(August 15, 2000)

Let’s Talk About Sex (by Laurie Likes Books):
I’m no Dr. Ruth, and those who know me well know that I’m just as liable as my 8-year-old daughter is to giggle when I say the words “penis” or “vagina.” But I noticed something irksome last week while reading a series romance. Yeah, it did bother me that another closer to 30 than 20 supposedly experienced heroine was in actuality a virgin, but that’s another column. No, what was particularly annoying was that, at the pinnacle of passion, the climax, the peak, the moment of ecstasy when seed is spilled and groans reverberate throughout the room, the wording of that moment of la petite mort was not as it should be. When in the throes of passion, which would you rather hear, “I want to see you reach your peak” or “I want to watch you come?”

How fitting that this topic should rear its head, so to speak, as Salt n Pepa’s Let’s Talk About Sex is playing on the radio. How ironic that last week, the subplot of Sex and the City involved not the verb “to come,” but the result of that verb and Kim Cattral’s lover’s “funky spunk.” I know this is a raunchy topic, but it is summer, and I am hot and have a sheen of slick sweat on my skin – it was 107 humid degrees today.

When we read romance, we want to escape into a fantasy world for a while, but in order for the fantasy to best work, it must be grounded in reality. I used to watch soap operas, as I’m sure many of us did at one point in our lives. One day, however, I realized that the words coming out of the mouth of one of the male characters were absurd – no man I know would ever speak them. At that moment, the fantasy bubble of All My Children burst for me – it had ceased having any semblance to reality and I never watched a soap again. I’m not near that point where romances are concerned, but where love scenes are concerned, this can be a problem. ]

I did a quick and informal poll about this topic with members of aarlist – is it true that authors avoid the term “coming” in reference to orgasm? Is it partially true, and, if so, why might that be? Again, I refer to the act itself, not the product thereof, which in pornographic circles is disgustingly spelled (and shown) as “cum.”

AAR Technical Editor Sandi Morris wondered about this herself, at least until recently for some reason. She never saw “come” or “coming,” thinking it must be a taboo term. Now, however, she sees it all the time and wonders – has a taboo been lifted?

E-book author Tracy Cooper-Posey indicated she has never used the term in question in her romances because it feels “a bit more frankly sluttish than any of the endless variety of metaphors one can use to describe a climax.” She adds that she doesn’t know where her prejudice comes from, but suspects “it’s because the word is the properly spelled version of ‘cum’ used in pornography. The association is too close for comfort.”

For single title contemporary romance author Lisa Hendrix, Tracy is right. She says:

“‘come’ is a guy word, and sounds crude under most circumstances. Plus, if you’ve ever read (or watched) any porn, it’s the favorite word (that and the misspelled variant for the product of a man’s orgasm), so when I read it I think Debbie Does Dallas and sleazy crotch books, not romance. The problem is, there is no softer, sexier expression, at least not that I’ve run into, so we’re stuck with either crass, clinical or avoidance. I generally choose avoidance – there are a lot of ways to describe the occurrence without naming it.

Another member of aarlist also agreed with Tracy – regardless of the spelling, it’s too closely associated with pornography to be used in romance. According to Shelley, “Even though the term was used in history it was hardly used in society, and kind of throws the mood from drawing room to back alley.” She adds, “We’ll probably will see it more in contemporaries in the future. I’ve noticed the language in them becoming more realistic. But I think there’s a large group of romance readers who’ll still want more polite terms. Like Mom says, ‘I know what it is. You don’t have to be crude about it'”.

I’m sure Shelley is right, and I would agree – an historical romance is no place for this type of terminology because the language in historic times is not and should not be modern. “Come” may not be a modern word, but it has a very contemporary feel to it. But what about contemporary romance? Donna may have answered that question for me when she said:

“It seems to me that single title contemporaries are the only ones that use ‘come’ instead of some other euphemism. I’m thinking Sandra Hill (Love Potion), Susan Andersen, Jennifer Crusie, Rachel Gibson, Linda Howard, although I didn’t go back and double-check. The same authors who were mentioned a few months ago on this list in the discussion about offensive language. I don’t find the term offensive, and think it is far more representative of the way 20/30-somethings talk today. I prefer sex scenes with realistic dialogue – not a lot of silly euphemisms or no dialogue at all. I’m wondering if authors don’t use this term because they think it will offend readers?”

