February 3, 2006

Good Sex (PG 16)

SORRY I have been a SUCKY BLOGGER this week. In my defense, I had a HUGE novel revelation, had to cut almost three entire chapters and then rewrote them and a bonus one, so it has been a grand week progress-wise with the new novel and I am as sleepy and pleased as a cream-filled cat.

Meanwhile, here on Kudzu, how do you like the TITLE of this entry? PING! PING! the pR0n seeking Googlers come a-rollin' on in! HEHEHEHE. Betcha my hit counter gives itself vertigo flipping around today....I should give every entry such a name. Alas! It would be gratuitous to give a long prattling spiel about, say, recipes a name like "Oh Baby, YES, WOO! WOO!," so I will have to wait until days when I actually AM writing about good sex. Like, say, today. As the by-the-hour hookers in Vegas say, "Let's get to it, shall we?"

Old School Kudzu Regular DAVID wrote in and asked, "Do you remember making a reference during a discussion with another author recently, wherein you (I think) referenced some book in which the love scene was said (by one of the conversants) to be " ...the most realistic and emotionally moving I've ever read." or some such? Title was short, maybe two or three words. Possibly it was a proper name. I'm hoping your memory is better than mine."

My answer: Um....no? A lot of things come out of my mouth. I don't generally LISTEN to them.... *grin*

DOES THIS RING A BELL WITH ANY OF YOU? I can't remember a specific book or find it in the archives. I read a LOT. If you know what David is referencing can you kindly leave it in the comments?

David is a fellow writer, so I suspect he is asking because he is probably struggling along through the miserable process of trying to WRITE a dern sex scene. I personally have bright red cheeks the whole time I am trying to draft or revise sex scenes....and I have spent a fair amount of time on it for the last two books because the images and language used in the sex scene have been, for both gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia, key in making some underlying (HA! Everything sounds so NAUGHTY when you talk about writing sex) thematic connections.

WARNING: If you have not read gods in Alabama yet, I have heard you CAN be sent to Hell for that. No, hehehehe KIDDING! You go to Purgatory. For several million years...NO NO, I meant to say, If you have not read gods yet, here are a few mild spoilers about who has sex with whom and how the sex WORKS thematically in that book to be found in the following paragraph. If you hate to be even MILDLY spoiled, = SKIP down to where it says SPOILERS OVER in big bold font, OR, better yet, trot out, buy a copy of gods, read it, and then come back and pick up HERE:


I wanted Arlene to grow into an understanding of unconditional love and take the first step toward becoming a person who could have a good marriage in all ways, including a healthy, happy sex life. Given her, um, colorful past, that was a BIG FAT STEP. I knew there would have to be...sex. YARP! Now, I like to write BAD sex scenes. Bad sex can be horridly funny and train wreck un-look-a-way-able. BUT! I hate to write GOOD sex between people who love each other because I feel so EMBARRASSED. Like I owe my characters a closed door and an hour of alone time. Plus, the GOOD SEX scenes were almost impossible to write in gods because, given Arlene's past, there was NO WAY to have a from Here to Eternity type encounter with romantical imagery and purple vocabulary and have it be anything but laughable tripe. Can you even imagine Arlene trying to sell that???


Yeah, my butt, Arlene. If I read an actually well written version of that from ARLENE, of all people, I as a reader would assume she was lying...she does that sometimes. *grin* . At the same time, there had to be enough contrast between the earlier sex and sex with Burr to make it clear that huge progress is being made, that they will be able to to end up with a ROCKING married life... I chose to do it with language, with vocabulary, and excruciating DETAIL. SO. I braced myself and I allowed Arlene to be INCREDIBLY foul, frank, dismissive, droll, mocking, amused, graphic and above all clinical and dispassionate in the earlier sex scenes. Her somewhat brutal honesty probably cost me some readers and have forced me to open every speaking engagement by saying I PINKY SWEAR THIS BOOK IS NOT AT ALL AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL!!!!!... But it was the right choice. Because then all I had to do in the sex scenes with Burr was to let her talk in a straightforward, nonpejorative, understated and loving way. Less was SO MUCH more because of how far I'd taken the earlier scenes. Of course, I had to go into therapy when the book sold and I realized my MOTHER would READ those earlier scenes, but it was the right choice and I stand by it, pink cheeked but DERNIT SO (artistically speaking) in the right.


