My first novel was written in 1986, and the sensuality and sexual expression in it, and my subsequent work for at least the next decade, reflected self-imposed boundaries that I drew up when looking at what the writers I admired were doing. A great influence was Katherine V. Forrest’s Curious Wine, an extremely sensual, highly erotic novel that used no explicit language at all. In my romance novels, I still believe in those boundaries.
In romance, the character’s emotions come first, and the sex scenes must be part and parcel of the character. As I reach the final pages of writing my next romance novel, Finders Keepers, I am reminding myself that every sigh and shiver must have a purpose in the primary plot that eventually resolves as the two women, um, pardon my verb choice, come together.
In the last five years and more, I’ve noticed both a shift toward more openness about what lesbians really do in bed, as well as greater acceptance in our community of what we really do in bed, not to mention the freedom many younger women seem to have found where sex is not exclusively the language of love – it’s a language of living. I also noticed that a lot of lesbian erotica out there wasn’t focused on sex within relationships – where was explicit “couple sex”? Couples have sex. And they’ve practiced. Meanwhile, I continued to get e-mails from younger women who loved the romance but hinted they’d like to see more in the bedroom that reflected their experience of sex.
So while the requirement that all sexual activity support the character development or plot is still as true, I sallied forth with my first erotic romance novel, All the Wrong Places, attempting to walk the tightrope between character building and eroticism, giving each their due without overshadowing the other elements. Linda Hill at Bella Books launched the Bella After Dark imprint, giving All the Wrong Places the perfect home.
Such emphasis on character, however, isn’t quite as necessary in erotic short stories. With limited space to tell a story and the reader’s expectation firmly on “sex please” something’s got to give—usually it’s the setting, character development or anything that passes for a plot where the climax isn’t the, um, climax.
And so I conceived the idea for 18th & Castro. The stories all take place in the same building on the same Halloween night, so I do get the full length of a book to explore setting, era and place. Some of the characters are glimpsed in earlier stories before starring in their own. Short stories let me explore different themes – unrequited lust, the importance of communication, trust, familiarity, even heartbreak – that involve new and long-term couples. I even managed a ghost story or two. I am hoping that 18th & Castro pleases readers who want “sex please” and yet like the cohesiveness of novels.
All of that sounds very clinical but I have to be honest—there are additional layers to it all.
The research is fun.
And it’s tax deductible.