Questions you might get asked when people learn you write any kind of romance novel

I was talking to some friends/acquaintances the other day and I was asked why I have a different name on my Facebook profile. When I explained that I write and set up my Facebook page under my pen name, then the questions started. I am used to most of the common ones like “how do you find the time?” or “is anyone we know a character in your books?” or “where do you get your ideas?” but the latest ones were around how hard it is to write a sex scene. (No off color puns intended.) So, for giggles, how many of you romance writers out there get the same questions and how far out of whack are my responses?

Question: “Do you get embarrassed writing that stuff?”
When I first began to write, yes, I did. In high school, two friends and I would write steamy love letters for our classmates to give to their boyfriends. One girl provided the imagination courtesy of a purloined (from her parents) copy of The Joy of Sex, the other relied on her own experiences and a facile understanding of common jargon and street slang. I was the grammarian who kept the purple prose flowing and reasonably well written. Was I embarrassed? Oh yeah, but I learned a lot from a theoretical perspective. It all came to an end with a very uncomfortable conversation with the head mistress of the school, a rather dour nun, and my father when one of the letters was seized during the exchange of money for the letter. Yep, I was the one caught selling the goods. My accomplices got away but I was left with a rather unsavory reputation since it was assumed I had been relying on my own (nonexistent at that time) expertise in the area to create such “disgusting and sinful” letters that would ultimately see me writhing in the fires of hell, or so Sister Mary David assured me. My father’s response out of earshot of the nuns was to laugh but he did step up his intimidation tactics of any poor guy who tried to date me.

Later on, my very first romance story (which will NEVER see the light of day unless it is published posthumously and I hope I have burned every page of it well before then) was a sweet little formulaic “bodice ripper” tale that took the better part of 2 bottles of wine and much giggling between me and my best friend to get the scenes correct. I think the giggling was more from the wine than the topic though.

Between then and now, I have read a lot. I’ve read books that were full of vague euphemisms (“mutual splendor” anyone?) to raw and raunchy porn for women. What I have come to realize is that it’s more embarrassing to write something that takes a reader out of the story to think, “Wait, what? Is that even physically possible?” or “Where did that extra hand come from?”

Question: “Do you write about your own sexual experiences?” aka “Have you really done THAT??!!!?”
The short answer is: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everyone has heard the old saw of “write what you know” so they assume that if you write it, you’ve done it. I always caution people, especially my husband who is fond of raising an eyebrow and remarking that he can’t recall us every having done whatever my characters happen to be doing, that writers have very fertile imaginations. Let me repeat that. We..have…very…fertile…imaginations. We also know how to do research and the internet is full of research material if your imagination fails you.

Would you go up to a friend who writes a crime novel and automatically assume she/he knows how to violently kill, dismember, and dispose of a body based on personal hands on experience?

I rest my case.

Question: “Why didn’t you make it more/less explicit?”
Well, here’s the rub. (Again, no pun intended.) In my opinion, different stories require a different approach. I know I get annoyed by a certain popular romance author, who shall remain unnamed, because the last four books of hers were more or less recycled sex scenes from her prior works. Change the names, change the locations, and change the villains, then presto – new book and more royalties. Otherwise the sex was a cut and paste. If nothing else, I do not want to annoy my readers. Especially, since I do not have a large following, yet.

When I write, I pay a lot of attention to what makes sense and what is in character for the players in the scene. I let their personalities shape how explicit – or not – the scenes will be. The language used to describe body parts and who is doing what to whom will be pretty character specific. If my hero is an edgy bad boy, then there may be some explicit language and it’s not going to be a tame scene. If the heroine is shy and virginal, she’s probably not going to know exactly what she wants or to be comfortable talking like an experienced woman.

If a scene isn’t racy enough for you, use your imagination to figure out what the characters may or may not be doing out of your eyesight. Likewise, if it’s too racy, skip the next couple of paragraphs or pages. Sex scenes, even in my romance novels, are not the main attraction. At least I hope not because I put a lot of thought into character and plot development.

Question: “Don’t you worry about what your family/friends/co-workers will think of you if they read your books?”
Not really. I do write under a pen name to somewhat shield them but anyone with even basic skills of internet research could figure out who I am in real life. I also rely on the fact that: (1) I am not a widely published novelist at this point, (2) it is fiction and anyone who knows me is aware that I am very imaginative and my mind can go in some pretty odd directions at times, and last (3) if someone wants to make assumptions about who or what I am based on my writing, it’s their problem.

