The Dreaded Sex Scene

The Dreaded Sex Scene

Long ago (in a galaxy far, far away) I work-shopped a novel in an online writing workshop. One of the draws of the workshop was the “Editor’s Choice”: a professional critique given by the editor in residence to two lucky selections a month. I had the honor of having a chapter selected as “Editor’s Choice” one month. The editor was a scifi writer that I hugely respect. His critique, in retrospect, was kind and encouraging. At the time, it literally made me puke. Several times.

Why? Because he’d chosen a sex scene to review. It was the first sex scene I’d posted in public, anywhere. I was incredibly uncomfortable posting it, and incredibly uncomfortable with his review. I focused on the one negative thing he said to the exclusion of all else, decided I couldn’t write sex scenes, and didn’t publish another sex scene for several years.

Then I got over myself.

Sex is fundamental to the human experience. Whether we’re having it, thinking about having it, not having it, wanting to have it, or wanting to have it with someone different, sex defines much of our thinking between puberty and death. It follows for me that writing which concerns itself with the human experience, is necessarily concerned with sex. I’ve always liked this Gertrude Stein quote on the subject:

The literature that I want to read addresses sex, one way or another. It may not show it explicitly, but I rather prefer it when it does. Graphic violence, horror, gore, doesn’t bother me. Why should graphic sex? I suspect it’s just the lingering Puritan in me. Time to shed that particular lineage.

Given that sex is so fundamental, why are sex scenes so hard to write well? The “Editor’s Choice” review I got was a review of my chapter, but it was really about the difficulty of writing an effective sex scene. It’s a tightrope. Err too far on the side of clinical description and the sex scene becomes decidedly unsexy, even creepy (which can be fine if you’re writing horror – some of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read were the sex scenes in Nancy Collin’s Sonya Blue and Wild Blood series). But on the other end of the scale is soft-soaping the sex scene down to where the reader isn’t sure what went where, when or why. Quite the tightrope.

Although my books are full of sex scenes, I actually find them incredibly difficult to write. I labor over sex scenes, writing and rewriting them. I’ve abandoned stories because I’ve gotten stuck on sex scenes. But I’ve also had incredibly positive feedback on the sex scenes I’ve exposed to the public eye. So what makes a sex scene work?

  • Pitch it right. Like Gertrude Stein, I prefer graphic sex scenes, but I appreciate that not all genres, or even all stories, fit graphic sex scenes. If the story glosses over graphic violence, gore, etc., then a graphic sex scene doesn’t “fit” and feels gratuitous.
  • Advance the plot or characterization. I’m totally fine with plot-less erotica on its own, but not as part of a story with plot. A sex scene can advance the story in a lot of ways. It can be a plot point, or reveal some detail of characterization. Sex can be intimate – it can bring characters together. Or it can be alienating and drive them apart. But the story or characters should not be the same coming out of the sex scene as they were going in. If they are, then the sex scene has actually stalled the story and maybe it doesn’t belong there.
  • Make it “climactic.” This has nothing to do with orgasms (sorry). Most sex scenes are the culmination of some interaction between the characters. It may be the apotheosis of a long flirtation, or it may be the result of a quick bargain (as in the beginning of Snowburn). However it comes about, it should feel like a climax (whether or not the characters do!).
  • Throw in a twist. Sex has been done and done and done (for thousands of years). I’ve read a lot of sex scenes and the ones that stand out in my mind have some extra element. Whether it’s the emotional “high stakes” of the sex, or a surprising position or kink, or a very beautiful description, it’s that “something more” which makes me want to re-read it. That’s true of every scene and every story, of course, but I think it’s particularly important for sex scenes, which can easily become dull or repetitive.

Anything I’ve missed? What do you look for in a sex scene? What turns you off when you read a bad one? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Haunted by Shari Nichols

Haunted by Shari Nichols

It’s my pleasure to welcome Shari Nichols to my blog for the release of her new paranormal romance, Haunted!

Here’s an excerpt:

Karly made sure to keep her head down, wanting to avoid another run-in. Her gaze skittered over fallen leaves and flagstone tiles. Through the corner of her eye, she spotted a man in a suit and a few servers. Her fingers tightened around her key chain with every step, wanting to be far from the chaos of the evening.

She was almost to the main street, when she bumped into a solid wall of muscle that threatened to knock her on her ass. Her keys flew from her hands as she began to fall backward. Before she hit the ground, two strong hands reached out and caught her around the waist. She glanced up and into the gorgeous face of the god she’d seen earlier.

