… I have discovered that I am a nominee in the annual DABWAHA extravaganza!
No vote begging yet. I am just going to enjoy this news, today, in a very uncomplicated way.
The grovelling will come later.
… I have discovered that I am a nominee in the annual DABWAHA extravaganza!
No vote begging yet. I am just going to enjoy this news, today, in a very uncomplicated way.
The grovelling will come later.
As promised, I’m coming back to the topic of sex and intimacy in romance books, but this time I’m looking at a few recent reads and the stuff in them that I thought was interesting about how the sex scenes worked with the overall story. Time has moved on since my last post, and I am ever fickle, so I’m going to talk about a slightly different list of books than I mentioned in the last post.
First up is Unbound by Cara McKenna. Cara McKenna is a completely new to me author. I heard about Unbound when I noticed a couple of tweets about it. Jill Sorenson said (I think) that it had been a favourite of hers last year and that made me swipe my tablet screen to Amazon and get a sample before flipping back to Twitter. In such ways are sales made and gloms begun! I never sample or buy a book based on a promo tweet that tries to hook me in re what it’s about (When a were-pig meets a flame demon, it’s out of the frying pan and into the fire!). It’s the word-of-mouth I go to Twitter for.
But I digress.
Unbound. This was story of American Merry, who has recently lost a lot of weight and is hiking in Scotland. She falls ill and has to seek help from Englishman Rob, who lives alone in the remote Highlands. At length, they get together and Merry discovers that Rob has a rope fetish and is submissive. At greater length, she discovers he is also an alcoholic who has isolated himself to get away from the temptation to drink.
This is a story in which one character’s very specific fetish is explored and analysed alongside the other character’s much more ‘normal’ sexuality. I thought McKenna did some very interesting stuff around how sex and intimacy relate to both characters’ personal development and the way they fall in love. It features, unusually in romance, a hero who in one scene is unable to perform (in an early vanilla encounter with the heroine). It also features a heroine who is frank about what she wants but not in an aggressive way – MacKenna portrayed Merry’s sexual straightforwardness in a way that read very truthfully to me.
Merry was a satisfying character all round. At the start of the book, she is partway through a journey towards gaining power over her life and her body – her confidence has grown already, following substantial weight loss – and she doesn’t need Rob to repair her or make her whole. But it turns out that giving Rob what he needs further builds her confidence and power and satisfies her too.
I loved that Merry didn’t discover some burning desire to be a domme. Rather, she falls in love with someone, gains satisfaction from giving that person what he wants, and finds her own power from asking him for what she wants too. For me, this book did something a lot more interesting than putting a whip in the heroine’s hand. It showed a heroine becoming truly active – both sexually and emotionally – leaving all conventional female passivity behind. Really, it’s about female independence and it’s beautifully written too.
Next up is A Case for Possession, book 2 in K J Charles Magpie Lord series. I loved this, more than book 1 even. I adore the characters in this series, but most especially Lord Crane who is everything I love in a hero – a mixed up ambiguous fellow if ever I met one. So, what was it, sexually, about this book that bears mention?
K J Charles did something very interesting in this book – she shuns the typical approach to sex scenes in romance (see last post) with paced “set pieces”. Instead, she makes lots of delicious little sideways references to the two MCs’ very hot sexual relationship without doing sustained sex scenes.
As I read, I found myself thinking a lot about the conventions I am so used to, the deliberate escalation and variation of sexual content that is so much about reader expectation and romance convention and so little about character and story development. I was intrigued to find that KJC’s frequent but more passing references were more than ample to reassure me that the MCs are sexually compatible (important to me) and to give the book a sexy feel. Loved it.
Finally, I have to mention the book I am reading right now, Transcendence, by Shay Savage. This book may get a blog post all of its own because I am loving it in many ways. However, I’m talking about sex scenes today, so I’ll limit myself to that aspect of the book.
This is a book in which the reader is invited to conclude – via the prehistoric hero’s internal (and very endearing) POV – that the heroine has arrived in his world through time travel. The hero, Ehd, lost his entire tribe years before Beh (Elizabeth) falls into a hunting trap he dug and he cannot believe his good fortune that a mate has dropped into his lap like this. Ehd has no speech and a very different view of the world than Beh (or us). He is something of a blank slate with virtually no cultural baggage regarding sexual behaviour. He is delighted by any sign of interest from Beh and makes no judgments about her behaviour beyond that.
Whilst the plausibility of this is probably up for debate, I’m not awfully interested in that – I think there are more interesting things going on. The fact is, this set up neatly disrupts the reader’s normal assumptions around what is sexually acceptable – there are no rules for Ehd and Beh. They discover sex together, openly and honestly, and that is the great joy of this book.
Transcendence also provides much food for thought on the universality of human love and desire as well as many entertaining nuggets on the eternal differences between men and women, but I’ll leave those observations for another day.
