I do not write romance.
A year ago, I was on a panel with a friend of mine, Terry Maggert, at LibertyCon. The focus of said panel was Romance writing. I was terrified at what I considered a gross misjudgment of my works. I was certain that I would not have anything to talk about and began the discussion with my writing peers with that sentiment. The discussion that came afterwards was interesting and helped me understand that I wasn't alone in this rear of misrepresentation. I did not want my novels lumped into a group that I felt predominately spent their time trying to find a new way to say penis.
Okay, stop giggling and stay with me here.
Terry did not come in afraid despite being the only male on the panel and one of few in the room. Terry came in to thoroughly enjoy himself in the discussion. His energy and enthusiasm was infectious and is one of the reasons I consider him a friend.
One of the first things we dove into was the "bodice rippers" of the 80s in romance novels. If you're unfamiliar with the term (and I am making myself seem much older than I am all of the sudden), it refers to the romance novels that came out with covers featuring a prominent male figure and a woman in various states of undress looking as though she was either mid or pre-ravishment by said gentleman. The women on these covers were diverse in stature and look, but the man was almost always the same guy with long wavy hair -- a popular model at the time who went on to be in fake butter commercials and famously smacked in the face by a bird at the opening of a roller coaster in Virginia.
The discussion was lively and hilarious but it also pointed out a specific failing in genre-naming: connotation. Most of us were unhappy with the thought that our fantasy novel or science-fiction work (LiberyCon is predominately a Science-Fiction and Fantasy convention) might be viewed as a bodice-ripper instead of what we saw it as. We discussed genre-blending and what exactly determines a book's genre just to find that we all knew there was no clear ruling.
I broke out my bookseller knowledge from my former life as a Waldenbooks/Borders employee and turned it into terms of consumer/sales. Genres were created to help the average consumer find a book similar to one they already enjoyed. It did not mean that this book was ALL romance or that one was ALL mystery. Walking into a mystery section did not mean everything was going to be Holmesian. The horror section was not filled with Stephen King novels only -- though, to be honest, a great deal of his books are really science-fiction or fantasy which only furthers my point. We asked each other: what makes a book a romance novel? No one really had an absolute other than this: whatever the main aspect of the story line is (conflict, rising action, climax, etc.) determines where it fits the best. My novels, having characters with some romantic entanglement could be considered having a romantic bent to the novel, but are NOT romances. Genre lines will continue to be blurred conglomerations of whatever the story dictates. What the heart wants, the author rips out, stabs with a pen until it bleeds ink, and then refills his/her coffee cup.
Or maybe that's consumerism.
My issue now, and the reason I thought of all of this, is my current novel. The main character has a love interest that is distracting and slides into the story line more often than not. She is mooning over someone very uncharacteristically and I read it and wonder if I'm happy about that. How much "romance" am I willing to let seep into my story? And in that thought, how much of the relationship will be physical?
Some authors have no qualms about letting their characters do whatever it is that their characters want in full view of the reader. I'm not 100% comfortable with that. At one point, I even emailed an author I liked who I felt had very tastefully veered away from the physical aspect of the characters' relationship to ask her thoughts. Maria V. Snyder is one of the few authors that has ever responded to an email and her answer was simple in that she explained her approach but told me I had to find out what I was comfortable with.
Current novel in mind, I just don't know. What do you think about the description of a physical relationship in a novel? Has it ever made you want to turn away from a book?