Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Essence of Romance

I began my career as a published writer submitting my work to imprints that labeled themselves as erotica: Black Lace and Blue Moon. I didn't realize that I was writing romance until publishers like Total-E-Bound and Phaze began accepting my submissions. I saw my novels as journeys of sexual self-discovery. In Raw Silk, Kate is an independent, self-sufficient woman who discovers a previously unsuspected but deeply rooted desire to be sexually submissive. In Incognito, Miranda, cruelly betrayed by her first lover, works to free herself from her sexual inhibitions, initially in encounters with strangers but finally in the arms of an extremely liberated partner.

It's true that in both those novels, as well as my third book, Ruby's Rules, the heroines eventually end up in committed relationships with the heroes. In fact, both are wearing engagement rings. I wasn't really focusing on the happily ever after when I was writing, though. My primary interest was in the exploration that led my heroines to their destinations, travels that included an awful lot of detours -- a bewildering variety of sizzling sexual scenarios, with new self-knowledge resulting from each encounter.

My heroines have a lot of sex, but they're not just having fun. Okay, well, they're having fun, too. But I'm continue to be fascinated by transforming power of sexual experience. That's one reason why I'm excited by the rise of "erotic romance" or "sensual romance" or whatever you want to call it - tales that include both love and graphic sex. Fulfilling sex is not just the final result of falling in love. It's part of the process, learning and sharing, drawing closer, dropping the masks. In sex we're more than just physically naked. Geez, reading what I just wrote, you all probably think that my work is really heavy and philosophical. Really, it's not! Here's an (X-rated) excerpt from Raw Silk to prove it:

Katherine stood up and leaned on the gunwale, taking in the myriad sights of the river. Stretches of verdant jungle alternated with rickety-looking wooden houses, perched on stilts at the river's edge. Women in sarongs squatted on the porches of these shacks, doing laundry or cooking on charcoal braziers. The delicious smell of frying garlic came to her across the water.

She saw the slick heads of children, heard their shrill cries as they splashed each other. A flat-bottomed boat piled high with bananas passed their barge, propelled by a long pole in the hands of an elderly woman in a conical straw hat.

Then she caught sight of tiled roofs and gilded spires through the palm trees. It was a wat, a Buddhist temple, inaccessible except by water. A winding stairway led from the complex of buildings down to the shore. At water level sat a small pavilion, with the typical peaked roof and upturned eaves. Katherine saw a young man draped in orange robes seated there, pensively watching the river flow by. The monk looked up as they passed. Katherine felt an ache in her chest. His beautiful, serious face, lit by the late-morning sun, was too perfect.

Immersed in the scenes on the riverside, Katherine started when she felt Somtow's hands on her hips. She twisted around to look at him.

"No," he said, "please, just stay the way you are." She obeyed, turning back the river and leaning her elbows on the railing. She felt her skirt being drawn up, until it was around her waist. Next, her knickers were pulled down until they were at her ankles.

"Perhaps I should just stop wearing any underwear," Katherine remarked with a little laugh. Gregory's face flashed briefly in her mind's eye; she pushed the thought of him away.

"Perhaps that would be a good idea," said Somtow, completely serious. He helped her step out of the garment. "Now, spread your legs a bit, Katherine."

"What about the young pilot, and the girl who brought us the fruit?"

"They know better than to bother us," said Somtow. He was kneeling behind her. She felt his tongue, tracing a line up the inside of her thigh. "In any case," he said after a moment, "you would not really mind if they were watching, would you?"

He lingered in the crease where her thigh swelled into the fullness of her buttocks. Katherine let out an involuntary sigh, and opened her legs a little wider. She did not answer his question. Her imagination, though, supplied an image of the pilot and the serving girl, peaking out of the cabin at her bare backside, liberally anointed with her lover's saliva. The thought brought a strange, forbidden thrill. She imagined the pilot, unbuttoning the girl's top, while guiding her hand to his swollen cock. Somtow could see right through her, she realised, writhing as he swept his tongue along the length of her sex. He licked her in broad strokes, front to back, starting at her clit and moving smoothly to the spot where her aching pussy-lips came together again. She arched her back to give him better access, and closed her eyes, savouring the fantastic sensations he was giving her. She felt incredibly wet, from his saliva and her own juices. Sunlight reflected from the water danced on her closed eyelids. The low rumble of the barge's motor set up a sympathetic vibration in her limbs. She felt the roar of the engine deep within her pussy.