Author Carrie Alexander adds that, “The term has appeared in the Temptation line, albeit sparingly. I’ve used it once or twice in a love scene, but upon rereading found it jarring, personally. In my experience, the more verboten term seems to be ‘orgasm.’ Perhaps too clinical? This all may depend upon the individual editor’s whim. There is no list of acceptable terms – or at least not one the authors are privy to.”

Reader Lily echoes Carries comments but contradicts Donna. While she’s read the term in some Temptation titles, including Jo Leigh’s recent Hot and Bothered, she doesn’t think she’s read it in a single title contemporary.

Could Donna be correct in believing that series titles believe in this taboo while things are freer in single title contemporary romances? I did a little bit of checking on this in my own library, browsing through the nearly 100 titles I’ve read. I don’t believe any of them included the apparently taboo term, at least not the Loveswept, Harlequin, and Silhouette titles. I haven’t looked at the couple of Zebra Bouquet titles I own, although I guess I should take a look at Kiss the Cook, which featured what I thought was just wonderful guy-thought and guy-speak – after all, that book included the word “boner.”

Author Eileen Wilks lent a little perspective. She said, “most of the editorial powers-that-be at Harlequin/Silhouette believe that ‘come’ will offend some readers, at least. The few times I’ve used it, they replaced it with ‘climax.’ The language used in single title books is less restricted than that in category romance.”

Apparently, however, even Harlequin/Silhouette can be swayed, depending upon the author. Sandi Morris indicates that in Linda Howard’s’ new series title, A Game of Chance, Chance Mackenzie tells the heroine that “I almost came.” What’s this, then – a double come standard?

Teresa Hill, whose series title appear under the name Sally Tyler Hayes, gave a lengthy reply, much of which I think bears repeating here because, in the end, it’s not so much where the word may or may not be allowed, but what it does to the reader if it is or is not included. She writes:

“I’ve gotten away with using the word ‘come’ at times, and at other times, I’ve had trouble with a hero who gets an erection – why would anyone want a hero who couldn’t have an erection? In fact, Dan in Dangerous to Love got to have erections and Jamie got to come, and I have to tell you, I was so happy to get away with using that word. Because he was talking to her and telling her what he wanted to do to her, and I would have taken out the whole passage if I had to use the word climax. But poor Josh in Cinderella and the Spy… I don’t think he got to have even one erection, and I know he didn’t think that was fair at all. And the difference was the editor. Different books, different editors, one much more worried about the possibility of offending anyone than the other was.I think it all depends on:

    • a) Who your editor is and sometimes on how new she is. I think the newbies get a list of words we can not say, words that might offend, and search them out and replace them in the manuscripts they edit, while at times a more experienced editor will let them slide

b) Who you are – some authors get to say all sorts of things and some don’t. It may be that the editor doesn’t want to take them on and lets their stuff alone. (Eventually, some of us get intimidating, I guess.)

c) Which line you’re writing for. Temptations and Supers, at least the ones I read, tend to have more freedom with language.

But I have to say, I don’t think I’ve ever used the word ‘climax’ in any sort of conversation, and I can’t imagine ever using it. Except maybe in a discussion with other writers on words we’re not suppose to say and what we’re supposed to substitute for them. It just sounds totally false to me, and it stops me when I’m reading and pulls me out of the story, which I’ve always thought was a prime no-no for any writer – to pull the reader out of the story.

We may be in the evolutionary stage of a change, according to those on the RW-L discussion list. For Lisa, “come/coming” is as technical sounding as “penis” and “vagina,” and thereby less sexy. She does point to Jennifer Cruise as being an author who uses such terms, adding that it “fits her style.” Another Lisa indicates that she’s seem the term used in some recent Temptation and Temptation Blaze titles, and that it was “handled with finesse and was not at all pornographic, puerile or gross.” She adds that, “At one time nobody would ever think of using the proper words for certain body parts in stories, but now it’s done all the time and nobody thinks anything of it.”

