A friend posted this article, Let’s Read About Sex, to my Facebook page and suggested that I consider answering the same questions in a blog post.
Several writers were asked these questions:
Why is writing about sex so difficult? What makes a good sex scene? What was your first elicit reading experience? Which writers have influenced you?
OK, let’s see…
First elicit reading experience? The ones I can remember were pulpy romances I stole from the library because I was too embarrassed to even attempt to check them out from the librarian, who was a close friend of my parents. There was a series featuring a buxom blond named Annette who was featured on each cover with a different male counterpart, posed in provocative ways (at least to my 12 year old eyes). Another series set in the south featured a very high yellow slave who passed as white until his clothes came off revealing patches of darker color (and his clothes came off a lot). I remember reading these and being turned on, and rereading particular sections over and over again. It wasn’t just the subject matter, it was the fact that I knew I wasn’t supposed to be reading those books. I hid them in my room, I would jump whenever someone walked down the hallway when I was reading them. Along with discovering pulp smut, I discovered masturbation.
What makes a good sex scene? Well… hmmm.. heat, humor, movement, sounds, scents, textures… I’m a big fan of foreplay, so I like scenes that build up anticipation, that have a pace that increases over the course of the scene. Unless the scene calls for breathless speedy sexy done in a hurry before someone else needs the bathroom, in which case, I’m fine with that, too. I appreciate a story line, even in the quick-get-off-with-Mr.-Hitachi moments I have at the end of the day. I want to have a mental picture of the scene, even more than of the characters. I don’t need to know the character’s hair color or how tall they are (unless it adds to the drama and heat of the scene), but I do want to have a sense of the room they’re in, the fabric their skin is rubbing up against, the texture of the wall they’re pressed against and the ambient sounds and light. Those are the details I want in order to put myself in the scene. That definitely effects the way that I write sex scenes, it drives me to write fully furnished scenes, and to pay as much attention to the lead up to and away from the ‘main event’ as I do to the sex itself. I also want humor and awkwardness and to read about those moments that aren’t perfect because, as transcendent as sex can be, it’s also messy and noisy and sometimes our bits don’t fit together the way we think they will and we have to communicate and make adjustments.. I want to see that honesty in sex writing.
Why is writing about sex so difficult? I don’t find it difficult to write about sex, but I do find it challenging sometimes to write about sex in a way that is interesting, in ways that meet my expectations as a reader. One rule is that if the writing doesn’t turn me on when I’m reading it, it’s not good enough. I have to want to read it myself. I am also wary of cliches and getting bored partway through so that I begin searching for the good parts. I’ve read a lot of smut and I know all the stock phrases. I use that knowledge to avoid the cliches (unless I’m doing it on purpose, which can be a great way to bring humor into a piece). Telling the reader that fingers are being pressed into a lubricated hole is elementary but writing in such a way that your reader can feel those fingers, or that lubricated hole (or both) takes more time and creativity. I find that I do a better job of avoiding cliche and boring descriptions when I can sink into the scene with my characters, when I can get into their skin and inhabit them during the scene. That’s when I can feel what’s happening and tell the story, rather than describe it from the outside.
Which writers have influenced you? It’s no secret that Sinclair Sexsmith‘s writing has influenced me, not just in technique, subjects or word choices – though I’ve learned plenty from Sinclair on those topics. The big lesson was that a butch could write sexy stories about being a butch lover and do it creatively, and with a lot of style and variety. Roxy‘s writing has influenced me in so many ways it’s hard to count. She taught me about poetry and the ways that prose can be poetic as well. We’ve had long, amazing conversations about writing, down in the guts of it, and every time I read something of hers, I learn more. Other butch and genderqueer writers I appreciate and have been influenced by are Xan West, S. Bear Bergman, Ivan Coyote, Natt Nightly, Holden. Lately, the work of BD Swain has been driving me crazy with envy and inspiration. I have undoubtedly been influenced by other authors I’ve read and re-read over the years: Tom Robbins, Barbara Kingsolver, Rita Mae Brown, numerous scifi and fantasy writers. I remember especially how blown away I was reading Tom Robbins for the first time and thinking, oh my god, you can write like this? That opened up possibilities for me like nothing else did, when I realized that the ‘crazy’ ideas I had for stories and characters might well be crazy, but that didn’t mean I shouldn’t make them happen.
I’m happy to geek out about writing and inspiration and motivations, so if you have questions about any of that, please send them my way.
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