Heat? Or Chemistry?

As my first blog post, I should be telling you all about me, about how glamourous the romance writer's life is, how I've got a rainbow of feather boas in my wardrobe, how I live in a house that is only slightly more elegant than the decor pictured on the back of Barbara Cartland's novels ...

Snort. Yeah. I knew you wouldn't fall for that.

I've been at this writing business since I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and I first got The Call in 2006. So, no, no private yachts. No feather boas. But I've had a jam-up good time writing for Harlequin, and I'm super excited to find a home in the Heartwarming line. And why, may you ask?

Honestly? Mostly because I am not called upon to write sex scenes.

Some women, it is said, love to write sex scenes. Steamy sex scenes. Shower sex scenes. Sex scenes that take place in telephone booths (not so much of that anymore) or on airplanes or in cars. And that is all well and good. I'm glad these women are able to write a Very Explicit Sex Scene so that those who want to read a Very Explicit Sex Scene can do so.

I am definitely NOT one of those women who can write like that. I would rather walk down Main Street of my hometown (which is mighty small and most everybody knows me) STARK NEKKID than to write and have published a Very Explicit Sex Scene and know that people are reading it. Or might, possibly, one day in the next hundred years, contemplate reading it.

On Twitter, I get teased about this -- good-naturedly, because my Tweeps all know and love me for the Goody Two Shoes that I am. Still, they ask variations of this, "What's the point of reading a romance where it's all just embers and no blazing fire-hot heat?"

I could argue that every reader doesn't share the same taste (which is true enough), and Harlequin Heartwarming fills a valid, important niche in the romance canon.

But I'd rather explain the REAL answer. It's not those Very Explicit Sex Scenes that keep romance readers flipping those pages. It's not the heat.


We've all read books (well, most of us) where the main characters, um, well, you know, by page 3 and on every odd page thereafter, but it just seems like some sort of weird athletics for all the lack of real chemistry between the hero and heroine.

And then we watch a movie like SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, where Sam and Annie are apart for nine-tenths of the movie, and we swoon. Or YOU'VE GOT MAIL, and we swoon. Or ... whatever movie Tom Hanks is in. (Can you tell I'm a Tom Hanks fan?)

I don't know about you, but it's the chemistry, the zing, between the characters that does it for me.

It's like salsa. Take your brother-in-law's I-DARE-YA-TA-EAT-IT Habanero-laced Salsa. Sometimes, just to see your reaction, he even throws a Scotch Bonnet into the food processor, am I right?

Salsa like that, salsa that's hot for heat's sake is just ... hot. But salsa that's seasoned just right, with fresh cilantro and garlic and onion and zippy jalepenos, well, it's SPICY. It's got some CHEMISTRY going on, not a blow torch.

I know this well. I have a friend and critique partner, Tawna Fenske. We've been reading each other's words for ten years at least.

We are complete opposites in many ways. She would travel to Timbuktu tomorrow if she could do it on frequent flyer miles or a free upgrade with no hotel reservations whatsoever. I would feel more comfy with a minute-by-minute iteneray, with back-up plans in case I can't stand the hotel I've relentlessly researched on-line. She writes spicy romances that I could NEVER write. And me? I write wholesome romances that the ladies of my church can enjoy.

But BOTH of us are big on CHEMISTRY. If it ain't got that zing, it ain't got a thing. And her characters' relationships work because they sizzle with chemistry. Mine? I hope they sizzle with chemistry (but with more clothes on, thank you very much, LOL).

So whether books have a lot of "heat" or not, the real thing I believe that keeps readers flipping those pages and staying up way after midnight is CHEMISTRY. And Harlequin Heartwarming novels (hopefully including my Nov. 2013 SECRET SANTA) have boatloads of chemistry, just the right amount of zip and spice and warmth and tenderness and affection.

(And for those of you who want to help me defend my Goody-Two-Shoe Status on Twitter, follow me! You can find me @cynthiarreese )


  1. Terrific post, Cynthia! I agree that chemistry is everything. A powerful connection, the sense that this couple not only would be perfect together, but needs each other, is what makes a romance unforgettable. Jane Austin's romances have stood the test of time, and are beloved around the world, for these reasons. When the characters finally kiss at the end, it brings tears to my eyes because I've gotten the chance to emotionally invest in this couple. I agree that Meg Ryan/Tom Hanks fit that bill like You've Got Mail and Sleepless in Seattle- they definitely make me swoon :)

  2. Oh, you made me laugh. Of course, I'm not walking Stark NAKKID anywhere. I don't want to frighten people. I agree. Chemistry is everything. Remember the show WINGS... I loved it, until Helen and Joe got married.

  3. I agree with your post 100%! Chemistry make the story so compelling. And thankfully there are books out there for all comfort levels, for both the reader and the writer.

  4. Great post Cynthia!

    I'm terrible at sex scenes as well, and I always try to 'close door' them, so my agent suggested taking them out altogether. I'm okay with knowing characters are having sex, I just don't want to see it-not that I'm a prude lol,I just don't want to see the characters I've grown to respect and love have sex. Just personal preference-I know a lot of erotic romance writers who create very nice sex scenes, but for me as a reader-I lose a little bit of a connection with them. It feels like I'm no longer on the journey with them-maybe I get a little jealous when the heroine gets the guy lol:) Whatever, it is-I prefer sweet romance and that's why I prefer to write it:)


    1. Hi, Cynthia! Welcome to this wonderful community of women. I love really good love scenes - reading them and writing them - but you're absolutely right about chemistry. If it isn't there, it doesn't matter how graphically the writer describes what they're doing, it isn't going to tell the reader they're in love. I'm not going NEKKID anywhere, either. It's bad enough when I'm clothed, and people run the other way!
      Excellent post!

  5. Great post, and I agree with every nicely clothed word of it!

  6. Cynthia, I'm so glad you found your niche. Love the post. I have a lot of writer friends who do love scenes with a smoothness I envy. And some write really hot, hot, hotter than hot scenes that their readers love. When I read their books because I want to support them as writers, I tend to page past those places. I have written books that have love scenes and I agonize over every word. To me some stories progress to the couple having sex, and other characters aren't comfortable taking that step. I love that Harlequin offers stories across the heat spectrum. Last week I got a letter from a new reader who has just discovered Heartwarming and she read one of my reprints in the line and is so happy to see stories that aren't sexy (her term) Looking forward to reading everyone here. Chemistry is the core as you've all said.

  7. Great post - couldn't agree more! It's the potential of what will/might/could come next that intrigues me.

    It reminds me of a tiny scene in the British miniseries "North & South." The two leads aren't getting along, don't like each other, etc, and there's this one scene where he's at her father's house, so she offers him tea, as she would any guest. As she tips the teapot over, her finger barely grazes his, and he looks up into her face. She turns away. The chemistry just leaps off the screen, and not one article of clothing had to be removed!

    That's the stuff that interests me, way more than 50 Shades of Anything.

  8. Welcome, Cynthia!

    I totally agree about the whole chemistry thing (and the Tom Hanks movie comment, LOVE HIM). I can watch movies that have sex scenes and feel nothing, but then I watch a scene where the hero and heroine are in a room full of people and can only look at (and not touch) each other, and I swoon because of the chemistry between the characters. Or (to borrow from "Sleepless in Seattle"), they're standing across the street from each other and can only stare at each other and say "hi", and you feel the temperature in the room rise.

    Great post!


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