Monday, April 6, 2015

Is There a "Right" Kind of Romance?

This book is about a BBW (big, beautiful, woman) who falls
in love with her shapeshifting motorcycle.

Before I get started, I just want to say that I do not mean to disparage anyone's tastes or put down any of the books I mention. If a certain book or trope scratches your itch, I'm glad there's someone writing it for you.

My friends Noni and Bex are both big readers. Bex likes a little BDSM with her billionaires, while Noni's more vanilla. (She'll probably kill me for saying that, but when I brought her a signed copy of the newest Robyn Carr from a convention, she was terrifically excited - but she'd already read it. And the book had been out about 45 minutes.) At any rate, I'm using two of my BFFs as examples because their preferences are so clear-cut. I can practically tell from the cover art whether either of them will like a book. 

Every so often one of them will tell me I MUST read something they love. I try to be polite, and sometimes I'll go there, but not always. Mainly, that's because right now I'm all about the men - as in m/m romance. (Hey, if I'm not judging you for your kinks, don't judge me for mine.) In everyday life, me, Bex, and Noni have a whole lot in common, but when it comes to reading, we've each got our own style.

So what's your style? Vampires? Regency fops and the women who love them? Dinosaurs?

That's right. I said DINOSAURS. Because there's apparently a whole subgenre called dino-porn.

This one is an April Fools joke.

This one is (mostly) not a joke at all.

This one is deadly serious. Sort of.

That's right. If you get turned on by triceratops, there's a book out there for you. This makes me think many things. First, in the interest of full disclosure, I have never read any dino-porn, so I can't really comment on the quality of the work. Maybe all three of these books are intended to be humorous. I know the first one, Their Virgin Velociraptor, is a fake cover created as an April Fools joke. The other two are available for purchase on Amazon, and while Gay Dinosaur Billionaire was created by a group of well-known authors as "satire", a spoof of the dino-porn genre, I gotta think there's a tongue-in-cheek element in all of them.

Is that a good thing? In a Facebook chat last week, my friend Bethany-Kris suggested that the romance genre has enough trouble being taken seriously without giving critics an easy target like dino-porn. For well-known authors to make fun of romance is "all-around bad juju."

She's got a point. (And this is the second week in a row Bethany-Kris has said something that inspired me to write a blog post. I'm going to have to give her a by-line.)

Think about it. If the group of authors who wrote Gay Dinosaur Billionaire were best known for their literary fiction, political thriller, or mystery chops (i.e., they were male), they'd be excoriated by the romance community for their disrespectful behavior. 

But because the authors are our own, no one seems to have said much. The person using the pen name Nicholas Sparx might be a guy, but he's hidden behind the heavy romance cred brought by the others in the group. 

They may not be bighting the hand that feeds them, but they're nibbling on the fingertips, at least.

Because maybe Bethany-Kris is right. Maybe it is bad juju to make fun of a specific subgenre. Romance as a whole is growing in popularity, and the number of subgenres seems to increase every day. Do you like to read about heavy girls gettin' busy? BBW is for you. Animal shifters? Check. Like m-preg? Gotcha covered.

(Sheesh. M-preg. A sub-sub of m/m where one of the heroes gets pregnant. I can't even...but if it works for you, I'm glad it's there.)

I'm glad it's there. That's actually a key concept, because most of contemporary culture frames sexuality from the male point of view. Almost all porn is about the guy. How many mainstream movies can you think of that took an honest look at female sexuality? Shit. It's hard to find movies that have actual female characters rather than cartoon cut-outs. Female vocalists who express their sexuality do it in lowest-common-denominator terms, appealing first and foremost to the men in their audience.

But when you turn on your kindle, no one can tell what you're reading.

All of a sudden, women have a whole genre of literature that belongs to them. (And yeah I said literature, because that's what a lot of it is.) The best romance is well-written and thought provoking, and can give women the opportunity to explore sides of themselves that are shut down by the way they were raised and shut out by societal expectations. 

And I don't think you should make fun of that.

Maybe I'm weakening my argument, but I can say with some confidence that I'll be unlikely to read any of the books featured in this post. They're not quite my thing, and honestly, I already can't see the top of my TBR pile. I might try to sell Bex on Riding Harley, though. That might be just her speed...

