DELILAH S. DAWSON:
Yes, that’s a dude in a blouse with an oiled chest, but I promise you’re in the right place. My books might end up on the romance shelves, and there may be a steamy hot scene on an airship brothel. But there’s a Big Idea at work—and one that goes far beyond frivolous bodice ripping and sparkly vampires. See, it’s a little known fact that at the heart of every romance book, there’s something very special.
An empowered woman who likes to have sex.
And that’s not a bad thing, a shameful thing, or an embarrassing thing. That’s a great thing!
There’s this strange discrepancy in the book world: at the base of everything we do, human beings crave love and sex, and yet to delve too deeply into romance alters how a book is critically viewed. A little love in a good book makes it great and iconic; what would Tolkien’s books be without Aragorn and Arwen? And yet once you open the bedroom door and describe a woman’s passion, much less a man’s testicles, the entire tone of the book changes, and suddenly it’s on a different shelf and not “literature”.
In the words of Rodney Dangerfield, romance writers get no respect.
At least not until they hit the New York Times Bestseller list or make seven figures a year, which actually happens pretty often, and for good reason. Romance books can have characters just as complex and stories just as masterly as any other genre– the heaving bosoms are just a bonus. And you can pick up some good tips for the bedroom, too.
I didn’t actually set out to write romance, and I’m not going to lie: as a shy Southern girl, I had to get drunk to write that first sex scene. I’m a geek, and my Blud series started with a dream I had after watching too much Buffy: I woke up naked in a weird forest with a hot dude in a top hat staring at me. He sounded just like Spike, and I knew that he was a blood drinker but not a vampire. The world of Sang expanded from this tiny seed. Half the people are blood drinkers, but I didn’t want to follow the rule about wealthy vampires ruling the world. So I ghettoized them and filled the forests and back alleys with likewise blood-drinking animals. The adorably fuzzy rabbits want to suck your bone marrow with a straw, the horses are man-eaters, and the rats are the size of corgis and a hundred times more vicious. Transportation is therefore handled by armored train, dirigible, and submarine, and clockwork animals fulfill the roles of pets.
Voila! A new steampunk science fiction/fantasy world is born.
But you won’t find it in the Scifi/Fantasy section of your bookstore or on i09. Not only because Blouse Guy is on the cover or because I was asked to add hot sex scenes to my fantasy adventure, but also because the focus is on the heroine, Ahnastasia.
I’ve always felt like Princess Anastasia Nikolaevna got a raw deal in history: she was killed for political reasons before she was even a threat. That’s why I’ve given my Ahna fangs, talons, and the nature of a fierce and royal predator. When she first meets Blouse Guy, she tries to eat him. Luckily, she fails. Their romance is dogged by extraordinary hindrances, like vampiric political assassins and bloodthirsty unicorns, but they also face the same sort of problems you see in our own world: prejudice, destiny, pride, duty, addiction, bad choices, and trying to understand who you’ll become in a relationship without losing yourself completely. It takes a strong man to love a strong woman, so don’t let that blouse fool you; this romantic couple can fight back to back and leave a pile of drained bodies in their wake.
And you know what? There’s awesome sex, too. Because no matter how erudite we might like to appear, at the heart of all good stories is love, and at the animal root of all love is terrific sex. Finding her power as a sensual woman and taking control of her sexuality is part of Ahna’s journey to becoming a queen, and the story would be incomplete without opening that door for the reader. Although romance might not garner respect in literary circles, the romance genre takes a huge chunk of the market, with 48% of mass market paperback sales categorized as romance. From historical fiction to urban fantasy, the majority of these stories focus on a woman who undergoes a major life change related to owning her own pleasure and finding confidence, love and/or her destiny.
And women like that sort of thing.
Guys should, too, because a confident and passionate woman is far more likely to rock your world, in bed and out of it.
So that’s my big idea: it’s empowering to have great sex, to write about great sex, and to read about great sex, even if you do so covertly on your e-reader.
Your homework is to do at least one of those three things today and report back about how you feel afterward. If the answer isn’t “awesome” or “empowered”, remember that practice makes perfect. And if you ever need recommendations for intelligently written romance, just ask. If I can get over my embarrassment and write a sex scene in a submarine, so can you.