Grace Duncan: Romance, Erotica and Everything in Between

Over the years since I started writing romance, I have found myself in the distinctly uncomfortable situation of answering the “what do you write?” question inevitably asked in response to the “I’m an author” line.

A huge chunk of my discomfort comes from the fact that the two protagonists in my stories are the same gender (so far, all male). The LGBT community—including (especially) the arts portion of it—still has a long way to go as far as acceptance is concerned.

But today, what I want to talk about is the other part of my response: the romance part.

I recently submitted a request for a vendor table at a local anime convention for myself and a couple of other authors. Now, I am lucky to a point because as a volunteer manager for the con, I have some options general vendors don’t. When I did not get the response I wanted (instead, they gave me something vague about variety of merchandise), I requested more information. When I didn’t get a response to my request for clarification, unlike general vendors, I could go higher. Which I did.

The answer I finally got back shocked and angered me. Okay, “anger” is probably a bit mild. Furious? Livid? That’s closer.

The shock ended up a good thing because it kept me from replying immediately with some not-so-polite phrasing, including where they could put their IT department (the department I manage). Their response was fairly short, explaining that since they checked into it “finding only erotica,” it didn’t fit their “family friendly event.”

I don’t know how they came to the conclusion that the books in question are “only erotica.” Not knowing how that came about, I can only speculate one of two things. One, the books are all about gay men and, thus, automatically considered erotica because of that. Or two, they are romance and simply by virtue of the fact that some romance contains sex scenes, it is thus considered “erotica.” I have seen both of these from the non-romance (and non-LGBT) reading groups. As I was not sure if it was the LGBT aspect—since I wasn’t sure how I could reasonably focus on that—I focused instead on discussing the difference between romance and erotica.

I’d read tons on this in different places, but I thought the best pace to start was my own primary publisher. Since I knew Dreamspinner Press does not publish pure erotica, I went straight to their website. From their submission guidelines:

“Dreamspinner Press seeks gay male romance stories in all genres. While works do not need to be graphic, they must contain a primary or strong secondary romance plotline and focus on the interaction between two or more male characters.” (https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/submissions)

Now, I am well aware there are plenty of LGBT and romance publishers that do publish erotica, so I thought I’d dig a bit further. One of the unfortunate problems with trying to define this is that there seem to be no set publishing industry definitions of “romance” and “erotica.” The best I could find was some background on the differences, per a couple of other romance authors and other industry members.

Sylvia Day said, “Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship…”

Versus romance:

“Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and could easily be removed or “toned down” without damaging the storyline.” (http://www.sylviaday.com/extras/erotic-romance/)

I further found an article on RT Book reviews (and referencing Publisher’s Weekly) that distilled it even more and said erotica is: “when sex is the basis of the conflict.” (https://www.rtbookreviews.com/rt-daily-blog/what-exactly-difference-between-steamy-romance-and-erotica)

(Please note: I firmly believe that any sex included in a book should be there because it does something for the story, either character development or plot movement. That said, in romance, the story still should not fall apart completely if you don’t show the couple’s whole sexual progression. There are levels, including erotic romance—like my Golden Collar series—where this doesn’t apply in the same way, but it still passes the litmus test I found.)

What I came to, in the end, was that the single distinctive difference was a simple question:

“What drives the story?”

In my research, I found in a number of places where erotica isn’t expected to have an HEA. The Romance Writers of America says for a story to be considered a romance, it should have “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” They go on to define that optimistic end as having “emotional justice and unconditional love.” (https://www.rwa.org/Romance)

Beyond the happy ending—or lack thereof—many types of erotica may not even include a primary relationship, and instead is more about one person’s sexual journey. One prime example of this is the Beauty series by Anne Rice (under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure). While there is a happy ending at the end of the series, the story is about Beauty—and her sexual journey—not a specific relationship she is in.

I have been a firm believer that there is a wide variety of heat in romance novels. Everyone has their taste. Some want to read the sex, others want to skim. I’ve been in the mood for lighter stories (with less sex) and some that are essentially one sex scene after another. Both have their place. I don’t believe a romance requires sex, but what I found in my research also says that having it certainly doesn’t automatically make it erotica, either.

In the end, it still comes down to what drives the story. Is it the sex? Or is it the relationship?

If it’s the latter, then it’s romance.

Giving Back

 

Many years ago, when my children were little and my youngest son was in the fourth grade or so his class did a project for Thanksgiving about what they were grateful for. One of the things on his list was that we always had a phone and our utilities were never shut off.

That was a real WOW moment for me.

There was a time that broke was a step up in the world. However, there was never a time we didn’t have a home, or heat or food. Sometimes the home was a tiny apartment that we squeezed into and the food was hot dogs and peanut butter and jelly.

Things are a bit different now. My kids are a dog and cat. More months than not I rob Peter to pay Paul and something is always paid late. But, it all gets paid.

I still have a home–one I own now. I have a car, something I couldn’t always afford. The neighborhood I live in is much better, and I can buy groceries.

These changes are a result, in part, of the fact I now publish books. People pay for those books, which has added to my income. I’m extremely grateful for that extra income and it makes a huge difference in my life.

Along the way from published to royalty check there are a number of people who help authors out free of charge. They give their time and energy to creating blogs where books can be showcased, increasing exposure. They offer reviews, post interviews and run contests.

These blog owners and their reviewers help my career as an author a lot. So, when one of them asks for help raising money for a worthwhile charity there is no way I’d refuse.

See, there are an awful lot of people who, through no fault of their own, don’t have a home, or enough to eat. They might face bullying because they’re part of the LGBTQ+ population. Maybe there are health issues they face and don’t know where to go for treatment.

