At the Back Fence #96, fka Laurie’s News & ViewsDabney2017-06-23T08:29:39-04:00
Laurie’s News & Views Issue #96
(June 1, 2000)
Links from this column are “jump links” and will open up new windows in your browser.
“He plucked pert, woolen-covered nipples into prompt obedience.” —Corbin’s Fancy, Linda Lael Miller
Ouch! (by Laurie Likes Books):
Oh, those wacky Corbin boys! Linda Lael Miller came to prominence in the mid-1980’s with the Corbin family quartet – we’ve even got it listed on our Family Series list. So when I ran across the books at the library and UBS, I decided to give them a try. I’d read LLM before, both in hardcover and paperback. Her most recent releases have been far tamer than the books she used to write. Comparing her recent The Women of Primrose Creek: Bridget to those older books (I’m speaking of her historicals and time travels), her writing has gotten better. Apparently when all those love scenes are removed, there’s a need to write an actual story. Because, you see, those Corbin books are so filled with plucked nipples that I felt like covering my own with Band-Aids after reading them.
I was going to read the entire quartet before commenting on it, but after the third book, I realized I was beat. I could no longer read these books wherein the couples fell in love immediately yet fought incessantly while surrounded by explosions, leprosy, stabbings, shooting, etc. We’ve all read romances where the couples fight constantly, but usually by the time they’ve each realized they love one another, things calm down. Not so with these books – both hero and heroine fall in lustful love immediately, and when they’re not boinking like bunnies, they’re fighting like mad. Maturity is not a hallmark among this clan.
In the midst of reading this series, I picked up Miss Drayton’s Downfall, a 1994 Regency Romance by Patricia Oliver. The similarities and differences between Oliver’s book and those LLM’s were striking. Both feature couples who argue throughout the book. While LLM’s Corbin boys are making love throughout her books, Oliver’s share no more than a few heated kisses. Then I read Oliver’s Double Deception, which is better than Miss Drayton’s Downfall. Double Deception is quite tame, and yet the libidinous thoughts racing through the brains of the hero and heroine were extremely erotic. The chemistry and sexual tension in these chaste Regency Romances was far stronger and better than that of the in-your-face Corbin books.
What am I missing here? LLM’s Princess Annie is a romance I remember fondly, but if I read it again today, would I find it as unappealing as I found the Corbin books? Until recently, Miller’s style was so sexual that her characters practically came to orgasm from a heated look or baited breath. Yes, I think her new books, while still not all that good, are filled with better writing than her older ones, and the toned down love scenes are more erotic than in those earlier books with page after page of plucking and suckling. There is so much nipple action going on that in Corbin’s Fancy, the hero at one point must soothe the heroine’s disobedient little nubbins of love with Bag Balm. While I was reading, I wondered what happened when nipples were disobedient. Would my own husband shout, “Bad, bad, nipple!”?
Before I read any of these books, though, I read four others that I want to mention – three are by author Teresa Southwick and the fourth is by newcomer Carly Phillips. I’ve long had a hankering for Arranged Marriages, and Southwick’s Winter Bride is one of my favorite Mail Order Bride romances. So when I came across Blackstone’s Bride at the UBS, I couldn’t wait to read it. As with Winter Bride, it’s a Western Historical. It featured a marriage of convenience and I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it so much that when I noticed Southwick was writing for Silhouette Romance, I snapped up two of her year-2000 titles – And Then He Kissed Me and With a Little T.L.C.. What a disaster!
Southwick’s historicals were not all that sexual – I’d rate them as no more than Warm. The stories were interesting, the characters equally so, and though not the best of the genre, both were in the B range for me. When I read her two Silhouette Romance titles, I couldn’t believe the difference in writing. Obviously a romance that features only kissing can be effective, but in these two books, I felt as though I was reading Young Adult fiction rather than fiction meant for grown-ups. In each of these stories, there were no more than one or two kisses before marriage was proposed. How can two people today know that they are compatible if they’ve only kissed twice in their lives?
