I’m sick of your shit.
And make no mistake—you dished out heaping helpings of shit in 2015, so much so that mid-November brought the worst book reading slump I can recall.
In an effort to combat said shittiness, I’ve headed back to my roots—historical romance. Since I’ve been real fucking happy there, I’ve decided to sit and stay a spell. However, as I recognize your right to face your accuser, I’ve compiled a list of grievances. If you get your shit together, I may consider coming back.
Why I’m Taking a Breather from Contemporary Romance
- Fuck you and your fucking step-brother.
While you’d never know it by the Amazon Bestsellers list, it’s safe to say that the romance world at large is tired of step-brother romance. I think it’s more than that, though. It’s bandwagon romance in general, and the fact that one successful book can spawn an entire legion of copycats. I’m not talking about the creation of new subgenres, as was the case with the New Adult Genre post-Beautiful Disaster and Slammed. I’m talking about 2012, The Year of the Billionaire Dom, and how the already-shaky storyline in Fifty Shades of Grey was bastardized and regurgitated by eleventy-seven contemporary romance authors and their sisters. Then there was 2013, which brought with it the rise of MC Romance and all of the violence, chauvinism and misogyny it entails. I’m referring to the deluge of serial romance novels circa 2014, with their overpriced novellas and gnarly cliffhangers. Add to that the Step-Brother Situation in 2015 and what we have, folks, is a pattern, one which is generally rooted in a well-written, solidly performing book that is used and abused by the good, the bad and the really freaking awful.
Be original, people. Yes, I do realize there’s only so many premises out there and that some overlap is bound to happen, but overlap and inundating the market with pseudo-incest clearly aren’t the same. Build a box—then do your thinking OUTSIDE of it. The most memorable books truly are the ones that are the most unique.
And FYI—A motorcycle club prez who moonlights as a dom trying to climb in his step-sister’s britches is so far inside the box, it ain’t even funny.
- Hide your heroines, hide her friends, cause these bitches are raping everybody.
When your readers start taking bets on whether your newest heroine will be a victim of sexual assault, you’ve clearly overused that as a plot point. We won’t even address how extremely fucked up it is that I’m being forced to consider sexual assault a PLOT POINT. Outside of the death of a child, there’s no situation that elicits a more compassionate, empathetic reaction towards another member of the sisterhood than sexual assault. Think about it—how hard is it to feel disdain or even apathy towards a heroine who’s been raped? There are authors who’ve penned perfectly beautiful, moving and meaningful tales of women who aren’t just survivors of rape, but overcomers. On the other and altogether-more-frequently used side of that see-saw are the authors who couldn’t paint a likeable, multifaceted heroine with color-by-numbers.
Rape is ugly and vicious and carries with it all of these feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and FEAR. It’s a crime, not a crutch or a TROPE, and it shouldn’t be treated that way. It’s weak, it’s cheap and it’s lazy, and FYI—coming from the standpoint of a survivor–most of you DO NOT get that shit right. If you can craft an uber alpha, asshole hero that melts the hearts of your audience without giving him a backstory that involves sexual assault, you should be able to do the same for your heroine.
While I personally prefer to read about average, well-adjusted women with normal, everyday problems, I don’t mind a heroine who’s hauling around a cargo trailer full of issues, as long as those issues aren’t related to sexual assault. Crack open the DSM-5 and pick an issue. There are a whole slew of them that are seriously underrepresented in romance.
- Cover it with something else, or I ain’t going in.
Jed Hill’s pecs and Gary Taylor’s biceps and Colin Wayne’s abs. And don’t even get me started on the perfection that is Chase Ketron.
I get it, folks. Believe me—totally get it.
But I’ve been just about done getting it for a while. I’m not sure when it happened, but I suspect it was somewhere right around the time I realized I’ve seen Jase Dean sans shirt more often than my husband, and the extracurriculars in La Casa de Nikki are very, very healthy. While the Shirtless Wonders haven’t been replaced altogether, bearded, broody and borderline baleful seems to be the flavor of the current crop of Cover Boys. Yeah, Franggy’s gorgeous and ole Levi is allllmmmmost hot enough to make me wanna sign up for some lumberjack-style lovin’, but I’ve almost had my fill of them, too. I love Bequet’s Celtic Salt Caramels, but I’d puke my guts out if I had to eat them every day. Get me?
While we’re on the subject, I’d also like to point out that it is what’s between the covers that counts, folks. Slapping an overpriced photo of a pretty boy on a poorly written, poorly edited, poorly executed book ain’t gonna make it better. It doesn’t matter what color you spray paint shit, it still stinks.
