Meg Maguire (AKA Cara McKenna) On The Difference Between Writing Romance And Erotica

This month Meg Maguire impressed us with her Harlequin Blaze debut, Caught on Camera. The tale overflows with witty banter between the heroine and hero, who take a chance on their chemistry to turn a work relationship into something much more. Today Maguire, best known for the erotic romances she writes as Cara McKenna, gives us an inside look at her series romance and reveals the challenges of writing across genres. 

Thanks so much for having me today!

For those who haven’t heard of me—which is nearly everyone—I actively write contemporary romance, as well as erotica (under the name Cara McKenna). When I was invited to post, I was asked to talk about the differences I encounter, writing in my two genres. My romances are rather steamy and explicit, so on the surface the differences may not seem so great, aside from the obvious—the numbers of bodies rolling around and the particular bedroom shenanigans they get up to. But the differences run quite a bit deeper than that. The main genre rift for me is all about the external conflict, or lack thereof.

Let me say this first: there are some brilliant erotica authors out there who can write miles of perfectly integrated plot that you'd never once be tempted to skim. But I'm not one of them. I'm plot-challenged, and erotica allows me to create quirky stories about two (or more) rather flawed people fumbling about, messing up, and discovering themselves and each other through the tiny, intimate crucible of sexual exploration…which is something that comes fairly naturally to me, as a writer. Wonky love on a small-stage.

Romance, even the extra-steamy kind I write, is a whole different story, quite literally. It demands I work very hard at what doesn't simply fall out of my brain—the external conflict. Plot. The result, in my own humble, newbie opinion, is something more structured and conventional, and likely more palatable to a wider range of readers. It also demands I swear a lot less. Just ask my beleaguered Blaze editor. And my characters, while still woefully flawed, don't walk the line between "imperfect" and "despicable" quite so cloddishly as they might in my erotica.

But there are a few things I think I can promise readers, no matter which genre of mine they gravitate toward. A lot of emotion, and often uncomfortable emotion. Explicit sex. Prickly heroines. Heroes with accents. Humor. As much swearing as I can get away with. Oh and bar scenes. My characters are forever winding up in bars…they even manage it in my beloved isolation stories, set way out in the boonies or the wilderness. A cold beer is just about guaranteed.

Do I prefer writing one genre to the other? On an average day, no. Erotica feels more organic given my natural writing strengths, and offers a ton of creative freedom. Romance is more challenging for me, because of the length and the complexity of the narrative it demands, but I deeply value how much I learn as I work to get better at it.

Some days the last thing I want to do is write an intense sex scene, so romance calls to me, seducing me with its order and conventions. Other days I might be up to my neck in irresolvable romance conflict, and I wish I could be back in my erotica characters’ bedrooms, tangled up in emotions rather than plot issues. So in the end, the two genres take the edge off of one another. Writing one makes it easier to write the other and stay passionate about both, if that makes sense.

A very kind reader recently said in a review, "Cara McKenna is whiskey, Meg Maguire is wine." I think that sums me up tidily. As Cara I write frankly and honestly. Often downright blunt. As Meg I smooth the edges and give my characters a larger story in which to explore one another. Meg plays matchmaker, slowly nudging the lovers closer together. Cara stuffs her victims into an overheated room and forces them to take their clothes off. My erotica is uncensored, and my romance is refined. Those qualities may be near opposites, but to me they're both positives, and I love them equally. Whiskey or wine, I’m simply pleased for a chance to intoxicate somebody, somewhere.

- Meg Maguire

You can pick up Meg Maguire's first series romance Caught on Camera in stores now!