Some Like It Hotter: Savanna Fox on Writing Contemporary versus Erotic Romance

Posted by January 22nd, 2014

BoundDirty_comps.inddToday we’re pleased to welcome Berkley Heat author Savanna Fox to Book Country. As someone who writes both contemporary and erotic romance, she knows how to turn up the heat and write steamy love scenes. She’s currently giving away copies of her most recent erotic romance, BOUND TO BE DIRTY, so head out to her site for a chance to snag a copy!

Savanna’s here to talk about the differences in her approach to writing in the two romance subgenres. 

Take it away, Savanna!


If you read romance fiction, I bet you’ve noticed that it’s getting hotter. That trend started even before Fifty Shades of Grey made BDSM erotic romance standard reading fare on subways and in airport waiting rooms.

I’ve been writing “hot” ever since 2005, though not with the level of kink found in many erotic romances. For me, it’s all about one man, one woman, and, to be honest, nothing I wouldn’t want to try myself!

The level of heat in my books varies. As Susan Fox, I write sexy contemporaries for Kensington Zebra. My Caribou Crossing series is set in a small Western town made for adventure, love, and second chances. As Savanna Fox, I write erotic romance for Berkley Heat. My Dirty Girls Book Club series, set in Vancouver, British Columbia, is about four women whose book club decides to spice things up by reading erotica. Each time they do, a member embarks on a sexy romance that in some ways parallels the story they’re reading.

For me, it’s natural to not close the bedroom door in the reader’s face. What happens during sex—and what the characters think and feel—is as important, and often more important, than what happens when they’re together outside the bedroom.

So, what’s the difference between the sex and romance in a “sexy contemporary” Caribou Crossing and in an “erotic” Dirty Girls Book Club novel?

First, it’s important to understand that sex comes out of character and story. I never just throw it in there for the sake of having another sex scene. But readers of erotic romance expect a certain amount of sex, and a certain level of explicitness and detail. They won’t feel satisfied if the heroine and hero don’t heat up the sheets—or the boardroom table (THE DIRTY GIRLS BOOK CLUB) or the hood of a truck (DARE TO BE DIRTY)—until two-thirds of the way through the book. Readers of sexy contemporary romance don’t mind if the first sex scene doesn’t occur for a while, as long as there’s sexual tension and flirtation along the way.

An erotic romance needs a premise that will get my couple together sexually quite early on. For marketing exec Georgia and hockey star Woody in THE DIRTY GIRLS BOOK CLUB, it was immediate and powerful “attraction of opposites” chemistry in the business meeting where they met (where Woody, the new figurehead for a marketing campaign, was pissed off at having to model thong underwear!). For artist city-girl Kim and rodeo star Ty in DARE TO BE DIRTY, it was a similar kind of attraction, fueled by the raw physicality of the rodeo and some sexy dancing at a Western bar.

February’s BOUND TO BE DIRTY has quite a different premise. Family practice doctor Lily and bush helicopter pilot Dax have been married to each other for ten years and are on the verge of breaking up. Then Dax finds a BDSM book on his wife’s e-reader, and it prompts him to initiate some kinky sex play in hopes that he and Lily will recover the passion and intimacy they’ve lost. (In case you’re wondering, their experimentation in bed raises issues of trust, communication, and sharing, leading both of them to examine some tough issues—and to rediscover their love and commitment, as well as to find some creative solutions to their marital problems. They earn their happy ending!)

In my erotic romances, sex is one of the first interactions that happens in the book. It’s a catalyst for each partner to examine fears, desires, and feelings for the other person as sex evolves into romance and love.

I could follow the same kind of story line in a sexy contemporary romance, but I don’t have to because there’s no pressing need for my heroine and hero to have sex early on. They can get to know each other first, maybe develop strong feelings for each other, before they have sex. So one difference between sexy contemporary and erotic romance is the story premise.

Another is the number of sex scenes and their length. There’s no formula, and of course the sex scenes have to flow out of what the characters are feeling and doing. I don’t plot out the story and sex scenes ahead of time. However, as I write an erotic romance, it’s always in the back of my mind that this is a sexually charged relationship and that to some extent, for this couple, the development of intimate romantic feelings is connected to physical intimacy. The physical act of sex breaks down defenses and emotional barriers, and eventually turns to love-making.

In an erotic romance, readers enjoy the sensual detail of sex scenes, whether the sex is slow and achingly tender or fast and driving. They like variety as well: different venues, different positions, different moods, a certain degree of kink. They want explicitness in actions and language as well as knowing what the characters are experiencing, thinking, and feeling.

