On the blog this month, I’m dealing with questions that have come up in the wake of the release of The Lawyer’s Luck and The Preacher’s Promise. I plan to return to Reconstruction Era history in September, leading up to the release of The Mayor’s Mission in the fall.
One of the questions that has come up several times, but always in a respectful way is: Where are your love scenes? Love scenes, in romance novel talk, usually means sexual activity. I thought it was a great question to ask and I appreciate the opportunity to address it on my blog.
When I came into this new phase of my writing life—I came to understand that I was not very gifted in writing, believable, organic sex scenes. I felt despair about this. I had a very interesting contemporary story premise that I wanted to share, but without those sex scenes, I knew it wouldn’t be possible to be heard.
Then I discovered inspirational fiction and a light went off in my head. I could tell stories about people who would struggle with the Christian principle of waiting until marriage to have sex, but I could still share stories about how that decision challenges my characters and their worldview. When I came to that decision about where I fit in the writing world, an entire load came off of my shoulders. It freed me and I wasn’t inclined to despair any more.
However, what I wasn’t prepared for was the expectation that, because I write about African American people, that I would be expected to show them having sex. My sister-in-law is one of my biggest supporters, but she shocked me one day when she said, “I don’t read books by African Americans.” Stunned, I asked her why not. She said, “There’s a lot of cursing, sex, drugs, and violence in books by African Americans.”
I don’t agree. The selection of books by African Americans today is more varied than ever, and her statement conveyed to me that she was not looking hard enough for the books she wanted. (I despise the term clean—so I’m not using it—on purpose. It strikes me as judgmental.) Her view did let me know, that from a marketing stand point, I could use a different kind of approach to signal to readers that certain elements would not be found in my stories. So I was grateful for her statement because it let me be more deliberate about how I would package my stores with the covers, descriptions, etc.
But I still got the question.
So now you have the answers as to why. I hope that people who read my stories don’t structure it as “something is missing.” My characters will struggle with their decision making process as a part of their faith story arc. My decision not to show lovemaking scenes, but to “close the door” should not characterize me as a prude. As a reader, I still enjoy stories with organic, well-conveyed lovemaking scenes. A good story is a good story. (Just don’t tell my father.) For me and my stories, I will do a lot with tension and conflict about those stories, but that won’t be part of my brand. I recognize that there will be readers who won’t ever want to read my stories because of that. I’ve made my decision and I’m at peace with that possibility.
Sexual activity is about making choices. Characters choose about whether or not to have sex. I, as the writer with my ability and view, feel happy that I am able to choose what goes into my story and what doesn’t and how. I hope and pray readers still give me a chance, but if my “closed door decision is a deal breaker for a reader, that was my choice.
Fair warning: people who know me know –I’m always doing something different. If you are a wonderful someone who chooses to read my stories, thank you! However, please know that I have some projects/approaches in the works that will be different. I hope and pray you stick around.
Lovely post, Piper. So wonderful that you figured out your strengths and how best to use them.
Thank you Julie!
I did struggle for a bit, but I was happy to figure a way out of all of it. Thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Great post, Piper. Such an interesting topic. I think there is such an expectation of intimacy between the characters in romance novels. Somehow I think some readers don’t feel the love if the characters aren’t between the sheets. I too write Inspirational romance and like yourself, have to work to create an intimacy and a loving bond without overt sex scenes. With regards to AA romance books I think there is a wide array of authors who provide compelling storylines that don’t hit you over the head with violence or gratuitous sex. Like you said, you just need to look around to find them. Keep up the great work, Piper. Your work is fabulous and ground breaking. And very entertaining!
Thank you for your insightful comment Belle! I believe you are right. The belief is out there that real intimacy comes from sexual activity. Good point! Thank you for your kind words–they are much appreciated!
This is something I’ve struggled with too. I used to write for the ABA audience and my writing group urging hotter and hotter. At first I didn’t worry about it until I started getting real interest and decided I didn’t want my name on what I’d written. I like sexual tension which is much harder to write, but can evoke so much more emotion. A look, an innocent touch, a word can evoke more desire than a graphic sex scene which often comes across as selfish gratification instead of love. You do a wonderful job, Piper. Keep it up.
I agree Elaine. Sexual tension is harder to write. Emotion matters more. Thank you for your kind words, cp!
I enjoyed this post, Piper. I had to nod and Amen real big at this line – I, as the writer with my ability and view, feel happy that I am able to choose what goes into my story and what doesn’t and how.
You’ve been a real inspiration to me Nancy! Thank you for stopping by!
Great post, write what you want to write. As a reader and writer I can tell when those ‘love scene’ are put in because it’s expected.
Well said, signifysoftly. I appreciate that you stopped by the blog today!
Piper, The late Elizabeth Peters, may she rest in peace, gave a great hint of the relationships between the characters in her Victorian and Edwardian Egyptian mystery stories, but not so much that a child, listening to the stories on cd while traveling would understand beyond “they kissed. They must love each other.” This was very much in the back ground of her wonderful story telling. She would “draw the curtain” on that scene in her story. My sons loved listening to the action adventure, the English accent and other accented voices, the mystery and whatever challenges the characters faced as a whole. When my father, who was brought up on radio heard the book on cd, he said it reminded him of the serialized stories told on the radio. To me, the best compliment one can hear is that the writing is so good that the modern expectations of “will they, won’t they?” Are simply an aside to who and what the story is about. Not to mention if the story can be read aloud and is compelling, it is worth reading and publishing.
As a person with a history degree in African American history concentration, I think what you’re writing about is wonderful in the historical context. And, secondly, why wouldn’t characters of that time period struggle with sexual tension and their faith? After all, if the white folk keep preaching, writing and discussing the uncontrolled Negro, or the licentiousness of black women, I think it is perfectly within the context of discussing the issue of sex before marriage, particularly when unprotected sex and the rape of black women had huge consequences and did still go on. Reconstruction didn’t mean there was no danger to black women or men. In order to be taken seriously as a population, education, hygiene, social manners and graces had to be taught to many. One of those places where education could take place in safety was the church congregation. I am interested in finding your books here in Canada and reading them. I read across many genres, which humanizes me as well as those I have pastored to, and in essence helps me to understand the great mystery of faith and human nature.
Godspeed on your journey.
Rev. C. L. T.
Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. I absolutely agree with your thoughts historically about the “uncontrolled Negro” and the Jezebel mythology. I purposefully separated the historical justifications for writing clean from my personal reasons for writing clean . I plan to address the historical issues at another point. I’m glad that you bring those reasons up though so that anyone who see this post and your response will understand that the reasons are multi-faceted. I see your mention that you are from Canada. I don’t know how well you know the current inclination here in the U.S. to write what is called urban fiction about African Americans. The stories are steeped in sex, the drug culture and violence. I want to give readers another choice and I hope that my work does that. I know that my stories are available in Canada. I hope that you will give them a chance. Thank you for stopping by!
Many years ago I had an opportunity to meet writer, Colin Channer. I thought he was amazing..very talented and thoughtful. I was more than excited to read his novel, Waiting In Vain. I began the book, and was put off by the explicit sex scenes. I still think Colin Channer is amazing, but I never finished that particular book. I don’t have a desire to read sex scenes in novels so I appreciate your stance on the matter.
Thank you so much Krystal. I appreciate that you took time to share your insight on this matter. Thank you for stopping by!