Podcast, The Great Smut Debate

Heternormative HEAs and Husband Material…Podcast Edition

We’re trying something new! Instead of transcribing and blogifying our conversations about romance, we’re giving this whole podcast thing ago.

For our first episode, we’re continuing the Great Smut Debate. This month, we’re tackling Heternormative HEAs and the question of what makes a hero good husband material.

Give us a listen, and let us know what you think in the comments—especially if you want to see more content like this from us!

Episode 1: Heteronormative HEAs and Husband Material The Smut Report Podcast

Erin, Holly, and Ingrid talk about heteronormative happy endings after reading a whole bunch of books called HUSBAND MATERIAL.Full show notes at smutreport.com
Continue reading “Heternormative HEAs and Husband Material…Podcast Edition”
Hearts and Crafts

Hearts and Crafts: Point of View

Point of view seems like such a silly thing to focus on as a plot device in romance novels, but I’d actually argue that it’s one of the biggest ways to influence intimacy and tension. If you read my piece on tension, you’ll remember that tension is created in large part by what isn’t being said. Point of view sets some pretty concrete boundaries in how feelings and information are disclosed and processed within the bounds of the plot, and that means that POV becomes the gatekeeper to what information is provided and what is withheld. It’s like a camera lens—you see what the camera allows you to see; some things are clear and some are fuzzy, and your ability to trust the narrative relies exclusively on what you’re allowed to see—and nothing else.

Let’s talk about how different kinds of POV impact what you’re able to experience.

First, the building of intimacy. There’s going to be a HUGE difference in the way intimacy is built (and it’s effectiveness, if you want to go throw down) based on what kind of POV is used. The same story told in third person will not hit the same way as a story told in first person, where you’re sympathetically feeling what someone else is feeling in real time. Also, a story told in the present tense, where you’re right there with someone experiencing something, is going to hit differently than a story being told by someone relating a story told from the past. Not better or worse, just differently. And an author is going to have to really think about how a relationship’s physical and emotional intimacy is going to unfold if a story is told by a neutral narrator who is omniscient—there’s an added degree of separation between the reader and the characters, and it matters. Intimacy in romance novels is just as complicated and multifaceted as it is in real life—we have books that are absolutely spine tingling yet the only physical touch depicted on the page is an accidental touch of the hand, and we have books that involve copious copulating and yet the moment of binding intimacy is bringing soup to someone when they’re sick. 

Second, the ability to manipulate tension. One of the most interesting and hotly debated ways to pull off incredible tension and a slow burn of building intimacy is to have the book set in first person, present, static point of view. This is how Mariana Zapata nails a good slow burn (if you’re into Mariana Zapata). With her works, BECAUSE you can’t see what the MMC is thinking during the slow build of the relationship, every gesture, every lingering glance builds tension between the FMC and the MMC and that’s where both the intimacy and the tension really shine through. But that’s not the only way to build tension—for example, if you’re reading a romance novel and it’s set in third person, present, alternating point of view, you’re going to be able to give the readers a TON of self disclosure—but you’re also going to need to consider how to crank up the tension without it devolving into a well of wallowing/cloying feelings. Outside nemesis? Situation of peril? You see my point. If the story is being told by an omniscient narrator (rare in romance, but still) you have the benefit of being able to watch characters headed towards something YOU know is coming, but they don’t. 

In my opinion, the reason a lot of romance writers tend to use alternating third person POV is that it provides a ton of flexibility with the plot and lens while also making it very easy to establish both physical and emotional intimacy. You can describe exactly what’s going on in each character’s mind in the same sex scene, and that builds intimacy within the story and (in a weird way) between the characters and the reader. If you need to ratchet up some tension, you can pause and switch the perspective to the other character. Plus, it’s my personal favorite when the author is able to dive into two very different voices and really bring them to life and then bring them together.

