#RomBkLove Day 25: Steamy Reads
I’m fascinated with taking something apart and trying to break it down into its component parts. If you only knew just how much time I've spent thinking about how to exactly define what makes a romance steamy rather than sexy, intense, or erotic!
All I kept coming up with were these vague metaphors that mean nothing, but still hint at something: Steamy is more like dusk at the beach than a blazing hot afternoon. It's more than just HEAT; steamy has some liquidity. Steamy has to be more than just great sex scenes, steaminess comes from an emotionally charged mood or tone. A good steamy read sinks down onto your skin and has a presence of its own. BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN? I decided to maybe try being a little more concrete.
So without further ado, here’s my best attempt to define what makes a romance truly steamy. You know, the kind that has you whispering “oh my” to yourself while you look for "fans self" gifs in the twitter search bar.
I think the best, steamy reads are full of vivid, lush description. I’m not talking purple prose, but rather the author’s ability to convey the full physical world of the characters, especially when they are with each other. I’ve been on a bit of Jeannie Lin kick lately, and I think she’s just excellent at immersing the reader into a sensual world. It seems like most of her books have a first kiss that lasts for pages, and they are a feast for the senses.
In Butterfly Swords, Ai Li first kisses Ryam because of a bet:
Recklessly, after a moment’s hesitation, she touched her lips once again to him. This time she lingered, exploring the feel of him little by little. His mouth was warm and smooth and wonderful, all of it new and unexpected. He still hadn’t moved, even though her knees threatened to crumble and her heart beat like a thunder drum. Finally he responded with the barest hint of pressure. The warmth of his breath mingled with hers. Without thinking, she let her fingers dig into the sleek muscle of his arms. A low, husky sound rumbled in his throat before he wrapped his arms around her.
Heaven and Earth. She hadn’t been kissing him at all. The thin ribbon of resistance uncoiled within her as he took control of the kiss. His stubble scraped against her mouth, raking a raw path of sensation through her. She could do nothing but melt against him, clutching the front of his tunic to stay on her feet.
This kiss goes on for paragraphs! Notice how the reader is privvy to both Ai Li’s inner world and her physical experiences. It’s just deliciously, deliriously steamy. It’s perfect.
In Shira Glassman’s Cinnamon Blade, superhero Cinnamon Blade has saved Soledad Castillo from the bad guys too many times to count. Even though there’s so much chemistry between them, Cinnamon Blade waits to ask Soledad out on a date when they meet under less perilous circumstances. Their first kiss was in a parking garage, and Soledad pulls back, worried about being seen. As their relationship develops, their trust in each other with their dreams and secrets, and that creates the steamiest scene in the book. Soledad confides to Cinnamon Blade, “I think I’m turned on by the idea of us being sexual in public, but I want to do it in a way where I absolutely won’t get caught.” Cinnamon Blade listens to her and responds with a question of her own, “What turns you on about the scenes you’ve imagined?” The conversation allows Cinnamon Blade to figure out a way to fulfill Soledad's fantasy, giving them both what they want. Sure, the actual scene (in a restaurant!) is plenty sexy, but what makes it steamy is how they built it together.
I only recently read the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews and to say that I loved it is a profound understatement. But of all many things that ring my bell in that series, the best is the way Nevada Baylor stands up to Mad Rogan at every turn, insisting that he treat her as a partner and an equal---in their working relationship, in their friendship, and in their romance. Nevada refuses to be intimidated by his incredible wealth and limitless magical powers. In White Hot, the second book of the series, Nevada realizes he’s done something controlling and imperious (I'm trying to be vague so I don't spoil anything). They argue and they’re both furious. Nevada thinks, “His magic flared around him, raging, and met mine. Our powers collided.” She can't calm down and throws him out. But he listens to her and leaves her property, but before he goes he takes his own last shot, “Is everything fine now? Did all of your problems disappear and none of this happened?” The fighting isn’t just a pretext for Ilona Andrews to create sexual tension; it’s truly a battle of equals. And that makes everything in their relationship even more deliciously satisfying.
I do love a romance that uses anticipation to create tension and heat. It doesn’t have to cross-over into longing, at least not for me. I personally don’t have enough attention span for the very slow burn and very much want people to be kissing as soon as possible! However, I do love it when characters cannot wait to get together. Mmm. Shiver. In Fire on the Ice by Tamsen Parker, Maisy and Blaze are both professional athletes competing in the Snow and Ice Games. They had a hot fling four years earlier, and both are looking for a repeat performance. Maisy trolls a bar hoping to see Blaze “the woman who’s fueled my fantasies for the past four years or so...our eyes meet. I don’t bother to do anything else because I know I’ve got her attention. It’s in the way her teeth sink unapologetically into her bottom lip, her eyes get bright and round, and I can see her cleavage rise in her partially unzipped coat. Yes, Blaze, I’m here. And you know I’m here for you.” Blaze has been anticipating a reunion, too, “Behind closed doors? [Maisy was the] Bossiest, most dominant, and more creative lover I’ve ever had. I’ve had a lot, so that isn’t idle praise.” Although they know how great it can be in bed (trust me, this book is smoking hot), they are surprised when their chemistry morphs into something neither of them expect: love.
MINTY & FRESH
When you read as many romances as I do, there’s something to be said for novelty, that feeling that an author has minted something completely fresh. I don’t think the example I’m going to share would work for everyone, and I’m not even sure it works for me, but in Lothaire by Kresley Cole, there’s a scene where the newly-made vampire Ellie feeds from her vampire mate Lothaire...while performing oral sex. You all get what I’m saying about where’s she’s biting, right? It honestly is so over the top, but whew. STEAM-Y. Just as a warning, I listened to this on audio and just about drove off the road. So be careful with Kresley Cole, everyone, she is not playing.
Consent, my friends, it’s all about consent. And it’s not about one character convincing the other, instead I want characters who listen, trust, and talk through what they want to do with each other. This hooks me every time. Many authors do an excellent job writing consent, but when it comes to writing the steamy, sexy YES, the Queen of my Heart is Alisha Rai. (Also James Joyce. I’m firmly committed to yes.) In Wrong to Need You, Jackson and Sadia fight their attraction to each other. But then one night, they witness a couple making out in an alley, and they can’t ignore their feelings anymore.
“Jackson,” she whispered, and there went his resolve. He’d never heard her whisper his name like that, needy and wanting.
“Yes,” he whispered back.
“I need something.” As always, he was helpless not to give her what she desired. “What do you need?”
… “It’s wrong, what I need.”
Yearning. “Nothing’s wrong.”
… “What if…” her words were almost a whisper. “What if I said I’ve been thinking about doing things with you?”
…. “What have you thought about doing with me?” He had to know.
From beginning to end of this scene, both Jackson and Sadia talk to each other, and the result is that perfect moment when the slow burn becomes an inferno. (But you really need to read the first book in the series before this one. Don't worry. You'll thank me.)
Before I wrap up, just a quick note: If you didn’t notice the first letter in each of my six anchor words spell out S-T-E-A-M-Y, I expect you to hang your head in shame. Please make an acrostic of your name and send it to me on Twitter as an act of atonement. /blows kisses
Just kidding, but I
Expect you to
Notice next time.