I’ve been musing a lot about sex scenes in romance novels lately. What function they serve. When they’re good and important, and when they’re not important at all, though possibly good - or not. When they just feel superfluous. And in musing about this I’ve noticed stuff in many of my recent reads that relate to this. Initially I planned to talk both about my general thoughts and the particular books I’d been pondering in this regard, but the general part ended up being a bit longer than I originally envisaged, so I’ll come back to the particular books in a subsequent post.
Some romance readers are very specific about what they like and/or tolerate sex-wise in their reads. Not so for me - I like books across the whole spectrum, provided they’re well-written and the sex scenes serve some kind of purpose. That’s not to say the purpose has to be serious – the purpose can be nothing deeper than a cheerful romp – so long as it works with the overall direction and theme of the book, I can get with it.
What I’m not awfully keen on is entirely sex-free romance novels - I like sex to be present, even if at a low level. For me, a romance novel with absolutely no sex in it at all lacks something. When I re-read old and much-loved Georgette Heyer novels, I occasionally worry that the whole relationship’s going to go south as soon as the MCs try to consummate it. I loved Friday’s Child when I was 15, but now I can’t imagine Hero and Sherry having sex. (Actually, that is a lie, but I do have a vivid imagination).
That’s not to say that I need the sexual content of a novel to be a huge and graphic element of the narrative – I absolutely don’t. One of my favourite writers, Josh Lanyon, often writes fairly low-key sex scenes, but I find them amongst the most effective and satisfying ones I’ve read – I actually remember them, which is saying something, isn’t it? When you really think about it? All those thousands and thousands of identikit, paint-by-number sex scenes that have been written? You read them and some are good and some are awful but most fade away very quickly. There are Lanyon ones I remember years after reading them, because he did something that was genuinely meaningful in terms of plot or character development and it stayed with me.
It’s not just about the volume and detail of the sexual content either - it’s about approach. The extent to which romance authors use genre conventions and the ways in which they sometimes disrupt or play with those conventions. Take the clichés around ascension of intimacy. You see this both at individual scene level (*clears throat* I think you’ll find you have to the suckle the nipples before you go down there…) and as part of the overall story structure (*clicks pen and smiles brightly* So, we’ll be starting with a handjob, then a blowjob before we finally move onto the penetrative sex!).
These cliches are used because they work – both conventionally and unconventionally. That is to say, used conventionally, they can be a useful and satisfying way of showing (or mirroring) the slow breaking down of the barriers between the MCs and the growth of trust. Used unconventionally – say, the highly sexed MC who is incapable of emotional intimacy e.g. in Dirty by Megan Hart – they can challenge our ideas of what intimacy really is, what it means to share yourself with others.
Beyond all this though, you know what I’m looking for in a sex scene? And beyond that, in romance itself? You know what I actually crave?
Really good romance – and really good sex scenes – don’t wear a sneer, not in my book. Fundamentally, for me, romance is about ripping away all the protective layers and exposing the pulsing, vulnerable, bloody heart beneath. It’s about making a tough old beast (or beasts) willingly roll over to expose the soft little underbelly we all have. It kicks wise-cracking and eye-rolling in the teeth and asks – no demands – that the reader believe something – love something - that the World is generally inclined to mock.
My favourite sex scenes are usually a mix of the expected and the unexpected – something that honours the genre with a little bit of realism to dirty the edges. Or something fresh that chimes with me, at a sensory level. A new simile or sound effect can truly delight me when I’m traversing this most well-trodden of literary ground.
And what do I like least? (This is a personal list, feel free to disagree).
The books that I’ve been reading – and loving – that I want to talk about in another post are:
- My Heartache Cowboy by Z A Maxfield
- Unbound by Cara McKenna
- A Case of Possession by K J Charles
- Static by L A Witt
More to come. Meantime, I invite your wisdom.
I have decided what to write about for my next project and am super excited about it. It’s an old project I set aside when I decided to start writing David and Murdo and very different from my historicals – a UF I suppose.
I was in two minds about even looking at the project again. I’d done a lot of work on it pre “Murvid”, but my lingering memory of it was that the characters felt kind of… dead. So, my first job was to re-cast. Step one was to change it from a M/F to a M/M, which wasn’t too taxing. The trickier bit came next though – creating personalities, goals, obstacles, dreams – stuff I realised my original characters didn’t have very much of (I’ve been learning by doing, people…)
For reasons that aren’t easy to put into words, this song was part of that process. This is The Killers’ annual Christmas song (although I don’t think it’s a Christmas song at all). It has a particular tone and feel that I find very beautiful and very poignant.
My book isn’t about Christmas or LA and doesn’t feature a character that looks anything like Owen Wilson. It doesn’t do anything, really, that in any way relates to this video or song except this: this song is how my guy feels.
