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October 26, 2006

Of Mice and Men (and Men), a guest blog

Darnit, the mystery world never has cool controversies like romance novelists do.  Sure, we have our petty squabbles, but they're never about sex (the act, that is, because we seem to bring up the gender thing pretty often) so maybe we're a little dull by comparison. 

To remedy that, today the Tarts welcome romance writer Anne Stuart, who finds herself at the center of a Category 2 hurricane with the publication of her new book, COLD AS ICE.  Believe us, it ain't the least bit cold.

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Here I was, a mild-mannered writer of romantic suspense, doing do what I do best.  Writing romantic suspense. I had absolutely no intention of causing a fuss, inciting arguments, shocking the more fragile of my readers. I just wanted to tell a story. The story that became COLD AS ICE.

It was time to write a series. No, cancel that. It was way past time, but since it was such a smart, career-savvy thing to do, then of course I wouldn't do it. But when I wrote BLACK ICE, I loved it so much that I couldn't leave that world. God know I tried--writing pages and pages of false starts, but everything kept sounding like BLACK ICE, so finally I accepted my fate gracefully. I would write a follow-up. And because there was only one character left standing to serve as hero, he got tapped.

Now, Peter Jensen was a fascinating man. As cool and deadly as Bastian, the hero of the original book, BLACK ICE, he also works undercover for The Committee. The only problem was, I had already established that he was spending time in the bed of his male employer as part of his cover. You can't go back and change a book that's already in print. And you can't just ignore it. Besides, what was the big deal?

It made perfect sense to me. When someone's a mole, a spy, undercover in any sense, then their job is to take on that role. No one blinks when an undercover operative beds someone of the opposite sex in the line of duty. They kill, they make friends with bad people and they betray them. Why should they suddenly become squeamish about sleeping with someone of the same sex?

Peter Jensen is most definitely not squeamish. He's cold and deliberate and can make his body do anything he wants it to do. He can make love to a woman or a man, kill a woman or a man, usually without breaking a sweat.

The reaction to that part of his character has been widespread, even before the book came out, and it's been divided into two camps. The first, and we hope to god please please please the smaller group, who are disgusted and horrified or at the very least say "not in my backyard---er--romance novel." The majority (please please please) love the idea of a hero who goes to such extremes. My heroes always tend to be over the top--I call it my "men who kill and women who love them" phase. But this time, simply because of the vagaries of the plot, I seemed to have surprised everyone.

I wouldn't have changed it even if I could have. I suppose he could have come up with some sort of excuse for his previous behavior, say it just looked like he was having an affair with a man. Maybe in the bad old days my editors would have tried to make me.

Except my editors, god bless them, know not to mess with me. The important thing, when you're writing something that's potentially shocking, is to do it because the book calls for it. You don't do it for attention, or to amuse yourself (thought I do find the fuss pretty amusing), you don't do it to cause buzz or get attention.

You do it because that's what the book and the character call for.  Anything else is an insult to the book and to the readers.

So the hero of a romantic suspense novel has sex with another man. Big deal. Trust me, he has even better sex with the heroine, fabulous enough for a happy ending.

And that's what romance is all about, isn't it?

Anne Stuart              Go to fullsize image                                

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Comments

I just found a new author!

This character sounds fascinating, and I can't wait to buy and read both books. (So you can mark one more in the 'love it' column.)

I think it's fascinating that people object to cold-hearted sex more than cold-hearted murder. Hmmm.

Good point, Kathy. And how true. That is odd.

As a reader, I would have less respect for an author who changed a character's actions or desires (pun intended) just to try and make me happy. I'd much rather she was true to the character. And I completely agree that things that can be considered "shocking" should only happen if it is true to the story, and is just lame if it's purely for the shock value alone.

I'm not doing too well writing my thoughts today, but my basic reaction, Anne, is "good for you!" I think the readers you want and appreciate for their intelligence and respect, will fall into the second camp, not the first.

My God, another sign of the Apocalypse?
An extreme romantic hero has bisexual tendencies? Then I read this headline this morning;

"Stephen King is undoubtedly the master of horror, but how will he fare as a romance writer?"

Cats & Dogs living together????
Zuul and Zoser the Keymaster must be plotting inside Ellora's Cave...there is a pop culture conspiracy afoot!

The books sound totally compelling, Anne. Can't wait to read them.

I wonder if you'd be getting as much flack if you'd created a bisexual *female* protagonist?

Anne, I'm wondering if you've received any direct mail from unhappy customers. (Or has the book not been on shelves long enough yet?)

At a convention earlier this year, the Book Tarts noticed a real upsurge in erotica.--It's becoming very mainstream. But your book (which doesn't read like erotica to me, I hasten to add) deals with similar issues, yet it's clearly sitting on the romance shelves. I gather you didn't intentionally go after the erotica readers. But have you heard from any? With opinions about how you handled the situation? And how will you respond?

Michele,

Gay or bisexual men are threatening to the very fabric of society. Bisexual women are just hot.

