My First Smut

My First Smut: Sometimes bodice rippers just work, you know?

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, romance author Carly Spade talks about reading her very first bodice ripper.


First romance novel you read:

Bodice Ripper (can’t remember title)

How old were you?

13

How’d you get your hands on the book?

“Borrowed” from my aunt

What was the reading experience like?

I had no idea such things existed and loved everything about it including the fantasy aspect.

What made the experience special?

It introduced me to a realm like Lord of the Rings that I enjoyed but with described intimacy.

What role does smut play in your life?

I’ve elevated from not just reading it but also including it in the books I write. For me, it’s not just about the smut, it’s about to journey to it and the emotion behind it.

Bio

An adult romance writer who has been writing since she could pick up a pencil. After the insanity of obtaining a bachelor’s and master’s degree in cybersecurity, creating worlds to escape to still ate at her very soul. She started writing FanFiction (which can still be found if you scour the internet 😉 ), and soon felt the need to get her original ideas on paper. And so the adventure began.

She lives in Colorado with her husband and two fur babies, and revels in an enemies to lovers trope with a slow burn.

Connect with Carly: Website | Twitter | Instagram | Facebook


Thanks Carly! Carly recently rereleased her first book, The Power of Eternity. Watch this space for Erin’s review, coming soon!

Have an early smut experience you’d like to share with us? If you’d like to see your story featured, send us an email or fill out our questionnaire and we’ll post it in an upcoming week.

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Archetypes: The Sex Worker

This week, we’ll be featuring books featuring sex worker protagonists, and are kicking things off with a discussion post about the portrayal of sex workers in romance more broadly.


Bottom line: Do you like the sex worker archetype?

Erin: I didn’t always like it back in the day when I was reading about aristocrats rescuing their poor, tarnished mistresses, though at the time I didn’t quite understand why. Now I enjoy reading this archetype with caveats. I like that I have found stories that explore this archetype without being buried in sex shaming, but I have found even the most sex-positive versions of these stories still tend not to embrace or explore some ideas that I’d like to see, specifically that it’s possible for people to be in a healthy relationship even with the sex work continuing.

Holly: I’ll be honest, I kinda like the fallen courtesan historical romances. The heroines may be sad and jaded, but they’re also more worldly and sexually experienced than the average historical romance heroine. 

I’m not saying that these stories are sex positive or don’t have problems, but when I was first reading romance 20 years ago, these heroines felt like a breath of fresh air, and I continue to have a fondness for them. As the Music Man says: “I hope, I pray, for Hester to earn just one more A.” 

Ingrid: I think for the most part they tend to be refreshing when, as Erin pointed out, they aren’t done as a savior/fallen woman thing. I especially like when the sex worker hasn’t had a ton of terrible experiences and needs a magical ding dong to fix things for her.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as the sex worker archetype?

Erin: At least one of the protagonists is engaged in sex work, so one who engages in prostitution (mistress/prostitute/escort) or works in the adult film industry (porn star) or is a stripper or theoretically is engaged in sex therapy or does webcam sex work or is a professional dominant or the like, but I haven’t read any books that include protagonists who do that. Prostitution/porn/stripper definitely seem to be the literary faves.

Holly: Note: that thing that happens in bodice rippers where the hero suspects that the virgin heroine is a prostitute and therefore rapes her DOES NOT COUNT. 

Ingrid: Agree with all of the above.

What do you think is fun about the archetype?

Erin: It explores ideas about sexuality and power dynamics, especially when it’s thoughtfully executed.

Holly: Having a sex worker protagonist sometimes takes the mystique out of sex, you know? Maybe that means that casual sex is on the table, or maybe that means that characters are really conscientious about developing ties that aren’t about being horny. I don’t know, I made that up. 

Ingrid: I think in the examples I’ve seen and really enjoyed, I like that it levels the playing field. So often it’s one person, usually a guy, who has a plethora of sexual experience, and (usually the) girl kind of unfurls due to his sexual ministrations. But in this case they’re both bringing a wealth of experience to the table and it’s…pretty fun.

What do you find problematic about the archetype?

