Written Consent: In this Q&A, Desire author Joanne Rock shares her tips on depicting power dynamics in love scenes.
SYTYCW: You have written for different Harlequin series, including Blaze and most recently Desire. These are sexy books with lots of intimacy. Do you find particular challenges in depicting consensual relations?
Joanne Rock: I am drawn to hotter stories, both as a reader and as an author. Depicting consent has always been a part of the sensual journey for the characters I write, and it’s an exciting aspect of the story. So much of a romance is about tension and conflict, but the love scenes provide that moment when the tension shifts into something else, something wonderful. The moment of consent allows the characters to enjoy the sensual rewards of a new relationship instead of focusing on all the unknowns that might remain between the couple (secrets kept, relationship goals unmet). I’ve never thought of it as a challenge so much as an opportunity to depict an aspect of healthy sexuality.
SYTYCW: As Publisher’s Weekly recently put it, “Discussions about consent are not new to romance, but they may become newly prominent at this moment in the American conversation.” Since the #MeToo movement, has your approach to writing love scenes and depicting consent within a relationship changed?
JR: My approach remains very much the same. Show consent, and let that be a sexy part of building rapport, because that’s what romance is all about—the journey toward healthy and meaningful relationships. I’ve written heroines who’ve dealt with troubled relationships, and I think it’s important to show that distinction.
SYTYCW: Sometimes, it’s not just about love scenes but about the overall power dynamics between hero and heroine. In Desire, for example, the boss/employee trope is often at play. Are there special considerations?
JR: The boss/employee trope puts a greater burden on the person in power to find a way to even the balance. Sometimes there is a discussion of altering the professional relationship so the personal one can play out, a search for creative workarounds to allow the sensual story to continue. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for how that’s navigated. What’s important is for the characters to have a discussion and acknowledge the issue.
SYTYCW: Does consent always have to be a verbal “yes” or does it play out in different ways?
JR: There are many ways a character can articulate their desires beyond “yes,” but for my stories, I like the consent to be verbalized in some way. Giving voice to our feelings and needs is a beautiful thing, and I like writing about that. It’s a strength of our genre that we reinforce positive relationships, and communicating our desires is a part of that.
SYTYCW: There seems to be an argument that depicting consent in romance is somehow “unsexy.” What are your thoughts on this?
JR: You might think unbuttoning a glove sounds “unsexy” until you’ve watched Daniel Day-Lewis unfasten one in a memorable carriage scene in The Age of Innocence. Which is to say it’s all about execution. I can’t imagine anyone finding communication a turn-off! I want conversation in my stories, and there will be a dialogue about wants and needs, even if it’s breathless and happening between kisses.
SYTYCW: Your upcoming Desire, One Night Scandal (September 2018), has a #MeToo subplot. Can you describe that?
JR: My heroine’s sister was an assistant to a Hollywood director before she quit the field after a forcible touching incident. Now, my heroine is on the set of the director’s film, determined to find evidence against him. I empathized with the heroine’s desire for vindication because there’s a mama bear in all of us ready to rain hellfire for the sake of a loved one.