Looking back now, I see that I've always been a closet romantic. I've never read much genre romance. Still, my all-time favorite books include Wuthering Heights (tragic, intense connection between fated soul mates), Jane Eyre (mousy governess struggles to win the love of her mysterious, brooding husband), H.Rider Haggard's She (eternal queen of a lost jungle civilation is reunited with her reincarnated lover), and Daphne du Maurier's delicious Frenchman's Creek (gorgeous, bored lady of the manor runs off with a dashing and dangerous French pirate).

During my youth, I was always in love with someone. I wrote pages of poetry, dripping with desperate longing. Love was clearly the ultimate experience. I never cared much about marriage (though as it happens I've now been happily coupled for twenty seven years) but I nevertheless have always been thrilled by the notion of finding the One, that special person who would complement and complete me.

Now that I've joined the erotic romance community, I find myself thinking about just what is the essence of romance. If you ask many readers, I suspect that they'll say, "oh, a happy ending". Or "a handsome, strong, but sensitive hero who's great in bed". Or "intense, caring, satisfying sex". Or perhaps, "a committed relationship". All of the above are conventional and important elements of the erotic romance genre. By my definition, though, what distinguishes romance from other fiction, and particularly from general erotica, is emotional connection.

Romance, for me, implies a unique linking of thought and feeling, the sense that the lovers are communicating at a level beyond the physical. Destiny. Telepathy. Perfect synchrony of fantasy and imagination. More than "chemistry", more than sexual skill, this kind of connection flows from the spirit even though it's expressed through the body. In Raw Silk, Gregory tells Kate that she was born to his lover and his slave. In Incognito, Miranda and Mark recognize each other, even in disguise. In Rendezvous, Tony explains that in all his decades of haunting the Rendezvous Motel, no one but Rebecca has ever been able to see him. Special. Unique.

Exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary connection, even when real world considerations seem to deny the possibility - this seems to me to be the core emotional aspect of romance. This is one reason why paranormal themes work so well in the genre. Paranormal tales free us to believe that that perfect mind-melding, that extraordinary conduit of thought and feeling, can literally exist.

How does this happen? It may be pre-destined, but it depends on trust. In order to connect, the lovers must be willing to open themselves, to drop barriers, release inhibitions, admit desires that might embarrass or frighten them. One reason why I write a lot of BDSM is that I'm fascinated, even awed, by the trust that both dominance and submission imply. The outer trappings of BDSM, the bonds, the whips, the nipple clamps, these aren't what is important. What's important, compelling, thrilling, is the way that the submissive surrenders herself (or himself), body and mind, to the dominant, trusting that he (or she) will know how to satisfy them both. Meanwhile, the dominant must trust that the submissive will communicate her true feelings, that she'll use her safe word if she

Trust lies at the heart of romance, vanilla or otherwise. The progress of a romantic plot often involves one or both of the protagonists learning to trust. Here's another (X-rated) excerpt for you, from my upcoming M/M release Necessary Madness, coming on December 28.

Oh, Rob… Oh yes!” Kyle crouched on all fours, his knees gathered under him, his butt in the air. He braced himself, forearms and forehead pressed against the handmade quilt, as Rob’s cock slid gradually into his well-greased ass. There was no pain—Rob had taken care to loosen him thoroughly, with blunt, slippery fingers—only pleasure so intense that it was scarcely bearable. The sensation of fullness grew as Rob pushed deeper. Kyle clenched his muscles around the thick rod invading him. Rob moaned and jerked his hips, filling Kyle completely. Kyle relaxed. Rob’s huge dick seemed to swell, stretching him further.

Kyle baby, you feel so good. I don’t think I can last long.

That’s okay,” Kyle gasped. “Don’t worry about that. Just fuck me. That’s all I want, to feel you move inside me.”

Rob answered by withdrawing his cock halfway. Before Kyle could protest, he slammed it back in with a force that rattled Kyle’s teeth. “Oh…” Kyle sighed as Rob thrust again, grinding his scratchy pubic hair against Kyle’s butt cheeks. “Oh yeah!” Again and again, Rob pulled back then buried his meat in Kyle’s ass, with a smooth, powerful rhythm that matched Kyle’s ragged breathing. Every stroke seemed to go deeper. Rob’s balls slapped against Kyle’s butt. The smell of their sweat mingled with the lavender Elspeth used to scent her pillows. Kyle spread his thighs wider and arched his back, wanting everything that Rob could give him.

The cop gripped Kyle’s thighs, holding him steady. Kyle couldn’t move, even if he’d wanted to. All he could do was take the pounding the older man gave him. Rob’s strength thrilled him. Pleasure shot through him each time that implacable cock drilled into his ass—bright sparks tingling along his spine, dark pulses coiling in his bowels. Kyle’s aching cock bobbed against his belly with each stroke, smearing him with his own juices. One fingertip on my dick would be all it would take, he thought. It would shatter like a Prince Rupert’s drop.

