Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Sex Sells (but that doesn't mean I'm going to write about it)

To start, more spoilers: Alison and Crawford do have a relationship that involves sex. I just don’t think about it—or write about it very much. I have had some interesting feedback from interesting sources (that means you, MOM) about why my books are so chaste. About why I don’t include explicit sex. About why, in “Murder 101,” after only meeting a few days earlier, Alison and Crawford didn’t jump into bed thereby acknowledging and putting a name to their lust.

The answer’s simple: I grew up Catholic and I have to live in this world.

Let me explain. Point #1: Catholicism. I, like Marian, had a very religious upbringing but of the Catholic variety. There were nuns, priests, virgins, guilt, more guilt, and CYO basketball. That’s it. Nothing else. When we weren’t going to church, or trying to make up sins to confess at the tender age of eight lest the priest get the impression that we thought we were perfect (god forbid), or playing basketball, we were thinking about one of those things. Because to think about anything else—including and mostly SEX—was a mortal sin. And we all know what you got from that: a big, black blemish on your soul. That was your first-class, one-way ticket to HELL. I’m sure that there are many people out there who grew up in a similar fashion who have led productive lives and written erotica even but the message that was given to me—“Virgins RULE!” (one that I have now embraced given that I have a teenage daughter)—was taken to heart. I have matured somewhat since that time, but the idea of writing about what goes on in one’s bedroom—even if the “one” is a fictional character—is anathema to me.

Point #2: living in this world. I have two children—one not even a “tween” and one a full-fledged teen—and a husband. I live in a very small town which is, technically, not even a town—it’s a village. The ‘town’ is where we go to do the really exciting stuff. I shop locally, worship just an eighth of a mile from my house, am a member of the PTA, and try to lead a relatively upstanding life. Could you imagine the looks I might get if I walked into the local gift shop, half of the town having just read something I had written that included the words “throbbing member” (and I’m not talking about those of us who get worked up at Booster Club meetings) and trying to purchase a hostess gift? I can’t.

After the publication of my first novel I ventured down to the local ball field to watch my husband play softball. His teammates consist of a bunch of mostly forty-something dads, all of whom I know. One of them—we’ll call him “Bob” because that’s his real name—asked me why Alison and Crawford hadn’t consummated their relationship at the end of “Murder 101.” At this point in time, I was hard at work on “Extracurricular Activities” and nearing the point where my two main characters might have to steam things up a bit.

“I have trouble writing sex scenes,” I said, rather bravely I thought.

He thought for a moment. “We could help you!” he said, motioning toward the rag-tag group of softball players, some practically in traction after playing the first inning. I had a hard time envisioning any of these hurting puppies in flagrante delicto, never mind just making it to their cars to drive home. “We could write them for you!”

A couple of the other dads looked in his direction. One mentioned that with his dislocated finger, he wouldn’t be able to pick up a pencil or type on a keyboard. Another mentioned that his leg hurt so much that the only thing he’d be doing would be begging his wife to rub Ben-Gay on it. Another mentioned that after that night’s game, he was retiring from softball entirely. (They have a hard time staying ‘on topic.’ Especially when balls are flying around. Baseballs, that is.)

One of the other teammates finally spoke up with some helpful information. “Yeah, we could help her. She’d then have some of the shortest sex scenes known to literature in her book.” He looked at me, an eyebrow raised pointedly. I immediately regretted that I had entered into the conversation and felt sorry for his wife.

I gave it my best shot. I really did. But I kept thinking that the readership of the novels I and my fellow “Stilettos” are writing aren’t buying them for sheet burning, hang from the chandeliers sex. (Please tell me I’m right.)

My dear friend, Annie, mathematician and preschool teacher extraordinaire, has kindly read every one of my manuscripts before I ship them off to my editor. She could see where things were going—Alison and Crawford were getting hot and heavy and the inevitable was to occur. Her husband, raised in a more “open” environment, kept encouraging me to let loose and write some torrid sex scenes. I did my best, but my best kept ending up with Alison and Crawford having case after case of coitus interruptus. I couldn’t see the job through. I asked Annie if she was disappointed, having just read my second manuscript.

She looked at me, relief crossing her face. “Not at all. I didn’t know how I was going to look at you if you had written some explicit sex scenes. I just don’t want to know you like that.”

And hopefully, dear readers, you don’t either.

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