A number of RW-L members communicated that use of the term can be very effective – I definitely agree. For Jill, “a whispered ‘Come for me’ is one of the sexiest things a woman can hear… Sexy, erotic, exciting, and not pornographic at all.” Vicki added, “I have to agree – this is the single sexiest thing a man can say. It’s guaranteed to get a rush’ (of one sort or another!) every time, for me/from me.” Wendy recalls reading Nora Roberts’ River’s End, in which the male character murmurs, “come around me.” As she indicates, “that certainly did it for me. Very sexy.”

This obviously continues to be a touchy issue, but another post put an entirely different spin in it. In the last issue of ATBF, I wrote that I wanted to create a dictionary of silly sex for AAR. Response has been nil, but then I heard from Jocelyn, who mentioned some additional euphemisms for the term. At the beginning of this column, I mentioned “pinnacle of passion,” “climax,” “peak,” “spilled his seed” (why that seems to be acceptable when “coming” is not is beyond me), and “grunted his release” as terms I’ve seen used/over-used in romances. Jocelyn has now added “piston,” “pump,” and “thrust” to that list. So let’s do this – let’s devise a list of terms that are consistently (or is that constantly?) used in romances (in lieu of “come” or “coming”) so as not to offend some readers. That would make a fine start to our Dictionary of Silly Sex. Perhaps next time we’ll get into descriptions of breasts, about which author Lori Foster, hopefully in tongue-in-cheek mode, described in Little Miss Innocent? as having nipples that “can be pink or mauve.” In that book, the heroine was discussing nipple color, but aren’t we often treated to the hero’s wondering what color the heroine’s nipples are, or perhaps describing them in fruit or floral-related terms?

Those of you who help us devise this part of our upcoming Dictionary of Silly Sex will be eligible to win one of the author-autographed books we have stashed away. So, feel free to post them when it’s time on our ATBF Message Board.

More on the Big Mis (by Laurie Likes Books):
Not to pick on Lori Foster’s Little Miss Innocent?, but it is predicated on a Big Misunderstanding that surrounds, as is often the case (but more often in historical romance), the issue of virginity. This series title is one of a number of romances I’ve read wherein the hero discovers during lovemaking that the heroine, whom he believes to be a woman of experience, is, in fact, a virgin. For whatever reason, even though I do have problems with 27-year-old virgins in contemporary settings, I enjoyed this “ah-ha” moment when the hero discovered his error and regretted his mistake in judgment.

Our segments last time on the Big Misunderstanding generated a great deal of discussion on the ATBF Message Board. Although I plan to continue this discussion in the next issue as well, and to focus on specific titles and authors, as well as contrasting and comparing the Big Mis with the Big Secret, here is a sampling of the comments made.

Pam, for instance, doesn’t mind a good misunderstanding in a romance because she finds it does mirror real life. She argues that many of us carry emotional baggage that prevents honest communication. Honesty takes time, she says, and it’s easy to “jump to conclusions about things, main to avoid getting hurt again.” Even if it is the Big Mis, says Pam, “we all have to deal with it in our own ways. What is interesting in a story, though, is the different ways authors will have their characters work through it. I won’t get tired of seeing it used in a plot.”

For LFL and many others, misunderstandings that flow from character can work wonderfully because they are based on flaws and weaknesses and that emotional baggage Pam mentioned. However, she adds, they often don’t and “this is what can feel so contrived. Often it’s just some villain stealing letters, or some character mis-hearing something or believing some misleading evidence with very little attempt to investigate it.” She adds that in a many romances, the emotional baggage is not sufficiently justified.

“For example, (what of) the hero who has had one bad experience with a woman and decides all women are scheming and deceptive? This is just a bit much for me. If he decided all black people were bad based on one bad experience with one, we would have to call him a racist. So if he’s going to be that quick to condemn and hate all women, I think we should call a spade a spade, or in this case, a misogynist. Such a woman-hating hero would need to do a lot of work to be redeemed. Coming to trust the heroine wouldn’t be enough; he would need to realize that his whole worldview was distorted. On the other hand if an author shows how the characters’ own insecurities, their little selfish qualities, or their past traumas lead them to have communication problems, misunderstandings can be very successful.”

