Writing Reality

Recently, Team Wonkomance had an email thread going about condoms. It began with a comment about edits requested from a publishing house regarding the hero’s condom habits, and it ran on for quite a while, through humor, outrage, sympathy, and silliness.

We talked about condom-related things we had written and what we’d been asked to do or not asked to do with them. We joked around about what flies under the radar in Romanceland and what doesn’t.

Conversations like this can be so revealing of where the boundaries lie in this genre. Of how we establish what’s “normal” and what isn’t.

In my serial novel Roman Holiday, there’s a scene where the hero is masturbating next to a sink while overhearing the athletic sex noises of his host couple, a man and woman in their sixties. He’s aroused against his will, so full of shame and so angry with himself and the world that he puts his hand under the burning-hot tap as a kind of punishment.

Roman makes himself orgasm by thinking of a series of things that he won’t normally let himself think about under any circumstances, including losing his virginity in college in a drunk fling with a girl whose face reminded him of his sister.

I did not get a single note on that part of the scene. You know what got queried, and what readers ask me about, repeatedly? Armpit hair. Roman hasn’t even seen the heroine’s armpits, but he imagines her with armpit hair, and god, it’s too much. Spare us this offensive armpit hair, Ruthie.

I don’t know, guys. I honestly don’t know.

The email thread about condoms made me smile for a few minutes, but then it made me angry and sad, which is how I feel a lot of the time when it comes to this kind of policing.

We romance writers, and possibly particularly we Wonkomance writers, get these edits that say, “No, this isn’t the fantasy, that is.” Edits that say, “Readers don’t want this. They want that.”

We get edits that say women don’t fall in love with men who cry.

Edits that say women don’t masturbate.

We get edits that say heroes don’t have to go out and buy condoms, ever, because the fantasy is that the men we want to fuck are so sexually active already, they have condoms on hand at all times. They have them in their wallets. They carry them in their back pockets, for Pete’s sake, even though, dude, that is not a good idea.

We get edits that say women with unapologetic sexual agency are sluts, so can you make it so she’s been in love with him forever, maybe? Or else have her thinking about how she doesn’t usually get horny like this, but this guy is special?

We get edits that say people who have been sexually assaulted aren’t okay. They can’t be portrayed as okay, because they have to be broken, and then they have to be redeemed by the love of their partner, who is the only person who thinks they are okay.

We get edits that say penises must be very very large, and vaginas must be very very tight, and very very wet, but not in a gross way. Never in a gross way. Here is the list of things that are gross. Note the placement of armpit hair (female).

I am tired of it.

And look, lest you think this is sour grapes, let me just say that I’m not venting about my editor here, or my experiences, or how hard my life is. What I’m talking about — what concerns me deeply — is the policing that pretty much all editors do in romance, the policing they have to do it because it is their job to make sure readers get what they want.

Editors police for readers.

It is the readers, we are told, who don’t want small penises or capacious vaginas or expired condoms or crying heroes or functional humans who have been sexually assaulted and are not healed by magical sex. But I am a reader, too, and I want all of these things. I want everything. I want, as a baseline, fiction that is about humans.

Also, and more to the point, there is a way in which we tell ourselves — we, as romance readers and writers and editors, pretend among ourselves — that this kind of policing is not harmful, when it is, actually. It’s harmful to our culture, our social fabric, to perpetuate a narrow idea of who is and isn’t allowed to be sexy, what is and is not sexually okay, what can and cannot be permitted romantically.

Furthermore, it isn’t true. In the world, there aren’t, in fact, rules around sexual and romantic love except for the rules we create, and there aren’t any rules around what fiction — even genre fiction — can and cannot do except the rules we allow, the rules we enforce, the rules we live with and ignore because they are invisible walls right up until we smack into them.

When I was twenty-three, I lived in London. I went to a concert one night to see Dar Williams in a dodgy neighborhood out at the end of the Northern Line. While I was there, I had some wine, and I don’t know if the glasses of wine were bigger than I thought or if it was stronger than I thought or what, but I got completely wasted off my ass on two glasses of wine. Like, the kind of wasted where you go to the bathroom to pee and kind of sit on the toilet, reeling, and have to rest your forehead against the cold metal stall wall.

The kind of wasted where the cute and friendly (female) stranger you’ve been talking to at the concert asks if you’re okay, because even though you’ve been trying to appear okay, it’s just obvious that you are not.

I got home fine. In case you’re worrying about that. I did not get home with my dignity intact, though. Or clean shoes.

It was an experience that I learned things from, and one of the things I learned was how to make fiction from my life. The first draft of About Last Night took that story and used it as a baseline to introduce Cath. In the second draft, I changed some of the details but kept the gist of it. The third draft changed it a bit more. That was the draft I submitted, that I loved.

The feedback I was given was that my drunk, humiliated heroine wasn’t likable in that scene, because no one gets drunk on two glasses of wine.

Except that I had.

The feedback I got was that I had to start somewhere else, some other way, because what the heroine did — the choice she made to go out alone, attend a concert alone, get on the train alone, drunk — was too dangerous, too risky, and it made her too stupid to live.

Except that I am alive, and I am not stupid, and I’ve never met anyone who is perfect, not even once, and I am thirty-six, so I’m starting to think it’s not likely that I ever will.

I wrote myself out of my story, because my story is not close enough to the fantasy.

I am tired of writing myself out of my stories.

I’m not doing it anymore.

About Ruthie Knox

Ruthie Knox writes witty, sexy romance novels for grownups. Read more >
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93 Responses to Writing Reality

  1. Solace Ames says:

    Great article—and very inspiring and supportive.

    This is a resolution I’ve made myself, as well. I’m not going to write myself out any more.

  2. This was a great post, and something I struggle with every time I see a comment that cuts out those moments of reality the make the fantasy that much more removed from the actual human experience.

  3. Cara McKenna says:

    ALL the love for this post!

    I totally empathize with these experiences, and have heard the editorial war stories from dozens of authors. I’m relieved that I don’t tend to get these sorts of edit requests very often, myself. I think, perhaps, because my books have always been a touch fucked up. All my stuff for EC has been pretty odd, full of occasionally despicable people and fail sex and often built on weird premises. My first editor at Penguin courted me after having read my existing stuff, so she knew what she was in for, hence the psych wards and alcoholic hermits and convicted felons they’ve since let me write. I led with the wonk, I guess, so they knew what they were getting into. Kind of like I have a baby’s leg growing out of my face, so hey, at least I know that the guys at this bar who are chatting me up are totes into chicks with baby-leg faces, right up front. But I know, having been told by friends about their experiences with this publisher or that publisher, that my shit would not fly a foot with some editors out there. I’m grateful for the freedom my publishers tend to offer me—I know not everyone gets that as frequently as they’d like to.

    Still, keep on wonking the good fight, ladies!

