What is Hot?

I was updating my website earlier today, putting up some recent reviews when something struck me – several times in reviews, not just of my books, but of others from the erotic romance lines – I would see one review saying how totally sexyhot the book was and another saying the book was more sensual than erotic.

I bring that up as an illustration only (not as a judgment). Erotic is in the eye of the beholder. Our sexuality is intimate, what each of us thinks of as scorching hot will be different depending on personal factors.

And yet – I find the notion that books are now somehow only “erotic” if they are menages or contain a great deal of kink to be disturbing as an author. There seems to be a trend now that books are only considered “erotic” if they’re menages or contain a great deal of kink. I don’t think this is good for the genre as a whole – first because people just toss in eight people and a monkey with a flogger to be “edgy” and “hot” when, come on, joking aside, it’s ridiculous. This doesn’t make for a better book at all, in fact the story suffers overall when an author tries to wedge in more and more outrageous sex to push an envelope that doesn’t have a damned thing to do with whether or not the book is good or even sexy. It would be like if all thrillers suddenly had eleventy thousand car chases with rocket boosters, laser headlights and ninjas escaping from every window. It’s overkill and it’s really not making the story more suspense filled.

I write erotic romances differently than I write my sensual romances. Meaning, the level of detail and the presence of sex in the books is relayed differently. A sex scene in my erotics will usually be longer and written in greater detail than it would be in my sensual romances.

For instance Coming Undone has more detailed sex scenes than say, Taking Chase has. The scenes are much longer and usually, though not always, more frequent and done with more graphic terms. The sex between both couples, however, is still charged, still intense and in both cases, it’s a central way they communicate with each other.

But to me, Coming Undone is an erotic romance, just as Laid Bare is. Laid Bare is undoubtedly a more sexually charged book. It’s a menage book and it has a lot of kink in it. Because that’s who these people were to each other. But it’s not “more” erotic than Coming Undone, it’s just a different sort of erotic. (Certainly whether or not it’s sexy or hot or whatever, is in the eye of each reader – I’m getting more at genre definitions rather than individual tastes and preferences).

I wonder if this blurring of lines is good or bad for us as authors and for us as readers – in truth, I prefer a looser definition anyway – if I could just write hot and not have to worry about that further definition of erotic, that would always be aces with me. At the same time, when we keep pushing and pushing and the books about snail shifters and elevensomes with random fuck scenes with eight sex toys and some sparklers – I think this erodes the genre as a whole.

Every scene should matter.

No matter the genre or the book, scenes just tossed into a book that are unrelated to the overall story arc degrade the story.

Yes, I’m cranky and old and judgy, LOL, and this does come dangerously close to “in my day” post land, but there you go…

9 comments to “What is Hot?”

  1. Deborah Nemeth
    April 16th, 2010 at 2:53 pm · Link

    Great post. Erotic romance should be all about the emotion and the intensity, not about the toys and multiple orifices.

  2. Elise Logan
    April 16th, 2010 at 3:08 pm · Link

    We talked about this a bit on twitter, but I’ll put my thoughts down here.

    I think the line has definitely been moving over the last few years. What once received the “erotic” designation has now moved to the “hot” category. And I agree that there does seem to be a segment of the writing population that believes in the kitchen sink theory of sex scenes.

    My question is whether we’re simply seeing a testing of the waters. With more people moving into reading ebooks, there’s bound to be some pushing of boundaries between porn and romance and finding out the lay of the land. Publishers will poke the edges to see if moving them out nets more sales. I think at some point, we’ll reach equilibrium.

    To my mind, it’s a bit like film. In the early days of film and television, chaste kissing was the height of titillation. Gradually, the boundaries pushed out and you saw more and more “action” on screen. At some point you had an entire subgenre that spun off into porn – and did it’s own thing. It’s still there, but it’s not really part of mainstream film now. It’s out on its own.

    I think of romance like that – I think we’re trying to find the break point at which things will become simply gratuitous and spin off into porn. But to find that point, the industry has to test those boundaries.

