Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Genre Labels: Are we fooling ourselves?

I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work, which is never a good idea.  I'm usually hungry by that time and end up wandering through "easy" aisles.  All kinds of crazy pre-packaged things - full of sugar, sodium and things only chemists can pronounce - lurk in those shelves.

Last night was no exception.  It was there, in the mysterious rows of one-step meals, I discovered cauliflower mac and cheese.  It is supposed to fool people into thinking they are eating regular mac and cheese while they actually consume some strange cauliflower noodle. 

Sure, I thought, why not?  (See how hungry I was?)

See?  It looks like regular
mac and cheese too.
I cooked the noodles.  They smelled like boiled cauliflower, which didn't excite me.  But, by the time I added the packet of cheese flavor, the result mimicked regular mac and cheese pretty convincingly.

My taste buds thought I was eating mac and cheese, but I wasn't - not really. 

Now, you are asking yourself, why is she talking about this?  How is this related to genre labels?

J. Ellen Smith from Champagne Books recently spoke to my writing group.  She mentioned that if a story had oral sex in it, the book was shifted to their erotica line.  Since then, I thought about the heaps of romance books I've read - some printed more than 25 years ago.  (I'd prefer that you do not do the math on that.  Let's pretend I was two when I started reading those.) Most of what I read can be categorized as mainstream "romance" not "erotica" and a lot of them, though not all, have included oral sex.

Does this mean that all this time when I thought I was reading one thing, I was actually reading something else?  As a reader, I don't remember being surprised these scenes were included.  I didn't feel misled by the genre label on the spine of the book.  If oral sex was included, I didn't mentally mark it as something "different" from what I had anticipated.  Am I atypical?  The way I see it is that as long as the intimacy scene has a purpose in the book, I am happy to read it.  On the other hand, if the scene is gratuitous - included solely for the purpose of having another sex scene - and doesn't further the plot or the character development, I often flip past it. 

Does the label matter?  I enjoyed the books I've read, just as I enjoyed my cauliflower mac and cheese.  In the end, a cauliflower noodle and a regular noodle are still both noodles. 

But, as a writer, I wonder about these things.

I've written stories where the characters have closed the bedroom door.  There was no plot or character reason for the reader to follow them into that situation.  The actual particulars of the sex scene weren't necessary for the story's development.  Would people like to read it?  Perhaps.  Or, would they skip over it knowing it was just gratuitous?  Perhaps.

Have I included oral sex in stories?  Yes.  In one book, it was the trigger of an important emotional realization in the main character.  Has it happened in all my stories where the sex scene has been included?  Honestly, I have no idea.  I've never seen it as a line in the sand before, so I never really considered the implications of including it or not.

What do you think?  Is mainstream romance actually an erotica cauliflower noodle dressed in cheese powder?


Anonymous said...

Now THAT is interesting! I never thought of mainstream romance being tagged as erotica if it had oral sex. Sensual yes, erotica no. To me that is an entirely different ball of wax. I certainly don't consider myself a writer of erotica but, according to these definitions, I am. Huh.

I agree with you, Lorraine, that sex scenes should be for a reason and not simply tossed in as padding. Give me a story and characters I care about and I'll follow to the end.

And, btw, I need to run out and buy some of that cauliflower mac and cheese. Sounds like a match made in heaven! :)

Donna Cummings said...

I'm still wrinkling my nose at the cauliflower mac and cheese. LOL I might give it a try, on your recommendation. :)

My stories typically have the bedroom door wide open for the reader. :) But I have one or two stories that don't, and it just wouldn't seem right if everyone was invited in. It really depends on the story and the characters. Which is why it's difficult to have "rules" like the one you mentioned -- sometimes they don't make sense for the story in question. And sometimes the definitions keep changing, so it's tough to keep up with that too!

Maggie Marlow said...

That’s interesting. As a reader I enjoy bedroom scenes that bring the characters closer and strengthen their bond, but as a writer I really struggle with them. It never occurred to me that oral sex was erotica, just as it never occurred to me that I was writing erotica. What a shocker!
When I mull it all over I have to say no matter what the label, love is still the foundation of a romance story not sex. The sex is nice but not essential. And I will continue to enjoy a good book no matter where it is pigeonholed.

patonlorraine said...

Exactly. I think by these definitions there are a lot of people who are suddenly writing erotica by this definition. LOL.

Thanks for stopping by! :)

patonlorraine said...

LOL. If you do decide to try to cauliflower noodle mac and cheese - just beware that it doesn't smell "right" when you cook it.

Yes - I agree - some characters / stories seem better suited to having bedroom doors open (or closed).

And, one publisher's definition will likely be different from another publisher's. But I did find it interesting.

Thanks for stopping by! :)

patonlorraine said...

I find that whether or not I struggle with the scene depends on what whether or not I know *why* the scene is there. And I guess that comes back to the role of that scene within the larger context.

Also, it helps if I don't think about other people reading it. LOL.

And, that's true - I was surprised that by some standards I'm writing erotica. Perhaps that opens up new opportunities. Who knows? But I want the emphasis in my stories to be the relationship, the romance and the love between the two people. :)