Jamie Anne Richardson shares her personal struggle with sex and foul language in chick lit books.
There is nothing I would rather do on a rainy day than curl up with a good chick-lit book under a warm blanket – except maybe for spending the time writing said book.
But as I read my favorite bestsellers, I seem to consistently run into the same brick wall where my jaw drops in shock on what a character just said, did, showed, or wore.
I was raised as a conservative Christian, and while I still hold fast to the Christian end of things, my worldviews have become skewed to the left quite a bit. I will drink a glass (or two) of wine with my husband at dinner, for example, but you won’t find my butt hanging out of a bikini on a Girls Gone Wild video anytime soon.
That being said, language that my mother would find offensive (she probably cringed at me using the word butt in the above paragraph) does seep into my vocabulary occasionally. But for me, reading an offensive word on paper still makes me cringe. I can hear it on the street or in a movie and it usually doesn’t cause much pause, but reading it (or worse, writing it) unsettles me.
The same goes for sex. I am a happily married woman, but that doesn’t mean I want to write about details of my bedroom life. I tried to get through Fifty Shades of Grey, but I couldn’t. This isn’t because I’m a prude but more of thinking, sheesh, this is somebody’s daughter. I’m all for you having a “red room” in your house, but that doesn’t mean I want to read about the specific use of the whip. To me, some things oughta be private.
But knowing my personal limitations in these areas makes me wonder if I am limiting my potential success as a chick lit author. I can’t write Christian fiction because not all of my characters end up on the front pew in a Sunday service by book’s end. I certainly can’t write hardcore because I’d blush the first time I had to write the word nipple (yes, I totally just blushed).
I don’t want my characters to come across as prudes, but I also don’t want to toss in four-letter words just to move up the selling charts. I want to tackle difficult and controversial issues, but not just for the shock value.
My first novel, Whine and Wine, for example has one character who was raised in a brothel, escaped the filth, and married a pastor who she soon discovers is addicted to porn. I didn’t take this path with Sylvia because I wanted to shock readers with the pastor/porn connection, I did it because I know the statistics as to how often pastors succumb to a porn addiction and I like bringing dark areas to light.
My favorite authors vary greatly on the hotness scale. First I was addicted to Terri Blackstock. She is a Christian women’s fiction writer who inspired to become an author. Then I fell in love with Jennifer Weiner because I could totally relate to her views of struggling through motherhood. She is a dreadfully honest writer, and her style spoke to me. And I’ve just recently discovered Liza Palmer. She has a way of describing a man that makes you uncomfortably attracted to a fictional character, but she doesn’t go to the depth (did you see that little play on words?) as E.L. James. I like that. Her leading ladies occasionally drop some traditionally unlady-like words, but I think that makes them more real.
Which leads me back to the question of how do I balance all of this in my own books? I don’t want to throw out my own morals just to make a buck, but I also don’t want my characters to appear to be goody two-shoes. I want to write enough of a love scene to make the reader appreciate the heat, but I don’t want my mother to imagine me and her son-in-law in such a precarious situation.
It is an interesting dilemma. What do you think? Where do you fall on the need-for-heat scale? How lusty do you want your reads?
Do you like the women to have a beer between their lips while they cuss like a sailor, or do you prefer the Laura Ingalls-style ladies in the starring role?
Jamie Richardson is a mum to three kids. Her essays have appeared in Chicken Soup of the Soul. She freelances for several publications and is writing her first chick-lit novel, Whine and Wine.