  4. Alexandra Haughton says:

    I don’t really have a coherent comment, Ruthie. It’s more just noises I make in my throat. Some would say they’re ugly. But they spring from the feelings in my heart. So I’ll give them to you, uncensored.

  5. Ana says:

    Yes, don’t write yourself out of your book! I just finished Charlotte Stein’s Addiction and I was thinking about how much I love her deeply insecure and neurotic heroines. Who are not perfect and certainly don’t think they are. I recently finished reading Deeper and I really appreciated how you had portrayed Caroline. She made a mistake in a deeply ordinary way. She was in relationship and she wanted to be able to trust, and that trust was betrayed. Count me as one your readers that want you to keep writing human characters.

  6. Liz says:

    Thank you for writing this! It’s refreshing and real. I’m reading an hilariously funny book at the moment, but I have some gripes about the guy’s inner monologue regarding being “girly” and vagina jokes. Much as I dislike them, this post makes me realize, they’re very true to the character and how some people think. So thanks for the perspective! And please do carry on with writing awesomely real characters.

  7. A. Lol! “Spare us this offensive armpit hair, Ruthie.” I was so focused on imagining Roman over the sink, I seriously didn’t notice the armpit hair. There is armpit hair? Huh.

    B. Condoms in the back pocket/wallet make me nuts, because as you say, it’s a bad idea.

    C. Fuck Yeah!

  8. Susan says:

    I am a reader. And for a long time I read for the fairy tale. I didn’t want real-life in my books because I got that all day long and reading was my escape. Romance had to be in a nice tidy box. Problem with this nice tidy box? It started to get boring and every book was exactly the same.

    I am a reader. Now I read for entertainment…to sometimes push my boundaries…mostly for realism. I want to read about women like me. And the fairy tale? That’s changing too. Women like me DO get the guy…despite being curvy, plump, forgetting to shave, so-not-a-virgin…

    Dear editor. Get to know the reader. We’re changing. What we want is changing…has changed.

    Dear writer. Don’t write yourself out of stories. Because if my last Friday proved anything, sometimes it only takes 1 1/2 glasses of wine to get drunk.

    • I could nap after 1/2 beer, so it takes some of us less than that.

    • NOJuju says:

      This describes my reading experience too. Yes, I still want some of the romantic gloss. I want all of the emotional realism in full effect, with just a little bit of the physical realism smoothed over. But the more I read, the less of that I want. Because the authors who really mean something to me don’t seem to care about the romantic gloss very much. The authors who write things that mean something to me are doing a whole new thing and that is changing my perception of what is good and right and interesting in a love story.

      “I am tired of writing myself out of my stories.
      I’m not doing it anymore.”

      Best declaration ever.

  9. Amen!

    This is so important: “It’s harmful to our culture, our social fabric, to perpetuate a narrow idea of who is and isn’t allowed to be sexy, what is and is not sexually okay, what can and cannot be permitted romantically.” Every time we make that compromise, we give up a little power to that bullshit normativity. Like the romance novels that taught me I was supposed to have a vaginal orgasm.

    As writers and business people sometimes we feel like we have to, but I’m glad you aren’t going to do it anymore. Among other things, this realism makes your work unique! I often feel lucky that I have day job that is as much of a vocation as writing, so I can write the weird-as-hell stuff I like to write, and not really worry about how much it sells (of course I want it to sell, but not enough to write more sellable stuff). I realize not everyone has that option, but I’m so glad you are standing your ground. Yay!

    Now I’m off to re-insert a sentence I cut because of a “this is icky” note from a CP. I like icky!

    • OMG, I love this article and all these replies! You go for it, Ruthie. I love the realism and painful humanity of your heroines.

      Reading what you wrote, Amber, especially hit me. Because first, I love what you quoted from Ruthie’s amazing piece, and also, I have this day job that I always dream of quitting, but I should honor it, because it gives me the freedom to write what I want.
      It’s weird self-pubbing because you end up policing yourself. In my books, I do a ton of de-quirkifying and heroine de-slutifying and generally taking myself out of books, and I’m so feeling excited now. I’m putting some stuff I took out back in on what I’m writing.

      • This is such great stuff about the value of the day job. I’m a freelance teacher, and I love what I do, but it also gives me the freedom of not needing to make money off my books. Before I came to writing in my mid-30s, I’d gone along with a lot of things I didn’t believe in or want — to be nice, to be liked, to keep a job, to not make waves, etc. I made the commitment to myself that in my writing life I would do only exactly what I want. How other people react to that is actually not my business. They’re entitled to like or not like it, to be moved or disgusted as they see fit. My job is to speak the truth as I understand it, and that’s it.

        This is also easier with self-publishing, and it’s easier because I know for a fact I will never sell a lot of books. What I write is just too abnormal in too many ways. So I’ve got nothing to lose! I can write whatever I want and nobody can tell me I can’t. It’s very liberating.

        • Sarah Wynde says:

          Your comment actually forced me to get off my iPad so that I could do the Look Inside on one of your books on Amazon. While it downloaded, I thought I’d come back and tell you that you caught me within the first four paragraphs, which is pretty darn good. But I feel the same way about what I write. I know I’m never going to get rich off of it–it’s too weird. And I also love, love, love having the freedom to self-publish it and share it anyway. I’ve been struggling the past couple of weeks with an internal debate: should I try to earn money at my writing or should I just keep writing what I love? Between Ruthie’s post (thank you, Ruthie, it was great!) and this comment reminding me of what I really already knew, I feel so relaxed right now. And ready to go back to my Kindle software and check out The Bridge!

          • Ruthie Knox says:

            Rebecca’s books are amazing. So are yours, Sarah! I read three of them last time I was on vacation, right in a row. :-)

          • Thank you so much, Sarah! I’m gonna go do what Ruthie did now, and read all your books too.

          • Sarah Wynde says:

            That made my day, Ruthie!

            And Rebecca–well, I posted reviews to Goodreads and Amazon (and I hate writing reviews), so you’ll see how I felt. But it probably says as much if I tell you that I went ahead and bought Hurricane Lily despite hating books with agoraphobia. If you’re ever looking for a beta reader, I’m all yours. :)

      • Day job FTW. The highest gratification for me, as a writer, is the email/review/tweet that says, not just “This was an excellent book,” but specifically, “This is the kind of romance I’ve been waiting for someone to write.” There’s a particular joy in feeling like you’ve served an under-served market. And I don’t think I could afford to target that market if I were dependent on book sales to cover the basic living expenses that my day-job paycheck covers.

        Ruthie, I love this post.

        • Isobel Carr says:

          Totally, day job FTW. I’m right there with you. I’ll happily keep writing my dirty girl historicals for whoever wants to read them and paying my bills with day job money.

