Everybody has their comfort zone. What they like to eat, wear, drink, watch, do in bed with their partners - or alone - and...what they like to read.
A few years ago a very close female friend of mine, let's call her Jane, called me and said, "You have to read this book. If you don't love this book, you and I can't be friends."
Puzzled and intrigued, I agreed to meet her for an impromptu lunch and was a little surprised when she slipped me a paper bag with the book in it. She was so excited to have me read it she was squirming in her seat. She was so in love with this book it had done wonders for her marriage. Wow. All this from a book? Being a writer I couldn't wait to clap eyes on the thing.
"Don't open it here," she hissed. "It's a..." her eyes darted around and her voice dropped to a stage whisper. "Romance book. The cover is a little...intense."
At the time I was reading romance books because I was thinking about writing one, but wasn't writing them yet. My Phantom Lover series was still a small dream.
So, I raced away from lunch hardly able to wait to rip that bag open. The cover was one of worst I've seen with the windswept long hair on both the man and the woman, the flowing dress hanging in tatters...
I will not say what the name of the book is here or its author but to say it was one of the worst books I have ever read is an understatement. It was sickening.
The heroine is kidnapped by the er...hero.
She is raped repeatedly, beaten, tortured, whipped, held captive, beaten, raped, sodomized, kept tethered, almost drowned, raped, beaten...and naturally as some of these dumb-assed novels go, she falls in love with him.
This book absolutely blew me away in its cruelty and relentlessness. I have studied serial killers for a murder mystery I am writing and some of them take less pleasure in their er..."work" than the "hero"of this book does.
My friend Jane was practically in a coma when a few of her friends dared to tell her the book didn't appeal to them. Some of them adored it and at the time, I told her I thought it was astonishing that women went for these things.
I felt strongly [I guess, because I am man] that a man had written this and was even more astonished when Jane, a very high powered woman in the movie business and at the time, my boss's wife pushed this book onto everyone.
I didn't tell her I thought the book was awful. I just asked her if she got her husband to beat her after reading the book and she giggled. I didn't want to find out what was behind the giggle since I had to work with the guy every day and didn't want to think about what he was doing to his wife in bed.
Jane threw a luncheon for the hero of the book if you can believe it. My boss gave me permission to leave the office and attend. It was surreal. The woman were dressed in outfits of the period on which the book was set. The table was decorated with treasure chests and pearls, handwritten cards indicating where we should sit.
I believe what two people do in their sex lives together is totally up to them, but I felt strongly that all the women at the luncheon were probably newly exploring a different area of their sex lives as a result of the book, so maybe I was overreacting to the degrading, humiliating scenes in the story. Maybe it triggered something wonderful for them all.
BDSM isn't for everyone but this book is not about BDSM, it is abuse and I was amazed these women thought it was cool.
It was the first time I realized how strong and vital fantasy is. And I decided when I wrote my books, there would be enough hot sex to qualify in the fantasy realm without anybody losing blood or dignity.
Two weeks ago, when my new paperback copies of Phantom Lover arrived, I called Jane and asked if she would like to read it. I told her the book focused on a gay couple and she was intrigued. Judging by the increasingly dark, heavily BDSM-themed books she has sent to me, I honestly thought she would enjoy it. I've stopped reading the stuff she sent me because pain does not thrill me.
Nor did the letter I received from her yesterday. "I want to congratulate you on your success. Sorry not to have called sooner, but I'm preparing our Halloween costumes."
I stopped reading for a second. What? It takes longer to sit down and write a note than pick up the phone. I knew then I was about to get slammed between the eyes.
"I think it's great you've found a niche for your books, but I am afraid they are out of my comfort zone. This book goes in a direction I just can't accept. Thanks and good luck."
My best friend Gustavo who happened to me with me when I read it, tore the note to pieces. I felt numb, to be honest. I felt saddened that lengthy scenes of brutality are acceptable but two men who love each other, are not.
I know everyone has their tastes and yes, their comfort zone. But sometimes you have to wonder...what is it exactly people fear when they see two men in love?