Okay, first, a couple of newsy bits.
First, tomorrow the 20th is the Miss Snark Tribute over at Pat Wood’s blog. Our Pat is the Orange Prize nominated author of Lottery, a great gal, and a loyal Snarkling, and I think this is an awesome idea. We haven’t all stayed in touch since Miss S left us, so I’m really looking forward to seeing everyone there. (And, shit, what is wrong with me, because I’m tearing up again. What a wimp I am, sheesh! Embarrassing.)
“I wish sometimes I could give a book a higher rating, 5 is as high as we go, but this story was fabulous. Ms. Quinn beautifully wove romance, heartbreak, pain, happiness, and intrigue into a beautiful tapestry of a phenomenal story. I totally loved this story. I was glued from the beginning to the end, and I loved the epilogue! This is a must read, and I will read it again.”
So. Somewhere else on this great wide internet, I have become embroiled in a discussion about putting distasteful or taboo elements in erotic romances. And by taboo I don’t mean a little what-what or BDSM or whatever, I mean taboo. Underage sex. Incest. Rape. Etc.
As you know, two of those elements are in the EC novel Anna J and I wrote, Demon’s Triad. So I offered my thoughts on it–especially since, as far as I know, I’m the only one there who’s included such things in their work for a major erotic romance publisher. (EC is a small press, yes, but when it comes to erorom I feel confident I can refer to them as a big name.)
My take on it, from what we were told during editing, was you can put any elements you like in the story as long as it serves the story and is not gratuitous. DT has an incestuous rape. We originally had the victim (male) respond to the (female) rapist’s overtures, in an oral kind of a way. EC said no no no, because of the incestuous relationship. It didn’t matter that the victim was at that time unaware of that relationship; we were not allowed to portray incest as an erotic moment, to write it in such a way that readers would be aroused.
Which was fine with us, frankly. We knew we were pushing hard at some boundaries in the book–more on that later–and had no problem scaling back the scene. I don’t think it lost any intensity. I don’t think it suffered. I don’t think the book in general suffered.
So the question arose, was that boundary-pushing part of what made the story erotic?
Well. Yes and no.
I don’t think the incestuous rape made the story erotic. It made it very dark. It made it rather more twisted than we originally thought it would be. But it wasn’t erotic.
Having said that, though, I think DT was the most erotic book I’ve written, and that is because some other boundaries are pushed. We have spells making people crazily, insatiably aroused, which made for some very hot moments and I think nudged at some boundaries re public sex and such.
But mostly, I think we did push it a bit by making two of the characters turned on by violence. They really liked hurting each other, before, during, and after. Not in a ritualized BDSM kind of way, but in a more random and shocking way. And I think in that case, stepping over that line really did make their scenes together much hotter (and the reviewers seemed to agree).
Having said that, though, I don’t think the book wouldn’t have been erotic without the violence. And I don’t think the violence makes the book any less romantic.
(Interestingly, someone else commented that such elements as rape, murder, etc. should only be in books that are about the rape and murder, that these things are too “big” for the characters to get past. I strongly disagree with that, personally, but found it an interesting take.)
So I guess the point of this is, where do the erotic and the romantic cross over or not cross? Is there anything in a romance that makes it suddenly not a romance, assuming all other elements are present (HEA, etc.)?
And does calling a book an erotic romance mean that there are areas the book should not go? Does putting the work into that genre really mean that we aren’t allowed to tell very dark stories?