In defense of all things smut

Trashy romance novels are the fake butter flavored syrup of the literary world. You shouldn’t be eating it because it’s heart-cloggingly crappy for you and you really hope no one saw you drown your popcorn with twelve pumps from the self-serve machine at the concession stand, but you just can’t help yourself. I became hooked after once having to buy a specific title for a writing class in college. This one wasn’t one of those four-dollar paperback romance “novels” made popular by women in trailer parks (note: the English snob in me is requiring the use of quotation marks any time romance novels are referred to as novels in this posting…henceforth, but not in these parentheses). No, this particular “novel” cost just ninety-nine cents. The paper smelled like formaldehyde and the vivid descriptions oozed with low-classness.

Somehow there is a distinction between trashy romance “novels” and romantic literary novels (see? High-class = no quotes), the kind that are supposedly fine literature of a romantic genre like the ones written by Nicholas Sparks. The difference between his romance novels and a dime-store bodice-ripper “novel?” No sex. It’s only in Hollywood that taking your clothes off equals an Oscar, but I digress.

There is a very clear industry formula for trashy romance “novels” and it is unyielding. All of them have to go this route to be considered for publication.

Step One: a couple with absolutely nothing in common and highest disdain for each other are somehow inexplicably thrown together…maybe they are marooned on the same island or they’re both fighting to save the same farm but for different reasons.

Step Two: Over the course of a few chapters, they have their ups and downs but eventually develop a friendship-type bond, all the while dropping hints about how hot the other one is and forcing themselves through internal monologue to squash those lurid innermost thoughts.

Step Three: they can no longer deny the attraction and they have cheek-reddeningliny descriptive sex for no less than five pages. Seriously. It is a publishing requirement that the sex last at least five pages. By the way, any actual sex act cannot take place before page two hundred, or it classifies as the Erotica genre. Apparently, getting to know someone for two hundred odd paperback pages then screwing him is normal behavior in all levels of society, but jumping on him on page ten is depraved and therefore a whole different category.

Step Four: something happens to make these two hate each other, and no, it can’t be regret about having sex in the tack room of the barn while the horses look on. One of them (almost exclusively the woman because we like her but the guy is a schmuck, just like the rest of them) finds out the other is a conniving liar and vows never to speak to him again. See, that’s where I lose the last shred of respect I ever had with trashy romance “novels.” If I had just been lured into the steamy naval commodore’s quarters and consensually ravaged for about eight hundred word count, then found out he was a big fat Mr. Pants on Fire, he wouldn’t have vital organs anymore. This would no longer be a trashy romance “novel,” it would now have to be shelved under Mystery/True Crime Drama.

Step Five: the real-live villainous character is revealed, usually someone whom the heroine had at least some form of attraction to but thankfully never boinked (she was able to hold back when it came to this guy, apparently), and the couple gets back together. It is ALWAYS implied that they are getting married but they rarely do, mostly due to the fact that the biggest purchasing audience of these “novels” is not married and is sad about that, so proof of lifelong happiness for the couple would be a turn off.

There it is in a nutshell, and I wish to all literary gods that I was making it up.

The biggest shock in reading today’s romance “novels” has been the portrayal of safe sex practices. While I heartily applaud the industry as a whole for promoting the concept in this day and age, it’s still surprising to read it in 12-pitch font whenever the pirate/lord something-or-other/cattle rancher/vampire actually stops to don a condom. Seriously? Even the undead can carry STDs? I mean, it’s kind of awkward and “mood breaking” enough, at least for the reader but apparently not for the swooning couple, but it’s very distracting from a practical editorial standpoint. My mind immediately starts to wonder why this captain of a pirate ship just happened to have prophylactics available. I mean, these guys are at sea for months at a time and Captain Darknhansom had no way at all of knowing that the Duchess Jasmine du Heavingcleavagier would end up shipwrecked on a nearby island that he happened to be sailing past, using all of her corsets and sundry undergarments to stoke the flames of the signal fire which left her feeling practically naked at all times and unable to leave the cabin of the pirate ship/rescue vessel, even for the meals which the Captain was kind enough to personally bring to her room in case any of the crew men should see her and think she was unladylike. Does the author really expect me to believe that a pirate ship comprised solely of swashbuckling and scurvy-ridden men without so much as a woman in sight to do the cooking keeps condoms on board just in case…oh wait. Never mind. I get it now.