Other readers pointed to how jealousy can play into a Big Mis, and in a negative manner. Lis mentioned how she dislikes reading romances where someone else is vying for the attention/love of the heroine and the hero “takes it out” on her rather than telling her he’s jealous. She’s “okay with it” if he at least hints at his jealousy, but when he blames her and she’s no idea why his behavior is angry or distant, she “just wants to smack him upside the head.” For Lisa, this is not the sign of a healthy relationship and can give the impression that a jealous man is a man who truly loves. “Will the heroine feel loved and cherished,” Lisa asks, “when she ends up locked in at home and not allowed to talk to anyone, or will she feel imprisoned?”

Mark, who is a fan of humorous romances, shared some acronyms applicable to books using the Big Mis.

  • BC: Breakdown in Communications
  • EMR: Expectations of Mind Reading
  • FC: Failure to Communicate
  • HYFUH: Hide Your Feelings Until it Hurts
  • MCS: Mismatched Communication Styles
  • MOV: Mars Opposite Venus
  • NCLF: Never Confess Love First
  • RAIQ: Refusal to Ask Important Questions
  • SULLC: Stiff Upper Lip Leading to Chasm
  • WMT: What, Me Talk?

For me, frustration occurs most often when there are EMR, HYFUH, and RAIQ, although I would also add to his list both RTL and RTB (Refusal to Listen and Refusal to Believe).

I’ve mentioned the hero who mistakenly believes the heroine is experienced when, in actuality, she is a virgin. Apparently this is more of a pet peeve for some readers than it is for me, perhaps because I haven’t read the authors/titles these readers find offensive. Jennifer, for instance, whose message is entitled “The Big Mis – She’s a Slut – Oops,” railed against this particular storyline. She wrote that this angers her more than any other plot device because the “hero will use this assumption to treat the heroine like crap for the vast majority of the book. Since he’s always wrong in this assumption and deeply apologetic, it leaves me to feel that had he been correct, the author feels that everything he said and did would have been appropriate.” As for finding this type of Big Mis more often in historicals, where she agrees there is more leeway, she added that contemporary romance is filled with it as well. She concluded her comments with this:

“Obviously, Diana Palmer is the queen of this, but Elizabeth Lowell and Linda Howard have used it as well. Plus all those millions of nameless authors we’ve returned to the used bookstore. What makes me sick about this plot is the fact that it’s a misunderstanding. I want the heroine to say, yeah I’ve had sex, it was fun, but I sure as hell won’t be having it with you anytime this century – and watch her find a man worthy of her. I do not understand the appeal of books where the only way the heroine gains the trust and love of the hero is when she proves her virginity.”

LFL also argued forcefully against the Big Mis/virginity plotline. In her posting about Judith McNaught’s Once and Always, she reminded me that Jason turns on Victoria on their wedding night and takes her virginity by force and against her will. She asked several crucial questions, including what if Victoria hadn’t been a virgin? Would Jason have felt such remorse? Would she have deserved to be raped had she not been a virgin? She added, “There’s the rub about those heroes – they are sorry only because they turned out to be wrong about the heroine,” apparently, and not sorry for their brutal behavior itself.

As indicated earlier, we’ll revisit the Big Mis next time; this is simply too big a topic to try to explore in one or even two sittings.

Our Weekly Reader (by Robin Nixon Uncapher):
I’m honored to be kicking off the newest feature at AAR, one entitled Weekly Reader. This feature, which will be a part of our Readers on Reading section, will give one reader each week the chance to share their romance reading roots. Since Laurie has previously shared her roots, I get to share mine with you, not only so you can get to know me a little better now that I share ATBF with Laurie, but to show you the type of information we’ll need to showcase you as our Weekly Reader. Although, if truth be told, I did laugh when Laurie asked me to write about this because I feel I’ve told the story far too many times. Nonetheless, if you are one of the three people out there who hasn’t heard here goes.

About two years ago, in October of 1998, I was trying to think of something to make life more interesting. Age forty-four had arrived and I was lonely and depressed. After twenty years in Brooklyn, New York “we,” meaning my husband and two children and I, had moved to Bethesda, Maryland, outside of Washington, DC. My husband was happy and busy pursuing an exciting career in on Capital Hill. Where was my life was going? Far from my old consulting clients on Wall Street, I was home, writing training programs for a few local clients.