That’s not to say that readers of sexy contemporaries don’t enjoy many of the same things—just not quite as much.

Fortunately for readers and authors, in romance fiction there’s a continuum in terms of level of sensuality, with something that’s sure to please each reader. At one end are the very “sweet” romances where the couple may not even kiss, and there’s no sex before marriage. At the other end—further than my novels go—are books for the adventuresome who enjoy reading about BDSM, ménage, sex with shapeshifters, and so on.

What are your preferences on that “sweet to extremely sexy” continuum? How do you feel about that open or closed bedroom door?


About Savanna Fox: 

savanna_foxAward-winning author Savanna Fox, who also writes as Susan Fox and Susan Lyons, writes “emotionally compelling, sexy contemporary romance” (Publishers Weekly). She is published by Berkley and Kensington, and also self-publishes her work. Her writing has been excerpted as a Cosmopolitan “Red-Hot Read.” Susan is a Pacific Northwester with homes in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia. She has degrees in law and psychology, and has had a variety of careers, including perennial student, computer consultant, and legal editor. Fiction writer is by far her favorite, giving her an outlet to demonstrate her belief in the power of love, friendship, and a sense of humor.





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16 thoughts on “Some Like It Hotter: Savanna Fox on Writing Contemporary versus Erotic Romance

  1. Jacquie Biggar

    Great interview Susan. You clarified, for those of us that didn’t know, that just because it says Erotic on the cover it doesn’t mean that there is nothing but kinky sex between the pages. The story is still key, the characters growth is still integral.
    For myself as a reader I prefer something about mid-range on the scale. I don’t mind reading about sex but don’t want it to take up half the book. I like a more rounded out storyline.
    As a writer I follow those same guidelines, but in the future . . . who knows 🙂

    1. Savanna Fox

      Hi Jacquie and thanks for dropping by. Yes, I’m with you. Although sex scenes can include all sorts of great stuff – not just the physical acts, but conversation and emotions, the development of intimacy – I like books that have something more. In order to believe they’re truly in love (not just lust) and will have a happy life together, I need to see them out of bed too, doing a variety of things together. Those other actions – the things they have in common such as maybe liking to cook together, the things they differ on such as perhaps he wants to save to buy a house and she wants a fancy wardrobe instead – tell so much about them. What will their lives together look like? How will they resolve differences? Are their basic values compatible? Those things are definitely as important – probably more important – than whether they have great sex! At least if the book is a romance.

  2. Jo-Ann Carson

    Great post. I wondered about the different heat levels and how you went about writing sex scenes for each. So informative.
    IMHO When sex scenes are written well, like in your books, the “event” is seamless. It’s part of the story and enhances my understanding of character making the fictional world more real and intimate.
    But when it’s done poorly, quite frankly I blush. I feel like I’m reading pornography or a how-to manual.
    I think writing good sex is an art. One, which you have mastered.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Savanna Fox

      Jo-Ann, that’s so kind of you. I really appreciate the compliment. Yes, I think writing great sex – like having great sex! – is an art. I really work on the love scenes, trying to get deep inside my heroine’s and hero’s hearts and minds, so I’m glad that work is paying off.

  3. Susan Pieters

    You’ve nailed an important part of why I like to read what happens in the bedroom: It’s about the relationship! Maybe this explains why my husband doesn’t “get” sex scenes, he’s not clewed in to the dynamics of the relationship when he’s reading it, but I sure am. Fortunately, Susan, your male characters are emotionally developed and what happens during sex is important for both the male and female characters.

    1. Savanna Fox

      Thank you, Susan! Yes, I only write about the kind of men I’d like to know myself. They have to be smart, thoughtful, and totally respectful of women. LOL re your hubby. I’m guessing he’s reading sex scenes for something different than you are.

  4. Natasha Powers

    I absolutely LOVE your Susan Lyons books! You are such a good writer that, as Jo-Ann Carson noted, the sex scenes are seamless and part of the story. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of reading about two people having sex mostly because I want them to get on with the business of overcoming their obstacles and falling in love! I’m often guilty of skipping the sex scenes only because many seem to be “insert tab A into slot B.” If I were ever to delve into erotica I’d be sure to read your Savannah Fox books first because I know you’d present the sex scenes well. You never know – I might get hooked!

