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17.10.07

THE ESSENCE OF ROMANCE by Lisabet Sarai

I didn't know that I was writing romance until Total-e-Bound began accepting my work. I saw my novels as journeys of sexual self-discovery. In Raw Silk, Kate is an independent, self-sufficient woman who discovers a previously unsuspected but deeply rooted desire to be sexually submissive. In Incognito Miranda, cruelly betrayed by her first lover, works to free herself from her sexual inhibitions, initially in encounters with strangers but finally in the arms of an extremely liberated partner.

It's true that in both novels (as well as my third book, Ruby's Rules, which I plan to offer to TEB soon), the heroines eventually end up in committed relationships with the heroes. In fact, both are wearing engagement rings. I wasn't really focusing on the happily ever after when I was writing, though. My primary interest was in the exploration that led my heroines to their destinations, travels that included an awful lot of detours—a bewildering variety of sizzling sexual scenarios, with new self-knowledge resulting from each encounter.

My heroines have a lot of sex, but they're not just having fun. Okay,
well, they're having fun, too. But I continue to be fascinated by transforming power of sexual experience. That's one reason why I'm excited by the rise of ‘erotic romance’ or ‘sensual romance’ or whatever you want to call it - tales that include both love and graphic sex. Fulfilling sex is not just the final result of falling in love. It's part of the process, learning and sharing, drawing closer, dropping the masks. In sex we're more than just physically naked.

Geez, reading what I just wrote, you all probably think that my work is really heavy and philosophical. Really, it's not! Here's an excerpt (from Raw Silk) to prove it:


Katherine stood up and leaned on the gunwale, taking in the myriad

sights of the river. Stretches of verdant jungle alternated with
rickety-looking wooden houses, perched on stilts at the river's
edge. Women in sarongs squatted on the porches of these shacks, doing
laundry or cooking on charcoal braziers. The delicious smell of frying
garlic came to her across the water.

She saw the slick heads of children, heard their shrill cries as they
splashed each other. A flat-bottomed boat piled high with bananas

passed their barge, propelled by a long pole in the hands of an
elderly woman in a conical straw hat.

Then she caught sight of tiled roofs and gilded spires through the palm trees. It was a wat, a Buddhist temple, inaccessible except by water. A winding stairway led from the complex of buildings down to the shore. At water level sat a small pavilion, with the typical
peaked roof and upturned eaves. Katherine saw a young man draped in
orange robes seated there, pensively watching the river flow by. The monk looked up as they passed. Katherine felt an ache in her chest. His beautiful, serious face, lit by the late-morning sun, was too perfect.

Immersed in the scenes on the riverside, Katherine started when she felt Somtow's hands on her hips. She twisted around to look at him.

"No," he said, "please, just stay the way you are." She obeyed, turning back the river and leaning her elbows on the railing. She felt her skirt being drawn up, until it was around her waist. Next, her knickers were pulled down until they were at her ankles.

"Perhaps I should just stop wearing any underwear," Katherine remarked with a little laugh. Gregory's face flashed briefly in her mind's eye; she pushed the thought of him away.

"Perhaps that would be a good idea," said Somtow, completely serious. He helped her step out of the garment. "Now, spread your legs a bit, Katherine."

"What about the young pilot, and the girl who brought us the fruit?"

"They know better than to bother us," said Somtow. He was kneeling behind her. She felt his tongue, tracing a line up the inside of her thigh. "In any case," he said after a moment, "you would not really mind if they were watching, would you?"

He lingered in the crease where her thigh swelled into the fullness of her buttocks. Katherine let out an involuntary sigh, and opened her legs a little wider. She did not answer his question. Her imagination, though, supplied an image of the pilot and the serving girl, peaking out of the cabin at her bare backside, liberally anointed with her lover's saliva. The thought brought a strange,
forbidden thrill. She imagined the pilot, unbuttoning the girl's top, while guiding her hand to his swollen cock. Somtow could see right through her, she realised, writhing as he swept his tongue along the length of her sex.

He licked her in broad strokes, front to back, starting at her clit and moving smoothly to the spot where her aching pussy-lips came together again. She arched her back to give him better access, and closed her eyes, savouring savouring the fantastic sensations he was giving her. She felt incredibly wet, from his saliva and her own juices. Sunlight reflected from the water danced on her closed eyelids. The low rumble of the barge's motor set up a sympathetic vibration in her limbs. She felt the roar of the engine deep within her cunt.