And where is the practicality? I would have to use my imagination to let this scene unfold, but if I’m about to give in to the undeniable feelings I have for the rugged game warden who takes me out in his boat on the bayou supposedly to find out who’s been shooting all the alligators and setting up out-of-season crawfish traps, and he magically has a condom with him, wouldn’t you think I would be kind of insulted that he was just carrying that around with him in case I was easy? I don’t recall reading that he dug around in his wallet for one he placed in there back in seventh grade to look cool to the other guys. He didn’t reach over into the boat’s live bait well where he stores odds and ends type stuff, and even if he did, how reliable can it be if he’s been driving it around in that boat in the hot sun for ages? Plus, ewww! How many other women have gone boat riding on the bayou with this guy? He keeps condoms strategically stashed around his boat just in case? He’s a Cajun game warden, for crying out loud, not a pro football player! Seriously, how often do hot women throw themselves shirtless at this guy? Oh my gosh!

You may already be wondering why it is that I know so much about these “novels.” Admittedly, these “novels” are the kind you don’t mind reading for a weekend at the lake house with your best girlfriends and a lot of margaritas because you’re all a little bit drunk and basically unbathed in a vacation free-for-all, but when you get back home to your high-class world of flush toilets and remote controlled televisions you leave them stowed in a closet like some nineteen-year-old boy toy you met in the layaway line at Kmart . It would be career suicide (well, okay, very embarrassing) if anyone from work found out you read “books like those,” so you look down your literary nose and scoff, all the while knowing they are your own dirty little secret.

What you don’t know is that these tiny little tomes, these raging infernos of lust and moral abandon, are actually vital gems of the grammatical world. These volumes keep the life burning in words that the rest of society would like to sweep under the rug, words like any of the sixteen different names for the male genitalia I found in one title alone. No, I will not list them here. Buy your own damn copy.

A trashy romance “novel” is way better than a thesaurus for coming up with alternate words in a pinch. If you ever need an awesome verb to describe the way someone was lathering up in the shower, try trashy romance, preferably one with a blonde, shirtless farm hand on the cover. If you need a great euphemism to whisper to someone behind your hand to describe any given sex act, even ones that are illegal in twenty-two states, it will be in there. Ever have a use for limitless adjectives describing a man’s sweat-sheened chest? Or adverbs to describe the way a mismatched pair of sexually frustrated royals are gazing at each other? The twenty-eight pages of various coupling in, Jezebel: The Preacher’s Wife, will supply enough synonym fun to last you through all forty-one chapters. Roget’s got nothing on these writers. NOTE: don’t bother going looking for great prepositions in there, the only ones that get used are “on” and “under.”

Leave off with the jokes about becoming inspired in the bedroom thanks to the acrobatic antics of the implausibly aroused characters in these books. No reader in her right mind, and right-mindedness might be a tall order when it comes to the people who devour these “novels,” should succumb to the belief that zoologists the world over are actually having wild Discovery Channel-style sex on their desks at work. Heck, scientists of any ilk are just grateful to be having sex at all, let alone with the hottie lady Ph.D. botanist who suddenly finds herself having to share office space with the aforementioned smoldering-yet-completely-infuriating zoologist due to a cruel twist of funding-cutting fate (I swear to you that is the storyline of one such “novel” that I literally have in my possession). However, for the record, many kudos to the authors who decided gorgeous females can be botanists and still have rampant sexual feelings. Preach it, sisters.

All in all, trashy romance “novels” might seem to be the seedy underbelly of the publishing world to the rest of mainstream society, but it could be so much worse. I haven’t had the courage to delve into the ones shelved as Erotica, mostly because the things that the women of lesser royalty are apparently capable of are shocking enough. There are some things you just cannot unsee.

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2 thoughts on “In defense of all things smut

  1. My, My! I just happen to have a B&N gift card in my possession. I might have to do some ……synonym research. My Roget’s is old and I do want to keep up. ROFL!

  2. the sixteen different names for the male genitalia I found in one title alone

    That’s a long title, and kind of monotonous (unless it is a really long title (no pun intended)).

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