Friday, May 3, 2013

Sex, romance, and heroes (and heroines, too).

Long before I became a writer, I was a reader. I am so into collecting books that I freely and unashamedly call myself a book whoreI have hundreds (actual count unknown) of physical books and well over 7,000 ebooks. I may never be able to read them all, but I also know that I will never be without a book to read. And that is a great treasure to me.

One of my book pleasures is the romance novel. It doesn't matter what sub-genre it's in, if the plot sounds good, I'll read itthough admittedly my favorites are paranormal romance and romantic suspense. When a person reads a certain genre of books regularly, they inevitably begin to notice recurring themes. Boy and girl meet and are instantly attracted to one another. Boy and girl have a one-night stand and girl winds up pregnant. Boy and girl meet and can't stand each other, but the circumstances force them to spend an inordinate amount of time together and thus they end up falling in love. You get the picture.

I am a romance writer. Thus far I've written paranormal romance, romantic suspense, and paranormal erotica. In each of the three novels and one short story I've written, the main characters (hero and heroine, if you will) have had a sexual encounter within the first 48 hours of meeting. Did I do this to follow the romance novel trend? Absolutely not. I wrote my stories the way I did because that's simply the way each story came to me. Are my characters idiots who don't think about the consequences of their actions? My answer is the same as before: Absolutely not. Two of my books are paranormal romance, and the sex was driven not only by mutual attraction but by magical/mystical bonds. Perhaps because the novels are part fantasy, no one really questions the h&h having sex "too soon".

Yet the third of my novels (second one published) is different. The setting of Fire Born is real-world and contemporary. The hero is a firefighter and the heroine is a firefighter-turned-arson investigator. They meet under unfortunate circumstances and later that night, they have unprotected sex (spoiler! sorry, but necessary to the discussion). One reviewer gave the book a 1-star rating and called it bad storytelling. I disagreed with that not just because of the fact that I wrote the book, but because everyone else who had reviewed the book, to me, was proof of how wrong an opinion that was—most of the other reviews were glowing 4- and 5-star ratings.

Then yesterday, I happened to check the book's page to see if I had any new reviews, and lo and behold, I had one. The reviewer, Chitown Reader, gave Fire Born 3 stars. Although she ultimately said she liked the book and recommended it to others, she did say she agreed with the 1-star reviewer about the unprotected sex and described other things she disagreed with about the story. I actually appreciate the feedback she gave and the fact that she didn't dismiss the book entirely as the other person did. But having someone else consider the first encounter between Martie and Chris unrealistic, I found I could not hold my tongue. I posted a comment regarding my feelings on the matter. (read our exchange here)

Now I am posting those feelings here. While I in no way set out to do what other writers have done before me, a sexual encounter between the main characters within 24 hours of meeting is really not all that unrealistic. For that matter, not only is such a plot device so common as to be a staple of the romance novel, but that kind of thing happens in real life. Chitown Reader said she didn't understand how two savvy people such as Chris and Martie (a compliment, that), who were trained to save the lives of others, could be so careless with their own lives. I pointed out that not only is unprotected sex with someone a person has just met something that happens in real life, but it's also something that "savvy" people have been known to do. Even smart, intellectual individuals don't always follow the rules or use common sense. 

Sure, as CR suggested, introducing a condom into that scene wouldn't have taken away from the plot, but if you were to read the book, you'd understand how it didn't entirely make sense to have one (unless the Holiday Inn on Midland Rd. in Billings, Montana makes a practice of offering condoms to their guests, perhaps in the medicine cabinet of each suite's bathroom?). After all, neither Chris nor Martie were planning to sleep with the other. The sex was a spur-of-the-moment decision wherein he was acting on his ill-timed attraction as something of a last-ditch effort to avoid giving in to grief and she was acting on her own ill-timed attraction because she empathized with him and wanted to offer a grieving man some comfort. That is how I, as the author, interpret that scene. Again, to truly understand what I'm talking about, you would have to read the book. 

Maybe that was an unwise choice on my part, to have the h&h have sex the very night they met. Just because other authors have used that plot device successfully doesn't mean I should use it, right? Doesn't mean it will work for me the way it has worked for others. But then again, has it actually worked for other writers? Are there other romance authors out there who have written such a scenario who have gotten flack for it, or am I justified in feeling like I'm the only one? I can't help wondering why it seems people are giving me shit for what I did, but it's perfectly okay for other writers to get away with it. 

Okay, I know that I'm not, that other authors have more than likely been "attacked" for having used the same plot device that I did. But that doesn't stop me feeling bothered by the fact that the start of Chris and Martie's relationship is a sore point with some readers.

Guess I need to start reminding myself that not everyone is going to see my people the same way I do.

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