Anyway I think the KEY to making a sex scene work is to have the sex scene do MORE than just describe sex. I don't NEED a writer to describe sex for me. I have two kids, so it's a given I have had the experience myself at LEAST twice. AND I saw Angelina Jolie and Antonio Banderas in Original Sin, so I know possibly a little MORE about what sex LOOKS like than I strictly needed for scientific purposes. Or at least, I know what it looks like when two physically perfect specimens attempt to have it in an old fashioned wooden bathtub...

In a Romance novel where a hot sex scene is part of the point, or a Manly Gunplay book that I buy in the hopes that it WILL get a little bit deliciously gratuitous, you don't; have to justify your sex scenes. BUT! In literary fiction or book club commercial fiction, I think a sex scene needs to be doing at least two jobs or it should be cut. The first job is the job of EVERY scene, to move the book along from ONCE UPON A TIME to THE END. BUT, like every other sentence in the book, a sex scene should have at least one other job. Here are some possible jobs you can hire sex to do: 1) MAKE PLOT AKA the sex itself (not just the fact that they HAD sex) should move the plot forward in a real way. If the act itself moves the plot forward you can indicate they are about to have sex and then close the door. But if something happens DURING the sex that's key, by all means, leave that door cracked. 2) ENRICH CHARACTER, aka The sex should reveal something key about AT LEAST one of the people having it. 3) The imagery should connect to and enrich the book's theme.

If you can give sex four or five jobs and STILL have it evoke mood and not violate voice, then you are great, and I want to read your dirty, dirty book.

MEANWHILE, David is looking for GOOD SEX. In books, I mean. If you have read a book where the sex is doing a BUNCH of a jobs, PLEASE put the book's title (and author if you know it) in the comments for him. Not for ME, of course. I would MUCH prefer to read about lovely posies reproducing by pollen transfer or perhaps something pithy about deeply spiritual mystic men who sit alone on mountain tops and contemplate truth. That's more my bag than whatever sort of filth you try to induce David to poison his mind with. *glows with holy light*

If you, like David, want to read a good sex scene....Let me think. The best sex scene I have read recently is in a book I got in MS form to read for a blurb. It isn't out til May, dernit, but you can pre-order, and if you like the kind of fiction I try to write and the kind I spend most of my reading time devouring, then you should REALLY like this book. It was RIGHT up my alley: Plot heavy, twisty, and character driven enough to make excellent pleasure reading, but also the writing is fresh and interesting with an individual and unwavering voice, and the thematic layers are there if you want them. I think that's my favorite kind of read because I am such a rereader. I like a book to propel me along for the first go through, and then I like it to be layered enough to allow me to go back through and kinda soak in it. ANYWAY, this is book is ALL THAT, and as the bonus bag of chips, it has some heart-swellingly hot sex in it.

You can pre-order it from my friends at LOVELY POWELL'S and I am sure it will go up for Pre-order many other places any second now, just search for WATER FOR ELEHANTS at your fave online book buying spot. I'll remind you when it comes out for truly, in case you forget or your fave online store doesn't have it listed yet or you prefer to buy at a physical store.

I am right now, in honor of Philip Seymour Hoffman reading IN COLD BLOOD, a brilliant book, but not exactly famous for it's white-hot scenes of unbridled French kissing...so I am depending on comments to help David find something that has a little something-something in it right now....READY! SET! GO!

Posted by joshilyn at February 3, 2006 10:55 AM

I also liked "In Cold Blood." I read it when I had to teach it (don't know how I missed it before?), and my students also liked it.