There’s one more interesting factor that plays into POV that I think is worth mentioning: the trustworthiness of the characters. In third person, you’re getting a much more straightforward account of what’s happening–there’s a degree of removal between you and the action, so you can see things they can’t. In first person, you’re kind of held willing hostage by whatever the characters think and experience. I find a lot of the “I Misjudged You” plotlines tend to work better in first person, because you’re strung along by hints of blind spots and misread intentions and can experience the “shame and shift” bit that follows along with the character who was hurtful. On the flip side, I suspect this type of setup is exactly what enrages some readers and I think it can be very difficult to get right. There’s a fine line between seeing that a character is untrustworthy because they have some mess to go through and some growing to do, and feeling like a character is untrustworthy because they’re genuinely someone who shouldn’t be trusted. 

The point here (see what I did there) is that point of view is not a choice authors make based on what feels good or what they prefer (although I bet most do have a preference)-—it’s a razor sharp tool that heavily influences how readers interpret their works, and it can make a huge impact on how we as readers feel about a book’s effectiveness.


Want more on POV? Here’s a group post we did in 2022.

Let's Talk Tropes banner with "Tropes" struck through and replaced with "Chuck Tingle"
Let's Talk Tropes

Jingle Jingle, Here’s Chuck Tingle

Anybody who spends as much time as we do in romance and romance-adjacent book circles has heard of Chuck Tingle, but how many of us have purchased and read any of his books? Well, we couldn’t hold back our curiosity any more, so this year we’re diving in feet first. Dinosaurs? Cryptids? Animated inanimate objects? Physical manifestations of ideas and current events? We just have to know what’s behind those hilarious book covers. 

Tinglers we’ll be reading this week!

Why did you think this was a good idea?

Erin: Could I have read these books on my own? Yes. Would it be more fun (and more likely to actually happen) if I roped in my romance-reading buddies? Definitely.

Holly: I blame Erin, frankly. Ok, but I also admit that I have been Tingle curious for a while and this is probably the only way it was actually going to happen.

Ingrid: Because there’s really no other way to get away with titling a blog post “Jingle, jingle, here’s Chuck Tingle”.

Erin: That really did clinch it.

What do you know about Chuck Tingle?

Erin: He lives in, like, Montana? And even when he does an event, he wears a paper bag on his head? Not much, I guess. But when he shows up on Twitter, it’s like a mic drop every time. 

Holly: I first fell down the Tingle rabbit hole in 2015-ish, when he was nominated for a Hugo award by some angry white dudes who thought sci-fi was becoming too woke. (Here’s a Vox explainer on the whole thing.) His response was, of course, was to write a new story: “Slammed in the Butt By My Hugo Award Nomination.” I got really excited about the whole thing and his philosophy of love and I was going to write about paper about the theology of it or something but my execution very rarely keeps up with my ideas so that never happened.

To actually answer the question: What I know about him is that he’s famously reclusive and writes gay erotica that leans absurdist and often satirizes current events.

Ingrid: I know about the bag on the head situation and that Erin cackles whenever we hear whatever title Tingle’s just released. Just the title, mind you…she didn’t even require more than that. I know he writes clever gay erotica and that he’s got his finger (and possibly other things?) on the pulse of current events.

What are you expecting from Chuck Tingle’s books (known as Tinglers)?

Erin: I feel like Chuck Tingle on social media is clever and sometimes profound, but I’m expecting the actual books to be totally bananas.

Holly: Um. Butt sex? But with dinosaurs? And toasters and jet planes? I’ve gathered that he has this philosophy of radical inclusion and that love is love, and that his books came from the moment when people were wringing their hands about gay marriage and saying that people were going to marry their toasters next, and Chuck Tingle was basically like, “Hold My Beer.”

Ingrid: I really don’t know. Will it be really tongue in cheek? Will it be sensual and lush with detail? I really have no idea. 

Chuck Tingle is prolific, and he writes really short books. How did you choose what to read this week?

Erin: Well, Holly already picked a dinosaur book, and I couldn’t say the title “Pounded by That Handsome Bigfoot Hiding on the Wing of my Plane Whose Wiener is Huge” without laughing, so it seemed like a promising choice. Also, I really needed to know how the sex worked if the bigfoot is on the outside of the plane, right?