Though the cover of Kristen Ashley’s Sebring could easily double as the backdrop for a Come See Tennessee! brochure, it made perfectly beautiful sense after reading the book. Each of the covers for Bethany-Kris’ Chicago Wars series, while a little more abstract and artsy than I’d generally prefer, are meaningful within the context of the book. See that word again, ladies?
You wanna slap a pretty boy on your cover? Go to the local CrossFit and find you a model. Go to your local college and find you a photographer. Make it original, make it different and make it meaningful.
- I don’t care what Jason Derulo wants, please don’t talk dirty to me.
Tessa Bailey and Rhyannon Byrd are the Queen and Duchess of Dirty Talk, respectively, and are masters of their craft. Both of these women have caused uncomfortable wiggling in many a reader and led to many a husband getting better than lucky. Dirty talk creates steam and builds momentum and makes the impossibility of instalust suddenly completely plausible—when it’s done correctly.
And a whole slew of y’all ain’t doing it right.
If your come is ropey, your cock is leaking or your cunt is burning, you need to see a professional posthaste. I’ve heard better dirty talk from Jenna Jameson, and I think we all know her acting ability wasn’t the asset that kept ole girl gainfully employed. Readers rave about a couple authors’ skill with the down and dirty and we’re suddenly swimming in ride that fat dick’s and bounce on my thick cock’s and I’m gonna slide my salami in your snatch’s. Ok, so I haven’t actually read that last one, but I don’t think it’d be a stretch given the downward spiral of the dirty talk situation.
Here’s what I don’t think many authors grasp. It’s not about the words—it’s about who says them, and when and how they’re said. If your hero is a gross creeper or an immature asshole or a nutless beta, he’ll continue to be exactly that after he tells us alllllll about his monster pecker and how he’s gonna ruin us with it. If you toss the dirty talk out there too early, you’re gonna funk the flow and kill the momentum. And even if I love your dude, if his game is weak or cliché or seedy—you’re gonna kill my quiver.
Bottom line? An alpha I wouldn’t mind taking home with me growling what he’s gonna do to me when we get there is hot. Your nutless wonder talking about the quality and quantity of his seminal emission is not.
- Sex Scenes Do NOT Erotica Make.
There’s literally nothing more difficult to edit than a sex scene, so I can appreciate that they’re difficult to write. There’s a fine line between painting a scene with words and writing an instruction manual. You’ve gotta make sure all the clothes come off or are pushed up or aside. Then you have to let us know about the landscape—how big are the hills? What color are the caps? Is the fjord covered in greenery or barren? Is the peninsula more like Florida or Italy? Then you have the mechanics of it. What part went where—‘cause that’s kinda critical. Whether said part was sleeved or unsleeved. Screwed or nailed? Suitable lubrication, or was some WD-40 required? Then there’s the grand finale, and making sure it worked for all parts and parties involved. Why anyone wants to attempt this twenty-seven times inside 250 pages is a fucking mystery to me.
Lemme be clear—
The quantity of sex scenes in a book does not make it erotic.
The setting of said sex scenes does not make it erotic.
Throwing in some butt sex doesn’t make it erotic.
Tossing in a couple extra partners doesn’t make it erotic. Really, it just makes it messy. . .
Erotica is not about sex scenes, period. It’s about the way those sex scenes make your reader feel. Erotic does not mean descriptive or explicit. It’s about the quality of the sex scenes you produce. It’s not about the dirty talk or how big his dick is or even how skilled he is with it. It’s about using words to make sexy tangible.
A woman’s most important sex organ lies between her ears, not her legs. Stimulate the former and the latter will follow.
- It’s like déjà vu all over again.
I’ve met many an insurance agent in my life. Lots of bankers. Realtors. Contractors. IT guys.
Know who I’ve never met?
Or a mercenary.
Or a billionaire.
Or a 1%er.
That series you’re planning about the former military dudes forming a security company? I’ve read that.
Or how about the brothers-in-arms turned mercenaries? You know, the one with the PTSD-ridden leader plagued by survivor’s guilt? Yeah. Read that, too.
Or how about the billionaire and his billionaire pals? The ones with kinks that’d give Howard Stern a full-body blush? Yup, you guessed it.
I realize that it’s decidedly more difficult to pen an alpha traveling salesman than an alpha police officer. And I ain’t saying I’m a gold digger, but no one wants to mess with a broke motherfucker. I’m just SICK to DEATH of opening up a book and reading the same hero with the same ridiculous backstory and the same implausible job and financial situation. Surprise me, people. I’d rather read about a septic tank pumper than one more fucking commando.
At least he’ll already be familiar with the pipes.
- Have some jizz, sweetheart, with a side of self-esteem.