    1. Savanna Fox

      Aw, thanks Natasha. Yes, if a sex scene isn’t doing anything to further the relationship – like create obstacles, provide motivation to overcome them (e.g., show them falling in love), show them discussing their obstacles, or something like that – then what’s the point of having them? It’s not porn, it’s romance! Every scene should have a purpose, and that purpose should relate to the heroine’s and/or hero’s journey toward becoming a stronger, better person and finding and earning love.

  5. Pat Amsden

    Hi Susan

    You do such a good job of explaining the differences between sexy contemporary and erotica. I think you’re right in saying it’s the man woman relationship that’s important and the sex grows out of that. As another of the comments mentioned when it’s more insert part A into part B etc. I really don’t want to read it. But the sexual part of a relationship can definitely bring out huge issues. I think I might need to pick up one of your Dirty Girls Book Club series. For research of course!

  6. Dee Lancaster

    Natasha and anyone else wondering, Savannah Fox books are filled with great characters, engaging love stories and sex scenes that move the story along. Menage & BDSM don’t interest me as a reader (I have pre-ordered Bound to be Dirty because I I’m hooked on your Dirty Girls books and I know you’ll handle it with class) but pretty much any level of heat up until that works for me. In great stories, like yours, the intimacy in the bedroom adds to the character. I mean, isn’t sex an important part of a loving relationship? A couple needs to connect on so many levels, leaving that part out can leave a hole in the story. Great post, thank you for sharing.

    1. Savanna Fox

      Dee, thank you so much for those kind words! And thanks for ordering “Bound to Be Dirty.” I hope you enjoy it. It was a challenge for me because, like you, I’m not a big fan of reading BDSM. And yet I knew that so many women – totally “mainstream” women – are hooked on books like “Fifty Shades of Grey.” So I wanted to explore the appeal, and see how the various members of my Dirty Girls Book Club reacted to it. Since you’ve read the other books, you know that I include excerpts from the book the club is reading. Which meant – I had to write BDSM excerpts from “Bound by Desire,” their latest selection. Wow, that was interesting! I had to do my research (reading novels, of course!) and I also had an author friend who’s much more familiar with the BDSM lifestyle give me input on what I wrote. And my editor was very helpful as well.

  7. Jodie Esch

    Hi Susan,

    I read the entire range of choices available from sweet to ultra sexy. I think you are masterful to write in both areas. I believe readers enjoy having the choice. And certainly authors have been successful on both ends of the continuum. What I want is fabulous writing with a character whose struggle appeals to me. Then I can follow them on their journey. Congratulations on your writing accomplishments.

  8. M A Clarke Scott

    This is a great interview Susan. Your explanation makes it all so perfectly clear, and of course the most important point is that it’s all a matter of personal taste, and comfort. It sure helps to understand, though, what to expect from specific publishing industry labels.

    Personally, I like a LOT of sexual tension, but I prefer to wait until those pesky relationship issues build up a head of steam before the sex scenes start. I guess it’s because those complex and convoluted psychological, social and life issues are what interest me the most. Too early and too frequent sex interferes with the story for me and distracts. I guess I believe that *most* people tend not to jump into bed with strangers. But then that may be a reflection of my more mature stage of life. I also prefer not to read explicit, gritty, biological stuff. I don’t mind a few tastefully named body parts, and a hint of moisture, but anything too graphic and gritty again distracts me from the story. Of course each story demands its own level of heat, notwithstanding. It always comes down to character, right?

    I have read your work at both ends of the spectrum and I have to say you always handle it well. Your sex scenes are always plausible, story relevant, and hot! I can’t complain about them (I have a pulse!). It all comes down to personal reading preferences. Thanks for your input and congratulations on your publishing successes!

    1. Savanna Fox

      Thanks, M A. Yes, the key really is in knowing your characters. They definitely do things we wouldn’t necessarily do ourselves, and that’s part of the fun of writing. Exploring different personalities, issues, and so on. Doing our best to stand in someone else’s shoes, to understand them, and to make them believable. Whether it’s in bed, or out.

  9. Savanna Fox

    Thank you, Jodie! Yes, I look for books with characters whose struggle appeals to me. I like seeing character growth as the heroine and hero deal with their own fears and weaknesses, or maybe things like mental illness or interracial relationships. As for the sweet end of the spectrum, thanks for mentioning that. I’ve written a number of “sweet” short stories for magazines such as Woman’s World. This year, I’m starting to self-publish them, 2 or 3 at a time, in volumes I’m calling “Sweet Indulgences.” These are under my Susan Fox pen name, and the first one is now available on Kindle.


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