Cheaters and Romance: What do you think?

My first published MM novella, “The Dream of a Thousand Nights,” has a forced cheating scenario in it.  The Jinn Tamir, under a powerful spell, is forced to submit to his former master, the Jinn Amir.  For someone who loves dubcon as much as I do, it just seemed a natural outgrowth of the story.  Under normal circumstances, Tamir would never have betrayed the one true love of his life, his beloved Prince Neriah.  In fact, Tamir begs Amir not to force him to betray Neriah.  And of course, there’s a sweet HEA at the end of the story (not a spoiler, since all my stories have HEAs).

So when I got some of the first reader reviews of “Dream,” I was totally surprised to see how strongly some readers reacted to what they considered cheating.  I was naive.  Which got me thinking about cheaters, and whether it’s ever acceptable to have a cheating scenario in a romance novel.  I don’t really think there is an answer. 

Readers are all different.  They come to a book with their different life experiences, perceptions, needs, and expectations.  For me, I think cheating is a very human thing to do.  Is it wrong?  Damn straight!  I’ve had my own experiences with cheaters and believe me, I was not very forgiving.  But do I think cheaters can redeem themselves?  Yes.  But only through personal growth.  Without growth, people don’t really change.  Without change, cheaters tend to repeat their cheating behavior.

In my upcoming release, “Aria” (Blue Notes Series Book #3, 12/3/12 release), one of the main characters, Aiden Lind, has his heart broken by a cheating boyfriend, Cameron.  That experience shapes Aiden’s view of relationships and wounds him deeply.  It influences his newly-minted relationship with the other main character, Sam Ryan.  Does Aiden get back together with his ex?  No.  But there is redemption to be found for Cam much later (and Cam will, eventually, get his own story and his own HEA).

My good friend and fellow Dreamspinner Press author, E.m. Lynley, has a lively discussion of cheaters on her blog this week.  She’s also got a few polls to see what people think about cheaters in romance, and what is and is not acceptable behavior in a romance.  The answers to the poll questions are fascinating.  I highly recommend stopping by and taking a look.  Some of the comments from writers and readers are also very interesting.

Have a thought about cheaters?  Want to win a copy of “The Dream of a Thousand Nights” and see for yourself how I approached the issue?  Leave a comment on my blog and you’ll be entered to win an ebook copy of the novella.  I look forward to hearing what you all have to say about it! -Shira

25 comments

  1. Christopher Hammel - Reply

    Sounds like a really good read to add to my ever expanding collection of MM Romance.

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks, Christopher. I’ve got you entered into the drawing! You should see the pile of MM rom on my Kindle… I just need to find time to read it all. XD -Shira

    • Sri - Reply

      This question might be trkicy for many. There is nothing wrong with dating multiple people, there is something wrong however with having to lie about it When you are ready to settle down or when you meet that right one you will know . you will just know. At some point hopefully you will feel something that makes you want one person in your life. +22Was this answer helpful?

      • Shira - Reply

        I think that makes sense, Sri. And finding the right person means you’re also ready to only have one person in your life (at least, for most of us, that is!). -Shira

  2. H.B. Pattskyn - Reply

    I commented on E.M.’s blog too… because I think it was after you and I started talking that it occurred to me that I might get a couple of knocks for something that happens in my new one… but it was a natural, integral part of the story (because sometimes good people do dumb things and as long as there are consequences, I think that’s okay in a book. And real life, because real life isn’t black and white). There are some cases where cheating in a book (and real life) would bother me, but I think there’s room for redemption at least most of the time (or am I just an optimist?)

    In cases like Dream, where the sex was coerced, I don’t think it can be called cheating…but that’s just me. Like you said, all readers are different, and what pushes one person’s buttons may not push mine and vice versa. (Did I ever tell you the story of how a friend and I saw the same movie but took it *entirely* differently than I did? Everybody looks at things through their own lens).

