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.

The Harm in Staying Silent

Back in July, I wrote an article here on the value of giving your opinion. I talked about how it can impact (often negatively) sales and readership when an author insists on pushing their own political views. Back then, I was thinking about candidates and parties, about the basic differences of opinions.

Now? Well, Now I have to go back on that, to a point.

Sure, if it’s just promotion for a particular candidate, it’s probably best to keep it to yourself. Issues not involving human rights are probably best left alone. And fiscal issues, even among folks who are generally of the same end of the political spectrum, can have wildly varying views.

But the things we’ve seen since the election (and inauguration) have boggled the mind and beg us to not be silent.

I still have trouble accepting the fact that a man who made fun of a disabled reporter on camera (but now denies it), made it into the White House. But he did. This same man has all but declared the free press as enemies of the state, calling most non-conservative, mainstream news outlets “fake” and even barring several from White House press briefings.

He’s appointed the most unqualified people to head the departments of state. He’s signed executive orders that are both illegal and immoral (at best). He rescinded protection for transgender youth. He banned an inordinate amount of US citizens because of (and let’s face it, that’s what this comes down to) their skin color and/or religion, in order to “protect us from terrorists.” Yet the largest number of terrorists involved in the September 11 attacks came from three of the countries exempted—Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates—“coincidentally” three countries Trump does business in.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are other things that he’s signed through executive order (that I admit I don’t understand entirely) but that I do know are a nightmare for most US citizens. And even things he hasn’t signed through an EO, he’s “suggested” via memo or other communication that have started (I live in a state where they want to do the immigration raids). While he hasn’t (yet) targeted the LGBT community, I am dead positive we’re on the chopping block somewhere.

And I don’t believe for one minute we’re seeing everything that’s going on.

This is all aside from the entirely horrid international relationship he’s got with our allies—and enemies—and the fallout from those.

With everything going on, I have to go back on what I said back in July. This is when we, as authors, have to speak out. We have a (somewhat limited, yes) platform which we should use when something so wrong is happening. We have a duty to our readers, to the people we write about, to the rest of the country—and the world—to make our voices heard.

Share on Facebook. Blog about it. While we may, to a point, be preaching to the choir, it’s entirely possible that someone might pick up on a new argument that they might be able to use to convince someone else to listen. Maybe it’ll just be enough to show others they aren’t alone. That your neighbor knows you’ve got their back when immigration comes through or that your friend who’s stuck outside the country knows they can call you.

So, allow me to apologize and retract my earlier statement. Speak. Do. And make your voice heard.

We all need it.

 

**Please note the views expressed in this post belong only to Grace and does not necessarily reflect the rest of the authors here at Authors Speak.**

In Memoriam

George Michael
George Michael

So, I had a totally different post planned for today, but 2016 had decided to have another jab at us today and yesterday and I decided a different post was in order. A lot of folks are looking at 2016 and pointing out how bad it was. We seem to have lost an inordinate amount of celebrities this year, many of which were people who were either icons of our youth or people who were very young—or both.

Many of these deaths hit us so hard because they are pieces of our childhood or teenage years. They were representative of things that got us through hard times. Wham!’s song, Careless Whisper, was the first song I ever learned all the lyrics to. I remember vividly my friend and I singing it for our moms in her living room.

George Michael has appeared on many of my book playlists. His music spoke to many, made people smile, and echoed a lot of heartache. Where Did Your Heart Go  was another that always got to me. I have played Father Figure, literally, hundreds of times. In fact, just go through his channel. There were so many wonderful songs.  I’m crying right now, as I write this. So many memories tied to his songs.

Alan Rickman
Alan Rickman

He’s only one of the icons. How many of the folks out there got through rough times because of the Harry Potter books? Alan Rickman’s Snape will forever be the only one I ever see in my head. Hans Gruber appears every Christmas in this house and the snarky angel from Dogma will make me laugh every time.

Prince
Prince

Then there’s Prince. I played my favorite, When Doves Cry, so much, I wore out several cassette tapes (and who else remembers those? Raise your hand!). I believe all his official YouTube music has been pulled, but I did find this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnMY3YeVXoY. Yet again, tied to so many memories of my youth.