It’s not a question of wanting to read more love scenes in these books – I’ve read many romances with no more than a couple of kisses. But in those other books, I knew there was a closed door and something going on behind it. Who could believe in this day and age that people would marry without experiencing more than this?
Contrasting these two Silhouette Romances was Carly Phillips’ Simply Sinful for Harlequin’s Temptation Blaze series. I’ve read a number of Blaze titles in the past few years, and never particularly cared for any of them – they seemed to feature love scenes with a little plot thrown in as filler. Phillips’ book, on the other hand, had an actual story, and characters I came to care about.
Before I ever read romance, I assumed the series titles were for little old spinster ladies who would blush at more than kissing. The first one I actually read, however, Patty Salier’s horrendously bad The Sex Test, put me off trying series romance for two years. Salier’s over-the-top sexuality showed me that these books were not for little old ladies, but were just poorly written. Of course, then I read a Nora Roberts MacGregor title, and realized I had been mistaken. Yes – there are some great series titles out there, but at the far ends of the spectrum with the extremely tame and fairly explicit lines, what is the reader getting? And, how does a reader unfamiliar with the various lines, know what constraints are placed on books in each of the lines (Blaze titles aside)?
What is the point I’m trying to make in this discussion of love scenes? Have I contradicted myself throughout this rant? When Robin and I, independent of one another, decided this issue would be a good time to talk about love scenes in romance, I told her we’d probably start menstruating at the same time soon. Because while she was emailing me to ask the question someone posed on one of our message boards – Which writers are good enough that you could delete the sex from their books and the books would stand on their own? – I was emailing to her this parodox about all the books listed above.
Which writers are good enough that you could delete the sex from their books and the books would stand on their own? When I read a book and don’t worry about what was there that shouldn’t have, or what wasn’t there that should have, that’s a good book in my mind. Love scenes should be integral enough to the story that if they were removed, I’d miss something. The Corbin books I read are the type of book that if you removed the love scenes, there wouldn’t be enough left to tell a story. The chaste Southwick books I read are the type of book that I’d give to my daughter when she’s a pre-teen. In my mind, they were not adult books, but YA books written with older characters.
The question of sexuality in romance is one we’ve discussed many, many times before, but every time it comes up, it’s by looking at the issue differently. Author Adele Ashworth approaches the issue from her own perspective, as does my co-columnist Robin Nixon Uncapher. Enjoy!
(June 12, 2000: Author Stephanie Bond answers some of these questions in her Write Byte for us, Pushing the Envelope.)
Satisfaction Every Woman Wants
Why we Really Read Romance?
I’m always amazed by the idiots who assume we lovers of romance novels only read them to get our sexual jollies. Yes, I feel I can call them idiots, because the dictionary describes an idiot as “an utterly foolish or senseless person.” I don’t for a minute believe those who trash this particular genre are senseless, but I do think they are, for the most part, utterly foolish. The word foolish could apply to those who denounce another person’s preferred reading material without studying it critically themselves. Probably every single one of us has come across somebody who has never read a romance novel, sees our book selection, its clinch cover perhaps, and has been rude or ignorant enough to vocally express disapproval of the “trash” we read. That’s foolish.
Why, then, do millions of us read romance if not simply to get sexual satisfaction from a total fantasy as lots of non-readers assume? What is it that draws so many of us into a love story? Why do so many of us enjoy sexually explicit romances when we know it’s not the sex that draws us in? Bestselling author Jennifer Crusie, in her excellent, fascinating essay, Let Us Now Praise Scribbling Women, argues, “romance fiction … makes the greatest promise of all. It says that if you truly open yourself to other people, if you do the hardest thing of all which is to make yourself vulnerable and reach out for love and connection and everything that makes life as a human being worth living, you will be rewarded; it promises, in short, an emotionally just universe.” (I highly recommend this essay, and have actually sent the url to several romance novel skeptics in my own family and circle of friends to read.
