This is a repost of an article, from 2017, that used to be on the Under the Covers Review blog, but I think they've archived that series about 'writing on the edge of consent'.
The Rise and Rise of Dark Erotic Romance
I was going to discuss how our notions of dark erotic romance (hereafter called DE) have changed over the years but with all the banning going on by Amazon and Smashwords (Smashwords distributes to B & N, iBooks, Kobo, etc) it seems a good time to talk about what is getting banned also.
The latest book banned that I know of was Dubious by Charmain Paul.
When I started writing DE it was at the start of 2013 and this sort of fiction was not well known or well read. Early writers were Claire Thompson, CJ Roberts (Captive in the Dark), and Kitty Thomas (Comfort Food). After this the tide rose, slowly at first, but there is a huge appetite for these books among women. Pepper Winters (Tears for Tess) and Aleatha Romig (Consequences) are probably two of the biggest-selling authors who came next, though Consequences is barely erotic.
The tide rose some more.
All of these earlier books written by romance authors, or all that I know of, had stories with capture fantasy. Capture fantasy revolves around dubious consent sex scenes and often some nonconsent too: No, I don’t want this sex. Yes, yes, I do!
Bodice rippers done better.
Back then, I tried to define what I was writing and I went to Wikipedia, only to find a definition that reduced DE to erotic horror. Not so fast Wikipedia. To me, horror was a minor component of these stories, if present at all.
Here is where and when the waters got muddy. Press 2014 and FAST-FORWARD.
A tsunami of DE washed in.
What we have now is a mish-mash of all sorts of different types of stories and no single definition that all readers agree on.
Lots of reasons.
Even by 2014, DE was selling so well that labelling your book dark, even if you weren’t sure what it was, even if it barely touched on the genre, might help your sales.
Can you blame anyone for doing this? No, I guess not. Partly because what the hell is dark?
The term is impossible to pin down…unlike my heroines.
Muddy labelling is because the term can’t be defined and the mislabelling in itself muddied the water even more.
You can get all anal – please do – and try to use a dictionary but that will not help you.
Please don’t do actual anal with a dictionary.
Again, what the hell is dark?
Dark Romance or DE has come to mean, to different readers, anything from…
Bad boy romances, where the man is mean and kills people, but still loves his woman madly and would die for her. These don’t really need to be called anything new, but calling them dark sounds cool. You can probably think of other books with dark themes that fit here in this slot that do not need to have a new label.
Taboo romances – where someone fucks their stepbrother, or adopted child, or maybe their stepbro werewolf, or their sheep, or maybe even a ménage with a bunch of mafia bosses who are werewolves. The boundaries can blur with all romances, of course. Eg The Wild by K Webster
BDSM romance – yes, for some readers a sadistic Dom whipping then fucking his submissive is dark, even though this is totally consensual.
Erotic Horror romance – you have erotic scenes but the sex scenes written to arouse are consensual. Rape may appear but not to titillate. Overall these are horror stories and you are meant to be left gasping over the extreme violence and horrible things done.
The main characters may be the ones doing the violent acts, perhaps in revenge, such as in Sick Fux by Tillie Cole. Or they may have horrible things done to them – as in Pretty Broken Doll.
Capture Fantasy Romance – the sex in these stories can range from dubious consent to nonconsent – often men kidnap women or force them into sexual servitude. Alien scifi is a big part of this genre, as is contemporary. Slaves are easier to imagine in science fiction settings. Some readers find capture fantasy more fun and palatable if not set in ‘real life’.
Right now, I see a huge rise in the number of erotic horror romances being released. Some authors mix horror with other categories.
So this broadening of what is dark romance has happened over many years, and this is why nobody agrees on the definition of dark romance, and why we never ever will agree.
Dark in fiction can mean scary, immoral, or plain ol’ not full of goodness. You could call Bonnie and Clyde a dark romance and you would not be wrong. It completely annoys me but then my definition annoys others too.
We are all going to have to agree to annoy each other.
Dark is a blurry, fluffy, dumb-ass, and too broadly defined word to mean much when applied to stories.
What’s dark to you might not be dark to me.
And that is how it always will be.
You can make up new words like Pitch Black Dark as did AA Dark. But since most haven’t a clue what that is, and you can’t deduce the specifics by looking at the words, it doesn’t help anyone except her fans.
As for censorship…
If you want to reduce the risk of banning, you cannot label your dark books correctly.
If you want readers to know what they are getting – assuming they read blurbs – you add labels.
Guess which wins out?
Authors are mostly too scared to add precise warnings and labels to DE.
The one BIG advantage of writing erotic horror is that it does not run the risk of banning, as long as the sex that is titillating is consensual.
The world is perfectly happy to consume pornographic violence where people are maimed and murdered in the weirdest ways. So this might be why we are seeing more of it written?
Partly? But I think it is that people love pushing themselves. They love seeing how horrified they can be by fiction. They love the thrill. Hannibal Lector eat your heart out.
That same voyeuristic thrill is why people watch horror movies like Saw and Hostel.
To me, such thrills are akin to sexual arousal, which is why it’s ironic that some sexual fantasies are seen as terrible but mincing someone’s face is not.
Will Amazon reach for the broader ban-hammer next? Possibly. They stock centaur and T-rex rape books but ban titillating rape in other books. Such a mess. Whatever they try to implement, authors are unlikely to trust the justice of any method that tries to corral certain books into a ‘Naughty Dark’ category.
END OF QUOTED & COPIED ARTICLE
And below is my next 'dark' book out January 24th, 2024... and I don't think it is that dark, because the sex is 99 percent consensual.
It's gory, murderous, has a snuff film background, there are tinges of horror, but to me it's closer to a thriller romance with a vigilante justice undertone. I'll leave it to readers to decide.
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Copyright Cari Silverwood 2011. All rights reserved. No part of these publications may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.
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Cari Silverwood is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling writer of kinky darkness or sometimes of dark kinkiness, depending on her moods and the amount of time she's spent staring into the night.
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