Sex, Power, Feminism and the New Adult Heroine (Part 1)

Now is that a blog title or what?

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This might seem a little weighty for a Thursday morning, but it’s been on my mind for a while, and I think it’s worth talking about.

When the New Adult genre first began to emerge a few years back, there was considerable confusion in both the author and reader worlds about what defined this type of book. Was it age of characters? Age of readers? A specific type of situation? Or, as some began to insinuate, was it the enormous amount of sex happening in these NA romances?

The answers have been slow to come out. Most of us agree that NA means the main characters are post-high school and pre-30. That’s a fairly wide gap, so we might further define it via situation: the characters are usually either in college, just out of college or in a situation (job or otherwise) happening in place of college. Age of readers is immaterial; as in YA, the readership for New Adult romance spans from pre-teen (yikes) to senior citizenship. As for situation, most of these books showcase characters in transition, either physical, academic, emotional or relational.

Sex? Yeah. Most–not all–NA tends to feature a lot of that.

But for me, it’s not the amount of sex in an NA book that’s intriguing. It’s how the sex is handled. I’ve discovered that in my favorite stories, the female leads have one thing in common: a healthy sexual attitude and appetite. Thinking about that led me to another line of questioning: why is it that until recently, a healthy attitude about sex in a female lead who was under 30 and/or unmarried usually signified a character flaw in that woman? We were okay with the heroine fawning over the hero’s eyes or voice or his take-charge attitude, but most of the time, she wasn’t checking out his other, ah, assets. On the other hand, they male leads were all about the curves in their love-interests; it was perfectly okay for the hero to exhibit obvious signs of sexual interest in the girl, but rarely did we see likewise from the women. Her heart might pound, or she might feel butterflies in her stomach, but we didn’t delve too far into what was going on in other body parts.

And most of these books also faded to black during love scenes. The only female characters with overt interest in the bedroom activities were the ‘bad’ girls, and you knew damn well those gals weren’t getting the guy–he was reserved for the dewey-eyed good girl.

I’m happy to see that changing. Nowadays, we’re seeing female leads who take charge of their own choices, including sexually. They’re comfortable with their bodies and with finding pleasure. Most are mature in their decisions, being both responsible and sensible.

Now, I’ll say right here that I’m not coming out as an advocate for premarital sex or suggesting that the choices made in books are necessarily right for all girls. The only one who can make a good decision for a young woman is that young woman, hopefully with the guidance and counsel of her mother or other wise relatives/friends.

My point is that books are now offering a wider option of role models. There’s no longer only the virgin or the slut; New adult has opened the door to the advent of the sexually-confident and responsible female. While we can find these women in a growing number of wonderful books, I’ll spotlight a few that have impressed me recently.

Sarina Bowen’s The Ivy Years series is a terrific example of healthy sexuality, explored in a matter-of-fact setting. If you’re a fan of NA romance, you really must read these books. My favorite is probably the one I just finished, The Shameless Hour, in which the female lead is unabashedly sexual and sexually active. Over the course of the book, she experiences numerous attempts by others to change this in her, and how she deals with it was extremely well-done.

My own journey as an author of NA romance has been a learning experience. When I began writing, I wrote young adult books, and I was happy not to have to tackle the sex topic. I’ve been married to the same man since I was 20; we’d been dating since I was 17. I have three daughters, and I wanted to write a story that they could read (and even though they’re older, two of them don’t read books with sex!). I had no doubt that Tasmyn and Michael would wait until they married, and that decision worked for them . . . until we came to Restless and Rafe got in on the action–figuratively speaking. Rafe is probably one of my most sexual characters, and for him, being with Tasmyn and sensing her reluctance to touch him was a blow. Tasmyn’s experience with Rafe played into her relationship with Michael in Endless, where both of them are tempted to take their physical bond to the next level. Of course, they don’t, because these are YA books.

Best Served Cold was my first NA romance. I struggled with the right balance for Julia; she was undeniably attracted to Jesse and they did have a sexual element to their relationship, but it wasn’t actually consummated until the end of the book, mostly because Julia had been burned by Liam. Through flashbacks, though, we learn that their sex life was probably the healthiest aspect of Liam and Julia’s relationship.

