Issue #76 (July 15, 1999)

This issue of my column is a sort of grab bag of topics. Danelle Harmon writes about the Tortured Hero, we continue (for the last time for awhile) our discussion of romance love scenes, and we re-open The Conversion Kit. And so, there's something for everybody, including those who have gotten tired of the love scene discussion that has been the focus of the Laurie's News & Views Message Board for the past month.

To Live, Perchance. . . To Torture?
Back in 1996, I began a Special Title Listing for Tortured Heroes. As defined by the reader who requested it, the list was meant to be peopled with characters who are "dark, moody tortured heroes who fight any kind of love and softer emotions." These heroes were also described as those who treated their heroines, at least initially, with a "dog in the manger" type of ferocity. As I have always talked about tortured heroes, they are that type of hero who tortures others. I differentiated between they and Special Heroes, who, to me, are those heroes who do not inflict pain upon others, regardless of their own difficulties. In romance novels, this type of hero is often known as the Beta Hero, but he is more than that to me, and since sometime last year, the traditional designations of Alpha and Beta have become less meaningful to me as their definitions are not universally held.

As AAR Reviewer Robin Uncapher indicated in an April issue of this column, she finds heroes to be tortured in how they approach their problems. She wrote, "A tortured hero tortures himself. He may be wracked with guilt. He may be bitter or angry." On the other hand, she believes that heroes who are not tortured are those who are "mentally healthy."

I agree - a tortured hero tortures himself, but often, he accomplishes this by his actions toward other people, often the heroine, because she has gotten under his skin. In contrast, I believe that heroes who are not tortured may in fact torture him, but he does so internally. His actions may be equally as damaging in the end, because by punishing himself he may punish those who love him, but he does not set out to hurt others. (For some additional reading on the subject, you might want to read Alice Duncan's A Different Look at Dark Heroes and its companion piece by Suzanne Brockmann - What's it All About, Alpha? Or The Up Side of Dark Heroes.)

This discussion came to light on the AAR List this spring during a discussion, of all things, of heroes' hair color, which, in turn, reminded me of a column from December wherein I defined the "golden boy" of romance as a hero "defined by his perfection. Everything has gone his way in life until a tragedy or event bursts his bubble. He will have to work now for his achievements rather than relying on his golden touch."

As an example of "the golden boy," I mentioned on the list the character of Charles de Montforte from Danelle Harmon's The Beloved One. (The Beloved One is the second in a trilogy, following The Wild One. The Defiant One is scheduled for release in 2000.) He is described in our review as "the beloved one" by the townspeople back home because he is so perfect; he always does just what is expected of him and never disappoints anyone." I asked whether or not he was a golden boy, and was surprised to learn that author Harmon believes he is instead a tortured hero.

Is He Tortured or Simply A Jerk?

Some time ago, Laurie and I got into a friendly debate on the All About Romance List about tortured heroes during which we found that our definitions of the term varied greatly. Our differing views seemed to offer an interesting topic for a more focused discussion, so Laurie invited me to write an article expanding upon my definition of the term “Tortured Hero” versus hers. Laurie felt that “tortured heroes are those who torture others” and that “you and many others think they’re simply heroes who’ve been tortured by life.” Actually, life, at times, tortures everyone, but some emerge from these painful trials as stronger, wiser people, whereas others are left with anger, bitterness, grief, or a host of other nasties that make living with - or around - them, unpleasant to downright dreadful. I do not share Laurie’s conviction that the Tortured Hero is a man who tortures others, nor do I feel he is a person who is tortured by life, since life, as I mentioned above, is quite capable of torturing all of us to the extent that we let it. Instead, I define the Tortured Hero as a man who is tortured not by life, but by himself.

Additionally, Laurie’s definition of our subject as “one who tortures others” makes the very phrase “Tortured Hero,” something of an oxymoron. A man who tortures others is no hero at all - but an out-and-out cretin. However, a man who is cruel to himself, denying himself love, light, and happiness without intentionally harming others, is indeed a Tortured Hero, and makes a wonderful candidate for a romance novel.