Up close, he was even more stunning and taller than she’d calculated. He exuded strength and masculinity, and when he focused that intense magnetism on her, all the air left her lungs, along with her ability to speak.

Genuine concern flashed in his whiskey colored eyes. “I’m sorry. Are you okay?” His voice was like warm chocolate, melting her insides. When he dropped his hands, Karly could still feel the imprints on her skin.

“Y-yes, I’m fine. I’m the one who should be apologizing. I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going.” Her heart pounded wildly in her chest. The man smelled incredible, like sandalwood and clean laundry.

“No need for apologies. Maybe you should sit down for a minute and have a drink with me.” There was elegance in the way he spoke that made her think of old money and private school.

For a moment Karly thought about taking him up on his offer, but she wasn’t in the frame of mind to pull off light conversation or flirty banter at this point. “Thanks, but I have to pass. This night, well, it didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped so I think it’s my cue to go.” She did her best to school her features, but inside she was feeling raw and vulnerable. The only thing she wanted to do was go home, soak in a hot bath, and lick her wounds.

His searing gaze swept over her and made butterflies flutter in her stomach “Perhaps I can make it better. Stay and have a drink with me.”

Karly glanced at his jacket for his nametag, but like her, he wasn’t wearing one. “I’m guessing you’re in either sales or politics, and if this is all for a campaign donation, I’m sorry, I already gave at the office.” Immediately she got a vibe telling her he was his own boss, which wasn’t hard to figure out. The man exuded confidence and power.

The throaty sound of his laughter raised goose bumps on her flesh. “So you’re funny and beautiful that’s quite a rare combo, Miss….?”

His words slid over her like a warm caress. A flush spread across her cheeks. She shook her head, a little dazed by the compliment. It would be hard not to succumb to his charms. If she was honest, his scent alone was driving her crazy. No, the man spelled danger. “I’m sorry. I should go. Good night and uh, nice running into you.” She sucked in a breath, turned and took a step toward the street.

“I don’t think you’ll get far without these,” he said in a bone-melting voice that forced her to turn around. He held up her keys in his hand.

“Right. Thanks.” She’d become so dazzled by his looks, she’d completely forgotten about them flying out of her hands

“My pleasure.” The way he said the word pleasure conjured images of their bodies tangled together, rolling around in satin sheets. The air sizzled with sexual tension. Slowly, he closed the distance between them and placed the keys in her hands. She purposely avoided touching him, but his fingers grazed hers, sending a spark of awareness up and down her arm.

“Don’t go,” he whispered.

“Why?” Karly was curious to hear what he’d say next.

“I can’t let you disappear into the night without telling me your name.” The words were spoken in a commanding tone that normally would’ve irritated her, but for some reason when he said them they hit every one of her buttons. “You can give me that much can’t you? It’s not every day I meet someone that captivates me and you have, quite thoroughly I might add.”

The scorching heat in his gaze made her shiver. She swallowed and tried to regain her equilibrium. It’d been a long time since a man had looked at her with such blatant desire. “I’m impressed— that’s quite a pick-up line. I’m curious, does it usually work?”

His smile was pure sin. “I’m not using a line on you. I just want the chance to talk to you. Give me five minutes, that’s all I ask.”

What happens after that?” His charisma began to melt her resolve. Karly stole a glance at his clothing. His sweater looked like cashmere and his suit jacket was perfectly tailored and cut to fit his body, only adding to his commanding presence.

“You decide. If you want to continue the conversation, I get your number, if not, then we part ways. No harm done.”

How could she say no when his approach was so refreshing “Nothing like cutting to the chase.” A guy that looked like him probably had women falling all over themselves to get his attention. It didn’t take a psychic to glean the man was a player. He was too smooth to be anything else. “Five minutes is all you get.”

“Five minutes is all I need.” He was persuasive, not to mention cocky as hell and yet for some reason she couldn’t seem to say no where he was concerned. Besides, his vibe was positive and cool with no warning signs.

“You’re pretty sure of yourself. Do you always get what you want?”

 Want more? Haunted is available now from Liquid Silver press, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon!

Don’t forget to stalk Shari! Check out her blog, on Instagram, Facebook and Goodreads, and sign up for her newsletter!

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Drawing on the Dark

Drawing on the Dark

(Spoilers for Stranger Things, Season 2, and X-Men: First Class.)

