There’s a point in one of the romance novels I’ve edited where a rakish dude in a leather jacket tells a young coed he’s seducing that he’s going to bury her with a bunch of dildos. Basically young coed is worried that cheerleader ex-girlfriend is gonna be jealous of her fucking raskish dude, and is all like, “If I die, make sure my niece doesn’t bury me with her dolls.” Then a wink, and the dildo comment. She slaps his arm like, oh you, and then proceeds to lick his balls.
I don’t feel it’s my place to tell people what they should be into. If it gets you hot thinking about a stubbled stud telling you he’s gonna put sex toys in your coffin, then by god you write that shit out. Catharsis, I get it. It’s also not my place, professionally, to badmouth stuff I’ve been trusted with fixing (or you know, trying to fix). But over the past year or so of my freelance editing career, I’ve read some books by women, at least I think they’re women, that engage in an extremely bizarre, seemingly backwards attraction to backwards macho man bullshit.
I read this one where a woman finds out she’s part elf and so is taken from San Diego to the Elf World and falls in love with the Elf Prince. The Elf Prince is handsome and I think purple and he’s got a bigass dick and some sweet pecs and if I remember correctly, abs. He’s also mad possessive. Well, they both are. She catches him with this assassin lady who used to have a thing for him. Assassin lady, well actually it’s this fire demon who has possessed assassin lady, has roofied Elf Prince’s drink and fucked him silly. And the main character sees it, is upset, and then they hash it out in the rain. Repeat from the other side: Elf Prince sees her with Moody Elf Bro and wilds out.
A good majority of these protagonists’ love interests, will fight and (in the case of the Elf Prince) fucking kill people who mess with or look at their lady. My mouth was open reading some of this stuff, how the female protagonists get all hot and bothered when their elf boos spear a fellow in the chest for acting sideways.
So, to recap, these women are writing about verbally abusive, violent, possessive douchebags who they just can’t get enough of.
The question I’m always faced with when I’m editing someone’s work, maybe the most important question, is “what doesn’t work, and what do I just not understand?” It’s a delicate balance that I’d like to think I’m figuring out. But probably I’m not. You don’t want to edit something down to your version of a novel, you want to bring out the best novel this particular author can write. I run into it all the time editing the pro stuff for my press, Broken River Books.
Crime writers, as with any genre authors, can occasionally slip into crazy sexism, racism and homophobia. So what dictates what gets cut? Why did I take out the phrase “chocolate breasts” from one manuscript, but leave in all the incest in another? Why did I take out one characters obsession with big girls, but leave in another book’s somewhat troublesome depiction of homosexuality?
Chuck Palahniuk had a great essay from a while back. It’s called “Burying the I,” I think. In it, he details how best to hide the hand of the narrator. Burying the I means that, if there’s some really homophobic shit going on, maybe if the characters are backwoods rednecks it makes sense. It’s their homophobia that’s on trial in the work, not gay people. It’s a part of the story, and you get no indication as to the author’s politics. Seamless. However, if there’s a kid who’s obsessed with big girls, and it’s meant to show that this character is a bit off, a bit perverted, then that’s saying something about how the author feels about people who dig BBWs. You can see where the switch happens. You can see when it’s extraneous.
When a person walks into a room and they’re described as “half-Asian, sort of Latina looking,” then you take that shit out, because it has nothing to do with commenting on people’s perception of race, it’s just a comment about their race, period. And I would argue, in a novel, that mentioning race isn’t really important at all. Why does it matter if a character is black or white? If you’ve written them well enough, the reader will probably figure it out anyway. It feels like cheating. But, if it must exist at all, it can’t be the focus of any one particular sentence.
All of this is to say that I don’t believe it’s my job to censor. I’m here to make these folks’ books the best books they can be. But when the racism or sexism or homophobia pulls you out of a work, violently, then it’s my job to fix that.
So, those romance novels.
At first I’d leave little notes about how the love interest was gross. But then I saw these women’s sales rankings and reviews, and the readers fucking loved these stories. Misogyny and all. It’s a trope that, for this particular audience, works. It’s not up to me, as an editor, to be the arbiter of what’s kinky and what’s fucked. However, it is my job to make sure that the characters are consistent. It’s all fantasy, and these particular fantasies consist of watching an elf beat someone to death in a woman’s honor, and then boning the elf in an enchanted bush. What I can do for that, I suppose, is at least make sure the fight seems like a natural progression in the story. And when the elves are rutting, I can maybe excise a few rapid heartbeats and flushed skin and hard cocks. But not all the hard cocks.
So many hard elf cocks.
And coffins full of dildos.
Whatever floats your boat or finds your lost remote. Go with god, perverts.