I have a confession. I don’t actually write love stories. I write erotica that gets published as “erotic romance” because romance sounds safe and normal, whereas reading erotica seems to scare readers off. Nearly all of the reputable publishers for erotic fiction emphasize the necessity of romance in story lines– as if good sex is only permitted in the confines of true love– and unless I want to share webspace with Daddy Porn, Tentacle Rape, and Dirty Penthouse letters I need to figure out some way to slip the story I actually want to tell under the door.
It’s a quandary, because there’s so much that’s interesting in between true love and the kind of plotless smut that normally falls under the heading of erotica. But I feel like if you actually write something in that sticky, messy, delightful gray area you’ll find yourself either sorted into a box against your will or with confused and unsatisfied readers.
What’s the big deal with love stories anyway?
I suppose I’m not all that into true love because I’m not all that into monogamy in general. That’s not to say that I’m into casual sex. Mainly I’m into being alone. I like my space. I like my independence. So the sort of soul crushing, do-everything-together, can’t-live-without-you love story has very limited appeal. I like intimate relationships where no one feels the need to inject their partner into everything. I like a little distance. I like a little variety. I’m all for sexual fidelity because it’s smart and safe, but anyone who hands me crap about so-called “emotional affairs” gets shown the door. I don’t want one person to be everything to me.
Naturally this affects my writing, perhaps in a negative way. My newest release, Guttersnipe is completely true love challenged. The MC does think he’s in love, but the question of that love’s legitimacy is a major part of the story. Are his feelings real or is his apparent romance just a sign that he’s cracking under the pressure of a hopeless situation? My editors wanted me to give readers a very clear answer to this and for that answer to be in favor of true love. I preferred to leave the situation in question, with heavy leaning towards no it’s not love, but what does it matter? It was more interesting not knowing, I argued, because instead of being frustrated by their inability to make things work, you’re wondering what’s real and what’s not. Who’s playing who? In a way the story of Guttersnipe is about bringing two characters to the point where they could possibly one day fall in love. It ended up about getting them to the path.
I’m not opposed to romances– obviously– and on occasion it’s nice to tell a good old fashioned love story. But with so many publishers putting out multiple releases every week I often wonder why there isn’t more room for ambiguity. Couldn’t a well written story about no string attached fuck buddies serve to cleanse the palette in between HEAs? I’m not talking about stories full of sex scenes and no plot in sight. I’m talking about stories with eroticism, intimacy, and emotion that’s intense but not really love. Or relationships where the configuration just never fits the “mated for life” mold. There’s so much complexity to how we relate to each other as people, especially when sex gets involved. Why is it always so important for lovers to conform to a very idealized model? Even polyamorous romances inevitably seem to be the same story of true love with a little multiplication thrown in. If there was ever a time to dive into complicated gray areas it’s when your threesome never ends.
So what’s the appeal of true love? Is it about closure? About the fantasy? Is it just a more relatable end game because we assume everyone wants it? I don’t get it. I could understand reader disappointment if they didn’t get sex, or plot, or emotion, but I’m not sure why the only romantic things that count in romance are ones the assure the main character is together forever with his partner.