The list is ridiculously long of those we lost this year. David Bowie and

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher

Glenn Frey add to the music icons. Then there’s Gene Wilder (Blazing Saddles, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Carrie Fisher (Do I really need to say it?), Florence Henderson (The Brady Bunch), Alan Thicke (Growing Pains), Ron Glass (Firefly, Barney Miller), and Anton Yelchin (Star Trek 2009), just to name a few of the wonderful folks who graced our screens with their talent. We’ve lost both the To Kill A Mockingbird and Watership Down authors, as well a mess of other names that we all have memories of.

Ron Glass
Ron Glass

What I am struggling with is the now oft-repeated idea that, really, 2016
was no worse than 2015 and will certainly be better, even, than 2017. That we should somehow get over it and deal with it.

Except, I respectfully submit that we have a right to grieve in our own way for the death of folks who have impacted our lives. Telling us to get over it sounds suspiciously like we’re being told we’re doin’ it wrong. No two people grieve the same way. And further, it seems like we’re not honoring all the wonderful art, literature, characters, and more that they’ve given us. Some of them have hit us hard, and I

Anton Yelchin
Anton Yelchin

think we’re allowed to deal with it in any way we need to. Sometimes, that means yelling our anger at a personification of the year because who else can we get angry at?

I hope to honor these amazing actors and artists in my upcoming works. I hope 2017 is better, at least in when it comes to the folks we lose. And if not, I say to you: Grieve for them how you need to. It’s good to hold onto those memories.

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Careless Whisper ©1984 Epic/Columbia Records. Written by George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley.

Where Did Your Heart Go ©1986 CBS/Epic Records. Written by Dave Was and Don Was.

Father Figure ©1987 Columbia Records. Written by George Michael.

When Doves Cry ©1984 Warner Bros. Records. Written by Prince.

The Importance of Audience Awareness

2016-10-27
Photo credit: Flickr/Matthew Rutledge

I recently read an article on Medium from a lady about a house she’d been wanting for a long time. She’d bought it, hired an interior decorator and got it exactly how she liked. In the end, however, despite how beautiful it was, it ended up feeling as empty as much of the rest of her life. It was an interesting article that, at first glance, I appreciated (if I had trouble following it at times and got a little lost in some of the verbiage). Then I scrolled down to read the comments.

I know, comments are the bane of any blog/news/whatever site and are most often some of the most toxic places out there. This particular site actually is pretty good around it. Though, whether that’s through moderation or simply the readers it attracts, I don’t know.

One particular comment caught my eye. It was quite long and I admit, I didn’t read all of it. My ADHD was already showing itself after the long article, so I started skimming. This commenter pointed out that, despite what the article’s author professes about her beliefs and political leanings, she came across as someone who was simply flaunting her wealth, rubbing in what she had and how good, then asking people for sympathy for a hardship most of us could only begin to comprehend.

As I said, I didn’t read the whole comment, but it struck a chord in me. Not because of her struggle—though I could, in fact, empathize with her—nor even the specifics of what the commenter pointed out. The article’s author had spent quite a bit of time enumerating the benefits of her Editor-in-Chief job at a big (unnamed) New York magazine. She’d dropped names of furniture and art that most folks wouldn’t even recognize, much less care about. And she’d discussed the kind of friend—her interior decorator—who “randomly dropped French words” into his speech. The kind of person I think most of us would want to punch in the face, not think was “cute.”

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Lines by Kyuubi, colors by Serani – Uchiha Itachi & Kamizuki Izumo are owned by Kishimoto Masashi & Viz Media/Shueisha

It was interesting to run across this article earlier this week because I have recently been on a kick to go back and reread some of my fanfiction. I’d been realizing lately I haven’t spent enough time writing for fun instead of work and my old Naruto fanfiction took me back to when that’s all I did with my writing. I couldn’t publish Masashi Kishimoto’s characters or world because they weren’t mine. It was all about the fun.