What other questions have you had to field about writing romance novels?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

9 Comments

Filed under Mairead Wapole, writing

9 responses to “Questions you might get asked when people learn you write any kind of romance novel

  1. Sometimes it’s amusing and sometimes it’s sobering when people assume that there’s more biography in the fiction than there is. Imagination and research DOES take us a long way.

  2. I don’t write traditional romance, but that’s not to say my novels don’t contain sex scenes. I can’t say I’ve been asked any questions about them, although I have participated in a few online forums where sex in novels was a topic.

    I read maybe fifteen years ago an article in I think it was Writers Digest, an article that said it was okay to be aroused by your own sex scene. Well, “Doh!” I thought. If I’m not, how can I expect my readers to be?

    I was far more descriptive early on in my literary career than I am today. Today I’m more likely to start with a kiss and jump to the shared cigarette afterward, leaving to the reader’s imagination what takes place in between. Why? Well, because I find it very difficult to bring anything to the page that hasn’t already been done countless times by other writers. How does one bring much originality to the sex act? It’s worse than being with the same lover for ten years: you’ve done it in every room in the house, and in every conceivable position. Maybe you’ve videotaped yourselves thinking your antics worthy of a place in porn only to be disgusted later.

    I guess there is comfort for some readers in buying something familiar, that titillates in some way, but as you wrote, Mairead, at some point the stories must sound the same but with a different era and setting, and different character names. Even if the reader never tires of such repetition, as a writer I surely would.

    • Scriblet

      I find writing sex scenes the hardest part to write as well for exactly the same reasons. I have no idea where the romance writers keep coming up with ways to keep their stories fresh. Perhaps I’m too easily intimidated by the threat of bad writing and the uncertainty of the quality of my sex scenes.

      Talk about sexual insecurities!

  3. Scriblet

    I LOVE this post! I can relate to everything in it. It’s almost as though once people know you’re writing something very focused on sex, they think you’re an open book and no question they lob at you is too personal/inappropriate/embarrassing for you to answer. Personally, I’ve written some crazy sex scenes (purely imagined, never experienced) but taken together, if someone thought I was writing from experience, I must be moonlighting as an escort. Psssh. I don’t even know where the “red light” district is in town.

    The worst, but funniest, situation I was forced into was when I was talking with my friend who’s in her mid-70’s and very proper, very religious. She kept pressuring me to tell her what kind of book I was writing and wouldn’t rest until I told her the genre. I got exasperated and told her it was erotica/romance and I’m surprised I didn’t kill her from shock. Everyone tried not to laugh since they knew what I was working on and could see how this was going to end. Needless to say, she’s never asked me about my writing projects since then.

    Thanks for this post! I’m glad my past experiences aren’t uncommon.

    • dellanioakes

      I had a dear friend comment the other day, “Who knew that kinda something would come from you!” Had to giggled. When I explained, she gave me a dubious smirk and said, “Ookay!” I’m sure she didn’t believe me.

      • Scriblet

        It’s fun catching people off guard when you admit to a saucy side. I constantly gets comments about how young and innocent I appear but appearances can be deceiving and I have so much fun playing up to others perceptions of who I am sometimes 😉

  4. Reblogged this on Dancing with Fireflies and commented:
    I had to laugh when I read the answers to questions you might get asked when you write a romance novel. Great post!

  5. dellanioakes

    Mairead, I too have been asked those same questions. In fact, I had a conversation with the mother of one of my son’s friends who read one of my very steamy romantic suspense novels. She assumed (wrongly) that everything the 2 main characters did was from experience. Um… NO! She also wouldn’t listen when I told her it wasn’t. I finally gave up trying to explain that I have a vivid (very very vivid) imagination.

    I chatted with a friend who writes cozy murder mysteries and asked her if people assumed she knows how to dispose of bodies. No! Of course, they don’t! What a ridiculous double standard. Then again, perhaps we have those books to blame, where the authors DID write from experience.

    I find it interesting that you’ve had the same experiences, Mairead. What evil darlings are we? Huh?

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