  10. Girl, do it. Go ahead and tell the truth. You’ve got the chops, and plenty of us are out here listening.

    I don’t even care if the policers are right about what most readers want. I have no interest in perpetuating lies about what it means to be a woman (or man), even if those lies sell.

    As an aside, I got a little lazy this winter and didn’t shave my armpits for a while. My husband LOVES it. That’s the truth.

  11. Ros says:

    They carry them in their back pockets, for Pete’s sake, even though, dude, that is not a good idea.

    I am hearing Mad-Eye Moody: “Don’t put your wand into your back pocket! Better wizards then you have lost buttocks from it!”

    I am sharing your frustration. Currently I am doing revisions which include ‘heroine needs to be more relatable’. Which since she is, in many ways, me, makes me feel like crap. I do think some readers like the airbrushed, glossy magazine perfection kinds of romances, and that’s fine. I sometimes like them, too. But I don’t think that’s every reader’s fantasy. There’s something even more romantic to me about finding love in the messy realities of life. Which includes armpit hair.

  12. Inez Kelley says:

    I love you. I want to hug this article.

  13. Emma says:

    Thank you for this!

    I must have a weird experience of the genre because for me, part of what I like about romance is that it’s a realist genre, which is not to say that they’re aren’t fantasy elements in romance (particularly in, say, paranormal or steampunk), but that in romance, people do go to the grocery store, do laundry, get flat tires, have home repair go badly, etc. When I started reading romance, part of what I was responding to was that so many the quotidian details of my life were represented on the page.

    Literary fiction–which I read and enjoy–doesn’t seem nearly as “real.” Blood Meridian is not about my life. The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Housekeeping, Beloved, Infinite Jest, Midnight’s Children, Lolita: these are not my life–not that they should be or that these books are bad. I love all of these books and they do speak to human truths, which I can relate to to a greater and lesser degree depending on the text, but I don’t often see myself on the page in literary fiction. When I started reading romance, I found more characters whose lives resembled mine than in big-l Literature.

    Again, maybe I’m reading the wrong books. I guess I avoid the billionaire romances or something, but I feel like the realism is one of the qualities romance has to offer and we shouldn’t be afraid to embrace that in all its messiness.

  14. Erin Satie says:

    I like this post very much.

    It had never even occurred to me how odd it would be for a hero to have a condom ready to go in his back pocket. But I suppose, if you’re writing about condoms, you start to think about how that comes to be, and what it says about the person.

    I imagine that’s the point–that all the steps leading up to the magically appearing back pocket condom are invisible to readers–until something happens to make those steps visible, and we have to acknowledge that there’s a backstory or a habit or a pattern that leads up to that moment, that it OUGHT to say something about the hero instead of functioning like a cut-to-commercial jump scene in a movie, where the practicalities of being condom-ready are edited out.

    There’s a part of me that responds to this post by saying: But I like for the dull & annoying details to be invisible. Sometimes I want an unrealistic fantasy. I could read something else if I wanted realism…

    And then the rest of me, which says: romance is a big enough genre to include both. In this case, more is more. More options to suit more people in more moods.

    As far as the thing with the sister’s face & the armpit hair: that I think is easier to understand. When you include something like a fling with a sister lookalike that the hero can only contemplate through a haze of shame, you’ve framed the scenario so that the reader empathizes and accepts. The reader won’t worry that you think incest is cool or sexy, because you haven’t presented it as cool or sexy. Erotic, maybe (I guess it would have to be?), but not recommended.

    Whereas the armpit hair thing–it sounds like you slipped that in as though it’s normal or okay, and thus the policing. Not normal! Not okay!

    And then I wonder if the secret would be to have an explanation. If it’s not normal, it can only be okay if there’s a whole philosophy behind it. Armpit hair as a moral and ethical necessity.

    But that gets back to the policing: if you need an explanation, you’re still genuflecting toward the rules.

    I’m starting to ramble. Still. Great post, thanks.

  15. Anne says:

    I love you Ruthie! And this is EXACTLY why I love and own ALL of your stories. You write about the kinds of people I give a shit about and WANT to invest my time and emotions in.

  16. Julia Broadbooks says:

    Having all the rough edges polished off does also erase some of the things that make a character or book special. I love those moments that feel so real and true, even when they don’t reflect me back.

    But I’m with Erin. I think there is room for both gritty, realistic, wonky stories and those glossy, romanticized stories. There is room on my shelf for both.

    • Delphine Dryden says:

      In the original email thread that prompted this, I mentioned one of my books where there ended up being a lot of these changes. My comment was that it resulted in the characters’ rough edges being smoothed away, and that the book was the lesser for it (and didn’t do nearly as well as the other two in its series).

      • Julia Broadbooks says:

        Exactly. It can feel inauthentic.

        Like Lia Riley says down thread, some things aren’t cute and quirky and adorable. Some things are hard and painful and awkward. That’s reality. But those terrible moments are often the moments when we feel most connected to a character or story because we know that pain in a similar way.

  17. Amber says:

    Is it weird to be sad if you’ve never gotten comments like this? Like I’ve already internalized the rules so much that I don’t even write big and bold, maybe.

    Honestly there were some scenes I really expected push back (especially in Selling Out) and I was braced to either give in or fight for them. There was a dark flashback with her father, and dirty bathroom sex with people banging on the door, and then the dark moment… good lord…. However, that never happened for that book or any other, that I can remember.

    I know partly I was lucky and my first publisher, Loose Id, was super awesome about edgy stuff, both the serious dark stuff and the more weird stuff. There was this part in Selling Out when the heroine is in danger and scared and she sort of accidentally pees a little. Like, pees herself. And my editor didn’t say anything about it, but the copy editor made a note that it was cool and funny, like the realism.

    So I think they do just let me do what I want…. maybe they know better than to try…. “she’s too far gone, just push her out to sea.” Actually, I have gotten a fair number of o_O from beta readers/critique partners, but that’s different than hearing the same thing from an editor, where it can be compulsory. And partly, those comments help me tone down the wonky stuff before it gets to the editor.

    So yeah, I don’t even know.

  18. I love this post. All of it. I can’t remember a specific experience of an editor policing me this way and I’ve written variations of many of the things you mention. Have readers complained about my slutty heroine or weepy hero? Yes. But they praise more often. My advice to anyone struggling with this is the same as yours. Just do it.

  19. Megan Morgan says:

    I like reality in stories. I get that it’s supposed to be a ‘fantasy,’ but at least for me, adding some realism makes the fantasy even easier to imagine–does that make sense? I guess I’ve never been one for total escapism.

    Condoms, armpit hair, and drunk girls! If these are the sorts of things readers can’t handle, how in the world are they taking in all the other icky details of sex?

  20. I agree with this so hard.

    I’ve often thought that if non-hairy, undrunken virgins or their romance novel equivalent are the only ones who are allowed a happy ending, what the romance industry is effectively saying is “Only perfect people deserve love.”

