By Kate Pearce
When I first moved to the USA, almost ten years ago, one of the first places I looked for was a bookstore. To my complete surprise I found a huge romance section and I realized that I’d definitely come to the right place. In the UK there is Harlequin Mills & Boon, general fiction and Black Lace. In the USA romance meets sex in a BIG way.
I devoured a gazillion historical romance novels and discovered all about fantasy rape, forced seduction, massive weeping manhood’s, tinderboxes of love and orgasms described as fireworks, waterfalls, volcanic eruptions and I LOVED it.
But a lot has happened in the past ten years and the historical romance has changed considerably. Some would say for the better-(yay, most authors use the word cock now!) some would say for the worst. Erotic historicals sell really well in the US- if they are properly marketed. The problem is that no one seems to know where the line is anymore between erotica, erotic romance and historical romance. That causes issues both for writers and for the readers who get pissed off if they buy a historical and get graphic erotic sex or buy an erotic historical and get weeping manhood’s.
Madelynne Ellis author of A Gentleman’s Wager and Phantasmagoria started out writing erotica rather than romance and finds the US distinction of erotic romance as a sub-genre less easy to pin down in the UK. A common concern that Madelynne shares is that the sudden explosion in the erotic romance section leads to “Strings of sex scenes with very little emotional context or character growth.”
Deanna Ashford also believes the lines have become blurred and wonders whether it has something to do “With the gradually changing status of women now that we’ve all become rather less inhibited about sex.” I think she has a point and I also think that historicals still allow for a lot less PCness than is necessary in a contemporary erotic romance.
Pam Rosenthal aka Molly Weatherfield who also took a writers journey from BDSM and erotica to historical erotic romance, reckons we’re on our own slow journey back to where it all began, “Starting with the prose works of the second century AD, Greeks, romance has often been erotic, raffish, déclassé and articulated by travel to erotic places, pirate kidnappings and the like.” Her only hope is that if “we’re reverting to our low-rent origins now, I’d like to keep some of the art as well.”
We recently had a discussion on The Spiced Tea Party blog about covers and whether they can help a reader decide if something is an erotic historical or a straight one. The overall consensus was that if it has a lone naked man on the cover it’s erotic, if not, it’s something else-although Pam told me to tell you that she does write very sexy even if she doesn’t get the naked male torso’s
Jane Lockwood reckons the cover of her erotic historical “Forbidden Shores’ aka ‘Ass Bandits of the Caribbean’ did not help get the message of her book across to the reading public. It’s about the abolitionist movement and a distorted love triangle where Allen is in love with Clarissa, who is in love with March, who is in love with Allen. Not your everyday scenario and the lush cover-note no male torso- and decision to market it as straight historical romance caused dear Jane a few problems along the way.
Luckily for us, Jane devised a quiz to let us all know what we are writing/reading historically-wise.
Do you find yourself sitting on the sofa looking like an idiot because you can't figure out what you're reading? Or can't even remember where your book is? Or your laptop seems to have mysteriously disappeared into your pants?
What, exactly are you reading or writing? Here's a simple quiz to determine if your book is (a) a traditional regency, (b) a regency-set historical, (c) an erotic historical, or (d) historical erotica.
The heroine meets a gentleman she is attracted to. She:
a. Asks to be introduced to him by the patronesses of Almacks
b. Invites him to her bedchamber
c. Invites him and his three friends to her bedchamber
d. Invites him and his regiment to her bedchamber
The hero is wearing:
a. Immaculately polished Hessians, and a finely tailored coat and breeches
b. Boots, breeches and a historically inaccurate shirt unbuttoned all the way down
c. Not much, a sneer, oil, and a whip
d. Tattoos, scars, piercings, a sneer, oil, and an even bigger whip
The heroine is wearing:
a. Bonnet, gown, shawl, reticule
b. Gown, barely, and lots of hair
c. A little wisp of something from Victoria's Secret and lots of hair
d. Tattoos, scars, piercings, a sneer, a really, really big whip, and a shaved head
The secondary characters include:
a. Comic servants and saintly family
b. Comic servants and tiresome family
c. Sex-obsessed companions who may or may not be human
d. Underlings you never meet but someone has to get in the lube and leather supplies
Your hero likes to spend long hours in the library:
a. Reading poetry
b. Decoding secret documents
c. Twisting himself into a pretzel for future activities, based on an ancient tome of erotic practices
d. Oiling the rack and himself
Your heroine likes to:
a. Embroider, play pianoforte, visit the poor
b. Tame stallions, write novels, etc.
c. Practice twisting herself into a pretzel etc.
d. What? Time to do anything else? I don't think so
So now we all know what we are writing and we’re clear on the difference between straight historicals, erotic romance and erotica, yes? Although I don’t see any mention of homoerotic interactions like I have in my books there. But I’m okay with that as I edge closer and closer to Erastes, the welcoming and all-encompassing hand of historical erotic romance held out waiting for the moment when it all becomes just about love.