Erin: You don’t have to reach very far back to read this archetype as rescued from poverty and misery by the love interest who is willing to overlook the sexual partners in the past. Even in the more sex positive narratives, the archetype seems still to be primarily centered in ideas of shame and very traditional views of monogamy. I suppose it makes sense for the protagonists to have experiences and/or conversations that force the non-sex worker to confront biases, but the fact that it’s almost impossible to find a story that includes the love interest being unconditionally and publicly supportive of the sex worker or for the sex worker to continue the sex work once the relationship is cemented bums me out because it still feels like it’s supporting a cultural narrative that being a sex worker and having a happy, loving relationship are mutually exclusive things.

Holly: Uh, what Erin said. 

Ingrid: I really can’t add to that.

Would you say that you see authors representing sex work more frequently in a positive or a negative light?

Erin: Overall I do not think that sex work is portrayed in a particularly positive light. There are some authors exploring this archetype in ways that challenge cultural ideas about sex work, but I would argue that the reason books like, for example, Stripped by Zoey Castile or The Roommate by Rosie Danan or The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang have been so notable in recent years is (in part) because they include a character with this culturally taboo job. And all of these books that arguably do show the sex worker in a positive light include an interlude in which the sex worker is publicly shamed, even if the sex work is not entirely outed in the interlude. It makes sense that these scenes occur, but the fact that they are used in, like, every book indicates to me that, as readers, we are still grappling with the idea that we could view sex work without attaching shame to the occupation.

Holly: I absolutely agree with Erin. Sex work is something that characters do out of necessity and that they desperately want to leave behind (either by running away from their past or by finding a way to stop doing sex work). One exception I can think of is Priest by Sierra Simone, where the heroine is working as a stripper to escape from her WASP background, and who explicitly gets off on stripping. But sex work is still portrayed as negative and shameful—the character does it specifically because of the stigma attached, because it separates her from her other life, and there’s no indication that she will keep stripping once she and Father Bell figure out their relationship. 

However, I think we do have to acknowledge that while there are certainly sex workers in real life who choose their work because it’s something they really want to do, there are also a lot of sex workers who do this work because of economic necessity, and I don’t think that romance novels should gloss over that completely. 

Ingrid: I completely agree with this. I think that the issue in real life is pretty complex and there are a lot of factors and considerations for us as people in a society to weigh and discuss, so it goes to show that what we see in literature might be the same. I do think that the “shame factor” is a real thing that can’t be ignored–just because we believe things should be a certain way doesn’t mean they ARE yet, and so I can understand why we’d have that factor represented. I feel like there’s some opportunity to examine it in a more fantasy-based environment, where the characters exist in a society that has approached sex work differently (and perhaps in a healthier way).

What’s one book you loved that features this archetype? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the archetype?

Erin: Though in some ways I would have liked to see some elements play out a little differently, The Roommate by Rosie Danan was overall very sex positive. Josh is an adult film star who is dealing with his own career problems and has to figure out how to move forward in a way that he’s still comfortable with what he’s doing, and the solution that he and Clara come up with doesn’t take them away from the adult film industry, but spins their project in a feel-good, sex positive way.

Holly: First of all, I don’t think a discussion of sex workers in romance can be complete without bringing up Tiffany Reisz’s Original Sinners books. Nora might be known as a bestselling erotica author, but she makes her real money as a professional dominatrix. Though her relationship with Søren is tumultuous, she absolutely continues her sex work throughout the series as she moves towards her HEA. 

In a slightly different vein, Eight Kinky Nights by Xan West features a sex educator who gives demonstrations on how to safely engage in kink. Leah loves her work and is privileged enough to maintain control of her boundaries—and rather than being shamed for what she does, it makes her a more desirable partner for Jordan, who wants to learn about dominance from someone experienced in teaching it. 

And finally, I want to give a shout out to Jeannie Lin’s Lotus Palace mysteries. These books take place in the pleasure quarter of the capital city in Tang dynasty China, so bonus points for a unique historical setting. What’s interesting here is because the courtesans cater to a high-class clientele, they are well-educated and desirable (and maybe even powerful). This is not to say that they will continue to work in the pleasure quarter post-HEA, because they won’t, but it was still fun to read about a time when sex work wasn’t so furtive. 

Ingrid: I’m so bad at remembering books–I’m thinking off the top of my head of Priest, which we all know wasn’t my jam in some ways but it touches on the heroine’s work as a stripper (which was something she did for multiple reasons). Lingus by Mariana Zapata was an interesting read–in that one we have the hero who is a porn star and working his way through school. While he struggles with that career path, other major characters are also porn stars and have really positive experiences. So it was a pretty interesting read!