    And we all do. WE ALL DO.

  21. Em says:

    I really loved this article, LOVED. But one point is sticking with me, and I’m trying to think my way through it.

    I just don’t know how sexual assault could or even should be approached in the genre. This is me completely thinking out loud, now.

    I’m using a pseudonym here. As someone who was violently assaulted at 15, and who then went on a bang-the-memory-out-of-my-system/I’m-fine-with-sex-ABSOLUTELY-FINE-I-SWEAR rampage in my late teens and early twenties, I can say that, despite my efforts, sex did not heal me. The reason I am a completely functional (and, actually, highly successful) woman in my thirties is because of family, friends, and my experience over time that a majority of men are good human beings. Said more broadly, it just took time, and living.

    So, no, I don’t want to read about the magical peen that cures a rape victim’s trauma. Not because I don’t appreciate the romantic notion of love curing all–I do, and I’m a sucker for it in some forms–but to apply it to sexual assault seems insensitive and exceedingly naive. Those books are written, sure, but I don’t read them.

    That said, I’m not sure I see how, in romance, to create a character who has been assaulted and is now functional and completely fine. Not only is it delicate territory, but it muddles her conflict: if she’s fine, then why mention it? Even if it gives the reader a sense of what she’s lived through and the kind of wisdom she must have, it just opens up so many questions–for me as a reader, how, when, what did she do after? How did people help her?–that it would feel blase to mention it only in passing. And if the explanation needed to grow, it would become the focus of the book and the reader would question whether she really is fine.

    Literary fiction handles these questions much more readily. When I pick up a romance novel I want to get lost in the love story. Since I don’t want to read about the magic peen, maybe I don’t see how victims of sexual assault SHOULD be portrayed in romance. What are your thoughts? Genuinely curious, no offense intended to anyone.

    • This is an excellent and tricky question. I think the romances that address sexual assault the best do slow down and take the time to walk us through the survivor’s recovery. That recovery, to me, really has to be an integral part of the story if you’re going to mention the abuse history at all — otherwise it feels like a narrative crutch for establishing depth without exploring the true impact of rape. The problem is that you really can’t just get lost in the love story then. The story becomes about something else, too. Some readers appreciate that realism, and others feel blindsided, as in, “I came to this book for escape…why are you knifing me in the gut with these painful details?”

      One reason I moved to self-publishing is that I wrote a romance novel about a rape survivor, and although my publisher gave me total leeway to do that realistically, they marketed the book as a light romance. That bait-and-switch ended up hurting some readers and, I felt, undermined the honest message of the book. We couldn’t say or suggest the idea of rape or sexual abuse anywhere in the cover or copy, as though that would scare readers off. Maybe it would, but I realized that I needed the freedom to take that risk and just tell the truth about what I’m writing. I didn’t want to have to obscure it or water it down. Many people called the rape survivor book “not romance,” but again, that’s totally okay. It was a romance to me, a love story told in the context of the heroine’s broader recovery.

    • Anne says:

      TW in this comment: rape story. And I’m also using a pseudonym.

      I’ve been date raped. I’ve been raped in a relationship in a way that I can only label as scary and violent. I’ve been emotionally manipulated to the point where I thought it was fine and totally okay that my long-ago boyfriend was making me bleed every time we had intercourse. Because he was a guy, and guys can’t be gentle, and so I just had to toughen up. Those memories never go away and I have been fortunate enough that they have become part of the fuel of positivity in my life’s work. But I rarely talk about those experiences because most of the time, frankly, I just don’t want to. So if someone were to write my love story, my label as a “victim of rape” should not even come into play because it is not something that defines who I am, but rather represents a very small percentage of my overall life experience. In my own romance, what I would need is what only my partner can give me: love and understanding of all that I am.

      All of which to say, I don’t mind seeing victims of sexual assault portrayed in romance if they are shown in a way that doesn’t make others better than they are. In fact, I don’t like any situation in books where things are presented in a way that endorses the idea that any person can be better or more valuable than another. But I don’t see that happen much. The Governess Affair, I thought, was very well done. It was hard to read, and I cried afterward for all the memories it stirred, but I was really proud of who I was because I saw myself in Serena, and the way she was written.

      But in the end, every survivor’s story is different, just like each individual person’s, so the only thing I dislike seeing is reductionism–heroine is a “rape victim” or “virgin” or “vindictive bitch.” All of those sad, flat, impossibly singular things that fail to capture even a small sliver of the truth of the human condition.

    • Amber says:

      I think it’s totally reasonable for you, or anyone, to choose not to read romance novels that address rape recovery. Really, we are all entitled to our reading preferences.

      However, to suggest that maybe something shouldn’t exist in the genre because you don’t want to read it, that gets tricky. In fact, I think that approach is what leads to the problem in the post above…

      At their core, romance novels are about love. Finding love. So if we were to say that rape victims shouldn’t be in romance novels, that they don’t deserve a happy ending, then we’re saying real life rape victims don’t deserve love either. If we all deserve to find love, then we should all be allowed in romance novels.

      Every woman is different. Every healing process is different. There is no one “right” way to live or love, so there’s no one right way to write a character who does so either. A rape victim is simply a person after all. So writing them would be like writing any other character: as authentically as possible.

    • Ruthie Knox says:

      This is a really interesting question, and probably deserving of discussion on its own. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about. My response comes down to my feeling that sexual assault is, like so many other things, part of the human experience. And, more to the point, part of the human experience that many, many women have been through — and men have been through — so that, by the time we are writing novels, we often have things we want to say about it, or work through in regard to it, or put on the page. And I don’t see any reason that the minimal constraints of the romance genre (love story; happy ending) should be out of alignment with telling ANY kind of human-experience story. As far as I’m concerned, romance is not incompatible with death, severe mental illness, or recovery from any kind of trauma. It isn’t in life, so why should it be in fiction? I don’t agree that sexual abuse can’t come into a character arc without it becoming the focal point of the story. And in fact, I think when we do this — when we make all stories of people who have been abused into ABUSE stories — we suggest that the lives of people who have been abused are reducible to their abuse and its aftermath.

      Thanks for your comment. I have a million other thoughts about it, but I think I’ll leave it at that. :-)

      • That is such a good point about not requiring abuse survivors to be defined by their abuse. It’s the flip side of the coin to the problem I’m usually reacting to — which is characters who are given a nominal rape history but who show no real signs of what that history would look like in real life. Personally, I think the process of recovery is enormously inspiring and empowering, and I love to read stories about it, but it’s true that it needn’t be the focal point of every story about an abuse survivor. I hope there is a middle ground where, if recovery is not the focal point, it is at least alluded to — that the survivor did have to go through a process and didn’t just get over it because she’s super strong and that’s all it takes or because the hero gives good love.

  22. I was part of this email thread, and yes, the end result was a kind of *productive* anger.

    Productive because, that’s the choice. To take what is happening in your community and use it as a foundation for your own creativity. To understand that these conventions are a constraint, and constraints engender creativity because the human impulse is to shake the constraint loose, to find away around, to show everyone else that there *is* a way around, and so creating a market that is expansive and human.

    I said earlier today that even less than the HEA, I think the primary constraint of romance is making efficient all parts of the story except what contributes to the romance. However, efficient is very different from “simple,” or “shorthand,” or “convention.” I could use *all* of the accepted market conventions to focus on the romance of my main characters, except, who would these two people be falling in love with? Does a character made entirely of market conventions have any kind of recognizable personhood?

    Comments and feedback in regards to things like — your character is a slut because she has sexual agency, because she is all over her love interest, please reveal that “she isn’t usually like this,” make me feel as though I am being asked to be “just sexist enough.” Because the market encompasses everyone, including the worst of our efforts as humans, and because I write commercial fiction, I have to think comments like these are asking me to acknowledge the worst. Asking me to acknowledge and make legitimate that men should not cry, that women should figure out how to have sex and also be a “good girl,” that men do not have all kinds of bodies just like women do. That people we want to watch fall in love must be young. That men want to have sex all of the time. “Just sexist enough,” “just fat-ist enough,” “just ageist enough.”

    What’s more, the more of us that are in stories, the less we are written out of them, the more writers and readers will be brought to the table to write and read *themselves* in stories. These conventions are exclusionary and ultimately, if part of what we are doing here is a commercial enterprise, these conventions limit the amount of money to be made and to circulate in this community for its growth by excluding a diversity of writers and readers.

    What I think we’re talking about here is that there is an impulse to limit the space women take up in the world. To limit how we are portrayed, to limit our markets, to limit our voices, to limit how big we can be — as consumers and as creators. I won’t write myself out of stories, or away from my own ambitions or potential out of some impulse to remain “just enough” anything.

    • “I said earlier today that even less than the HEA, I think the primary constraint of romance is making efficient all parts of the story except what contributes to the romance. However, efficient is very different from “simple,” or “shorthand,” or “convention.” I could use *all* of the accepted market conventions to focus on the romance of my main characters, except, who would these two people be falling in love with? Does a character made entirely of market conventions have any kind of recognizable personhood?”

      Yes, yes, yes!!!

      When I hear complaints about the HEA constraining the romance genre, I don’t hear “HEAs should be abolished,” but that plot and characters of romance novels should not be dictated by the demand for a HEA. Meaning, it should not be the end result of a plot and characters who fit neatly into easily digestible conventions.

  23. Lia Riley says:

    I get this. It’s about how much do we allow? My heroine has OCD. I had some (perfectly well-meaning) beta comments like: “she is too fucked up.” “she’s a basket case” or my personal fave: “can you make the OCD more funny?” I have a lot of humor in my stories. particularly, self-deprecating humor. but i was like my heroine has mother-fucking OCD. this isn’t a cute quirk…it’s a disease. and it can suck the joy out of everything. so if she’s in the shit. in the shit she shall stay. and not even the magical hero peen can save her. she has to do the hard work herself.

  24. tradermare says:

    I totally agree with you Ruthie! I love it when the hero is flawed, doesn’t have a condom when he needs one and has to wait, and its okay if he cries if the situation is right for it. I need that realism. I want that realism. And I’ve been waiting for someone to write a story where the male isn’t enormous. A challenge maybe, but does anyone really fall in love with a book boyfriend because he’s ginormous?

  25. Audra North says:

    I mourn so many things that have been edited out of my works. Some of them large, some of them small, but every one that I had to find a way to say goodbye to had a lot to do with the “this is unpalatable” problem. Objectively, I agree that the things I’d written were unpalatable. But that was the sum total of the argument against inclusion, which is where I did not agree. Because life is so often unpalatable, intrusive, bumpy, and woefully condom-less. And our heroes are sometimes less than gentlemanly or have had sex with fewer than one hundred women. Our heroines sometimes don’t smell so good and sometimes they don’t have orgasms on the first try. But it doesn’t make them less heroic in their own story.

    So I mourn the little losses along with the big ones, because those are the bumps and unpalatable experiences of a life well-lived.

  26. Lisa Hutson says:

    I would love to read the story about your concert at the dodgy part of town. Of course, you would have to add love. haha
    Oh and I have never understood why its necessary to even bring up the size of the penis. His patience and concern about her is much better reading. I will make the size of his penis whatever I want in the movie in my head anyway.

  27. Bethanne says:

    Wow. Yeah. I’ve been saying this for a long time. And it doesn’t just apply for sex…or body image or social awkwardness, either. A long time ago, I knew I would never sub to an Inspirational publisher. Why? Not because of the lack of sex, which I do write now. Not because I couldn’t swear, it’s an awful habit even an okay girl like me has. But because my characters couldn’t be Catholic. It was okay for them to be Christian, but apparently–no religion. No United Methodists or Presbyterians. But this was romance… that had to be it! Because there are wonderful books out there, like the ones by Jan Karon. Ugh. I couldn’t figure it out, so finally I just didn’t bother. I write mainstream fiction, and like in the world, my characters are all different sorts–of religions, of races, of sexual orientation, of sizes, of ages. That’s life.

    It is sad. Thanks for sharing. It’s good to think.

  28. Andrea T says:

    Hi. I’m a reader, not a writer. I hope that’s welcome. ;-)

    I know a lot of readers who do complain about the things you’ve mentioned. They want the complete fantasy. Pretty and totally unachievable In real life.

    But there are also a lot of readers who want the realism. Sure, dress it up a bit, but keep it real. We want the awkward little moments, the messy moments, the funny moments. Bc in reality, sex can be all of those things.

    Thank you for this post. You’ve found yourself a new reader.

  29. Sonia R. aka Book Junkie says:

    I’m a reader Ruth and I don’t find anything gross with armpit hair nor do I want romance fiction to continue along the path that you so elequently write about in your article. I HATE (yes that much) these new romances that have 20 somehting virgins have multiple, triple orgasms on their first encounter. Like that ever happens! And these men who have condoms in their wallets which is a big no no as it affects the latex and makes them useless. So I can’t believe buying condoms isn’t sexy, I think it is. What I don’t find sexy is women saying “I’m safe” as in their on the pill. That isn’t safe from STD’s or getting pregnant so very stupid and silly to read that over and over in romance novels. And yes, size sometimes matters, but small and effective is great too which is never written about.

    Keep doing what you do Ruth, I love your books.


    Sonia R. aka Book Junkie

  30. Olivia says:

    Count me in as one of the many excited, relieved voices on this thread. I’ve been working on a manuscript that I’m just trying to get DONE, and one of the ways I’m doing that is by pulling out all the hesitation plugs that usually get me stuck. The rule is: whenever I start to rethink/retrench, I must force myself to put my hands in the air, yell “Fuck it!” and write onward. It feels like the romance equivalent of the French guy who high-wire-walked the Twin Towers, dizzying and dangerous and wrong — but what I’ve found is when I go back and look at the stuff I’ve written in this mood, it’s some of my best writing. I’m deeply worried about the reception this book will get — I caught a conversation on Twitter where someone didn’t want to hear about a hero’s hairy ass right as I was dreaming up fun ways to describe my hero’s butt fuzz, and it spooked me a little. Thanks for bringing the courage back up to the sticking point!

  31. Shari Slade says:

    I’ve been trying to compose a thoughtful response to this post and the comments that isn’t all emo-vomit, but I can’t. So…


  32. Oh, fuck yes. Yes, yes, yes. I’m tired of plastic, perfect heroines and heroes who can only grunt. I don’t write them, and I never freaking will. And I’m a reader, too. Brava!

  33. KameBookReview says:

    Please your editors idea of my reality is not my reality. I like characters who are more real life. It is way better than reading the same story over and over with different authors. Please write your life into the books – I will keep on reading!

  34. Tara says:

    As an editor, I really enjoyed this post. Just like authors, we can become easily conditioned to what is “appropriate” in terms of what readers may or may not find romantic, especially since we’re usually longtime readers of the genre, too. But it should definitely be fair game to respond to an editorial note like the one about the armpit hair with a comment saying “I’d like to keep this because it’s authentic to who the character is, this is what turns him on, even if it’s outside the genre’s usual conventions.” (The hero fantasizing about sleeping with someone who reminds him of his sister might be a harder sell… but hey, it’s all in the execution!)

    The condom thing just sounds weird to me. A real man is always supposed to have condoms in stock? Like…he’s a Walgreen’s? I edited a story recently that had a great sex scene that was interrupted by the hero (a reclusive type) doing a mad rush around the house looking for condoms because it’d been a while for him. It added so much fun and distinction to the scene, rather than just the usual “carry her up the stairs to the bedroom” transition. This is the kind of stuff that makes a story stand out in readers’ minds (Like when they break the lamp in Jenny Crusie’s Welcome to Temptation!)

    As a reader, I get really bored with the usual gender role lines (i.e. men can’t cry, women can’t get themselves off). Just finished working on manuscript with a female professional football player heroine who was a fairly tough cookie, and a quiet, very serious doctor hero who had issues about being seen as weak for not being as alpha as the rest of his family. Even though this is exactly the kind of gender role inversion I love personally, I did have a few moments where I worried the hero was coming across as too weak (anxious to the point of nauseousness about something that related to his issue, backing down rather than getting angry about something he had every right to be angry about, etc.) and would disappoint readers. But I realized at the same time that these were the kind of rampant insecurity cues that authors write for female heroines all the time (the very thing I often find irritating in my reading!), and that it was just my own ingrained bias/social expectations making me question it.

    We desperately need diverse depictions of what a hero is and what a heroine is–and definitely what romance is–to make the genre interesting. So keep fighting the good fight!

    • MikiS says:

      I edited a story recently that had a great sex scene that was interrupted by the hero (a reclusive type) doing a mad rush around the house looking for condoms because it’d been a while for him. It added so much fun and distinction to the scene, rather than just the usual “carry her up the stairs to the bedroom” transition.

      Ummm, is this available yet? I love beta heroes and this guy sounds like he’d fit. ;-)

  35. Bryn says:

    Oh, this is fantastic. Great post.

    Here’s something that didn’t make me mad or anything, but it did make me smile. In my last book, I was asked to cut the number of orgasms my heroine had in a sex scene…I think from 3 to 2. The editor said the multiple orgasms weren’t realistic, and I thought, “Well, they are in my house.”

  36. Kaetrin says:

    I’m a reader but I want those things too. Some editors are great, but some are really out of touch. I like the idea of a hero who doesn’t carry a condom wherever he goes. I like the idea of a hero who knows that storing a condom in your wallet makes them less effective.

    I don’t want anybody healed by the power of true love.

    I want books that know where the hymen is. You’d think we’d have at least managed that by now.

    I really don’t think I’m such an outlier in those things.

  37. Amy Raby says:

    Great post, and so true! I’ve got a novel that hasn’t hit an editor’s desk yet but which got pushback from my SFF critique group for reasons that made me kind of crazy. I wrote my hero as kind of stodgy and uptight and my heroine as more easygoing and pleasure-seeking. This worked fine until I got to a scene at a party, and the heroine drank at the party (enough to get drunk but not plastered), and something bad happened (not rape) that was not related to her drinking (that is, it would have happened whether she was drunk or not). And I got feedback from several critiquers that she shouldn’t drink at the party, because it made her come off as TSTL. GAH. This wasn’t from an editor, it was from readers and probably not my target market, but I have a feeling the response would have been different if it had been the hero who was drinking.

  38. Sarah Wynde says:

    The comment thread was as wonderful as the post. So many great insightful comments here!

  39. Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about! If we’re not writing stuff that moves us, then what is the point?

    When I wrote my first short story, I was told that no one dies in romance. I was a total newbie, so this reply (rejection) was laughable to me. No one dies? Surely we all know that while falling in love is not guaranteed in life, death sure as hell is. The stories I have always been attracted to reading deal with challenging situations; some non-formulaic balance between pain and joy, between struggle and triumph. I’ve always enjoyed reading about real life.

    So I laughed and resubmitted, and found the same response time and again. Some writer friends of mine kindly informed me that formulaic utopia is what the romance editors want. Fortunately my book was published by an erotica-centered house (who only needed more sex to make it work; not a problem.) Readers loved it or hated it.

    At the end of the day, I needed to love my story. As authors, we birth these stories, these characters. They are a part of us. If we can’t stand up for the honesty that created them, who will? Reality readers are out there and craving the kind of books the Wonkamancers write. I am one of those readers. Thank you!

  40. HJ says:

    This is an excellent article. I do so agree with this: “But I am a reader, too, and I want all of these things. I want everything. I want, as a baseline, fiction that is about humans.”

    The nub of your articles is how dangerous and damaging policing by editors of this nature is, and again I agree. This insidious reiteration of what is normal and what is not. And again I agree with you completely.

    Turning it around, editors (and the publishers) ought to stop and think: which is more likely to capture readers’ attention, a book which is just like all the others, or a book with something unusual? One that comes to mind is Glitterland by Alexis Hall – it was edited, and edited hard (as the author acknowledges with thanks) but not in order to remove its idiosyncrasies. As a result it stands out, is remembered, and is successful. But her publisher is unusual in being prepared to do this, and so for many writers the option of self-publishing is the only way they can get the unusual to the readers. Is that good business sense, mainstream publishers?

    • Delphine Dryden says:

      *His* publisher. Alexis is a guy. :-)

      And I agree with you! I think publishers have a constant struggle between aiming for a target audience and taking a chance on something that might widen the target audience. Their risk aversion is deeply entrenched.

  41. Jackie Horne says:

    Fabulous post, Ruthie.

    Whenever editors say “women want/don’t want x,” they’re really saying “I’m afraid a potential buyer would reject your book because of x.” Many, even most, editors see their jobs as helping authors craft the best books they can. But all editors, especially genre editors, also have to make sure they produce a product that will sell to the broadest number of people. If they can get you to take out something in your ms. that might turn off some readers, they’ll do it to achieve a higher sales figure.

    As for the realism vs. fantasy issue — yes, there should be room in the market for both. What your post asks us to think about, though, is just what fantasy are you conveying? And why is that “fantasy” so often based on sexist assumptions?

  42. Lila says:

    I don’t know about other editors, but in my world the author has final say when it really matters. I crave those messy flashes of reality that remind me of my life, the mad scrambling for an elusive condom, the heroine who makes questionable decisions, the things that take us out of the formula and make the characters human — those matter to me. My hope is that an editor would help the author find a way to make it happen if the author was willing to fight for it even just a little. I know I would, and do. I see myself as consulting rather than policing. But I could be naïve.
    Regardless, I want authors to fight for it. I want new authors to know that they can, and experienced authors to remember that they know what their readers can handle just as well as (and likely better than) editors do. Not every reader is going to get the armpit hair, but enough will to appreciate what it does for the story. When I first read that, I admit I cringed a bit, but then I thought about it just a little and realized that the possibility of that kind of wilful disregard for convention would’ve been insanely hot to someone like Roman, who has never had a chance to disregard convention for even a moment. And just like that, we know so much more about him. Worth the risk, in my opinion.

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  44. Serena Bell says:

    I have so many thoughts. I mean, primitively, just LOVE, but also, THOUGHTS.

    I really like Erin’s thoughts about how a lot of this has to do with framing–is the author somehow *endorsing* armpit hair? or incestuous masturbation? and how that might change if you specifically problematize (to use a word you used w/me yesterday, Ruthie) the moment. But that of course dodges the larger questions about our judgment of women who don’t shave or men who cry–the larger questions about what, in policing or self-policing, we’ve agreed to shame ourselves and each other about.

    I’ve done a lot of self-policing lately, and I don’t think I even realized how much until I was reading Kristan Higgins’s Just One of the Guys and found myself thinking, “HUH! That’s kind of judgmental of this heroine”–because she was thinking something unfavorable about someone–and then, WAIT A SECOND. I’ve been pre-emptively depriving my heroines of the right to have unfavorable thoughts. Or any thoughts, really, that might make them a little bit human. It’s one thing to want our heroines to be our best friends, and another to want them to be better than our best friends ALL THE TIME because I do think that can, over time, make romance pretty darn soulless.

    Anyway, not sure where I’m going there, if anywhere, but the other thing I thought of when I read this was an armpit-hair-related incident. I wrote a (totally non-romance) novel in college and one of my college roommates commented that she loved the scene where one of the male characters appreciates his girlfriend’s unshaven armpits and their scent-capturing properties. She brought it up recently when she discovered I’d ended up writing romance as an example of how she’d known way back when that my talents might lie in writing sex scenes, but thinking about it now, that’s kind of ironic, because I’d never dare write that scene now. It’s not that I’ll never toy with how sex might be bad or weird or uncomfortable or unusual, but I definitely shy away from anything that might put anyone off, even if *I* find it sexy or am aware that there are people in the world who easily could. And even if the peculiarity of finding that thing sexy could potentially tell us a ton about the characters in question.

    This post–and the comments in response to it–will make me think twice about self-policing, and make me much more likely to just WRITE IT, and to fight for it if I believe it’s right for the story and the character.

  45. Fiona McGier says:

    I had a book that was part of a series rejected by my publisher because “there was a rape in it”. No, there was a heroine who told her story to the hero, and he offered sympathy and said he’d wait as long as it took for her to make the first move on him, to give her the power to do so. Then there is another attempted rape later in the story and she dispatches the would-be rapists and stops their violence. I thought it was an empowering book and was deeply disappointed that it wouldn’t get published because no other publisher will take one book out of a series. So I published it as a free read on Smashwords. It has gotten great reviews as part of a series of family romances. I just wish any of the thousands of folks who have downloaded it would buy at least one of the other books in the series. But I understand the allure of free.

    I write about real people. Some of my heroes and heroines are flawed, but just as deserving of love as anyone else. The hero of “For The Love Of His Life” has a drug addiction and self-esteem issues. The heroine of “Only One Man Will Do” wants to control all of her relationships with men, so she doesn’t want to give up her freedom to have sex with anyone else, even when she falls in love for the first time, with a man who won’t share.

    Most of my heroines are strong to the point of some editors telling me to soften their edges. But I was that kind of woman before I had kids. Becoming a mother changed me in ways I never expected. But my husband loves me, flaws and all, and once told me he accepted my past because it made me the woman he loves. He’s not judgmental…there are men like that. And women like that also.

    Yes, we want to be entertained and escape the minutia of mundane reality when we read romance. But I strongly argue that all of us, strong and weak, and even those with character flaws, maybe especially those of us with flaws, deserve a chance to love and be loved, to help us grow as people. That’s what I want to read, so that’s what I write.

  46. Laurie Evans says:

    I get drunk off half a glass of wine. I have absolutely no tolerance for alcohol.

    I’m afraid to ask, but…do some of these sexist comments actually come from women editors?

  47. Awesome post, Ruthie, sorry to be coming in so late on it. I think we’ve all been there, heck, we kind of live there. Where it really gets me when even the words are policed — the actual, particular words (“you can’t use that word”). Not even all “dirty” words, but just… words. Sometimes a too “smart” word or a word that has a “ring” that a reader might not like. That’s where it gets unbearable for me.


  48. Jenny says:

    Ruthie, I am so inspired by this post I don’t have words. So I’ll simply say thanks for pushing back on behalf of all of us writers and readers who love your work, along with the other phenomenal authors posting and commenting here.

  49. It should be said that it’s not just editors doing the policing. Agents, heads of publishing, marketing teams — they all play a role as gatekeepers. And I don’t blame them. They’re players in a business whose primary purpose is to make money. Although many appreciate a good story, they can’t make money if they can’t sell that story. So they invest money in the stories they predict will sell, and they base those predictions on what is already selling well. This system is lucrative, but it doesn’t promote innovation. It promotes the status quo.

    I don’t blame anyone who wants to make money in this business. From the agent who only represents authors whose work they know they can sell to editors who urge authors to tone down their work so it won’t ruffle feathers to authors who choose to smooth out their own rough edges because they don’t want people to freak out — these are all legit responses to market forces. There are also those lucky souls whose interests, style and abilities match the current market exactly, and they don’t have to think about this at all.

    Some argue quite persuasively that the genre (and market generally) can be shifted incrementally. A book will come out that’s SLIGHTLY weird but mostly meets expectations, and then the next book will push the envelope a little further, and the next further than that, until eventually a noticeable change has happened. That’s also a legit response to the market.

    A third response is what we’re talking about here, which is basically you know what? Fuck you. I’ll write what I want. That feels really wonderful at the writing table and not so much in the bank account, because the fact is, the people who police the genre are often right about what will sell. The status quo is status quo for a reason, after all. There’s a culture at large that’s not always prepared to change in the way we want it to change. (Of course in my heart of hearts, I hope this is not true. I hope it’s just that people don’t have enough access to excellent/weird stuff, but if they did, they would choose it! They’d choose it wholeheartedly!)

    I look to Louis C.K. as a model here. There’s a guy who just kept doggedly doing his weird thing on the road for 20+ years, and he got really, really good at it, and eventually people did catch on to that. But he still sold his show to F/X for a very low price (as opposed to a major network) so that he’d have total creative control. He’s an outsider artist. I’m sure he watched many peers soar past him in terms of commercial success over the years. But he stayed true to his whacked-out vision, and eventually that’s the innovation that broke through and is now changing how TV is made. At the same time there are others like him who also did their own thing, and it was amazing, but they still didn’t get anywhere.

    In short, there are consequences sometimes for leaving in the armpit hair. You could end up being part of THE THING THAT CHANGES EVERYTHING or you could end up being another weirdo whose books don’t sell. It’s a risk. Some of us definitely should take that risk, because otherwise innovation would never happen. But I think it requires a certain amount of acceptance that what we do might never click with the market, or with the gatekeepers who try to predict the market. And THAT requires locating your pride very firmly in your own creative work — being proud of your own words, regardless of who “buys” them.

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  51. I can’t help but think of SEP here, since she has outrageous characters who do completely off the wall things (in the book of hers that I just read, the somewhat asshat of a hero was sleeping with his ex — in the book, with extreme kink — and then he broke it off with her and started dating another woman while he was sleeping with the heroine — who was still working through a teen rape incident….). Yet this is all combined with some element of magic peen and mainstream elements, HEA… So the rules can be broken, or at least recombined — very, very successfully and in a way readers love, and which are marketable. And this is not an exception book for SEP, as those who read her know. Some people hate her stuff for that reason, they want more mainstream, but she’s laughing all the way to the bank.

    Just saying.

  52. Sarina Bowen says:

    Oh, I LOVED this! And honestly, it made me feel grateful. Because my newest book has a hero who cries… I think four times during the book. And I thought I was going to get an edit on that, but I didn’t.

    And–swear to God–I just turned in a proposal for something kind of different. So different that I had to write at the end of it: “I know it’s kind of weird to say that I just wrote a really sexy book about erectile dysfunction. But it works.” And I’m pleased to report that the synopsis got a green light.

    Those boundaries? Let’s give ‘em a good wallop.

  53. Lana Baker says:

    This reader wants variety and something that gives me hope that romance might happen for me. So uber-perfect heroines and uber-perfect heroes make me despair of ever meeting such a paragon of physical and intellectual perfection.

    Stop writing yourself out – please. Not that you need my permission.

  54. Lynn Rae says:

    I had to laugh at your comment about heroes never having to buy condoms because they are always ‘at the ready’ (har har). One of my WIPs has a scene where my hero has to go to the drugstore and buy condoms and all the awkwardness that ensues. He’s an older widower in a small town and his brother-in-law happens upon him at the counter during check out, so everyone will soon know he’s going to have sex with someone for the first time since his wife died. It was one of the most enjoyable scenes for me to write because it was funny and real and so human. Definitely NOT a fantasy moment. I don’t particularly care if a future editor hates it. I loved writing it.

  55. Jackie Horne says:

    Thought of you when I came across this condom-funny passage yesterday in Ruth Wind’s IN THE MIDNIGHT RAIN:

    He groaned suddenly, his hands still and tight on her thighs. His head fell, damp, against her belly.
    Dazed, she said, “What is it?”
    “Shit.” He fell into a sitting position and took her with him, pulling her hard into his lap so that she straddled him and their upper bodies slid close and held. Ellie noticed that the shower had stopped. “I’m just wondering how I got so lucky and so unlucky all at once.”
    “Unlucky?” She blinked.
    He sighed. “I don’t have a condom.”
    She drooped against him. “Damn.” With a sense of embarrassment, she hid her face against his shoulder. “Well, I feel dumb.”
    “Dumb?” He shook his head. “Oh,Ellie, please don’t. I’ve been dying to make love to you. Don’t change your mind now.” He bent, suddenly, and kissed her neck, and opened his mouth on the place, just below her ear, that made her crazy. “Please,” he said in a rough voice, “don’t change your mind. I want you so bad.” His hands tightened. “Tonight, okay? I have a whole seduction planned. Wine and music and candles.” He lifted his head, and the blue of his eyes was extravagant, intense, irresistible. “Please.”
    She forgot embarrassment, forgot that she was a skinny, unbeautiful woman, forgot that he was dangerous and lost, and let the yearning hold sway. Keeping her eyes open, she kissed him.
    “Tonight,” she agreed. His chest hair, crisp and soft at once, brushed her breasts and she pressed her hips against his arousal. “But I can’t tell you how disappointed I am. If anyone finds out, your reputation as a dog is going to be seriously damaged. What kind of Lothario doesn’t have a condom at the ready at any moment?”
    He laughed softly, and put his hands on her breasts, lightly stroking. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.” (235)

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  57. Tina says:

    What if you emphasized a characters good point points enough so you could include, but almost overlook the reality. Like the stunning hero with the shoulders, the height, the face — but with less than impressive equipment who has to get creative in the sack? Its true, romance novels have become cookie cutter.

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  62. Jayne Denker says:

    The heroine of my first book is massively insecure. (What real life? Who, me? ;) ) Luckily the agent, and then editor, who took me on didn’t have a problem with it, but a whole lot of people in the romance publishing industry did. “Readers don’t want main characters like that. They want to live vicariously through strong, ballsy women right from the first page,” prospective agents and contest judges said. But that was the whole point—over the course of the story, the MC learns and grows and becomes more confident. I couldn’t even imagine changing her to be stronger from the get go, as some oh-so-helpfully suggested, because that would wipe out…well, the entire book. So I didn’t.

  63. Anne Tenino says:

    You cannot even begin to know how much I needed to read this today. Or really, any day, but today especially. Bookmarking this.