The point is for many young people times are bleak and they may feel suicide is their only option.

Which it’s not.

I have always liked to give back, be it with my time, my money or something else. I don’t have a lot to offer in the way of financial support, but I do have books to contribute.

When one of the blog owners I work with regularly put out a call for a fundraising project I jumped at the chance.

Kim from Kimmer’s Erotic Book Blog came up with the idea to sell bundles of books at a discount and donate the proceeds to the Trevor Project, which supports LGBTQ+ youth in the United States.

I’m willing to bet everyone reading this post buys books. Here’s a great way to help someone less fortunate, get your book fix, and maybe try a new author. (ppsssttt…my book is the first one in the picture, Gone Away.)

It’s important to give back, even when you don’t feel very fortunate yourself. There is always someone worse off.

Oodles and goodles of book bundles be HERE!

Until next month,

Happy Reading!

Elizabeth

 

 

Tools of the Trade: What I Learned at Writer’s Police Academy Part 1 by Sarah Madison

Something I’m often asked is how much research I do for my stories.

It’s a good question. I adore research. I’ve been known to dive into the rabbit hole and not come up for air for months. I spent weeks researching The Battle Of Britain to write a simple dream sequence for The Boys of Summer, and what I learned made me determined to share some of the essence of what those young pilots experienced in defence of their country–far beyond the intended scene.

I used my own experiences as an event rider when writing Fool’s Gold, a story set in Olympic level sport horse competition. I once wrote a story about a main character who suffers a spinal cord injury, and immersed myself in both medical texts and the writings of survivors of such injuries.

When I decided to write a series of stories with FBI agents as characters, I knew I needed more than my love of shows such as Bones, NCIS, or The X-Files to give me a feel for how crimes are investigated (even if there is a paranormal element). Among other books, I read A Very Special Agent: Gay and Inside the FBI by Frank Buttino. I also read books on forensics, profiling, and true crime accounts of hunting serial killers. My wish list on Amazon has everything from bloodspatter analysis to books on training cadaver dogs.

So you can bet when I first heard fellow author Eden Winters speaking of her experiences at Writer’s Police Academy, I was all ears. Then I found out Jamie Lynn Miller had been going for years and had fantastic things to say about it. So when Shira Anthony asked if I’d like to share a room with her, I jumped at the chance.

I had a terrific time and I learned a lot. I would definitely go again, given the chance. Because the first thing you need to know about Writer’s Police Academy is that you simply can’t fit it all in on one trip. There are too many courses, there’s too much information and too little time. It was a jam-packed weekend, but that’s a good thing. Think of it like a continuing education seminar in which four different courses are offered at the same time and you have to choose which to attend. It means you have to come back!

The second takeaway lesson I got from WPA is that there’s a reason you’re drawn to certain things. Given I have more of a medical background than the average person, I decided to avoid much of the crime scene courses and concentrate instead in areas where I had little experience, such as ballistics or arson. But shortly into the first day, I realized that I had a natural affinity for some things, and that by avoiding them, I was actually turning my back on the kinds of things I was not only interested in, but most likely to include in a story. I rapidly reassessed my schedule and changed it accordingly. I also changed it when I heard a particular class was good or fun. The great thing about WPA is most courses were offered more than once, with a couple of exceptions. That meant you could pick up something the next day that conflicted with a different lecture before.

So while I took copious notes at the speed of light (just like being in school again), what I really got out of the lectures was a better sense of what I wanted to know more about (and where to find out more about these subjects) and potential contacts for questions among the speakers, many of whom were happy to give out their emails to answer any questions that might arise about procedure, etc.

WPA is held in Greenbay, WI. The venue was pretty amazing. The hotel was a stone’s throw from the airport, and the amenities pleasant. WPA works in conjunction with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College to put on the Academy every year, drawing on the lecturers from the college and volunteers to put on a great program. They also get some pretty amazing authors as keynote speakers for the big dinner at the end of the weekend. Tami Hoag and Lee Goldberg were the 2016 speakers. Ms. Hoag in particular was delightful, but I regret to say I could barely keep my eyes open by the time Saturday night rolled around. The buses rolled out at 7 am, which meant you had to have grabbed breakfast and be ready to roll. Classes were scheduled tightly, and sometimes the logistics of choosing to attend two different lectures on opposites sides of campus left you running in August heat for a bus to take you to the next class–or just running, period.

Snacks, sunscreen, sunglasses, bottled water, and a jacket for when you’re in air conditioning were all essential, as were sensible shoes. And don’t forget your camera! For those who arrived early on Thursday afternoon, there was a prison tour, as well as a special ops demonstration of equipment and police dogs in the parking lot coinciding with registration. I confess, I found the heat debilitating after my long flight, so I probably didn’t take full advantage of the demonstrations.

Our first day started out with a bang–as we rolled into the campus parking lot, we were greeted with a major accident. Two cars were involved. There was at least one obvious fatality and several serious injuries. Some people were still trapped in one of the vehicles, and the driver of the van appeared to be under the influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As we watched, police and rescue vehicles came roaring in and took over the scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We got to see the ‘jaws of life’ in action, as well as watch as the police put the impaired driver through sobriety tests and then arrest her when she failed. The procedures were narrated throughout so we could hear as well as see what was going on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then to our amazement, a helicopter arrived to airlift out the victims!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And that was all in the first hour! You can see why it will take me several posts to go through my experiences at WPA. I want to give as much detail as I can, as it will help solidify the information learned for me as well.

In the meantime, the newly expanded version of Unspeakable Words (Sixth Sense Series Book One) was released on March 1o, 2017! You can check out the series and see while I thought Writer’s Police Academy was such a great idea.