Where Romance and History Meet - www.heartsthroughhistory.com/

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Historical Romance - How Much Heat is Too Much?

...or perhaps there isn’t a ‘too much’? :) As this is my very first blog post – ever – it took me a while to decide on a topic. So after much debate, I decided to post about something I know well. Heat. In historical romance books, at least.

Historical romances range the full spectrum, from mild to blazing hot erotic romances. While the bulk of the market falls somewhere along the middle, there seems to be a trend of late – the spicier the better. Just open up a Romantic Times Book Reviews magazine and the majority of the historical books reviewed are tagged ‘Hot’, where the bedroom door is thrown wide open. The sex is explicit, even graphic at times, yet the books are not erotic romances. Yes, there is a difference between a spicy/sexy historical and an erotic one. Sylvia Day, co-founder of the Passionate Ink RWA chapter, offers these definitions:

Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and it could easily be removed or “toned down” without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT as this is basically a standard romance with hotter sex.

Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance.

So, there you have it. Explicit sex doesn’t equal an erotic romance. Still, the sex content in mass market historical romances tends to be increasing, to the point where it’s common place to have detailed sex scenes in a historical romance book. Even the erotic historical romances are getting spicier. Kink and ménages have been standard fare for small presses and e-publishers for years, and now even the traditional NY erotic romance print publishers are dipping their toes into the kinky waters and putting out books which feature not only m/f/m romances (where the heroes are heterosexual) but m/m/f romances (where the heroes are bisexual). Running Press is launching a new line of mass market m/m historical romances this month, and the books are not labeled erotic romances. I would wager that most traditional romance readers would label a m/m as kinky, but if the sex isn’t an inherent part of the story, then it’s not an erotic romance. It’s simply a love story between two men.

All of this makes me wonder if readers have become well, not immune to sex, but if their tolerance has increased. What was once scorching hot is now perhaps considered standard fare. Personally, I see the line blurring between spicy historicals and m/f erotic romances. My May release from Berkley, Her Ladyship's Companion, straddles the fence. The hero in the book is a male prostitute, so of course sex is a part of the plot and conflict. The sex scenes can’t be removed or toned down without damaging the character arcs. Yes, the sex is explicit and graphic, yet it’s vanilla (i.e. no kink, no outrageous positions, no use of fun toys) and every chapter isn’t littered with sex scenes. Some may consider it an erotic romance, but I certainly don’t. I write erotic romance under the pen name Ava March – explicit, graphic m/m historical erotic romance (and yes, with kink and sometimes even fun toys) – so Her Ladyship's Companion is quite tame in comparison. Perhaps I am simply an example of someone who has become desensitized to m/f vanilla sex – I simply don’t consider it erotic. Hot, but not erotic. It makes me wonder if readers who are looking for heat in their books are now going a step further and branching out into non-traditional pairings to amp up the heat level.

Or perhaps the trends in romance indicate that readers are simply broadening their horizons, expanding their own internal definition of a romance book beyond a m/f pairing. After all, love is love, regardless of gender or the number of partners invovled.

Do you think your craving for heat in romances has increased? And how much heat is too much? Where do you draw the line? Do you think that line has changed over the past couple years? And what do you think about m/f/m, m/m/f, and m/m in historical romance novels (erotic or not)?

And to celebrate losing my blog-posting virginity, I'm giving away a copy of one of my books to a commenter. Monday, April 6th, at 7pm I'll pick someone at random at post the name of the winner, and I'll leave the choice up to the lucky winner - either an ARC of Her Ladyship's Companion by Evangeline Collins, or an e-book copy of Object of His Desire or Bound by Deception by Ava March. All right...one e-book novella versus an ARC...if you're interested in the Ava books I'll send you both. ;)

And the winner is ....HELEN SCOTT TAYLOR!
Helen, send me an e-mail at Evangeline@EvangelineCollins.com and let me know if you'd prefer an an ARC of Her Ladyship's Companion, or e-book copies of Object of His Desire and Bound by Deception.

