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Let Me Call You Sweet-Hot!

Cinnamon rolls with gooey melted frosting. Chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven. A hot fudge sundae with rich, hot fudge sauce dripping into swirls of melted ice cream. All these things can be hot and sweet at the same time.

So why are "sweet" and "hot" opposites when it comes to romance?

When the term "sweet" is applied to a romance novel, it means the book has heart and emotion. But it can also be a code word for "no explicit sex."

I've had this label applied to my books, and one one level it makes sense. I admit that my worldview is a little on the sweet side. I believe people are basically good, that neighbors care about each other, and that love is a risk worth taking. So it's understandable that reviewers call my Western romances "sweet."

But my cowboys and cowgirls resent the label. They might be nice people with big hearts, but they know how to burn up a bedroom. And I don't believe in shutting the door and cheating the reader out of that experience - so I worry that someone looking for "sweet" books without sex will end up fanning themselves and squirming in their seat, getting a little more cowboy than they expected.

It's the terminology that's the problem. Because who says hot, steamy sex can't be sweet?

There's a lot of erotica out there these days with wild sex scenes between strangers, threesomes, and other non-traditional couples. I think we've all had fantasies about diving into bed with a handsome stranger, and any kind of forbidden element in a sex scene adds to the titillation.

But I'd argue that to be truly hot, a sex scene has to have a core of sweetness at its heart. There might not be declarations of undying love, but I want at least a moment of intimate recognition, a joining of something more than body parts, and a connection on an emotional or even a spiritual level. That connection might be brief, but for me, it's an essential element in even the most casual sex scene.

In life and in novels, sex at its best is an expression of love. And that means "sweetness" can be very, very hot!

What makes a story "sweet" to you? And more importantly, which one of these yummy "sweet-hots" would you like to have for breakfast?


  1. Ah, a fine mouth-watering start to my morning! Using the term "sweet" for adult fiction is a bit hard for me to wrap my mind around. Tender, poignant, touching--those terms feel more appropriate and I don't think they convey "no explicit sex."

    Honestly, the "rating" system used for romance is confusing all around. I've been in workshops where writers have asked editors to define "sexy" and there doesn't seem to be a clear answer. LOL I would suggest using the rating system for movies, but I've seen a few PG-13 movies that I definitely not for 13 year olds!

    I'll take the cinnamon bun and latte!

  2. Good morning everyone! Although the tag at the top says Carolyn Brown, I am Joanne Kennedy today. She has been banned from the computer for the next couple of weeks due to neck surgery and has asked me to fill in for her today. I always wanted to be tall, thin and have a killer smile and today my wishes are granted. Of course if I partake of all that sweetness that she's offering I'm sure the tall and thin will go right out the window and the killer smile will look pretty yukky with cinnamon on the teeth.
    Tracey: I agree. I'd like to see a uniform rating system for books so our readers would know before hand what they are getting. I like the terms tender, touching, etc.

  3. I am drooling, Joanne--I mean Carolyn! Those pictures looked so real I wanted to reach out and grab a bun!

    My books have been called sweet, too, even though I think I have very hot love scenes. It's all in the eyes of the beholder and how the book speaks to the reader.


  4. I crave the sweet moments in my romances, when the big old, overfunctioning alpha male kisses his lady on the nose, or she unbends enough to find his ticklish spots. This makes all the serious, tense, intense material that much richer, and it surely does create empathy for me with the characters.

    Great post, ladies!

  5. Amelia, I think it has something to do with the book the reader read just before. If it was heavy erotica, then our cowboys tend to look a big mild. If it was an inspirational, maybe they are hot as hell. Go ahead and grab a bun...I promise virtual cinnamon rolls won't put a single pound on you!

  6. Grace, Joanne actually wrote the post, even though I'd love to take credit for all that cooking and writing, and asked me to stand in for her today. And yes, ma'am, those sweet moments do add something very real so that the hot and spicy scenes are even more touching.

  7. I'm just stopping by for a quick (forbidden) visit to thank Carolyn for fielding comments for me! They tell me typing could work a screw loose in my new bionic neck, and I already have enough loose screws to last a lifetime. But thanks to everyone for the comments. Grace, your "kiss on the nose" episode just defines sweetness!
    Back to my cinnamon bun...

  8. All those goodies have me drooling.
    Many things make a story sweet for me, but one of them is how the characters are together, their bantering and actions around each other. Also the sweetest stories are about characters who have a lot to overcome and with each other they are able overcome and heal. Touching stories get me everytime. Story lines about second chances and reunions are particularly poignant for me. A cute baby and pet in the picture makes it extra sweet.

  9. Okay, so now I'm hungry! I guess I think of sweet as closing the door at the bedroom and letting the reader into the bedroom is hot. But how hot depends on just how much the author describes.

  10. Na...thanks for stopping by! I agree about touching stories. If an author can touch emotions then her readers will come back for more.

  11. Shana...that's always been my guideline. Shut the door: sweet. Let the reader in: hot. I think that letting them crawl up in bed and watch might be erotic, right?

  12. I have never before wanted to lick my computer screen. Yumm! I totally agree with yout thoughts on "sweet". Your stories have just the right amount of sweet-hot for me!

  13. Amanda, I was on my way to see if I could get just a taste of cinnamon or chocolate when that niggling little voice in my head said, "go ahead and you'll never get that slurp off your screen and you might even get shocked." Joanne is a pretty darn good cook, isn't she?

  14. Seriously. I just got fatter reading that! Talk about drool-worthy. In terms of romance, I think the sweet helps crank up the sexy. The rating system seems very subjective. What one person thinks is very spicy another may deem vanilla. Fun post :)

  15. Oh my, I am sooo hungry! Lovely post, Joanne. Thanks!

  16. It's difficult to rate books because each one is unique, and each reader is subjective...which makes our business such a wonder. Best wishes for a speedy recovery, Carolyn.


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