So, that should be that.

I grew up during the bodice-ripper phase of romance, so it took a recommendation from a fellow bookseller to tempt me to read romantic suspense. While I am really a mystery maven from way back, this book sounds like another temptation I won't be able to resist. :o) And I echo Michele's wondering about the female protagonist as well. Your hero sounds like someone strong enough to handle whatever his job throws at him in order to get results. I had more problems dealing with the Dexter series...something about 'good' guys who listen to the voices in their heads telling them to kill the bad guys that get away just creeps me out. Count me as a new reader, and welcome!

Brava, Anne! Bravo, Peter! I'd say more, but I'm off to the bookstore before Carpool Pickup.

For some reason I don't like erotica -- I prefer romance or pornography. I guess I'm a woman of extremes. I didn't realize they had men on men action in erotica until recently. I absolutely agree that readers wouldn't be so shocked if a heroine had sex with another woman -- it's part of the double standard.
There are all sorts of fascinating possibilities for stories - some shocking, some not. You just gotta go with what works, and let the flack fall where it may.
No outraged letters yet, but I imagine I'll be getting book mailers full of shredded books sooner or later.
I expect I'll get worse from my comments about George Bush in an interview. Dixie Chicks, here I come.

Josh - you should move to Pennsylvania and run for Senate. Oops - too late.

Anne - I'm not sure I can still tell the difference between erotic and porn. How do you differentiate?

We don't stock either one, but have some special orders that I'd be hard-pressed to label as one or the other.

Anne - What a nice surprise. I was doing my morning blog cruise to see what the Tarts were buzzing about and here you are!

I discovered you just after "Into the Fire" came out. ITF is on my list of favorite books. There is something about it's dark edges and the "realness" of the characters that is very attractive to me. Enjoyed "Black Ice" and can't wait for "Cold as Ice".

Romance writing seems to be going through a change. I think authors, like yourself, are tackling issues that make contemporary romance more contemporary.

Also,I think we would be surprised to find how many women find M/M sex as erotic as men find F/F sex.

Rachael

Hi, Rachael -- INTO THE FIRE seems even more controversial than COLD AS ICE. I guess for a lot of people it was emotionally over the edge, whereas with CAI it's just sexual politics.
Porn is down and dirty. No descriptions of the participants, no characterization and only minimal plot. It's just nasty in the best possible way.
For me erotica is too dressed up. Not enough story and characterization to involve me, too much story and characterization taking away from its main purpose.
Mind you, I haven't read much erotica, so I'm no judge. It's just a matter of taste and sexuality. I find a lot of things hot that I really wouldn't want to do. But then, that's true of most people, I think.

I read COLD AS ICE and LOVED it.

Peter’s previous “bisexual” assignment is such a small part of the book that its hardly, IMO, worth all the controversy. No details are given. No visuals. Nothing offensive. Its really only two sentences and the reader could easily push it aside if need be.

In fact, Peter’s capability of completely detaching himself from sex (man or woman) made it all that more compelling when he and the heroin finally get together, because he isn’t able to emotionally remove himself from her. YUM!

Anyway, Anne ~ You pulled this off brilliantly (as always)! And I'll read whatever you want to write. ;c)

Kate

Kudos, Anne!!

I have a bisexual character in my upcoming release (March, 2007) - not the main protag, but her brother. I do think that the reading public isn't as sheltered as some seem to think. ::g::

I just got my copy of COLD AS ICE and am looking forward to reading it. Sounds fab.

Maria Lima
MATTERS OF THE BLOOD
ISBN: 0-8095-5790-8
March 2007

In my mystery series, I've certainly hinted that my protagonist has had some same-sex sex--more the teenage experimental kind. So far, the sky hasn't crashed down upon me. And I'm toying with the a male character having had sex with men. Not sure *I* am ready for that, let alone my readers. Tempting, though....

PS. Is EVERYBODY watching General Hospital today??

No. Is Laura back from the loony bin?

Nancy - Wow! I'm not sure I'm ready for that. But I love the books and will read where ever you take me.

Rachael

(who has been sneak reading the copy of COLD AS ICE that I picked up on my lunch hour).

I haven't read either of these books yet, but since it's the second place I've read about them and the controversy, I'm going to have to pick them up. For another interesting discussion, with LOTS of comments (almost 300!) check out this August post from Smart Bitches, Trashy Novels:

http://www.smartbitchestrashybooks.com/index.php/weblog/on_bisexuality/

Laura's back on GH? I knew she was about to reappear. I tivo'd it so I'll check -- I spent the day at the hospital while my sister had surgery.

Yes, I do think the controversy is kind of silly, given how discreet the whole thing is. And of course, that's exactly what I wanted to show. That cool and emotionless Peter could lose it completely when it came to falling in love.

Rock on! Will definitely take a look at the book.

I'm gay btw but I never knew that I threatened society in any way. Gosh, I must be real powerful.

Hey this is interesting....Nice post.

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