I’ve finally gotten to Stranger Things on my Netflix queue, a series my teen has been talking about (non-stop) for months. I enjoyed both seasons. It felt like a cross between The Goonies and Aliens, both among my favorite movies. I liked the show’s adoration for all things 80s. The characters are interesting and well-developed, and I liked that some of the obvious pairings (Nancy Wheeler and Steve Harrington, Joyce Byers and Jim Hopper) didn’t go the obvious way. I also loved seeing 80s movies icons (Winona Ryder, Matthew Modine, Paul Reiser and Sean Astin) in older incarnations, even though it made me feel my years.

In talking through the last few episodes with the Child, she criticized the psychic character’s discovery of her power. “It’s too much X-Men,” she complained. “That scene where Eleven moves the freight car and then when she closes the gate is exactly Charles [Xavier] and Magneto in X-Men [First Class].”

I thought about it for a while, and with all due respect to my teen, I think she’s wrong. If anything, the scenes with Eleven finding her emotional core are the inverse of the point between rage and serenity that Charles Xavier teaches Magneto. Her fellow experiment-ee, Eight, teaches Eleven to draw on anger and pain to reach her potential. During the climax, Eleven has a flash-back to her father-figure, Doctor Brenner, telling her that she has a wound inside her that is killing her. Eleven “cures” the externalization of that wound to save herself (and the world), but what fuels her explosive power are the darkest of her memories: loss, horror, fear and grief. There’s no serenity in that moment: Eleven draws purely on the dark.

Since Eleven is battling is a very negative force, indeed, I think what the show is saying is that sometimes we need to draw on that darkness inside us to defeat the external darkness. It’s a subversive idea, since traditional models of heroism pit light against darkness. It’s a brave choice for the show to make. They could easily have gone the other way. The show has set up positive relationships that Eleven could have drawn on. Instead, the show acknowledges that rage and pain are potent sources of power.

That’s an idea that resonates. It’s probably always resonated with the angriest segment of the population (teens), who know that anger can be just as powerful as love. (Despite the most successful of teen franchises, Harry Potter, preaching the opposite.) But it also resonates now, when so many of us, across all segments of the population, are dealing with so much rage and frustration. That brave, resonant idea is particularly poignant for me as I deal with my own feelings from this tremendously difficult year, and write it out through anti-heroes like the Hauser boys and my sometimes-dark urban witch, Tsara Faa.

Have I got it wrong? Am I mis-construing Stranger Things? Let me know in the comments!

Wicked Dance Interview

Wicked Dance Interview

Now that Wicked Dance is available, I’m delighted to have author Olivia Boothe on my blog today to talk about her book and the process of writing it.

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Me:  What was your inspiration in coming up with the plot in the story?

Olivia:  Growing up, dance was a way for me to escape. My parents worked two jobs to put food on the table, and there were times I would find myself home alone and I’d unleash my inner swan in the middle of our living room. I regret never pursing dance professionally. When writing this story, it only made sense Sara would be a contemporary dancer. It was a way for me to live my dream through her.

Me: That’s both heartbreaking and lovely that you have been able to live your dream vicariously through your writing. How long did it take you to write Wicked Dance?

Olivia: It took me about three years to write the story and two years to polish. A lot of time went into learning about the writing process in general. I joined online writing groups and made some great critique-partners who later became close friends. Juggling a full time job while running a household with three little children also played a role in the amount of time it took to write the novel. My next novel won’t take as long.

Me:  I felt when I was reading Wicked Dance like I was walking down the streets of New York with Sara and Tom, because the setting was so vividly described.  What sort of research went into writing it? Did you have to go to the places or interview people?

Olivia: In terms of research for the story, the internet is a great resource. I didn’t need to travel or interview people, but I have visited some of the locations.

Me:  It felt like you knew the places intimately. And speaking of intimate, tell me more about Tom, your hero. What would you say is one characteristic that endears him to readers?

Olivia: Tom Wright is not your typical wealthy book hottie. While his money plays a role in the story, it doesn’t over power his character. I’ve read my fair share of billionaire bad boy stories and my instinct was to write that type of Alpha, but Tom proved challenging because he refused to be stuffed into a prescribed mold.   The moment he stepped onto the pages of my book, Tom dictated his script. His romantic flare is charming, but it’s his humor that melts me.

Me:  His humor is great, and so is Sara’s. What about Sara? Why would readers like her?

