Wednesday, February 01, 2006

I'll Show You Mine if You Show Me Yours

From the top shelves* of porn to the semi-pornographic tv commercials to the suggestive ads for everything from perfume to chocolate bars, one thing should be abundantly clear to anyone: sex sells.

Yesterday, I got some spam in one of my email accounts. I usually delete the stuff right away, unread. But this one give me a good laugh. The subject line read:


Personally, I don't think I need 3 inches. Sure would be nice if they did some limited checking on their spamming - "Oh, Sandra...never in the history of mankind has a guy been named Sandra. Likely doesn't need this drug."

Though the "Shy to fuck" part struck a nerve with me. Because when I was writing my first mystery ms, I had this rule in my head, "No sex. My characters are all virgins. Unless they have kids. In which case it was cloning."

Okay, a little extreme, but I really had this issue with writing a sex scene. For some reason, more than anything else that I've written- the rapes, the murders, the body of a baby being dug up - the idea of writing a consensual sex scene flipped me out.

I couldn't help thinking that there would be some part of a reader's brain thinking, "This is how she likes it."

Which is why I felt that Stuart MacBride did an absolutely brilliant thing in his debut novel, Cold Granite (Which, if you haven't bought yet, what's wrong with you? Do I have to come beat you with a stick? Ooops, just gave Boy Kim an excuse to wait.) I'm not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn't read it yet, but it is truly one of the most original and hilarious ways to deal with the whole sex issue in a book. Damn him for thinking of it first.

When I was discussing this with a friend of mine, she told me about a friend of hers who used to write Harlequins. When they'd give out dialogue pages and say what was okay and what wasn't. So using the word penis was definitely out. But "throbbing manhood" was an acceptable substitution. WTF? Throbbing manhood? Throbbing...sounds like a dull ache in your chest, like when you have heartburn, or that number version of a headache, like one that's lingering in the background beating the drum, building, warning you that a full-blown migraine is on the way.

Which definitely doesn't sum up any of my, er, experience.

A few re-writes later, I got over my inhibitions. I still feel really awkward about the sex lives of my characters, though. I guess I feel like it hasn't got much to do with the main focus of the story (solving some crime or another) and it isn't something I really need to know about. Off-hand, the only book I can think of with a sex scene that's really relevant to the plot or character is Ian Rankin's Knots and Crosses, because of the memory trigger. Someone will probably throw another one at me I'm densely overlooking, but that's the one sex scene that comes back to me that makes sense in a book. "And now for sensible sex with Ian Rankin..." More than one way to read that line.

Not that some of the other ones weren't, um, interesting. I'm strictly talking about plot relevance here.

I wonder how everyone else deals with the issue of intimacy in their writing. Any inhibitions? Any research required? Do you feel it's something you have to put in there** or would prefer to skip entirely***? What does your spouse say about it?

You guys should all know by now that Kevin's given up trying to put a muzzle on me. Although the blog is one thing. When it comes to the books he says, "You know, my Mother will read this some day."

"And she'll start to wonder if we have sex?"


I always know I'm in trouble when I get called 'Sandra' instead of 'Bear'.

I swear, it's my evil twin that posts most of this. Must be the nice one that writes the ms's... And on that note, my horoscope:

Daily Overview for February 01, 2006

Get ready for a big change. A new career opportunity will start brewing this month.

Timing is everything in relationships, whether you're dealing with coworkers, family, casual acquaintances or lovers. Learn to pick up on nonverbal cues so you can strike while the iron is hot.

I don't actually read my daily horoscope or anything, but this is one time I'd like it to be right. And since evilkev's also a Gemini, there are really four of us in this relationship, so any forewarning of trouble is a big plus.

* Thank you John Rickards for educating me about porn. I'm in your debt. You're the man. Anyone who needs porn info should talk to John. If not this one, any old John will likely do. Just hit the local streets where the girls work and you'll find them.

** Yeah, yeah, I know I just asked for it. Bring on the cheap shots...

*** In your writing. What you do at home, I don't need to know about. Unless you're on Crime Writer House with John, Stuart and Russel. Oh, I bet James is really glad he isn't writing crime at the moment, though we could make an exception because of his DI McLean short stories. We'll have Stuart sautéing away with nothing but a pink apron, leather thong and bare backside, James with his sheep. Russel will be lost in the closet, buried under John's condom collection, likely screaming in horror. And that's the only stuff tame enough for me to mention on my blog. Which is really saying something, considering this is my blog.


M. G. Tarquini said...

The first time I wrote a sex scene, I did it in a closet while wearing a trench coat and dark glasses. It was a short story, just to prove I could do it. I wanted to make stretch marks sexy. When I finished, my husband wanted me to read it to him. I always read him all work. So I sat way across the room from him and kept the laptop high so I didn't have to look at his face.

