[Sorry, I was sure I had this scheduled to post early this morning.]
There was a time, very, very long ago, when “romance’ referred to fictitious tales of heroic adventure, popular in the aristocratic circles of Medieval Europe. And there was a time, not so long ago and perhaps not entirely gone, when sad stories pulled emotional strings in ways as satisfying as the “true love” romance genre today. Think of the traditional “three hanky” movie or operas like “La Boheme.” In terms of audience satisfaction, the readers or viewers were Happy For Now because they’d got what they’d come for.
The romance and erotic romance genres as they’re pigeonholed these days are pretty narrowly defined. Erotica may get a slightly better deal because it can end happily or not, as long as there’s enough sex in it. On second thought, erotic romance may have as good a deal because it can have just as much sex plus a happy ending and fit into both categories. I’ve published quite a few stories that could, as they say in a different context, park on either side of the street. I’m certain that the relatively recent “erotic romance” tag was created solely to seduce readers who were reluctant to venture in the territory of outright erotica. As someone was quoted, somewhere in all the hoopla about 50 Shades of Whatever; “It’s okay because they’re really in love!” You need an excuse to read erotica, but as long as it’s also romance, it’s okay. (As an aside, “paranormal romance” makes it okay to frolic among vampires and shapeshifters and ghosts without getting those nerd cooties from fans of science fiction and fantasy and horror, because it’s still romance.)
My own preference is for a story to go where it needs to go. I recently wrote a ghost story for a Civil War anthology from the viewpoint of a young army surgeon, with the inescapable blood and stress that job involved. His love interest had already died several years before, and was present only in memory, except for a few fleeting moments that might have been ghostly contact. There was no way the ending could be “happy” except insomuch as the surgeon chose to live and keep on doing all he could, with just some feverish hope for something after death. Well, that one was neither erotica nor romance, so it doesn’t count here, but some stories are worth telling even when neither HEA nor HFN are possible.
There are circumstances when happiness just can’t last, and when you’re writing about LGBTQ people, especially in historical settings, the odds of that are high. I’ll pad out this entrys with an excerpt from the end of one of my own pieces, set in London during WWII, where a US WAC nurse and an American pilot ferrying new planes for the RAF have had a brief, intense affair that has to end:
We parted with promises to meet one more time before Cleo's last flight. I mortgaged a week of sleep to get my nursing shifts covered, and at Hamble Air Field, by moonlight, she introduced me to the planes she loved.
"This is the last Spitfire I'll ever fly," she said, stroking the sleek fuselage. "Seafire III, Merlin 55 engine, 24,000 foot ceiling, although I won't go up that high just on a hop to Scotland."
From Scotland she'd catch an empty cargo plane back to the States. I had just got my orders to report to Hawaii for assignment somewhere in the South Pacific. War is hell, and so are good-byes.
"Could I look into the cockpit?" I asked, wanting to be able to envision her there, high in the sky.
"Sure. You can even sit in it and play pilot, if you like." She helped me climb onto the wing, with more pressing of my ass than was absolutely necessary, and showed me how to lower myself into the narrow space. Standing on the wing, she leaned in and kissed me, hard at first, then with aching tenderness, then hard again.
"Pull up your skirt," she ordered, and I did it without question. She already knew I wasn't wearing underpants. "Let's see how wet you can get the seat," she said, "So I can breathe you all the way to Scotland." She unbuttoned my shirt and played with my breasts until I begged her to lean in far enough to suck my aching nipples; then, with her lips and tongue and teeth driving me so crazy that my breath came in a storm of desperate gasps, she reached down into my slippery heat and made me arch and buck so hard that the plane's dials and levers were in danger. I needed more than I could get sitting in the cramped cockpit.
We clung together finally in the grass under the sheltering wing. I got my hands into Cleo's trousers, and made her groan, but she wouldn't relax into sobbing release until she had her whole hand at last inside me and I was riding it on pounding waves of pleasure as keen as pain.
I thought, when I could think anything again, that she had fallen asleep, she was so still. Gently, gently I touched my lips to the nearly-healed tattoo above her breast. Tiny wings matching mine. Something to remember her by.
Without opening her eyes she said, in a lost, small voice, "What are we going to do, Kay?"
I knew what she was going to do. "You're going to claim the sky, to make history. And anyway," I said, falling back on dark humor since I had no comfort to offer, "a cozy menage in Paris seems out of the question with the Nazis in control."
Then, because I knew if I touched her again we would both cry, and hate ourselves for it, I stood, put my clothes in as much order as I could, and walked away.
I looked back once, from the edge of the field. Cleo leaned, head bowed, against the plane. Some trick of the moonlight transmuted her dark hair into silver; I had a vision of how breathtaking she would be in thirty or forty years. The pain of knowing I couldn't share those years made me stumble, and nearly fall. But I kept on walking.
And she let me go.
On June 24, 1944, against all justice and reason, the bill to make the Women Airforce Service Pilots officially part of the Army Air Force was defeated in Congress by nineteen votes. In December, the WASP were disbanded. By then, though, after going through hell in the Pacific theater of war, I had met Jack, who truly loved and needed me, who had saved my sanity while I saved his life, whose son was growing below my heart. His kisses tasted of home, and peace, and more unborn children demanding their chance at life.
Thirty-three years later, in 1977, when women were at last being admitted into the Air Force, the WASP were retroactively given military status. It was then, through a reunion group, that I found out what had become of Cleo Remington; she had found a sky that was high and wide enough to hold her fierce spirit, and freedom as a bush pilot in Alaska.
And she was, as I discovered, even more breathtaking at sixty than she'd been at twenty-six.
But that's another chapter of the story.
I think of that story as romance, even though they never got to be a couple. I did write that “other chapter,” where they met again in Alaska, but by then they each had firm, committed families. They did make a brief threesome with Cleo’s long-time partner, a Russian woman pilot who had defected to Alaska, but there could never be anything more beyond long-distance friendship.
Maybe the only erotica that isn’t also romance deals with people who are there mainly for the sex, and if they get all the sex they wanted, everybody is Happy for Now. Who, really, can ask for anything more?