By Joey W. Hill
When Sascha asked if I’d do a blog on genre blending, it gave me a grin. Ten years ago, the term was “cross-genre”, and it was a publishing dead zone. I didn’t know that then. Everything I’ve written pretty much falls in the category of “genre blending”, since erotic romance began initially as a meeting of erotica with romance, and then took on additional components from there – contemporary, paranormal, historical, etc. However, a decade ago, when I was starting my writing career, I didn’t consciously say: “Hey, I’m going to blend genres in my writing, because I deeply crave rejection from mainstream publishing.” (lol)
I started with one thing – a desire to write the story that was in my head. I wrote the story my muse wanted me to tell. Starting out as a writer is a lot like getting married when you’re young – you have optimism and you’re not entirely set in your ways. You’re not looking at the mortgage – you’re focused on your dreams. I loved romance, but I wanted much stronger sex in it. So the result was an erotic romance with light bondage, set in a mall over the course of one day (Make Her Dreams Come True). I had no idea I’d blended genres until I took it out into the world to be slapped around relentlessly by cross-genre rejection (good thing I had a masochistic streak).
Fortunately, at that time a whole collective-unconscious craft thing was happening, where a lot of aspiring authors had the bug to write cross-genre work. The universe aligned us with the burgeoning field of e-publishing, which was keenly interested in this overlooked niche and reader demand. Now, ten years down the road, blended genre stories and e-publishing are both notable parts of the book world. In fact, much of that cross-genre work has become genres in their own right: paranormal romance, urban fantasy, erotic romance, etc. So now here’s this blog, discussing how best to blend eroticism with your romance genre—whether paranormal, contemporary or otherwise—as a positive, marketable thing. There goes that grin again…
So here we go. I tend to get wordy and ramble when I think about craft process, but I’ve managed to keep it under 2500 words, a miracle for me (grin). You’re welcome to ask questions about anything I missed, however, or give a different viewpoint in the comments – the wonderful thing about this business is there are a million ways to do it well, many of them yet to be discovered. This is just my approach.
Integration of erotica with romance – erotic romance
Any story, cross-genre or otherwise, has to pull us into it, make us feel that this could happen to us, answering some yearning in our hearts for that ultimate connection. That’s one of the big reasons people read love stories, and just because they want a sexual kick from them, doesn’t mean that can be overlooked. For so many years, all women were given was “erotica”, much of it dark, depressing, adulterous or flat out disturbing. Bringing together erotica with romance means that all the elements of a great romance have to be represented – great character development, pacing, intriguing setting, full sensory involvement, etc.
Make it character-driven – I write character-driven stories, which I think is very critical for an erotic romance of any type. No matter whether it’s contemporary, vampires, mermaids, historical, etc. the erotic love story between the main characters—how it starts, grows, matures, stumbles, etc—is my central story.
Plot cannot exist without the erotic and vice-versa – Making it character-driven does not mean everything else is window dressing. This is VERY important. Let me give you a concrete example of when that no-no happens. I’m sure we’ve all read an erotic romance with one of these two scenarios:
1. Every scene with the main characters is absorbing, hot, emotional…and each time the scene changes to the “plot”, it’s like someone slammed that door, and you actively think, “Oh crap, how long do I have to put up with this boring part before I get back to them again?”
2. The plot is worthy of a suspense master, but then someone flips a switch and suddenly you’re on the set of a bad porn movie. The main characters come to a screeching halt and say, “Hey, it’s three and a half pages into Chapter Three. We’re supposed to fuck like rabbits now. Let’s get that out of the way and then we’ll get back to the real story.”
Yep, excuse my language, but it’s that blatant. In both examples, the story is not well blended. You’re baking a cake without stirring all the ingredients together into a smooth, tasty batter that tempts you to eat it all even before you stick it in the oven. It looks like a gooey autopsy. It’s extremely clear which part of the story interested the author the least. That’s my own personal sanity check when I’m writing. I love the erotic romance/deep character-driven scenes, so if I find myself getting bored or rushing plot points, I know I’m not integrating enough of that into whatever portion of the story I’m writing. The erotic romance must be integrated with the rest of the story line so that one doesn’t really exist without the other.
Plot provides ample opportunity for sexual interaction AND emotional growth in the relationship.
You’re not blending the erotica with the romance if you’re overlooking that. How often do you read the book where the heroine ends up in a sex club, goes through a lot of physical gymnastics with the hero that yes, help her deal with her sexual inhibitions, but other than that there’s really no emotional growth? Still, somehow they end up in a happily-ever-after with the 2.5 kids, golden retriever, picket fence house and a love that never ends? Many of our romance readers are women who’ve experienced committed relationships, and all of us know that they need more than sex to end up as happily-ever-after. As Sascha said so well in his June 24 blog on creating plot: “in erotica, sex is the plot…in erotic romance, sex forwards the plot.” Erotic romance uses erotic interaction to further the relationship.
