the book. I don’t want to be surprised by gratuitous sex.

I can recall a Presents Romance in which the hero and heroine made love in a way that exactly matched their personalities and the needs of the story. Only these two people would have made love the way they did. I thought this was wonderful. But I don’t see examples of this very often. Too often in ‘hot’ romances, the explicit love scenes are interchangeable with other romances. I think it is a bad sign if a love scene can easily be transplanted into another romance with only name changes and changes of physical description (like hair color).


ArkansasCyndi said...

What I really LOVED about the description of your book is that THERE IS A PLOT! And it sounds like a very interesting plot.

Great discussion on the backblog ladies. Very thought provoking

Donnell said...

And Vince! Thanks for stopping by, Cyndi.

I agree this has been a very educational thread.

Kaye George said...

Ellis, I've noticed that what you describe is the European attitude. Sex everywhere and no one thinks twice about it, but they get very upset at violence. I agree, that makes a lot of sense! It's hard for an American to get used to the sex stuff, though--upbringing and all. At least this American (even though I'm a lot Swedish). :)

Maryn said...

Picking up where I left off--lunch with my son--Donnell, erotic romance is a huge umbrella under which every genre is represented, including mystery, suspense, sci-fi, chic lit, fantasy, horror, etc. The only thing they all have in common is the hot relationship between the h/h.

Maryn said...

Ellis, coming from the mystery/suspense genre, I have no problem with a murder or mild violence either. I think the ticket is not to go too far over the edge with either genre, which is why I have a problem writing the extreme elements of erotic romance/erotica. I think it ultimately depends on what the reader wants, and that choice is theirs to make. It's all out there. Take your pick. If you don't like it, don't read it.

Ellis Vidler said...

Maryn’s book has a good plot and sex is a real factor, part of the plot—not just what people do when nothing else is happening. Much of their character is revealed though it too. But it’s an erotic romance, and the sex is explicit.
I agree, Kaye. Europeans do have a more relaxed attitude toward sex. I think they sometimes see us as uptight Puritans. I think we can find a happy medium. I prefer some mystery or suspense in what I read, and Sexual Persuasion has it.

Maryn said...

Hi Vince,

I printed out your post so I could address it without scrolling. And thanks for the thoughtful response. I think a lot of the problem is we see and hear violence every day, from every corner of the world. We've become inured to it, and in a very bizarre sense, we are more likely to accept it. As you mentioned, it's represented on TV and in the movies while making love is more apt to be on cable than network TV. Erotic romance has its place for those who want to read it. Mostly, it's limited to specific imprints or ebooks. Sure, some of it is definitely gratuitous, but less than the violent, car-chasing, blow-em-up movies that fill the movie screens. Your need to be informed of the kind of book you're reading is expressed on the Loose Id website under every book. It becomes the choice of the reader what s/he can tolerate. There should be no surprises. As you said, a book is meant to entertain. I agree.

Maryn said...

Yes, ArkansasCindi, there is a plot in both my books for Loose Id. I can't imagine reading a book without a story. For me, it's the characters first--I have to love them, then the story, then the sex.

Donnell said...

I'm supposed to be cleaning, but what am I doing, thinking about Maryn's blog.

One of the most memorable movies of my time was Body Heat. Do any of you remember it? Kathleen Turner and William Hurt starred. I saw that with a group of guys and girls and we were mesmerized, as well as hot and bothered when we left the theater.

To take the sex out of that plot would have produced a dud of a movie (sorry about passive voice there, I'm typing fast). The sex was the conflict, and Turner's antagonistic use of it was crucial to the plot. If sex belongs in a book, it belongs, and I won't be able to put it down.

Ellis Vidler said...

Who could forget Body Heat? I'm supposed to be writing about electrical substations, but I thinking about Maryn's blog too. And the interesting comments keep bringing me back. This is so much more fun!

Maryn said...

Loved Body Heat. I wonder if they have it at the library. I'd like to see that one again.

Maggie Toussaint said...

Nice post, Maryn. It gives a reader plenty to think about, that's for sure. I think the spirit of adventure strikes each of us in different ways. I wouldn't put anyone down for whatever type of story they write. To me it's all about the story. If its well-written, I'll keep reading. If it's too racy for my taste, I'll skim over those parts, same as I would skim over a particularly violent or gory part in another story. The world is much more interesting when we all march to different drums.

Maryn said...

Thanks for stopping by, Maggie. You have been very helpful critquing my second book. I hope you didn't have to skip over too much.:-)

Maryn said...

Also invaluable: Ellis Vidler. No words can express how much. Thanks, friend.

Maryn said...

And last but not least, many thanks to Five Scribes and to Donnell Bell for having me as a guest. It's been great fun. I hope it continues. I'll be here.