Wednesday, January 27, 2010

There's no sex in "eczema."

When I read a recent tweet about an author's male/male Amish erotica story, I gasped,

"You can't do that!"

And then I corrected myself. I can't do that. She can do whatever she likes, and if she does it well, it should sell nicely on the e-market. It will be years before I see such a book on my to-be-read mountain of mass market paperback romance, but it may happen. I'm personally thrilled by the breadth of ideas romance novels now embrace and look forward to innovation in the genre.

I actually don't believe in bad ideas--only poor execution. Any writer of sufficient skill and creativity should be able to write a romance that works, regardless of premise. I, for once, contemplate rhinoceros-shifter erotica involving their incredible tentacular wangs, but I know I'm not skilled enough to pull it off.

(There's a pun in there, somewhere.)

And yet, certain topics NEVER appear on my bookshelf . . .

Eczema, or psoriasis or Herpes of any simplex. Heroes and heroines never have common skin conditions. In the 43 books I have ready to pass on to someone else, I've never once seen the word "suppuration" (though I admit to avoiding zombie romance). Author Connie Brockway has speculated on twitter that you could give a hero poison ivy in a romantic comedy, but otherwise agrees there's no bringing the sexy back after a rash.

Wheelchair erotica.
Although wheelchair users have active, creative sex lives too, they don't make it into mass market paperback. Sure, your protagonist may be temporarily "trapped" in a chair, but when it comes to saving the day and winning her heart, paraplegics need not apply. I believe there's market for novels that show people with disabilities experiencing glorious sex and life-long love. Write them, and the readers will come.

(Oh, wait . . . was that another pun?)

. No heroine has one. No heroine ever has (not even in deep back story). No heroine contemplates one. I think have seen mirror characters hint vaguely at the possibility in "secret baby" plots, but no one uses the "A" word. I know romance writers of every political, religious and ideological stripe. Regardless of what our personal feelings and experiences have been, this topic is the biggest taboo of all (and one that won't be debated in my blog comments, by the way. I'm interested in why authors as a strategy shy away from the topic. Today I'll be moderating, so please keep it analytical and civil. If I can tell by your comment where you fall on the debate spectrum, it probably won't get through.)

(Huh. My choices here probably help answer my question, don't they?)

Hero in poverty. Historical ares the exception: I've seen a few "Baron Must Marry Money To Save the Estate Someone Else Impoverished" plots, but never in contemporaries. Alpha males have mega bucks. Their wealth is their manhood and the two are well-matched in size.

Inspirational erotica.
For some reason, inviting Jesus into the bedroom with the hero and heroine means I, the reader, must be locked out.

So tell me, where am I wrong? What good books have you read that break any of these taboos? What are some no-nos in romance I haven't yet mentioned? And can anyone remember who is working on the m/m Amish erotic novel?


  1. Romanceland is a very sanitary golden land full of puppies and rainbows. Fairies would die if we put too much reality in.

  2. LOL Anonymous . . . Romanceland has puppies and werewolves, rainbows and dragons, whips and chains and gangs that bang. I guess that's why I'm interested in the question, because the prohibitions of the 80s and 90s have slowly given way. Where are the lines now? Are there any lines that will never be crossed?

    Keri--who's gone and annoyed herself because she must moderate her own comments as well as everyone else's.

  3. Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson has a wheelchair bound heroine who stays there. What a Scoundrel wants by my crit partner (full disclosure!) Carrie Lofty, has a blind heroine who stays that way. And Smart Bitches have run a few comment threads about the disabilities topic.

    As for dirt poor, I don't think I know any. I *could* list some where the dudes are just kind of ordinary guys - does that count?

  4. It's official! One of my claims is DEBUNKED!
    Seriously--thanks for all of the info, Lorelie. I am going to hunt down the Anderson book and see if I can find those threads.

    "Ordinary guys" always seem to be extraordinary in that, unlike "real" ordinary guys, they don't have day-in day-out struggles managing budgets, providing for themselves and families. As long as a character has all the money he needs to do what he wants in the book without thinking twice, I consider him "rich."

    Other opinions????

  5. AND I'm hunting down the Lofty book . . . but I have seen blind heroines before. Christina Dodd's first book, if I remember correctly (or was that the three-armed heroine book?)

