At the Back Fence Issue #18
January 10, 1997
Happy New Year!
Here’s hoping that each and every one of you had a happy holiday season.
I Know It’s Not Time for Spring Cleaning, But. . .
If you are like me, you’re feeling a bit warn out from all the holiday festivities. And, if you’re like me, and taking down and storing your holiday doo-dahs, you may have decided to extend your holiday cleaning. In addition to putting away boxes, bows, and decorations, you may have decided to organize some of those books you got for presents.
Sadly (for my neat-freak Felix of a husband), my bout of cleaning fever extended only to my library and coincided with an e-mail I received recently from a reader wondering how to organize her library. As someone who is definitely more Oscar than Felix, I am compulsive about keeping my books in order, and treating them well.
When I read a book, I treat it as though it were written in the days before the printing press. No leaving the book open, no bending down the pages, no bending the book back on itself. I cringe when I watch my husband read a book. His Felix to my Oscar in everything he else he does, just shakes his head and sighs.
As for taking care of my books and organizing them, I’m obsessive about that as well. I maintain an “already read” library and a “tbr library”. Books in each library are stored alphabetically. To keep track of what I own, and to prevent me from buying duplicates, I set up a database on my p.c. using the following categories:
- Author’s last name
- Author’s first initial
- Publish date
- Type of romance – ie, VR for vampire romance, TT for time-travel, etc.
- Have I read it yet? Y/N
- Rating of 1 thru 5
- Is this to trade? Y/N
- Is it part of a series? Y/N
With this database, and a second one I began to compare my ratings to those found in Romantic Times, I am able to keep track of all my books and to keep them all nearby, in my study. I keep a print copy of my database with me for when I’m wandering around stores that sell books, and keep a second list next to my computer for easy reference.
I don’t keep review and/or synopsis information in my database because I have tremendous recall. If I can’t recall a book from seeing it on my list, just looking at my “already read” bookshelves is somehow enough to remind me of the story-line.
There is something very satisfying about this system. I truly enjoy logging in new purchases and making room for them on my shelves. I enjoy entering the rating of books and adding another to my “already read” shelves. It gives me a sense of accomplishment.
What about you? How do you care for, store, and organize your books? Are they stacked all over your house? Do you have to search through piles to find one you’re looking for? Are you as anal/retentive as I am? Are you even more orderly? I’d love to hear from you, and I’m sure those readers who are in need of a little assistance in organizing their libraries would appreciate some ideas. Please e-mail me here with your responses.
Now for the good stuff!
My discussion in the last issue of this column on sexuality, sensuality, love scenes, and sex scenes really got readers’ juices flowing. Curiously, some of the readers were like me and talked out of both sides of their mouths, like the reader who wrote that she is not bothered at all by explicit sexuality in romance. Her next sentence? She tends to skip those scenes altogether!
Most readers agree that a certain level of heat is what they prefer. Some want their books to nearly burn through the pages, but those readers really are in the minority. Most readers prefer their books as steamy as a jacuzzi. Lots of sex? Rough sex? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. As with every topic we’ve discussed here, it depends – on the skills of the author, on what’s “acceptable” to readers at that point in time, and on, believe it or not, accuracy.
What is that stuff? –
Gracena commented on Catherine Coulter’s penchant for heroes who use mysterious cream on their virginal wives. She went on to say:
“Having just read The Heir (by Coulter), I must say I really did not care for his raping of his wife, and the thinking that because he used cream he did not force her made me want to slap him upside his head a few times. I am not normally offended by rough sex or graphic sex in a romance novel as long as it also displays elements of caring and tenderness after. If they get carried away by their desires, I guess I can buy that, but if it is forced or the heroine has pain but the hero does not show the proper remorse or get his come uppance, then I get a bit peeved at the author since most likely it is a female writer. I think anytime the hero is such a big jerk he should really get what is coming to him, and he needs to do some big time groveling. If he gets off lightly, I am disappointed. All in all I do enjoy steamy sex scenes, but I do not like infidelity, threesomes or sex overpowering the romance. . .but they can be as graphic as they want as long as they can keep it romantic. . . .and the characters are people you care about.”
It’s the story, stupid! –
I think Gracena said it very well; as did Nancy, who wrote, “I, for one, definitely appreciate the sensual element when it is done well and when it arises naturally out of the story. Please don’t graft on eroticism without setting the stage, or you’ll lose me.”
Jeri agreed. She said that, “The sex scenes should be a natural part of the story. I’ve read books when it felt like oh boy, time for a sex scene.” I know just what Jeri means, don’t you?