Most of us realise that we are - or are quite capable of being - our own worst enemies. Our fears, grudges, anguishes, sorrows, and what-have-yous are all personal demons that are difficult companions to live with, day in and day out. They drag us down. They tax us such that we often lash out at others, and then spend hours or days beating ourselves up for it. They make us tired, cranky, spiteful, unhappy, angry, even ill - until others may find us as difficult to live with as we do, ourselves. Unfortunately, most of us can’t just boot these feelings out the door when we get tired of them, and sometimes we even fall back on them as excuses to prevent, or at least sabotage, our own progress along the difficult road of personal growth. Some of us use these demons to justify a perpetually bad mood, or to sustain a long-standing grudge or desire for vengeance, or to explain away the “incapability” to do something petrifyingly scary, such as - in my case - getting on an aeroplane. Such fears, hatreds, anguishes, and sorrows can be crippling, if not debilitating. They can ruin our lives, and paralyse us emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Conversely, all of us know how very liberating it can be when we forgive a person a wrong, or how the world suddenly seems so much bigger when we find the strength to overcome a fear that had been holding us back, or when suddenly we find peace in the wake of a grief that had completely gutted us. How joyous we feel, when we realise that doors that we thought were closed, are suddenly opened - as they often have been, all along. Unfortunately, the Tortured Hero is a man who not only lives behind closed doors in his prison of anguish, but he is often the very person who has pulled these doors shut on himself, never realising that he - and he alone - holds the key that can open the door of his unhappy incarceration.

Which is why the Tortured Hero makes such a wonderfully seductive, incredibly appealing candidate for the part of Romance Novel Hero. Our novels are about light in the face of darkness, triumph in the face of adversity, and the infinite power of love - and as such, the idea of “healing” the Tortured Hero makes for a wonderful fantasy in itself. When the Tortured Hero is blessed with a wise, understanding, and perceptive heroine who is stronger than his demons, who can see them for what they are and help him overcome them, the Tortured Hero can liberate himself from that which tortures him. I should point out that no person who is happily content to be miserable (if that makes sense!) will allow himself to be healed, and that nobody can overcome their limitations if they truly do not wish to, because this is a job that is up to the sufferer.

Love in itself does not change a person, and the heroine herself does not heal her tortured hero. Her love, guidance and wisdom may be the medicine that he needs, the catalyst to discovering that there are better companions than the demons to which he is accustomed, but in the end, the hero must do the work. It is the heroine’s love for and belief in him that helps him to see that he is worthy; that helps him to see that peace and happiness can be his, if only he is willing to reach for it. The heroine is not a healer, but a teacher, a guide, a coach, and a beloved friend who helps the hero to realise and reach his potential by helping him to free himself from his demons.

It must be understood that there are individuals in this world who do not want to be healed, who are essentially cruel, nasty pieces of work who are truly dangerous and a threat to whom they come in contact. These people have no business trying out for the role of Romantic Hero, even if they masquerade under the label “Alpha” - which is another matter entirely. Tortured heroes, on the other hand, might be dangerous to themselves, but never, never, never (!) to others, except when they are placed in the roles of Protector, Warrior, etc. Any “hero” who would happily hurt or abuse another person is no hero at all. The Tortured Hero is fundamentally a Good Person who has become derailed, perhaps disillusioned, someone who is tortured by his own demons but who would never harm someone else. He, not others, is a victim of his anguish. The Tortured Hero makes his own life hell because of his inability to see and grow beyond the things that torment him.

I have always found the Tortured Hero a fascinating individual to not only read about, but to work with. Ah, the satisfaction of pairing him up with a heroine who is smarter and stronger than his own personal demons - and then watch her go to work on him! The very nature, problems and behaviour of the Tortured Hero create endless opportunities for conflict, which, as we all know, is what drives any work of fiction. How wonderful it is to cheer the hero when he finally overcomes his torments, and really begins to live - and love!

Sometimes, heroes are tortured by their incapability to deal with what life has dealt them; sometimes, their anguish is brought about by “how they’re made;” other times, they may be tormented by a disastrous decision they might have made in the past, a desire for revenge, an illness with which they may be unable to cope, a pessimistic nature that is constantly rewarded by circumstance, or a childhood trauma that has left them scarred and suffering. Some heroes torture themselves for a short while . . . others are chronic cases. All are a wonderful and inspiring challenge to the Writer.

