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So, these past couple of weeks there has been the customary to-do about who-saw-what-done-where-and-to-whom during the last RT in Pittsburg, and who-is-reporting-what-someone-else-says-that-a-third-party-told- them-happened-there.

Here at Karen’s the discussion devolved into “old vs young” rather soon, and then it became “prudes vs sluts”. Pretty soon after there was the whole “look what trash you are letting into the romance genre!” vs “stop pretending you are all so pure, sex sells!” over at Dear Author (otherwise known as “is this what we want the professional image of the romance genre as an industry to be?”).

There have been first hand accounts of some minor and some oh-my-God-not-minor-at-all incidents where the line between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour was carelessly crossed. I’m beyond furious about the abuse Kim was subjected to, and both Lori Foster and Shiloh Walker have shared some unpleasant experiences of their own.

Of course such things can, and sadly do, happen everywhere, not just at a romance readers’ convention, as Anya Bast points out in the discussion over at Dear Author. But that is not the point, really. The point (which GrowlyCub, and Jane and Robin and a few others, made quite eloquently over there) is that some environments are more likely to beget certain behaviours than others.

So far I had felt no overwhelming reason to comment, because people with different points of view and different agendas will have different opinions and perspectives, and they are all valid (duly noted exception for criminal behaviour, of course)

Then Emmy offers this:

Hate it when people make sweeping generalizations. What is romance? Does porn have to be two strangers oofing in a one night stand? Can’t two people in a monogamous relationship who love each other deeply have hot monkey sex too? Why can’t that be romantic?

And this:

Sex, as the cliche goes, sells. If people didnt wanna see or read about smexing, there wouldnt be this whole industry out there. The only way to get the romance industry more respect is to take the romance- and any overt/covert sexual references- out of it.

And Erastes adds,

Romance is not necessarily porn. But erotica can be and is, in a lot of cases. Romance is not heterosexual monogamous marriage, either, by the way.

Huh? Color me confused here.

And I have to wonder… what does monkey sex between consenting adults who care for each other have to do with porn*? Since when can romance be porn? Since when is romance reduced to sex?

Perhaps I live in a different universe…

See, I like romance—which to me means “relationship”. I like sex. What’s more, I like sex in my relationship books. Hell, I like well done** graphic descriptions of sex in my relationship stories. And on occasion, I like sex stories with no hint of relationship anywhere.

What I don’t like is other people’s sex lives and practices shoved in my face without a by-your-leave.

So, perhaps I am a prude after all, and a hypocrite to boot.

Because to me consent is a basic component of freedom—particularly freedom related to sexuality.

If a bystander doesn’t consent to witness some serious nookie, groping, necking, simulated sex acts, what-have-you, I believe that the rights of that person have been violated. Particularly when that bystander has the exact same right to share that space (elevator, hotel lobby, hallway, name your spot) as the people indulging in the public nookie.

If a convention that is touted to be about romance books—without specification as to whether there is or isn’t explicit sex in those books, or whether the relationships depicted are between two or three consenting adults of any specific gender, race, eye color, shoe size, chose your arbitrary line here—and for romance readers—without specification as to whether these readers have to be voyeurs, exhibitionists, prudish, deeply religious, left handed, tall, scrawny, rubenesque, fill in the blank here—then I believe that the organizers and sponsors of said convention should strive to make it possible for as many of the attendees to participate without being involuntarily subjected to offensive behaviour.

Should the organizers vet the background of every attendee? Not only shouldn’t they, but it is just not possible. But they should—and could—make sure that certain ground rules were laid down for the sponsors and professionals who participate. And by professionals I mean agents, writers, editors, publishers, models, what have you.

* pornography, from Merriam-Webster online: 1: the depiction of erotic behavior (as in pictures or writing) intended to cause sexual excitement 2 :material (as books or a photograph) that depicts erotic behavior and is intended to cause sexual excitement 3: the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction ((the pornography of violence))

**“well done” is a subjective descriptor, obviously—what’s great for me may get a meh or a yuck! from anyone else reading it.