    *shrug* just a thought.

  3. Tracy Wolff
    April 16th, 2010 at 3:30 pm · Link

    I think you make a really good point here, Lauren, and one I run up against with my own writing. I write erotic romance without menages or a huge kink factor and I often get told that what I write is sensual not erotic … yet the way I deal with sex (level of explicitmess, role of sex in the story) is definitely erotic, in my opinion. So, I too struggle between writing what I want to write and getting pressure from outside sources to be kinkier.

  4. Lori
    April 16th, 2010 at 3:34 pm · Link

    Everyone is right in that the line has been moving in the last few years. What was unacceptable just a year or two ago in mainstream NY pubhouses is now commonplace. While I agree that this opens a lot of doors for authors, it also can encourage sex just for the shock value.

    I agree so much with your point about the menage a gazillions. I just read a book w/some m/f/m/m/m scenes, and I didn’t find it hot at all. Or erotic. It didn’t inspire any feelings in me at all, not even a twinge, because the story and characters didn’t grab me.

    To me, it’s still all about the story, and that should always be the basis of how we judge books. To be hot, the door gets opened a bit, and the sex is more than slot A in tab B. To be erotic, the door gets opened even more, and the sex is even more graphic than “hot”.

    But… no matter what, if the sex doesn’t forward the storyline and make sense, it’s just sex for fuck’s sake (literally). And that hurts the romance genre.

  5. Roni Griffin
    April 16th, 2010 at 5:04 pm · Link

    Great post. The lines definitely are confusing and I think the envelope pushing is getting a bit tiresome. Like Lori above, I recently read a novel where the primary couple were together and then a handful of other guys were added in. I have no problem with it in concept–but I didn’t “know” the extra dudes therefore did not care about them and it made the whole scene fall flat for me.

    I want characters I love, who are properly motivated, and who at some point have hot sex (whether that be kinky or vanilla.) That’s not too much to ask, right? : )

  6. Angie Malone
    April 16th, 2010 at 8:21 pm · Link

    Great point Lauren and Tracy too! A book can be erotic without multiple partners or kink. But it all boils down to the story. If I can’t connect with the characters then the sex, whether kinky or vanilla is not going to make me want to continue reading the book. I don’t think that most of the NY publishing houses understand what readers really want. I do know that if I like an author, I tend to like all the stories she/he writes. I want to read about good sex as long as it’s part of a good story!

  7. Collette
    April 17th, 2010 at 8:53 am · Link

    All these comments had thoughtful and considered points. I’d like to join in but I got nothing. All I can think of is “a monkey with a flogger.” I’m still laughing.

  8. laurendane
    April 17th, 2010 at 9:54 am · Link

    I think there are several points here – first is the one Elise makes about natural settling of genre lines and I totally agree. I think actually, that this is natural for any genre and lines will settle, have been settling actually with the slimming down of the erom lines in NY to a more manageable number of releases each month. This happened with other sub genres like paranormal for instance.

    And for me though, my issue isn’t with the above, but the writer’s perspective in creating books that make sense.

    Flimsy plotting isn’t the sole property of erotic romance by any means – but the insertion of repeated, unnecessary and totally ridiculous sex scenes to fill pages in an attempt to be “edgy” or “hot” does the book absolutely no favors.

    The thing is, no one is hurt more than the writer in that case. Because while not every book will be the absolute best an author writes, every book should be the best it can be, the best book the author could make it. It’s a subtle distinction, but I think one that is clear anyway.

  9. A.T. Russell
    April 20th, 2010 at 9:57 am · Link

    I’m not really sure about kink. Some folks get down way out and others not so much. Sensuality in any story is a major part of the story. It has to be. Sex settles as much as it sizzles. On the other hand, I can’t enjoy a book or story if it goes from one tail chase to the next and the descriptive factors are meant to be greater than the nasty done 2 pages ago. That isn’t hot at all. But I really like when the priciples get down and do it well. Even it is a 2 minute stress reliever.