I agree with Ms. Crusie’s statement wholeheartedly. I think most romance readers acknowledge that the one thing they desire from every book is that it fulfills them emotionally in the end. The “best” books, therefore, are arguably those where the heroine not only triumphs in love, but where the goodness and beauty between the hero and heroine are eloquently expressed so that their fictional emotions of heartache, devotion, and ultimate love are somehow lifted from the pages and transferred into the mind and heart of the reader. Not only do romance readers want a happy ending, they want the story they’re reading to touch the soul, to – as Ms. Crusie submits – prove to them that there is an emotionally just universe.
If we agree that most people read romantic fiction to escape into the emotional journey of the hero and heroine, the question then arises: Is this the reason so many romance readers, myself included, love to read explicit love scenes? Certainly readers don’t need to escape into a book to find sexual fulfillment, and love scenes aren’t needed for the reader to be emotionally fulfilled, either. Why, then, do readers so enjoy seeing what goes on behind the bedroom door, when we all certainly know what does? It isn’t simply the desire (no pun intended) to read erotic happenings, to get sexually excited, or to use the books- as the term has been pushed around- as masturbation manuals. Erotica can serve this purpose, but for the romance genre in and of itself, these answers are far too simple and, frankly, too crude to explain the need. I think it goes much deeper, in fact, into that center place within each of us that touches the soul and proves to us that even inside the most primal act of human nature, there the romance reader can also find emotional justice.
I do think it’s true that some authors are better than others at conveying this emotional content in sexually explicit love scenes, managing it in such a way that it totally satisfies the reader on an emotional level. There are basically three distinct elements (and perhaps lots of others I haven’t mentioned here) that an author uses to capture the imagination and take the reader on an emotional roller coaster, and it all starts with realism.
How many of you have read love scenes so completely unbelievable that you’ve been jerked out of the story and into a fit of laughter? This, of course has nothing to do with where lovemaking occurs; I’ve read some pretty good, emotional stuff that took place on kitchen counters or in the front seat of a car. But it does have everything to do with reality. In other words, how realistic is it that a virgin will experience little or no pain but endless hours of orgasmic bliss? Did you the first time? Or how about the hero who can sustain not only desire, but an erection for hours, thinking of nothing else but making passionate love to the heroine? How many men do you know who, even after a minor abstention, want more and more sex instead of a nap or a sandwich? Two or three times in one encounter might be flattering for a woman, but more than that is Herculean for him and would certainly make you sore. It’s entirely true that not only do we read romance novels to escape, we also read them to fall in love with the amazing, wonderful, man/hero. But when we’re pulled out of the story by an unrealistic love scene, we lose the emotion, plain and simply. The best love scenes are those that are reality-based.
One very funny example of this is Julie Garwood’s The Gift, which contains a wonderful deflowering episode. In that book the virgin bride is in such pain that she asks the hero to stop. The dialogue that ensues is both touching and hilarious. The bride tells her groom repeatedly that making love would have been fine except that he insisted on moving. The next day she continues to pester him asking him if he intends “to move.”
There is a similar occurrence in my own book Stolen Charms, though this scene isn’t a humorous one. When the hero and heroine, Natalie and Jonathan, make love for the first time, she is in a great deal of physical pain during the initial joining. As Jonathan attempts to ease her fears verbally, she responds by telling him she still wants him, encouraging him on. When again she winces in discomfort, he replies, “You move. Move any way it feels good for you.” Thus, their lovemaking, while in the “missionary position” and standard in nature, is unique to them, and realistic for not only a couples’ first time, but a virgin’s.
A second common element is the use of good dialogue. Of course dialogue isn’t necessary to convey emotion in a love scene, but in the longer scenes it adds realism, communicates feelings, good or bad, adds humor, contention, awkwardness, unsureness, and confusion between the hero and heroine. This shows not just bliss and satisfaction, but a uniting of souls, and a coming together of two unique individuals with all their differing hopes, dreams, and worries. Those kinds of emotions matter, too, and romance readers learn so much from and about characters who express their thoughts verbally while making love.