    • Shira - Reply

      It never occured to me to think of that scene in your book as “cheating.” The other MC basically told him to get lost, right? Even though we know he didn’t want what he said, I don’t see what happened with the other MC to be cheating. Then again, like you said, every reader’s perspective is different.

      Of course, I love seeing life and love through characterization, so seeing a cheater change and redeem himself is particularly satisfying to me. When people say, “once a cheater, always a cheater,” I think it’s true UNLESS there’s a real change/growth that happens. I have to say I’m looking forward to redeeming/changing the cheater in “Aria” now, and showing the readers why he is the way he is. But that is, literally, another story!

  3. Christopher Hammel - Reply

    Shira… I have close to 350 MM Romance Shorts, novellas, anthologies & novels on my Nook alone. This does not include the other titles I own. LOL! I feel your pain.

    • Shira - Reply

      Wow! That beats my pile by a factor of ten! You’ve got your work cut out for you, Christopher!

  4. Tali Spencer - Reply

    Cheating is such a hot button topic in romance. I write both m/m and m/f and with my m/f book the editor told me the hero could not even think about having sex with another character (in this case, it was just a hypothetical thought to begin with) because once he met the heroine he should not be able to see or think of anyone else. That’s the romance angle on it. And I’m thinking to myself, I love my husband madly–we’re soul mates–but it’s not cheating if I just think about having sex with Thor… or is it? I don’t know. I always thought cheating was when you actually did something, like express deep feelings, or allow a kiss, or have sex with Thor.

    Readers have all kinds of expectations. The cheating angle, though, is the wonkiest. There’s no safety zone except for no-cheating-ever. That’s safe. Anything else and someone will find it horrible, just horrible, that they could do that. Real life is far less black and white. Is it cheating if the characters think they broke up and someone offers comfort to someone vulnerable enough to take it? Yes and no. I can see relating to a story like that, but also why the no-cheating-ever reader would have problems.

    BTW, I own Dream of a Thousand Nights already. Just weighing in. 😀

    • Shira - Reply

      I personally believe “cheating” requires some action, or it’s just thoughts/fantasies/dreams. Do I fantasize about men other than my husband? Yep. Even more now that I write romance! Would I act on any of those thoughts? Nope. Never. What’s the old addage, “Read the menu, but eat at home?”

      BTW, one of my favorite “cheater” opera plots is Verdi’s “A Masked Ball.” The soprano is married, but desperately in love with the tenor. She desperately wants to be free of her love for the tenor, and seeks a “cure.” She and the tenor do NOT cheat, but the soprano’s husband believes they did, and he conspires to murder the tenor. It’s based on the true story of a Swedish king. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Masked_Ball Poingnant, and the music is amazing, of course! -Shira

    • H.B. Pattskyn - Reply

      Yeah, even my very conservative, very old fashioned grandmother even said that when you get married you don’t suddenly become blind. It’s what you *do* (or don’t do) about other people who catch your eye that matters. I like to think of characters as real people; it’s more powerful to me if an MC has some sort of vague attraction to someone else, or wrestles with an ex, and *chooses* the other MC than if they’re just simply blinded by love to everyone else in the world.

  5. Dianne T. - Reply

    Hmm, I believe the term “cheating” gets thrown around a lot and it actually makes me cringe . To me, it has a very definite meaning and what happened in “Dream” does not fit it. For example: Going out looking for and having repeated secret sexual encounters with someone(s) other than your committed SO is cheating in my definition. Getting drunk and having sex once with someone one time when you would never have done so sober indicates a serious problem, but not cheating in my def. I’m sure others disagree!! (Any Chrolli fans out there? LOL!)

    When I’m reading, if the non-SO sex truly enhances the plot (and sometimes the characters), rather than just being something thrown in to cause conflict, it’s fine by me.

    • Shira - Reply

      You make a great point, Dianne. Cheating requires a level of willfullness, doesn’t it? A conscious decision.

