Friday, 6 August 2010

Tough Love

I want to riff off a post of Danielle's today - not just because he paid me a huge compliment, but because it really got me thinking. Danielle was talking about his fear of romance (fictional and otherwise) and one of the things he said - Danielle's blogging style always makes me feel like I've walked into a cloud of butterflies! - was:

i recognise the things what others think is romantic..but i m not always sure what people conect to the word...for me romantic is going and hunt a huge animal and lay it in front of my sweethearts door..there..look..i killed it just for you..its still warm!

And anyway, my personal reaction to that thing that epitomises romance for him is that it's something that I wouldn't find remotely romantic. (Not just because I'm a vegetarian!) I've never really got the gift-giving and receiving part of romance, which I know most people do get. I mean, I like gifts as much as the next person, but even a hugely expensive pressie like a diamond doesn't strike me as more romantic than a kiss. Hey, I'm a cheap date.

Nor am I impressed by carefully arranged surprise trysts in perfect locations with violinists hiding around the corner ready to spring out as he suddenly drops to his knees to propose. (Public marriage proposals on TV actually strike me as uber-manipulative and creepy.) The Big Gesture does not touch my heart.

Yet I do write erotic romance. And what defines that romance for me?


It's a theme that runs through practically every erotic romance story I write: true love is characterised by a willingness to suffer and die for the beloved. Blame my Christian upbringing, I guess. If you're someone in one of my straight erotica stories, it might be a bit scary but you can be usually be guaranteed to have a fine old time. But, oh boy, you don't want to be a lead in my romantic fiction, because there you will be in for a whole world of pain.

My very first romantic story, White as any Milk: Black as any Silk features a wizard who falls for a hostile witch, and she puts him through hell:
Then the wave recedes at last, with a terrible hissing undertow that threatens to drag me into utter blackness. I am left broken in its wake. I can't see. My eyes are full of blood.

In Divine Torment Veraine gets captured, tied up, kicked in the nuts, bitten, threatened with castration and torture, left to die of thirst on a clifftop. Oh, and he loses his job ...
In Burning Bright Veraine is smashed over the head so hard it induces months of hallucinations, put through a horrible fever, starved, assaulted by ghosts, captured and tied up, raped (but only in the first draft before it got censored...) then made to fight for his life against a superhuman opponent. Myrna is enslaved, pierced, tattooed all over, nearly drowned, and lives in constant danger of being slaughtered out of hand.
In Wildwood Ash surrenders to his worst enemy and has his blood drained for a magical ritual.
In The House of Dust the broken-hearted Ishara has to open a gate into the Land of the Dead to retrieve her lover: she's there subjected to all sorts of rough sex and humiliation.
In Bear Skin Hazel is punished for betraying Arailt by being exiled, then having to run a gauntlet of sexual challenges to get him back.
In Bound in Skin Cassandra is left penniless in central Europe, has to beg for shelter and a job from a shit-scary nobleman, then gets shot in the stomach and finally transformed into a werewolf.
In Heart of Flame the two romantic leads get variously drowned, fatally wounded (yep), tied up and threatened, nearly eaten by ghouls, betrayed, beaten up and buried in an avalanche.

Life is tough for a romantic hero or heroine of mine. And what's more none of them gets the person they really want till the HEA right at the end of the book!

Oh yeah ... did I mention the sexual frustration theme too? Very romantic.
Okay, I might be a bit worried now.

Which is all to say that at the moment I'm currently writing an erotic romance novella. I'm having a wonderful time: it is safe to say that my characters are not. Starvation, exhaustion, a shipwreck, icy rivers, torn feet, attempted rape, imprisonment, torture, massive sexual self-denial and heartbreak - See how they suffer for my pleasure!

Now that's love.


Jo said...

This makes me smile. I see a Romance collection in your future called 'The Arsenic Chocolate Box'.

Craig Sorensen said...

Oh, and he loses his job ...

Too cruel! Too cruel!

I can relate, both to your and Danielle's ideals.

My stories "Ownership," "Top Banana," and "Confessor," among other feature pain and denial of sorts.

"Square Loophole," "Suspension" and others feature more sweet devotion, and the bestowing of such a gift.

In the end it's all love, and it's beautiful.

Of course, knowing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. ;-)

Janine Ashbless said...

The thing is, I really love my romance characters and I want them to be happy! I just have to make them prove that it is a 'real' and strong love first, so I put them through all the drama.

I bet you feel sorry for Mr Ashbless now...

Nikki Magennis said...

Well, that certainly does sound more romantic than a box of Milk Tray.

Jo said...

Yes, Mr Ashbless, it is a beautiful trifle, and heavily laced with whisky. But you know the toilet is even more blocked than it was when you promised to fix the flush four days ago...

hands him a plunger*

That's right, my love, you must suffer for your reward...

Janine Ashbless said...


And I'd have problems resisting chocolates even if they did have Arsenic in!

Fulani said...

Well, there's romance and eroticism, and they're different things.

Romantic fiction tends to follow its own rules; lovers battle against the world (social class, convention, etc.) to come together, or one battles against such factors to win the heart of another. And usually a happy ever after (or possibly happy for now) ending although you sometimes find someone dies at an inconvenient moment, and a tragic or wistful ending. These kinds of plots have been around almost since the birth of the novel - Pamela and Clarissa, for example,

Erotica, I suspect, speaks to both broader and deeper aspects of sexual psychology. Sexual adventuring as addition; the roles of pain in sexual relationships - self-discovery, atonement, redemption, or simply an 'alternatively wired' brain; the role of fetishism (why, for example, should I become sexually aroused at the sight of an animal skull, antique medical equipment, American cars with the big Exner-style 'forward look' fins...?). These are examples, of course, not a full list. In terms of writing, while there are well-known and used-to-death tropes ('his long cock tore violently into her moist pussy...') there are probably fewer genre conventions and a hell of a lot more scope for invention. Love and relationships might be part of it, but equally well might not figure.

Just my 2p.

Janine Ashbless said...

I have read very little genre romance, mostly because I found the heroes to be Class A dicks. This makes writing it both comercially difficult - in that I don't know which buttons to push for Ms Average Romance Reader - and rewarding. Because I'm doing my own thing and writing stuff that really moves ME. I find frustration sexy, whether it's love or lust or (preferably) both.

Madeline Moore said...

I'd rather read your torture and torment erotica than plain old romance any day, Janine.

I have tried to read romance to see if I could write the stuff, but the last time I tried I got depressed after two chapters.

Yep. Depressed. Because at the end of chapter two the hero and the heroine kissed. She thought it meant blah blah a, and he thought it mean yackity yack b.

I counted the pages. Over three hundred pages to slog through before they find out that the kiss meant the same thing to both of them - I love you.

And I got depressed - momentarily - until I flung the book across the room and decided to read some sexy, filthy, decadent, painful erotica.


Danielle said...


you know..i can relate very well to your definition of romance..even though i never realised why i like your stories so much..its because of your unusual def of whats romantic...i have dark enchantment as well as cruel enchantment and both belong to my fav books of this and last are pretty much the only author of paranormal romance i read..usually that genre makes me run down the hills...but ..i guess i said it before ..your work with words is more then one sense:-)

Janine Ashbless said...

Madeline - yes yes yes, that miscommunication stuff drives me crazy too. Like, why do romance characters have to be so DUMB?

And Danielle - Awwww! :-D
Thank you for saying such lovely things about my books! (Not to mention sparking a post!)