Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Sex and the Magical City

I found out today that my physical therapy ends next week! Today, I was kind of wishing it was over already because we're getting a tropical storm, and I did not want to get out and drive in that this morning. Meanwhile, I've sent the new proposal to my agent and now we'll see if I'm delusional about liking it. I had a ton of fun reading it out loud yesterday to proofread it. I found myself falling into the voices for the characters and acting it out. I'm even kind of tempted to read the opening at FenCon next week, even though I usually avoid reading uncontracted work. This is just so much fun to read out loud, though. Maybe I can make the audience sign a non-disclosure agreement.

As a new regular, ongoing feature that I'll do on the Wednesdays when I don't have a writing post, as long as I have questions or topics to cover, I'll be doing some in-depth discussion of my Enchanted, Inc. series. Needless to say, there will be spoilers for the entire series in these discussions.

The first topic, from a reader question, is sex, or the lack thereof. One comment I get frequently either in person at booksignings or in e-mail is about how my books are "clean." Most of the people I hear from are grateful to be able to find fun books with a bit of romance that aren't focused on sex. I've heard about multiple generations enjoying the books together -- grandmothers, moms and daughters as young as ten or eleven. Then there are the people who ask when Owen and Katie are going to get it on and saying they don't want the bedroom door to close. And there was the reader who wrote me blasting me for trashing the books up with bad language and sexual references (seriously!) that kept her from being able to share them with her young daughter.

I wouldn't say that handling sex the way I have (or haven't) was any kind of conscious decision. It was more a natural outgrowth of a lot of things.

For one thing, I don't really think of sex as a spectator sport. As I'm fond of saying, watching (or reading about) someone else having sex is like watching (or reading about) someone else eating chocolate. It's lovely for them, but it doesn't do a lot for me. I don't find sex scenes in books to be all that sexy. I tend to skip them because they're boring and because I have a very literal mind, so I find myself trying to figure out the choreography and how many hands these people have to have in order to be doing all the things they're doing at the same time. Sex is a primal drive, so it makes for a very basic and relatively simple motivation, which to me isn't that interesting to read or write about. Since I don't really like reading sex scenes, I don't like writing them, and I'm not very good at writing them. When you don't enjoy something as a reader and you don't understand what other people enjoy in it, that makes it hard to know how to do it in a way that the people who are into that sort of thing will like it.

Then there's the fact that I'm a recovering romance writer, and I used to hate it when editors would tell me to amp up the sexual tension, so that the characters had to be always thinking about each other in sexual ways. The basic romance plot seems to involve people who hate each other but who are attracted to each other, so the entire focus of what draws them together is pure lust. When I was breaking out of the romance mold and getting to write a relationship any way I wanted, I wanted to be able to write about two people who actually liked each other, who could grow together gradually in an organic way. To me, the sexiest part of a relationship to read about is what I think of as the "click," that sense that these two people get each other on some fundamental level, that they belong together. They may be physically attracted, but there's also a mental, emotional and even spiritual meshing that occurs, and if it's portrayed the right way in fiction, it can be breathtaking.

All that was going on subconsciously, not something I was thinking about or planning as I wrote these books, but it made sense for the characters as I created them. Both Owen and Katie are very old-fashioned, small-town kids with religious upbringings. They're not going to hop in the sack right away. Not that they really have time for that sort of thing, both in the sense of the timeline of the books and in what they have going on. Enchanted, Inc. takes place from late September to mid-November. Once Upon Stilettos picks up in mid-November and runs to mid-December. Owen and Katie don't even start dating until the very end of that book. Damsel Under Stress picks up the next day and runs through early January -- covering maybe three weeks, during which time their work has become really intense and they have other issues to deal with. They can't even have a dinner date without crazy things happening. Don't Hex with Texas picks up in late April/early May of the following year, and they're at her parents' house the whole time. They don't even have to be overly conservative for them not to have gotten around to sleeping together yet.

Even if something does happen in later books, it won't be graphically described because of the issue of first-person narration. The first-person narrator knows she's telling a story and can pick and choose what to tell. Katie isn't the kind of person who'd give us graphic descriptions of the sex she's having. She'd feel that's personal and private, and she knows how very shy Owen is, so she wouldn't want to say anything that would embarrass him. The most I could imagine her saying would be that this time she didn't stay in the guest room.

There's also the fact that these people have come to feel like friends to me, and so it would feel weird and even creepy for me to imagine them having sex. I don't like to think about my real friends that way. Most of my friends are married and many of them have kids, so I'm sure they have sex. I just don't want to picture it. I'm not that way about all characters. I've written romance characters who had sex. I just happen to be that way about these particular people. I don't know if it's something to do with the characterization -- the fact that they're shy and traditional -- or if it has to do with writing a series so they're more familiar to me. Or maybe it was because I didn't plan the relationship from the beginning so I didn't start out thinking about them that way, while with the romance characters the sex was part of the equation from the start.

I doubt I'll ever write anything too terribly sexy, though, because I happen to prefer writing other aspects of relationships, the aspects I think tend to get skipped. The "click" is different for each couple, while the mechanics of a sex scene aren't all that different. You know what happens and how it works, so if I've given a good foundation in establishing a connection, then if you want to imagine the sex for yourself, you can do so, and you'll probably enjoy that more than anything I'd write.

If you've got a question or topic about the series that you'd like me to address, either e-mail me or post a comment.


Chicory said...

I really agree with what you said about the characters clicking, and how incredibly romantic that can be. :)

Chicory said...

Oh! Forgot to say- congratulations on getting your proofs done. :)