And welcome to another round of Pillow Talk Secrets, in which Malin James, Jade A Waters and I, Tamsin Flowers, will be dishing the dirt on a subject close to all our hearts – is it acceptable for an erotica heroine to sleep with more than one partner? So, I’ve mixed the martinis, handed out the olives and the nuts – let’s not waste any more time in getting down to business!
Pillow Talk Secrets
Tamsin: Hello, girls. Nice to see you!
Jade: You as well! How are you?
Malin: Hi ladies! I’m here!
T: Hello, gorgeous!
M: Ah, now this is how I want to start a day – chatting with the two of you. Nothing tops it.
J: So true! Now, who’s leading us today?
M: Our lovely, Tamsin, I believe! And I think she’s got something really interesting in mind.
J: Bring it, T!
T: Okay, I’m going to launch us straight in to today’s topic: Is it all right for the heroine of your book to sleep with more than one partner? This is a question that’s been batting around my brain for quite some time now. As you two know, I’ve just finished the first draft of my sexy spy thriller, Honeytrap, and my heroine certainly gets called upon to cosy up with the villains as well as the good guys. But I remembered reading somewhere that it’s a big no-no to readers if the heroine sleeps with multiple partners. How would you two handle this dilemma?
M: So, I have a couple of thoughts right off the top of my head. The first is that context is probably critical – how and why is she sleeping with multiple partners seems to make quite a difference in how readers respond… What do you think, Jade?
J: I agree. There are so many variations here – is she a free bird, is she cheating, is she in a negotiated polyamorous situation? Maybe we should focus on one at a time.
T: Ooh! Free bird is a new expression for me. I like that!
J: I just made that up. :)
M: I love it! Interestingly, I think the free bird scenario is the trickiest for writers. There’s still surprising amount stigma attached to a female character who sleeps with multiple partners for no other reason than she wants to. Her own desire might be perfectly valid justification, but that doesn’t seem to settle well with readers in general. It’s a real shame, actually. There’s a lot in that restriction that doesn’t sit well with me.
J: I think that’s still, sadly, largely due to the real life cultural view on women having multiple partners – and it translates directly into people’s reading.
T: And this is where the question is interesting. Obviously, if someone buys a menage story, they’re expecting multiple partners. But there seems to be a real move in the market towards erotic romance rather than plain erotica at the moment – and with it comes a demand for the heroine to be, how shall I put it, better behaved or in lurve!
M: Yes! I think that the romance element / narrative structure, (of a couple finding their way to each other), greatly impacts reader expectation.
J: Which is a shame – I don’t think it’s impossible for a woman to find romance with multiple partners at the same time. It’s called “dating.” You know?
M: Yup. But this romance expectation is inherently limiting. What about a character being in lurve or lust with two different men but not being forced to choose? What if she just has a healthy sexuality and enjoys romance and dating with more than one guy? It should be alright to make her arc the priority, rather than focusing on her as one half of a fated couple.
T: I think, what it boils down to, is who are we writing for? And also the way we then go about promoting that story to the readers.
M: I think the “who are we writing for” question is valid and important – it always comes down to audience. Even more importantly, from a personal angle, is the question of how we approach a story – are we writing it primarily to please ourselves, or a market? I don’t think there’s an easy or right answer there. It may just depend on the story or project.
J: Or the publisher. This actually reminds me of a Facebook exchange we had with Kristina Lloyd a few weeks ago – do you both remember?
T: Yes, I do.
M: Me too. The timing was uncanny.
J: Yes – Kristina mentioned how challenging it was to write what was near and dear to her – more “controversial” topics – and yet still fit into the expectations for the market. We definitely straddle a fine line when we write for that reason. (Heh…see what I did there?) :) But seriously, there is so much that actually happens in reality – woman, aka real people, having multiple partners – that still isn’t accepted in literature. Which is so strange, as we’re okay with people hacking people to pieces…
M: And we’re generally okay with real women having slept with more than one or two men -
J: Or five?
M: Or five. :) Though that tends to open the door to slut shaming and social judgement, so maybe I should retract that.
T: However, I think in stories it has a bit more to do with our expectation of a story arc than being realistic. We can’t deny that there’s a satisfaction with the story going where it needs to go – ie the Happy-Ever-After – and that’s why a lot of readers pick up romances. But for erotica, there should be a bit more leeway.
M: Tamsin, I know this question came up for you in relation to one of your WIPs. Are you comfortable giving us a hint of what goes on with your heroine in Honeytrap? I know it’s early days yet…
T: Yeah – things may change when I get it beta read! But at the moment, she only goes so far with alternative partners as in this case she’s a spy and doing it for work rather than pleasure.
J: So essentially, she’s “sleeping around” – and I’m actually saying this aloud because we’ve been avoiding the term in this discussion, which really shows how deep the stigma around this is still – but it’s all for work. Which is an entirely different reason. I feel like that could be acceptable for readers in this story, even in an erotic romance context. It opens the door for her to do that ever-desired “choosing” at some point.