But it was probably the process of writing Undeniable that opened my eyes. Joss, Rafe’s love interest in that book, was an unknown quantity for me at the start. I knew what her role was, but I didn’t really know her. Once I began writing the story, suddenly Joss blossomed into a main character whose assertiveness and independence helped shape the plot line. She was the perfect foil for Rafe, the hot guy who’d just spent a summer sleeping with a different woman every night in his attempt to forget Tasmyn. And Joss was also a nice difference from Cathryn, who presents herself as aloof and almost cold (although those of us who’ve read Stardust on the Sea know differently!).  Joss is comfortable in her sexuality. She knows she can enjoy Rafe without being in love with him, though maybe this doesn’t quite work out the way she’d planned.

Writing Joss was so freeing for me as an author that it changed my subsequent NA romances. Joss made way for Ava, who lusted openly for Liam even when she was wracked with guilt–it wasn’t a sexual guilt. And Meghan is clearly comfortable with her own desire; she makes no secret of her feelings for Sam, even when he can’t handle it yet.

Writing Flynn and Ali’s story was especially fun, because through the flashbacks, we get to see them discover each other. Their honesty and frankness helped them in the future, when they needed that re-established connection. And even Rilla, as protected and innocent as she is, responds eagerly to Mason.

So how does that increased sexual assurance translate into a twenty-first century feminism and female and empowerment?

Come back next week and we’ll talk about that.

 

I’m Reading . . . some New Adult Romance

This is a fine thing, indeed. It’s What I’m Reading #Wednesday, and honestly, in the last week, I’ve been unhappy with what I’ve read.

I blame Colleen Hoover, Cora Carmack and Ginger Scott. Their last books were so good, I’m getting spoiled.

I’m happy to report, however, that last night, while trolling the ‘zon and iBooks for something . . . anything . . . I found out that Sarina Bowen’s new book, The Shameless Hour (The Ivy Years Book 3) went live last week.

Booyah!

Next week, I promise I’ll have more to report. But why have the other books I’ve been reading (which I will not name; we’re all entitled to our points of view!) not been cutting the mustard? It’s been a few things.

First, the characters are not memorable. They’ve been lackluster, wishy-washy and too capricious. One girl couldn’t make up her mind about anything, and that made me nuts. Another whined. No. Just no. Second, the storylines were unbelievable, and while I’m more than ready to suspend my disbelief, you’ve got to give me something to work with. Anything. Third, and this is a big one, some of the books I read this week were poorly edited. It wasn’t typos or missed words so much as my own personal bugaboo: words misused. One series I read had so many words used in the wrong context that I wanted to scream.

“No, you didn’t withhold the sobs threatening to escape!” I raged. “You held them in. You swallowed them. You bit them back. That word doesn’t mean what you think it does.”

On the other hand, I did read all three books–partly out of desperation and partly out of a morbid curiosity to see how the author brought it all together. So maybe it’s understandable that others read them, too.

The good news is that May is bringing me all sorts of book deliciousness. If only I can hold out that long . . .

I’m Reading Wild Reckless by Ginger Scott and The Ivy Years by Sarina Bowen

When you’re a reader-connoisseur of a certain genre of books, you tend to develop a sixth sense about those books. I can usually tell from a blurb–either how well it’s written or its content–whether a book is for me or not. Sometimes, though, I choose to read a book despite its blurb. At times this works out, and others it does not.

This week, I read three really excellent books that fell into this category. I wasn’t enthralled with any of the blurbs, but I went for it anyway and was pleasantly surprised.

The first book is Wild Reckless by Ginger Scott. I’d read four of her other books; the first two were really excellent (This is Falling and You and Everything After–LOVE those titles), and the other two were only so-so. I’m happy to say the newer books were the better one, so it was clear Ms. Scott’s writing has been evolving. But on the basis of those first two, I bought Wild Reckless even though it seemed to be a little YA.

I loved this story. The characters are amazing, three-dimensional, well-rounded and well-written. There is a lot of angst and trauma, but none of it is manufactured or dwelt on too long. It’s just the sucky stuff that happens in some lives and how we move on from those situations, living past them without letting them define us.

Owen and Kensington had terrific chemistry, and their story developed at the perfect pace. I really enjoyed this book, and I’d love to read more in this world. (Hint, hint, Ms. Scott!)

After finishing Wild Reckless, I started reading The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen. I wasn’t sure about this. The main female character was in a wheelchair, and I wasn’t sure how that would be handled. As it turned out, I was impressed that while the challenges of Corey’s condition certainly were not ignored, again they did not define her. They were part of the situation that allowed her to meet Hartley, and they added some complications, but they only made the ultimate coming together sweeter. Again, well-written characters set into a plot that didn’t have too much contriving.