Conversely, isn’t it frustrating to read a book where the “pay-off” doesn’t match the level of sexual tension raised throughout the book? Either the scenes are too short or too few or too late in the story. This is a problem I have quite often. It’s difficult to find an author who doesn’t give you too much or too little; it’s the mix that counts.
Ann is annoyed when lead characters are “doing it” by page 20. She recalls a book she began about three months ago that had the lead characters, who were total strangers, “in each others arms by page 14. Page 14!!! I threw the damn thing out the window. I mean, what’s the point?. . .I like things to get heated up, but that’s not worth a thing unless you care about the characters.”
And, Elizabeth rounded out the chorus by writing that, “the sex and degree of sexual explicitness in any romance is a secondary concern.” She is more concerned with clinch covers, which she believes leads people to believe all romances are very explicit. She, as well as myself, are bothered by covers that are ” either inaccurate, silly, or even an impediment to my inner picture of the hero/heroine. It sounds superficial, but so are the world’s judgments.”
Have you felt what Jeri is describing? Have you been disappointed by too little “bang for your buck”, so to speak? Which authors give you too little too late or too little altogether? We’ve talked ad nauseam about those authors who give us more than we may be interested in. But I’m not sure we’ve talked enough about those who give us just the right amount, or those who don’t give us enough. So, look at your keepers for those authors who are satisfying your lust. Look at both your keepers and recall those trade-ins when considering those that are not satisfying.
For me, the following authors generally (but not always) write good books that satisfy my lust:
- Merline Lovelace
- Julie Garwood
- Rexanne Becnel
- Elizabeth Lowell
- Amanda Quick
- Debra Dier
- Linda Lael Miller
- Jill Barnett
- Rebecca Paisley
- Deborah Simmons
- Julia Quinn
- Julie Garwood
- Catherine Coulter
- Stella Cameron
- Katherine Sutcliffe
- Teresa Medeiros
Other favorite authors, such as Judith McNaught, Elizabeth Elliott, and Jill Marie Landis, leave me wanting more. It’s your turn now; please e-mail with the authors you feel do it right. Also e-mail me with favorite authors who leave you wanting more. Finally, I’d like to hear from you about authors who, by virtue of writing less than “hot” books when you wanted “hot”, are not among your favorites at all. Click here to reply.
Selena found very offensive and completely devoid of sensuality a Bertrice Small book featuring anal sex. She added that although Virginia Henley writes books as filled with eroticism as Small, Henley’s books are more appealing. She said:
“Small will have her heroine’s whimpering and cowering the first time they make love, and they, even when they do take control, seem weak. Henley’s heroines may be virgins at the start, but they are not simpering fools about it. . .Henley’s heroines are loved by the hero and once the hero has slept with her, neither of them will sleep with another. . .The heroines do more than just bonk anything in breeks too. They do not marry five different men, and gallivant in harems all over the world, but they run estates, they save the hero’s arse a few times, etc. They are more alive than Small’s heroines. I am not trying to say that Small never wrote a good one, just that she has had a few bombs lately as did Henley. Henley is not a golden Goddess either. She has put out a few stinkers recently too. But all in all I would pick a Henley heroine/book over a Small book any day.”
Insert tab A into slot B –
Selena was intrigued when I mentioned I tried skimming a Susan Johnson novel recently, only to trade it in after reading a scene involving the hero, the heroine, and a string of jewels. That was too much for me. Although Jeri believes Johnson’s books are a series of sex scenes strung together by plot, she does thinks Johnson’s sex scenes are just the ticket to ride, “I prefer a mixture of love, lust and laughter. I want the characters to get sweaty. I prefer references to penis, cock, erection, or even shaft to pillar of manhood.”
Every reader seemed to agree that infidelity is a turnoff, as are more than two people involved in a love scene. Selena is more bothered by the hero’s infidelity “because it is so often presented as okay.”
Slap and, maybe a little tickle –
A discussion of roughness in sex brings us back to the beginning. While one reader said, “I do not enjoy scenes of forced sex, even less so if the heroine ends up loving it”, we have all read books and loved them were the hero employed at least some sexual dominance.”
Some of this invariably goes back to the older style of romance and the current social and political climate. Katy reminded me that “the huge and terrible cost of violence against women (wife battering, date rape, the Army scandal, etc.) is much more a part of the media and our consciousness than it was in the late 70s.”
