As a new writer I’m always on the lookout for advice about writing, particularly around “tricky” or intimate subjects. I personally have no qualms about dipping into the squeamish but I appreciate that I’m approaching it from my own particular angle and not everyone has my stomach for the earthier side of life. So I have to be mindful ’cause, hey – I’m here to turn heads, not stomachs. So I’m really chuffed to introduce my good friend Jennifer Denys, who has kindly written a guest post for Menopausal Me about just this icky, sticky subject.
How far can a writer get away with writing real life stuff like the menopause, periods, illnesses, disabilities, etc, and not turn the reader off?
I am a writer of erotic romances and readers of this type of story have certain expectations. I had great fun writing Friendly Seduction where I totally took the piss out of writing my own genre. Here’s an excerpt from that book as the heroine explains to the hero exactly what women want from their erotic romances:
“He never shows negative attributes like cruelty, laziness, picking his nose, having a hairy back, and so on. Those are reserved for the bad guys.” (Need I say more?!)
Readers of this genre (who are predominantly women) like to put themselves in the shoes of the heroine. Therefore, they want the hero to be tall, handsome and hunky. However, being the rebel that I am, every now and then I batter down this restriction. Here’s an excerpt from The Sub Who Switched. Suffice to say, the heroine did end up with Nick despite being taller than him. (I even had a lovely review on Amazon where they stated how refreshing it was to read a story about everyday people who happen to be unusually erotic!)
She shivered at the thought of a strong man, preferably one taller than her, unlike Nick, who was a few inches shorter.
But what about things that could turn off a reader. Sex or intimacy is such a personal thing – what one person likes, another doesn’t, such as this line from Friendly Seduction, “The only thing I loathe reading about is sucking toes.”
You can’t please everyone so I tend to throw in things that are personal likes or dislikes (yep, sucking toes is a real turn off for me!) – but my characters can’t be the same every time so I will have to have one hero hunkering down at the heroine’s feet in one book. (Maybe when I am at death’s door!)
Since we are talking about sex, how often have you read stories where the heroine is a virgin and the hero has no problem giving her the time of her life? (Get real!). I deliberately made the taking of Brianna’s virginity a harrowing experience for both hero and heroine in Wife for Three as it helped shape their relationship:
The yelp of pain that came from Brianna stopped him in his tracks. He didn’t remember the woman he’d had at the brothel all those years ago being this small, this tight. But that woman hadn’t been a virgin. That was the difference, surely. And now Brianna wasn’t anymore. It should get better, shouldn’t it? That thought left him as he felt her body tense considerably beneath him, her hands leaving his body to fall back clutching the pillow instead, her face averted. He could see she was biting her lip and her eyes were clenched tightly closed. His body shook with unreleased need, but at the same time, he didn’t want to cause any more pain to the tiny woman underneath him.
As he started to retreat, she whimpered. It wasn’t a good whimper but one he had heard from animals in pain. It struck him to his core. Damn, I’ve fucked this one up soundly.
But what about other ‘icky matters’ that the readers generally don’t want to be reminded off? Well, in Kink After Dinner I had a heroine in her fifties, so I referred to hot flushes and her midlife spread – although in both cases it was positive (see below if you don’t believe me!)
Beth felt herself flush as he looked intently at her with his brown eyes. Her high colour was something that had annoyed her all her life. At least she could put it down to having a hot flush these days.
And then further on:
She giggled. Her breasts were bulging over the top as it was. She used to be quite skinny, but in the last ten years, her midlife spread had hit. Some women, particularly short women like her, hated their bulges, but hers worked to her advantage as her breast-cup size had increased from A to C, making her look nicely voluptuous for once in her life.
I don’t recall any of my characters having had a cold yet – clearly I will have to remedy that!
And none of my characters have any disabilities – possibly because I have no idea what it is like for someone with a missing limb, for instance, and I wouldn’t want to get it wrong. However, I do have a work-in-progress that has a heroine, badly injured in a car accident, going to a BDSM club and watching from a dark corner to get her kicks until the hero spies her there and gradually seduces her into taking part. (Watch this space for further info on that story…) I can’t find any references to the heroine having her period – although I have a vague recollection that I had a line in one book about being glad it wasn’t time for her period. Having had sex myself during a period it really is icky to experience and I wouldn’t want to inflict it on the poor reader! (Ed: speak for yourself ;))
So, in conclusion, will it put the reader off to read things they may rather not read? Possibly—but if you want them to be real life people and not cardboard cutouts, then go for it. On the other hand, readers who are older, shorter, poorer, less-than-beautiful, or whatever, might just want the fantasy!
Jennifer Denys is in her mid-fifties and has written nearly 20 erotic romance novellas and short stories. She draws on her real life experiences ‒ including the dreaded menopause ‒ for her stories. To find out more about her and her books head to her blog site: http://jennifer-denys.blogspot.com/ where she posts three times per week.