Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Love 'Em or Leave 'Em?

How do you feel about love scenes? They seem to be the defining characteristic of romance novels from people who haven't read one and don't know any better. I was doing a booksigning last year, and a woman walked up, saw the word "Harlequin" on my cover, and sniffed, "Oh, those trashy books."

Her kneejerk reaction was most likely based on the stereotype that any romance novel is just a bunch of explicit love scenes strung together by a flimsy plot--which, if you think about it, parallels what comes to mind when you think about the plot arc of your average pornographic film. Except there's no crappy music.

My first impulse was to blurt out that my books don't really HAVE explicit love scenes, so they can't be trashy. (My grandma and grandpa (who will soon turn 90--happy birthday, Grandpa!) read all of my books, and I have this unfortunate habit of thinking about them reading whenever it's time to write a love scene. Ergo, most of the time I stop at the bedroom door.) But then I realized that even if they were explicit, there's nothing trashy about my creative work. Lots of literary and quasi-literary fiction includes love scenes and romance. I doubted that the woman's problem was with the love scene my book may or may not have included--it was all in the packaging. From the beginning of the novel form, any type of writing written primarily by and for women has been looked down upon as substandard, and despite the smattering of male authors in the genre, romance books have "female" written all over them. I'm sure all of us who write romance have had the experience of a friend or family member reading our books and going, "It's a romance, but it's actually good!"

Insert a rant here about how the majority of romance novels have an engaging story and well-crafted characters--just like any other genre. We romance writers and readers already know that, so no use preaching to the choir. But how do you, personally, feel about love scenes?

I'm kind of "eh" about them most of the time. I love the stories, love the characters, love the humor or suspense or small-town charm a romance novel can have. Love the chemistry, love the will-they-or-won't-they? aspect of watching two people fall for each other. But the love scenes themselves? Much of the time I just skim over them. It's definitely not that they're badly written--so much has been made about purple prose in the past few years, that I think many writers are very careful about crafting truly sensual scenes sans the awful euphemisms that crack readers up in all the wrong places. Perhaps it's because I know so many writers--it almost feels too personal to read them. (I know, I'm weird.) But there are exceptions--Julie Leto's steamy chica lit suspense, Dirty Little Secrets, had me hanging on every word. And a friend and critique partner, Eileen Brennan, writes erotica for Liquid Silver and Triskelion that completely sweeps me away. On the whole, though, I'm happy that the characters had their moment, but I'm all about getting back to the meat of the story and seeing if Tess Ciccotelli can prove her innocence when the villian is so intent on framing her for murder (Karen Rose's You Can't Hide) or waiting for Cyn Lopez to get her spine back and stand up to her evil stepsisters (Berta Platas's Cinderella Lopez).

As for writing them ... it usually takes a couple glasses of wine and a concerted effort to put Grandma and Grandpa out of my head. And I have a feeling the Mission: Family trilogy was tamer than usual, because I wrote those while a million months pregnant and shortly after Maggie was born, and my personal fantasies were only of a full night's sleep, a full-time nanny whose favorite phrase was, "It's OK. Let me get her," and getting my waist back.

But whatever I write, however sexy my books get or don't get, however any other romance writers choose to handle the sensuality level, I have made a promise to myself that I will never, ever apologize for it.

Books by Friends Month Update: Just finished Paula Graves's Forbidden Territory, a wonderful debut Intrigue with some compelling paranormal elements. The plot centers around Lily Browning, a reluctant psychic who approaches the police about visions she's been having of a kidnapped child (an absolutely GUT-WRENCHING plot element for a new mother still coming off that post-partum high. Thank heaven I knew the happy ending was coming.). Naturally, she starts falling for the biggest skeptic on the force, one Lieutenant J. McBride, who's determined to prove Lily a charlatan. Paula, if you're reading this, I had a hard time putting this book down and stayed up way past my bedtime to finish it in two days (a major feat for me and my post-baby narcolepsy). Well done! :::applause::::


Jen said...

I'm waiting for my copy of "Forbidden Territory". I can't wait.
About the love scenes. I'm almost ashamed to admit that I love them. In the day to day life, having enough time to REALLY make love is so difficult. There were lots of times I read romances to "get in the mood". LOL. Isn't that awful!
Writing love scenes has been Joe's dream come true. My mom did want me to tone mine down. Heh Heh.
I write what I like to read. I think writing love scenes has come a long way.
But then, one of my favorite love stories is by Dorothy L. Sayers "Gaudy Night" and "Busman's Honeymoon". There are no explicit love scenes.

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen, I wouldn't be ashamed of liking them--lots of readers do, or erotica and Blazes wouldn't be so popular right now!

I've never read Dorothy Sayers. I probably should one of these days....

Paula said...

Tracy! I'm so glad you liked my book. I never realized how much stress there could be after the book has sold and is in print. Now I wait in agony for people to say whether or not they like it. Talk about nervewracking!

Interesting discussion about love scenes. I'm not very comfortable writing them, myself. My mom reads all my stuff, and since I live with her, I get to watch the look of motherly disappointment in person every time she reaches a love scene. ::grin::

After I read HOUSE OF SECRETS and saw how you handled that love scene, I was excited to see that I didn't have to be quite so graphic to write for Intrigue.

(Although, despite my best-laid plans, in he manuscript I just sent to my editor, I didn't quite close the bedroom door on the love scene. But it was a little less graphic than the one in FORBIDDEN TERRITORY.)

Maybe next time. :)

Tracy Montoya said...

Paula, is it motherly disappointment, or just denial that you're old enough for that kind of thing? : ) My mom doesn't mind mine at all, even when I have gotten a little graphic. I think she can separate the writer from the book.

And I loved the book. I'm looking forward to reading about the other Browning sisters!

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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