  6. Hi Keri :)
    I like your post on the taboos in romance.
    The story still has to have a mass-market appeal in order for the author to sell it or make $ & thus keep writing. I'm sure there are stories which break the taboos just as there are stories which include verbotten subjects but they are definitely not mass-market.
    All the best,

  7. Stuff does "slip through," though, RK. Those rare books (done well) are what I'm hunting today.

  8. Amie Stuart has a paraplegic hero in this free anthology (.pdf file):

    I do think it would be interesting to see a romance in which the heroine struggles with the consequences (good or bad) of an abortion in her past. I've read a couple in which the heroine deals with meeting the child she gave up for adoption, but never one that mentioned anything about abortion.

    Heroes and heroines also never have acne. Or rosacea. They do, however, sometimes have pox scars.

    Can't think of any dirt poor heroes. I'm a big fan of the average Joe. I'd like to see more blue-collar heroes--plumbers, construction workers, landscapers, carpenters, etc. And if they look like Mike Rowe or Mike Holmes, that's even better! I'd also pay big bucks to see a romance about an exterminator hero. That would kick serious booty.

  9. Candle in the Window had a temporarily blind hero & a permanently blind heroine. There's a category or novella out there with a wheelchair-bound hero & a blind heroine (or maybe deaf; revealing that she too had a disability was the surprise ending).

    The eczema, poison ivy thing? I could only see that as a hurdle (temporary) or a humorous angle; nothing else. It's just really hard for me to see scaly skin as sexy (unless it's on a dragon).

    At this point in America, abortion is just too much of a hot topic. It's also something that no one _wants_ to happen, whether anti-life or anti-choice (selection of 'anti' deliberate). In the fantasy-land of romance, it doesn't have to.

    The closest I've seen to 'hero in poverty' are some working stiff heroes. Many of them are self-employed, which is a kind of wealthy,too. Even _they_ are not hurting; they have the bills covered, at the least.

    As for inspiration erotica, just the thought makes me twitch. I know why, but that doesn't make the twitch go away (any religion that considers chastity a virtue is going to cause it). Religions that sanctify sexuality, ie many pagans, some hindus, etc don't give me that same twitch.

  10. Jen--I LOVE me some free books-thanks for the PDF link. I'm also interested in a post-abortion story. I see how that struggle has manifested in real life for some I know, and I wonder what fiction can take from it/make of it. But as Sewicked points out--in the fantasy world no one WANTS to deal with it. And at the end of the day, I want my paperbacks to be beach and margarita-friendly.

    And yeah--I thought "Bring Jesus into your marriage bed" was a squicky concept the first time my youth pastor preached it. Still do.

  11. Kay Stockam's book, Man With a Past, has a down-on-his-luck hero. Just got out of prison, no money, no prospects to speak of. The heroine gives him a job.

    Morning Glory, by LaVyrle Spencer has an ex-con as the hero. Down on his luck, the heroine gives him a job. It's post WWII, I believe.

    Lynn Kerstan has a historical, a Medieval actually, with a blind hero. Permanently blind.

  12. And yet the Song of Soloman has such lush erotic imagry. When did we seperate religion from sex? Many other cultures revere sex,believing orgasm brings us closer to the gods, and only through sexual exctasy (I never spell that right...lolol) can we get even a glimpse of universal bliss.

  13. DEBUNKED again!
    Thanks for the book info, Michele.

    And Gia, I am constantly amazed that in my ten years as an active Presbyterian, not once have those four pages been alluded to from the pulpit or in any study class. I asked once as a Baptist youth, and a red-faced minister said, "It's a metaphor for the marriage of God and church." Now when I started extending that metaphor, it went to all sorts of creepy places (especially when we have t-shirts that say UR the chURch). It's a black hole in the center of the Bible (and yet, for me it's one of the proofs of the validity of my religion).

  14. You're welcome! By the way, those are all three great books which is why I remember them.
    I've often thought that if the writing were good enough, an author could get away with just about anything. Who ever would have thought you could make a serial killer sympathetic? But there is Dexter and Hannibal. But there are professions or past histories that I don't see how any writer could use for a hero such as a pedophile or someone who produces child porn or a rapist.

  15. Michele,
    I'm with you on "if the writing is good enough."

    I did read one a couple years ago (SEP, maybe?) in which the hero was an actor who was to play a child predator in a movie. The author "saved" him, though, by having him switch roles with another actor at the end--so he didn't even have to play one on TV.