180 Comments »


  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    12:46 pm

    ~Sure, but you go out of your way to make the scene sexy, no?~

    Well, of course, but that wasn’t the question or the answer. If I’m writing dialogue, I try to make that dialogue fit the characters. But I’m not thinking of the reader, or the reader’s reaction to the dialogue.

    I feel like I’m not getting my point across, and just can’t figure out how to do so.

    I think it just comes down to my process being different than yours–as it’s probably different from most if not all of the other writers posting here, and their process is probably different from each other as well. It’s hard to understand how someone else works.

    For whatever reason you seem to have interpreted my response that I don’t write the sex to arouse the reader as some sort of moralistic statement. What I mean was exactly what I said. I’m not thinking of the reader or the reader reaction when I’m writing.

    I don’t think you’re wrong if you do.

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  • Robin
    May 10
    4:52 pm

    Robin, the downloading thing happens to me all the time, I’m going to try to fix it.

    Oh, good, it’s not just me. Usually I just hit “stop” before I start writing my post, but that doesn’t always work. Thanks, Karen.

    re. the sarcasm/shit stirring/mutual antagonism thing, I think it has to do, in part, with the faceless internet thing. I’ve gotten acclimated to the way Ann presents her comments, but before I did, they sometimes seemed overly harsh to me. And I’ve had to reassess Kirsten’s tone like ten times during this thread, because sometimes it seems like deliberate needling and sometimes not. I think the outright needling is obvious.

    I have a good friend who loves to play practical jokes on people, in part because she grew up in a household where an older sibling tortured her in a similar way growing up. And even though I don’t think there’s anyone with a bigger and more generous heart than my friend, I can never look at those practical jokes without seeing some element of hostility behind them, even if it’s just resentment over being the object of those jokes as a kid. I think using sarcasm online is much the same way; it can be easily misunderstood and taken personally, *especially* when you don’t have an existing bond of trust with someone. Sarcasm can be meant to infuse humor, to make fun, to attack, to sustain a defensive posture, to shield one’s feelings, etc., but I think it’s definitely one of those things that can create misunderstanding, especially when the subtext — if there is any — isn’t clear.

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  • Shayne
    May 10
    5:05 pm

    Can’t say I know why other authors write what they write. Just in my case, I write what the characters give me. In one book the character simply wouldn’t have sex until 3/4 of the book was done, and he decided he was ready. Another wouldn’t until he was married. Another had no problem jumping into it the moment he met the other character. The sex itself is dictated by the characters. They dictate everything since when I start a work all I have is a name.

    So as to how many sex scenes go into a book, that would up to the characters. Yes, I have had to fight with a few to get the plot in too, so I’ve been occasionally known to disregard their opinion on it.

    Nora is right. Readers aren’t at my shoulder as I write, the characters are. The story, words, everything flows however it will. The only sense of a reader I carry is I hope to engage all of the reader’s senses, not just their genitals. I hope they laugh, cry, love and live with the characters.

    Whatever anybody else wishes to claim as to why and what I write, go for it. I already know why I do. *shrugs*

    I don’t believe this is the only way to write, but one way to do it.

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  • For whatever reason you seem to have interpreted my response that I don’t write the sex to arouse the reader as some sort of moralistic statement. What I mean was exactly what I said. I’m not thinking of the reader or the reader reaction when I’m writing.

    I do concede the point (I think I actually did a while ago, though it may have been lost in the larger morass of verbage). I know it’s not a moralistic statement–I’m having a hard time expressing what I mean here, but I think it’s more “when you write a sex scene, are you writing it to be sexy, as well as meaningful to plot, characterization, conflict, etc”. I would hope the answer to that is yes.