PS: Here are the books we’ll be talking about in more detail this week.

Book covers:
The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin
The Master by Kresley Cole
The Roommate by Rosie Danan
Stripped by Zoey Castile

Have a favorite romance featuring a sex worker? Let us know in the comments!

My First Smut

My First Smut: Sexy Audiobooks Make Roadtrips Better

My First Smut is a recurring feature where we talk about our formative smut experiences. These short confessionals may include such details as: What book did you read? How old were you? Were there other people involved? What made the experience special? What role does smut play in your life?

This week, Kandy from What The Smut Podcast talks about reading Outlander for the first time.


First romance novel you read:

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

How old were you?

In my thirties

How’d you get your hands on the book?

I was making a 22 hour drive from California to Oklahoma alone and needs something to listen to in the car. I found the book under sci-fi and time travel and it was LONG!

What was the reading experience like?

It is an awesome sci-fi book with the time travel angle but geez louise I near ran my car into a ditch when the first EXPLICIT sex scene started. Of course, I have devoured every line of that series and reread the entire lot whenever a new book comes out. May all of the gods bless you Diana Gabaldon.

What made the experience special?

I had read teen romance as a kid but had no idea that this was a thing. Give me more, give me more!!

What role does smut play in your life?

I spend a lot of time and effort co-hosting a podcast dedicated to Smut!


Thanks Kandy! Outlander was a formative romance-reading experience for Holly as well. (Thanks Mom!)

Wrap Up

March Wrap-Up: Our Favorite Smut This Month

No April Fools’ jokes here, just a quick-and-dirty wrap up of what we got up to this month.

First and foremost: our top reads.

Holly’s Choice: Learned Reactions by Jayce Ellis

Holly had a strong visceral reaction to the characters’ relationship—which is a sign of a great book.

Erin’s Choice: Lick by Kylie Scott

Erin says this book was perfectly executed, so there’s nothing else to say, is there?

Ingrid’s Choice: Under Pressure by Allie Winters

Ingrid used the word “love” (as in, “I loved it!!!!!”) nine times in her review.

What else we did this month:

Coming soon…

Let's Talk Tropes

Let’s Talk Tropes: The One-Sided Courtship

Bottom line: Do you like the One-Sided Courtship trope?

Erin: There are times when it gets icky (like, take no for an answer, dude), but for the most part it is a trope I really do enjoy. 

Holly: I don’t love it. But I don’t hate it either. 

Ingrid: I don’t love it. I also feel like when it works it’s paired with a sub-trope and that’s why it works.

What criteria are required for a book to qualify as a one-sided courtship trope?

Erin: I usually read this really broadly, so to me a one-sided courtship involves a protagonist pursuing a relationship because of feelings (no relationships-of-convenience allowed!) while the other(s) is/are more standoffish. My favorite instances tend to be the ones where the (hero) has one interaction with the (heroine), decides (she’s) the one, and is all in from the word “go.” Which isn’t necessarily insta-love…usually it’s more like insta-horny, and it takes a while for the love to be acknowledged. But I would also include here stories in which there is insta-love but one protagonist is standoffish while the other is more accepting of the feeling and is more willing to pursue it. 

Holly: I don’t even think it has to involve deep feelings on the part of the pursuer. Maybe the pursuer just wants to date the other person, and the other person has too much stuff going on right now, or thinks that the pursuer isn’t right (too young for me, too hot for me, too…much for me). 

I would also argue that Seducing My Spouse is closely related, or perhaps a sub-trope, of one-sided courtship, and that there is space in a marriage (of convenience or otherwise) for this dynamic to play out. 

Ingrid: I agree with Erin and Holly here…only I would argue that in order for it to not be icky it almost exclusively has to slide into a secondary trope.

What do you think is fun about the trope?

Erin: I am simply delighted by a protagonist coming to a realization that they’ve found exactly what they maybe weren’t even aware they were looking for and then cunningly setting about convincing the lover(s) that there’s no just fighting the feelings. Plus I suppose it taps into a fantasy of being desirable enough that someone is bound and determined to pursue oneself, and it’s always nice to be wanted…within reason.