In Laura Kinsale’s Flower’s From the Storm, the heroine is a Quaker who intends to get her marriage annulled on the grounds that it wasn’t consummated. When she finally gives in to the hero we know that her dream of returning to the Society of Friends is now dead, as the hero is not a Quaker. The most moving moment of the love scene is not the consummation but the hero’s heartbreaking words as he finishes. “Maddie, I will make you glad.”
Another wonderful example is this one, from Michelle Jerott’s All Night Long where dialogue works beautifully in complete contrast to the narrative and inner feelings of the characters.
“Man, you’re something, Annie. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun.” He moved his hips against hers, breathing fast. “Wanna wrassle, wild woman?”
Annie grinned up at Rik.
“Well? What do you say?” he asked, nibbling on her lips. I love you.
Briefly, she closed her eyes, holding back the sudden burn of tears. “Only if I can be on top.”
“You’re always on top.” The farmer takes a wife…
How could she want to laugh and cry like this?
Again, he moved too fast for her to escape. As she climbed onto the mattress, stripped of its sheets and blanket, Rik snagged her ankle and pulled her toward him. Facedown on the bed, she had no chance to move before he covered her body with his. Annie gasped at the shock of his entry–sudden, hard, and deep–but as he moved within her pleasure spread, aching and demanding, and she arched back against him, wanting more.
“Gotcha,” he whispered raggedly as he thrust into her from behind, sweetly thick and unrelenting. “And I think I’ll keep you. For a little…while yet.”
“Rik, no,” she moaned.
“Yes.” A deeper thrust, sending shocks of pleasure shimmering through her body. “God, yes, Annie!”
The third, and probably the most important element, is the inclusion of romance itself. How many times have we all read a love scene that, although believable on a physical level, contained absolutely no romance whatsoever? I’d venture to admit too many of these have been published. That’s not to say that a love scene one reader finds totally lacking in romance, another reader cherishes for its emotional content. To every reader her own. But it’s true that the best love scenes that carry the most emotional depth, are those that contain high elements of romance. The interesting thing here, I think, is that it’s not the “beauty” of the words that make the love scene wonderful, although that can be part of it. Beautiful words and phrases can sometimes make romance what it is, but they can also be cumbersome and purple. Some of the best romance writers are explicit in their prose, and yet through all this explicit, graphic language, emotion is intensely conveyed. In other words, what the hero and heroine are seeing and doing physically is not what makes a love scene romantic, but what they’re thinking, feeling, and saying to each other at the time.
In Jo Leigh’s Harlequin Temptation, Hot and Bothered, the hero and heroine are friends for years before they become intimate at the heroine’s insistence. When they finally make it to the bedroom, she has misgivings in fear of ruining their friendship. Here’s what the hero says:
“You are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” he whispered. “Not just because your face was made by angels, but because you make me feel so damn good. You make me laugh and you make me think. I’m more generous when I’m around you, and you’ve taught me not to take everything so damn seriously. But mostly, I think you’re beautiful because you have the kindest heart in the world. … I think making love to you would be as close to heaven as a man can get. But I also know that I’d rather cut off my own arm than do anything that would make you uncomfortable.”
Or this, from my upcoming Winter Garden:
She let the bodice hang forward, exposing her sheer silk chemise that clung to her breasts. Then her beautiful white gown dropped to the brown rug at her feet in a swirling heap, and she stood before him in the sheerest of stockings, shoes, petticoats and her tightly waisted, white corset.
“Oh, God,” he heard himself whisper, throat suddenly dry and painfully clenched, his hands at her shoulders, thumbs stroking the curves at her neck.
“It has been a long time, hasn’t it, Thomas?” she remarked with an amazed little grin of enjoyment. “You’re shaking.”
“It’s-” He swallowed harshly, and tried again. “It’s more than that. You don’t know what seeing you like this does to me, what making love to you means to me.”