I’m excited to share the blurb for the final book in the Enlightenment series along with an excerpt!
Five months ago, David Lauriston was badly hurt helping his friend Elizabeth escape her violent husband. Since then, David has been living with his lover, Lord Murdo Balfour, while he recuperates.
Despite the pain of his injuries, David’s time with Murdo has been the happiest of his life. The only things that trouble him are Murdo’s occasional bouts of preoccupation, and the fact that one day soon, David will have to return to his legal practice in Edinburgh.
That day comes too soon when David’s friend and mentor takes to his deathbed, and David finds himself agreeing to take on a private mission in London. Murdo is at his side in the journey, but a shocking revelation by Murdo’s ruthless father leaves David questioning everything they’ve shared.
As tensions mount and the stakes grow higher, David and Murdo are forced to ask themselves how far they’re prepared to go—and how much they’re prepared to give up— to stay together. And whether there’s any chance of lasting happiness for men like them.
While David undid the buttons of his breeches, Murdo moved to sit beside him, shouldering his way out of his coat and wadding it up to make a cushion of it, careless of its fine elegance.
“Put that at your back and lean against the wall,” he said, handing the wadded-up coat to David. “Then lay your leg over my lap, and I’ll see to you.”
With another sigh, a more contented one this time, David obeyed. Just changing the position of his leg helped ease the pain, letting Murdo take the aching weight of it across his powerful thighs.
“Can you get your breeches off from there?” Murdo asked.
“Perhaps if I leave one leg on—”
Murdo made a huffing noise of frustration, cutting him off without words, and leaned over to grab hold of David’s borrowed breeks and tug at them, forcing David to arch his hips off the seat. A moment later, Murdo had drawn them off altogether and tossed them unceremoniously onto the opposite bench. The next moment he was rolling down the stocking on David’s right leg and peeling that off too.
David watched, unprotesting now, as his injured limb, pale and somewhat wasted still, was laid bare. Despite regular exercise, his right leg remained slightly thinner than the left. The knee looked wrong to David too, a bit off centre somehow. He made a face, not liking the sight of his weakness. It wasn’t just how it looked. It was the physical reminder of everything he couldn’t do. Walk, climb, run. The things he’d always loved and, until now, had taken for granted. Abilities he may never fully recover.
“What’s wrong?” Murdo asked. He missed nothing, damn him.
“I hate the look of it,” David said shortly. “It’s ugly.”
Murdo’s brows drew together in a puzzled expression. He turned his head to the offending limb, caressing the length of it with his hands while David watched. Murdo had strong, capable hands that could rub the pain in David’s leg away, gentle hands that could wring such sharp pleasure from David’s body he couldn’t stop himself crying out from it.
David watched, mesmerised, as Murdo went through the now-familiar motions of opening the liniment jar, dipping his fingers in to get a bit of the dense, waxy stuff, then rubbing it between his hands, releasing a scent that David would associate forever with soothing comfort and relief. And then Murdo’s hands were on David, slowly sweeping up the length of his thigh, his thumbs digging into the wasted, perennially tired muscles, the blunt heels of his hands kneading and working over the damaged architecture of David’s injured limb.
David closed his eyes, giving himself over to the singular pleasure of pain relief, letting himself have this, take this. This freely offered gift.
“It’s not ugly,” Murdo murmured. “Nothing about you could ever be ugly to me.”
His voice was soft and deep, as free from laughter as David had ever heard it, and David’s heart clenched in the cage of his chest to detect the sincerity in it. He swallowed, embarrassed to realise that Murdo had probably seen the bob of his throat and correctly read its meaning.
This vulnerability seemed to grow deeper each day, in direct proportion to the depth of his feelings. The two were linked, quite inextricably, his affection for Murdo exposing him in ways that horrified him. The protective barriers he’d spent a lifetime building up felt like they were crumbling away in the face of emotions he was helpless to deny. There would be no protection left to him when this ended.
And the end was coming.
The picture above, courtesy of the Scotsman newspaper, is of New Year’s Eve in Edinburgh in 1964, at the Tron on the Royal Mile.
When I first came to live in Edinburgh in 1990, this is where everyone gathered at new year – totally spontaneously. Thousands of people, all bringing in the new year together, then walking up and down the Royal Mile, kissing and wishing each other Happy New Year. Bloody fantastic.
It’s very different now. Now it’s a very slick, organised street party with bands and catering and people in luminous jackets keeping everyone moving along. Sometimes, in bad weather, it gets cancelled. You couldn’t have cancelled the old Tron festivities. You can’t cancel people just turning up.
It’s great now, though. Just very different.
2013 has been pretty cool. I’ve completed three novels this year (started the first one in 2012 but let’s not worry too much about that) and lost 30lbs of writerly-and-second-child-acquired flab.
And I read a LOT of great books.
