I'm currently in the sixth draft of my latest Chris "Woody" Guthrie novel. Even though I know him and his companion Megan Traine pretty well by now (Starting in 2004, I gathered over 100 rejections for their first book) and the plot points are falling into line almost as if I knew what I was doing, one scene is reminding me of something I learned a long time ago.
Sex scenes are really hard to write well.
Every book sets its own standards for how explicit or how subtle, and sometimes you figure it out by doing it wrong. If it's too graphic, it verges on porn, and if it's too discreet, it feels prudish or even silly. Obviously, noir or hard-boiled stories allow more process than a cozy or traditional, but even then, you have a little...er, wiggle room.
Remember the Frank Zappa song "What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?" The punch line is "I think it's your mind." Well, sex scenes really aren't about the choreography of who does what to whom and how much how often as much as they're about the emotions your characters experience.
If you're just putting tab A into slot B and folding appendage C over corner D, you're writing porn. Janet Evanovich discussed Stephanie Plum's frolics with a fair amount of detail, but also with large doses of humor. If you add humor, which chick lit romance writers--Jennifer Crusie, Jayne Anne Krentz, and Rachel Gibson, to name a few--do, it's much better. I admit, I read chick lit for the terrific dialogue. Yeah, sounds like when we were in college and claimed we read Playboy for the interviews, doesn't it?
Dennis Lehane's novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angie Gennaro never describe their activities in much detail, but have any readers ever doubted for a second that they had a very hot sex life? Don Winslow, on the other hand, has a scene in California Fire and Life (one of my favorite crime novels) with Jack Wade and Letty Del Rio that tells you everything you never wanted to know...and it's perfect. These two have blamed themselves for ruining their relationship and splitting up years before, and now they discover how miserable they've been ever since. The scene is in Jack's head, and, graphic as it gets, it's so vulnerable it hurts to read it.
It's all about context, and sometimes you aren't the best judge. My first few books had some fairly explicit scenes, but I've moved away from that...until this one. In the WIP, Chris and Meg have their first really serious fight over a case and are trying to handle a situation they both botched in their previous marriages. Eventually, there's a hot make-up/apology sex scene. That scene didn't appear in my first draft, but my revising showed me it had to be there. In alternate drafts, it has become more and more graphic, and I've tried it from both Meg's and Chris's POV. I've even put it in and taken it out several times. I've tried it as a flashback, too, and it still doesn't satisfy me.
One more revision and it will go to beta readers. I'm already looking forward to their opinions and may even include three separate drafts of that scene: Meg's, Chris's, and none.
Who ever knew that sex could be so hard?
03 July 2017
27 May 2017
Huh? Me, the scribe of mob comedy, write Chicklit? Romance? Okay, can I make it funny, I asked? Luckily they went thumbs up. And so WORST DATE EVER comes out in September this year.
More on that later. This column is about something else.
Point being, all this writing-out-of-genre got me thinking. Crime has always been my thing. I write about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one. Her inept mob family never gets it right.
What would happen if Gina Gallo, the original mob goddaughter, were to be dragged kicking and screaming out of crime, and plunked right down into another genre. Or three. So here goes.
(on a stage coach near you)
Gina: “Please move over. You’re taking up two seats.”
Bad guy Cowboy: “Hey little lady. You can sit right here on my lap. What’s a pretty little thing like you doing with that mighty big revolver, anyway?”
Gina (demonstrating): <BLAM>
Cowboy drops to the floor.
(in a seriously spooky old manor)
Fiendish male character, rubbing hands together: “You’ll never escape me, my pretty. Never!”
Gina (looking around): “Are you sure this isn’t a set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”
Fiend: “Enough! You’ll be my wife with or without the church.”
Gina (extracting knife beneath skirt): <THWOCK>
Fiend drops to the floor.
(at a slam poetry evening)
Male Poet: “Stop.Cry.Laugh.Love not war.Peace not profit.Climate change.Capitalists.Love crimes.War crimes.Killing oceans.Killing whales.Every other cliché you can think of.Pain.I’m in pain.A pain so great.
Poet is out of pain, and so is everyone else.
To be continued…(or not, if someone takes out the writer first)
Just released! THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER, book 5 in The Goddaughter series“…the work of an author at the absolute top of her game” Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews
26 March 2016
- Riders of
the Purple Sage. Cow country. This would suggest a certain menu. Steak,
medium rare. Tempting, but hard to cut a steak while
simultaneously holding a book and turning pages. Really, Mel Brooks had
the right idea. Beans, and plenty of them. Make sure you’re NOT reading
into the realm of the unknown here. Chicks are slim young things,
right? They would eat salad. I hate
salad. Ergo…hand me a western.
trouble with Bond-clone movies and books is you’re apt to spill your
with all that racing around in the plot. Things blow up a lot in the
action-adventure genre. This might suggest popcorn. But make sure you
pop it before you eat
it. Keep the explosions to your
book. (Or switch to westerns.)
- This is obvious. Ribs. Dripping with BBQ sauce.
personal additions: Cilantro and goat cheese <<shivers>>
- CanLit (Literature, for all you American types.)
- It will
be unusual, expensive, and unpalatable. You won’t “understand” why
it is so good. Your palate has not been
suitably developed to appreciate such fineness. Caviar. Escargot (it
sounds so much better in French.) Duck liver (you can look up the
spelling.) If you get beyond the first
bite (er…page one,) Yay for you. Hard to
read – hard to eat.
- Should be
obvious, right? Chinese food! Get someone else to order it for you, so
- Try to
find Ambrosia. They really dig it on
Olympia. If you can’t find that,
substitute ice cream. (I know. You
thought I was going to say wine. But my fantasy is ice cream with a
delicious Greek God-ling. Okay, he
doesn’t have to be a God yet. Just young
and Greek. Okay, this is slipping into
the oysters, artichokes, or other silly vegetable-type aphrodisiacs.
almost a vegetable. Trust me.) The answer is more chocolate. (Silly.
That’s the answer to almost anything.)
- KIND nut
bars. Okay, is the metaphor too obvious?
- What to Eat if you’re a Writer:
- And humble pie.