I had very exciting news late last week: there’s a publisher interested in picking up my most recent manuscript, The Hunting Grounds. I couldn’t be more thrilled with the opportunity. But with all opportunities comes a choice, and I’ve been given a most unexpected choice.
I’ve been submitting The Hunting Grounds as a paranormal romance/thriller, which it is. But according to the publisher that’s expressed interest, the novel is more than that. The language of the sex scenes, apparently, shifts The Hunting Grounds out of mainstream paranormal and into the realm of erotic romance.
Well! I must say.
How many people do you know who have accidentally written an erotic novel? Truly, this was not my intention, but apparently I have a gift I’m not quite aware of; a gift that found its expression in the dark journey of The Hunting Grounds.
So here’s my choice: I can ‘tame down’ the sex scenes and work the novel back inside the boundaries of mainstream paranormal; or I can leave it as is to publish the novel with the same press, as part of their line of erotic romance.
The whole situation has me thinking – not for the first time – about attitudes toward sex and sexuality. My attitudes, in particular, and how those attitudes sometimes run up against – and contrast with – the mainstream. Too much to tackle in one blog post, but I’ll share a couple thoughts here.
First, in mulling over this situation, I’ve realized that I like the sex scenes in The Hunting Grounds just as they are. They don’t read overly erotic to me. I felt no shame in writing those scenes, and I would feel no shame in sharing them. I’ve always tried to make sex a natural part of my characters’ lives, and in Helen’s case, sex is an important part of her journey.
What I do mind is the label ‘erotic.’
I have certain prejudices against this word that are probably shared by a lot of people. Erotic says to me bondage, both literally and figuratively. When I think of erotic romance, I imagine insipid women protagonists who can’t hold their own in a fight, and male leads that are domineering and wholly undesirable.
The Hunting Grounds doesn’t fit these stereotypes at all. In fact, I put a lot of care and thought into avoiding them. So how on earth did I trip into the label “erotic?” What am I to do with this label? Should I shun it as something foreign to me, or embrace it as part of who I am?
The dilemma has occupied my thoughts these past few days. It’s safe to say I’ve even lost some sleep over it.
I’d publish The Hunting Grounds just as it is in a heartbeat if I didn’t have to deal with that annoying label. I worry potential readers will turn away from this novel because they interpret erotic the same way I do; that they will assume my female protagonist is young, inexperienced and weak, when Helen is mature, smart, and strong. That they’ll assume Helen’s paramour seeks to trap her in a gilded cage, when he is determined to facilitate her journey toward freedom. That they’ll imagine the sex scenes involve ropes and rape fantasies, when it is all thoroughly consensual and bondage-free; a natural expression of intimate, passionate and authentic love.
At the end of the day, I tell myself that my decision must be true to the characters and their story. What would Helen want? What would Nathan say?
At the same time, my author’s voice is in conflict with my instincts regarding the heart and soul of the story. Do I risk conserving my original vision and surrender my novel to a label that might limit its readership? Or do I clip the wings of Helen’s sexual journey in hopes of reaching a more mainstream audience?
One day I lean one way; the next I lean the other. Meanwhile, there’s an editor out there who’s waiting for my answer.
And as difficult as this dilemma has become, isn’t it wonderful that there’s an editor out there waiting for my answer?