Sex Sells: But Can It Tell a Good Story, Too?
I grew up reading “trashy” novels. The kind with bodices bursting on the cover and heroes with zero percent body fat and eye-patches. What can I say? I liked a bit of pirate booty-calls mixed in with my chivalrous man candy.
And yes, I said “grew up.” My mother never looked at the books I picked up at yard sales and in the library. While I’d be lying if I said my teen hormones didn’t often dictate my reading choices, I also loved the flare of romance paired with death-defying odds. Historical romance was one of my favorites at the time, and I learned most of my knowledge about romance from these books. God help the poor guys I dated after reading Outlander, amiright?
Time, however, has changed those desires, to a certain extent. What were once euphemistic gestures and darkened descents into love-making—where nary a detail was too specific—have morphed into pretty steamy requirements for the modern romance reader’s tastes.
It’s easy to act highbrow and turn your nose up, especially if you, like me, were educated about and by literary geniuses. I had the privilege of completing my MFA in creative writing in a program where Norman Mailer sat on the board until his death. His late wife Norris Church Mailer attended and spoke at our graduations and dinners. Mailer’s biographer Dr. J. Michael Lennon was one of my most influential professors (though I’ll never appreciate Moby Dick the way he insists I should).
You can see why I might have denied my love of commercial romantic fiction for a few years, eh? After all, what real value does hot lovemaking offer in the face of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road? When you read classics like Great Expectations, it’s hard to make a good argument equating them to today’s commercial genres.
I would argue, though, that we’ve missed the point. There’s room for all of these stories at the table of human entertainment. Stories, be they literary masterpieces or romantic escapes, should be valued for their content, regardless of heat rating.
Here’s what I’ve learned as a literary-student-turned-romance-writer about why we love our racy titles, and why there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Sex sells. We like a bit of hot and heavy amidst our angst-ridden family dramas and tension-taut thrillers. When two people reach the pinnacle of intimate human connection, we rush to watch…er, read. And yes, I just accused all of us of being sexual spectators. We own our kink, dang it!
Despite the negative attitudes towards considering romance as fine literature, it should be held to the same standards. I’m a professional editor in my non-writing life, and whether I’m critiquing literary masterpieces or sci-fi adventures, I require that the author use each scene with a specific goal in mind: to advance the story and engage the reader.
Lovemaking between two romantic characters can and should do the same. While I was writing my sexy romance Inside the Lines—and the next books in the series, for that matter—I made a rule that sex could only happen if it moved the plot forward and/or developed the characters further. Let’s be honest: if you can read about the gorgeous Fin MacKenzie (yes, ladies, he’s a red-haired Scot á la Jamie Frasier) and not want to get him in bed every chapter, you’re more woman than me. And Lux and her sensuality was way too much fun to write. But I stuck to my dictate, and I’ve been told by readers that I fulfilled my goal.
I posit that we should all hold our romance novels high and proud, read them with open relish of both their quality and their yummy content, and spread the word that sex not only sells, it tells a story of deeper meaning and personal growth than perhaps initially understood. While others may quirk an eyebrow at our love of romance, they can’t deny its impact as romance continues to be the best-selling genre year after year.
And I intend to keep it that way.
Inside the Lines
What happens in love might destroy you...
Or remake you all together.
I make a living offering men and women their ultimate fantasies…as submissives of the mysterious Mistress Hathaway.
I've never surrendered to anyone. That's not the way it works. Or rather, not the way I operate.
But when the gorgeous Fin MacKenzie shows up in my life, he throws everything out of balance.
Now I'm not sure who I am anymore, and I'm questioning everything.
What woman can turn away from a gorgeous Scotsman, especially when he sets her body on fire and her heart ablaze?
I have to stop it…us. I can't keep going like this. It will ruin everything I've worked so hard to build.
Who am I if I surrender to him? Worse yet, who am I if I don't?
You can read Inside the Lines at:
Length: 238 pages
Genre: Sexy romance, erotic romance
Heat rating: Get out your summer wardrobe—things are about to get hot!
Bio (with social media links) for Ally Bishop:
When you do something effortlessly and people commend you continuously, you have found your gift.
That’s what I tell people all the time. And it’s true.
I get story. I always have. I started writing when I was 8 on a Smith Corona (the electronic kind — I’m not THAT old). I wrote stories in every spiral notebook I had. Eventually, I graduated to a Mac (yes, I’m one of THOSE people). I imagined new worlds, emotional conflicts, and HEAs while I waited at stoplights or wandered the grocery store. But here’s the thing: I didn’t just dream it up and write it down — I critiqued what I read. I knew when ideas were good, and when they stunk. I ran writing groups, judged creative contests, and eventually got two graduate degrees in writing. That’s right: I love it that much.
So here I am, years later, writing kickass heroines and devastating good guys, along with some mystery and vampires thrown in (I promise: THEY’RE COMING). And what’s really cool? I do what I love. Wanna write a success story for your life: I promise you, that’s it. Do what you love. And hopefully, you can make a living at it too. That’s the golden ticket, Charlie.
And chocolate doesn’t hurt, either…
The serious stuff:
I have an M.A. in creative writing, as well as an M.F.A. in creative writing with a focus in publishing. I produce two podcasts, host one, and am a freelance editor and publicist over at Upgrade Your Story. In my free time (what is that, exactly?), I read, workout, game, and converse. I’m a high introvert despite my extroverted behaviors, so you’ll find me behind my computer most days. I’m married to the wild and brilliant Billy Crash, have two dogs who are filing to change their species designation to “human,” and can often be found wandering Manhattan in search of the perfect writing spot.