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.

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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The value of giving your opinion

So, right now, the United States is in a huge uproar. Our political system—which I will admit needs to be fixed—is getting worse by the day. This election cycle has been the most poisonous pile of vitriol I think I have ever witnessed in all the years I’ve been old enough to vote (and that’s not a few years!).

It’s very tempting to wade into the conversation and start throwing the
unfollow same verbal punches everyone else is. There is so much misogyny, racism, classism, and more going around that it at times makes me physically ill. I have unfriended and unfollowed more people during this election cycle than I can begin to comprehend.

And believe me, there are plenty of times I want to start yelling from the rooftops about my views. They are important. They are a part of me. However, that way just leads to disaster.

J. Scott Coatsworth wrote about this a little while back. He made good points that I can’t argue. We don’t like to see some of our favorite authors/artists/actors/whatever turn out to be douches because they’ve let their political views out and they’re exactly the opposite of ours (or worse, they call for violence against a group).
unfriendWe are as human as they rest of the world. We have views, ideals, needs and worries just like the rest of the population. In the M/M genre, we can feel safe about speaking about some things—gay rights, marriage equality—because if someone is patently against them, they probably don’t want to read my books, anyway. And that’s cool. We all remember that no book is universally liked (a fact I like to remind myself of when things get bad).

However, for the same reasons my readers don’t want to know the gory details of a surgery I need or how my body reacted to the lunch I had the postoptions

other day, they also don’t need to know every detail of my political stances. Even if they’re on the same general end of the political line as me, there are so many little things we can disagree on that it’s likely that one tiny detail I wouldn’t think is important might be the biggest thing ever to someone else.

The problem is, as an author, it’s not just that one reader I have to worry about. For the same reason we want readers to review, to tell their friends about our books, we have to be careful how we approach controversial topics. That one reader can just as easily talk to their friends about this too.

And let’s face it. The vast majority of us don’t make so much money that we don’t have to worry about that. Sure, Mel Gibson can be an anti-Semitic asshole. But he can afford to be. Me? A two-digit change in the number of books I sell can mean the difference between buying a medication or not.

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“Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t have said that… oops?” **

Now, not everyone is as politic (see what I did there?) as Scott was. Sometimes you get a fairly new author that (I might be generous here) might not realize just how much a ranty post can cost them—whether it’s about US (the current election) or UK (Brexit) politics or a more localized community concern—like pseudonyms and profile pictures. And rather than approaching it with the preface that, yes, it could cost me readers but it’s necessary, they just go off.

My advice? At the very least, until you have a pretty decent following –or don’t care how many books you sell—don’t bring politics onto your Facebook page, Twitter feed, blog, etc. If you have a private Facebook profile, that’s where you should put your opinions and views. Keep it to family, offline friends, etc. It’s not easy, I get that. Because of it, I’ve hovered over unfollow so much it isn’t funny. I’ve wanted to punch lights out, scream until I’m blue in the face, shake people. But the current political clime is going to do one of two things: fall apart completely (in which case, what my political opinions are won’t matter worth a damn) or the heat will cool off and we’ll all go back to discussing hot man-on-man sex.

So, before you share that post or write your rant, ask yourself this question:

Is it worth it?

Probably not.

**Photo credit: Paul Miller, EPA

Out Now: Acceptance, Forbes Mates #3 by Grace R. Duncan

Finding his mate is the least of Quincy’s worries–keeping Miles alive is the real priority…and will take every ounce of creativity Quincy has.


Published by Dreamspinner Press
Release date: July 8, 2016
236 pages
Cover artist: Reese Dante

Blurb:

Dr. Miles Grant acknowledges that his destined mate could be either gender even though his bisexuality cost him his family and his pack. Luckily he found the Forbes Pack, who happily accept him just as he is. What he never counted on was finding his mate in Pittsburgh or for his mate to be another species entirely—a cat!

Quincy Archer isn’t just any jaguar shifter. He is the heir to the leadership of his pride. Destined mates are nothing but legend to the nearly extinct and generally solitary jaguars, and Quincy certainly never expected to find one for himself, much less a male… or a wolf.

However, finding each other and coming to terms with their species is the least of their worries. Quincy is expected to select a proper female mate, father a cub, and take his place as heir to the pride. Except Quincy refuses, having no interest in women or leadership and knowing he isn’t right for it. But his father will stop at nothing—not even attempting to kill Miles—to get his way. Quincy and Miles must overcome many obstacles to stay together as the destined mates they’re meant to be.

