This has been an odd week for me professionally. I received my copyedits and the next installment of my advance on Bad Girl. I wrote my first book dedication, thanking those who'd helped me on my journey to becoming published. AND, I'm finding it's time to come clean with friends, co-workers and acquaintances.
While I'm not ashamed to be an erotic romance writer, it does pose some social challenges. Texas is a bastion of fundamentalist religious belief and conservative values. I have many friends who live far more traditional lives than I do. So now I'm forced to balance fairness and friendship. Several people have mentioned giving me a book party or launch. I've thanked them and gently dissuaded them from that plan. I would hate for anyone I know to be shocked or embarrassed by my book.
Invariably, when I tell people my book is an erotic romance, they get a stunned look and ask, "But, why?" And I find myself trying to explain. It comes down to some of my most fundamental beliefs about life, love and fairness.
Everyone knows men and women are different. But, saying it doesn't necessarily mean internalizing it. For centuries, the world has been run according to men's rules. In the last sixty years, men have made an effort to make room for women at the table, but change has been slow. Even our methods of offering health care are based on men's physiology. It is just NOW that physicians are learning that they must treat women's health issues differently from those of men.
I embrace the differences between men and women. I cherish the differences between men and women. However, different does not mean one gender is better than the other. It simply means different. Women look at the world differently, and we often respond differently.
As an example, whenever I get really, really angry, I cry. It doesn't mean I'm pulling the "gender card"; it is simply the way I respond to being angry. Women get it; men never do. When I was younger, I was embarrassed by the tears and found that embarrassment interfered with presenting my side of an argument. Most men reacted in one of several ways: they'd get condescending, they'd try to comfort me or they regarded the tears as a sign that I believed I was losing the argument.
It took years for me to learn to accept that quirk of my femaleness, disregard the tears and stop being mortified by them. Nowadays, I say at the beginning of a fight: "I may cry. Ignore the tears. I certainly will." The tears don't impede my ability to think or to argue. They are simply part of that difference.
I grew up in a household dominated by males. It was either surrender or learn to hold my own. I learned to hold my own. These days, I'm drawn to males who are not annoyed by our differences and who truly enjoy a woman's company. That's also a good description of how I feel about men: I LIKE their company, and I find them endlessly entertaining.
When I was thirteen, I loved romance novels. By the time I was twenty, I despised them. Although I didn't put it into words back then, I had an instinctive dislike for the power imbalance. Women were not depicted as equals; they were clearly subservient to the males of the books: forced to marry, forced to seek help, forced to fight their own sexual urges. I walked away from the romance genre and didn't look back.
Erotic romance does not yield to the world of men's rules; it turns that world on its ear. Today's erotic romances are very different from those passive romances of my youth. If there's a power imbalance, the story--not gender--dictates whether the male or the female will be the one taking the lead.
Additionally, most genre fiction has conventions, rules by which you must operate. In my opinion, erotic romance is the most wide-open of all genres. As long as it's erotic, you can write a mystery, paranormal, contemporary, sci-fi, thriller, whatever. Erotic romance ignores conventions, which--for me--makes writing one fun.
Frank language doesn't offend me; in fact, I prefer it. If you can't comfortably talk about the parts of your body, how can you expect to tell your lover what pleases you, or ask him what he would like for you to do? For two people to waltz around during their moments of greatest intimacy makes no sense to me.
When it comes right down to it, I'm more offended by violence against women in books than I am by sexually explicit scenes. Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho is far more disturbing to me than the erotic romance novels I read. I also find it interesting that Ellis' book received such huge media attention and was even made into a movie. Dismembering and displaying women's body parts is apparently more acceptable than using an Anglo-Saxon word to name the male organ.
Perhaps the reason erotic romance creates such angst is that, in addition to ignoring literary conventions, it ignores social conventions. Eroromance advocates a world order in which women are free to express themselves in a manner antithetical to a paternalistically ordered universe. Women can be leaders, warriors, priests, or whatever they choose to be. That's scary to a lot of people--both male and female. Scary and subversive.
Having said all that, I still think it would be wrong for me not to at least warn potential readers that my upcoming book is explicitly sexual--unashamedly so. However, on the flip side, I believe it's also intriguing, thrilling and--with the help of my editors--well-written.