Then came a new, a different feeling, like an electric shock. Somtow reached the back of her sex, but instead of beginning a new cycle, he set his tongue to work on her anus. His hands were on her cheeks, pulling them apart. He circled around the tight knot several times, then poked his tongue into the ring of muscle, probing and teasing.

Embarrassment swept over Katherine, that he should be exploring such a private spot. She almost asked him to stop. At the same time, she was unbelievably excited. Every time he delved into her hind hole, her cunt was seized with a new spasm of pleasure. She grasped her nipples,
squeezing hard, and pushed her hips back, silently begging him to search her more deeply.


The intimate kisses stopped, and Katherine felt mingled relief and regret. Before she could analyze this, there was another change. Somtow's hard rod of flesh slid into her cunt. He pumped her steadily, rhythmic strokes that brought moans to her lips. She rocked in time with him, tightening her inner muscles each time he entered.

His hands were on her hips, guiding her onto his princely prong. Then Katherine realised she only felt one hand. The next moment, she burned again with shame, as Somtow slid his wet forefinger into her butthole.

She felt sluttish, dirty, wild. He worked his finger in time with his cock, careful not to push too deep or too hard. Even that little bit of stretching in that sensitive area produced unbearably acute sensations. She twisted and writhed, forgetting everything except the
dance between her legs. As another long-tail roared by, she reached back and grabbed her own buttocks, holding them wide open, inviting Somtow to penetrate her more fully.


Looking back now, I see that I've always been a closet romantic. I've
never read much genre romance. Still, my all-time favourite books include Wuthering Heights (tragic, intense connection between fated soulmates), Jane Eyre (mousey governess struggles to win the love of her mysterious, brooding husband), H.Rider Haggard's She (eternal queen of a lost jungle civilization is reunited with her reincarnated lover), and Daphne du Maurier's delicious Frenchman's Creek (gorgeous, bored lady of the manor runs off with a dashing and dangerous French pirate). During my youth, I was always in love with someone. I wrote pages of poetry, dripping with desperate longing. Love was clearly the ultimate experience. I never cared much about marriage (though as it happens I've now been happily coupled for twenty five years) but I nevertheless have always been thrilled by the notion of finding the One, that special person who would complement and complete me.

Now that I've joined the erotic romance community, I find myself
thinking about just what is the essence of romance. If you ask many readers, I suspect that they'll say, "oh, a happy ending". Or "a handsome, strong, but sensitive hero who's great in bed". Or "intense, caring, satisfying sex". Or perhaps, "a committed relationship". All of the above are conventional and important elements of the erotic romance genre. By my definition, though, what distinguishes romance from other fiction, and particularly from general erotica, is emotional connection.

Romance, for me, implies a unique linking of thought and feeling, the
sense that the lovers are communicating at a level beyond the physical. Destiny. Telepathy. Perfect synchrony of fantasy and imagination. More than ‘chemistry’, more than sexual skill, this kind of connection flows from the spirit even though it's expressed through the body. In Raw Silk, Gregory tells Kate that she was born to his lover and his slave. In Incognito, Miranda and Mark recognise each other, even in disguise. In Rendezvous, Tony explains that in all his decades of haunting the Rendezvous Motel, no one but Rebecca has ever been able to see him. Special. Unique.

Exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary connection, even when real world
considerations seem to deny the possibility - this seems to me to be the core emotional aspect of romance. This is one reason why paranormal themes work so well in the genre. Paranormal tales free us to believe that that perfect mind-melding, that extraordinary conduit of thought and feeling, can literally exist.

How does this happen? It may be pre-destined, but it depends on
trust. In order to connect, the lovers must be willing to open themselves, to drop barriers, release inhibitions, admit desires that might embarrass or frighten them. One reason why I write a lot of BDSM is that I'm fascinated, even awed, by the trust that both dominance and submission imply. The outer trappings of BDSM, the bonds, the whips, the nipple clamps, these aren't what is important. What's important, compelling, thrilling, is the way that the submissive surrenders herself (or himself), body and mind, to the dominant, trusting that he (or she) will know how to satisfy them both. Meanwhile, the dominant must trust that the submissive will communicate her true feelings, that she'll use her safe word if she needs to.

