Coming out of the closet

I’ve taken a lot of heat the last couple of months because I dared to say that the bodice ripper romance was a product of its time and thus needed to be considered for the time in which it was written. Is the forced seduction PC? No, and never was. It was a fantasy, a fantasy that, if the contemporary nonfiction literature at the time is to be believed (both anecdotal and academic), was common. Considering the number of those written and sold, I’d say it was a pretty popular one, all dressed up in period clothing and the mores that clothing represented.

Also lately, around the romance blogs, historical and contemporary romance/erotic romance with bodice-ripper elements have been ridiculed, maybe rightly, maybe not. But in a romance reading public that’s taking to male/male romance and BDSM romance, this abhorrence of the longest-running sexual fantasy in romance is bewildering to me. Women have their fantasies. Some of them involve the forced seduction. Is it PC? Absolutely not. Is it valid? Yes.

Genre romance has always thrived on the power imbalance between the male and female, but this has its caveats, and the caveats make up the majority of the fantasy:

1. The heroine is always clearly superior to any male in her milieu except for the hero, who is the only male strong enough to conquer her.

2. The heroine is always isolated from female companionship for many reasons, one of which is that she is superior to all other females and thus, the object of female derision/jealousy. If there is a female, she takes on a mentor/sister/mother/fairy godmother persona.

3. She’s already attracted to him and he gets her off.

4. The “asshole alpha”’s transformation into acceptable mate material depends on whether his eventual groveling is equivalent to his previous assholishness.

5. He better damn well grovel and do it right.

6. At the end of the book, the reader knows that while the heroine can go on and live without the hero, the hero cannot live without the heroine. He always winds up more dependent on the heroine’s love and presence than she is on his, turning the power imbalance 180 degrees.

7. It’s all about the groveling.

Other than the innumerable authors who write the six Harlequin Presents novels every month, I can’t really name any contemporary romance authors who write the “asshole alpha” except, perhaps Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and boy does she write good groveling, viz. Kiss an Angel, which is one of only five romances on my DIK list (and the only contemporary).

Lately, Anna Campbell and others have come back with the bodice ripper, but again, they write historical and I don’t think it does anybody any good to pretend that some of these characters are a century or two more enlightened than the people around them at the time.

The power imbalances in my own book have been pointed out to me with startling clarity, and I’ve been chewing on this for days, not because I disagree in the case of Knox and Justice (an homage to the Harlequin Presents line of books I cut my teeth on and my best crack at writing an anti-hero), but because I do disagree in the cases of Giselle and Bryce, and Sebastian and Eilis. I’m not going to go into why because that entails spoilers.

What ultimately brings me to write this post, though, is because lately, despite my professed ambivalence (possibly distaste) for paranormal romance and urban fantasy, I’ve been reading a few books (that I liked!) that have led me to a conclusion:

The asshole alpha still lives and breathes, as assholish as he ever was. The bodice ripper hasn’t gone away. The forced seduction hasn’t lost its appeal.

It’s morphed.

Into demons, werebeasts, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. In many, many cases it’s further disguised as the (overused) “one true mate and nature has given us no choice” device.

Only now, because it’s dressed up in con clothes and otherworldly window decoration, it’s perfectly acceptable. Except … some of us don’t care for the window dressing.

I also made a statement a while back that a lot of Mormon authors write our basic tenets and philosophies and beliefs and religious history in science fiction and fantasy, where it’s almost or fully unrecognizable to non Mormons. I said that I thought it was cowardly. I was told by one author that his first instinct was to write science fiction/fantasy and that the incorporation of our doctrine, traditions, and culture was secondary. I believe that—for that author. I don’t believe it across the board.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because suddenly, one person’s fantasy/message is another person’s call to battle?

I don’t write that way. I can’t wrap the bodice ripper up in paranormal and urban fantasy paper and put a shibari bow on it because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the sex probably will. I can’t put a pretty dress on what is, to many readers, an ugly philosophy/belief system in science fiction and fantasy because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the philosophy will.

This is why I like erotica, because, by its very nature and reader expectations, it’s bald. It’s honest. It’s also why I did actually appreciate The Actor and the Housewife for one thing: It put our culture and beliefs and jargon out in the open honestly, naturally, with no apology or preaching.

I want it straight and I write it that way. I call it what it is because that appeals to me, the honesty of it, the setting of human-as-animal in a contemporary world where our baser wants and needs are not only taboo, but ignored as if they don’t exist. And likewise, where our spirituality/religious beliefs offend a whole lot of people, and short shrift is given to the struggle between the natural (human) man and the enlightened (human) one, who attempts to control himself and sometimes simply doesn’t.