So what do you think? Did I neglect to mention your favorite kink? What do YOU like to read?



  1. The area of sub-genres is fascinating. I thought I had seen everything, but then I stumbled on YETI love. I can't find the book that I first saw, but I did find BROKEN IN BY BIGFOOT. Tagline: She gets the pounding of her life. Warning: Taboo sex between a woman and a Bigfoot - Beastiality has always been around, but BIGFOOT and or YETI! Ouch, not my cup of tea, but the book had a wonderful ranking for it's genre.

    Another time Amazon recommended to me a book in the Lactation Porn genre. I have no idea why or what I had ever typed in to make them think I'd be interested, LOL. I know it's around, men and woman who are nursing, etc. But a couple crossed a line. They took place on Lactation Ranches, the girls were kept in stalls, there were f**King machines in the stall with them, the men did what they wanted and each virgin (some mutant virus got them lactating) was 'broken" by many dudes on the ranch. I am not a prude and I believe there is a lid for every pot and a genre for every person, but this made me a bit sick in the gut. This all was from the small blurb on Amazon.

    I imagine for as long as humans have imaginations, and sexual fantasies, they'll be plenty of sub genres which will appeal to some and not to others.

    Great post, Liv - not sure where else I could have talked about my book find from last year :)

    1. Hmm...the subtitle for Gay Dinosaur Billionaire is "Adventures with Bigfoot & Friends", which...eep. Although I can see reading about Bigfoot before that lactation farm thingie. That book sounds like it crosses a line into some not very nice territory.

      And I'm always about making my friends feel welcome, Deb. Glad I could provide a forum for you to share your, um, discoveries.

  2. I'm with you on the whatever floats your boat. Unless the writing is so subpar that it makes people turn away from reading.

    I think you should blog about how today's romances are not the same as the Harlequins of the 1970s and 80s, since many people (myself included) have trouble picking up a romance out of fear of reading about another woman who is helpless without a man who will show her the way.

    Truthfully, the only reason I know that a more interesting genre of romance exists is through reading some of your writing and some of a few other writers I've come across as people first and then felt inclined to see what they wrote. And, I'm going to admit to you that I still only read romance written by you and those few others I mention above.

    Okay. I'm stepping off my soapbox.

    This post made me laugh!

    1. Happy that I could start your Monday off right, Sara! Any time you want some recommendations, let me know. Serena Bell's "Hold On Tight" (NA romance), Alexis Hall's "Waiting for the Flood" (m/m), and Tiffany Reisz "The Siren" (erotica) are all well worth reading, regardless of genre.

      You comment does take me in a different direction, though, because the differences between genre & literary fiction have more to do with structure and world view than anything else. Good writing is good writing. (And now I'll climb down off my little soapbox...) Thanks!

  3. Very interesting... It's amazing how the world of e-books and indie publishing has opened the door for so many sub-genres... and the whole "no one can tell what you're reading on an e-reader". Or buying. I don't think I would have read any m/m without the anonymity of downloads and the kindle... and look what I would have missed out on! It wasn't long before I decided to own it, but that first step required anonymity for me.

    I do like Sara's point about how romance in general has changed too. There are so many amazingly well written and complex romance stories available now that are SO VERY FAR from the old Harlequin/M&B cookie cutter mould. I think a lot of people only associate "romance" with the old style category romance these days, and fail to understand that you can find real quality writing -- with the structure and world view more commonly associated with "Literature".

    Obviously Alexis Hall is a great example of that. EVERYONE in the entire world should read Waiting for the Flood. :-D

    (As for dino-porn et al. Yes, well... Don't think I'll be going there either.)

    1. (Did you see I plugged WftF up there? Did you see? LOL)
      Romance has moved past Fabio, for sure. I think the main similarities with romances from back in the day are the emphasis on the HEA (or HFN) and the bare-chested men on some of the covers. Notice I say "some of the covers" because apparently if you show too much manflesh, you'll be relegated to the basement, and they'll make your stuff hard to find. Which might be the fodder for another whole blog post...