“I know what it means to me.” She reached up to free the pins in her hair, dropping each one on the mantelpiece. “I want you to enjoy this night slowly, Thomas, remembering every second of the passion. I will give you everything you want.”
He paused, his fervid gaze melding with hers, then whispered, “All I want is you, Madeleine. All I’ve ever wanted is you.”
He noticed the subtle change in her expression as he said the words, her eyes filling with a confusion of thought so obvious it drove deeply into him, connecting to his soul, thrusting into it, slicing it open for exposure to her intense probing of his desire. I love you, Madeleine. Do you know that yet? Can you feel it?
Finally, let me also express here, that as an author of sexually explicit romances, I write these not because they tend to arouse and I want readers to get their jollies, or because an editor has required it (mine never have), or because sex sells, which I think is insulting to writers and readers of the genre alike. I write them because the love scenes flow naturally from a growing, loving relationship and, in my opinion, should be included in my stories for the reader’s emotional satisfaction. In the end, my goal is not to make the reader want to devour the sexual content of the book, but to sigh from the emotional, uplifting journey the characters make and that she has experienced along with them. And the journey, with all its bumps and twists, inside of bed and out of it, is what I think readers ultimately want from a romance novel.
Peeking Behind the Closed Door (by Robin Nixon Uncapher):
“Which writers are good enough that you could delete the sex from their books and the books would stand on their own?”
This question, posed on one of our message boards, took me by surprise but I understand the reason why it was asked. Sex in romance novels is often viewed as icing on the cake and not really central to the story. I’m going to be contrary here and, no doubt get a few people riled up. To me, sex, when it is effective in a romance novel, is central to the story. In fact, if you can delete a sex scene, from any romance novel, then the sex had no business being there in the first place. (Quite often this is the case.) In well written books, sex scenes and love scenes aren’t “icing on the cake,” They tell you part of the story that needs to be told. Yes, the writer could probably get away with deleting some of the details, but if the she did this, you would be reading a different story.
Now, I read all kinds of romance novels, sweet and sensuous. Like everybody else I look forward to the love scenes. Hey, I look forward to the love scenes in Victorian novels! It’s not what happens physically that makes them so satisfying. Love scenes are the “payoff,” the evidence that the emotion flying between the couple is real. Jane Austen put some of her love scenes into letters from heroes. They are as wonderful as love scenes where a couple make love. But they were in stories where physical lovemaking would have been out of place.
So what makes for an exciting love scene? Is it the sex, the emotion or the chemistry between the hero and the heroine? Why is the kissing in one book more exciting than a graphic scene in another? Why is one very graphic book romantic and exciting, while another is dull?
To me, the answer lies in whether the love scenes are part of the story, or if they are just something that the hero and heroine do to pass time.
In my favorite romance novels, the love scenes push the story along. Sometimes a scene does more than this. It reveals something so central to the tale, that it takes the romance into a different direction. Remember the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennett?
“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”
Wow. What a man. As this scene proceeds the reader learns that stiff, proud Mr. Darcy, is madly, passionately in love. But we also learn that the man could use a course in the art of persuasion. Mr. Darcy doesn’t understand the difference between honesty and tactlessness. In the midst of declaring himself he ends up in an argument in which he says:
Could you expect me to rejoice in the inferiority of your connections? To congratulate myself on the hope of relations, whose condition in life is so decidedly beneath my own?”
Dumb Mr. Darcy! Very, very dumb! But, believe it or not this is a love scene and one that serves the same purpose as one where the hero, on concluding physical lovemaking, says something along the lines of “I dislike you but I’m obsessed with your body. Want to get married?”
