A Reader in the Middle
There are two competing threads that took place last week amongst the romance circles. The first discussion arose out of a post by Daniela A, a reader blogger, who wrote that she did not like books featuring adultery. Some readers felt it was written in stone that infidelity could not occur. Others felt that in certain books, it could work.
Companion threads sprung up at author blogs and reader blogs debating not just the infidelity rule, but the idea that there were some unwritten rules that prevent publication of certain scenes or elements that some writers feel are crucial to their story. The case in point was Eva Gale’s novella (a work that is usually under 100 pages). Ms. Gale wrote a story which featured her hero having sex with his mistress after meeting the heroine but before coitous with the heroine. A couple of her beta readers told her to trash that scene because romance readers would not stand for such activity, often viewing any on screen sex between the hero and the heroine as being infidelitous.
As a stark contrast to authors such as Selah March, Eva Gale, and Barb/Caridad Ferrer who want to write whatever they want, damn the uptight reader, is the call for censorship by Eileen Dreyer. And yes, I said the C word. Ms. Dreyer, in her blog post and on the RRA-List stated that Claiming the Courtesan should not have been published because rape does not belong in romance and neither does a hero who speaks like an abuser. The justification for this argument is that romances are to be uplifting and empowering.
As a reader, I found myself in the middle. On the one hand, I felt like I was being chastised for not being open minded enough. That if I wasn’t such a tight assed moralist, I would see the value in the hero (note it is almost always the hero) having sex with others (Caridad Ferrer called those who said that it should not be romance – Romance Nazis). On the other hand, if I was someone who cared about my fellow woman, about the message that books were sending, I would join in the call for the abolishment of abuse and rapes in romances.
What I realized is that my acceptance of topics such as infidelity or rape, adultery or abuse depends upon the author. To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney remains one of the seminal romances in my library. Powerful, emotional and breathtaking in its reach, a ban such as one that is urged by Dreyer would have prevented this story. While ordinarily not a fan of infideility, I was not bothered by JR Ward’s Lover Eternal which finds Rhage off sating his lust for blood and sex with someone other than the heroine, Mary.
Each author must have the latitude to write whatever she thinks is best. But I ask those authors, with each scene that you propose, ask yourself whether it belongs in the story. Does having your character rape or abuse the heroine make for a stronger, more emotional read or can the same story could be told without those devices. To each author who wants to write the infidelity scene, ask yourself what you are trying to prove? Is his ability to get hard and lay his pipe in a woman offered up as some type of measure of virility? Is the ability to have sex and pleasure other women indicative of his alpha male status? I’ll extend this even farther to one of my greatest pet peeves and that is skanky villian sex because it seems authors tend to show how truly evil a villian is by how perverse his or her sex choice.
Let me request one more thing. Let’s stop making value judgments about readers based upon what they do and do not like in books. More often than not the reader is really saying “this piece of the story didn’t work for me” rather than “I don’t ever want to see another infidelity scene again.” Just because a reader doesn’t like infidelity in her romances doesn’t make her a Romance Nazi. Just because a reader likes forced seductions doesn’t mean she is perpetuating the cycle of abuse for other women. Insulting the readership, even if you don’t believe that reader is “your” type of reader, doesn’t really do any good at all.
I believe a reader can accept anything so long as there is a good reason for it, so long as it is integral to the story, so long as the reader buys into your premise and connects. So long as I can’t remove that scene and still have the same effect. Otherwise, the scene is just trying too hard to be edgy and provocative for the sake of being edgy and provocative instead of actually advancing the plot. In the end, the cost will be pissing off the readership in exchange for the dubious honor of being a so called rule breaker.
Next week: Let’s Get Real. How reality in romances bites both ways.