Is On Fire erotica or romance or just plain sexy?

21 Jul

by Rachel Kramer Bussel

My new Cleis Press anthology that we’ve been celebrating all week is called On Fire: Erotic Romance Stories, but what, exactly, does that mean? Is it erotica? Is it romance? Is it a little bit of both? And does that distinction matter?

On bestselling author Sylvia Day’s website, she defines erotic romance as “Erotic Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship through sexual interaction. The sex is an inherent part of the story, character growth, and relationship development, and couldn’t be removed without damaging the storyline. Happily Ever After is a REQUIREMENT to be an erotic romance.”

Author Alice Gaines has also written a great article about the differences between erotic romance and erotica, noting, “In romance, the reader usually knows that by the end of the story, the main characters will be headed toward a lifelong love relationship.  That needn’t be true in erotica.”

So what rules did I apply to editing On Fire? Well, not many. For me, it was very much an I-know-it-when-I-see-it situation. I went by the same criteria I use to select short story for an anthology: which ones best suit the theme and will work well together. In this case, I wanted stories specifically about couples, but not necessarily the same types of couples. I wanted new couplings as well as long-term relationships. I wanted couples who pushed each other into new territory (consensually, of course), who brought out the most daring, lusty sides of each other.

Here’s a snippet of what I included in my call for submissions: “Stories can feature couples exploring new erotic territory, strangers who share a spark, lost lovers or exes reuniting, etc. Final book will contain a mix of storytelling styles, settings and heros/heroines. Kink, sex toys, exotic locations/scenarios welcome as long as there is an element of erotic romance as opposed to strictly erotica. Sensual and sexual should coexist. Stories should be strongly plotted, have engaging, unique characters and be hot and original.”

The final result is a mix of tales ranging from playful to emotionally intense, running the gamut from fetishes to kinks to exes reuniting to first dates and beyond. Here’s a little snippet from the opening story, “Sensitive to the Touch” by Donna George Storey, featuring a silk stocking fetish. You can hear Donna read some of the story and discuss its inspiration on our recent appearance on the podcast Sex Out Loud hosted by Tristan Taormino (audio starts when you open this link so you might want to have your headphones handy).

“Well,” I began, “I know how much you admire a fine pair of female legs.”

Jeremy murmured assent, not that I was expecting an argument there.

“So I was going to make you show me just how much you do by kneeling down and kissing my legs very slowly from my ankle to the band of the stocking. Every inch of flesh would deserve at least an hour of dedicated veneration. But then if you were a very good buy, I was going to let you kiss my naked thighs, all the way up to my pussy. Is that something you’d like to do?”

Now, this same stocking fetish could have been tackled as strictly erotica, in umpteen other ways. To me, what makes it qualify as erotic romance is that it’s about a couple learning about each other and getting closer, both physically and emotionally, by exploring a new aspect of their sexuality. It takes a lot to reveal a fetish to someone else; there’s always the risk of being judged, laughed at, or rejected. To my mind, this story tackles that aspect while also being incredibly sexy. I was thrilled that one Amazon reviewer wrote that the story inspired her to go out and buy silk stockings. Another wrote, “Donna George Storey’s ‘Sensitive To The Touch’ is a fine example of what can happen when we embrace a partner’s fetish and see where it takes us.”

While sexuality and eroticism is at the core of these stories, so is the heart, love, romance and the emotion behind the sex. In other words, whether they’re exploring a fetish, femdom, sex toys, submission, swinging or anything else, there’s genuine feelings between the characters. They may want to be ordered around or blindfolded or participate in an orgy or what have you, but none of those desires take place in a vacuum. The story isn’t so much about the specific sexual fantasy, as how someone the main character loves helped them fulfill it. To me, that’s the key difference. These stories all circle back to the core of what makes the couple tick, what keeps them together, what makes them want to enjoy whatever their given turn-on is with each other. I can’t say for sure if that falls into the strict definition of “erotic romance,” and some readers have decided it’s more one than the other. All I know is that I intended this book to be focused on couples who are daring, bold and sexy, and if you ask me, I achieved that.

Want to judge for yourself which category On Fire falls into? You can buy it now for Kindle, Nook, Google Play, iBooks or Kobo, or pre-order the print edition.

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Rachel Kramer Bussel (rachelkramerbussel.com) has edited over 60 anthologies, including Best Women’s Erotica of the Year, Volume 1 and 2, Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica, Begging for It, Fast Girls, The Big Book of Orgasms and more. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture and teaches erotica writing classes around the country and online. Follow her @raquelita on Twitter and find out more about her classes and consulting at eroticawriting101.com. You can follow Rachel on BookBub to get notified about new releases and ebook sales.

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