    And I’m largely wondering about erotic romance specifically. I would find it hard to believe (not impossible, but hard) that the sex scenes in erotic romance aren’t written intentionally to be erotic. And when you’re writing something erotic, shouldn’t one of your intentions be to arouse? I know if I’m writing a hot scene and it isn’t *ahem* affecting me at all, there’s probably something wrong with it if not the story leading up to it.

    I’ve gotten acclimated to the way Ann presents her comments, but before I did, they sometimes seemed overly harsh to me.

    That’s probably–well, it’s pretty much exactly why I singled her out by name, which in hindsight was obviously a stupid thing to do. Her very first comment seemed to be about berating others and putting them in their place. There is a reason a few people have singled her out here.

    And I know I can come across as smug sometimes (as well as stubborn, Nora, sometimes purposely obtuse, or even downright blockheaded), but I do draw the line at certain behavior, and others clearly don’t. Ann kinda just got under my skin, and I definitely got under hers, considering even when I concede a point she still seems to want to smack me down.

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  • Oh, and I just wanted to clarify something I said way above: when I use the word gratuitous, I’m not necessarily saying anything bad.

    It just seems in these discussions, there is a huge outcry about how every detail in a sex scene is integral to something. Like if just one “clenching pussy” or “erect nipple” was cut by an editor, the whole story would collapse.

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  • Robin
    May 10
    6:10 pm

    Ann kinda just got under my skin, and I definitely got under hers, considering even when I concede a point she still seems to want to smack me down.

    Oh, it’s obvious you got under each other’s skin, but I wasn’t offering my comments as a scalpel for anyone to pick up, either.

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  • Yeah, you’re right. I will say, Ann isn’t the only person who can feel ill-used in a situation like this.

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:18 pm

    ~And I’m largely wondering about erotic romance specifically~

    I can’t speak to that, as I don’t write erotic romance.

    I think you’re just having a hard time understanding my particular process–and maybe trying to equate it or find some common ground with yours.

    I don’t think: Now I’ve got to write sexy. I just don’t. I don’t think: Now I’ve got to write scary if I’m doing a scary or suspenseful scene. I just write, and I write with the characters and the scene and the storyline front and center.

    Frankly, sex isn’t the priority in my work, or in my characterization. It’s an element, an important one as I’m writing a love story–but emotion’s much more essential to me than motion. The sex is going to reflect that emotion. And since–depending on which type of book I’m writing–I’d have anywhere from 400-700 ms pages, with maybe (at a guess) 10-15 of those actually dealing with sex, it’s just another part of the whole for me.

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  • Okay, here’s maybe an easier way to understand what I’m getting at: If you (not you specifically, Nora, but a general you) were asked to tone down the sex in your book, or switch to a fade-to-black, would you be able to find other ways to convey what you want to convey?

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:29 pm

    ~It just seems in these discussions, there is a huge outcry about how every detail in a sex scene is integral to something. Like if just one “clenching pussy” or “erect nipple” was cut by an editor, the whole story would collapse.~

    Kirsten, again I think maybe you’re being to literal, or just projecting. EVERY scene may have something cut in editorial. And most likely, when it was written, the writer thought it was integral. We’re often wrong, which is why we need editors.

    The whole story doesn’t collapse if the nipple and pussy gets the blue pencil–but it doesn’t collapse if a paragraph about the sunset gets cut either. But I bet the writer felt that paragraph was important when she turned in the ms.

    I can’t speak for others, but I certainly never meant, and don’t think I said, every single line or every single scene MUST be essential. We must (or I must) think it is, or why did I put it there, but an editor, or a reader, may not agree.

    But I do think, when we write a sex scene, or a confrontation scene, or a funny scene, we should do so because it moves the plot, shows characterization, has relevence, does SOMETHING other than take up space on the page. Others may certainly disagree.

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:32 pm

    If someone told me to tone down the sex in my book or switch to fade to black, I’d tell them to write their own book. But that’s just me.

    If my editor asked me to, I’d discuss it with her–and if I understood why she wanted that done, and that made sense to me, I’d find a way to do so.

    I would absolutely be able to do so. It’s my job.