I can't think of any books as you describe, with the "good sex" scenes...

Posted by: Pattie at February 3, 2006 11:49 AM

Jennifer Crusie: Welcome to Temptation, Faking It (where the first sex scene -for the characters - is NOT good [for the rest of us, it was fantazmic]) and Bet Me (how to combine sex, chicken marsala and Krispy Kremes).

Really truly good.

I'm tried to find out where in her blogs


Jenny writes about how the sex scene can't exist in it's own little world but must move the story forward -- couldn't find it. Good blogs, too.

Posted by: Holly at February 3, 2006 12:44 PM

OH.GOOD.LORD. *faints dead away by bleeding to death through the skin from excessive blushing*

Posted by: David at February 3, 2006 1:21 PM

One I really like is in Mark Helprin's "Winter's Tale", the first sex scene between Peter Lake and Beverly. There's so much emotional development (and plot development) between those two characters...I just love it. My husband and I just wrote a sex scene for our latest screenplay wherein the sex scene is also a huge reveal to the audience about who the bad guys are.

Posted by: Aimee at February 3, 2006 1:34 PM

I also don't recall what David's referencing, and I'm sure this is NOT it, but HOOBOY is there sex doing multiple jobs in "The Secret History," which is such a favorite of mine I like to recommend it at every possible opportunity. So.

P.S. David! You naughty man! ;)

Posted by: Mir at February 3, 2006 2:36 PM

Do you miss your characters after your done writing a book? I sure miss them after I'm done reading! Do you read Dorothea Benton Frank? She has some good sex scenes too. There is one that is quite hilarious, I can't think of which book of her's it was in, but had a very funny scene with feet,lol.
Did you make it out to see General Lee yesterday? We did. I have twin boys and it's their birthday on groundhogs day, so they had to go spend it with the General,lol. He sure does live high on the "hog"! So it's an early spring for us here, according to Beau!

Posted by: Tanya at February 3, 2006 4:31 PM

David, I wrote something on my blog about the incredibly realistic and emotionally moving sex scenes in Ann Packer's Dive from Clausen's Pier. I can't remember if I referenced it here on Joss's blog, or maybe she's channeling me, or maybe this is a random irrelevant aside. Regardless, good sex scenes in the novel.

Posted by: Edgy Mama at February 4, 2006 10:43 AM

Another aside: I'm taking an on-line short fiction course, and I just workshopped a rather sexy short story. All the women in the group were like, "Bravo! Perfect!" The male response? "More sex please."

Posted by: Edgy Mama at February 4, 2006 10:48 AM

I am just trying to picture sex with Krispy Kremes and chicken marsala. And you people thing *Clamato* is gross?


Posted by: Cornelia Read at February 5, 2006 3:25 AM

THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger had some very, very explicit sex scenes--so much so that I BLUSHED as I read it and I was ALONE in the room! To the best of my recollection they propelled the plot b/c typically *blushing wildly now, having to admit this* I skip over sex scenes. So the fact that I READ them means they must have been crucial to the story.

I know there's been another book recently in which I didn't skip over them, but alas I cannot recall the book now. I think the only reason I recalled TIME TRAVELER'S was b/c they were so explicit.

[I read the sex scenes in gods in Alabama as well and felt they were extraordinarily done AND propelled the plot as well. Thanks, Joshilyn for your great post on writing them!]


Posted by: Alicia at February 5, 2006 8:23 AM

I can recommend the sex scenes in Melanie Rawn DRAGON PRINCE series if you like fantasy...

or the KUSHIEL'S DART series.... The last are intense - BDSM is involved, so if you are light of heart or stomach, I'd recommend being sure you want to read them.

However, Rawn's scenes are meaningful and touching for the most part. Usually pretty mundane and normal, aside from that one scene.

Posted by: Autumn at February 6, 2006 3:47 PM

So, um, what did yer mama say?

Posted by: Heather at February 6, 2006 6:50 PM