Evangeline Collins
Her Ladyship's Companion – Berkley Sensation/May 2009
Lush. Elegant. Sensual Historical Romance

Ava March
Object of His Desire – Samhain Publishing
Bound by Deception - Loose Id
Bound to Him – Loose Id/April 28, 2009
Historical Erotic Romance


Anonymous said...

Great blog on a current topic. I think you're right. Many people are now looking for more heat in romances. Luckily, for those who aren't, there are still romances without sex or with disguised sex. Me, I like it hot, but there are still a few things that turn me off. Still, to each her own is my motto. I'm looking forward to reading yours.
Carol Jo

Evangeline Collins said...

Thanks, Carol Jo!

I follow the 'to each her own' motto as well. Even though I read and write some pretty hot stuff, I do have my limits and stear clear of books that just aren't my thing. And publishers do continue to put out books along the entire heat spectrum for those who prefer their romance on the milder side.

Helen Scott Taylor said...

Hi Evangeline,
I enjoy both erotic and sexy. For me it's mainly down to whether I like the characters or not. I have also read some wonderful M/M stories, some of which weren't erotic. Although from what I've seen, most of the M/M stories being published are erotic, which sort of confirms your suggestion that this is a way of pushing the envelope on the sex.
Interesting blog!

Eliza Knight said...

Hi Evangaline!

Fabulous post! Congrats on losing your blogging virginity and on your upcoming releases!

I look for first and foremost a well-written story with an interesting plot and great characters. As for sex I will read just about anything as long as it doesn't cross the line (ie. illegal or depraved). I would say that has definitely broadened over the years. When an author I liked was first published in erotic romance I had to take a look. This was probably two years ago. I ordered the book, hid it from my husband (lol) and then read it secretly, blushing the whole time. But I enjoyed it so much I added erotic to my reading repetoire, and even write it now.

I have a question for you. Do your friends and family know you write erotic? What do they say? How do you respond? I ask, because some people have told me I write porno (which is sooo NOT what erotic romance is) and I just laugh it off and tell them I don't, and I'm curious to see how other writers respond.


Keena Kincaid said...

Welcome to the blogosphere, Evangeline. Great post and an interesting topic.

For me the issues of heat levels depends entirely upon the characters and the story. That it is an historical is irrelevant. In my characters’ mind, they are the “modern” world.

Tracey Devlyn said...

Hi Evangeline!
Thanks for the great post. Not only the sex but I think the language is getting more bold as well. Just yesterday I was writing a scene and the only word that would come to me is one that would be in an erotic not a sexy romance. I left it for now so I could move on. But it really does seem like the best word for the sentence, especially since it's in male POV.

Stephani Hecht said...

Great blog! I tend to lean toward the more spicy areas in my reading and writing whereas my mother likes more tame stuff. I am so happy there is something out there for both of us now.

Cindy Spencer Pape said...

As someone who also writes both erotic romances and sexy romances as well, I think that while the lines are blurring, there is certainly room in the market for both. I have some readers who prefer one, some the other, and yes, some who devour both styles. What I do think has changed is that the erotic romances are more available, so people who like those now have more opportunity to buy them--also more opportunity for us to write them.

housemouse88 said...

Hi Evangeline,

I guess I'm not as much a risk taker as I would like to think. I enjoy a steamy sex scene but I go for the traditional couples. I'm not against anyone's sexual preference. There is just some things I don't want to read about. Hope I didn't step on anyone's toes. Sorry if I did.

Have a great day.

Hanna Rhys Barnes said...

Welcome Evangeline. Great post. I can't really say how much the heat level has risen over long run, but in the five years I have been reading it has definitely increased, a lot. I am seeing books on the grocery store shelf that would have raised eyebrows and ended up in the erotica section of a bookstore a few years ago.

We all know that what you call a product will affect the consumer. Advertising agencies get paid millions of dollars a year to figure out just the right name for a product. I think that since the erotica and erotic romance categories have become more clearly defined, readers are becoming more comfortable with "heat" because they don't consider it "erotica".

I will read any historical romance, from sweet to kinky as long as the writing is fresh and holds my attention.


