I’ve been around the publishing world for quite a while. I know a lot of authors, and host many of these colleagues here at the blog. Every now and then I get a guest who claims to write “clean romance”.
I have to be honest. That term really annoys me, for a whole range of reasons.
First of all, it conveys a sense of smug superiority over those of us who write more explicit fiction. It implies that what I write is “dirty”—messy, unsanitary, disgusting and gross. I don’t view my work that way, but I find it disturbing that some people apparently do.
Second, like all genre labels, it suggests a sort of absolute categorization that does not exist in practice. Romance stories fall on a continuum from completely G rated to triple X. Where’s the dividing line between “clean” and whatever the alternative might be? Presumably kisses don’t disqualify a romance from receiving the cleanliness label, but how about passionate embraces? If the hero’s hand brushes the heroine’s breast as he holds her tight, can the story still be “clean”? What about lustful thoughts or feelings of arousal? Are they allowed?
Arousal begins in the mind. I sometimes toy with the notion of writing an intensely erotic romance that nevertheless includes no sex at all. I’m confident I could manage this. Would I be able to sell this as “clean”?
Third, the label trades on the discomfort many readers have about sex. Read my story, the label suggests, and you won’t have to think about the nasty things that people do behind closed doors. You’ll be safe. You won’t be tempted to think dirty thoughts. You can enjoy the vicarious pleasure that comes from reading romance and still be “good”.
Don’t misunderstand me. Every reader has the right to make her own choices. If you’re not comfortable reading sexually explicit fiction, you shouldn’t force yourself to do so. On the other hand, it’s a bit disingenuous to pretend that romantic love can be divorced from physical sex.
It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I personally think the world would be in much better shape if people were more open about both discussing and enjoying sex. For instance, I believe that sexual frustration is a major, unacknowledged motivation for terrorism. Of course, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me. Still, the emotional valence associated with the world “clean” (and its opposite) denies the validity of my views.
“Clean” equals good, moral, healthy, admirable, desirable... you get the idea. “Unclean” means forbidden, tainted, immoral, evil.
I refuse to accept those judgments about what I write. But that sort of categorization is exactly the reason my books end up invisible, hidden in Amazon’s “dungeon”.
The funny thing is, I’ve talked to authors of “sweet romance” (a much less loaded term than “clean romance”) who’ve said, “I really wish I could write hot stuff like you. That’s what readers want, but I just can’t do it. I’m too embarrassed.”
I get this. Not everyone can write sexually explicit stories. Not everyone is interested in that kind of stories.
I’m just bothered by the implication that there’s something wrong with me because I am and I do.