Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Is My Sweet Romance Too Dirty?

Stick with Ted until you're wed?
-  I like it when books leave it to your imagination as to what goes on between the sheets or in the privacy of one's home - that's what relationships are - private - and should stay that way, so congratulations on keeping the book clean and sensitive. review

-  This is a clean read no sex (just reference to) and no swearing! review

It seems a little ironic that after my last post ‘Is My Romance too Sweet for You?’ (see below), I should now be asking if my ‘sweet’ (and I’m still mildly uncomfortable with the term) romance is clean or…well whatever the opposite is – dirty, I presume?  Can a sweet romance be dirty?  That sounds like a contradiction in terms – an oxymoron, even.  Either way, it seems I have been deluded in glibly thinking that I write ‘clean’ romance!

But that is what I stand accused of now!  You can imagine how surprised I was to receive an email this week from a reviewer who claimed she was unable to finish reading The Apple Tree because, effectively, it was not ‘clean enough’ for her tastes!  My disappointment, I hasten to add, was short-lived.  Since it took her more than four months to make her monumental decision, it was hardly at the forefront of my mind. However her comment did shock me and make me wonder, yet again, about romance sub-genres and whether we poor writers will ever be able to please all of our readers all of the time.

The two reviews quoted above both relate to The Apple Tree and both clearly refer to it as being ‘clean’.  A little research into the first reviewer shows her (or him) to be a discerning reader while the second is a reputable reviewer.  Could they have got it wrong?  How many more classifications can the ‘sweet’ sub-genre be broken down into?

A look at another romance writer’s blog was extremely helpful.  In her delightful blog (, Morgan Mandel describes Sweet as showing attraction between the sexes but with intimate contact being limited to sweet kisses, while Sweet Discreet allows implied but not detailed sex between the hero and heroine. This must be “either understood to be behind closed doors; or, if it's mentioned in the here and now, no graphic and/or overly long details dwelling on body organs and body responses.”  Morgan’s definition is extremely useful and it places The Apple Tree very cleanly (sorry!) in the Sweet Discreet category.  But is this a category universally understood by readers, writers and, indeed everyone else?

The condemning of my novel to some unclean category also raised another question in my mind.  Am I being hypocritical in allowing my characters to have sex, but refusing to describe it?  As discussed previously, it's a conscious decision not to describe their intimacy, but should I also refuse its existence?  Hmm.  

In The Apple Tree my heroine is on the threshold of her twenty-seventh birthday; she has already been married and is a doctor, to boot.  The hero is at least the same age, possibly even in his early thirties, absolutely gorgeous, eligible and with girls falling at his feet on every street corner.  Would it be realistic for these healthy heterosexuals, with no religious or cultural constraints, to resist their powerful sexual attraction for each other until after they are married – i.e. throughout the course of the entire novel, especially when their two best friends are living together quite openly?  

I would love to know what other romance writers feel about this and I would especially love to hear from readers of romance – after all, they are the ones whose preferences really count in such matters.