Who Knew My Muse Was a Bit of a “Slut” (and in Need of a Reality Check or Two)

by Kassandra Lamb, aka Jessica Dale

This post is part of the Girl Boner category of the Beauty of a Woman Blogfest VII, sponsored by the wonderful August McLaughlin.

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Hi, my name is Kass, and I’m a recovering cozy mystery writer.

Actually I still write cozies, just put one out in December, but I’ve also started “secretly” writing romantic suspense. And not just any romantic suspense, very graphic romantic suspense!

You see, I woke up one morning about eight months ago, with an entire story outlined in my brain. It was totally different from anything I’d ever written, with totally new characters.

And it was borderline erotica!

Binding Choice book title

I debated about whether or not to write it. Two things swayed me, one selfish, the other altruistic. As a retired psychotherapist, I like my stories to not only entertain but also educate the reader about psychology and social issues. This story was definitely a cautionary tale. (Spoiler alert: the heroine is titillated by a new guy’s bondage games and doesn’t realize she’s dating a psychopath, until it’s too late.)

The selfish reason was that I thought this story might open the door to attracting all those avid romance readers out there.

So I wrote it, and then published it under a different pen name, Jessica Dale, because I knew my cozy readers would probably be turned off by its graphic sex and violence.

I discovered some glitches, however, that my muse hadn’t anticipated. First, my romance writer daughter-in-law, who beta reads for me, pointed out that romance readers don’t like cheaters (she wasn’t judging, just informing).

I was a little flabbergasted by that. I didn’t even think of the heroine as a “cheater.” In the first part of the story, she’s dating, and bedding, two guys. They both know about the other one, and she hasn’t committed to an exclusive relationship with either.

And in the real world, this happens. Indeed, it’s been happening since the sexual revolution my generation started in the 1960’s. Why shouldn’t it happen? Guys date multiple women if they haven’t made an exclusivity commitment to any of them.

My second shocker occurred when I went to the Romance Writers of America conference last summer. (My DIL was there too; we had a blast!) I discovered that romance readers supposedly don’t like heroes or heroines who are older than thirty. (I’m not sure I buy this assessment. I think this might be publishers’ acquisition editors assuming that readers like younger protagonists, because that is what has sold in the past.)

Personally, I like my characters to have enough maturity and self-awareness to make rational decisions at least some of the time. And again, reality check! In real life, a lot of people these days aren’t finding their true love until their thirties—especially the flawed, troubled kind of characters we like in our fiction stories.

Meanwhile, my muse was having a great time coming up with some more racy stories (although not as racy as the first one). I do like variety, and a challenge, so I kept writing romantic suspense stories under the new name.

Backlash cover

I started a tamer series (only slightly more graphic than my mysteries) and I’ve really enjoyed the liberation of being able to let my characters be a bit more realistic.

But now I’m encountering a much deeper and darker issue as I write the prequel to Binding Choice, the book that started it all. This new story, Binding Vows, focuses on a secondary character from Binding Choice, who was also into the bondage scene until a friend’s experience with the same psychopath scared her off.

A subplot of the story is her struggle—and I wrestle with it along with her—over the BDSM issue. Where is the line between an okay variation of consenting-adult sex and a shameful perversion? She’s never told her male best friend about this predilection, and she certainly doesn’t want her staunch Catholic parents or siblings to find out.

But now she’s falling in love with that male best friend, and her ex is threatening to expose her, in more ways than one, to him and her parents.

For me as an author, I’m struggling with how to portray this. I don’t want to come across as shaming those who enjoy BDSM as consensual foreplay.

As a psychotherapist who specialized in working with sexual abuse survivors, I know that being turned on by bondage and pain can sometimes come from an abuse history. I want to make that point, but again without sounding like that makes all BDSM activities somehow sick.

It’s a fine line, and I’m not sure I’ve hit it in Binding Choice, and I’m even less sure that I will find it in Binding Vows.

You see, I’m a pantser. My stories evolve organically, with little or no outline. So I worry about where this subplot is going to take me. Where is the line between freedom of sexual expression and degradation of women?

I’m afraid I will miss the mark and offend, when that is not my intention. I’ll probably have to wait and see how the story evolves (and maybe include an author’s note at the beginning).

Any thoughts on where this line should be drawn? And if you’re a romance writer/reader, what are your thoughts on the “cheater” and age of protagonists’ topics? (So sorry, I’m experiencing techie problems; please click HERE to comment. Thanks!)

Kassandra Lamb has never been able to decide which she loves more, psychology or writing. In her youth, she had to decide between writing and paying the bills. Partial to electricity and food, she studied psychology. Now retired from a career as a psychotherapist and college professor, she spends most of her time in an alternate universe with her characters.

She is the author of the Kate Huntington mystery series, The Kate on Vacation novellas, and the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, about a service dog trainer and her mentor dog, plus a guidebook for novice writers, Someday Is Here! A Beginner’s Guide to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. She also writes romantic suspense under the pen name of Jessica Dale.