Get Acceptance here:

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Excerpt:

Miles flopped down on the end of the couch in the tiny break room and rested his head on the back. His eyes closed on their own before he could tell them to. He didn’t have long—maybe twenty, if he was lucky.

He was seriously regretting taking on so many shifts. But he’d been missing Quincy and needed something to occupy his mind, to distract him. It was ridiculous, he knew that; they’d met twice. But they were mates, destined, and their bond had already started forming. His wolf had been driving him crazy, pushing him to try to find Quincy and mate.

The problem was, whether he liked it or not, he didn’t doubt for a moment Quincy spoke the truth about why they couldn’t be together yet. He’d talked to Chad and Jamie a little and got the gist of the problems Quincy was having, though Chad wasn’t in good enough shape to do much talking yet. He was still recovering from the change, still learning how to filter sounds and light, still learning how to be a wolf.

But Miles’s wolf didn’t understand, didn’t give a shit about any of that. In fact, he was pushing Miles to protect Quincy, which was more than a little laughable. He’d been truthful—he wasn’t afraid of a cat—but he had no knowledge whatsoever of the jaguar world. It still killed him that Diana had given him a cat. He’d been ready for his mate to be either male or female; he would have been content with either, even if his family and former pack had other ideas about that. But no, he had to get a different species altogether.

And a species he didn’t know a damned thing about. He didn’t know how far someone like Quincy’s father would go to get his way. And Miles was a healer, not a fighter. He could fight—all shifters learned how—but that didn’t mean he relished it, so he wasn’t as good as most others.

He needed to see Quincy again, even for a little while. He could appease his wolf a little, make himself feel a little better, and maybe find some patience to wait more.

Quincy had sent a few messages since he’d seen his mate last—in the emergency room waiting area two months ago—mostly texts and a couple of e-mails to let Miles know he was still alive and still in hiding. They’d exchanged little bits about each other, but Quincy hadn’t wanted to say a lot lest it was intercepted. It wasn’t much, but at least knowing Quincy was okay helped keep Miles from going completely insane. He’d like to think he’d know if Quincy was killed, but he wasn’t sure how far their thin bond went, for something like that. When he’d asked Chad how Quincy had gotten his contact information since he’d never had a chance to give it, Chad had told Miles not to wonder about it. But Miles knew at least part of what Quincy did and wasn’t worried. He didn’t think for a moment Quincy would use it against him.

The last two months had been pure hell. He had no idea how Tanner had managed to keep Finley at arm’s length for two years. Granted, they’d been able to date, hang out together, that sort of thing, and he hadn’t so much as glimpsed Quincy in two months.

So he’d spent most of it working. A few times he’d been told point-blank to go home, that he’d been working too much. Whether he’d liked it or not, they’d been right. He’d been so tired he’d barely been standing. But after getting a few hours’ sleep—filled with some very vivid dreams of Quincy—he’d needed to do something.

Since he couldn’t go back to work, he decided to do the other thing he was good at: learn. He’d gone down to the Carnegie Library in Oakland and begun reading up on all things Ancient Egypt, starting with Bastet. He had no idea how much of it was accurate to the jaguars and how much was pure myth, but he figured having a basis to start from wouldn’t hurt.

Miles sighed and sat up again, eyeing the coffee machine in the corner. It was clear he wasn’t going to get any sleep, so he might as well get going the only other way he could. But as he stood and turned to the counter, he got hit with a huge tangle of emotion that wasn’t his. Anger seemed the primary emotion, though there was fear mixed in. And pain. Too much pain.

Quincy?

Miles raced out of the room, not thinking about how it would look—not thinking much at all. If Quincy was close, something was very, very wrong.

Just as he rounded the corner near the ambulance entrance, one of the nurses ran up to meet him. “Dr. Grant! Your pa—”

“Partner,” Miles interrupted, then stopped himself when the nurse simply blinked at him. He’d never told them about a partner—because he hadn’t actually had one, as far as he knew—but he’d deal with that later. “A friend called me,” he said, thinking quickly.

“Oh. Okay. They’re bringing him in now.”

“Thanks. How bad is it?”

Just then the doors opened and the paramedics pushed Quincy in on a stretcher. He was naked except for a sheet, his normally pale skin way too light. He had long gashes on his chest and stomach, but the rest was covered by the sheet. It looked like the scratches—probably caused by shifter claws, if he was any judge—had already started healing, though plenty more still looked wrong with him.

Miles had to take a quick breath, then a second as Quincy’s scent hit him hard—the hint of graphite and paper that overlaid a sweetness incongruent to Quincy’s outer personality. Miles had to shove hard on his wolf. He wanted out and wanted to go after whatever or whoever hurt their mate. Not now. We’ll help our mate, but not now.

