Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

by Sariah S. Wilson

I belong to the Ohio Valley chapter of the Romance Writers of America (as well as the Beau Monde, a Regency chapter, but that’s not really pertinent to this story) and I attended a chapter meeting today. The first hour is all about conducting business and then after that we have really interesting presentations and lectures.

Today three published authors, Dianne Castell, Toni Blake and Lori Foster (she’s a New York Times bestseller), talked to us (and all three gave amazing talks - I felt like I could have sat and soaked it up all day). Dianne, a speaker I absolutely love to listen to, gave an update on what’s currently hot in the romance market.

Books with a large amount of sex are all the rage right now, the hotter and more graphic the better. These are books I will never write and books I don’t read. I have so many published authors in my chapter that I can’t read because honestly, that’s not my thing. I don’t want it in my head.

I recently read a book (NOT from someone in my chapter) that came highly recommended. I loved the heroine and hero. I loved the build up, the tension between them. Then about halfway through the book they make love, and that’s pretty much all they did for the next 200 pages. I kept trying to skip over those parts and ended up skipping all the way to the end of the book because those parts never ended.

Eloisa James recently remarked on her blog that some very famous romance writers turned to different genres like suspense or mysteries because there’s only so many ways you can write love scenes, and they got tired of it.

Brenda Novak (don’t you love all the namedropping I’m doing here?) last night asked on the LDSFictionReaders loop if we thought romance novels were all about the sex.

They shouldn’t be.

Have you seen the movie version of Louisa May Alcott’s “The Inheritance?” Cheesy sort of thing (I believe Ms. Alcott wrote it when she was 17 and somebody dug it up after her death and published it. See Stephanie’s earlier post on why she thinks this is such a bad idea). But it has one of the most romantic gestures I’ve ever seen. The hero falls for the heroine and wants to court her. But she’s only a lowly companion and not worthy of his attention or affection. He keeps persisting, she keeps resisting. They go on a group picnic one day and the heroine’s friend takes a misstep and nearly falls off the side of a cliff. The heroine grabs her, dislocating her own shoulder, and the hero rushes in and saves both women.

Now, the heroine was an orphan. The people she lived with had found her as a young child and brought her into their home. The only thing she had from her mother was a scarf. While saving her friend, the scarf fell off the heroine’s neck and fluttered down to the bottom of the cliff. When the heroine realized it was missing, she started to run back to see if she could find where the scarf landed. It was so important to her because it was all she had of her family. The hero sensibly stops her, saying they need medical attention.

The next morning, the hero comes to visit and brings the heroine a gift. Guess what it is? Yup. The scarf. When you think about how much the scarf meant to the heroine, when you think about the extraordinary lengths the hero had to go to in order to get the scarf back, it is utterly, totally, and completely romantic (and somewhere Rob Wells’ brother is thinking, “Holy lame”).

That’s what romance is about. That’s what I read it for.

Which brings us to the other end of the spectrum. You know what other market is doing incredibly well right now? Inspirationals. Those are books that may have spiritual undertones, but are essentially what the market calls “sweet,” i.e., just kissing (if that). The book has to be about the romance and the characters falling in love, because people don’t want to read all that other stuff.

I find it endlessly fascinating that the two fastest growing markets in romance are such polar opposites.


At 4/11/2006 7:58 AM, Blogger C.L. Hanson said...

If you think there are only so many ways you can write a love scene, then you're doing it wrong.

Any aspect of the human experience can be repeated in a formulaic and cliche manner to the point where it becomes intolerably boring, including plenty of stuff that's not against the commandments at all. ;^)

The key for a love scene is to avoid the misconception that there is such a huge divide between romance and sexuality.

This idea that the sexual attraction is an isolated appendix that can be naturally and easily snipped out of a romance is such an oft-repeated refrain among LDS people that as a joke I named one of my chapters "Gratuitous Love Scene" even though in reality the chapter is integral to the character and relationship development in the story. ;^)

At 4/11/2006 9:02 AM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Hey Happy Birthday! I'll try to call later, but with it being the end of the semester it is a bit busy.

At 4/11/2006 10:11 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

So, then all the bestselling romance writers are doing it wrong? They're the ones I hear complaining about that there's only so many ways you can insert tab A into slot B, particularly if you're churning out the number of books a year that many of them do. I don't think I've ever heard a romance writer in all the conferences and lectures and things I've been to say, "Oh, I just adore writing love scenes. They're my favorite part of the book!" Instead what I hear is how much the writers hate writing them, how hard they are to write, etc., etc., etc. So when a NYT bestseller like Eloisa James says that she's had conversations with bestselling romance writers who turned to other genres for that reason, I believe her.

Perhaps the reason LDS readers feel the way they do (and I can only really speak for myself here) is that they want to avoid anything that is titillating or glamorizing immoral sensuality in a book.

I've also found too that it's not just LDS people who skip the love scenes. Several of the craft books I read on writing romance said that many readers skip over the sex. They don't want to read it.

I have no problem with sexual attraction/tension in my books (both writing and reading). But I don't need graphic descriptions of who is doing what to whom. Like I said - I don't want to read it.

At 4/11/2006 10:14 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

Thanks Elizabeth! I think I have the flu. I am forever getting sick on my birthday. I have the whole aches, chills, fever, etc. My ears just started hurting. What's that about?

Anyway, Dad came over and took the boys so that I could rest. I think Mom told him to do it. :)

At 4/11/2006 10:53 AM, Blogger Sariah S. Wilson said...

I just read over my first reply post there and realized that I should not be writing posts or replies when I am on Dayquil. I intended brilliance and came off with lameness. How many times did I say bestselling? LOL I tend to repeat myself when I'm sick. I tend to repeat myself when I'm sick.

Important lesson learned - no more posting unless I am coherent.

At 4/11/2006 1:27 PM, Blogger C.L. Hanson said...

It depends on what their goals are. If the goal is to sell tons of copies by repeating the same thing over and over, then, no, they certainly aren't doing it wrong... ;-)

All I'm saying is that including sexuality in a novel is not necessarily equivalent to reciting a tired formula any more than including a dinner scene in your novel implies a tedious description of salivating, chewing, and swallowing. Yes, a lot of erotica reads like it could be written but an erotica-text-generating computer program, and the people that write it that way should invest in the computer program in order to free themselves from this boring task.

Anyway, I'm mostly just yanking your chain to maybe encourage you to question the orthodox LDS opinion on this subject at least a little tiny bit even if you ultimately conclude that your original position is correct.

Cool blog, BTW. I hope my intrusion here isn't too impolite. :D

At 4/11/2006 4:41 PM, Blogger Joseph's Left One said...

I guess what offends me is when a novel treats sexuality self-consciously, as if its presence or absence means something. If sexuality is integral to the story, it's just as gratuitous to leave it out as it is to include it.

I don't read things that are particularly graphic, and I don't find myself fixating on sex scenes when I do read them.

Maybe it's just me, but good writing is good writing, and sexuality treated in the context of the larger human experience can be done well without being smutty.


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