Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Sex scenes and other thoughts

Health issues have been what I am sure I will think of as a minor challenge in years to come. But when you are in the middle of things, it does tend to feel overwhelming, don't it? Fortunately, things seem to be looking up.

In the mean time, instead of telling you what I have been reading, here's a glimpse of the writing side of my life.

I have started again to work on The Inheritor. It's been in fits and spurts (see the first paragraph) but it has been so much on my mind that it occasionally interrupts my sleep. I'm working on chapter 14 now. I passed two of the hardest chapters I ever worked on in my entire life, one because of research and a desire to recreate a life story in 15 pages, and one was just hard. You'll see it when it's done.

Part of the shift in my brain that says "time to write!" is a desire to revisit what I have written before. Some of it I do to make sure I am not contradicting myself. (Where did Chris say he did this? What was that girl's name? What year is this supposed to be anyway?) Part of it is to see what I left out - can I add this piece into the history here, or have I written myself into a corner again? And part of it now, is to see where and how I worked in the sex scenes when I had just so much other STUFF going on.

Yes, I admit it - I write porn and have to remind myself to put in the sex.

It's not that I'm a prude, and it's sure not that I find sex beside the point. But I have found that I no longer structure a book to frame the sex. When you look at my earliest works, it's clear that the entire outline was created to showcase a series of erotic encounters, from little moments to full-blown set pieces. Some of it was obvious - The Catalyst was basically a "sex scene per story" anthology. Some was more organic - training and histories in The Marketplace and The Slave. But since then, I have become much more story driven, rather than inspired by the "if I don't have another sex scene, my publisher will complain and my readers who don't give a shit about story will get bored and they won't buy the books and I'll miss the car payment."

These days, I have to admit, I don't care about readers who don't give a shit about story. There's a ton of free or cheap porn out there which is one sex scene followed by another.

For The Academy, Reunion and now The Inheritor, even though I still call myself a pornographer, I have to admit explicit sex scenes are simply taking the same place in the story as the sex scenes in any modern novel - thrillers, adventure books, and the sort of Jeffrey Archer-esque romances where wealthy people romp. In other words, I write novels in which the major characters do have sex - *and* they are sadomasochists, therefore the sex they have tends to be kinky. But the sex occurs to aid the story, not the other way around.

In a way, this is reminding me of a shift in the whole queer novel world. In the beginning, queer lit was either dark, deep and depressing or it was porn. The deep and depressing stuff occasionally found real publishers - the porn was pulp. Gay people read both, just to see themselves in print.

So, too, did the kinksters. Whether the lead character of the tale died at the end or it was nothing but a series of one encounter after another (each one ramping up the stakes, of course) we read what we could find.

Now, look at the collection of gay books out there and there isn't a single genre not represented. Romances? Check. Paranormal? Oh, yeah. Mysteries? OMG, yes. Tons of them. Action/adventure, political thriller, fantasy and science fiction, even religious tales, the gays have something for everyone.

Now, some of them will still have sex scenes; some of them more explicit than others. But the writers do not feel like they have to include the two standard tropes of the early days - a depressing ending where people get punished for being queer, OR some mechanical sex scenes just for the sake of showing that we have sex too.

I no longer read books about gay characters for personal affirmation. (OK, maybe I never did.) I read them because I like the author, the story, the genre. I enjoy knowing that the gay characters have partners and have sex, even when I don't read explicit descriptions of it. After all, I know a bit about what sex looks (and reads) like. I enjoy a good sex scene when it's written well and especially when it has something to do with the plot. But I like the assumption, in the story, that it's simply THERE, whether I see it or not.

I don't think the SM readership is quite ready for the SM themed book with no sex scenes, at least not yet. Nor am I really interested in writing one quite yet. But it has become much more important for me for my sex scenes to not just be a part of the story, but to show something necessary to the tale. Some of them will show the growth of a relationship; some will show how someone's life has evolved and changed since the last time the reader saw that character. Things like that come out naturally; when I write them I don't feel forced or bored.

My issue today long will my story-driven readers wait for the next such scene? This is a complex book with some heavy issues in it. To interrupt the flow of what is a major story in order to toss in a sex scene, even if it does suit the story overall, seems awkward at best, insulting at most. As the pages stack up, I will continue to write as the story drives me, but this is a nagging thought in the back of my mind.