To get myself out of the doldrums, I thought of writing some fiction. Short story writing had been something of a hobby years ago and I’d even sold one. Friends who had read my old stories occasionally asked if I ever planned to do it again. I wasn’t sure. The short story market that I’d written for in the eighties had completely dried up. Magazines like Redbook and Ladies Home Journal no longer published two or three stories a month. What would I write?

An old friend of mine suggested that I write a romance. She loved romance. Now I didn’t want to hurt my friend’s feelings but my initial reaction to this was ugh. Read a romance? Those trashy books with the beefcake covers? Me, with my complete library of Doris Lessing and Margaret Drabble? It’s not that I was specifically hostile to romance. Almost all popular fiction struck me as too mundane to bother with. I didn’t read Stephen King or John Grisham either. Though I did enjoy and occasional mystery, I mostly preferred books by writers like Gail Godwin, John Irving and Jane Smiley.

But my friend kept urging me to read a romance and the truth was that I was looking for something new. I was starting to feel stuck in a rut, reading the same authors over and over again. Something was missing. I’d go back to Jane Austen and the Brontes for the love story. Why didn’t anyone write good love stories any more?

Time to come clean. I thought I’d read a few romances just to get the hang of how they were written. I was far too intelligent to actually enjoy one. Romance writing couldn’t be too hard. There was this formula, right? Everybody said so. ‘Course the everybody involved also did not read romance. (They were also too intelligent to do this.) I figured that all I had to do was read a bunch of books, figure out the formula and start writing. Consulting had taught me a lot about how to imitate a client’s style and I was very good at it. I’d been writing for years, fascinating little tomes with titles like “How to Run a Meeting,” “Corporate Finance Applications,” and “Introduction to Credit-A Leader’s Guide.” (Mary Jo Putney, eat your heart out.) So of course I could write a romance…

To all you real romance novelists out there I have only one thing to say – I was an ignoramus. Nevertheless, I was perhaps a tiny bit less an idiot than people who think they can write a romance novel without actually reading one. Nope. I knew I had to prepare in the same way that I attacked my consulting assignments.

But where to do research? I didn’t know much about the net so I did the next best thing. I went to the supermarket. I remember standing in the aisle with my four-year-old in a shopping cart while I perused what was in the rack. I opened one book and read the opening lines. “She was naked. And so was he.” Yipes! I snapped that book shut so fast and peered around to see if anybody was watching me.

Hmm, supermarket research was just not making it. Besides I had no idea what to buy. I attacked my friend’s collection of romances and hit the library. Again there was too much selection so I decided to pick a subgenre. As a history lover I figured I’d start with traditional Regency Romances. They looked like “fake Jane Austen.’ Because I was starting with a cross section of books and didn’t know how to pick, my selection was pretty poor. In fact, not knowing romance and thinking that the books were lousy was a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. I expected bad books and I got them.

By the time I started the fourth Regency, I was skimming and feeling incredibly superior. They weren’t quite as similar as I’d expected but that would just mean more research. I had to find that dang formula! And then, something marvelous happened. On the fourth book I noticed that the story was pretty good. In fact, it was better than pretty good. I went back to the start of the book and started reading in earnest. The book had a real period feel to it and it was really romantic-like those wonderful English movies that came out during World War II. I could almost imagine Greer Garson and Stewart Granger in the leading roles. Hmm. Rather a nice change from the Oprah books I’d been reading which always seemed to feature poor southern families who needed counseling.

The book was With this Ring by Carla Kelly – it remains one of my all time favorite books. With This Ring is the story of a young woman, Lydia, whose life is forever changed when she goes to see wounded soldiers barracked in a London church. The arranged marriage plot of the book made me chuckle, but the people in With This Ring seemed to have the same kind of strengths and flaws as the ones around me. Who on earth would have guessed I though, that such a lovely story could be in a book that looked so silly? Who was this lady, Carla Kelly, who wrote with such grace and wit?