I have no issue with control, losing it, struggling with it, conquering the natural man. After all, that’s why we’re here, right? To vanquish the natural man?

But I’m interested in the process.

And the groveling.

I don’t expect a non genre romance reader to get this, so the objections I’ve received have only made me think about the genre, think about why women read romance, the vast subgenres of romance, and why some women despise genre romance altogether.

Whatever universal truths are revealed in fiction, no matter how they’re portrayed, I don’t give a shit about vampires or demons trying to overcome their natures to be moral creatures because vampires and demons don’t exist.

I don’t give a shit about a being (possibly alien) who drives a spaceship for a living (or who has some fantastical adventure) who’s going through some vague spiritual struggle that Mormons can drill down to the most minute nuance, and might kinda look like Mormonism to anybody with a passing familiarity, because I can’t relate to that.

I can relate to asshole people whose feet are planted on earth, who don’t have regular contact with the boogeyman or aliens, who have no magic or fae blood, no superpowers, who strive and fall and fail and lose themselves in their baser natures, who want something better for themselves but may not know how to get it, who make bad choices and know it even while they’re doing it, who depend on other people or a religion or a deity or a philosophy to help “fix” them.

We all need fixed in one way or another, and there is always a power imbalance in a relationship. It shifts and it changes and it morphs and it takes time to level out as much as it’s ever going to. It’s a neverending process, and sometimes it seems like being on a hamster wheel.

How do I know this?

’Cause I’m an asshole and I strive and I fall and I fail and I lose myself in my baser nature, trying, always striving, for enlightenment. And because I need my husband to “fix” me, and I daresay he needs me to “fix” him, too.

And we both have to grovel.

But please, can we stop pretending the forced seduction romance, and the inherent power imbalance the male has over the female is gone? It’s not. It never will be. We like it too much, and, as a fantasy, it’s no less valid than the up-and-coming PC fantasies of male/male romance or BDSM romance in all its incarnations.

It’s just been driven into the closet.

Romance novel notes from 2008

There were the 3 Georgian historicals I liked, but thought were fairly flawed and Almost A Gentleman, the one erotic Georgian I couldn’t finish. I did, however, really enjoy The Bookseller’s Daughter and The Slightest Provocation, so I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt no matter what.

Then there are the ones on the sidebar to the right, some of which are romance.
Under My Skin by Jenny Gilliam, which I liked enough that I only stopped reading when I had to tend to various obligations, like Tax Deductions 1 and 2. And congrats to her for its sale to Amira! (A little late on that congrats, Jenny. Mea culpa.)
Catch Of The Day
by Kristan Higgins, which made me bawl and laugh and cringe in vicarious embarrassment, which was only cute/sweet because it wasn’t happening to me. Also, her Just One Of The Guys, which was good but not as heartwrenching as Catch of the Day. Her first effort, Fools Rush In (which I actually read in 2009, sorry!), I found at a thrift store for a quarter and damme if that wasn’t a bargain! All 3 books are written in first person, though Catch of the Day and Just One of the Guys are in present tense (I like!) and Fools Rush In was in past tense. (I crack myself up.) You must have a box of Kleenex for these books. I remember this author’s name. For me, that’s like saying her books are auto-buy and lo and behold! She’s got a new title, Too Good To Be True. Honestly, I think she’s more what people call “women’s fiction” because she seems to focus more on the heroine’s journey than the romance. Word of warning: Don’t glom this author.

Eva Gale’s short stories “Desperate Measures” and “Scorpion’s Orchid” (post-apoc/steampunk). Loved both, though not crazy about short story format (that’s my own failing); the short form worked better in “Scorpion’s Orchid.” And, oh, you must, must, must, must, MUST go catch Eva’s free reads. “The Seduction of Gabriel Stewart” was wonderful and part of what I want to read, as both a spiritual and sexual woman: a smooth meld of the erotic and the faithful.

Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Natural Born Charmer. Of course I read it straight through, but SEP’s losing her grip on me, I think. Not sure why because she’s got a book on my keeper shelf and in this one, though the heroine was an artist, she wasn’t flighty and she was quick to catch on to what was going on around her, so I was good with that.

Patti Shenberger’s The Captain’s Wench. I’m a sucker for seamen (heh) stories, but this story suffered from some logical fallacies like the fact that the heroine just accepted the strange man in her house was a ghost and bantered with him as if he were an old friend. Like there’s really nothing strange about that situation at all. It was a short story/novella, so it could’ve been a word length requirement problem.

