Monday, September 17, 2012

Editor Karen Block Talks to The Write Break- Romance or Erotica?

 An edited version of this interview appeared in First Monday, September issue

We were seated in a booth at the Bad Dog Bar and Grill.  I thought you edited erotica, I said.  No, she replied.  I gave my notes a casual glance as my mind shifted into panic gear.  Karen eased the awkwardness.  Does this mean you won’t buy my dinner?  Probably, I said.  We both laughed.  Don’t worry, this will work.  Did I speak these words aloud or were they silent self-assurance?

Years ago−we’re not saying how many−Karen Quinn, resplendent in green knee socks and plaid skirt, wandered the halls of St. Pat’s in Sarnia.  Today, Karen Block is a literary editor for Turquoise Morning Press in Kentucky.  It must be her strict Catholic upbringing that limits her to editing romance submissions.  Erotica? uh uh 

Our shaky start continued.  Karen passed along a rebuke from Turquoise Morning Press.  The publisher was offended that I had linked the terms erotica and porn.  Oops!  My apologies. 

We placed our dinner orders.  In no time, Karen and I were sipping an icy draught and switching sandwiches.  Her wrap had my goat cheese on it.  Oh well, Karen realized the mistake before we started eating the second half.  By then we were like old friends.  Some of my fries were nestled next to her healthy salad.   There is nothing like food to promote fellowship.

It was time to get down and dirty discussing the nitty gritty of the editing profession and the publishing business.  Karen invited me to continue the interview in the comfort of the screened-in porch of her cottage.  To the concerto of a trickling fountain and cacophony of crickets we sipped wine and enjoyed a lively literary discussion.

Q:  Is sweet traditional romance popular today?

Karen:  Probably not.  Erotica has steamrolled over the whole genre.  Women aged fifty or sixty are reading sweet romance.  The thirty year olds are reading erotica if they are not interested in a plot and are just looking to be sexually titillated.

Q:  Do all the stories have a fantasy feel to them?

Karen:  Maybe in some lines.  Primarily the man is the power person and the heroine is some poor little girl.  In Fifty Shades of Grey he was a powerful man and she was a young girl.  He dominates her, right? 

Q:  Did you read the book?

Karen:  No, I read your review and didn’t bother.  (Gulp)

Q:  Is erotica always about casual sex and multiple partners?  Can the stories be about a husband and wife in a faithful relationship?

Karen:  This is my opinion:  Erotica is forbidden lust.  If it is committed sex then it is romance− no matter how explicit it is.

Q:  Erotica arouses sexual desire.  Is that more important than the quality of writing?

Karen:  Turquoise Morning Press is looking for a balance of the two.  They want both.  This may not be true of every publisher.

Q:  I downloaded some short stories from TMP (research again) and was impressed with the user friendly website.  Various ereaders were listed and the downloading decision was easy.  Can’t get that with Amazon.

Karen:  According to our data, Amazon is clearly the top seller of our books.   (Since I have a Sony ereader, I would prefer to download TMP’s author’s books from their own site.)

Q:  Has there been an increase in submissions since Fifty Shades of Grey hit the bestsellers list?

Karen:  I can only speak to TMP.  We have a lot of new authors; most of them are writing erotica.  A lot of Canadians!

Q:  How many men versus women are writing erotica and romance?  As an editor, can you tell the difference?

Karen:  I’m not sure of the percentage.  It is obvious when a man has written a romance story.  A woman is more emotional.  A man’s writing is more physical.  The emotional depth is not there.  It is the emotional aspect of a romance that appeals to me.  That gives me the satisfaction.  It is the ‘ahhhh’ factor.  The ‘Happily Ever After’ doesn’t seem to be as important to men.  I truly believe that women are more interested in the romance or ‘HEA’ factor.

Q:  But then again you spoke of the preferences of different age groups.

Karen:  Yes, the younger ones may think that illicit sex is more exciting.  (Yet, Fifty Shades and the movie, Magic Mike, certainly got a lot of attention from the ‘old girls’ too.) 

Q:  Is romance strictly a woman’s genre?

Karen:  Oh no.  According to TMP, men buy erotica and romance as often as women.

Q:  I sometimes find it difficult to read a book without analyzing.  How does an editor read a book for pleasure?

Karen:  (chuckle) That’s a problem.  Everything I read is with an editor’s eye. 

Q:  Karen, you’re a hometown girl.  What is your most cherished memory of Corunna?

Karen:  It is the river.  In the States I always feel like a fish out of water. (This statement struck me as particularly funny) As soon as we get on the Bluewater Bridge and I look over the side and see the river, it’s like everything drops into place.  It is the weirdest sensation.

Q:  How would you like to be remembered?

Karen:  I would want to be remembered as a kind person.  That’s very important to me. 

Q:  I can’t believe this.  An editor wants to be remembered as a kind person?

Karen: (a burst of laughter) That’s paradoxical.  I have this helpful personality and I sincerely want a writer to succeed.

Q:  Is there anything else?

Karen:  (grinning) I want a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth at my funeral.  (schoolgirl giggles from both of us) I went to a funeral in my teens.  There was lots of drama and wailing.  It was the best funeral.  I thought, yes, this is what I want. 

Karen, I love your spirited attitude!  Thanks for your candidness and insight into the world of romance.  Keep on editing!!! 

You can check out Karen Block’s editor profile on 

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