Monday, May 19, 2008

What's erotic?

Okay, first, a couple of newsy bits.

First, tomorrow the 20th is the Miss Snark Tribute over at Pat Wood's blog. Our Pat is the Orange Prize nominated author of Lottery, a great gal, and a loyal Snarkling, and I think this is an awesome idea. We haven't all stayed in touch since Miss S left us, so I'm really looking forward to seeing everyone there. (And, shit, what is wrong with me, because I'm tearing up again. What a wimp I am, sheesh! Embarrassing.)

Second, I got a great new review for Black Dragon from Enchanting Reviews. The review itself won't be up until next month, but I'm so pleased about it I wanted to share it right away:

"I wish sometimes I could give a book a higher rating, 5 is as high as we go, but this story was fabulous. Ms. Quinn beautifully wove romance, heartbreak, pain, happiness, and intrigue into a beautiful tapestry of a phenomenal story. I totally loved this story. I was glued from the beginning to the end, and I loved the epilogue! This is a must read, and I will read it again."

So. Somewhere else on this great wide internet, I have become embroiled in a discussion about putting distasteful or taboo elements in erotic romances. And by taboo I don't mean a little what-what or BDSM or whatever, I mean taboo. Underage sex. Incest. Rape. Etc.

As you know, two of those elements are in the EC novel Anna J and I wrote, Demon's Triad. So I offered my thoughts on it--especially since, as far as I know, I'm the only one there who's included such things in their work for a major erotic romance publisher. (EC is a small press, yes, but when it comes to erorom I feel confident I can refer to them as a big name.)

My take on it, from what we were told during editing, was you can put any elements you like in the story as long as it serves the story and is not gratuitous. DT has an incestuous rape. We originally had the victim (male) respond to the (female) rapist's overtures, in an oral kind of a way. EC said no no no, because of the incestuous relationship. It didn't matter that the victim was at that time unaware of that relationship; we were not allowed to portray incest as an erotic moment, to write it in such a way that readers would be aroused.

Which was fine with us, frankly. We knew we were pushing hard at some boundaries in the book--more on that later--and had no problem scaling back the scene. I don't think it lost any intensity. I don't think it suffered. I don't think the book in general suffered.

So the question arose, was that boundary-pushing part of what made the story erotic?

Well. Yes and no.

I don't think the incestuous rape made the story erotic. It made it very dark. It made it rather more twisted than we originally thought it would be. But it wasn't erotic.

Having said that, though, I think DT was the most erotic book I've written, and that is because some other boundaries are pushed. We have spells making people crazily, insatiably aroused, which made for some very hot moments and I think nudged at some boundaries re public sex and such.

But mostly, I think we did push it a bit by making two of the characters turned on by violence. They really liked hurting each other, before, during, and after. Not in a ritualized BDSM kind of way, but in a more random and shocking way. And I think in that case, stepping over that line really did make their scenes together much hotter (and the reviewers seemed to agree).

Having said that, though, I don't think the book wouldn't have been erotic without the violence. And I don't think the violence makes the book any less romantic.

(Interestingly, someone else commented that such elements as rape, murder, etc. should only be in books that are about the rape and murder, that these things are too "big" for the characters to get past. I strongly disagree with that, personally, but found it an interesting take.)

So I guess the point of this is, where do the erotic and the romantic cross over or not cross? Is there anything in a romance that makes it suddenly not a romance, assuming all other elements are present (HEA, etc.)?

And does calling a book an erotic romance mean that there are areas the book should not go? Does putting the work into that genre really mean that we aren't allowed to tell very dark stories?


Robyn said...

Since I haven't read it, it's kind of hard to judge. I have a feeling it's an "all in the execution" thing. This statement jumped out at me, though:

...we were not allowed to portray incest as an erotic moment, to write it in such a way that readers would be aroused.

I find the whole rape and incest discussion interesting, considering the books that sold bajillions in the 70's and 80's. There was a little of everything in those books. Even though the language was not as graphic, I assure you there was plenty of rape and incest (though maybe not incest with main characters)and it was intended to thoroughly arouse the readers. It makes me wonder how many envelopes are being pushed and how many are simply returning to their roots.

