Showing posts with label Deborah Coonts. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Deborah Coonts. Show all posts

10 June 2015

Heavy Breathing

Warning: NSFW

About a third of the way into writing VIPER, my Cold War novella - which is about the antiwar movement in Berlin in the 1970's, a KGB deception, and a love affair, among other things - I realized I had to do a SEX SCENE. I'd boxed myself in, there was no way around it. It couldn't happen off-stage, you had to see these people doing the horizontal mambo. Otherwise, the story wouldn't make any sense.

Now, let's face it, this can be a deeply embarrassing prospect. How many writers do you know who've done it convincingly? With the possible exception of D.H. Lawrence, my own feeling is that women are better at erotic material than men. Harold Robbins? Gimme a break. Or maybe Norman Mailer, THE TIME OF HER TIME? You might as well just call a plumber, since it's all about leaky pipes.

Twist Phelan has what amounts almost to a comedy routine, talking about writing sex. She says, you avoid at all costs an overwrought euphemism, 'the scepter of love,' for instance. On the other hand, you should steer clear of clinical description - you don't actually have to use the word 'cock.' If you manhandle, so to speak, a turn of phrase like, 'she took me in her lips,' the astute reader can probably imagine she's not hanging onto a subway strap. Less, at least in this situation, is probably more.

I like the way Deb Coonts deals this particular card, and she deals it from the bottom of the deck. Near the end of LUCKY CATCH, there's a really hot scene. First of all, she sneaks it up on you. You're not ready for it at all. You're going, like whoa! Secondly, she doesn't cheat your expectations. She goes all the way. And last but not least, she defuses it afterwards with a laugh line. Who'd expect you could make sex funny? Then again, why is it always taken so seriously, or in books, anyway? C'mon. We're supposed to be enjoying it.

Craig Johnson tells a story. Somewhere around the third Longmire book, he puts two major characters in bed together. Of course, this has consequences, but the point is that Craig gets them in and out of the sack in maybe three sentences. ("Which shows you how much of a pussy I am," he says.) Down the road, he's at a reading, and he's taking questions, and a woman raises her hand, and says, we need to talk about that sex scene. Craig says okay. She says, it went on forever

Craig gives this a long beat, and then he asks her, well, how many times did you read it?

Which brings us back to VIPER. The novella is 17K words. The sex scene takes up two pages, so I lapped Craig. Then again, those two pages took me something like three or four days to write. I was sweating bullets. It was as though I'd set myself a hurdle. Writers do this, of course. You sometimes trick yourself, and set something up, and then you have to do it. (For example, the dive sequence in "Cover of Darkness." That's basically the whole story, and because you're underwater, there's no dialogue. It's all physical action, it's nothing but description. Try it some time - you'd be surprised how hard it is.) Anyway, by the time I got done, I was completely exhausted. I'd been having sex for four days. But the end result works. It's not a complete embarrassment. How many times did I read it aloud to myself? It seemed to go on forever

Here's the thing, though. The real point of the scene is that these two people are invested in each other. If it doesn't have emotional resonance, it's just plumbing. And that was the tricky part. The grappling, the earthiness, showing skin, all of that is to no purpose, if you're just waving it around in a warm room. The money shot was making their physical hunger count for something. Martina tells herself afterward, I surrendered, this was rescue. And if I haven't convinced you of that, it's a dry hump.

What it comes down to is purpose. Why do you need it in the story? Anybody in their right mind would turn and run. Unless you're into whips and chains. Let's be honest. Doing it is terrific. It's consuming, It lights you on fire. But trying to convey that sensation is like pushing water uphill with a rake. In this case, it was utterly necessary. Do you have to ask, would I do it again? Bring on the whips and chains. I'm putty in your hands.

27 March 2013

Left Coast Crime 2013

Left Coast Crime is an annual conference that gathers together writers, fans, agents, and editors, and runs for three-and-a-half days, with interviews and panels, and awards among other prizes the Rocky, for best mystery by a writer in the West---or west of the Mississippi. This year it was held in Colorado Springs.
LCC logo

I drove up from Santa Fe, not on the interstate but on Route 285, a road a friend of mine told me is called The Shotgun, because it runs straight as a bullet from Espanola up to Alamosa, just across the Colorado border, where you bump smack into the Rockies. It was a great ride, through wide-open ranch country, grazing beeves and horses, and lots of wildlife, pronghorn, mule deer, wild turkeys, and I even spotted a small herd of elk.

I got there Wednesday afternoon, and met up with Deborah Coonts, author of the Lucky O'Toole novels, and Chuck Greaves, nominated for a Rocky for his book HUSH MONEY. Deb took us out for dinner at the Broadmoor, a resort hotel dating back to the 19th century. Good time, good company.