I enjoyed it so much that I went directly into the next book, The Year We Hid Away, and I loved it, too. Possibly even more! I even read the novella The Blonde Date, and found it wonderful. I highly recommend The Ivy Years books.

And now I’m looking for a new read. Any thoughts? Ideas? Books that are making you sigh?

I’m Reading The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan

Today, I’m continuing my string of New Adult romances with terrific characters in The Hook Up by Kristen Callihan. I’m a little shocked that this was Ms. Callihan’s first contemporary romance (I guess she’s written some paranormal). Frankly, I was a little miffed because I want more NOW.

Again, the plot of this story isn’t anything earth-shattering. Boy meets girl. . .and in this instance, boy and girl feel instant attraction. Boy is willing to pursue, girl wants nothing to do with boy because he’s the BMOC (is that a thing anymore? It was in my day.) Dude’s a football star, 2-time champion and Heisman trophy winner. Anna Jones is the type to fly under the radar after getting shunned by the popular crowd during high school.

But Drew Baylor doesn’t take no for an answer. Not in a stalker, creeper way, but in the sense that he’s taking advantage of every opportunity he gets to see and talk to Anna. When they finally hook up, she lays down some rules in her own head (which is something else I liked: she doesn’t tell Drew the rules, it’s just understood, which I think is so much more realistic): no kissing on the lips. No telling anyone. No staying the night. No falling in love.

Of course it becomes more. You know it will, I know it will . . . so why do we get hooked by hook up stories? Because it’s about falling in love. It’s about two damaged characters who are fighting being together until the absolute senselessness of it makes being apart impossible.

The only problem I had with this book was that I want the next one NOW. Yesterday. And there’s not even a release date. I’m a little bitter.

I think I might need a 12 step program for new adult contemporary romance.

The Only One. . .Teaser #2

One week from today, The Only One goes live on all venues! Are you ready? I know I am!

Today’s sneak peek features Rilla and Mason . . . she’s working for him, taking care of his daughter and his mother, and they’ve just come from dinner out. Something happened that kind of set Rilla off. Watch out for those quiet types.

“You’re crazy. Just flat-out, no-holds-barred insane.”

Rilla didn’t wait for me to open her door this time when I pulled the truck into the driveway. She jumped out and then leaned back to unbuckle Piper. “Come on, sweet pea. Let’s get you ready for a bath and bed.”

TheOnlyOneEbook“Rilla, come on. We need to talk about this.” I followed her into the house. “Just wait a second.”

“No, thanks. I’m going to put Piper to bed, and then I’m going to help Naomi with her medicine and help her get changed for bed. And then I’m going to my room and going to bed myself. I suggest you do the same. Clearly you got too much sun today, and it fried your brain.”

“It didn’t go above seventy-two degrees today, Rilla. I don’t have heat stroke. I just—”

“No.” She stopped and spun on her heel, shooting me a stern, shut-your-mouth look that halted me in my tracks. “Not another word.” She turned around again, pausing only at the doorway to my mother’s room. “Naomi, as soon as I get the little one down, I’ll come help you, okay? You all right ‘til then?”

I heard my mom speak, cautious and curious. “I’m fine, darlin’. The bigger question is, are you okay?”

“I’m peachy. Be right back. Piper, say good-night to Nan.”

Rilla bent to set my daughter on the floor, and Piper scampered to hug her grandmother. She ran back to grab Rilla’s hand and marched up the steps.

I went into Mom’s room and dropped into the easy chair, rubbing the back of my neck.

“I’m nearly afraid to ask, but what happened? Here I was happy, thinking the three of you were off having yourselves a time, and instead Rilla comes home in a snit and you’re trailing her around, begging her to give you a minute of time.”

I sighed. “You’re not going to like it, and I’m not sure I can deal with another pissed female tonight. So let’s just say I said something that made perfect sense to me, but apparently was the last thing Rilla wanted to hear.”

Mom laid her head back against the chair. “Oh, son. ‘Fess up, now. Tell me what you did.”

I steepled my fingers and stared down at them. “I asked Rilla to marry me.”

Want to know what happens next? Preorder The Only One NOW and have it on your ereader in one week.

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