Perhaps the style of writing has changed in a different way, or we have become more sophisticated in the level of story-telling we crave. As Katy wrote:
“. . . I felt as if the cruelty, contempt and violence helped set up the payoff, adding to the power of the moment when the hero is finally brought to his knees by the heroine. You had to go through all the other stuff for the end to be as satisfying.”I quit reading romances in the early 80s because too many of them were badly written — bad grammar, bad characterization, etc. — so I don’t know when the shift to a more . . . um. . . reasonable hero occurred. When I started reading romances again a couple of years ago, I was shocked, happily shocked, to find heroes whose company I enjoyed. And the payoff was there, wonderfully there. In some ways, the payoff was better than ever, because I didn’t have that vaguely disgusted feeling on closing the book, as if I had spent too much time in bad company.”
That’s how I felt when I tried to read Stella Cameron’s latest historical, Beloved. Yes, I know I have her listed as one author who generally does it just right for me. But obviously not always, or I wouldn’t have felt like a voyeur when reading Beloved.
Accuracy, historical or otherwise –
Regarding sex and accuracy, readers are bothered by the following:
- That mysterious cream
- The lack of condom use (or other forms of modern birth control) in contemporary romances
- The oft-mentioned ill-regarded premise of modern-day virgins
- Bleeding and great pain upon losing virginity, especially in historicals (I can’t relate to this as I experienced both, but then, I was never big on horseback riding)
- The over use of the word sensuous or sensual (I agree wholeheartedly with this one. I recall reading a romance where the hero’s nose was referred to as sensual)
Pat is bothered by the shyness of some heroines after “spending a whole grunting, groaning, grasping night doing things with her hero that her mother never even thought about. . . .” The heroine then, “. . . will in a shy manner move her hand toward the hero’s groin and ask if it is permissible to “touch” him there – jeeeze, she’s done everything else there, so why not? Has she by some miracle regressed back to her former innocent state? Quite a trick if one can pull it off.”
Lanita gets all hot and bothered, and not in a good way when she reads about simultaneous orgasms. She wrote, “That’s a male myth that female romance writers are perpetuating. Stop it! That one really makes me mad. Some of our (authors) need to do some basic research on human sexuality before they write all these love scenes.
Do any of the above-referenced things bother you as well? What do you think about the lack of condoms in the age of sexually transmitted diseases/unmarrieds-with-children? Are you tired of reading the term “sensual” as a description for just about anything? Finally, are you as bugged as Lanita about simultaneous orgasms? Please e-mail me here with your reply.
Accuracy? Perhaps. . . not –
Katarina, a European reader who knows more about these things than I do, adheres to my personal policy of Don’t ask/don’t tell. This student of history is glad she hasn’t read a romance where the hero whips out the hankie he’s been holding in his armpit to entice the heroine with his masculine scent.
And Tonyia, a Prodigy pal, had this to say on accuracy, which made me laugh and wrinkle my nose imagining the smells. It also made me glad authors adhere to the Don’t ask/don’t tell policy:
I have researched my brains out. Believe me, you don’t want to know what sex was like during the Regency period, cleanliness either. When I discovered how rank smelling most of the women and men really were, what their breath smelled like, (and other parts), I was suddenly so elated that romance writers lie about this part. Yes, that’s right. They lie. They have to, or nobody would get past the first chapter. . .Now you know why it’s called a trip to fantasyland. Another fact is many of the men were sexually impotent, women barren, because of their poor diets. Who wants to read about this kind of stuff in a romance. Not me! Lie to me! Please! And if that’s not enough, many girl children died of suffocation because children were dressed exactly like adults, corsets and all, i.e. broken ribs, etc. So the next time you read a historical, a love scene particularly, think how turned off you would be if the cleanliness factor were described accurately.”
I wouldn’t begin to know how widespread some of the practices Tonyia describes were during the Regency, but undoubtedly they did occur at some level. Yes, I know we gently poke fun at some of the fantasy that is presented in romance, but when people tell me they wish they could have lived in 1500 or 1700 or 1800 or even 1900 “when the world was simpler”, I never fail to remind them how difficult life was without modern medicine, electricity, refrigeration (let’s not get into rotting meat and spices, shall we, although didn’t we all learn that in elementary school?), agricultural machinery, etc.
So while some of us are dissatisfied by historical inaccuracies and others of us are glad of them, let’s as usual, remember what we are reading and why we are reading it.
I received so much mail on the sexuality topic that I’ve set up a page to let readers share their views called Readers Rant About Sexuality.
Your ballots are in!
I’ve been tallying up the ballots I’ve received so far from readers on our unofficial romance awards for books with 1996 release dates. It’s not too late to fill out your ballot; I won’t be tallying the final list for another couple of weeks. Please don’t feel that if your choices aren’t among the books/authors listed below, that your ballot would be a waste of time. These are simply the top vote-getters to date. Your choices could alter the overall totals very easily, so don’t be afraid to vote. So, here’s how things look so far: