How far is too far in Wonkomance?

I like to skate the edge of romance in my reading. That is true of all of us, seeing as you’re at Wonkomance, but how far is too far? The answer is going to be different for every person. That’s okay. This isn’t a wonkacontest! (Although, interesting idea, right? *files that away*)

Sometimes there is a tendency to say, if something gets just too weird, or just too dark, this is not a romance. Let’s call it erotica or horror or even general fiction because it’s setting of the romance-formula sensors! But I think that’s a disservice to the romance genre.

For example, some people might say that a well-written romance is no longer a romance, but is now a literary novel with romantic elements. No way, I’m keeping them! If it features an emotional and sexual connection between two (or possibly three or more, etc) characters and ends with an HEA, then I’m liable to call it a romance.

Plus it’s not even very accurate. Often something referred to as erotica or dark erotica contains contains less sexual content and less explicit verbiage than tamer romances. Case in point: fan favorite author of “dark erotica”, Kitty Thomas.

I’ll admit to being a little disillusioned with dark romance myself. The cover and blurb claim it’s dark and haunting, but then there’s no real danger. There’s just hinting, over and over again. But my crank – it is tough one! Hints will not turn it, not if I’m looking for the edge.

So how thrilled was I to find the epically long book Heat by R.L. Smith? In fact, the review that brought it to my attention, although positive, so emphasized the darkness that it turned me away. That’s tough to do. Thankfully, the readers in my romance group bit the bullet for me and reported back all good things, so I read it.

Wow, it is both long and amazing! Not for the faint of heart, though, not even for the normal of heart. Just call me an insane-thrill-seeker of the heart.

Here, have an excerpt:

“Well?” he asked, his voice pitched low.

She swept her gaze across the yard. “There’s lots of cars,” she said. “I only see two that look like they can drive, but they can drive…there’s tracks in the dirt.” She pointed.

Good eye. Again, Kane found himself thinking that his father would definitely like this human.

“And there’s a lot of junk everywhere, but it’s not all overgrown. Someone lives here.” She sniffed the air, an action that struck Kane as incredibly cute, considering how useless the human olfactory senses were. “And someone’s been barbquing tonight.” She licked her lips and then stiffened up and looked at him. “Are you…going to kill people?”

“Yes.” Kane gave her wrist a squeeze to get her attention as she tried to curl in on herself. “But if you’re good, I won’t make you help.”

This book is the skydiving of romance. No, it’s crazier than that. It’s the Running with the Bulls of romance. But I liked it. I even found it… romantic? Yes. But of course, it’s a romance!

So, what is your ‘edge play’ when it comes to romance? Any hard limits we should know about? What do you use to screen prospective books (ie. reviews, warning labels, samples) or do you prefer to be surprised?

About Amber Lin

Amber Lin writes sexy romance about messed up people, because everyone deserves a happy ending. Find her books or sign up for the newsletter at her website
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8 Responses to How far is too far in Wonkomance?

  1. Serena Bell says:

    I like the idea of romance embracing as much as it can. (I even secretly cheat in my own mind and consider some books with deaths (and thus unHEAs) romances (notably, A Time Traveler’s Wife), but I know that’s total sacrilege.)

    I haven’t tried much that’s dark yet, but that book looks very intriguing, and I would definitely NOT call myself faint of heart, just a Noob who’s only just learning the lay of the land. Will report back.

    • Amber Lin says:

      Haha, well, I don’t think it makes someone weak or anything not to like this book. I definitely think it’s on the fringe. One step and it’s probably crossed the line, even in my book. If you were going to start looking at dark, I’d start with Kitty Thomas’ Comfort Food, which is totally crazy and wonderful in its own right, but it is missing the outright violence aspect, so I think it can be more palatable for a romance reader than Heat.

  2. Eleri Stone says:

    Hey, love the site. I read Heat and have mixed feelings about it-liked the novelty but didn’t like the end(I’m in the minority there because most people seem to love the ending). The last really wonky romance (at least it’s labeled erotic romance) I read and loved in a disturbed, fascinated sort of way was Split by Kristina Lloyd. It’s older but I just recently stumbled across it. She’s a fabulous writer and she’s seriously bent. I mean that both as a compliment and recommendation.

    • Amber Lin says:

      Yeah, the interesting thing about Heat is that all the criticism that I’ve heard for it, I can agree with – I just enjoyed it anyway. Wow, that Kristina Lloyd book looks really wonky. Onto the TBR it goes!

  3. Ruthie says:

    I’m not really a screener, but I’ll admit that I did turn away from this one because of the way the rape scenes in the early part of the book were described. Someone said they weren’t simply unpleasant, they were objectifying and unpleasant, and that put me off. At the time, I thought R. L. Smith was a man (but she’s a woman, right?), and I doubted I could get into a romance that included that degree of victimization of the “heroine” by the “hero.” I mean, surely there’s a line there? Somewhere? Where their actions make them simply “protagonists,” no longer “heroes” and “heroines”?

    Of course, that begs the question, where is it? Because romance novel heroes and heroines are allowed to lie, to kill, to manipulate and abuse — all the time! So perhaps it’s not the magnitude of the crime/abuse/violence. Perhaps it’s a question of the motivation and whether I buy it.

    But I haven’t entirely convinced myself. Rape in romance is probably a bridge too far for me. Doesn’t mean I won’t read it, doesn’t mean I won’t enjoy it, doesn’t mean I won’t think it’s a good novel. But a romance?

    I did buy another R. L. Smith book because I wanted to see what I thought of her (?) style. If I like it, I’ll come back and give Heat a try.

    • Ruthie says:

      Maybe I should clarify slightly and say “rape with no ghost of consent whatsoever.” Tricky even to talk about this, isn’t it? I don’t object to rape play, or to the idea of rape as titillation if it’s titillating for the characters. But I understood that wasn’t what was going on here.

    • Amber Lin says:

      I have read noncon, meaning nonconsent scenes, meaning rape, for a long time, but even so this made me nervous going in. It was mostly shocking, like I can’t believe she WENT there.

      But here’s the thing: the story is not new. There are other alien romances out there, even werewolf/vamp books that play along the same lines. There is a creature who does not have human morals, he wants the heroine, so he takes her, the end. The difference is they always pull back somehow – they *have* to pull back in order to get traditionally published and accepted.

      However, this always reads a bit fake to me. How convenient that this human woman who’s never seen an alien before is suddenly massively attracted to him and has massive orgasms on his giant alien cock! How convenient that this evil vamp/shifter creature, who, we are told, has killed plenty, suddenly turns into a teddy bear when the heroine is nearby! I don’t *dislike* that plot, it’s just hard for me to lose myself in the story because my disbelief keeps pinging, refusing to be suspended.

      So I appreciated that in this book, the author didn’t pull his/her punches. There’s no hedging about how she kind of likes it, or he’s kind of hot. And so I think you really have to reconcile yourself to the fact that it’s against her will, and it’s happening anyway, and can they make an HEA out of it? Which, the answer is going to be no for a lot of people, but that’s okay too.

      • Ruthie says:

        See, I think that’s an interesting question. I might like reading the book enough to want to know the answer. But is it romance? Or even wonkomance?

        Which was your question to begin with.

        Your definition — if it has an emotional/sexual connection between two people and a HEA, it’s a romance — seems legit to me. There’s no reason that “darkness,” per se, should disqualify something from being considered a romance. But I suspect the industry would classify this one as “novel with romantic elements.”