Ridley and I are both advocates of porn. Wait, that sounds wrong. Hm, let’s try that again.
There have been many discussions between Ridley and Meoskop (that’s me!) about what makes a good romance. We both believe the key ingredient is heroic people. By heroic we don’t mean perfect, we mean a person we want to see have the happy ending they’ve worked for. Romances with highly problematic elements won’t work for us. We don’t believe in the ending, so we can’t celebrate the journey. There are, of course, exceptions to this. (They’re rare and usually written by Patricia Gaffney.) On the other hand, there’s Erotica. Erotic Romance writers hate the porn label because it implies their work is only about sexual gratification (like that’s a bad thing) when they’ve worked hard to include emotional and narrative elements into their work.
Why do you care how a book is labeled?
Meoskop: I don’t know if I care so much about the label. It frustrates me when discussion of toxic relationship dynamics is shut down by conflating romance and erotica. Sure, rape is a common sexual fantasy, but it’s a sexual fantasy. So if you’re not reading the book for it’s sexual content, why does your sexual fantasy justify aspects of the read?
Ridley: First things first, I am an advocate for porn. I want people, women especially, to visit Tumblr and Literotica and watch and read porn and enjoy the hell out of it. Find out what turns your crank, and spend some quality time with your id. There’s no judgement from me. My browser history would make many people blush.
When I pick up erotica or stroke fiction (erotica is stroke fiction with a college degree and a nice suit) I’m not expecting to cosign the characters’ behavior, I only expect to find the situation erotic. I may also find the situation terrifying, dangerous, shameful or unhealthy. It’s a sexual fantasy, so it doesn’t have to, and often doesn’t, fit real world standards of behavior.
I don’t consider romance novels to be porn. I think we use the terms hero and heroine for a reason, and that’s because we expect the characters to act heroically. Romance is like mystery or film noir in that the ending should punish evil and reward good. If you’re selling me a book in which a human trafficker kidnaps a woman, turns her into a sex slave, then has them live HEA, and you call it romance, you’re telling me that human trafficking isn’t always evil and can be justified. I’ll read the hell out of that plotline in erotica, where I’m not asked to make a moral judgement. In romance, though, I’m not having it.
Aren’t you disregarding the different ways readers read?
Ridley: I might be, but I’m not sure that means I’m wrong about something. Excusing rape and abuse in romance doesn’t make any sense to me. If you’re not treating the rape as a violation, I’m not sure rape fantasy is the applicable term. Rape culture is more like it.
Meoskop: I used this example on Twitter. Either genre labels have meaning or they don’t. You can have an alien species in Elizabethan England in a SF/F novel but if you put aliens in a Historical Novel people are going to be outraged. The genre constrictions are the genre constrictions. When I don’t want toxic relationship dynamics in my romance reads, I’m not shaming other people’s kinks, I’m saying Romance as a genre is not the same as Erotica. I hate how they’re blurring together.
Don’t buy what you don’t like!
Meoskop: That’s my point! It’s not even an issue of what I do or don’t like, it’s an issue of how pervasive it’s become. There’s bondage in my peanut butter. (Wait, what?) I can’t trust a certain author or a certain line to write pure genre because the message is sex sells. Kink it up, bring the party. And I can’t discuss how that content may have failed the story because it’s perceived as my failing to value how other readers read. Be honest about what you want the story to do! Don’t ask me to play pretend.
Ridley: Romance makes a promise to the reader that the ending will be optimistic. This is really what defines the genre, in my view. You know that the characters will end the book with more happiness than when they started. It’s about creation rather than destruction (e.g. the babylogue). If a book ends with an unrepentant, unpunished rapist or abuser as the heroine’s life partner, that promise to me has been broken. The only way that can be optimistic is if his behavior is not considered a problem. So, I am buying what I like when I buy something labeled “romance.” Some people just keep putting erotica or general fiction under the wrong label
The genre isn’t going to change for you. If it sells, it sells.
Ridley: A world where corporate marketers define the meaning of art is not a world I want to live in. I don’t consider Fifty Shades et al to be romance, much as RWA would like to claim its sales figures for the genre. It can be romantic erotica, but they don’t fit romance conventions. Not every book where people bone and profess their love is a romance.
Meoskop: Obviously, everyone should do things my way 100% of the time. But look, readers are stuck hunting and hoping. Take Caroline Linden. Love her. But I’m not reading her new series. I’ll be back when her characters aren’t trading erotic novels with 50 in the title. It’s entirely possible she hasn’t upped the sex factor, but my reaction to the marketing is rejection. It’s as unsatisfying to get a sex laden read when you want a romantic one as it is to find out your porn flick got swapped with a Disney cartoon.
Isn’t this just another case of a blogger wanting to define the genre as whatever they personally like?
Meoskop: I can’t even talk to you when you’re like this.
Ridley: Is there any genre whose boundaries are etched in stone? Everything is debatable. This is my argument for what is and is not romance. If you disagree, come at me bro.