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  • I can’t speak for others, but I certainly never meant, and don’t think I said, every single line or every single scene MUST be essential.

    I just think it’s permissible to say “it’s essential to me because I like it”, and for no other reason.

    I only offered that comment because I’ve used the word gratuitous upthread, and I wanted to make sure people know I’m don’t mean it as an insult.

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  • If someone told me to tone down the sex in my book or switch to fade to black, I’d tell them to write their own book. But that’s just me.

    Yeah, but you can pretty much tell them where to go, can’t you? *g*

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:40 pm

    ~I just think it’s permissible to say “it’s essential to me because I like it”, and for no other reason.~

    I wouldn’t argue with that.

    I would say I’ve seen of my stuff I thought was essential because I liked it mercilessly cut.

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:41 pm

    ~Yeah, but you can pretty much tell them where to go, can’t you? *g*~

    As long as they’re not my editor. I have to listen to her. :)

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  • I haven’t got to quite that point yet, although I have been asked to make the odd painful decision.

    I’m really kind of wondering about level of graphicness, which in my contracted stuff tends to be quite high, and what would be considered strictly necessary far a higher purpose, and what is sexy for the sake of sexy.

    It’s like wine. I certainly would rather drink something that has excellent body and a nice finish, but if I didn’t want that alcoholic kick, too, I’d be drinking tea. I read erotic romance largely for the eroticism. And I write it for the same purpose. I’m having trouble wrapping my head around the possibility that any reader of ER would not read it for the eroticism, since a sex scene that doesn’t turn me on (to some degree) is really, to me, not worth reading.

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  • Just to add–to some degree, above, could mean nothing more than butterflies in my stomach.

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    6:56 pm

    I like the taste of wine, generally, more than the taste of tea. But I understand you.

    I don’t write erotic romance, and don’t read much of it because it’s not my glass of wine. But I would assume that readers of erotic romance read it for the eroticism AND the romance. If it was just for the sex, they’d read erotica or–there’s that word again–porn. So the romance to me would be as essential as the sex.

    Just as I think the suspense is as essential as the romance–or should be–in romantic suspense.

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  • Shayne
    May 10
    7:09 pm

    kirsten, the thing is just because you do something for a certain reason, doesn’t mean all 6 billion other humans do as well.

    Just a thought.

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  • Shayne
    May 10
    7:15 pm

    I probably should just stay out of the conversation. *disappears to write*

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  • ETA: Can’t believe I almost missed the opportunity to yell, “Shaaayne! Come back!”

    yeah, I’ll give you that, Shayne. But as Nora said, when she writes a romantic suspense, she thinks it should be suspenseful as well as romantic.

    No one would ever claim: “all that suspense is just gratuitous and unnecessary” because they’re reading it for the suspense as well as the romance. I just have a hard time believing that a reader would choose to read erotic romance without actively wanting the eroticism. Or that a writer would write it, if eroticism was unimportant to them.

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  • Shayne
    May 10
    7:29 pm

    *L* Kirsten, you have to remember you’re talking to an author whose work is pigeonholed in ER. No matter how eroticless it might be.

    So readers who read my works, while they look for the more graphic, get that…just not a whole hell of a lot of it in some of my works. Luckily, most are used to the way I write, but I’ve had a few complaints there wasn’t enough sex and it is ER. *sighs*

    I would agree that readers of ER do read it because of the more graphic nature, but I’ve heard some say they skip the sex parts if there is too much for them, but will read the story because it’s good. Reasons may vary, because it’s a favorite author or the blurb and excerpt really got their interest, etc.

    I’ve been guilty of the ‘skip some of this and get to the story’.

    And I may make no sense whatsoever, so please feel free to disregard everything I said. Lots of people do. Heh.

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  • I actually try hard not to disregard anything anyone says, although I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way at times, lol!

