Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

more warnings

After writing about romance reader preferences, there is no way not to mention sex and violence. Actually, I might have avoided it here, even though it had arisen in a reader/writer group, but then these two reviews brought it back to my attention.
"Beginning in 1851 Independence, Missouri the reader travels the Oregon Trail & experiences the grueling journey early pioneers must have faced in their never ending desire for a new life. I particularly liked the wagon master, St. Louis Jones. He was such a lovable character & his friendship to Matthew Kane defined him as a memorable part of this story. I can't imagine taking 300 people on that kind of a trip & having to be responsible for the safety of all of them.
"As children growing up Amy Stevens & Matthew Kane were destined to find their childhood friendship turn to a deep abiding love. Amy, ever the romantic, learns that excitement in many instances means danger & danger means possible injury or death. In this revelation she finds that the word adventure will take on a whole different reality. It takes awhile but she finally gets her head out of the clouds & her jealousy under control.
"Matthew, on the other hand, has much more to overcome. His father & brother are down right evil & it's hard to see how he could be so forgiving of their past treatment towards him.
"A good book for the historical western fan with romance woven in. The sex & violence made me inclined to drop a star on this one."
First, in my opinion, this is a nice review but it does represent a not totally satisfied reader based just on sex and violence. I liked though how she personalized why she didn't like this, and still was able to mention other good qualities in the book. 

Regarding sex, warning off such readers is why I call my books adult and use a rating system. My books are pretty much all ♥♥♥♥ except for the novellas that are ♥♥♥ based on their shorter lengths (when working with less words, something has to go). My own scale defining heat is at the top of all my book blogs:
♥ -------holding hands, perhaps a gentle kiss
♥♥ ----- more kisses but no tongue -- no foreplay
♥♥♥ ----kissing, tongue, caressing, foreplay & pillow talk
♥♥♥♥ ---all of above, full sexual experience, including climax
♥♥♥♥♥ --all of above with coarser language/sex more frequent
Round the Bend did have heat, I believe it was in a believable context, not gratuitous. These are two young people in love. Not likely there'd be no heat, but they were on a wagon train with her parents and a lot of travelers; not a great deal of opportunity to acquire even ♥♥♥♥. I did put out the warning for those who want none. 

Sadly for the next reviewer, I think it might have been that same one, who reviewed Arizona Star
"Didn't really care too much for this book but it was my own fault for buying it without reading the reviews. Too much explicit sex that the story of Abby & Sam could have been put forth without. I did like the characters & was glad that Abigail didn't let her father push her into a relationship that would have crushed her spirit. The actual story was good but I won't be reading the rest of the series."
She downgraded that one to 3 stars but still, I consider it a fair review in the sense that she explained why. I like it when reviewers do that. Can't please all readers but nice to know when you didn't what the reason was. Too bad she can't just skip over those scenes she doesn't like; but it is her privilege, of course. There is a reason they are there.

Arizona Sunset is a passionate book. It is not, however, erotica. In my opinion, there wasn't enough sex for me to give it ♥♥♥♥♥. I write scenes that I feel the book needs. No scenes anywhere are just added. They are there to take the development of the characters further. The actual working title for Arizona Sunset was Outlaw Pleasures. I gave it up because I felt it would then sound like erotica. The working title had been chosen because the book is about all those things we are told we should not do by an authority of one sort or another. Reading a hot sexual scene, of course, is one of them for some people. 

In the story though, this heroine had to let go, to not let someone else dictate her life, and to trust in her female nature. Sure, a writer could gloss over that and hint it happened. In my books, I prefer to write about healthy sex between a man and woman. I like writing about a whole, even lusty relationship that is healthy- in all aspects, one of which is that sex can be fun.

Naturally, like all writers, I do want to please readers, but first and foremost are what my characters need in their story. It is good for this reader and me that she won't read more of my books as they pretty much are similar in their heat level. Luckily for her there are a LOT of romance writers who write sweet. 

What I try to do is provide sufficient warnings so a reader is not blindsided. Earlier I mentioned how I also have warnings on all the books regarding language. I write dialogue as seems apropos for the characters. That doesn't mean I won't get a review finding fault with it.  