The conference and the panels started Thursday, but we played hooky. Along with Chuck Rosenberg, who's written a legal thriller called DEATH ON A HIGH FLOOR, Deb got us out of the hotel to drive up to the Garden of the Gods, a spectacular geological formation with Pike's Peak looming in the background at 14,000 feet. Then through Manitou Springs, and a short detour into the canyons. (I should mention that these three writers happen to be lawyers, for what it's worth, but Chuck Rosenberg is the only one with a still-active practice.
Pike's Peak from Garden of the Gods

Okay, enough of that. You want to hear about the trade show, and who was there. Among others, Margaret Coel, Ann Parker, Linda Joffe Hull, Manny Ramos, and Janet Rudolph---I'm leaving a lot of people out, go to the LCC website for the complete list, along with a couple of lesser lights, Craig Johnson and Laura Lippman.

There were of course some conflicts with the panels and workshops, i.e., you had to triage when two things you wanted to see were scheduled opposite each other. So it happens. There was a really interesting discussion, to me, about social commentary or politics in mysteries, or in fiction, generally, whether it's the financial crash, or poisoning the environment, or Mormon polygamy, or the drug war in Mexico, or whatever. The consensus was to tread lightly, one of the guys mentioning Samuel Goldwyn's quote, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Another cool one was about the anti-hero, and during the Q&A, one of the questions from the audience was whether you could have a female anti-hero, the guys on the panel all men, to which the moderator, Simon Wood, popped right back with Charlie Fox (this is a shameless plug on my part for Zoe Sharp, of course). Then we had one on humor, that Deb Coonts moderated. Chuck Greaves, Rochelle Staab (a later winner of the Watson, for best sidekick), Brad Parks (winner of the Lefty, for best comic mystery), and Harley Jane Kozak. Deb wasn't able to moderate them much: a very funny and good-natured bunch who stepped on each other's laugh lines without apology.

Deb's panel

Deb's posse, by the by, had now grown in include Sally Anne Rosenberg, Chuck's wife, Paul Levine and his girlfriend Marcia Silvers (another pair of ambulance-chasers), as well as Rochelle. We had lunch Friday with Beth Groundwater, one of the other Rocky nominees, and Thomas Perry, somebody I've been queer for ever since he published THE BUTCHER'S BOY, thirty years ago. A very genuine and gracious guy, in no way full of himself.

Deb's posse

Saturday morning led off with a panel about writing other cultures, Margaret Coel and Craig Johnson in the mix. Murder in Hollywood, both the movies and the town itself, Harley Jane and Paul Levine among the participants. After the lunch break, Twist Phelan interviewing Laura Lippman, an utter hoot. Then a legal thrillers panel, Chuck Rosenberg, who was the script consultant on L.A. LAW, as well as other shows, holding his own. I got to moderate a panel myself, with Tom Perry and Mark Sullivan, both of them big guns in their own right, but talking about the collaborations with, respectively, Clive Cussler and James Patterson. The most interesting thing they said was that in spite of the many books they've each written on their own, working with those other guys was very much a learning experience. Old dogs, new tricks. The final panel I looked in was the Rocky nominees.
Rockies - Craig, Darrell James, Beth, Chuck, Margaret

At the awards banquet, there was the added suspense of Lou Diamond Phillips being among the missing. A winter storm had blown in, a real whiteout, closing the interstate south, and Lou had been sitting on the tarmac in Albuquerque since seven in the morning, waiting for clearance for take-off. In the end, he made it, about eight o'clock that night, to a standing ovation for being such a mensch. He interviewed Craig, finally, long after both their usual bedtimes.
Robert Taylor, Craig J, LDP - LONGMIRE wrap party, Santa Fe

Sunday morning was the finish line. I did get to see one last, and also very funny, panel, moderated by Catriona McPherson (who'd won the Bruce Alexander memorial award for best historical), about first breaking into the business. By this point, most of us were running on fumes. This kind of rodeo is, to put it gently, an endurance contest.

My takeaway? Well worth the trip. I'd have to say, though, it wasn't so much the big-ticket events, as the stuff that kind of fell through the cracks. My time with Deb and her gang, first and foremost. My lunch with Tom Perry. All-too-brief conversations with Clark Lohr, about place, and mining disasters, and with Leo Maloney, a former black ops guy who hails from the Boston area, so it was cool to hear that home-grown accent again, and not least, a chance encounter with our own R.T. Lawton, at the last minute. In other words---a nod to the lawyerly crew I hung with---it was all about the sidebars.