T: It justifies it, in this case. But I’d like to feel free to write women characters who don’t need to justify it.
M: That need for justification ties right into my second thought on the whole issue. Women, I think, still feel a certain pressure to justify or defend their sexual behavior – not just to men, but to other women. There’s still a deep cultural need to be above reproach. When you read erotic romance, where the characters are fairly idealized, the heroine needs some sort of external justification if she’s going to sleep with multiple partners. In straight up erotica, which is less constrained by the happily-ever-after, the justification is not as strongly required because the reader’s expectations are different. It’s why I’m awful at it, by the way :)
J: At the erotic romance?
M: Yup. I always end up focusing on things other than getting that couple together. It’s something I’ve got to work on!
T: I don’t believe that.
J: Ditto on that. Crazy girl! But you know, you make a good point – I’m working on a book right now in which the woman is sleeping with a couple people, paths are crossing, etc…but she’s come from a place of having been in one relationship and is in that period we all, as humans, go through – needing to scope out the turf, if you will – and I remember thinking, “Um, I guess I just switched into erotica” the moment I introduced another partner. It was a very interesting epiphany.
T: Well, my new project is set in a club. So everyone’s having a go with everyone! Beware, easily offended readers!
M: Cue me grabbing my glasses and getting ready to settle in with it when you’re done. You’re speaking my language, lady!
J: No kidding!
T: I have to say, I’m having a lot of fun with it already and I’m only 30 pages in!
M: Hmm. You know what? Based on that, and on Jade’s new work and the epiphany she had, and on my own WIP which is much more about a threesome dynamic, I wonder if we’re not naturally drawn to erotica, rather than erotic romance per se?
J: I don’t know – my last project was definitely erotic romance, but an edgier version of it, and it felt comfortable. I think it just depends. Fluidity!
T: I like a bit of both – I would have a problem being faithful to one!
M: No, you’re absolutely right. After all, why constrain yourself to one subgenre when you can get your finger into multiple pies? In the end, I suppose it comes down to the individual project.
J: See, we like to write stories the same way we like to craft our characters’ partners – with multiple options! Hee.
T: And talking of multiple options, Jade, you’ve seem to have added yet another string to your bow! We need to congratulate you on having a poem selected in that contest over at Vanillerotica. To me that’s amazing! I’ve never actually tried to write an erotic poem, so hat’s off to you, darling!
M: I second that! I have never tried my hand at poetry, and I have to say that I’m a bit intimidated by it. Yours is so lovely though.
J: *Blushing* Oh my gosh, girls, thank you! You’re both so sweet. Yes, it was called “Awake the Nymph,” and I had fun writing it!
T: I’ve found this rather inspiring – and as I’m in charge of this session, I’m going to set us all a challenge! (Tee hee.) And that is for each of us to write a poem – erotic naturally – and put it up on our own blogs before we have our next session! Are you game, girls?
M: Yes! I can’t turn down a challenge.
J: I gladly accept this challenge. I love writing erotic poetry, honestly – quick, dirty…I don’t know, I feel like I get in this head space when I do it that just moves me in a whole different way. What are the specs?
T: No rules – whatever you want – but sexy. Okay, that’s one rule. It has to be sexy.
M: All right if it doesn’t rhyme? I’m good at rhythm (ahem), but rhyming…oh boy.
J: Yeah, rhyming…that’s a whole different ball park.
T: That’s so funny – I don’t think I could write a poem without rhyming. Probably shows that I’m at a primary school level of poetry writing!
J: No no no. It’s just a stylistic thing. I’ve been writing poems since, geez, high school? But I rarely went for rhyming. (And yes, some of those high school ones were pretty dirty, too.)
T: You see, when I was a kid, I had a rhyming dictionary. But I don’t think it would have the vocab I need for this challenge!
M: I propose we all just tap into our inner Byrons and see what comes out… Or maybe, in my case, my inner Dorothy Parker…
T: Ooh! That sounds exciting… Mine might be a bit more my inner Dr Seuss!
M: Ha! Dr. Seuss! Tamsin, I love it!
J: Yes, and what a great challenge! Nice call! So before our next session on – oh, let’s see…October 8th – we will post a poem. Tada!
T: Wow! October 8th seems like a lifetime away, doesn’t it? But it’ll come round faster than you believe – so I’m off now to study iambic pentameters and find a word that rhymes with ‘stunt’! See you next time, girls…
M: Later ladies! I’ve got a recalcitrant protagonist to whip into shape ;) And thanks to our lovely readers for joining us again! See you next time!
J: Agreed. Till next time!
T: And just one thing, before I forget – look out for the next edition of our newsletter, which should be hitting your inboxes during the second week of August! Sign up in the left sidebar if you haven’t already done so. Bye until then!
Jade, Malin and Tamsin