Since first discovering them I have been especially aware of the role that love and sex scenes play in Mary Balogh’s stories, especially her traditional Regency Romances. The Notorious Rake is a good example. The book begins with a couple, who barely know each other, caught in a rainstorm at a party, Mary, the heroine has a phobia about storms and when the thunder and lightening begin, she loses control of herself. Mary, and Edmund the hero, end-up making love, which is surprising enough. But, what makes the book even more shocking, is that later on Mary goes to Edmund’s house and has sex with him again. What Edmund doesn’t understand is that this action is completely out of character for Mary. Mary is stunned by her own behavior and is determined not to repeat it. Although he doesn’t really like her, Edmund becomes sexually obsessed with Mary, desperate to have her again. Because he is desperate, Edmond is forced to learn about Mary the person, which leads to the falling in love.
The sex in The Notorious Rake is essential to the telling of the story because, if she had not had sex with Edmond, Mary would not even have spoken to this seemingly worthless man. When she has sex, Mary discovers a frightening side to herself. We understand this because we have witnessed the act. Edmond feels he has discovered the real Mary. She is the only lover he has had who has seemed to genuinely enjoy sex. Memories of the sexual encounter dominate The Notorious Rake. Technically the writer could have “closed the door,” but doing that would have resulted in a different story.
The sex in Mary Balogh’s A Precious Jewel is similarly crutial. The book opens with a sex scene that is neither deeply erotic nor romantic. It describes the hero, Gerald’s meeting with the heroine, Pris, a prostitute in one of London’s better brothels. Pris is fairly new to the business and has rationalized what she must do to survive by telling herself that she is there to give her clients “pleasure.” Gerald, who seems to be a deeply suspicious and insecure man, tells her that “he doesn’t like tricks.” Here is the description of the act itself:
“It shall be exactly as you wish sir,” she said. “I am here to give you pleasure.”
He pushed himself inside her, and she raised her knees to hug his hips.
And she was as good as her word. Blessedly, during all the minutes that followed, she kept herself very still, though she was relaxed warm and yielding, very softly feminine. There were no tricks, either with her hands or hips or inner muscles. She allowed him to satisfy his appetite in the way he most liked to do.
This scene is on page eight. When it ends we know a great deal about the hero, Gerald and his problems (sexual and otherwise) as well as Pris’s sweet giving nature. Later in the book, Gerald and Pris fall in love and the contrast in their lovemaking, is marked. When Gerald tries to rein in his feelings and insists that Pris return to the kind of lover that she was in the brothel, the effect is devastating, not only for Pris, but for the reader. It’s the kind of scene that simply would not have the same impact without our observation of the two players.
I wanted to test this idea that sex and or/lovemaking push the story along, so I asked Mary Balogh how she decided where to place the love scenes in her books. Here is her response:
The sex/love scenes come wherever they are needed in a book. There is no rule. Sometimes there is a sex scene right at the start of a book. Usually – as in A Precious Jewel and The Notorious Rake – this scene will show what is wrong with a relationship (one would hardly start with a full, happily-ever-after love relationship, after all). I always make a huge distinction between sex without love and sex with. Sex can make a couple aware of each other. It can lead to love. It can cause all sorts of complications and heartache and conflict. But it is never love in or of itself. It can be a perfect expression of love, but love is hoards of other things besides sex. By the end of my books, a couple will have everything a love relationship should have–for example, maturity, wholeness, total commitment, and of course good sex.
I then asked Mary, “What do you think gives a book a lot of sexual tension and what are your own favorites in this area?” She responded:
“I can tell you what does not give a book sexual tension for me. It is the type of book in which there is a lot of sex, a lot of smoldering glances and thoughts, a lot of electricity whenever two characters so much as touch – and yet no depth to justify these things. I get very impatient with this type of writing. It is not realistic. And it is a cop-out. It is so easy to do in contrast with real sexual tension. I like to dig very deep into character – with both the hero and the heroine. If they hate each other, they are not going to sizzle every time they touch or feel the urge to jump into bed every time they set eyes on each other. They hate each other! This would apply to Edmond and Mary in The Notorious Rake. Edmond at first has merely lascivious feelings about Mary. She is repelled by her initial attraction to him. Love grows very slowly – and very unwillingly. As it builds, I hope the reader can feel the tension between these two, who are obviously attracted but who are not given silly, simplistic reactions to each other.I think the key here is honesty. I try to give my stories the test of real life. Would this really happen? Would these characters really do this, say this, feel this? If the book is a romance, the sexual tension will come of itself as the hero and heroine work through all the conflicts of the story to the point at which they can commit to each other. It does not have to be forced. So many romance writers force it because they seem to feel that the reader needs to be reminded that this is a sexy love story. But just tacking it on for effect is not going to do it – not for me anyway. Dig deep! Be real! A favorite in this area? Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Pamela Morsi.”
