Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Writers Must “Write What They Know”–or Do

By now, if you have been paying any attention whatsoever to the Internet, you will have learned that Ellora’s Cave author Judy Mays has been “outed” by local news outlet WNEP as a high school English teacher. Apparently, a few parents in the community are not happy to discover that she writes “those kind” of books and are bringing a complaint before the school board. It does appear, however, that the parents quoted in the article are not representative of the community as a whole–the comment thread on the original article is running almost entirely in Mrs. Mays’ favor and includes many supportive statements from her former students.

Among the more chilling complaints from the few parents who are quoted, however, is one mother’s fear that Mrs Mays’ might somehow be “modeling” her characters or situations on said mother’s teenaged son.

Okay, first of all, your son’s probably not that good-looking. (Yes, that’s petty, but I needed to cleanse myself of that thought.) But second of all, where in the world did you get the idea that:

a) The fact that someone writes romance (erotic or otherwise) for adults leads logically to the conclusion that he/she must have sexual fantasies about underage boys

b) The fact that someone DOESN’T write romance (erotic or otherwise) is any indication that they DON’T have sexual fantasies about underage boys

In other words, there’s simply no statistical correlation I’m aware of between writing erotic romance and being sexually attracted to children. I am equally sure that there is no statistical correlation between writing mystery novels and being a murderer or writing horror novels and being Freddie Krueger. Equally, the fact that one does NOT write romance or mystery or horror does not obviate the possibility that one is a pedophile or a murderer or a psychopath with a chainsaw.

And yet…and yet…this totally did not surprise me. To the contrary, I found it all too predictable. And that’s because I’ve experienced the phenomenon in my own life–not to this scary a degree, I grant you, but it’s there nonetheless. It’s one reason I have taken a pseudonym (the other being that my real surname is unpronounceable).

The phenomenon is this: many non-writers (and even some writers) believe that writers “write what they know.” This also means the corollary: that they write what they do. So if an author writes steamy sex scenes, especially those including elements such as BDSM, anal sex, or menage, it follows that–gasp!–the author must have personal experience with these activities. This is the level it has gotten to in my life. Some of my husband’s colleagues know I write romance and have read some of my books. There is, as a result, a lot of nudge, nudge, wink, wink about how lucky my husband is to have me. He is lucky, but not necessarily because I’ll do EVERYTHING I describe in my books–for starters, I’ve written m/m sex scenes and there’s not a lick of chance I’m going to be experiencing that first-hand in this lifetime.

Furthermore, people find it very easy to jump from the notion that a person must have a wild and inventive sex life to the idea that nothing would be sexually off-limits to such a person. Which of course leads them right down the path to “OMG, you might be a pedophile!”

What’s interesting about this, of course, is that these same people would almost never leap to the conclusion that the author of a murder mystery must have committed a murder in order to write about it, any more than they would posit that L. Frank Baum must have been carried off to Oz in a cyclone in order to write The Wizard of Oz. (Actually, that sounds like a really interesting book. Hmmmm.)

I think what’s happened here is utterly predictable because Americans are, quite frankly, so fucked up when it comes to sex and sexuality (not to mention that icky byproduct, love), they can’t separate fact from fantasy as they can in other areas of life. And that’s just sad. Because if there’s one area in which I believe every adult deserves a rich fantasy life and won’t harm anyone if they do, it’s sex and love.


  • Leigh D'Ansey April 27, 2011 at 7:41 pm

    Some fascinating points here. So true about the murder/mystery authors v romance authors.

  • Amy April 27, 2011 at 8:12 pm

    Well, clearly, all (erotic) romance writers are dirty hussies. Clearly, all other (genre) writers are blessed with admirable imagination and talent.

    There’s a good reason I write under a pen name. What happened to Ms. Mays doesn’t surprise me. But it makes me mad.

  • B.E. Sanderson April 28, 2011 at 7:48 am

    I just heard about this today and I feel bad for that poor woman. You’re so right that we are not what we write about. Of course, I’ve also run into people who assume Stephen King must be some kind of sick freak to write what he does. I just shake my head at those people and step away from them. It’s fiction, people, get over it.


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