Trust lies at the heart of romance, vanilla or otherwise. The progress
of a romantic plot often involves one or both of the protagonists learning to trust. Here's another excerpt for you, this one from Incognito.

"Let's go into the bedroom," gasped Miranda, when she could breathe again. She ached to lay down with this man, to open herself to him.

"I have a better idea," said Mark. He stood and stripped off his shorts. His erection stood proudly, bobbing in the candlelight. Miranda pulled her dress over her head and tossed it in a
corner. The remains of her hairdo disintegrated, ebony locks tumbling over her shoulders.

Moving to one of the windows, he threw it open. Before Miranda grasped what was happening, he stepped through, and held out his hand toher. "Fire escape," he said with a hint of his usual grin. A
thrill passed through her as she understood what he had in mind.

She followed him through the window. A cool breeze off the harbour
caressed her bare skin. The wrought iron platform was rough under her feet. She smelled fried batter, rotting fish, incense, anise. A neon sign on a neighbouring roof painted her body in lurid reds and greens.

The apartment looked out on an alley. It was nearly three in the
morning. Still, if anyone were to pass by, she and Mark would be
completely exposed.

Miranda realised that she loved that thought.

Mark positioned her with her back to the iron railing. "Spread your
legs, and hold on." He crouched before her, gazing at her moist
folds arrayed before him. He blew lightly on the delicate flesh. She
twitched and trembled in response. "Oh, Miranda," he sighed, and
buried his hungry mouth between her thighs.

There was no tentativeness here, no teasing touches designed to arouse her. In one swift movement he sucked her throbbing clitoris into his mouth and swirled his tongue around it. Miranda's knees buckled. She forced a fist into her mouth to stifle her moans. Mark
ate her pussy the same way that he kissed, forcefully, ferociously, with a single-minded intensity that left her dizzy and weak.

Now he used his hands to open her labia wide. He fastened his mouth on her inner lips, applying a delicious suction as if he were devouring the sweet pulp of some juicy fruit. Meanwhile, his tongue probed her deeply, setting up echoes of his studded cock earlier in the
evening. Mark's saliva felt scalding hot on her sensitised tissues, still inflamed from their earlier battering.

The memory of his leather-clad erection superimposed itself upon the current scene. She felt his tongue grow longer and thicker, until it seemed to fill her completely. She pushed her sex at his mouth, her hips tensing as she tried to drive him deeper. She smelled his sweat,
and hers. Faintly, as if in the distance, she heard again the snap of the lash and the ribald encouragement of the audience.

The iron railing bit into her back, awakening the sting of her welts, but Miranda hardly noticed. All thought, all attention, was focused on the glorious play of sensations between her legs. She sank her fingers into her partner's hair and pulled his face into her crotch. He changed his technique in response, sweeping his tongue along the length of her crevice, from her clit to the tender edge of her rear hole and back. Faster and faster he stroked, while Miranda felt orgasm coiling within her, wound tight, waiting.

The aching need suffused her flesh. Her body was strung like a harp, every nerve stretched toward elusive release. She was so close. It seemed that the merest touch would topple her over the edge, and yet she hovered there, seemingly forever, while Mark plied her sex with
fingers, lips, tongue and teeth. Her pleasure was tinged, however slightly, with frustration.

Suddenly, Mark rose from his haunches and stood before her. He brushed her lips with his. Miranda felt stickiness, knew the salty seaweed taste of her own arousal. "Relax," Mark murmured, cupping a breast while he nuzzled just above her collarbone. "Just relax, and
trust me." Miranda felt something shift at the warm sound of his voice. A clenching in her chest, of which she had not been consciously aware, loosened and then seemed to evaporate. "Give yourself to me, Miranda, all of yourself. Don't hold back."

As he uttered these words, he reached down and thrust four fingers into Miranda's cunt. She convulsed around him, finally released. The orgasm went on and on, waves of delight radiating from her centre. Fingertips, toes, earlobes, nipples, tingled and sparked as electric pleasure surged through her. Dimly, she heard herself scream, harsh and shrill as some exotic bird in the night. She would have fallen to her knees on the wrought-iron platform, if Mark had not
caught and held her. Gradually she became aware of the strong arms that surrounded her, the strength and the comfort they brought. At the same time, she sensed his rigid penis, like velvet-covered steel, brushing against her thigh. She opened her eyes and smiled when she
saw the blissful expression on his face.