I’m sure that we have all read the kind of sex saturated books to which Mary is referring. Not long ago I reviewed Katherine Woodiwiss’s A Season Beyond a Kiss. The book had many, many problems, but one of them was: too many sex scenes that did nothing for the story. In fact, the book opens with the consummation of the marriage of the hero and heroine. But the scene is not interesting, or even sexy. There is a lot of physical description but very little that explains the dynamics of the relationship. Later, when love scene is piled upon love scene, I found myself grimly plowing through, telling myself how virtuous I was to be finishing this book for review.
Whenever I hear someone say that the romance novels are bad books that “would not hold up except for the sex,” I laugh. Hey, the bad books aren’t holding up with the sex! A writer may try to substitute sex for plot but it doesn’t work.
Many of the historicals I read have two long love scenes. One comes either at the halfway point or the two-thirds point in the story. Usually the hero and heroine are overcome by passion and decide to make love even though they have not solved their problems.
I recently read and reviewed a very good book A Promise Given, by new author Anita Wall. The hero, Leon, is a Basque sheepherder who has promised himself to a Basque woman whom he has never met. When Leon meets heroine Jeanne O’Shea, he is aware of his attraction but fights it because he is engaged. He tells Jeanne that he loves her and that he is also promised to another woman. The two struggle with the problem and finally give into their feelings by making love.
After the love scene, the dynamics in the relationship change. (Remind me to tell my daughter about this phenomenon.) Although it is not stated it is obvious that Jeanne, being a woman, cannot imagine that Leon would not change his mind. Leon, being a man is sorry but feels that nothing has changed.
The result is heartbreaking. Jeanne feels that because Leon was honest with her from the start she has no right to complain. I think that one of the reasons that the reader can identify with this feeling is because the love making has been witnessed. When the reader is present in the bed and sees the sex happening she understands why Jeanne is angry, torn and betrayed in spite of herself. If author Anita Wall had chosen to close the door, I don’t think that the story would have been as heartbreaking as it was.
But being in the bedroom is not necessary when what the story needs is spice. Lovemaking is like a big stick. Sometimes its overkill and that may be why some books seem to be overloaded. There is really no need for a sex or even kissing to show attraction. In fact, love scenes, in and of themselves, seldom serve that purpose. To me, it is far more romantic and sexy to get inside the hero or heroine’s head and see the beloved one through the eyes of his or her admirer.
Carla Kelly’s books do that and I think one reason is that her heroes think such delightfully randy thoughts when they are contemplating the heroine. Here is an example from Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, a novel about the widow of a minister who is forced into a marriage of convenience with a divorced veteran:
She nodded and moved along slowly at his side. “Very well, my lord. I will be finishing the sitting room at the dower house now, and if there is anything you wish done here, I am at your disposal.
How I wish you were, he thought. I would take you upstairs and we wouldn’t come down until spring.
Or this from the recent Christmas story An Object of Charity (A Regency Christmas Present, 1999):
May I take your cloak, he asked, not so much remembering his manners with women, because he had none, but eager to see what shape she possessed. I have been too long at sea, he thought, mildly amused at himself.
On an earthier note, in Trish Jensen’s recent Against His Will the hero becomes mesmerized by the heroine’s T-shirt, which features two guinea pigs.
The guinea pigs looked wildly happy. As well they should considering which parts of her anatomy they were covering.
