Sexy vs sensual

Hi y’all,

It’s Sunday lunchtime, and I had a bit of a late night — again! — so I’m still in my dressing gown. Note to potential visitors: ring first so you can prepare yourself to face the not-so-pretty sight. Disclaimer: You have been warned, LOL. And I promise I’ll blog at some stage about why I had a late night, because between you and me, one of my old posts about The best hens’ night EVER! is about to be faced with some stiff competition!

But back to this post. I mentioned a few months back  in my Risky Business post, that I’d finalled in the Maryland Romance Writers Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest with my paranormal YA, Freaks Of Greenfield High. And to my delight, a week or so ago I received an email saying that I’d won the Young Adult category. Woohoo!

Well, today I just got the 1st place certificate via email, so I found some fancy paper and printed it out to put in my album. The win actually seems “real” now that I’ve got the certificate. I don’t know why, but it’s more tangible somehow. And receiving this certificate has got me thinking again about this question: Does being known as an erotic romance writer define me?

Winning a contest with this manuscript kinda drives home that Freaks Of Greenfield High is good. Yes, it’s finalled — and eventually placed 3rd — in another contest, but the feedback I got from both that, and other contests I entered this manuscript in, was conflicting. Some people adored the dark beginning and didn’t flinch at my use of teen slang. Others? Well, they told me to change it all, and rewrite it all, because they didn’t like it so much.

Yeah, I know: got that whole polarizing vibe going on again. It happens with all my manuscripts, and only being told by enough of my author friends that polarizing readers is a sign of what the industry terms having a “strong voice”, keeps me entering contests and hoping that this might be the time I get a bunch of judges who are all in accord. And luckily — wonderfully! — this time, I had good enough scores to get me into the final round, and even better, both final judges thought the scene that I entered was good enough that their scores made my entry the winner. Yay!

But there’s much more to this than knowing Freaks is good enough to win a contest and having a nice addition to my query letters.

Out of all the manuscripts that I’ve written, why is this particular manuscript so important to me right now? And out of all the contests that I’ve finalled in, why the heck is this particular contest such a delight to win?

Well, for me, it’s all tied up with the way that I perceive other people might think of me. I can write “sweet” for adults (When Lightning Strikes is an example) but I generally write hot love scenes (my Crystal Warriors series and Scent Of A Man are good examples). I’m published in erotic romance (Even Demons Get The Blues) and I must confess that I didn’t really think that much about the ramifications when I was offered the publishing contract. I thought it was important to get my name out there and because I already had a website in my own name, I didn’t publish under a nom de plume. So I’m probably known only as an erotic romance writer — or, as a certain person announced in my Ceroc dance class the other week, the one who writes THOSE books.

And I gotta tell you, as soon as people are told what I’ve published, they go silent for a bit. Like, they don’t quite know what to say. Here’s an example:

Going through customs at Brisbane airport. Young customs dude glances at my immigration form and notes that I’ve ticked business conference option as the reason for my visit. “What kind of conference are you attending?”

“A writers’ conference.”

“Oh? So you’re an author.”

I’m very pleased to be able to actually agree that I am an author, and I can’t help grinning. “Yep. My first book just came out in June.”

Wait for it….

“Congratulations! What kind of book is it?”

He’s a customs official and the last thing I want to do is to make him suspicious that I might be hiding something. So I straighten my spine, throw back my shoulders and hit him with the truth. “Paranormal erotic romance.”

He makes like a stunned mullet — which is a fish used as bait, BTW. “Ohhh!”

“Well, ” I say, cringing at the thought of being a potential discussion topic in the break-room when he takes his morning tea break, “you did ask.”

I like to think that I maintained my dignity as he stamped my passport and sent me on my way. And at least with him being an official and therefore having to remain professional, I didn’t have to put up with the snide comments about “research” and “what a lucky dog” my husband must be.

Back to Freaks Of Greenfield High. I wanted to write something that my kids could actually read — daughter, especially. But I’m a romance writer at heart so aside from the inevitable paranormal element, I knew the story would hinge around a romance. But given the genre, Young Adult, and the fact that I didn’t want to write a literary YA novel exploring teen sexuality, I was going to have to make the romantic scenes appropriate for teens — sensual rather than sexy. And, after I finished the manuscript, I hoped that I had succeeded.

But how to know for sure?

Well, hence entering a scene from the manuscript in the new YA category of the Reveal Your Inner Vixen contest, a contest which required a scene showcasing “sensual tension between your hero and heroine”. And all irony of my hero being a cyborg and a supposedly unemotional creature of logic and processes aside, it was the perfect opportunity to shrug off the erotic romance author label. It was the perfect opportunity to prove that I was flexible enough to write across genres and write a story where the hero and heroine engage in one kiss throughout the entire story. In fact, they do nothing else that could even be remotely construed as sexual, and yet I believe that I’ve managed to get across the romance which is so very integral to the plot.

And BTW, the scene that won this contest and showcased the required element of sensual tension, wasn’t even the scene where they kissed. Even better!

Now that this scene has won the YA category, I feel I have proved to myself that I am not just an author who writes THOSE books. I can write an intensely sensual scene where not even a kiss is exchanged. And I can also write a sexy scene that will curl your toes. (Or in the case of a shower scene that I recently emailed to a friend, made her want to go find her husband and insist that he take a shower with her…. Right. Now! LOL.)

So what winning this contest has made me realise, is that being published in erotic romance does not define me as a writer. It’s just one aspect of what I do — one aspect of my job, if you like. (Kinda like perhaps being good at writing reports for your boss as well as amusing anecdotes for your work’s in-house mag.) And that belief will tide me through the winks and the nudges and the blatantly sexual references that people seem to think I am inviting when I tell them I’m published in erotic romance.

Might sound trivial but it’s such a huge relief!

:-)

M

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