Tuesday, June 29, 2010

What I learned about sexy from reviewers

When I first pitched Hold Back the Dark, my first romantic suspense novel, to my agent, she said, "You know they'll have to boink, right?"

I did know. I had written four chick lit novels where all boinking happened off the page. There was some warm-up activities, some heavy breathing and then my characters would wink and shut the door. We all knew what was happening, but I didn't describe it. In a romantic suspense novel, my first to be shelved in the actual romance section, there would have to be on-the-page boinking. I felt like I totally went for it. I specified body parts and which parts were touching the other parts and how the parts felt and everything.

Romantic Times rated the book "mild." Mild? MILD? They had no idea how much teasing I endured from friends and acquaintances about those sex scenes and how exposed I felt when writing them. I had some great reviews for that book, but not a single one of them said the book was sexy.

Then I wrote Don't Kill the Messenger. Again, my agent brought up the boinking. I said I had it under control. Once again, it's on-the-page boinking, but since this was more an urban fantasy I did dodge a little bit. There's not as much detail. I'm pretty sure everybody knows what's happening, but it's slightly more euphemistic. The scenes have a lot to do with my heroine relinquishing control a little bit and the give and take between these two strong people.

Guess what? Almost every review has had the word "sexy" in it.

So what have I learned? The sexy is not in the details. The sexy is in the mood and the interplay between the characters. Even if there are other body parts on the page, the sexy is still all in the head.

7 comments:

Molly O'Keefe said...

Oh - as hard as it is to have persepective on our work, it's even harder to have perspective on our sex scenes. For me, I 'm always really really aware of who is going to be reading these books...my mom, my grade school teachers etc...

You're so right - a good sex scene is in the head. Ours and our characters...

I'm loving sex week at DWT!!!

Maureen McGowan said...

Awesome insight. And I think you're so, so right. Some of the sexiest, hottest books I've read didn't describe the sex in much detail.

Stephanie Doyle said...

It's definitely not in the detail. It's the mood all around it.

When I read HBTD - I thought of it as a mystery/romance. The meat of it for me was the who done it. And the relationshiop was a nice element that added to the story.

When I think of Messenger I think of kissing the vampire and the nice guy, and who she should be with so... yeah for me definitely "sexier".

As for worrying about content... I've been eating lunch with a married/friend co-worker for 15 years. For whatever reason - he reads everyone one of my books. When I think about it and think about some of the scenes he's read... I do blush a little.

But when I'm writing... hell no. Let it all hang out I say. It's just fiction.

Spring Melody Warren said...

As a painter and a writer I've often thought that sex scenes were akin to painting landscape. Most landscape paintings are dull and rely on tropes reflecting the pure visual realities of a place. But because the experience of a landscape is so sensual- the smell of crushed grasses, the feeling of the breeze on your face, the movement of leaves and clouds - a great landscape painter finds the way to communicate the experience of a place through, perhaps, heightened color, the speed of the brushstroke, a sinuous line or the focus on an oft over-looked detail...

Eileen said...

Ooh, Spring! I like the painting analogy. Part of it is focus, too, isn't it? Where do you lead the viewer's eye in a painting? Where do you lead the reader's mind in a book? Either way, it's hard to be inventive and new without being . . . well, weird and I really don't want weird sex scenes. :-)

Steph, oh, I so know! But I find it hard to turn off that "who's gonna read this?" thinking when I'm writing those scenes. It's not easy being a closet prude.

Sinead M said...

I wish I could channel you when I'm writing my sex scenes, Stephanie, but everyone is there in my mind and I know it affects the writing.

But I also know the books I've found the sexiest were the ones with the amazing sexual tension, the build up, both emotionally and physically, not where the sex scene starts on page 40.

Virna DePaul said...

Hilarious blog, Eileen!! I think there's shades of sexuality in books and they can all be appreciated. I love Spring's painting analogy too.

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