Thursday, March 3, 2011

Debunking the "Smut Book" Stereotype

In my carefree college days, I was part of a group of girls affectionately known as The Smut Club. We devoured romance novels one after another, swapping them back and forth and swooning over the latest alpha-male’s romantic overtures, while sipping coffee shop mochas we could barely afford.

Little did I know that the popular term “Smut Book” I had bandied about in my younger years would make my older-self cringe with a tight smile to hold my tongue in a cage of clenched teeth.

On occasion, I’ve tried defending my beloved genre to those with the preconceived notion that all romance books are the female adaptation of Playboy for the literary inclined. More often than not, their response was a fair imitation of John Cleese’s character, Arthur Nudge, in Monty Python’s Flying Circus (“Oh, riiight! Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more!”).

I have to say, I really resent that some people (even some of my friends and family members) have the misconception that people who write – or, for that matter, read – romance novels aren’t as intelligent, well-read, clever or talented as writers in other genres. It’s totally ridiculous and completely unfounded.

Romance novels have the same basic parts as every other novel: external conflicts (man vs. man, man vs. society, man vs. nature, etc.) and internal conflict (man vs. himself). The one ingredient romance novels have that set them apart from other genres is the importance of the relationship and love that builds between the main characters. It’s the foundation of the story and it’s that relationship journey that I crave and the main reason I’m so fond of (read: addicted to) the romance genre.

Notice, if you will, that I said relationship journey. Not SEX! (Although, I will freely admit that I thoroughly enjoy the knock-my-socks-off sex scenes too. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with wanting a little sex-icing on my relationship-cake!)

Through the author’s words, experiencing the characters’ ups and downs, their moments of struggle and moments of abandon – both individually and together – all while dealing with the external obstacles keeping them from their end goal is absolutely amazing. In these books, love conquers all, and isn’t that a wonderful notion? Obviously, we know there’s going to be a Happily Ever After, but how they get there is the real thrill. The journey is what makes that HEA so very worth it.

Referring to a romance novel as a “Smut Book” implies that the only thing between those covers is scene after scene of steamy exploits that put the Kama Sutra to shame. You’re deliberately discrediting the other hundreds of pages that aren’t sexual in nature.

In my book, Desires of the Soul, three “sex scenes” take up less than thirty pages of the double-spaced, 400+ manuscript pages. So what do you suppose makes up the rest of those pages? It certainly isn’t foreplay, people. (Even the best heroes aren’t that good!) No, those other pages are filled with exciting things like plot, sub-plot, character development, story arcs, world building, foreshadowing, conflict and more.

It’s not easy to create rules and consistencies for a made-up world, create characters with complex pasts and unique personalities, then give those characters goals, only to then throw obstacles in their path big enough to make the culmination of reaching those goals worth it.

Creating all of those aspects, and then tying them all together into a page-turning story that keeps the reader up late into the night, is the challenge that every writer faces no matter the genre.

So, to anyone who has made the innocent (or not so innocent for some) mistake of using terms like “trash novel” or “smut book,” please consider using the proper and respectful name of “romance novel.” To call it anything else is degrading to the talent, research, and ingenuity it took the author to write said book.

Remember, just because several of the scenes between a book’s covers are set between the sheets and worthy of a post-coital cigarette, doesn’t mean the book is any less amazing or relevant than the latest Stephen King or J.K. Rowling novel.

Until next time, happy reading!