Earlier this week, I saw a teaser on Facebook by an author I love who shall remain unnamed. The gist of the quote provided was that the hero made the heroine feel worthy.
Dude. For real?
Heads up, ladies.
Are you listening?
Self-worth cannot be found at the end of a penis.
The only thing you can get from jizz that you ain’t already got is knocked up . . . or something Clorox won’t wash off.
The author who shall remain unnamed isn’t the first or even the worst offender. The notion of the little lost woman who finds herself when the big strong hero starts slipping her the D is altogether too common. Self-worth should be intrinsic. It should be something you bring with you to a relationship, and something you’ll leave with if it doesn’t work. It shouldn’t be tied to a man or how he makes you feel. Is that really the kind of message we want to send to young girls? That another human being is responsible for the way she feels about herself?
I think not.
- He’s pretty fly. . . for a white guy.
I post these let’s get to know each other, icebreaker type questions in the Scandalicious Secret Vault once a week or so. For shits and giggles, I asked our group about the last diverse romance they’d read. Now, I consider our crew to be very well-versed in the world of romance. We’ve got women in our ranks who love everything from Georgette Heyer to Pepper Winters, and that’s some serious range, people. Despite said range and the disparities in geography, ethnicity and nationality, there were a lot of “I haven’t read one” answers.
I was frankly a bit surprised. None of these women are close-minded. They’d be voted off the island if they were. They’re all open to recommendations. There are Vault members who one-click pretty much anything lauded by a Nerd, whether the hero is a Scottish laird or a blue alien. So . . . . what’s up with that?
Well, when 99% of the heroes in romance are some variation of white, diversity in reading is a bit tough to manage. I’ll be the first to tell you that hood love stories DO NOT appeal to me. I prefer stories that are relatable and heroes I’d swoon over, and I ain’t swooning over Lil T and his gold teeth any more than I’d swoon over Adolf the neo-Nazi. Those books have a place within the genre, but it’s not on my Kindle. I also have no interest in reading African-American heroines so bogged down in racial stereotypes my eye rolling can be heard from two states away. Write me an educated, soft-spoken sister who doesn’t oooohhh, girl once per chapter. Or an Asian dude who isn’t a damn martial artist. Or a Hispanic hero who isn’t a cop or a contractor.
There’s too many shades in the rainbow to paint everything white.
- Uh, shit ain’t funny.
I was listening to the comedy channel on Sirius a few weeks ago when an old Amy Schumer stand-up routine came on. She was essentially joking about sitting in church and wondering whether the people around her knew she’d taken a morning-after pill and was “having an abortion in the Lord’s house.”
Uh—that ain’t funny.
I’m much more of a Tina Fey kinda girl. You know, smart humor?
Basically, crass isn’t funny.
While fart noises and burps that come from deeeep within may appeal to the twelve-year-old boy living inside my head, I have no desire to read about poop or itchy, smelly vag or any of the other gross bodily functions and disgusting humor that seem to be popping up like chlamydia in a frat house in contemporary romance. Snark is funny. Sarcasm is funny. Shit is not funny.
In the words of the Dowager Countess of Grantham, vulgarity is no substitute for wit.
I could probably go on with this line of bitching, but then it would become less constructive and more like . . . well, bitching. The moral to this story, folks, is that I’m disillusioned, bored and fed up. I’m tired of being spoon-fed shit. I’m tired of the petty, backdoor Facebook bulllshit. I’m tired of reading the same exact review with some variation of the same exact words on fifty different blogs. I’m tired of chasing the next big release. I’m tired of the “mystery authors” who seem to think that sporting wood instead of wool is gonna make me run out and buy their book. I’m just freaking tired.
I probably read ten really good contemporary romances last year. Ten books may be the extent of the average person’s reading, but it was less than 5% of mine. I recognize that I’m an atypical reader, and I appreciate that there are folks out there that are more than happy with the status quo—but I ain’t one of them. I’m also not naming names or pointing fingers, so if you feel called out, it might be time to look within.
Rather than let this get the better of me and fuck my reading mojo all to hell, I took a step back. There will always be a place on my shelves for the handful of contemporary authors who’ve yet to disappoint me, but I’m henceforth sticking to what makes me happy. I’m rereading classic historical romances. I’m tra la la-ing with Julie Garwood. I’m getting all teary eyed over Judith McNaught. I’m letting Lisa Kleypas remind me that sex scenes can be sexy without any of the C words—cunt, clit, cock or come. I’m proactively seeking my happy place, and that happy place is no longer in contemporary romance. Something’s gotta give—and I decided it ain’t gonna be me.
Kisses,Tags: Contemporary, Nikki, The Gospel According to Nikki, the state of contemporary romance