Holly: “Space Raptor Butt Invasion” is the book that was nominated for a Hugo. So it seemed like a defining work in his oeuvre. Yes, I just used the word oeuvre to describe a collection of short stories about dinosaurs with big schlongs.

Ingrid: I went with something based solely on the title and did not consider Erin, Holly, or the blog’s needs whatsoever.

How excited are you to read these Tinglers and discuss with the team?

Erin: So excited. I really hope this is as entertaining as I’ve built it up to be in my head. 

Holly: Discussing smut with the team is one of my favorite pastimes. Adding a dinosaur and a well-hung bigfoot and the physical manifestation of holiday shopping to the mix will just make it more fun.

Ingrid: I’m going in with a completely open mind. 

Author Spotlight

Author Spotlight: Tal Bauer

Looking for a new author to try? Here’s everything you need to know about Tal Bauer, whose books include You & Me, Secret Service, and The Team duology.


What He Writes:

Primarily dual POV M/M romance, especially romantic suspense and sports romance

What Makes Him Unique:

He combines a rather lyrical voice (lots of emotional drama) with intense tension, which makes the romance all heart eyes while the plot is a nail-biter. 

Writing Style:

Has shifted over time. Early books are usually though not always dual 3rd person in past tense, more recent releases are dual 1st person in present tense. He’s written a couple of single POV books as well. His books tend to be long and feature mature (40-ish) protagonists. He also typically hammers out the “I love you” component of the romance between 50-60%, so the third/fourth acts typically hinge on a different, external problem.

Why We Love Him:

There’s nothing quite like feeling all the butterflies of a beautiful romance while at the same time feeling the gut-clenching fear that they’re going to die. Or, in the case of the non-suspense books, while wondering how on earth they’re going to navigate their life problems.

Us Reading His Books:

He Might Not Be For You If:

Emotional rollercoasters stress you out, you don’t like being unsure that characters are going to live, graphic violence graphically described makes you queasy, crime dramas are not your scene, straight-forward language without dramatic flourishes and power words is your preference, long books are too much, you’re not into the idea of soulmates, cowboys and lawmen are not your fave

Notable Quotation:

What was better? Suffering in silence and hardening your heart against the world? Or owning what you wanted, what you needed? What would Wes be like if he’d turned away from Justin and said to himself, No, not him, not the guy who is my soul mate. What kind of man would he have become? 

Say yes. Don’t let go. Don’t walk away.

The Quarterback

The Bottom Line:

If you enjoy writing with intense, dramatic language and you need a bit of catharsis from second-hand stress, these books have it in spades

Content Warnings:

Homomisia and associated slurs (sometimes in non-English languages), graphic violence, extreme reactions to stress or fear such as emesis or urination, political and military conspiracies, death of or grief for a parent or spouse, a couple books deal with deadly contagious viruses, A Time to Rise is probably not technically a genre romance

Start With:

The Murder Between Us

The Great Smut Debate (with debate inked in cursive by a fountain pen)
The Great Smut Debate

Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby)

A recent Twitter interaction:

Us: Retweets promo image of a romance novel that looks intriguing

Author: Oh hey, based on your user-name, you’ll be happy to know that there’s a good amount of sex in this book!

Obviously, readers have preferences about sex in romance novels. Some people are tickled by the ridiculous sexcapades that authors dream up. Some people skim over the sex scenes to get back to the plot. Some people find mentions of genitalia off-putting. Some people roll their eyes at purple prose.

The problem comes when the dogmatism arrives. The sweeping statements that a book must have a sex scene by the halfway point, or it’s getting chucked in the Women’s Fiction bin. The assertions that a book with more than 2.5 tasteful sex scenes is not proper romance, but must be locked in the erotica dungeon.

Our goal with this series is to explore the boundaries of romance—the places where romance might transition into other genres for various reasons—and, given that sex is so intrinsically entwined with (at the very minimum) people’s perception of romance, we couldn’t omit a discussion of sex in romance, now could we?

Continue reading “Let’s Talk About Sex (Baby)”