Louisa Cornell said...

Welcome to the wonderful world of blogging, Evangeline. You've certainly jumped in there with a HOT topic (pun intended.)

First and foremost for me is the story. If there is a story that draws me in and characters I like and can relate to I will read the book whether the sex is mild, behind closed doors, erotic or anything in between.

I tend to write sex scenes with slightly different vocabularies for male POV and female POV simply because the thought processes and vocabularies of men and women during the Regency WERE different. So while a man might refer to body parts one way, a woman - especially one genteely raised - would refer to them differently.

I have noticed that sex in historicals has gotten hotter and comes into the story earlier. I don't have a problem with that at all provided that you can make me believe it is a natural progression for these two people.

I'm not real big on menage, simply because I am a greedy wench and don't like sharing.

While I don't read a lot of same sex romance, I don't have a problem with it at all. In fact, in my first (still unpublished) historical romance the hero's late brother had a long standing relationship (15 years) with his valet. The valet ended up being one of the very favorite characters of everyone who has read the book. And I think the hero's acceptance of the valet as a member of the family - more like a brother-in-law is one of the reasons people who have read it really love him.

So as to heat, bring it on, but make it good and make it believable and MOST important make it romantic!

Kit Donner said...

Hi Evangeline,
Thanks for your post. I have often wondered myself about hot vs. erotica. I write hot historicals where the love scenes meld into the story. I know there will always be some who think these love scenes are erotica- anything beyond a kiss and a closed door might be their definition. But thinking beyond narrow minds, love-making as always been a beautiful part of relationships. Kit Donner

Natasha said...

Great post, Evangeline! I agree that romances seems to be getting hotter - and that's fine with me :) But the characters are always what matter and the sex scenes have to serve a purpose besides getting the reader hot along with the characters (like further the plot and reveal character) otherwise even hot sex scenes can be boring.

AllureVanSanz said...

Hiya Evangeline!

I think romance becoming spicier can be directly traced to the changes in acceptibility. 20 years ago it was taboo to talk openly about homosexuality/bisexuality/kink. There were feminist movements, gay movements (still) and this is the outcome. We don't have to hide the fact we like sex and we like it hard!

Not all women mind you, but a decent chunk of them if recent sales are any indication.

Mild romances will still do well because there are women who like slow, gentle loving over naughty nighttime fun.

And one last opinion...I think authors write what they like personally more than not.
For me, I can write mild, especially if the scene calls for something "soft", but my instinct in historical and modern is to explain it like it happens in my bedroom. That's how I express my feelings, wants, and needs the best.

Great blog, hun. Loved it!

All my best,

Anonymous said...

Interesting topic!

I think with the introduction of the internet, and what was normally concidered 'forbidden fruit' now is totally accessible to any and all who, in the past, may have had a slight desire to explore those avenues, yet had no way of going about that with saftey and privacy.

Since the information is being accessed by more people every day, I believe narrow minds have been slowly opened and/or secret desires have been conditoned over and over by reading heat/erotica to know that they can shed the prudeness of the past and 'boldly go where they have never gone before..."

So, yes, I think the line between heat and erotica is bluring. I don't really see it stoping, as the more we get, the more we want.

HOWEVER, I believe there will always be a place (no matter how shrinking) for those romances that have little or no sex, or are tame and not as graphic. Everyone has their preferences.

I for one, only read m/m romance (with my favorite historical m/m romances being from medevial times up to WWII), and it doesn't matter for me the heat factor -- tame, heat, or erotic ( well, I tend to avoid books with group sex because that is just ick for me).... just tell me a good story, with beleviable characters, and I will loose myself in your world.


Virginia said...

Great post! I like some heat in my romances, but I can't say an erotic book is a favorite read. sorry I get bord if there is sex on every page I want more story line. Give me a good sexy historical and I am good to go. The heat don't have to be turned all the way up.

Shawn Lane said...

Great job on the post. Being Evangeline's critique partner I get the best of both worlds, her fabulous upcoming Her Ladyship's Companion and her scorching hot and very romantic male/male romances.