  6. Hayley B. James - Reply

    I learned the hard way that many readers have a zero tolerance about cheating. I’ve had a few complaints that Water Waltz was ruined by Varun and Triste cheating on each other. Since they weren’t in a relationship, I was (still am) shocked so many saw it as cheating. (not a spoiler–this is in the blurb lol)

    I didn’t learn my lesson though. Fire Tango (Book 2) has some questionable morals from the lead. And book 3’s main couple isn’t together at the start but one is getting some from someone else. I expect the cheating aspects to bring down the rating again but oh well.

    I personally allow cheating under certain circumstances. Like your example above. Perfectly acceptable imo. It’s the vindictive cheaters out to only please themselves and damn the consequences that irk me. I can’t think of an example off the top of my head though. *blinks*

    • Shira - Reply

      I guess I really am naive! I’d never in a million years have described what happens between Varun and Triste as cheating on each other, since they were no longer in a relationship. Of course, I wanted them to be, but still… But I’m shocked, too! *scratches head*

      I guess I tend to appreciate stories about real humans with real failings, so I’m willing to forgive if there’s a reason why people do stupid things. As a reader, I want to see them grow. Cheating is a human concept and, like it or not, it’s part of life. If it’s done well, I think it can be very effective. -Shira

  7. Dani elle Maas - Reply

    Would love to read this story
    as i adored blue notes and Totally absolutly fell in love with the melody thief
    and cannot wait for number 3 and 4 and more 🙂
    So would definitly want to read this and see what you have planned out in this story
    as it is allready on my wishlist 🙂
    good luck with writing 🙂 Danielle

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks, Dani Elle! I’m so glad you enjoyed the Blue Notes books! #3 comes out in just about 2 months – hard for me to imagine! And I’ve got you entered to win a copy of “Dream!” -Shira

  8. Urb - Reply

    First of all, books aren’t real life. Cheating can add a lot of tasty-angsty dramatic tension to a novel. Of course it’s tacky and dull in real life. But someone submitting to a spell can’t be considered cheating! One of my fave mm series has a SUPERCHEATER in it. The books are so well written that you feel empathy for him.

    Imaginary characters can cheat, especially if they’re well-written. It’s fiction and its fun! I never consider characters in books to be real people, even if they are convincing, nor do,I want them to be.

    • Shira - Reply

      I definitely agree, Urb! Real life isn’t as dramatic in any sense as fiction, especially in the cheating department. Thanks for commenting! -Shira

  9. Michelle (MiMi) - Reply

    I don’t think being forced by a spell can be called cheating. I don’t like to read books where continuous cheating goes on though because I find it lacks a certain respect that I find neccesary for a ‘romance’ book. The older I get the more open I am in real life to forgiveness on the cheating scale. When I was 25 it was ‘there is no excuse’. Now that I’m 45 I can see that things happen and situations might exist where its not as bad as I previously thought…I’m glad to see that the Blue Notes series is continuing. Michelle

    • Shira - Reply

      Thanks Michelle! And I’m with you on being forced, but it just goes to show how different readers’ perspectives are. XD -Shira

  10. Cornelia - Reply

    Since it’s a story it depends on the author how I feel about cheating and how the book has me emotionally involved with the characters.

    • Shira - Reply

      I agree, Cornelia! And honestly, I think that’s how it should be – you decide how you feel about it on a story by story basis. If someone won’t read a book because there’s a cheater in it, s/he may be missing something really good! I don’t generally rule a story out because it’s labeled as something. I’d prefer to read it myself and make my own decisions about it. XD

  11. DC Juris - Reply

    Personally I don’t mind it, unless it’s clear the author has just thrown it in for the sake of doing it. I read a story a year or so ago, where one character cheats (with a member of his lover’s family, no less) and then was like “oh, he won’t mind.” The scene really didn’t make any sense. So in that context, no – I don’t like it. But if it makes sense in the story, I’m all for seeing how the characters work it out. Personally I’ve done several stories with cheaters. The one that surprises me when readers get upset is “Who Better Than Canyon,” where the only “cheater” in the group is dead before the story opens. People still get put out that the story “features” a cheater. ::shakes head:: You win some, you lose some!

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