    In any case, I'm pretty sure those are lines I never want to see crossed (even my laissez-faire liberalism for artistes has its boundaries).

  16. Actually the heroine in Daisy Dooley Does Divorce, by International Bestselling Author Anna Pasternak, has an abortion. I couldn't believe it when I read it, but it worked with the story.

  17. I've noticed a trend in Paranormals to remove one of the senses to create a "less than perfect" H/h. (J.R. Ward's 1st BDB book has Wrath, the king of the Vamps being blind. "Dark Thirst" by Sara Reinke, the hero is deaf and mute.)

    As for wheelchair bound, RT lists "Adam's Fall" by Sandra Brown. I gotta think there have been a few more, especially in the war time sub-genres.

    As for the taboos: There have been a few gothics and paranormals that deal with the H/h being a child of incest and/or a victim.

  18. I've read several books where the hero had been in prison, and quite a few contemps where the hero was a mechanic or construction worker. Although, as I recall, those guys owned the garage and owned the construction firm.

    Most of the books I've read where the hero or heroine was handicapped, it was a temporary affliction. I'd be interested to read more books about people dealing with different types of handicaps. I do recall a Loretta Chase book where the hero was dyslexic, but that's about it.

  19. KAK--I'm busy adding to my "books to hunt down" list. And Becke--yeah, I see those "saves" regarding disabilities, but not ones where the condition is permanent (though commenters are pointing me to them).

    And STILL . . . no one has a hero with eczema?

  20. In my quest for publication, and following the "read what we publish" advice of many publishing houses, I've come across some doosies. I was introduced to BDSM, polyamory, unicorn sex and kinky-OMG-where-did-he-put-that?-sex. But I have yet to come across anyone with a skin aliment. Plenty of scars, missing limbs or eyeballs, claws, incisors and fur, lots of fur, but never ever crusty skin lesions.

    Hmm, I'm already thinking about how to make that work, but rhinoceros shifters? That's gotta be right up there with hamsters.

  21. Gabriella,
    If anyone can pull off pustules, you can.

    (See--there I go again.)

  22. LOLOL...I have to agree with the crusty skin lesions thing. not sexy.

  23. I remember a small press (maybe Avid Press?) several years ago that specifically sold and actively sought out stories featuring main characters with disabilities.

    Also, the hero of "Simple Jess" was a fellow with limited intelligence who'd been in prison. at the time the book blew a lot of people away because of the way the author handled the story.

    And no, you never see the rhymes-with-Schmushmortion in Romancelandia, because while there are some aspects of cutting-edge and boundary-pushing in Romancelandia, there's still a hotel elevator's worth of baggage tied up in the heroine's past sexual history. Heroines still can't frequently have had full and happy sex lives before the hero enters the picture. Sure, they can have children because they are Precious And Special Snowflake Gifts, but 9 times out of 10, the first/ex/former man in her life was something of a schmuck. Or she never had an orgasm with him.

    There's still a somewhat stringent mythic morality associated with the lady's behavior and history (see "magic hoo-ha vs. Duke of Slut" for reference).

  24. *grin* I love you in moderation mode--so restrained!

  25. Xandra,
    I do think we're seeing fewer simpering virgins than before--though indeed, the hero is always, always, always the best she's ever had.

    Even in stories where the heroine or hero are widowed, there's some implication that the first marriage wasn't all that great. Our H/H's must always be "The One" for each other.

    Gia and Ro--I live to entertain!

  26. In the 90's Lisa G. Brown wrote a contemporary romance novel that featured a (very) poor hero who had also spent 3 years in jail for a burglary he honest to goodness committed. Also another surprise was by the end of the book the hero did not become super-duper rich. I have to say this is the number one book on my keepers list.

  27. Which book is that? BILLY BOB . . . or CRAZY . . .? I'll grab it off paperbackswap!

  28. Keri, the book is crazy for loving' you. Billy Bob is poor also but not as poor as Jubal in crazy(BB is more working class). I hope you enjoy the book!

  29. I meant to add this to my earlier post, there is book (can't think of title. I never read it myself) by a Christian romance author that was inspire by the lyrics of the song 'Red Rag Top' that dealt with the fact the heroine had an abortion.