Thinking about some of the tortured heroes with whom I’ve worked, I must confess that I have a soft spot for them. They certainly appear often enough in my books! Sam Bellamy, who was the hero of my debut book Pirate in My Arms back in 1991, was my first tortured hero. Sam starts out as a do-or-die, king-of-the-world pirate captain until his recklessness and arrogance contribute to the loss of his ship and the lives of the nearly 150 men for whom he had been responsible. Sam is tortured by guilt, grief and anguish, but with the help of Maria, his heroine, he is finally able to forgive himself, let his suffering open his heart to humility, and with his lady-love, follow a new path in life that promises peace, joy and prosperity.

And then there is Christian from Master of My Dreams (Avon, 1993). Christian, an austere, unsmiling, and friendless Royal Navy commander, is haunted by the death of his faithless wife, who had perished in a fire five years prior to the onset of his story. Christian blames himself for his inability to save her, and has built a wall around his heart that nobody is allowed to penetrate. As a result, he punishes himself with solitude, believing that he deserves no better. He has created his own prison, and is quite content to torture himself within the confines of its cold walls until his heroine, Deirdre, comes along and shows him not only where the door is, but how to put the key in the lock, so to speak. It is a struggle for Christian to find peace, but with Deirdre’s love and unflagging belief in him, he overcomes the demons that torment him. How could he not?

These are two heroes who were tortured by their inability to save the lives of others, but anguish can come from many sources. Though I worked with a tortured heroine in My Lady Pirate, my next truly tortured hero wasn’t until Wicked at Heart (1996), when I found myself dealing with a man who had suffered a lifetime of abuse, hurt, and rejection. This was Damon, the Marquess of Morninghall, whose problems had started early in life with an abusive, alcoholic mother who had given him a childhood of terror. As a result, Damon had developed an anxiety disorder culminating in debilitating panic attacks, which, because he does not understand them, convince him that he is terminally ill. Damon is filled with anger - at the world, at himself, and cannot see beyond his own demons. Seeking solace in isolation, punishing himself by retaining a degrading naval command that he loathes, he is a prisoner of self-hatred ... until his heroine, Gwyneth, comes along and teaches him that he must love himself before he can love others, and that he is truly his own worst enemy. You can guess what happens to both Damon’s previously bleak future, as well as his panic attacks. . . .

And finally, there is the dashing army captain Lord Charles de Montforte from the second installment of my current de Montforte Brothers series, The Beloved One (1998). Charles, a rigid perfectionist who can tolerate mistakes in others but never himself, is supremely competent and has a natural ability to solve any problem, no matter how great or small. He holds the respect and love of all who know or serve under him - until a tragic accident of fate and misjudgment cost him his eyesight, his career, his fiancée, and his future. Like a ship without a rudder, Charles wallows in grief, anger, and self-disgust, tormenting himself for his mistake and finding himself unable and unwilling to forgive himself. He has lost the competence and confidence that have always defined him, and very nearly the will to live - until a gentle girl named Amy comes along, teaching him that he is as deserving of forgiveness as anyone else, and that the hardest person to forgive can sometimes be ourselves.

In all of these cases, it was the heroine’s job - through love, patience, and an abiding belief in the hero’s real worth -- to liberate him from his demons by helping him to “see the light,” forgive himself for past mistakes, or realise that he is, after all, as human as anyone else. In teaching the hero to appreciate, respect, and care for himself, he, in turn, is able to free himself from his anguish so that he can appreciate, respect, and care for her.

And really . . . isn’t that what love is all about?

The Last Word, for Now:
The Laurie's News & Views Message Board has been filled to the brim for the past month on discussions of romance novels and the sexuality contained therein. Rather than re-hash those discussions, and the comments made in my column last time, I thought I would "make a reduction" (a cooking term for simmering sauces that leaves the essence of flavor while eliminating excess liquid) of my thoughts on the topic as they have developed in recent weeks. Then I'll present some interesting author feedback I received. And then we'll move on. I still do plan to take some of the message board comments from the past month and create a new page for our Rants on Sexuality feature in the near future. (Sept 28, 1999: I've put together two new rant pages based on all the message board discussions. They are Reader Rants on Sexuality Part V and Reader Rants on Sexuality Part VI)

(October 5: As a result of Robin's article, the discussion it engendered, and the columns I wrote as a result, AAR was featured in the lead article today at Salon. (You may remember that this influential on-line publication broke the Henry Hyde infidelity story during the Clinton impeachment hearings.)

