I was a guest on a podcast recently, ostensibly to discuss my books in general, but the sexy parts in particular.  As we talked, two aspects of romance literature rose to the forefront of the conversation.

One of the host’s first questions was “As a reader, what hooks you into a romance novel?”.

It was an easy answer for me.  No question, it’s the first kiss.  Up against a door, out of the blue at a ballgame, standing in the rain while she’s yelling at him, the setting doesn’t matter.  What matters is the chemistry.  Get that right, and you’ve sold me on your book.  Get it wrong, and it’s likely I may not finish the book.  If I do, the author is going to have to work twice as hard to sell me, especially on the hero.  You can get the orgasms right, but if you get the first kiss wrong, I’m not going to buy the orgasms.  Just sayin.

The first kiss is everything.  It can be in the first sentence in the prologue or halfway into the book, but it has to be right.  For me, it defines the hero – his intentions, his approach to consent, his underlying spirit.  It sets the tone for the couple’s relationship and how they will – or won’t – communicate for the duration of the story.  It also defines the heroine’s depth of attraction immediately.  She may hate his guts at that moment, but she cannot be indifferent to him.

Yeah, that first smooch.  It doesn’t have to have tongue, but it does have to have heart.

The second part of the discussion revolved around the sex scene I had submitted, and why I chose the one I sent.

Prior to the interview, they asked me to submit my favorite sex scene from one of my books.  Initially, I thought I would send the one with the headboard and the positions and the sheets all over the floor.  But the more I thought about it, I discovered my favorite of all the ones I have written was the one that was the hardest.  The one where the hero had to tread very lightly, and continuing consent checks were going to be mandatory.  It is in Faithful Peace, and it involves a woman who has gone through years of abuse.  John, the hero, must navigate a way to make sure he’s doing it right.  Even this romance novel hero with the movie star face and body is scared and unsure of himself.

It’s 5000 words of foreplay, and it’s my favorite scene I’ve written in anything up to this point.  It was also the hardest, by far.  It took me a week to write and outline initially, and a month to re-write and edit.  Consent was the key.  Not just for the general act itself, but for all the paths it could go down, all the touches and techniques and timing.  Writing it while being in the mind of a woman who had been violated in so many ways, and in the heart of a man who wants nothing more than to please her.

Being a victim in real life, I cried a lot.  I got angry all over again, even though many years have passed.  But ultimately, I wept tears of joy that I could give this couple something so beautiful and so deserved.  Yes, I know it’s just a little book in a sea, but it made me happy.  It reinforced that I made it out the other side, and I hope it spoke to anyone who reads it in the same light.

So, I love kissing books.  Here’s to first kisses and happy endings.