I read The Dragon Earl, which I really enjoyed. The first chapter on the author’s website got me enough that I remembered it when I saw it at Wal-Mart.

Forbidden Shores didn’t impress me. I never felt like any of the characters actually loved each other and that the HEA (happily ever after) was forced.

The following has spoilers. Highlight the blank spaces to read.

51opq4gipvl_ss500_Last but not least, this: A Mermaid’s Kiss by Joey W. Hill. I don’t know what to say about this because I’m conflicted in so many directions, yet it’s stuck with me ever since I read it. I hesitate to do a review on it, but here I am 3 months later, still thinking about it. It’s supposed to be erotic. It’s not. The reasoning for the sex between the hero and heroine is flimsy at best, though I wasn’t any more put off by the more, ah, unusual aspects of it than I was by any of the other sex scenes, none of which were necessary to the story. (The hero and heroine have sex with her in mermaid form and her in pixie form.) I also didn’t like the fact that the heroine had so many configurations (mermaid, pixie, human). The sex just…annoyed me. Why? Because I thought this was a terribly spiritual book with underpinnings of faith (some amalgam of Christianity and goddess mythos) and a keen insight on human behavior. In a lot of ways, its underlying theme reminded me of Dogma, although in a gut-wrenching way and not a satiric way. The sex got in the way of the character development (and worldbuilding) and pulled me out the story every single time. And it wasn’t even good sex.

It took me a while to write this post and 2008 was a busy year, but the ones I forgot must not have made an impact on me.

Book Review: The Duchess et al

The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom & Their Lover: An Erotic Novel
by Victoria Janssen
Published by Spice

The Duchess et alPlease note the title and study the cover a bit. Does that say “romance novel” to you? Me, neither.

And yet, despite the absence of the word “Harlequin” anywhere on the cover, on the copyright page, on the “coming attractions” back matter, apparently, Romancelandia thought this was a romance. I don’t know why, unless Romancelandia simply has no history with pure erotica.

There is a difference between romantic erotica and pure erotica (aka could-be-porn-if-that’s-your-definition) and perhaps Ellora’s Cave has just trained Romancelandia to read “romance” or “romantic erotica” where they see “erotic novel” or “erotica.”

I don’t know how this could have been mistaken for a romance.

Moving along. Jessica, over at Racy Romance Reviews, reviewed this and while her review wasn’t necessarily favorable, it was academic (’cause she R 1) and in no way (I thought) insulting. She also admitted that she didn’t have much experience with whatever “pure” erotica really is.

I wanted to read this book, but balked at paying $11.30 for the ELECTRONIC book, so someone took pity on me and sent it to me, requesting that, if possible, I review it because that person was interested in my opinion (though heaven only knows WHY!).

My opinion is that I can’t finish this book.


The nastiness that went on concerning a liveblogging “review” incident between Dear Author and Smart Bitches (NOT linking). I didn’t read the transcript, so I am not speaking to whether the liveblogging was nasty or not, but the comments on the thread really, really disheartened me. It destroyed any enjoyment I might have gotten out of it and made me want to pick nits where there were no nits to pick.

I read 40% of the book before I simply had to put it down, so I feel very cheated and I’m going to address others’ complaints of the book that apply to what I read and comment on those, then I’ll pick the two very big nits I actually did have.


1. Nobody could figure out the setting, but thought it might be somewhere in 17th-18th Century France.

Okay, first, it’s erotica. Have we established this fact? It doesn’t need a setting. It’s a fairy tale and the descriptions were such that I envisioned a Neuschwanstein-type castle.

As long as the descriptions of the castle let you know these characters were amongst lush, and candles were the major source of light, and the clothes were voluminous and bulky, the exact place and time weren’t important.

2. That the sexual situations were totally ridiculous.

Yeah, they sure were. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that? The “plot” of escaping the abusive-cum-murderous husband is a lot stronger than in most erotica I’ve read, but still more flimsy than that of a romance novel. I suppose if one were reading it as if the plot were the strongest element, I could see how one would be tempted to want to call it “romantic erotica” and be disappointed in the result, but let’s get real: erotica doesn’t need an actual, fleshed-out (heh) plot.

3. That Camille’s reasoning for escaping her abusive-cum-murderous husband RIGHT THEN was flimsy.

Actually, I thought that part was very well set up and the strongest point of the plot. Camille was on the last upswing of the abusive-husband cycle and she knew it. I’ve volunteered at battered women’s shelters. There comes a do-or-die point (literally) for the woman to run and she usually knows when that is. Whether she runs or not…well, that’s up to her.

4. That there just happened to be brothels everywhere along the path they took on their escape route, doubling as inns.

Yeah, there sure were. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?