Integration of erotic romance with other genres
Not because I have this huge desire to pimp my own work, but I can more comfortably dissect it without offending anyone, so let me use some of my storylines as examples of integration of plot/relationship with eroticism in various genres. It will also confirm if I’m qualified to be writing this blog (laughter):
Contemporary erotic romance – For a lot of erotic romance writers, starting in the arena of contemporary is probably your easiest blend, because you can use a BDSM club setting, or the set up of a heroine’s cherished fantasy on the Internet, etc. It gets you comfortable before you move onto trickier blends. Hence, my original Nature of Desire series has a lot of heroes/heroines already Dominant or submissive-oriented, and start inside BDSM clubs. However, it doesn’t have to be clichéd. My muse gave me twists that intrigued me – an alpha cop who is a sexual submissive, or two Doms who fall for each other, etc. Now, if you’ve got it set inside a BDSM club, or are doing the heroine’s cherished fantasy thing, you still mostly have your feet in the erotica room. If you want to blend it, take it into the field of contemporary romance, you’re going to have to get it out of the club or the fantasy and test the relationship (sexually and emotionally) in the real world. That increases the emotional component and even better, brings your characters into your readers’ contemporary world, so they can empathize with the characters.
Paranormal erotic romance – My Vampire Queen series was motivated by my interest in the vampire-servant relationship. To my way of thinking, it practically begged to be explored as a hardcore Dominant/submissive sexual relationship. In my series, vampires form their closest relationships with their servants, even as they consider them their property to use sexually and are expected to share them with other vampires as part of political maneuverings in the vampire world. So there are the emotional, sexual and paranormal conflicts, all rolled into one.
My Daughters of Arianne series was billed as a sensual, borderline erotic paranormal romance series. In the first book, Mermaid’s Kiss, Jonah, a powerful angel, is severely wounded but is hiding not only from his enemies, the Dark Ones, but also his own kind. To heal, he therefore can’t use a magic that would attract a lot of notice. So, with the help of the mermaid who rescues him, he uses earth-based sex magic (which he calls Joining Magic), that must be applied at regular intervals during the healing process. It draws the two of them together intimately, makes more sense in the storyline, and is tied up in the magical plot line as they journey to heal his heart as well as his body.
That all sounds good, and though I loved this book, I was never entirely comfortable with the initial introduction of this erotic element. It felt somewhat contrived, not as well-integrated, enough that I had the irascible seawitch Mina make a joke about it to my heroine: “He had to use Joining Magic. It was the only thing that would work,” she mimicked. “Oh, that’s rich. If I had an anemone for every time I’d heard that one…”
In the subsequent books of the series, I wasn’t so uptight about it and didn’t try so hard. As such, the eroticism evolved in the paranormal setting far more naturally, to my way of thinking. In Witch’s Beauty, to balance the light and dark inside of her, the seawitch Mina discovers a mix of pain and pleasure eases that struggle. The angel David can help her out with that, because the angels of the Dark Legion are pretty virile and often use sex to ground themselves after battle.
Contemporary/paranormal/erotic romance – In If Wishes Were Horses, my hero runs an erotic paraphernalia shop, teaches Tantric classes, and is a Wiccan priest who regularly uses the Sacred Rite (sex magic) to channel the Great Lord. He is therefore uniquely set up to initiate our heroine, the new town sheriff, into an exploration of her own sensuality as they try to get to the bottom of a killing. However, that killing also has a magical/sexual component that further adds to the erotic quotient of the story.
That’s more than enough examples to give you the gist, but I wanted to show you a variety of possibilities.
Pacing - Final note for your blending is to watch your pacing. It’s like inching a tight lid off a box, where you have to take it up a little at a time on each side, until it all comes off at the same time. As a concluding example – in my book, Beloved Vampire – the hero is a vampire who’s grieved for 300 years. He rescues a sick human woman from a tomb by making her his full servant. He already has the sexual dominance, and she’s a natural submissive, so there’s going to be that issue gnawing at them, but she’s been tortured for five years by another vampire, and he’s spent 300 years mourning the Bedouin girl he handfasted. So the trust/relaxing of shields is going to happen proportionately at the same rate as the sexual interaction increases, and the vampire plot thickens, etc.
So recap of the mechanics – keep the character/relationship central to the story, make sure the plot and the erotic romance can’t exist without each other, test the relationship in real world settings (even if it’s a paranormal world), and watch your pacing for the emotional growth/development of your characters as you integrate erotica, romance and other genre elements.
Most importantly however—and this goes back to the original point—If you want to write a blended genre story, make sure your muse has given you one. It can’t be forced – it’s not like a game of chance where you draw two slips of paper out of a hat. “Today, I’ll write an…erotic romance, that’s also a….western! I’ll mash those two things together and see what happens.” The integration has to start in your head and heart—in your creative muse—first.