Personally, for me, whether it is a male/female couple or a same sex couple, I like them steamy. Passion, sex, and love can and do mix.

I told you blogging is easy, E.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Helen - you're right in that the majority of m/m romances are erotic, though not all of them. I know authors who write gay YA romantic fiction and gay romantic suspense novels. My personal opinion is that most are considered erotic because they are published by small presses/e-publishers, and the majority of the more popular ones put out erotic romance. So if a m/m is released by one of those publishers, readers lump it in the erotic category even if the publisher doesn't label it as such. Also, I believe the bulk of traditional romance readers deem m/m 'erotic', even if the sex level isn't any different than a spicy historical. For example, one of my favorite m/m 'erotic' romance novels - Faith and Fidelty - doesn't have any actual sex-sex in it. Messing around, playing, but no sex. If it were a m/f, it would be considered a regular romance.

But I think you're also right about m/m being used to push the envelope on sex in erotic romances. And I've noticed an increase in m/m/m titles of late, which leads me to believe authors and publishers are continuing to push that envelope. Makes me wonder what could possibly be next? um.... ;)

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Eliza -

To answer your questions, yes, my immediate family knows I write both the Evangeline and Ava books. I even give my mom, sister and step-mom my Ava books to read. Yep, I use them as beta readers. They don't read m/m normally (they actually prefer m/f and menages), but they'll read my stuff for me. I'll ask them for their input/reactions and honestly...sometimes I regret asking because it can result in some very odd conversations with my mom. :O I did kinda ease them into the m/m stuff - the first Ava book I starting writing was a m/m/m/f (still haven't finished that one yet). Then I quickly moved to m/m. Now they don't even bat an eye when I give them a new book to read. They appear to be happy to read them, but you never can tell with family since you know they won't want to hurt your feelings.

Yeah, I get the 'porn' comment sometimes, but mostly from my brother-in-law and step-brother. I just laugh them off and tell them 'it's not porn', but the difference is lost on them. Both still refuse to even go to my e-publishers' websites for fear of being innudated with gay spam. Men. sigh. But my brother-in-law does get all smiley when I give my sister a new book to read - he knows he'll have a 'good' night. LOL.

Evangeline Collins said...

Thanks for the welcome, Keena! And I agree with you on the heat level and books - it has to match the characters, otherwise it throws me completely out of the story.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Tracey,

Regarding language in books - it's like what Lousia said, men think differently than women. I use more blunt language when I'm in the male POV, even in my Evangeline books. I even use the 'c' words. Both the guy one (which is my fav word), and the female one (no, not that nasty one, but the other one, a shortened form of the more clinical word). I've seen the words used in other spicy romances, so I went with them. Above all, the language needs to fit the characters. So if you feel it's the right word for your hero, then I say go for it. ;)

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Housemouse -

Don't worry about stepping on anyone's toes. :) To each her own. And there are certain things even I do want to read about, so I understand where you are coming from. The good thing is that there are books out there for all of us.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Steph,

I would never guess that you lean toward the spicy side of books. LOL. Thanks for stopping by! :)

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Cindy,

I totally agree - erotic romance is more available now than ever. Years ago, it was hard to find a real erotic romance on the shelf in a bookstore. Now there are tons of them. Plus, e-publishing has really expanded the market. Definitely a plus for both readers and writers who like spicier books.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Hanna - Oh yes, even the grocery stores are selling the spicier books now. I think your right on about advertising and defining erotic romance and erotica. Thanks for stopping by!

Hi Louisa - I'm with you on the 'make it romantic' comment. I have to feel for the characters, want them to be together, for the sex to really work in a romance book.

Hi Kit - thanks for the comment and thanks for stopping by!

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Shawn,

Um...the blogging wasn't so easy last night at 2am when I was fighting with blogger. LOL. But I finally got it to post correctly.

And thanks...you make me blush. I get the best of both worlds with you, too, so we are even. :)

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

I totally tweeted this post. Very well done indeed. I agree that the sex lines are blurring for what is sensual and hot and hotter still. Personally, I feel erotica uses a harsher language when it comes to describing sex scenes and that's where the real difference lies.