Are there any times when I wish there were more love or sex scenes in a book? Well, of course it is always a good strategy to leave the reader wanting more, so I can’t really blame the writers who do, but, yes, on rare occasions I have found myself wishing that a writer had put more love scenes into a book.
Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly is a book that I absolutely adore. The love scenes are very short and very hot. One thing that the love scenes reveal is that the hero is attempting to bind the heroine to him with sexual frustration. Oh my. This was really amazing to see and I wanted to see more than the taste I got
For me to long for more love scenes is unusual though. For the most part what I long for is not more physical lovemaking but more talking about the relationship and the feelings between the hero and the heroine. I want the hero to grovel more. I want the heroine to cry and explain why the hero is breaking her heart.
No question about it, just as sex changes the dynamics of a relationship, it changes the dynamics of a love story. Seeing the sex makes us aware of the nuances of what is going on between the couple. Women tend to be more aware of these nuances than men. Sex makes a woman more vulnerable and involved than she would have been without it. When a book is well written, female readers observing a heroine having sex feel this vulnerability, in a way that they do not when the door closes. If Jane Eyre had given in to Mr. Rochester and become his mistress it would have changed her, even if they had eventually married. If they had made love and we, the readers had been left in the hallway we would have missed an important part of the story. Jane Eyre knew that sleeping with Mr. Rochester was a big deal that would change her in a fundamental way. She knew it and so do we.
Time to Post to the Message Board:
Here are some specific questions to think and post about:
Plucked, Puckered, and Suckled – Let’s compare and contrast romances featuring explicit sexuality with those that are not explicit. Are you a “the hotter, the better” type of reader, choosing to read romances only if guaranteed a certain level of spice? Are you, on the other end of the spectrum, looking solely for subtle sensuality? Or, are you somewhere in the middle? And, which romances have you read where you craved additional or more explicit love scenes?
Hot, Hot, Hot – For those who always or often read romances featuring explicit sexuality, what books and which authors do you enjoy who go the furthest? What is it about these books/authors that speaks to you? Have you ever loved a book solely because it had great love scenes? Don’t be embarrassed, because we have too! Please consider this question: Can sex disguise a bad book or make its flaws less obvious? Finally, can you think of a really great book where the love scenes could have been cut, or could have been less detailed and the result would have been the same quality book?
The Emotional Content of Love Scenes – Adele Ashworth’s segment quite powerfully explores the emotional content of good love scenes. You can provide scenes yourself, or you can simply talk in general about how reading an explicit love scene contributes to your emotional satisfaction with a story. Feel free to talk about the importance of humor and/or pathos in some love scenes as well.
Reality – Adele says that the best love scenes have some basis in reality. Can you think of some love scenes that are reality based? What works for you in such scenes? What doesn’t work?
Thoughts and Feelings – Adele also says that “what the hero and heroine are seeing and doing physically is not what makes a love scene romantic, but what they’re thinking, feeling, and saying to each other at the time.” Which writers focus more on the thoughts of the hero and heroine than on the physical? Which writers seem to focus more on the physical? Which focus do you find more satisfying? And, how do some of your favorite writers show the attraction between hero and heroine?
What about dialogue? Do you have any favorite lines that show the attraction between hero and heroine? Do you like conversation during love scenes? Are there any books that you can think of where the words expressed by the hero and heroine were particularly memorable? What were they? Let’s hear them!
Superfluous Sex – One of our readers asked, “Which writers are good enough that you could delete the sex from their books and the books would stand on their own?” – How do you answer this reader’s question? To think about it in a different way, have you read romances in which lovemaking is used as something the lovers do “to pass the time?”
Sex as an Event – Mary Balogh is a writer who makes lovemaking an indispensable event that takes the story in a new direction. What books and authors do you find are able to do this?
Big Deal – Robin believes sex in stories, as in real life, is a “big deal.” What do you think? If sex is referred to but never explained, do we miss part of the story? Do women change with the introduction of sex into a relationship? How? Do you find that change is part of the stories that you read?
In conjunction with Adele Ashworth
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board