BernardL said...

I think it's fine to mention the elements you included, if the perpetrator is horribly mutilated and killed later.

kirsten saell said...

Oh, good, Bernard. Cause my bad guys really are bad, but they get theirs, let me tell you!

Cheating is a big no-no, with Samhain, anyway. In the book I have coming out in August, I did change one scene that would have forced it to be reclassified as erotica, rather than ero-rom. Once the H and h become a "romantic unit" in the reader's mind, there tends to be all kinds of affront when one of them goes off and boinks someone else, even if, to quote Ross from Friends: "We were on a break!!!"

I have a rape and a near rape in my first book, and five people die horrible, messy deaths right on camera, as it were. The baddie in the book I have under consideration right now does something so awful at one point that it almost makes me nauseous to think of it, but it works in the context of her character and the story. (Hope my editor feels that way!)

I do find it really annoying that George RR Martin can have a 13-year-old girl marrying a much older man, and write (granted, a fade to black) sex scene that was still pretty damn hot, and get away with it because it's fantasy. But once you slap the erotic in front of the romance, that same fade to black scene would be a no-no.

In my giant WIP, a more straight up fantasy project with romantic elements, I have a rape scene in the POV of the rapist. In ero-rom, that would never fly.

And in that project, the villain (anti-villain, because he's really not evil per se, and plays the part with some reluctance?) has a huge Oedipal thing going on. I know I might have to tone down certain aspects of that, such as the extent to which his fantasies of killing his mother physically arouse him. *ahem* I think I've said too much...

Anonymous said...

bernardl has it -balance, BALANCE!

:~)> -V95

Anonymous said...

I have very very wide limits, and yes it's all about the execution. I'd like to say solidly that everything is welcome, but I have run into very man people whose stories are more like twisted word masturbation. And no, these haven't been erotica/romance writers either. but there have always been other problems with those stories as well, like the most recent one written by a man pushing his 40s in which the lead is a sexual 15 year old. Of course seeing the guy post on message boards that all women are ment to be raped because it's what they are for might have influenced my opinion a bit there.

I think fiction is the proper place to explore things like that, providing it stays in context. I also think that creepy old men writing books just to have a teenager attacked by giant "cocks" (as in the roosters, which in the story end up raping the girl) are obvious and will be avoided with ease.

laughingwolf said...

grats on the great review!

btw - a friend in england ordered your 'personal demons' [see my blog] but canceled when it took so long and no delivery... is there another way for her to get it?

December/Stacia said...

Hmm, that's a really interesting point, Robyn. I know there was a lot of rape in the old romances but I don't remember any incest--I guess I just wasn't reading those books. I'll be honest and say I enjoy a well-done "forced seduction"--as long as it is indeed a forced seduction, and consent is received before actual penetration takes place--but incest is just yuck. It needed to happen in our book, and I think it worked in the book, but we did walk a fine line to keep from grossing ourselves out. :-)

Lol yes, Bernard, the rapist does indeed get hers in the end. Which was actually kind of sad, as she'd realized the folly and horror of what she'd done and was truly repentant.

Kis, what does it say about me that I find your Oedipal murderer really intriguing? :-)
Yeah, I know what you mean with regards to genre constrictions, but honestly, it doesn't bother me that much. My point in the discussion on the other board still holds, you can get away with a lot as long as you're careful and handle it properly.
As far as cheating...I'm actually a bit worried about that in my current fantasy WIP, as I have a MC who's been seeing someone for a while but still sees other people. In her mind it's not a serious relationship, and it isn't in his eyes either, but I do worry how people might take that.

*nods* Exactly, V95. Balance is important.

Ick, Michele. I totally agree. But isn't the old man and his twisted story a matter of execution as well? I firmly believe intelligent readers like you can sense what the author's purpose in writing the story is. If it's obviously some sort of justification for a sick fantasy, you know it, and it feels wrong.