Well, I spent more than a few moments cringing behind my screen. There were quite a few chapters that I wanted to delete quickly from the AdultFanfiction.com servers or the AO3 servers so they never see the light of day again. All the mistakes I’d made before I knew how to write. All the epithets, POV filters, and overabundance of adverbs. Never mind just keeping a single POV itself.

But once upon a time, when I’d begun reading fanfiction all those years ago, I’d made a promise to myself. I couldn’t count on two hands and two feet the number of times I’d go back to reread a fanfiction, only to find it’d been pulled. Most often because the writer left the fandom or was feeling their writing as cringe-inducing as I was realizing mine was. And it drove me batshit, especially because I often read pairings that were exceedingly rare or with characters that got very little love. So, I promised myself when I started writing my own, that I wouldn’t pull my stories. Of course, that means I have some seriously horribad writing out there with my name on it.

I’m blushing just thinking about that.

At the same time, however, I have discovered over the years that fanfiction readers tend to be a lot more forgiving than readers of original fiction. Part of that, I have no doubt, is because it’s free. They don’t pay for it (except in their time reading). Part of it is also probably because they’re not necessarily going to find stories about two characters who’ve met once at a random gatehouse in the original canon. Fanfiction is one of those amazing places where you can put all sorts of weird things together—and even mostly have them make sense.

Sure, there’s always a comment here or there about editing. But it’s much rarer than in original fiction. If we—authors of original, published work—don’t edit our stories, we can be positive we’ll hear about it in reviews.

All of this together this week has given me the chance to reflect on a concept we sometimes don’t want to address but almost all of us still keep in mind.

Who are our readers? Who are we targeting a story to?

The author of the article from Medium, I suspect, hadn’t really kept that in mind when she wrote it. She was trying to appeal to folks who would have a lot of sympathy, yet didn’t quite keep in mind that many of them wouldn’t have the first idea what went into hiring an interior decorator for an expensive brownstone in Brooklyn. Much of the sympathy, I think, got lost in the description of an Editor-in-Chief’s salary, and fringe benefits—including, apparently, enough legroom in First Class to be unable to reach the seat in front of her. It’s hard to have the kind of sympathy she wanted for someone who has so much more than the person reading about it.

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Art by Robert Bone – Hyuuga Hinata and Hyuuga Neji are owned by Kishimoto Masashi & Viz Media/Shueisha

When I wrote fanfiction, my first story involved cousins. I got a lot of criticism for that (because there’s a lot of misinformation about them out there), despite the fact that it was something very common in the country my fanfiction was set in. Still, I learned and though I had that pairing again later, I learned how to ignore that.

But I still kept in mind who I was writing for. When I write my stories now, I am very cognizant of who is going to pick up my books. The vast majority are women readers. I’ve seen quite a few complaints out there about gay romance books that downright demonize women. Yes, there are women out there that are horrible. But there are often times where that’s all someone writes (I am not thinking of anyone specific here, to be clear. I don’t necessarily know of any, but I’ve heard about it).

As writers, we should be aware, at least in general, of who is picking up our stories. We can’t write for everyone—we’ll go batshit trying to do that. We do, in the end, need to write the story that needs to be written. But if we know, for the most part, who’s going to read it, then we can, at least, try to make sure we don’t go out of our way to make them angry or hurt them.

No Two People Read the Same Book…

… or watch the same movie, or hear the same song, or see the same painting.

One of the things authors are usually told not to talk about is reviews. It’s generally considered acceptable to promote positive ones, and it’s fine to thank someone for a review—positive or negative.

However, complaining about a review is strictly verboten. I can see why, to a point, as we as authors do need to maintain a professional presence. Not always easy, considering we are real people with emotions and problems like everyone else. Sometimes bad reviews really hurt, and sometimes those bad reviews tear someone apart for the weirdest things.

I should make a point here, that there’s a difference between a “bad” review and a “negative” one. A negative review is just that, negative. The reader didn’t like it or the story wasn’t for them, but clearly they read the book, understood it, and their review was constructive. A bad review is one that shows the reader didn’t actually read the book or maybe tore it to shreds based on the author, rather than the story. We get these, quite a few of them in fact, and those are the reviews we most often want to talk about.