For instance sexy romance novels have commandeered cock and it is used just fine. In fact dick now reads as awkward and harsher and has been reappropriated to erotica even though old romances are littered with that term because cock was way too explicit.

Erotica loves to use the more colloquial sex terms like fucking, pussy, twat, dick, cock (because it's versatile), etc. For this reason it's deemed hotter and has more chance at offending people than a sexy romance which still uses on the whole tamer terms like core, sheath, center, cock, manhood, erection, etc.

It's a total bonus just to have a chance to win Her Ladyship's Companion. I've been waiting for a chance to read it so I really hope I get it!

Keira of LoveRomancePassion said...

This got me thinking so I wrote a blog post in response.

Shameless plug: Sexy Romance verus Erotica Romance

Anonymous said...

I'm not a M/M reader but I don't mind hotter books. I love that there are choices for everyone. I do write more erotic short stories but my single titles are sexy with no kink. I do love a big sweeping romances! Cheryl

Francesca Hawley said...

This is a great post. For me, the hotter the story the better. I love reading and writing erotic romance. I think the lines between the two are blurring somewhat and there's a place for the entire spectrum of heat from sweet to erotic. There are certainly readers for all levels. Diversity is a positive thing. I would quibble that m/f "vanilla" sex isn't really erotic anymore. I think it is, but I also think that there is more tolerance of alternative relationships too and I'm glad.


Evangeline Collins said...

"the sex scenes have to serve a purpose besides getting the reader hot along with the characters (like further the plot and reveal character) otherwise even hot sex scenes can be boring."

Totally agree, Natasha! Even in my Ava books, I'll drop a sex scene if it doesn't do much to advance the plot. I can take a couple of just fun sex scenes in a book, but after more than 2, they start to get boring. Sad, really, when one fines herself skimming the sex scenes in an erotic romance. But it's really all about drawing the reader into the book, and if the scenes aren't revealing something about the plot or characters, then they just don't work much for me.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hiya Allure!

I think you're right on about a relationship between the increase in heat level in romance books and the changes in acceptability.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Sage,

Interesting comment. Made me think of how I bought my first couple erotic romances online at Amazon. At the time, I would have never thought to buy one in a bookstore, for fear that the check-out clerk would think I'm a perv. LOL. I think the same thing can be said about the kinkier ER books and menages and m/m - readers are probably more comfortable buying them online. Of course, I've long since lost any worries about buying any type of book at a bookstore. I'll go right up to the clerk and ask them for a title if I can't find it on the shelf. ;)

Evangeline Collins said...

Thanks for dropping by, Virgina.

I, too, get bored if there is just sex for sex's sake on every page of a book. Then it's more erotica than an erotic romance. And I prefer erotic romance over erotica. I crave the romance in a book - the whole 'falling in love and finding your other half', and all the conflict and angst that goes along with it. Oh, I'm a sucker for angst. I just love it!

Evangeline Collins said...


Good point about language. I'll go for the more graphic terms in a hero's POV, but usually won't go there with a heroine in a sexy romance. But in an ER book, I let the heroine's use all those graphic terms if it fits her character.

I read your blog post (very nice!), and I think you're right about menages and spicy historicals. I can see same sex books eventually becoming more mainstream in spicy romances, but the 'one soul mate' thing will likely keep menages from becoming more mainstream. Plus, as Louisa pointed out, I suspect a lot of romance readers are greedy and won't want to share. LOL.

Susan Macatee said...

Interesting topic! While I don't mind a few explicit sex scenes in the books I read, and this is also the type of romance I like to write, I think there's room in the romance genre for whatever readers crave. I think there are many readers on both ends of the spectrum from sweet to hot, and ones like me who like a happy medium. I believe there should be books out there that satisfy everyone's taste.

Evangeline Collins said...

I would quibble that m/f "vanilla" sex isn't really erotic anymore.

