April 1, 2015

Adultery in a Romance Novel? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Pure sexy
Miss Independent

By Elizabeth Shore

Some time ago I wrote an erotic historical novella where the plot went something like this: wide-eyed heroine is forced into an arranged marriage to afford her opportunities she’d otherwise never have. Heroine is determined to love her husband, but he’s a scum-sucking cruel SOB who physically abuses her. One night, after they’d been married a couple of years, he comes home drunk and tries to rape her. Wide-eyed heroine has had enough. She fights off the bastard, escapes into the night and moves far away. Four years later, our heroine has re-invented herself into a chic, savvy, cosmopolitan gal who enjoys physical love with dashing men of her choice but guards her heart against the emotional stuff. Naturally, this being a romance novel, the heroine does meet someone with whom she falls in love. She’ll need to confront the hellish SOB husband to demand a divorce (rare, but could happen – I did my research) so she can finally realize her happily ever after.

I pitched the novella around and received really positive feedback: editors liked the writing, the setting, the characters, the heat. There was just one teeny little problem – the heroine was still married. Well, yeah, she was. But how about the fact that it was an arranged marriage and her husband was an abusive bastard who tried to rape her? Who routinely abused her both physically and emotionally? Wouldn’t readers applaud her daring escape and subsequent transformation into an independent, passionate woman who makes her own choices in a male-driven world? They probably would, editors agreed. But then they’d bash you for the fact that she’s still married. Really? Even today? Yep, even today. So back to the drawing board I went.

I revised the story so that cruel SOB husband gets killed. Heroine still needs to escape and transform herself because the now-deceased husband’s horrendous brother is out for revenge and it’s the heroine’s pretty neck he wants swinging from a noose. So now she’s a widow instead of an adulteress and all’s well. My wonderful publisher, The Wild Rose Press, gave me a contract for it and it’s in edits as we speak. Release date tbd, but the title is Desire Rising.

I’m thrilled – of course – but the experience made me go, hmmmm. Am I cool with extramarital sex? As a rule, no. But my novella is in a historical setting, and although getting a divorce at the time wasn’t impossible, it was really really difficult. My heroine couldn’t just hop on the internet, download divorce forms, and start filling out papers like women in many part of the world can today. She was, for all practical purposes, condemned to a life of love-less, passionless misery. Can’t we see beyond the aspect of her technically being still married and cheer her brave spirit? Apparently not.

We’re celebrating this week the historical romance novel in all its glory, and this is something I can happily get behind. When I first started reading romance novels it was to the historicals I went, devouring like candy the works of Johanna Lindsey, Bertrice Small, Jude Devereaux, Virginia Henley and on and on and on. And, to no surprise, that’s what I started writing. My first two published works were historical and I’m really excited to have Desire Rising on deck. But I do ponder how far we’ve truly come if readers would still today sit in judgment of a woman who decides her hellish existence isn’t OK and decides to do something about it. I also have to wonder: would that same condemnation be directed toward a man?

Thoughts? Ideas? I’d love to hear them all. Speak your mind and follow us at Lady Smut, where we always speak our minds and condemn no one for doing the same.



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  • Post authorHannah Jay

    I see a sub-genre waiting to be born. Several in fact.

    Reply to Hannah Jay
  • Post authorKemberlee

    From a fiction standpoint, her overcoming her fear of her husband to obtain a divorce would be a strong selling point. Even if she personally didn’t confront him, doing so through legal means is acceptable. Never finishing her business with him, readers may feel cheated at this part of her character’s growth to find her HEA/HFN. IMO, all strings should be tied by the end of the story.

    Reply to Kemberlee
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Agree completely. We don’t want any dangling loose ends. All of that was there in my story, but it was a no go because she was having a love affair while she was still married. Her cheatin’ ways were a deal breaker. (sigh)

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I too, started off with a ‘but she’s still married’ kind of plot with my first romance. Sigh.

    Sucks, you know? I mean, you can read romance novels and *think* you understand the conventions, but this is why you need those romance writer buddies — because while you think you have this cool new idea, they’re like ‘uh, sweetie, don’t think that will fly.’

    Murdering the nasty horrible husband in some way is an awesome idea. I can’t do that in my novel, but I think I found my own kind of work around.

    I guess when I think about the people who have gone through a horrible divorce because of adultery, and felt utterly betrayed to the core of their being–or for someone who’s the close friend/relative of someone who went through that–a pro-adultery plot would ring too many bells from the past. They wouldn’t want to touch it with a ten foot pole in their romance novels because they read romance for uplift and escapism.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      She didn’t actually murder him ’cause then she’d be a murderess and, with that, a whole host of new problems! But I figured out a way to get him killed that works for the story.

      Yes, i know they want escapism. So do I. I guess that’s why I wanted this story to fly as is, without judgment, ya know? But I figured out what to do, so, problem solved.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorCara Bristol

    Funny isn’t it, that you one can write a menage or a swinging story and it sells like hotcakes, but include an incident of “technical” adultery and it’s not okay.

    Reply to Cara Bristol
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Exactly. I found it rather depressing. It’s not like I condone cheating, but I also don’t think someone should have to be stuck in a miserable existence with an abusive lout, either.

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authornicolacameronwrites

    It’s ridiculous that a woman who escapes an abusive marriage and remakes her life (and her love life) sans divorce is still seen as a “bad woman.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. For all its hypersexualization, our culture is still very weirdly Puritanical in a lot of ways, particularly in regard to female agency and owning our sexuality.

    Reply to nicolacameronwrites
    • Post authorMadeline Iva

      Perhaps some readers believe that when they can’t get married at the end of a story it’s a compromised state of happiness? Like she deserves the ultimate happiness (I know, some may even take offense at this) of that ‘forever commitment” that marriage offers…that being a mistress is a lesser-than role.

      I try to see what readers are thinking — even if I don’t necessarily feel the same way myself.

      Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorElizabeth Shore

      Yes, very much so, Nicola. Thus my surprise at the feedback! I guess I was doubly frustrated because of the historical setting, so it wasn’t like I could just have her get divorced and be done with it. And the thing is, the heroine wanted the marriage to work, she tried to make it successful. But when one is married to an abusive lout who thinks there’s no problem a few good smacks won’t cure, it’s a tough task to fix that disaster.

      Also, as to Madeline’s comment, she DOES get married at the end of the story (in both the original and revised versions), so readers get their HEA. Oh well. Live and learn. I’m getting it published and have a wonderful editor, so much to be thankful for regardless of the bumpy start. Everything happens for a reason … 🙂

      Reply to Elizabeth Shore
  • Post authorroseccarole

    I also wrote a novel with a similar theme and got exactly the same response you did. I really couldn’t find a write around because part of the conflict was having the new boyfriend find out she was married. Ended up shelving it and writing a new one that has gotten some interest from a few editors. Will probably try to take some of the hot sex scenes and use them in another book.

    Reply to roseccarole

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