"Thank you, Mark, from the bottom of my heart. I'm sorry that you had to work so hard, though."

"My pleasure, believe me!"

"Yes, but what about your pleasure?" said Miranda, capturing his cock in her hand and stroking the smooth flesh a few times. She felt slightly guilty, though she had to admit that she had thoroughly enjoyed being the centre of his attentions.

"All in good time." He glanced around the alley, but found no sign that her cries had roused the neighbours. The barest hint of dawn had begun to pale the eastern sky, and the wind had picked up, bringing them messages from the sea. "Let's go inside, and we can discuss the question of my pleasure in more detail."


At this point in the book, Mark and Miranda have known each other for
weeks. They've had sex several times, but only in disguise, wearing masks, pretending to be strangers. Only in this scene does Miranda release the final shreds of her resistance and open herself completely to her lover.

Yikes, I'm sounding like a professor again! Well, I guess I can't
completely escape my background and education. I hope you'll all forgive me for my occasional lapse into a more serious vein. My recent experiences among romance readers and writers have made it clear that you're a fun-loving crowd, and that you like to be entertained.

As for me, I can't escape from my conviction that sex is more than
entertainment. I think that a successful romantic fiction has to pull you in emotionally, make you believe that the heroine and hero are made to be together, make you feel the intangible spiritual connection when they physically touch.

That's the kind of romance that I want to write.

Anyway, I'd love to know what
you think is the essence of romance. Does the hero have to be gorgeous? Does the heroine have to be monogamous? Does it have to have an exotic setting? Can a romance have a tragic ending? What's the most romantic book you've ever read, and why?

I'm shivering with anticipation...



Lisabet Sarai
Lisabet Sarai

Yesterday we asked you to tell us which Total-e-bound anthology is due to be released in November, is dedicated to soldiers and is for charity? The answer was Camouflaged Hearts and the winner for 'Dee's books' competition for a book of her choice from the Total-e-bound back-catalogue is Amy Smith So, Amy, if you'd like to email me at competitions @ total-e-bound.com (no spaces) and say which book you'd like, we'll wiz it over to you!

And so ends the week long book giveaways to celebrate our blog launch. Come along on Friday to see who the winners are in our 'tales from the toy box competition' - you never know, it could be you...

15 comments:

charlotte Featherstone said...

Elisabet, I'm bowing down to you! lol!
What a GORGEOUS excerpt from Raw Silk. The cover alone made me want to buy the book, but I didn't. and I can't remember why not.
However, after this excerpt, I have to buy it!

As for romance. I'm a sap. I need a happy ending. It can be tragic and heart-rending and dark all through the book, but that romance junkie in me must have the fix of a happily ever after.
Can't pick a fav romantic book, because I have so many favs. For so many different reasons.
I think that's the beauty of romance, it can be beautiful and romantic on so many different levels. And romance is as diverse as the women who crave it-- and the men who provide it.
I can tell you that the most romantic thing that happened to me was when my rose bushes all bloomed together for the first spring flush. It was gorgeous, and I was so proud. Yet, over breakfast I starting moaning about how I was going to be working the night shift for three nights, then sleeping all day and how would i ever be able to see my roses and appreciate them.
Well, I had my afternoon nap and I woke up to my roses filling every vase and bowl in the house. My husband had cut them and put them in every room of the house so I could at least see them for a little while.
so you see, romance is the little things. A look, a caress, anything that moves one or both partners.

and now...on to Raw Silk. I cannot wait to dig into it!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Charlotte,

Your husband sounds like the
ideal hero for romance! What
a wonderful story (and glad that
you liked the RS excerpt, too!)

Hugs,
Lisabet

Carol Lynne said...

Fantastic blog, Lisabet. To be honest, I don't usually read M/F books, but those exerpts were wonderful. And your picture! Wow, what a beautiful woman you are.

As for your questions. I don't think the hero has to be gorgeous to the general population, but I think he has to seem gorgeous to the other person involved in the relationship. Being able to look beyond the physical imperfections is a true sign of love for me.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Hey, Carol Lynne,

The picture's a bit, shall we say,
dated! Although it is me, in my
prime. I really liked your comment
about physical imperfections. One of the most intense relationships in my life (I still love this person though we are separated by half a world) was with a guy who's at least 40 pounds overweight, and kind of dorky. But to me, he was a revelation. He taught me so much about myself, sexually - I wouldn't be writing now, if it weren't for him.

