I enjoy romances. I think every story is better with a romantic subplot, be it a thriller or hardcore military sci-fi space opera. I’ve written everything from slash fanfic, to steamy paranormal romance (Redclaw Security), to passionate, but closed-door historical romances (Redclaw Origins), and now cozy mysteries, which aren’t romances at all, but have a romantic arc (Ginny Reese Mysteries).
These days, as both a writer and a reader, I find myself leaning more toward off-page/closed door stories. That’s just where I am on my storytelling path in life right now. It doesn’t mean I find stories with more spice icky, or obscene, or whatever. Between the overwhelming stresses in my life and world events, such as the pandemic, I find myself craving a certain kind of story to get me through the day–and for me, personally, that happens not to be very spicy at the moment.
And might I say while I’m fine with describing stories with on-page sex scenes as “spicy” or “steamy” or filling up my texts with hot peppers or eggplant emojis, I LOATHE almost every term we use to describe books with no on-screen sex. “Sweet” is barely tolerable to me–it makes my teeth ache to think about it. “Clean” and/or “wholesome” make me want to throw things–as if stories with open door sex scenes are some how dirty, immoral, and obscene.
Romancelandia: we need a better term for closed door romances!! But I digress.
I happen to wander across this dividing line at will, choosing what level of heat I want to experience on a given day, in a given story, with a particular set of characters… and I know many other readers who do as well. There are also strong vocal defenders of their preferences. You’ll see discussions of “do they bang?” and there are websites devoted to providing readers with the information they desire about the kind of stories they seek. And yes, sometimes there is an element of condescension in some of these discussions conducted by the “we want banging!” side.
But you know what’s NOT there? Condemnation of readers and writers who prefer something else.
Today I saw on Twitter a romance author share part of a communication she’d received from a reader that chastised her for taking what seemed to be a fun premise and sinking into “lewd” content that caused the reader not only to throw the book away, but contact the author to advise she should write more “wholesome” books.
I’m sorry, but this is wrong. You didn’t like the book? It didn’t meet your expectations? Fine. That happens. If that’s not the kind of story you want to read, you chalk it up to a mistake and you don’t purchase from that author again because now you know that this is the kind of story she enjoys writing. Have very specific reading needs where the romance heat levels don’t exceed your precise definitions? Create or join a Facebook or Discord group where you can gather with like-minded readers and share your recommendations.
I can’t imagine someone going to a closed-door romance writer and saying, “Based on the cover, title, and blurb, I thought this was going to be a fun, sexy romp. Instead, there was a level of chastity from the very beginning that made my skin crawl. How dare you take the characters into the bedroom and shut the door in my face! I was going to share this story with my friends, but instead I threw your book in the trash where it belongs. If you would consider taking that puritanical stick out of your characters’ butts and write a real, steamy romance story, I would consider reading it.”
Do you see how ludicrous that sounds?
What is different about the stance of some of the “wholesome” books-only reader is the level of righteousness that infuses their sense of entitlement. The implication that anyone who enjoys any other kind of content is somehow immoral, crude, and needs to be shamed. That their content should be modified–or banned.
Book banning is on the rise here in the US, with the rallying cry of “We must protect the children!” (despite the fact there has never been a mass killing of schoolchildren from reading a book, whereas guns are now the leading cause of death of children and adolescents in the US). Now a Virginia delegate, not content with having books reflecting diversity removed from schools, has filed a lawsuit against Barnes and Noble to prevent certain books from being sold to minors. Yes, in some cases, there are adult themes that can be controversial. However, the Virginia Beach school board member who has been spearheading many of the book banning campaigns reportedly hasn’t read many of the books she wants banned. I think it is very telling that the ten most frequently banned books in the US at this time most often deal with themes regarding self-discovery and embracing the differences of others. In Wyoming, some librarians may even face criminal charges for stocking certain books, usually pertaining to sex education and LBGTQ issues.
First they want to police the school library. Then it’s the public library. Now it’s an attempt to force a private company to do the same.