I don’t maintain good reading records so I’ll undoubtedly miss some major ones, but stand out highlights include the following:
- S U Pacat’s Captive Prince #1 and 2 (will book 3 ever arrive?)
- Josh Lanyon’s new Haunted Heart series (so, so beautiful. Flawless)
- Jordan Castillo Price’s Psycop 7 (platinum, baby)
- Carolyn Crane’s new Associates series (rich, smart, fun)
- Alexis Hall’s Glitterland (hunjad puhcent!)
- As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann (an oldie but a goodie – not romance though)
- Lb Gregg’s welcome return with How I Met Your Father (fun, witty May/December romance)
- The. Magpie. Lord. By KJ Charles (believe the hype)
- ZA Maxfield’s Cowboy Heart series (so looking forward to book 2)
2014 looks promising, from both a readerly and a writerly perspective. There are so many books I’m looking forward to reading (some of which I already have on my Kindle right now). It will be odd to be not-writing about Murdo and David but I have a number of possible new writing projects to choose from. The next few weeks will be dedicated to deciding precisely what one to run with. Which will inevitably involve reflecting deeply, enjoyably, on what it is I love to read.
Because that’s the test, baby.
I am very excited about the release of Beguiled on 24th December. Perhaps I am particularly excited because I have literally just finished and submitted the third and final book in this series, so I’m at the point of saying goodbye to David and Murdo, something I feel both happy and sad about.
Anyway, in anticipation of release day, I will be doing a giveaway! Hurray!
Two prizes are on offer: first prize is a copy of Beguiled and a $20 Amazon gift token, and second prize is a copy of Beguiled. I will also throw in a copy of Provoked if either of my randomly selected winners haven’t already read book 1 in the series.
Leave a comment to enter. I will randomly select the winners at 5pm GMT Saturday 21st December (which means you could get your hands on a copy of Beguiled a whole three days before it releases…)
Best o’ luck, m’lovely friends! Please tweet/ pass on etc.
Oh, good lord! Beguiled comes out in one week (Christmas Eve!) and really – is it really upon me? Already?
It’s been an extraordinarily busy few months for lots of reasons, one of which has been that I have been busily writing the final book in this trilogy. I can confirm (at least) that Enlightened has been submitted on time and will release as scheduled in May next year. And yes, it is a final book. No false endings.
At some point I’d like to blog about some of the thoughts and ideas that have driven this series, but now probably isn’t the time.
I will, however, do a Beguiled giveaway later this week!
I know. I only just blogged about a Josh Lanyon book a couple of weeks ago. What can I say? It takes something to move me to blog these days. It takes this.
The Parting Glass is a sequel to In A Dark Wood, a suspense story Lanyon wrote a few years ago which SPOILER ALERT ended on a fairly blue (if hopeful) note, with the MCs agreeing to part while one of them sought to tackle his alcoholism. END OF SPOILER.
The Parting Glass takes place two years later. Tim, now sober, lives in California and Luke is still in New York. In short, things haven’t worked out as the reader might have hoped at the end of In A Dark Wood, and over the course of the next 70 pages, we discover why.
It’s the way Lanyon tells that story: what happened, and why, that is so very satisfying.
I couldn’t believe what Lanyon managed to pack into just 70 pages. This story was so poignant, so incredibly emotional, right from page one, when Tim and Luke run into one another unexpectedly. The immediate, instinctive joy they both exhibit during this reunion lulled me into a false sense of security. I saw that these two had drifted apart, somehow, but the instinctive happiness they felt on seeing one another reassured me that everything would come right very soon.
And that was when their history slowly began to emerge - patiently, painfully – the profoundly sad story of what went before, how two people who loved each other came apart. The facts of that story aren’t particularly startling - it’s a pretty everyday one really – but Lanyon paints it with such rich humanity, such profound understanding and sympathy, that it wrenches at you.
And here’s something kind of interesting: close to the end, I realised I didn’t know what was going to happen. I thought – well, never mind what I thought. The point is that Lanyon really made me feel – no, he made me believe – in Tim’s vision of the impossibility of happiness with Luke.
Oh yes, I believed. And that’s the biggest compliment I can give to any book.
I believed, and I hoped, and I cried. I really, really did cry! And when it was over, I sat there (in bed, for that is where I was) and I turned to my husband and I said,
“That was a really fucking good book.”
And then I sighed, heartfelt like, because I was sad that it was over, and I was happy, and I was satisfied and so – enriched.
This is what reading does, at its very best. It enriches you, in ways that I find – still, after years and years of trying to pin this down – impossible to put into words.
After all, why should it matter to me that these fictional characters went through the mill and came out, older, wiser, better? Why should I care about lessons learned? About redemption and change, the fumbling reach to understanding? What does any of it matter?
It matters because this stuff – this is the stuff of life.
How can close can you take me to it?