What has me stumped is how do I warn off the reader who wants no violence or will down rate the book if it's included? Not just this reviewer, but that reader/writer group brought up this problem for some readers. They want no violence in their stories. A lot of times my books, which do have suspense as part of their story, do have violence. With Round the Bend, there was no way to tell a realistic story of the westward movement of these pioneers without including the dangers that did often accompany them.
"This is the ninth case of death by violence on the route, three of whom were executed, the others were murdered. This route is the greatest one for wrangling, discord and abuse of any other place in the world I am certain."    Abigail Scott Duniway
That was far from the only memoir that described such incidents. What I describe in the book belongs there. My issue is not whether to leave violence out. What I am trying to figure out is a meaningful way to warn readers who would find any disturbing. 

If I say the book contains some violence, it might make readers think it has more than it has. If I list off its violent events, it gives away plot elements that should be discovered as they unfold. For me, a violence rating is complicated by the fact that the descriptions in my books are about what would have routinely been in old western movies, the unrated kind, like John Wayne, and old TV shows like Gunsmoke or Cheyenne. If that was disturbing, you couldn't have such actions at all without upsetting that reader.

What I suspect is that when any reviewer takes away stars in a review based on sexuality, they are really hoping to influence the writer in this area. Otherwise, they'd simply not review the book or email the writer to express their displaesure. That though, would not have a punishment attached. In the case of these two books, it's not as though the reviewer needed to warn other readers. My blurbs do that-- well, except for the violence. To me, that is an issue I haven't resolved. I just don't know how to warn sensitive readers, and I do sympathize with them, as I personally try to avoid violence on movies and TV shows. We all have those areas that disturb us. So for rating the violence in my stories, I'd say they are PG13. Does that though work for a book?

Currently, I am very involved in writing my fifth Arizona historical with an enjoyable (for me) hero and heroine. Sam and Abby are in it too as secondary characters. They have been in the background of a lot of my books. Yes, the new one has violence-- a gunfight almost right off the bat with more to come. Its heat is ♥♥♥♥ :). It's what I write.

All photos from Old Tucson, staged stunt fights.


Tabor said...

I think that is the point. If you write romance you have to have some sex, but the issue is how explicitly it is written. Also, how lengthy those scenes are. Our library has a very popular genre of military romances and they are also with a Christian theme usually woven in for morality. I tried one and couldn't get past the first 30 pages, but as I have written before,this is not my genre. I also do not mind violence, it just depends how often, how lengthy and how vivid. I have to be frightened but not get sick.

Rain Trueax said...

The big thing is finding a way to make the warning meaningful to the reader who has problems with any of it. I have one author who I like her work, but bought one of her books where it was one sex scene after another. By the time it was finished, it was a short story masquerading as a novel. Those scenes should not be filler but meaningful to the development of the characters.

In my own reading, I tend to skim over sex scenes if they go on beyond a page or so. They don't offend me. They bore me. There are only so many ways to say it. For my writing though, if the sex scene is showing how the characters are trusting more, learning what they also want, showing the characters growing closer emotionally, then it's part of the book. It isn't thrown in, it belongs.

We do though have our preferences. I don't buy any book that labels itself sweet or clean. It's not because I need the sex. It's because I resent especially the word clean. I guess it means they vacuumed out the passion ;).

That said, I think it's good to label the work. Where it comes to violence I am just not sure how a system would work. The heat labels were easier to figure out. Maybe something of that general sort.

Tara Crowley said...

what is spicy now was once completely forbidden. But hey, it is part of our human experience. You have a difficult job in rating your books -- not everyone is always going to be pleased and you must write for yourself and nobody else.

I liked the sex between Abby and Sam. It helped explain and illustrate their humanity and passion for one another.

Rain Trueax said...

You are right about that, Tara. I am actually going to address this again on Wednesday due to another review which led me to want to further explain why I consider sexuality to be important in a full telling of the story. Thanks for telling me that about Sam and Abby from your view. :) and thanks for doing the review back then. they mean a lot to writers.