Cutting through the religious and political debate that emerged on the Board, I find myself asking and answering the following question: Are the love scenes in romance novels a form of pornography? My answer is that one cannot divorce the context of an entire book from individual love scenes. To look at this from a different perspective, consider the film Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg's movie is filled with images of violence. So, say, is Nightmare on Elm Street, or Friday the 13th. Those latter two titles are horror movies while Saving Private Ryan is not.

Now compare Castles by Julie Garwood to a pornographic novel sold in an "adult" bookstore. Both contain scenes of a sexual nature, but there is no larger context to that pornographic novel while there is a wider context to the Garwood book. Castles is a love story about two people falling in love and beginning their lives together. While I see a vast difference between romance novel love scenes and pornography, it is obvious that not everyone does. Most readers heard from do differentiate between the two, but what about authors? I decided to pose some questions on a couple of lists known to have authors as listmembers. David Thurlo, one-half of the writing team of Aimee and David Thurlo, Susan Krinard, Millie Criswell, Barbara Sheridan, Eileen Wilks, Jennifer Dunne, Marilyn Grall, and Jo Beverley responded. Here are some highlights from their comments, presented in a roundtable manner:

Are you pushed by editors/agents into spicing up your romances?

David Thurlo: No pressure from our editors

Jo Beverley: No, but I do it anyway, so there'd be no need.

Jennifer Dunne: No, I haven't felt this. Then again, mine are plenty spicy to begin with.

Susan Krinard: No, I'm not pushed. But my books have gradually become less sexy in some ways and more focused on the entire romantic relationship.

Millie Criswell: No. That's never happened, though I tend to include quite a bit of sensuality in my books.

Marilyn Grall: No. New Concepts Publishing doesn't push me into anything. They're very open to whatever idea an author has, as long as they like the book.

Barbara Sheridan: I haven't been told to spice things up any. In fact I was rather disappointed that the reference to Corby masturbating in Timeless Wish was cut along with the scene where the heroine's gay friend Jake was talking with his lover in the bedroom (it became part of a phone conversation).

Do you prefer a fairly high or fairly low level of sensuality in your writing and reading?

Eileen Wilks: I read all over the spectrum, so I don't think I have a preferred level of sensuality in my reading. As for my writing - while I never set out to "write sexy," editors, readers and my agent tell me that I do. I enjoy writing tales of attraction and seduction (by one or both partners) and I like writing love scenes, but the story is what counts most, not the degree of sexiness. Still, for me, sex is a big part of the picture when writing about romantic love.

Jo:

If my story gets as far as love making I like to get into it with some zest. It's a lot of fun. There are stories that stop before the couple makes love, and I don't have any problem with that either. I tend not to like stories that shut the bedroom door, in part because I think first sex is a very important part of a relationship, and when they come out and carry on with the story there'll be a huge hole there of things I don't know and don't understand.

OTOH, sex scene after sex scene is usually boring not matter how many different positions, locations, or devices are involved. That's not primarily what I'm reading for. I want a good story, lots of sexual tension, and a couple of really fun, interesting love scenes that fit the characters.

Jennifer:

Yes. But by "sensuality," I do literally mean "sensuality." My characters feel and experience everything through all their senses, especially the sense of touch. This leads to a lush, sensual descriptive style. I once had a member of my writer's group turn bright fuschia and claim I'd read an incredibly erotic piece of writing with no warning - which confused me no end, because the scene I'd read had the heroine making a meatloaf! Something about the way she kneaded the ground beef. . .

As for the actual amount of love scenes, or the sexual explicitness of them, I'm ambivalent. If the story needs it, I want it. If the story doesn't, I'd rather not have it. In my opinion, there are few things worse than an explicit love scene that doesn't have to be there - it makes me feel like a voyeur, and completely yanks me out of the book. An explicit love scene that does need to be there, on the other hand. . . Yum!