    I’ve written a lot of non-graphic (even non-romantic) stuff, myself, though my books under contract are ER. Notably, I have some longer works that have only a few pages of very graphic material that would genuinely hurt the work if it was cut, and which will be difficult to place with a publisher because of that.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s okay to write something sexy for the sake of sexy, and not have it merely serve some ultra-necessary higher purpose. That a scene, or the level of detail in a scene, can be unnecessary, even gratuitous, but that doen’t mean it has no value.

    But you would think, from the barrage of disclaimers over how every sex scene an author writes must serve the story, that doing this is frowned upon. And that kind of makes it feel like I’m being judged, because though I would hope every sex scene I write has value in the larger context of the story, sometimes my main goal is just the sexiness. And I would think, in a genre like erotic romance, that would be allowed, but there are some, here and elsewhere, who don’t seem to think so.

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    7:55 pm

    ~I just have a hard time believing that a reader would choose to read erotic romance without actively wanting the eroticism. Or that a writer would write it, if eroticism was unimportant to them.~

    So would I, but I’m not really seeing anybody say that. At least that’s not how I’ve interpreted the comments.

    Unless, as Shayne said, it’s a favorite author who’s trying her hand at ER, and some readers follow her over simply due to her past work. I could see those readers may not be reading for the erotic nature so much as they’re picking up the book because of who wrote it. And some may think Wheee! while others mutter, what’s she done?

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  • Nora Roberts
    May 10
    8:03 pm

    I think it’s okay to write anything you want for any reason you want. It’s your book.

    For my work, my process, I need every scene to have a point. It may not have a point to my editor–who’ll tell me so. It may not have a point to an individual reader. But I do, in my process, require the scene to serve a purpose (higher may be debatable). That doesn’t mean every writer must do or feel the same.

    So I’d have to say, no, I wouldn’t write sexy just for the sexy. But if that works for you, then it’s right for you. And whoever else it works for. Just as this element of my process would be right for any other writer it works for.

    There just isn’t any right or wrong way, as long as the final product is as good as the particular writer can make it. The paths we take to get there are our own.

    Honestly, I don’t think anyone has been judging you. I think because you have this strong pov, you’ve tended to personalize the comments.

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  • Shayne
    May 10
    8:17 pm

    kirsten,

    You might have taken something personally that the poster didn’t mean to be taken that way. Who really knows. This is the internet. Then you said something that got taken personally, etc, etc. Yeah, I’ve seen people get judgmental, and I don’t know if that’s the intent or not.

    I know I’m not judging, and with what Nora is saying, neither is she. *G*

    You write for your reasons, I write for mine, and others write for their own. And Nora is right. If it works for you, then it’s right for you. Whatever anybody else can come up with is their own thing.

    And yes, I once misunderstood something Nora said and called her on it. But then once it was explained, I realized I read more into it than was meant and apologized to her.

    Things like that happen all the time and might be the case here.

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  • So I’d have to say, no, I wouldn’t write sexy just for the sexy.

    Nora, I’m not thinking so much of you, here. And all of my scenes, even the ones written mainly to be sexy, serve purposes other than that.

    I will say, in regard not only to this particular discussion, but to discussions in general:

    I do tend to personalize things. People might not intend to insult me or my work in particular, or to insult anyone for that matter, but when they make their opinions known–especially in a strident manner–and I realize, “hey! She could be talking about my book, or my writing style, or my political affiliation, or my day job there!” it’s hard not to feel insulted.

    Likewise, I think many people take what I say too personally, or perhaps not in the manner it is intended (ie: when I say gratuitous, it isn’t intended as an insult at all). Or they can’t see my tongue planted in my cheek, and when they respond with rancor, I have a hard time letting it go.

    And many people don’t realize how much I bite my tongue when it comes to things I could say that could really hurt or damage someone (personally or otherwise), even if I have a secret love of needling those who give me a reaction.

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  • […] would like to remind people that there were several good things about the convention as well. The romance v. porn debate is going on at Karen Knows Best. Romance readers and authors are banding together to raise money […]


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