5. There are eunuchs! In a place we think might be 17th-18th Century France. Eunuchs! What the fuck?

Fuck, indeed and precisely. It’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?


I think Jessica summed it up best when she said this:

In some ways, despite the sexual sadism of the Duke, this book offers a very positive view of sex. Sex is the go-to coping strategy for most of life’s problems: Need an heir? Feeling stressed? Husband trying to kill you? Lonely? Bored? Want to show someone you have power over them? Need a place to stay for free? Want to escape those thugs? Need a favor? Want to convince someone to ally with you? Want to thank someone? The answer is sex, sex, sex, sex, and more sex.

That was its strength and its purpose. Why? Because it’s erotica. Have I mentioned that?

Okay, so now that we’ve got all that out of the way, here was my problem with what I read:


The cover. Come on. It’s gorgeous, absolutely breathtaking all textured and ripe with hot redhead right there in the center of groping hands and a pearl necklace around her neck (make of that what you will).

Except…Camille is described as having black hair with gray streaks.


NIT TWO, which is the genuine weakness of the book:

The sexual logical inconsistencies. “What?!?!” you cry. “You just finished telling us it was erotica and don’t get hung up on the ridiculousness of it. What could you possibly mean?” Not that way, you silly goose.

1. Camille needs an heir or her husband will kill her. Her husband is shooting blanks. She summons the groom to attempt to impregnate her because any child of his could pass for her husband’s. Okay, so far so good. Sounds like a plan. But immediately after finishing with the groom, she is summoned to her husband’s wannabe de Sade dungeon.

[Her husband] had to fuck her at least once, in case she had managed to become pregnant that afternoon.

Okay. We know she doesn’t want to, but we get the timing issue. But then he doesn’t. And not only does she not worry about this, it doesn’t even occur to her that she missed her chance to cover up her possible switcheroo.

2. Camille’s been married to this dude for 20 years and has been exposed (as a spectator and submissive) to every sexual deviance possible because he’s sick and twisted that way. And yet, this night, the relatively mild antics are…different? And now she’s aroused by them? After 20 years of debauchery? Really? Just now? No, I don’t believe it.

a. She has eunuchs who are her bodyguards and, ostensibly, sexual servants. She has an ivory carving (dildo). In 20 years of exposure and being aroused (for the first time!) that night, she finally—FINALLY!—asks her eunuchs to pleasure her? No, I don’t believe it.

b. In 20 years of exposure and forced sexual obeisance, she’s never given head until this night? (That’s the way I read it, anyway.) No, I don’t believe it.

In other circumstances, she might have enjoyed tasting so large a cock, but not in front of the duke.

So…has she or has she not experienced pleasure before? Has she or has she not given head? The implication before this passage is that she had (by force), but at this moment thinks about how delicious it might be if her husband wasn’t watching? Say what? No, I don’t believe it.

c. It’s discussed that she was never unfaithful to her husband—in 20 years!—and just that day with the groom was the first time for seeking her pleasure elsewhere and the first time, in fact, that she’d known pleasure at all. No, I don’t believe it.

d. Once the entourage takes to the road, it’s as if everything is a new experience for her, as in, she never knew X activity existed. She becomes lovers with her maid and the author makes a point of letting us know that she hasn’t had a woman. Really? In 20 years of Duke Debauchery and forced sexual obeisance and his own propensity toward voyeurism and she’s never done a woman? No, I don’t believe it.

I think I would have had a problem with Camille’s contradictory sexual history anyway, but I don’t think it would have made me simply put the book down and not want to pick it up again. The unpleasantness surrounding it combined with that simply destroyed any enjoyment I might have had.

Quite simply, it was a chore to read, which frustrated and disappointed me to no end because it was a book I wanted to read and expected to enjoy.

Since this was given to me, I’d like to pass it along. First person to email me gets it.

The holiday TBR pile

In order:

Waiting for Spring by RJ Keller

Currently reading. Excellent, excellent work.


The Duchess, Her Maid, The Groom, & Their Lover by Victoria Janssen

Started. I wanted to read this book but then saw the ebook price ($11.30! for an ELECTRONIC book!!!), bitched about it, then was offered a copy if I would review it, which I will. I will admit, however, that I find myself reading it through the filter of some blogging unpleasantness elsewhere.


The Hole (Draft) by Aaron Ross Powell

Started. This seems more of a visual novel to me (I’m a visual reader) and I have to have some quiet time to do it. Between the DDJ (damned day job) and the Tax Deductions, finding sufficient quiet time has been difficult.