David: Prefer spicy romances? It depends on what we're writing. We want to meet the reader's expectations. We read romances and expect a certain kind of book, depending on the line. If we read police procedurals, we expect something else.

Susan: Sensuality, yes. Sex, no. That is to say, the love scenes are icing on the cake, not the cake. If a book contains lots of love scenes, I'm likely to skip over them. The fact is, I'm most interested in the characters and their growing love, with the sex only part of that. OTOH, if a book has no sexual tension, I'm likely to feel it's a bit unrealistic! So totally "sweet" romances aren't likely to appeal to me either. I like a middle ground.

Millie: Yes, though I find some books that have no explicit sex and quite a bit of tension to be just as satisfying. I think Janet Evanovich does a great job of keeping the tension high between her two main protagonists. I don't generally prefer a low level of sensuality, but it really depends on the book, the genre, etc.

Marilyn: I definitely do. A book without sensuality better have an extraordinarily compelling plot, or I'll have a hard time finishing it. To me, sensuality is integral to romance. Not having it would be like coffee without caffeine.

Barabara: In reading I do but when writing it's pretty much "up to the characters". When they're ready to get physical I'm ready to take notes.

What would you say to readers who believe love scenes in romance are pornography?

Eileen: Sex does not equal pornography. Pornography involves body parts; sex involves people. Romances are about people in love, not body parts.

Jo: I think it's sad if anyone thinks explicit sex is pornography. However, I'm sure there are sex scenes in romances that could be considered pornography, however one wants to define it. There are still a lot of sweet romances. If that's what people want to read, they can find it.

Jennifer: Pornography is the objectification of an "other" for someone else's sexual gratification. Love scenes in romances are all about sublimating your own desires to enhance and expand your partner's pleasure. What could be further from pornography?

David: They've never seen real pornography, then. There's a big difference between romance and pornography. Pornography is sex, not romance. It lacks taste and substitutes lust and disgust for love and respect for the opposite sex.

Susan: I hear this a lot. Nope, I don't agree. I think loves scenes can be tastefully done and sexy at the same time. I do, however, think that some romance novels are more erotica than romance as I define it . . . that is, the sex really is the main interest for both the author and the reader. I would define it as erotica, however, not pornography in most cases.

Millie: I'd say they haven't read enough romances. Love scenes should flow from the relationship between the hero and heroine, as they do in real life. If there is sufficient motivation and the sex is not gratuitous, then I think the reader would be off base in claiming pornography. I've read plenty of books where I felt the sex scenes were too heavy handed, so I just skipped them. I think the sexual tension in a book is what's really appealing.

Barbara: If they truly believe that I'm not going to argue or try to convert anyone to my way of thinking, but I find in reading and my own writing there is a definite affection/emotional attachment before the characters make love and that once they do it pretty much changes their perspective whether they're willing to acknowledge it or not.

If you prefer a more sweet style, do you feel "pushed out" of the genre?

Jo: No, but I can imagine it would cut down the market. Most readers do want to see the characters through to their lovemaking. It's like an acquired taste. Once you have it, you miss it if it's not there.

David:

We'll continue to write to the genre. If we want to write sweet romances, we'll switch genres. (Still,) I think the most romantic story possible would be about a man and woman who willingly enter into a relationship where they live together all their lives, loving and caring about each other, without sex. It wouldn't sell very well, I'm afraid. It certainly wouldn't fit most category guidelines. It would be tough to write, after the training we've had. Might be fun to try.

My definition of sweet romances emphasizes caring, respect, admiration for qualities in the love interest other than their body parts, and the love and comfort people feel for each other. A pressure cooker slowing heating throughout the story (of sexual tension) isn't a sweet romance, IMHO. What is implied is a building physical attraction rather than an emotional one.

Here's one way to see if it's really a romance. Take a marker and go through a `steamy' romance novel, crossing out every sentence with a sexual reference or one that's there to build sexual tension. (purple prosy stuff, etc.) If you still can read the story without those sentences, and see that the love and romance, and the caring, is still there, it's a romance. We've almost been trained to include sex as a necessary component of romance. If that's true, then flies and mosquitoes are quite romantic this time of year. . .