Claire S said...

I'm absolutely loving the views of the river Lisabet, they add real flavour to a story that I've read and loved.

And Charlotte, what a wonderful thing for your husband to do for you.

And I'm with Carol on this too. It's not so much about how good looking the characters are, in fact if they have quirks, you can relate more to them. But the characters have to find qualities in each other that attract, and it's whatever touches the reader and pulls them into a believable relationship, no matter what the setting is.

Carol Lynne said...

Oh, Lisabet, I totally get the dated picture thing. Have you seen mine on my TEB author page? Sometimes its nice to see ourselves as we once were. Smiling and laughing are horrible for your skin as far as wrinkles go, but they make the soul younger. Too bad I don't have a picture of mine. It would be of a sweet little girl in overalls and pigtails.

blessedheart said...

Very hot excerpts!

Rhonda :-)

Crystal R said...

I have to say after the excerpt I have to have Raw Silk and Incognito. The covers alone make you want the book.

Does the hero have to be gorgeous? To me the hero does not have to 6 ft tall with bulging muscles. I enjoy the personality more, looks do help but there needs to be something that goes with it.

Does the heroine have to be monogamous? I prefer monogamous relationships in real life but in stories I believe anything goes with that department.

Does it have to have an exotic setting? Any setting to me would work for romance, like your house, a park, or river can all turn out to be a nice romantic evening

Can a romance have a tragic ending? I enjoy the happy ever after ending but every once in a while I like to have something different.

Portia Da Costa said...

Wonderful, wonderful post! I love your thoughts on romance and the excerpts are simply luscious.

For me the essence of romance is a developing love and respect between the two central characters. I pretty much believe in monogamy of the mind and heart, although in my books my characters haven't always been physically monogamous.

I don't always expect a conventionally tall, dark and handsome hero... in fact I'm often attracted to quirky men, so I enjoy reading about them.

A romantic story doesn't necessarily have to have an exotic location for me, although it can be gorgeous if it does. :)

HEA? Well, I can enjoy reading a *love story* with a tragic ending, but for me, for a book to be called a romance, it must have a HEA. I just *need* one!

Thanks again, Lisabet, for a sublime post! :)

Louisa Burton said...

Great blog, Lisabet, and your writing is so evocative. I love your take on romanticism: "Romance, for me, implies a unique linking of thought and feeling, the sense that the lovers are communicating at a level beyond the physical." It's really another, really beautiful way of looking at the sexual tension that's at the core of all romances. Lovely!

Phyllis said...

I totally agree with your comment "As for me, I can't escape from my conviction that sex is more than entertainment. I think that a successful romantic fiction has to pull you in emotionally, make you believe that the heroine and hero are made to be together, make you feel the intangible spiritual connection when they physically touch".

I do not think that the hero has to be gorgeous. Unless there is more than one hero in the story, I think the heroine has to be monogamous. It doesn't have to have an exotic setting. It can have a tragic ending, but I don't like them when they do. I'm a big believer in HEA. LOL

The covers and excerpts were great. I can't wait to read the stories.

Ironeyes said...

Very interesting and enjoyable reading. It's your norm. Romance is great with the right mate.

Amy S. said...

Thank you!!!!!

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks for all your great comments so far! It's very encouraging to me, as a novice in the romance world, to find that my intuitions seem to be shared.

About monogamy: my feeling is that the core idea revolves around commitment, not necessarily sexual exclusivity. My husband and I are monogamous now, but earlier in our relationship we had some sexual adventures with other people. Our mutual promise was that our relationship came first, that honesty was essential, and that each of us had the right to veto any third person or activity.

Different couples work things out in different ways. I think, though, that twenty five years of happy marriage is in fact quite a romantic concept!

littlelamblst said...

Enjoyed your post. Hero doesn't have to be gorgeous, neither does the heroine. Monogamy in tales that work for me is sometimes merely state of mind. Though I prefer a HEA it doesn't have to have one. Tragic endings are remarkably upsetting to some readers but it makes the work linger in my mind.

One of my favorite romances is Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. It isn't a conventional HEA, but then again for mainstream romance it is quite daring with different issues that it touched upon.