Thanks Laughingwolf! I didn't see it on your blog, I'll look again, maybe I looked in the wrong place. He ordered it from Amazon UK? Hmm. He could try again, as there were some delays in shipping last month. He could try ordering from Forbidden Planet or Smith's or something, or he could order direct from Juno/Wildside. :-)

pacatrue said...

First up, great review!

Second up, it depends somewhat on whether "erotic" in this discussion refers to anything which turns people on sexually or is restricted to a sort of genre definition. I can't answer the latter, though it certainly does seem that often the stuff that ends up in an erotic section is likely to boundary-push.

As for what turns people on, I think it varies widely between people. I know that for many people, pushing boundaries and, even more, power relationships are extreme turn-ons. Without some element of that, boundary-pushing readers won't find it exciting.

For the most part, it's the exact opposite to me. I get turned on more by passion - overwhelming emotion - and much less by boundary pushing or power issues. To be honest, I don't know if I would have continued reading DT if violence games became a part of the sex, unless I was making an exception just because it was your book.

December/Stacia said...

Did you read DT, Paca?

I totally agree with you about passion, though. I'm not usually into very long, choreographed sex scenes. I dislike a lot of dialogue in sex scenes in part for that reason; if you're doing that much talking it just doesn't feel like you're really, into it, frenzied with it, you know what I mean?

For me the ones I like best, both in terms of writing and reading, are the ones where the characters get carried away and it's pure instinct, emotional and physical intensity. Frex, the Julian/Cecelia bathroom scene in Blood Will Tell (which I know you read, which is why I'm using that one) was my favorite scene of all of them, because they were both so carried away.

I wonder if that's why anger often plays a big part in my sex scenes? Not because it's a power-trip or a game of one-upmanship, but because when emotioons are already so high and barriers tend to be down, so it's easy to twist that intensity into something else?

December/Stacia said...

Wow, that last sentence is grammatically terrible, isn't it? That's what happens when you change the sentence in mid-write and don't reread before posting. :-)

Bernita said...

A lot depends on how we define the genres.
Martin gets away with it not so much because it's fantasy but because that sort of coupling is not seen as unusual within the culture he created.

laughingwolf said...

she ordered it from amazon uk

you can leave her a note on her site, just click on 'milady' in my pals + list... yes, she writes, too :)

you may have to go back a page or two to find your plug on my blog....

Anna J. Evans said...

Congrats on the great review!

And to throw in my two cents, the reason I found DT to be one of the most intensely erotic books I've ever helped write were the stakes. From the beginning, all three characters had these HUGE stakes and that made everything they did more intense. From the action scenes to the investigation to the sexy time. Because the tension was kept high throughout the story, it felt like there had already been "reader foreplay" before you even got to the sex scenes...if that makes any sense.

That said, I like angry sex too. One of my favorite scenes in my first historical urban fantasy for Tor was an angry, wrestling throw you on the bed and bite you scene.

Um...yeah, so that's all I have to say about that. Miss you my twisted writing partner! Hope we have time to create more naughtiness together very soon.

Anna J. Evans

Charles Gramlich said...

Congrats on that really good review. Very nice when they want to rate it higher than a 5.

As for erotica, I am so unable to judge how erotica and romance might fit together. I'll have to defer to those who know more about it than I do

Demon Hunter said...

I don't think it's about the genre, but more of the way it's executed into the story. If it's done well, then include whatever will move your story along. :*)

December/Stacia said...

And that's a big point too, Bernita. This is how Bertrice Small gets to write 14-year-old heroines; because she can claim historical accuracy (although they don't even generally allow that anymore. I made Black Dragon's Isabelle nineteen [if memory serves, she was around there] because I wasn't comfortable writing sex scenes involving a woman younger than that, but it wouldn't have surprised me if I'd been asked to rewrite to make her older.)

Thanks Laughingwolf, maybe I'll do that! Yeah, the books went out late, I know a lot of people got those emails from Amazon. :-(

Me too, Anna! I have to tell you the idea I had. I think it's funny.

Yeah, Charles, that made me really happy! And yes, defer to me. I like it.

And that's what I think too, DH. You can include just about anything if you handle it right.