The thing we need to remember, however, is that reviews are personal. Any person who picks up a book and goes into a story, does so with an already preconceived idea. Maybe they’ve been cheated on and any perceived cheating in a story is an absolute no-no. Maybe they work in criminal justice and seeing things done wrong—the wrong language maybe—will make them cringe. I have my own things that will make me throw a book that others would look at me and go, “wut?”

On top of this, when we study English and literature in high school and college, we’re taught to read critically. For me, I’m able to set that aside for the most part when I read. But we’re taught to dismantle a story, look for the subtext, and dig into a character’s feelings and thought processes.

I was in the process of writing No Sacrifice when I got into an… interesting discussion with a beta. The main character was in the process of dealing with his bisexuality. He’d just had a dream of fucking his male costar and woke up in the middle of the dream. He goes out to the kitchen to get a drink and pulls out a carton of orange juice. My beta asked me if the orange juice was deliberate. I was completely confused for a moment. Deliberate about what? Then I realized she was talking about its consistency and I facepalmed. No, it could have been water or Coke or anything else like it. I did avoid milk—for color and consistency—but the orange juice was just orange juice.

Sometimes there is no subtext in something. Sometimes the curtains are just blue because we like that color. Sometimes orange juice is just a random drink.

But along with our personal experiences, we bring our education, and more, to a book. This easily works for movies, like it does books. I recently pointed out that even art—paintings—come with their own interpretations. What is a sad expression to one person could be thoughtful to another.

This is accurate for songs, as well. One of my all-time favorite songs is “Voodoo” from Godsmack.

Sully Erna, the lead singer and co-writer of the song, has stated the song was inspired by The Serpent and the Rainbow. The influence of witchcraft—Erna is Wiccan—was a big part of it. And yet, when I listen to the song, I don’t think about witchcraft—or the zombies in the video—or anything like it.

Voodoo makes me think of BDSM.

Yup. The lyrics at the beginning (and part of the chorus), in particular …

I’m not the one who’s so far away
When I feel the snake bite enter my veins
Never did I wanna be here again
And I don’t remember why I came

…remind me of submission. In this case the “snake bite” is the disapproval or disappointment of my Dom. It feels like poison in my veins. The idea that I’ve disappointed my Dom really does fill me. See, I’ll do it—disappoint. It happens because I’m human. But every time it happens, the “never did I wanna be here again” reminds me that I don’t, but that I will again and again.

But this is what I mean. This is clearly not what Erna intended when he wrote the song. However, it’s what I take away from it. I know some think about drugs when they hear it. Others simply take it for what he originally wrote it to mean.

We, as artists, writers, etc. can’t dictate what a reader takes from our books. We can’t control how they view the message (if there is one) or how we portray a character. All we can do is write the story that needs to be written and put it out in the world.

And keep it to ourselves when someone takes something from it we didn’t intend.

 

Voodoo ©1999 Republic Records/Universal Music Group. Written by Sully Erna and Robbie Merrill.

Hope (a Forbes Mates tale for the One Pulse Anthology), By Grace R. Duncan – Out Today!!


Part of the One Pulse Anthology, benefitting the victims and familes of the Orlando, Florida shooting

Published by Dreamspinner Press

Release date: September 19, 2016

574 pages (total for Anthology)

Cover artist: Paul Richmond

 

Blurb:

Miguel Garcia and Luis Rodriguez have been best friends all their lives. For the last year, they’ve been hiding the fact that they’re also destined mates. When Luis’s family finds out, they kick him out. Miguel’s family would keep them…except their alpha has been known to be downright violent against gay wolves.

With the help of Miguel’s mother, they set out to find a pack that will accept them. They run into more that a few obstacles before they end up in Denver, at the national wolf headquarters, meeting the alpha prime. They’re stunned to find, not only offers to join more than one pack, but that their struggle can shine light on a bigger problem–and make things better for LGBT wolves across the country.

 

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