Scholars often debate the best time period for literature. Was it the modernist movement with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulker? Or perhaps Romanticism, which saw great works from Poe, Shelley, and Austen? In my personal opinion, it was Supermarketicism, the period in the 1980s when tons of horny housewives discovered supermarket paperback romance novels.
It was a time of colorful language when the women were moist, and the men were musky. As these novels grew in popularity, more and more women decided to seek their fortunes writing them and to facilitate that, in 1984, Jean Kent and Candice Shelton wrote THE ROMANCE WRITERS’ PHRASE BOOK.
The tale of THE ROMANCE WRITERS’ PHRASE BOOK is outlined in the intro where the authors explain they had trouble getting published until they learned about “tags” — short one-line descriptions that up romantic tension in a book. So they sat around together whispering phrases like:
You know what’s sexy? Being imprisoned. This sentence somehow manages to remind me of both prison and spiders while attempting to make me horny. Jean and Candace bring that level of unsexiness to so many phrases in this book. For instance, almost every page contains the word moist.
Living moistness sounds like the title of an unlicensed The Blob remake. Nondescript! Nonperishable! Nothing may prevent it! Scurry, kids; it’s The Living Moistness!
It’s awe-inspiring how much this book uses the word moist. I could go on, but legally I can’t go on. If this article gets any moister, they are going to shut us down.
The language in the book isn’t just unsexy. Sometimes, it misses sense entirely. I get the need for metaphors in romance. It’s difficult to capture the feeling of falling love without using some kind of comparative language. It’s even more difficult to figure out exactly what this looks like:
What does that mean? Please, no one tell me. It sounds like this was written for a very specific slash fic of Dream and The Corinthian from Sandman.
He does tick a lot of my boxes… tall, dark, and has mouths for eyes. There’s just something about his smiles I find off putting.
Sensitive fingers could be kind of sexy, or it could be a rare disease killing the heroine in a regency romance novel. “I want us to be together darling, truly I do, but I have… I have sensitive fingers. I’ll be dead within the year. The doctors say there’s nothing they can do. My fingers, they’re just too damn sensitive.”
When the book isn’t coming up with confusing metaphors, it’s over-explaining the simplest possible gestures.
You mean, she smiled? That’s called smiling. We actually have a specific word for that very facial gesture because it’s kind of a big one. Also, I know they know what smiling is because there’s an entire section on it and this phrase is not in there!
I have to say there are some positive things this book tries to bring to the romance novel genre. There’s a certain way we portray men in romance novels, and it’s unrealistic. Most men don’t have six packs and also aren’t naked outdoors while using a fully clothed woman to hide their dick in a creative way.
The ROMANCE WRITERS’ PHRASE BOOK rejects this unrealistic portrayal of male beauty in favor of a variety of colorful descriptions for men.
Bow to your sweaty, fat-faced king, ladies. This is what inclusivity looks like! Boys can get moist too. I want to see this man they have created. I want to browse the supermarket and gasp at a nude Bob Hoskins-looking dude in a bog with a beautiful woman tantalizingly ignoring his dick.
Of course, women don’t get the same kind of diverse descriptions. We are “flowerlike,” our hair resembling “strands of lustrous glass” or a “golden mist.” Hair that is somewhere between fragile and nonexistent is an absolute requirement of romance novel heroines. We are “exquisitely dainty” while men are strong with “long sturdy Viking legs.”
So, now might be a good time to mention that other than this book about how to write a good romance novel, Candace Shelton doesn’t seem to have actually written any romance novels. And Jean Kent wrote exactly one. You can tell it’s lame because no one is even a little bit wet or nude on the cover.
Now, I don’t think this means Jean isn’t capable of writing some sexy, sexy stuff. The lovemaking section of THE ROMANCE WRITERS’ PHRASE BOOK has got some real gems in it, as you can imagine.
It’s got tingling. It’s got surging. It’s got groins! A term used exclusively by romance novelists and PE teachers!
I can’t imagine anything more soulless than a sex scene written with a jumble of cliches pulled from this book. Say what you will about Fifty Shades of Grey, E.L. James probably came up with 100 creative descriptions for the vagina alone. That’s what great romance authors do. I would say this book was cheating if it weren’t so so bad. It’s like cheating on a math test with the answer key for a Cosmo quiz. Fifteen divided by four is C; wait at least a day to text back. Make him wait, and he’ll be moist, moist moist to hear from you!
In the intro, Jean Kent describes these tags as “The difference between a cold, factual report and an eager, pulsing, sensuous story, that whisks the reader out of this world into a rapturous dream of wondrous love.” Truly written like a woman who has just discovered adjectives. Then she must have wandered into a publisher’s office and convinced someone to pay her actual money to write what can only be described as a trembling, surging, moist pile of words.
This article was brought to you by our fine sponsor and Hot Dog Supreme, Rich Joslin: The moistest, dampest, just damn sexiest bogman in the Okefenokee swing scene.