Kyle wanted more. Despite the force of his thrusts, Rob was holding back. Kyle could tell. “Please, Rob,” he urged. “Let go. Fuck me the way you want to. I can take it.”

I don’t want to hurt you. You’re not used to this…”

I want it—everything you’ve got. I want you to ream my ass until I can’t walk.”

Rob paused, his dick sheathed in Kyle’s rear. Kyle could feel Rob’s pulse against his inner walls. The cop leant his chest against Kyle’s back and licked his neck. Kyle shivered as pleasured raced down his spine to his cock.

Are you sure?”

Kyle arched up, forcing Rob deeper. “Please. Take me.”

Something shifted. Kyle could feel it in Rob’s body. The older man ran his fingers through Kyle’s hair, smoothing it back from his brow. He dragged Kyle closer, his fingernails raking Kyle’s thighs. Kyle took a deep breath.

I love you, Kyle,” Rob whispered, as he rammed his cock in so deep that Kyle felt it hit his pubic bone.

At this point in the book, Kyle and Rob have known each other for about a week. They've had sex several times, but each one has been wary despite the attraction. Kyle, accustomed to being used and discarded, has been worried that Rob will desert him. Rob has been concerned by their age difference and the dangers of Kyle's psychic ability. Only in this scene do the two men release the final shreds of their resistance and open themselves completely to each other..

Yikes, I'm sounding like a professor again! Well, I guess I can't completely escape my background and education. I hope you'll all forgive me for my occasional lapse into a more serious vein. My recent experiences among romance readers and writers have made it clear that you're a fun-loving crowd, and that you like to be entertained.

As for me, I can't escape from my conviction that sex is more than entertainment. I think that a successful romantic fiction has to pull you in emotionally, make you believe that the heroine and hero are made to be together, make you feel the intangible spiritual connection when they physically touch.

That's the kind of romance that I want to write.

Anyway, I'd love to know what you think is the essence of romance. Does the hero have to be gorgeous? Does the heroine have to be monogamous? Does it have to have an exotic setting? Can a romance have a tragic ending? What's the most romantic book you've ever read, and why?

ANNOUNCEMENT: Estella - you left a comment on the 14th and you are my winner, but I do not have your email. Please email me at the address in my December 14 post!


Tamsyn said...

For me, there has to be love, whether it is M/F or multiple partners. A strong and sexy hero is always welcome but an ordinary man is equally acceptable and ditto for the gorgeous/plain heroine. I believe sex is an essential part of romance but this could be mild, warm or hot depending on the story. I like books with HEA or at least a happy ending for the moment. If I want to read about unhappiness, I'll just go read the news! So I think you are on the right track! Write on!

LuAnn said...

I've also been a fan of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights ... I still have the copies of the books my older sister had way back in high school. I prefer a book that took some actual work to write, one where you can see the author put some of his or her emotions into the words. That's why I don't read a lot of the small romance books that are pumped out by the dozens, although they are nice for a quick read now and then.

Sweet Vernal Zephyr said...

The essence of romance for me is the anticipation of a carnal act... the build up, both emotional and physical AND the consequences. Wham, Bam, Thank you ma'am, The end is erotic but not romance. Happy endings are not necessary, neither is exotic local and def not monogamy.

The romance that I find myself going back to over and over again is the Desire Oklahoma Series by Leah Brooke

Judy said...

I read all genres of romance, and enjoy most of it. I like a happy ending, always have,probably always will. Of course, there needs to be some tragedy, even in books, everything can't be perfect:)I have always thought Jane Eyre was a really romantic book. I like Jane Austen, Bronte, all those older writers, probably that was some of the first books I read.

Judy (

booklover0226 said...

"The essence of romance"... that's an interesting question.. .what is it?

I think the hero/heroine with some sort of flaw is loved by the other, not matter what. It can be an emotional or physical flaw that is new resolved by the end of the book.

Tracey D
booklover0226 AT gmail DOT com

Estella said...

There has to be love and a HEA for me.

kissinoak at verizon dot net

Jennifer Mathis said...

I want love even if they fight it. And I like there to be happy ending but that is not a requirement for me, as long as I feel I'm better off for having read it

Sherry said...

There has to be love and a happy ending for me I read a book when I was younger that the hero went through just about every bad thing you can think of then died in the end that made me so mad I couldn't tell you the name of the book but I will always remember how disappointed I was with the ending.

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