A hundred years ago, I read 50 Shades of Grey and found it to be the worst novel I have ever finished… but I also saw what worked for so many people about the story. I saw, because I am a reader of romance novels. I believe romance novels contribute something important to the world: Romancelandia is pro-woman, pro-sex, pro-pleasure and full of happy endings.
And I felt betrayed by 50 Shades because, though it tried, it failed to be any of those things. It did not do what a romance novel is supposed to do.
I read romance to experience hope. My day job involves women telling me their stories, and those stories fill the shelves of my mental library. One shelf that is overflowing is the shelf full of stories of sexual violence. I have grown increasingly overwhelmed by the number and variety of ways that a woman’s sexual autonomy can be stolen from her – here in the twenty-first century, here in the modern industrialized West. Real life, even the privileged real life led by the women telling me their stories, is rife with trauma and suffering, and almost none of these women have been taught by their families how to cope with these experiences, how to heal from emotional wounds that can go so deep they manifest as physical pain, injury, illness.
So yes, I want hope. I read romance to experience hope. And this book didn’t give me that.
I was so frustrated by it that I wanted to write a novel to show that it was possible to write about a virgin college senior experiencing her sexual awakening with an older, more experienced, powerful man who treated her with dignity and respect and affection. So I starting writing a feminist, sex positive, science-driven erotic romance.
Which is when the unexpected thing happened:
As I wrote, I felt my body metabolizing the stories of trauma that crowd that shelf in my brain. Not just storing them in a box in the attic, but tearing them into pieces, saturating them in my tears and sweat and the rain as I worked. Writing the novel shredded these stories and turned them into a pulp I could beat with my fists, recycling them into new paper, fresh and clean, where a new story could be written. A hopeful story. Pro-woman, pro-sex, pro-pleasure.
Anyway, then I sent it to my literary agent, who had told me she doesn’t represent romance.
“Maybe you know someone?” I said.
And she said she’d like to represent it.
And she sent it out, and it sold.
It’s called How Not to Fall, and it’s being published by Kensington this summer. It’s the first of two books – it’s a “duology” – which means that the first book has a cliffhanger ending, just as the first 50 Shades has a cliffhanger ending. The second book – How Not to Let Go – is scheduled for release early in 2017.
It’s basically fanfic of the entire romance genre – using the playset of tropes and heroes and heroines and best friends to construct a story that delivers what an erotic romance is supposed to deliver: characters you like, having hot sex while they sort out their emotional shit and eventually live happily ever after. Pro-woman, pro-sex, pro-pleasure. Hope.
(Again, warning: book 1 has a cliffhanger ending, not an HEA.)
I wrote them under the name Emily Foster, to make it really clear that this is a whole different thing from sciencey/non-fiction Emily Nagoski. I don’t yet know exactly how I’ll manage the two identities, but, while I’m figuring it out, you can follow fictional me on Twitter and Tumblr.