Back in March, I was playing Scrabulous with Lauren Dane and we got to talking about the letters to the editor in the Romance Writers Report (the magazine of Romance Writers of America) complaining about today’s crop of romance novels and the excessive use of foul language and depictions of sexual intimacy. I wrote a blog letter to the authors voicing those complaints but never posted it. But since Sharon addressed the topic, saying:
What I do not appreciate and what causes much head shaking is when said authors then assert that such books should not be published and that there is no place for them in the romance genre. (…) See I don’t understand it. I understand being offended. I understand voicing an opinion. What I do not understand is the mentality that if it offends you then it must be gotten rid of.
and Larissa weighed in, adding,
I admit, there is some erotic romance I don’t like – in fact, I’d go so far as to say that it kind of bothers me. But you know what? I just don’t read it. And I would never say it shouldn’t be published.
and I’m still pressed for time, I’m resurrecting that letter from my recycle bin.
Dear Authors . . .
. . . who keep writing letters to the editor of the RWR and complaining about the genre’s graphic content (even though I thought we’d all moved beyond that by now),
Did you know that I sold my first book in 1993 and was asked then to cut a scene my editor found too graphic? 1993. Fifteen years ago.
Amazing, isn’t it, that what is found in books today is what some of us wanted to read and write all those years ago but were unable to find on the shelves or get past an editor’s eagle eye? How times have changed.
Did you know that before I began writing, I was a voracious reader who sought out the hottest and sexiest contemporary category romances? At the time, those were written by Elizabeth Lowell and Linda Howard and Sandra Brown.
Do you have any idea how thrilled I was around 1996 or so to find Black Lace and Portia Da Costa? Emma Holly? All the other authors writing for the Virgin Books imprint? Yes, this was 12 years ago, long before the graphic sexual content that is bothering you today.
These authors took the emotional content of the previous books I’d loved and added the sexual fulfillment I’d been wanting as a reader. I was thrilled. Finally, what I’d been wanting for years was here.
I got to follow these relationships from the beginning to the end without being left outside the bedroom door, seeing instead the moments where human beings are often the most vulnerable, where relationships grow in ways that happen nowhere else.
Of course there are readers who don’t want to be voyeuristic participants in the most intimate acts of their characters, but there are just as many who do, who require it, in fact, to keep from feeling short-changed and cheated.
These readers don’t want to be told what has happened after the fact. They want to be shown the action as it occurs. They don’t want to be told about the emotional development. They want to read the dialogue, the thoughts, the acts that brings it about.
Did you know that no reader is ever forced to pick up a sexually graphic book? Or to read an author who writes with frank language, using what you may find to be excessive epithets? That they can put down a book that offends them? Even return it to the store?
Did you know the variety of work out there on the shelves means there is something to satisfy the tastes of every reader?
Did you know that it confuses me to see a published author trying to stifle her peers who are meeting their readers’ desires, nay, demands?
Why would you do that? Why, instead, wouldn’t you embrace the variety instead of condemning what doesn’t fit your personal taste? It’s not as if you’re losing readers to these other authors.
Readers who want what these other authors offer wouldn’t be satisfied with what you write – just as readers who adore what you write wouldn’t want anything to do with the work of these other authors.
And isn’t that wonderful? That we can all get what we want from the genre? That the spectrum of sensuality and language is so broad, the offerings so diverse – just as we are as readers and as writers?
Aren’t you glad that I don’t rain on your parade by calling your books dull and lifeless because they don’t explore the emotion in your characters’ most intimate physical moments the way I want an author to do in the books I choose to read?
Did you know that many of my stories’ turning points and vital plot revelations happen during love scenes? That the sex I write plays an intrinsic role in the storytelling process?
I’ll bet you didn’t know that, did you, since you’ve condemned all graphic writing with one stroke, and would never have been so judgmental if you were aware.
All I’m asking is for you to afford me the same creative respect I afford you. Don’t put down my joy in my work and my efforts because my books don’t meet your needs.
It’s a two-way street, respect. Allow me to drive frankly and graphically, just as I allow you to drive at the softer, sweeter speed that suits you.
Best regards and much writing success!