Holly: It can lead to some great tension as the relationship dynamic changes from casual / friendship to romantic interest to love. I especially appreciate when the reluctant character is emotionally invested in the pursuer, but not ready or willing to date for whatever reason, and the slow and persistent courtship therefore becomes a way of learning to trust. 

Ingrid: I mean, deep down there’s something really validating when you see someone who just never gave up on “that person and only that person” find happiness.

What do you find problematic about the trope?

Erin: As a fantasy idea for putting people together on page, I don’t think it’s particularly problematic. That said, it is pretty easy for this to slide into Nice Guy™ or bully wont-take-no-for-an-answer territory, which is both problematic and not attractive. 

Holly: “Please date me.”

“No thanks.”

“But I really like you.”

“No thanks.” 

“I’m pretty sure you like me too.”

“No thanks.”

“Ok, I’ll pick you up at 8.” 

Duuuuuuuude. Learn some boundaries. It’s not cute. 

Ingrid: I have nothing to add here. That’s the problem 100% of the time.

Are there specific sub-genres that you believe work best for this trope?

Erin: It certainly could be applied in any sub-genre, but there seems to be less space for accepting it – at least in the form of “doesn’t take no” action – in regular old contemporary romance, where we see more of a trend away from hints of domineering behavior. It seems to be more popular in books that feature darker material, like Biker, Mafia, or other criminal archetypes, though I’ve certainly read it in historical romance (as in Slightly Dangerous or The Double Wager by Mary Balogh or in Indigo by Beverly Jenkins) and also in paranormal (sci-fi or fantasy) romance in which fated mates is not a factor (I’m thinking along the lines of Connor Rogan’s behavior in Hidden Legacy’s Nevada Baylor trilogy). In short, I would argue that it does work anywhere but the ways it might be applied and/or received by an audience vary by sub-genre.

Holly: Erin’s response is interesting, because I primarily associate the one-sided courtship with paranormal fated mates books for some reason. Like, one person knows it’s a fated-mates situation (“Her blood smells sooooo delicious!”) and then pursues the object of his affections relentlessly until she gives in. 

I don’t know why I think that, given that, when I look back through my reading, I see that I have reviewed literally zero paranormal one-sided courtship books in the past three years. 

Ingrid: I would argue that in contemporary romance you might see this trope paired with a sudden shift in enemies to lovers or in friends to lovers. Also seducing my spouse. So although I would say that paranormal and historical are the heavy-hitters in this category, it certainly makes a showing in others.

What’s one book you loved that features this trope? What’s so great about this book and the way it handles the trope?

Erin: Yeah, so, that’s not happening. One book? Please. (This is a terrible question. I always struggle to choose one book.) 

Off the top of my head, Motorcycle Man by Kristen Ashley is a good one. It begins with Tyra falling for Tack at first sight, but he doesn’t reciprocate and is a total jerk. Then Tack sees some of the personality he missed that first night, and he realizes that he’s all in while she’s no longer so sure about him. So there’s a lot of back and forth between them, but it’s also all on the table, not hidden, the whole courtship. It’s a messy one, and better suited to readers who are comfortable with messy characters and anti-hero archetypes. 

If you’d like better behaved protagonists, I’d suggest Love Hard by Nalini Singh (have I recced this book enough yet?) It doesn’t happen instantly for Jake, but once he realizes that Juliet is perfect for him, he’s totally zoned in on getting her to agree without any subterfuge or manipulation, which is more unusual for this trope (especially the older the pub date). It’s so gentle and so romantic. 

And, just for funsies, if you’d like to change things up and have the woman being the pursuer, then Marrying the Billionaire by Allie Winters was a great read. 

Holly: How about a histrom? I cannot recommend The Widow of Rose House enough. Sam thinks Alva is just great, but Alva’s now-dead husband was abusive, so she’s not too keen on the whole romance thing. So while Sam definitely pursues Alva, he’s also careful with her, and that balance is really nice to read. 

Ingrid: I’ve been reading a ton of KF Breene, and in her Demigod of San Francisco series I think she kind of skirts this trope because Kieran chases Lexi for her mad magical skills pretty aggressively and it’s obviously not totally a professional interest. But obviously because it IS presented as such it’s pretty funny and it shifts in such a satisfying way!


Do you love one-sided courtship books? Hate them? Wildly indifferent? Have a rec for one you loved? Let us know in the comments!