I told my husband, who sneered at the cover and laughed at the idea that the story was a good one. I told my mother, who acted as though I had lost most of my brain cells. This startled me. After all, hadn’t they both believed me when I suggested that they read Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm? I was the one in the family whom everybody asked for suggestions on what to read. I was the one who had read most of Dickens, the Brontes, Austen, George Elliot and Trollope. Didn’t that count for anything? In 1998 I’d been plugging Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt, The All True Travels and Adventures of Liddy Newton by Jane Smiley and Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea by Gary Kinder. Why wouldn’t anybody believe me when I told them that this little book with the silly cover was a great story that men and women could enjoy? Well, I was learning the life of a romance reader. It doesn’t matter how much Dickens you’ve read. People do judge a book by its cover.

After I’d read With This Ring, I was anxious to read more novels of the same quality. I headed for amazon.com and ordered Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, The Lady’s Companion, and Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season, all of which were still in print. Then the question arose. How would I find good romances? I was used to reading reviews in the New York Times Book Review Section. But The New York Times didn’t review romance unless it was a hardcover disguised as something else. (Such as Robert James Waller’s dreadful Slow Waltz at Cedar Bend – a book so mind bogglingly pretentious and dull that it made it back to the library in record time.) The people on AOL’s romance area raved about Mary Balogh, but The Last Waltz seemed only so-so. I didn’t figure out what the fuss was about and until much later when I read Lord Carew’s Bride.

Since I couldn’t find romance reviews and didn’t want to waste time or my money, I got on-line and found Romantic Times. Searching through the database for something good I made my next big discovery – Mary Jo Putney.

Mary Jo Putney’s books were, pure and simple, the most addictive things I’d come across in years. I had always read a lot, but with Putney I found myself stretching the day. Night after night I stayed up until 1:00 reading One Perfect Rose, The Rake, Angel Rogue, and my very favorite, Shattered Rainbows. I exhausted my library’s supply of Putney’s and found Mary Balogh’s Thief of Dreams. Wow. Things were starting to get sexy. As a literary fiction reader I’d been indifferent to love scenes. They were usually so clinical that they did nothing for me. But Balogh’s and Putney’s love scenes were something else. They were more like the love scenes you see in the movies – but racier. At first I was surprised at the amount of detail, but what really surprised me was how beautiful they were. These writers equated love with sex and, for me, there is never anything repugnant in that. Balogh’s Thief of Dreams was a book I found shocking because the hero, true to his era, insists that his wife have sex with him regardless of the problems they are having. But even when the sex was performed without the participants knowing they were in love, the reader always knew it.

In my search to find more books, I found All About Romance with its Desert Isle Keepers and The Romance Reader. That was where I found Laurie’s review of The Devil Earl by Deborah Simmons. The book absolutely captivated me. For one thing it is a wonderful take-off on Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. For another – time stopped as I was reading it. Housework, cooking, gardening, you name it, nothing got done while I was reading The Devil Earl.

By now my family was thinking I was acting just a bit odd. The books were piling up, and even my son Peter noticed that they looked different from my old books. He called them my “passionate love books.” But in truth I was just starting out; I still eschewed anything with a cover with too much “beefcake.”

I read on, discovering Jo Beverley’s wonderful period feeling in The Shattered Rose. I read Adele Ashworth’s My Darling Caroline and felt that I had found what was truly the perfect marriage of convenience story. Karen Ranney’s Upon a Wicked Time jolted me with remembrances of my worst romantic memories before finding my husband. But, I thought, I really should try to read something new. There was this author that all the sites raved about. She wrote something called “futuristics” and her books were really sexy.

Buying Mine To Take, Dara Joy’s delightfully frothy futuristic marked my two-footed jump into romance buying. I’ll admit that it took a lot for me to buy that book. I wanted it. I’d read the reviews. I’d picked it up three or four times. But bringing it up to the counter at Walden Books took a certain amount of courage. If ever there was a cover that shouted sex, it was Mine To Take with its naked bound man. But I did buy it, though I kept it hidden behind the other books in the bookcase. I do remember my husband pulling it out by accident one day and saying, “What on earth are you reading?” Which put me into a fit of giggles.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mine to Take, which is not the sado-masochistic story that the cover seems to promise. No it wasn’t Carla Kelly or Mary Jo Putney but it sure was fun. Dara Joy had a wicked sense of humor. Suddenly I was thinking about reading other books I’d never tried. I read Knight of a Trillion Stars and roared at Joy’s remarks on crocheting granny squares and Rejar, which I liked less well because of the annoying heroine, Lilac.