Not that I'm the least bit opposed to sex as an important part of romantic love. I just think it's nicer to have the latter before the former.

An Author Requests Anonymity:
I received a series of private emails from a fairly well known author on these questions. She had some interesting things to say, but was reluctant to have her name associated with the comments out of fear that either readers would misinterpret her comments or would be offended by some of what she had to say. I'm respecting her request for anonymity in excerpting her thoughts:

"I just read your most recent column with all the discussion about sex in romance novels. This is an area of particular interest to me. I can't say I want to be quoted by name, since my opinion would probably make a lot of readers walk away from my books. So, should you choose to quote any of this at any time, I'd prefer to remain anonymous. On second thought . . .maybe what I'm saying is just too controversial. Maybe people will figure out who I am and my sales will drop off! Yikes. I just don't know.

I'm one of those who feel that the attitude that "sex sells" puts pressure on those of us who aren't necessarily "sweet" writers but also want to lead up gradually to the love scenes and make them work with the characters and setting. I have zero interest in reading a romance novel that's mainly or wholly about sex. This isn't to say that I have a moral problem with them; I see nothing wrong with women's sexuality. I agree with you that our genre "don't get no respect" because it is primarily a women's genre. But I run across so many readers who really want a lot of steamy love scenes that I feel a bit intimidated.

My first book was "hot" enough that it was chosen by a woman's magazine as a "summer sexy read" when it was first released. Since then, I've found that my interest in writing lots of love scenes has waned considerably, and I've focused far more on character and relationship development. Half the time, I'll skip over love scenes in a book I'm reading, simply because I've "been there, done that." Horror! Shock!

Some authors feel that if you can't write a different love scene every time, there's something wrong with your imagination. Believe me, very few people can claim that my imagination is lacking! And I've been married for 13 years to a wonderful guy.

But the fact is, the anatomy and basic "mechanics" of sex is pretty much the same every time, unless you're into the chocolate mousse, whipped cream, leather, chains, etc. Which so far my characters haven't been. I'm far from a prude; as it happens I'm pretty darned tolerant. But though each of my love scenes furthers the development of my story and isn't just "plopped in" for titillation, in essence there are certain euphemisms that confine us. Sure, you can have someone "doing it" on horseback, or in unusual settings, but the physical act is about the same. And while each character reacts differently, for me the love scene is not nearly as interesting as other aspects of the romance.

What I'm trying to say is: Yes, my love scenes are important in that they mark a significant step in the hero/heroine relationship. Yes, my books contain quite a bit of sexual tension, which I enjoy writing. Yes, the way characters interact in a love scene can be very important. But . . .the mechanics of blow-by-blow descriptions of the act is just not as important to me as knowing how the characters got to that point, or how they feel about it.

There. I've made myself a total pariah, haven't I? When I've brought this elsewhere, I get bombarded with people telling me that I'm not creative enough, or I shouldn't be writing romance - or I hear from the writers who love high sensuality in their books and are offended, fearing that I'm judging them. I'm not. I'm just saying that there are so many aspects of romance and characterization that do more for me than the love scenes. That's me, personally, as both a writer and reader. And I hasten to say that a high "sex quotient" in a book doesn't necessarily mean that there's a lack of character development.

No, I don't look down on readers or writers who like lots of sex. There's nothing wrong with that. I fully recognize and respect that many readers like to be titillated and aroused, and that may be a major reason they read romance. Heck, though I write a lot fewer loves scenes these days, they are still plenty "hot." And I certainly "feel it" when I'm writing them! But I'm usually happy to get on to the next, non-love scene between my hero and heroine.

This probably comes from the fact that my earlier reading material was not in the romance genre, and in fact the books I read contained fairly little explicit sex (though they might be plenty strange in other ways!) I got used to having the "lights go out" before a potential love scene, and never felt the loss. Today, I would not feel cheated to write a love scene in which there is little "detail," as long as I knew that it was happening and it was of great importance to the characters. The same goes for my reading. I have a good enough imagination that I can fill all the details in myself!

But I constantly feel the internal pressure to include more love scenes, put them earlier in the book, etc. I am rather stubborn about this and don't put a love scene anywhere but where it belongs according to the story and characters. But I wonder, constantly, if I wrote more "sexy" books, would I be higher up the ladder?