But tell me again how we shouldn’t perform background checks and waiting periods on people wishing to purchase automatic weapons, increase the age limit on buying guns, place restrictions on how much ammo can be purchased, and so on. It’s not the same, you say? You’re right. Because no one has ever walked into a school and killed a classroom of kids with a book. No one has ever walked into a church, a grocery store, or a movie theater carrying a book they got from the library and murdered the people within. No one has ever stood at window of a Vegas hotel and killed or injured nearly 500 people by lobbing books at them.
In another attempt to prevent school age children access to banned books, some school districts are removing the digital library service Overdrive from school access. Why? Because Overdrive lists books prohibited in those school districts.
Amazon has long dampened the ability for erotica to be found on a site search–now recent changes to their policies have stripped some books of their best-selling ranks and moved them out of their former categories into the erotica section, which greatly limits visibility and the ability to advertise these stories on the platform. Amazon makes up 80% of the average indie author’s sales. Amazon has the right as a private company to do this. Just as you have the right as a consumer not to read material you don’t want to read.
I find it ironic that the people who are the loudest about the “slippery slope” arguments when it comes to the 2nd Amendment have no problem icing down the sidewalks for the 1st Amendment, however.
Now you may think, well, this won’t affect me or my reading. And if you are part of the clean/wholesome only crowd, you may be right. For now.
Because there is always going to be someone out there who decides that their version of wholesome is the only correct, morally pure version–and that all other kinds of “wholesome” stories must follow suit or be banned.
And that’s my problem with this aspect of the creeping Purity Culture. It’s not enough to say, “I’ve decided to eliminate all gluten from my diet.” It’s saying “Gluten is an evil, horrible ingredient that should be banned from all food, and since no one in my family is eating gluten, we don’t think you should either.”
We don’t want pizza in our schools. Bakeries should stop selling cookies, croissants, doughnuts, and bagels. I refuse to have these things in my home and I DON’T WANT YOU TO HAVE THE PLEASURE OF CONSUMING THESE FOODS EITHER. The very fact that you take pleasure in a slice of warm crusty bread, fresh from the oven and slathered in butter means you are an immoral, filthy person. And if you are an immoral, dirty bread-eater, then your crude habits are putting my children and family at risk of doing the same. And THAT I will not tolerate.
See how that sounds?
You want to give up eating gluten? Want to go keto? Be my guest. But don’t cry foul when you have to walk past the bakery early on a Sunday morning and the smell of doughnuts reminds you of how good they can be.
That you for this essay. Usually if one reads between the lines, one can determine the level of sexiness. Like you, I read diverse books. I don’t believe in censorship.
Right on every count! And if by some chance I pick something that isn’t my cuppa, I chalk it up to experience and move on. The idea that someone would contact the author and suggest she clean up her content is just mind-boggling to me!
I write cozy mysteries. With the term “cozy” on the cover, both reader and writer know the rules: No explicit sex, no gory murders, no rough language. Perhaps there could be “Cozy Romances.” It sounds better than “Sweet,” doesn’t it? Re: the banned books. All through my high school years I worked afternoons in a bookshop. I read everything–even the “under the counter banned-in-Boston” books. Didn’t hurt me a bit.
Hah! I like the idea of “cozy” romances–now if we could get the industry to agree on that!
Yes, it seems that there is a contingent in this country that is afraid, very much afraid, of children reading outside their personal experience. How incredibly limiting. Yourhigh school job sounds like a dream come true! 🙂
I simply do not understand readers demanding writers write a certain way and I do not understand why instead of criticising we just can’t teach children about critical thinking, about what is real and what isn’t, about making choices based on information from wide reading and so on and so on. If we teach this then we can trust in what they interpret.
I suspect because they don’t WANT their children questioning what they’ve been told or using their minds to possibly come to a different conclusion about social and political issues.
Honestly the level of outright ignorance (a complete lack of understand of basic biology, for starters), as well as the viciousness with which scientific facts are attacked is incredibly discouraging to me. The sense of entitlement runs so deeply among a certain mindset, there is no changing it. It’s hard to accept “both sides” when one side is perfectly happy with your death, and the other merely wants a greater degree of equality.
You’re so right about teaching the ability to think critically, but if we did, prospective voters would realize they’re being gaslit to keep the very rich very rich, and believing that women and people of color are somehow preventing them from living the life the American Dream promised them they could have… and ignoring the fact it’s the very rich who are doing that.