Hey Francesca, that's just my personal opinion and it's likely due to what I write and my reading habits. If I'm in the mood for hot m/f sex, then I'll go to my fav historical authors like Kleypas and Foley. If I'm in the mood for erotic, then I go with a m/m from Langley, Mitchell or Lane. There are authors that do m/f vanilla ER books very well (and judging from your 4 1/2 star review in RT, I group you in that mix), and they sell like hotcakes, which indicates there are many readers out there that crave hot erotics without a lot of kink thrown in to the mix.

Evangeline Collins said...

Hi Cheryl and Susan -

Thanks for your comments and for stopping by! :) Allure mentioned that she thought authors wrote what they liked, and that really does seem to be the case.

Kytaira said...

I love hot books. And if I have warning, I enjoy a wide variety of kink in books as well. By that I mean, I don't want to pick up a Harlequin Present with kink - ever. Love Ann Rice's Beauty books though. I don't think that's really a change with me so much as a wider variety of books are easier to find now. Just as there is a wider variety on the erotica side, I think there is more on the tamer side. While I read everything except f/f, my sister in law reads inspirational. The internet has made it easier for both of us to find what we want. And ebooks/small publishers have made a wider variety easier to find.

I think the wider variety of books has been there for decades, it was just too difficult to find easily. It was probably just as difficult for authors to find the right publishers. The first time I read a book with fisting in it was about 35 yrs ago. It was in a James Bond style book. I have no doubt my uncle bought it in a plain old store because we were from a farming community in the heartland. There is no way my uncle ever set foot in an actual bookstore. Later, I worked at a UBS that closed. As a result, I carried away stacks of books all from the late 60s and early 70s that normally I wouldn't have looked at. They were mainstream style books but surprisingly diverse when it came to sex acts. The problem was you never knew what you were going to find. The flip side is you couldn't find what you wanted either.

Jina Bacarr said...

Excellent blog and follow-up comments, Evangeline.

I write erotic romance and I love having the freedom to explore all areas of sexuality--including M/M/F--in historicals.


Maureen said...

That's an interesting topic. I have read some great stories that are very mild and others that are very hot. For me, it just depends on the story. If a scene doesn't seem to fit with the story, like it was just added to make the book hotter, than it's annoying but when it adds to the story and the characters' relationship then it's great.

Evangeline Collins said...

Kytaira - I bet that was some James Bond-style book! ;) It is nice how publishers now, especially e-pubs, indicate what's in an erotic romance, so a reader isn't caught off guard by something they don't expect.

Hey Jina - Thanks! :) I took a class on 'Writing Red Hot Erotic Romance' from you about a year and half ago. Fantastic class! I'm so glad you liked the blog post.

Maureen - I agree, those dropped in scenes to just add heat are rather annoying. The heat level needs to match the characters and plot, else it doesn't work for me, no matter how hot the book is.

Evangeline Collins said...


I took all the names of everyone who commented and used the list randomizer on randomizer.org. And the name that came out on top is...


Congrats!!! :) Send me an e-mail at Evangeline@EvangelineCollins.com and let me know if you'd prefer an ARC of HER LADYSHIP'S COMPANION, or e-book copies of OBJECT OF HIS DESIRE and BOUND BY DECEPTION, and I'll send them winging on their way to you. If you pefer the ARC, include you snail mail address since paper doesn't travel through the internet very well.

Thanks bunches to everyone who commented!!!! :)
There were 23 items in your list. Here they are in random order:

Helen Scott Taylor
Allure VanSanz
Tracey Devlyn
Stephani Hecht
Shawn Lane
Susan Macatee
Cindy Spencer Pape
Keena Kincaid
Hanna Rhys Barnes
Louisa Cornell
Eliza Knight
Jina Bacarr
Francesca Hawley
Sage O'Thomas
Kit Donner
Carol Jo

Gina Magini said...

While I like the steamy and erotic, I don't go for the crude. So I don't know. It can be tricky to get my point across sometimes without stepping over my self-imposed line. Of course, that's just me. Plus, I tend to like a story that does not follow a formula. I know, I know. There is nothing wrong with a formula. I agree. Lots of people like more romance with their erotica, some like less.