He really enjoyed the story. About half way through, he got tired of my mumbling and laptop readjusting and general refusal to read it so he actually hear the words. He said, 'Y'know Mindy, We're married fourteen years and have twins. You're not embarrassing me."

After that. It was easy. I set myself challenges - write a sex scene in which the fact the characters are having sex is never mentioned - save the obvious jokes. Write a sex scene that has all the wrong people going at it, make it funny, make it sad, make it tender...use food. A laundry list.

Now, I just write them. I like writing them. No big deal because I've discovered my own way for writing them and it's not like your way, or his way, or her way, or anybody else's way.

And the husband still likes reading them.

Stuart MacBride said...

I'm actually in the middle of writing a sex scene right now (procrastination is my mistress), but it's in a porn studio, so it feels a lot more... clinical?

After reading this post though, I mist insert 'Throbbing Member' into the text.

And yes, I'm well aware of the dirty connotations of saying that.

Sandra Ruttan said...

mg, too funny! I would be the same way! I did a public reading of some of my work last year, and I had a terrible time picking stuff. I didn't want to read a rape scene, or a murder investigation scene, and I didn't want to have to trip over 'absofuckinglutely' or 'infuckingfallible'.

I've started swearing a lot more regularly so that I can say those words in public without blushing.

Tee hee Stuart! Yes, you go insert your throbbing member. Porn sex is more...technical? Well, if John says so...

Russel said...

Dear God, you don't know how long it took me to crawl out from under that pile of collected condoms... and now I smell all... rubbery... John should store those more carefully so that they do not collapse on poor innocents like me...

I tend to skip slightly over the sex in my work. Its never ignored but I never, uh, do detail work. I think its because sex scenes tend ring false to me and fatally daft to me. There's always a possibility you're going to do an Alan Titchmarsh and win the bad sex award. Unless its your intention to write bad sex.

Although in my school's yearbook there was a prediction that one day I would win an award for erotic literature...

James Goodman said...

When I wrote my first book, I had no problem writing in sex scenes. Well, at least I thought I didn't. After having a few people read it, it was suggested that I didn't need as much detail in the scenes as it wasn't the act but the intimacy that was important to the story.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Well Russel, maybe it'll have something to do with John's condom collection, the rubber nun's outfit, the riding crop, and wellies.

But you're right - nobody wants to win the bad sex award.

not the act but the intimacy that's important - good point James.

Although I think lost on John.

Stuart MacBride said...

You are aware that John's collection is of second hand, pre-filled ones?

Sandra Ruttan said...

So the important thing is to sneak someone in there so they can swap the tags so that when he tries to plant the evidence against you, it implicates Sweet Lips, the porn star.

And to think I was going to bring John a tasteless Canadian t-shirt. Maybe I should have ordered some of those drugs for him.

Russel said...

Sadly, Stewart, having been trapped beneath them I am aware. I have spent the day showering. And shivering. And showering. And scrubbing profusely.

And yes, it is the intimacy over the act that is important. Big, big rule for effectiveness (unless you're writing *that* kind of book)

Sandra Ruttan said...

That must be why John failed to get it* in in time. He's busy trying to refill the condoms.

*evlewt rof gnitide sih - nothing else you sick people! I mean, how would I know?

Trace said...

I have no problem writing erotic scenes *grin*

Sandra Ruttan said...

And on that note boys, Trace's debut ebook, REPO CHICK BLUES will be out soon! Check her blog and website for more details!

For those long, lonely nights when you finally have the condom contents washed off...

Gabriele C. said...

Funny enough, I find it easy to write gay sex, even kinky gay sex, but hetero is a lot more difficult.

Out of my 4 NiPs, two have sex, one even quite a lot, and most of it gay. *grin* But since men use sex to express their feelings even more than women, the change in the sexual relationship between Aurelius Idamantes and Lucius Vinicius mirrors the change in their emotional relationship and their character development. And their breaking up will lead to a catastrophe, plotwise.

Bernita said...

I sooth my embarrassment about writing The Sex Scene ( it arrives instead of Aliens in Chapter Twelve...) by having various characters at various times say earnestly "sex sells."

Sandra Ruttan said...

You know, that's interesting Gabriele - for me, I think its because "this isn't my sexual orientation" - there's a gay couple in one of my books, though they're on the periphery of the story.

And Bernita, I'm so glad to know I'm not the only one who found it embarrassing.

Damn spammers have been hitting me - only my archives so far - so I had to put the verification back on.

Anonymous said...

I tend to stay away from sex scenes. The problem is I get too carried away. Oh well...they were nice while they lasted.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I definitely had the opposite problem at first Jason. I just wanted to run out and shut the bedroom door and plug my ears!