As I read these books, what I really wanted to do was to talk to somebody about what I was reading. I wanted to rave about Silk and Shadows and Flowers From the Storm. I wanted to ask if anybody else saw Jane Austen in Deborah Simmons and whether I was the only one who found the twelve steps just a little too prominent in Mary Jo Putney’s otherwise excellent The Rake.

The other thing I wanted was the chance to talk with people who were discriminating about what they read. To my friends and family there simply was no difference between reading a book by Carla Kelly and the stacks of Cassie Edwards Indian romances at the grocery store. But where is the fun in that? Some romance is wonderful but, like everything else, some is not. In fact some is so “not,” that it is hysterically funny. Why not admit it?

This of course is what led me to writing reviews and finally this column. I’ve always been one of those people pushing a book, whether it’s David Copperfield, To Kill a Mockingbird, or Flowers from the Storm. These days I seldom mention romance to those not already initiated to the genre.

Those early favorites, read in late 1998 and early 1999, will always be special to me. I read them with the kind of surprise and delight that I hadn’t brought to reading since adolescence. They made my book habit stronger than it was and I now read many more books a month than I used to.

If I don’t read, I start feeling the withdrawal. A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend the Romance Writers Association National Convention here in Washington. I had a wonderful time but after walking out of the conference hotel I felt a little empty. What was wrong? Suddenly I knew. With all the talking and interviewing, I hadn’t had time to read. Though it is fun to meet authors the real magic is in the books. This feeling was soon remedied as I am never caught without a book. I took the subway train home and got so lost in Nicole Jordon’s The Seduction that I almost missed my stop.

Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:

histbut Let’s Talk About Sex – What’s your stance on the “come” conundrum? Have you ever noticed the lack of its use in the romances you read? Do you associate it with pornography or do you find it more exciting than some of the euphemisms we’ve grown accustomed to? Which of the comments made by those readers/authors we’ve mentioned in the column are closest to your own feelings on the subject? histbut The Editing of Love Scenes – Have you ever noticed that particular lines or types of books or certain authors are allowed more or less latitude in describing this or any aspect of lovemaking? Are we in a transition period where what was once taboo is about to “break through?” Finally, what kind of control do you think editors should use?

histbut The Dictionary of Silly Sex – Help us begin our Dictionary of Silly Sex with those pesky euphemisms. We’d like the most frequently used, the ones you like best, the ones you like least, as well as the most outlandish words or phrases you’ve ever read that connote the orgasm. Not only will you be helping us build a new page, but you might win an author-autographed book for your trouble. And, if there is a specific act or body-part that is consistently written about with euphemistic language, let us know!

histbut More on the Big Mis – We plan to continue our discussion, begun last time, about the Big Mis in some subsequent issues of ATBF. Next time, we plan to take an in-depth look at specific books and authors, and to delve into the Big Mis and the Big Secret. If you didn’t get the chance to post on this topic the last time, here’s your chance! And, if you want to post about what was mentioned in this issue of ATBF, feel free.

histbut Our Weekly Reader – Robin’s romance roots came through loud and clear in her kick-off of our newest feature entitled, Weekly Reader. We don’t want you to post about your own romance roots but would encourage you to write them up and email them to me so that you might end up being featured as a Weekly Reader. Not only will you be helping us build this new feature, but you might win an author-autographed book for your trouble.

histbut Friends and Family – Robin talked about how the people around her reacted to her reading romance and the fact that her interest in the genre made very little impression on her friends and family except to make them wonder about her. Beefcake covers made the transition to romance reader a bit embarrassing. Has anything similar ever happened to you? Tell us about it.

histbut Friends and Family – One thing that surprised Robin was the beauty of love scenes that equated love with sex something she hadn’t seen much of in literary fiction. Can you think of some love scenes that surprised you with their beauty and emotion?

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