Okay, now that it’s just us, here’s my deal: Is it me, or is there a whole lot more light BDSM going on in supposedly mainstream romantic fiction these days? I mean, even Roarke has given Eve an occasional playful swat on the ass, which, granted, doesn’t exactly qualify as boundary-pushing, but at the time, it caught my eye. The erotic upswing kicked in several years back, so I attribute the trend to more than everyone wanting to go Greyer, Deeper or Free-er. And I’m not complaining about the overall shift, mind you. For me, the best journeys to happily-ever-after include lots of vicarious thrills. But part of me wonders … are there new rules for mainstream?I guess the short answer for a writer is to check the submission guidelines for the line you’re targeting. But that doesn’t always yield a clear answer. Brazen by Entangled, for instance, says this about their line:
We want stories that focus on the hero and heroine’s physical relationship as it pertains to their developing romance … We will not consider erotica, but explicit sex scenes and erotic elements or kinks organic to the characters’ sexual tastes are musts.
Harlequin Blaze offers the following explanation of their story requirements:
Harlequin Blaze is Harlequin's sexiest romance series, yet there's more to these books than simply sex. We ask our authors to deliver complex plots and subplots, realistic engaging characters and a consuming love story you won't be able to forget. Blaze stories are fun, flirty and always steamy!
Harlequin Blaze is not erotica. While our books are very sensual, they deliver on the Harlequin promise of one hero, one heroine and an implied committed relationship at the end. Blaze books give readers a glimpse into what it's like to be young and single today.
In either case, a fastidious read of the guidelines takes only a handful of situations completely off the table, right? Each of the guidelines makes it clear the magic number is two, and by virtue of the reliance on the terms “hero” and “heroine,” both ought to be human beings, of the opposite sex. Both imprints also make it clear in other parts of their requirements they seek heroes and heroines safely above the age of consent. Both lines want a fully developed romance by the time the reader reaches “The End,” or, as Blaze puts it, “… an implied committed relationship at the end,” which I take to mean some version of the happy couple riding off into the sunset.
Other than these mandates and hints, we’re left to our own devices as to how far the characters can go with each other and still stay within the boundaries of a, “fun, flirty and steamy,” love story.
No worries. I can fill this, (ha!), gray area with inspiration drawn from an arsenal of Cosmo articles featuring toys and positions I’m way too uncoordinated, un-limber, or unadventurous to try in real life. I’ll try ‘em in fiction.
Ideas really aren’t the problem. If you read enough or the genre, you’re going to be brimming with ideas. I think the problem comes when trying to create, as Brazen puts it, “erotic elements or kinks organic to the characters’ sexual tastes.” I’ve read a lot of category romance and, sometimes, it seems like those erotic elements or kinks come out of nowhere. For example, in the final sex scene of one novel, the hero suddenly whipped out a vibrator and went to town on the heroine, (which was hot, of course), but until that point, I hadn’t seen the man display any proclivity for, or interest in, gadgetry, so it kind of felt like a different guy than the one I’d spent the last 45,000 words getting to know. Same deal when an early sex scene involves a specific erotic nuance, (bondage, spanking …whatever), that then that aspect disappears without a trace from the rest of the novel.
Like any writer, I want to keep the action exciting and inventive. I want my characters to grow during the course of the story and I want their physical relationship to reflect an intensifying emotional connection … and deepening trust. A surprisingly difficult balancing act.
Any favorite scenes or stories where you felt the author hit the elusive balance between a crazy, wild, can’t-wait-to-see-what-they-do-next sex, and a heart-gripping, cry-my-eyes-out-in-a-good-way love story?