Of course, there were romance novels long before Fifty Shades of Grey started flying off bookshelves and ended up as a Hollywood movie. The tawdry tales that litter drugstore aisles have been around seemingly forever, distinguished mainly by cover photos featuring hunky, bare-chested,musclebound men who are about to ravish innocent young maidens. But thanks to today's eagerness for explicit expression and an apparent abundance of horny housewives, it seems the once-respectable romance novel has transitioned into full-fledged soft porn and created a booming industry in the process.
"Since there was no Naughty Books 101 courses offered at Broward College, I had to learn the craft on my own."
So credit Skye Michaels, a 65-year-old Davie grandmother, for taking advantage of that trend while adding a healthy dose of local flavor. Having adopted that nom de plume to protect her real identity — and presumably prevent her bridge partners from furrowing their brows in disdain – Michaels has become one of today's more successful porno provocateurs. Her website, skyemichaelsbooks.com, leaves little to the imagination.
So far, she's managed to keep the grandkids from finding out how Grandma indulges her imagination. "I went to my daughter's house for dinner one night," Michaels recalls. "And my 13-year-old grandson met me at the door all excited. 'Grammy, is it true you wrote four books?' he asked. 'Why yes,' I answered modestly. 'Can I read them?' he wanted to know. 'No,' I said. 'They're for grown-up ladies.' 'Can I give one to Miss Mary at Catholic school?' he asked. 'Oh no!' I replied. Honestly, I didn't know what to say after that. But he kept asking me. Finally, I pulled out a chapter about cave-diving from one of the books I'd written, one that had no explicit material, and I let him read it. He seemed satisfied with that and never asked again."
That's a relief. Michaels' books are decidedly inappropriate for the younger set or, for that matter, anyone prone to blush at passages that describe in intimate detail the erotic encounters that can result when consenting adults shed their inhibitions... and their clothing. A mild excerpt from the book Penelope's Gift reads thusly: "She rubbed against him, desperate to get him inside of her. With her hands still bound to the chains above her head, she had no leverage. She was still at his mercy. She tried to read the intentions in his very blue eyes, but they were keeping his secrets." (It gets more explicit.)
So far, Michaels has published 30 ebooks under six continuing series. Her work has received a glowing four and half stars on bookstrand.com, where titles are reviewed and organized based on categories like BDSM, ménage à trois, and vampires/werewolves.
Her series that caters to a gay audience, Michaels notes, has accounted for her best-selling volumes thus far. Called "The Wilton Park Grand Hotel," it's clearly inspired by gay-friendly Broward city Wilton Manors. Sample plot line: "MacAlister 'Mac' Smith, a biomedical engineer working on the design of the latest mind-controlled robotic limbs, had admired [paraplegic] Master Steel at The Black Iris Club for months and thinks he would make a good candidate for Mac's clinical trial." Each story sells for about $5.
Her latest series, dubbed "The Black Dalia Club," takes place in South Florida. Still, it's likely not the locale but rather the hanky-panky that transpires between the main characters — in this case, two cops, two attorneys, and four women — that makes these plots so steamy.
"I was at my hair salon right after my first male-on-male book came out," Michaels remembers. "I was speaking with some of the people there, and the salon owner gave me a great compliment. He turned to a friend and said, 'She gets us. She really gets us!' But the best compliment I ever received was when my neighbor's niece came for a visit and read one of my books during her stay. When she went home, she told a friend about the books. The friend then proceeded to read 18 of my books in succession and told the niece to thank me for writing them. It had helped to revitalize her stale 20-year-old marriage. I don't think my feet touched the ground for days after that. Being able to touch someone's life in such a positive way was amazing."
Michaels, a divorced former paralegal at a Fort Lauderdale law firm, turned to writing after being laid off from her job. Tired of the daily commute she had endured for 18 years, she decided she would pursue other avenues. "My daughter bought me a Kindle for my birthday, and that was the start of this whole adventure," she explains. "I really had no idea what was out there when it came to these kind of books. Really, I didn't. But as a fan of those old 'bodice rippers' and Silhouette Romances from the '70s and '80s — those same ones with Fabio on the covers — I was amazed at what was available. Some of it was really out there! After I downloaded some of the hotter stories, I was hooked — I loved them! I decided that if I could do legal writing for all those years, then I could also write sexy stories. So I did. Since there was no Naughty Books 101 courses offered at Broward College, I had to learn the craft on my own."
After compiling a list of potential publishers, Mitchell took her work to Siren Publishing, a small press house based in Austin, Texas. It agreed to publish her work. Now she writes for Siren exclusively.
Michaels admits that she has visited adult clubs for inspiration, but nothing of the sort that encourages people to experiment with other partners. In fact, she says, she prefers to stay away from anything that hints at hardcore. "Most of these stories are the product of a good imagination," she insists. "Relationships are relationships. Sex is sex, and love is love. I'm not out to put erroneous information or dangerous information out there. My books lean towards the softer side of the genre."