With another breath through his mouth, he went into professional mode, falling back on his training and knowledge so he could make sure Quincy healed properly and didn’t raise too many eyebrows in the process.

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About Grace

noh8Grace Duncan grew up with a wild imagination.  She told stories from an early age – many of which got her into trouble.  Eventually, she learned to channel that imagination into less troublesome areas, including fanfiction, which is what has led her to writing male/male erotica.

A gypsy in her own right, Grace has lived all over the United States.  She has currently set up camp in East Texas with her husband and children – both the human and furry kind.

As one of those rare creatures who loves research, Grace can get lost for hours on the internet, reading up on any number of strange and different topics.  She can also be found writing fanfiction, reading fantasy, crime, suspense, romance and other erotica or even dabbling in art.

Find Grace here:

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Writing with Disabilities

I always hesitate to use the word ‘disabilities’ when I refer to myself. My health problems are pretty major, but I have hope that, if I can get treatment, I will be able to get better and back to a, more or less, normal life. But at least on a temporary basis, I do deal with a mess of health problems, many of which aren’t outwardly visible, all of which impact my writing.

I have Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease that targets the thyroid. Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) is still often misunderstood by those who do not deal with it. The thyroid gland regulates every other system in the body. So when that doesn’t work, nothing does. Some people are lucky enough to get a dosage of thyroid replacement fairly quickly and feel good again. Some of us–especially those of us with other problems–do not, like me.

One of the biggest issues I fight is fatigue. Now, there’s being tired, there’s exhaustion, then there’s fatigue. Fatigue is the result of days of exhaustion piling onto one another. It’s a nasty symptom that does a whole lot besides making you want to sleep. It makes you feel lazy and crazy. You get brain fog and memory issues, among other things.

The hardest aspect of being an author with health problems–especially if you’re depending on your writing to help pay bills–is finding a balance between self-care and writing. That goes even for healthy authors. I know a few who will run themselves into the ground, burning the candle at both ends until they’re in bed sick.

This, of course, goes even further when you already have a compromised body. Learning that balance is extremely difficult. Accepting that there are further limitations is even more challenging. It can be done, but it can also rob you of feeling productive, making you compare yourself to others–dangerous on a good day–even more. “Well, if she can write six books a year, and she works a day job, I should be able to!”

That way lies utter madness.

Authors are unfortunately already prone to comparing ourselves to other authors: how much they write, how well they do, ratings, likes on Facebook, followers on Twitter, you name it. If we’re already having trouble, adding the comparisons on top of it is only going to make us want to give up.

Trying to balance not pushing myself beyond my limits and still be productive is almost a full-time job in itself. Because of the nature of my disease, I never know how I will feel or what I’ll be capable of from one day to the next. So planning is almost impossible. I could plan to do five things on a particular day, then wake up feeling like I haven’t slept at all and those five things become two.

The brain fog I mentioned earlier also makes things tough. If I get into writing and get interrupted, I end up spending a lot of time trying to get back to where I was. I can forget in a nanosecond what I was thinking and writing.

I developed a system, based on The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino to let my family know how I am doing at any particular time. Christine’s theory was born of educating a friend about her disease, lupus. While I don’t pretend to have anything like that, there are days where I can barely get out of bed. So, the system I built shows my family how I am feeling.

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Yeah, “YES!” doesn’t happen very often…

I’ve also put together signs to let them know when I’m working, writing, or trying to recover spoons. For the most part, they respect it (perhaps it’s the threats of bodily harm…). This one’s my favorite:

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Standard exception applies. I will take tribute in the form of coffee or food and you may survive. I make no guarantees though.

Occasionally, I’ll load up my Nerf gun and shoot anyone who opens the door and doesn’t have coffee in their hands. It’s surprisingly effective!

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Go ahead. Make my dayyyy.

These are just some of the ways I’ve found to help me deal with my problems. Humor helps, keeping that sense of humor about my limitations makes it a lot less frustrating when I try to work within them.

That frustration is the hardest part of all of this, especially when I end up going a week, two weeks–or more–without being able to write. When I am too fatigued, I can’t even put a couple of coherent sentences together, much less make them good. However, that means on good days, when I spit out three thousand words, it’s that much sweeter.

Having a disability and writing can work. Like any other aspect of life with a disability, it takes compromise, creativity–we are authors, after all–and work, but it can be done. Keep a sense of humor, don’t hesitate to accept offers of help, be reasonable about how much work you can do, and you can still have a satisfying career.