How hot is too hot? August theme (Tracy Barrett)
Most of my books straddle the borderline between middle grade and young adult, so I face a problem when romance comes into the story: I don’t want it to be too steamy for middle-graders, but I know that in some cases young adults won't believe that my characters stopped at hand-holding. How to handle this without alienating some of my audience?
My usual solution is to let my readers fill in the blanks at their level of understanding. For example, when Telemachos finally realizes that he’s in love with Polydora in King of Ithaka, I end one chapter:
Tears rose to my eyes, hot and stinging, and before I knew it I was sobbing, my face pressed into the warm crook where Poly’s neck met her shoulder. Finally, my tears slowed and I lifted my head. She turned to me and her solemn dark eyes flecked with gold fixed on mine.
When I kissed her, I tasted the cool salt of the mermaid, and felt the heat of the fire girl and the rough prickling of the sandstorm girl. I smelled the forests and ponds of the wood nymph and the water nymph, and something else, something so human, so Polydora, that I forgot that I was cold and bruised and frightened, that Brax had disappeared, that we were lost, and that I had not fulfilled Daisy’s prophecy.
. . . and I start the next (after a few sentences situating the characters):
As I approached the place where we had spent the night, my face flamed. How would I greet Poly when I saw her?
As if in answer to my thought, she appeared, teetering on rocks as she made her way back from where she must have been bathing. I rose to meet her and extended a hand, but she ignored me and hopped down, landing lightly. She seemed to be avoiding my eyes. I didn’t feel like meeting hers either. The only other time I had felt this uncomfortable was when I had appeared naked in front of my mother’s suitors back home in Ithaka.
When I drew the curtain, younger readers could assume that the characters made out on the beach and then went to sleep. Older readers will likely assume a more passionate encounter.