Do we owe a certain code of morality to our readers? Okay. I know what you're all thinking: "Bethany, you don't usually READ, let alone WRITE inspirational romances. But, that's not what I'm getting at here. The CBA has its own set of standards for what is and is not acceptable in a romance, what the characters can't do and say. However, for the mainstream market, there is no such code of conduct. Which, admittedly, is a wonderful thing, bursting with the promise guaranteed by the First Amendment and delivered with only the censure of the free market.
So, why then, do I, a card carrying ACLU member, have morality on the brain? I recently finished a book that had the pregnant heroine drinking. Not just once, but several times, after she had a positive test, and more than one glass at a sitting. I liked the book, I liked the characters, but this just rankled me. It underscored for me that perhaps the author is out of touch with her modern readers (this book has a 2006 copyright).
Another recent read seemed less novel and more vehicle for the author's anti-organ donation stance. I just couldn't make it past the first two chapters because it became apparent that her own bias was driving the book, not that of her characters.
A favorite of author of mine has a penchant for unprotected sex. No mention of condoms, no excuses, no slips, just no condoms. Period. I get the whole danger-appeal of slips and playing Russian roulette between characters with an ongoing relationship, but to omit even a mention of safe sex leaves an icky taste in my mouth. Pun intended.
I'm also having more and more of a problem with smoking heroes--and I don't mean the looks too hot to handle. Sure, there's an appeal in heroine's love being enough for him to quit cold turkey. But, I just have a hard time believing that he'll be successful, and love scenes with ashtray mouth just aren't appealing. (For a while, in the 80's certain category books loved to glamorize kissing an ashtray with flowery descriptions of the spicy scent and taste of cigarette breath--ick.). The hardest though is when his smoking isn't addressed or resolved--he's still got his addiction at the end of the book.
Many books feature heroes with drinking problems of various degrees--too much partying, too much drowning his sorrows, too much fast living. It's almost never the heroine with this issue, and many books walk a fine line between character development and alcoholism. When a book starts to glorify hero's excessive drinking as sexy, I tend to start skimming ahead.
Now, here's the kicker--I have no problem with historical heroes who drink, smoke, visit prostitutes, or have other nasty vices. I love a good unrepentant rogues gets his comeuppance story. But, somehow, I expect more from our modern heroes. I want him to know better. I want the heroine not to settle for a man who seems likely to slip back into bad habits.
I don't want the realities of modern life glossed over. Unsafe sex kills. Alcoholism is a serious illness. Depression isn't always cured by the love of a good (wo)man. Smoking shortens lives. Illegal behavior has consequences. I don't want a morality tale or a health class lesson, but I do want an acknowledgment of the risks of bad behavior.
Does this make me a prude? Considering that I regularly read very spicy stories, I don't think so. And I will march to defend your right to write smoking-alcoholic-prostitute loving-hitmen heroes. But, as a reader I find myself developing certain preferences and certain pet peeves.
Am I simply getting older? Gasp. Will I soon be clucking over "the things those kids today are writing!" Gasp.
What do you think? Do you have a problem with certain scenarios that go against your personal code of ethics? Do you have bad-behavior pet peeves? Do you feel obliged to acknowledge certain things like safe sex in your writing? Thoughts? Comments? Slaps upside the head?