One of the readers you quoted said:

"50% of the romance novels have sex going before there is hardly a relationship at all. Are you going to tell me that most women get turned on and melt in a man's arms just because he kisses her and touches her breast? Come on. That is not romance. Most of the time these men don't do any 'romancing' at all!! They look good, they're tortured and the woman can help him. Since when is that romance?"
I have to agree with this (LLB: See my discussion entitled Grabbing & Groping in Issue #72 of this column.) Instant sex doesn't do it for me. I want it to make sense to me, not to be there for its own sake.

I'm not upset, like some readers, at the possibilities of "perversions." That's not my "problem" at all, but the idea that the sexiest writers sell the most books, whether or not the publishers are right in this perception.

Another person wrote:

"You could take the explicit sex out of romances, but I don't think the readers would follow you if you took the story of finding a true love out and left the sex scenes. I've read many negative comments on books that the poster felt were 'just a string of sex scenes.'
Finally, another person wrote: "I think that the genre can afford to cater to different tastes. I do think that reviews and rating systems such as the one on this web site, that indicate how sexually explicit a book is, are important. Readers should be able to know what kind of book they're getting. "

This seems entirely reasonable to me!

Sweet Romances:
In the last issue of LN&V, I asked for reader input in developing a listing of romances "on the sweeter side" to balance out our Luscious Love Stories Special Title Listing. I've received some additions, but not enough - in fact, some readers criticized what titles I did include without coming up with their own selections. This list can only be as good as we make it, so please respond later on the Message Board.

Romance Reader Conversion Kits:
Way back in 1997, I developed the idea of the Conversion Kit as a method of introducing non-romance readers to the genre. At that time, I presented my own small kit, and opened the discussion for others to devise their own kits.

Given all the talk on the Message Board lately about what a romance really is, now seems a perfect time to talk about this again. I've already asked members of the AAR List for their kits, and some of them are posted here. Take a look at the lists and comments, send me your own lists (or post them to the Message Board), then link directly back to this column from the Conversion Kits page.

A Reminder:
Voting in this year's Purple Prose Parody Contest continues through July 25th. And, click here for details on how you can win one of several autographed copies of Patricia Gaffney's hardcover release, The Saving Graces.

Time to Post to the Message Board:

To Live, Perchance. . . to Torture? What is your definition of a Tortured Hero? Does he keep his torture to himself or does he spread it around? Please comment on Danelle's terrific column segment, and if you want to comment on Alice Duncan's A Different Look at Dark Heroes or its companion piece by Suzanne Brockmann - What's it All About, Alpha? Or The Up Side of Dark Heroes, please do!

Sexuality in Romance: Feel free to comment on the pornography versus romance love scenes question, or about the round-table discussion the authors participated in.

That Anonymous Author: Let's do two things here. First, do you think the author needed to remain anonymous? Is she correct that, if you knew her name, you might resent some of her comments? Then, which of her comments bothered you most - that an author feels pressured by her publisher to write something she doesn't want to write? Or that she believes her comments, if associated with her name, would cause her sales to drop off? Personally, I think it took a lot of courage for her to write in at all, but wish she weren't frightened about going public - her ideas are as valid as anyone else's.

Romances on the Sweeter Side: Please continue to post romances of a sweeter nature. As far as I am concerned, these do not have to fade to black or end with a kiss, although they could. For me, a single abbrieviated love scene a la How to Marry a Marquis by Julia Quinn could be included. If you'd rather this list be more restrictive than that, now's the time to speak up, but only if you are willing to submit titles.

Conversion Kits: What are the romances you'd put together in a conversion kit to introduce non-romance readers to the genre?

Until next time, TTFN, Laurie Likes Books

In conjunction with Danelle Harmon

Conversion Kits
Read an abbreviated version of the message board corresponding with the discussion of sexuality in romance
Read an abbreviated version of the message board corresponding with the discussion of sexuality in romance
Read the October 5th lead article at Salon which featured both Robin's Write Byte and the discussion it engendered here at AAR (this link is a "jump" link which will open a new window in your browswer)
Post your comments and/or questions to our Potpourri Message Board

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