Olivia: When readers meet Sara, she is trying to find her place in the world much like a lot of young women her age—both in the workplace and in love. She makes mistakes and must learn from them. Readers will find a woman who, in search of happiness, discovers that happiness doesn’t simply rest in the arms of the man she loves but in finding her true self. I think she models a good example of what self-worth is for women.

Me:  Agreed. Do you have a favorite quote or scene from the book?

Olivia: Yes. One of my favorite scenes is the first time Sara and Tom meet. Not a lot of people believe in love at first sight or soulmates, but I beg to differ. When I first met my husband, I knew in that instant he was going to be in my life forever. Sometimes, that deep connection can just be with a close friend, that one person you meet and you instantly click because it feels like you’ve known each other forever. I have one of those people in my life too. It may not happen to everyone, but those connections exist.

Me:  Those are magical moments, and I love to read about them. Now, I’ll admit I know the answer to this question, but so everyone else knows, what’s up next for you?

Olivia: I don’t want to keep readers waiting too long for the conclusion of Sara and Tom’s story. I plan to have book 2 finished by next year. I have the bones of a standalone novel about a young woman who is dumped by her fiancé four weeks before her wedding. I also have a fallen angel paranormal romance idea floating around. Lastly, I love reading Urban Fantasy and I’m having a ton of fun dabbling into that genre. That WIP is still in its infancy stages, but hopefully soon I can dedicate more time to fleshing out that storyline.

Me: Excellent! I’ll look forward to book 2 and I can’t wait for the paranormal romance and UF, since you know I love those! Thank you so much for visiting my blog today!

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I’ve had the privilege of reading Wicked Dance early and loved it! Here’s my review:

This is a beautiful slow burn of a story. The characters are fully realized and feel like people I know (and would like to meet for a drink!). The setting is so detailed I felt like I was walking down the streets of NYC with Sara. I loved the immersion into the characters’ world and the time the author takes to explore their lives before throwing them together. The tempo and pacing of this story is unusual in a time when so much feels rushed and disposable. This is not a disposable story. It’s a story to savor and read again and again.

The main characters have real personal demons. I won’t spoil the story by saying what they are or what they need to do to face them, but both bring serious baggage to their potential relationship. Their romance is messy: in turns hurtful, healing, hilarious and heartbreaking.

There is a resolution here: the author has not left us on a cliffhanger which I deeply appreciated. But there is clearly more to Sara and Tom’s story. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next chapter in their lives!

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Want to read Wicked Dance for yourself? Here’s where you can find it:

Amazon: http://amzn.to/2wNagQC

Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2hmJvAs

The Wild Rose Press: http://bit.ly/2fHtBNv

BookStrand: http://bit.ly/2xmqzZ8

Also, there are still a few days to enter Olivia’s giveaway for a $25 gift certificate (ends 25th November), so enter here!

And don’t forget to stalk Olivia on social media. She’s very cool and loves to hear from readers!

Website: https://oliviaboothe.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorOliviaBoothe/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/authoroliviaboothe/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/TheOliviaBoothe

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What Scares Me: The Implacable Villain

What Scares Me: The Implacable Villain

For the ongoing (unending) rewrite of Throwing Fire, I’ve been thinking a lot about what scares me. I want my main character to be really, really scared. More scared than he’s ever been before, even in a number of life-threatening situations. What induces that level of fear?

Part of the problem with the current draft is that although I’ve given my protagonist big stakes (losing the one person who matters to him), the thing that’s threatening him isn’t really very scary. The antagonist is just a normal human. Smart and resourceful, but just a person. Nothing to inspire the level of fear I’m going for. I do not want the bad guy to be more laughable than scary when I pull aside the curtain. I’ve seen this issue arise in a number of different books and films (Turn Coat in the Harry Dresden series and Spectre in the most recent Bond series come to mind). I don’t want “the big reveal” to be a let down; I want my antagonist to be really freaking frightening.

Sure, I could make the antagonist an extra-dimensional world-killer (Cthulhu will probably always be my favorite “big bad”). That’s scary. Not very realistic, though. I’d rather tap into a more basic fear.

My teen and her friends watched the It reboot recently, and in talking with Child about why Pennywise is so scary (other than . . . you know, he’s a clown), she said, “because you can’t really kill him. He just keeps coming back.” Now that, I thought, is bloody scary. An implacable, unstoppable antagonist. It could be an extra-dimensional being like Pennywise, or a cybernetic hunter-killer like the Terminator, or the hoodie-demons in Kate Griffin’s wonderful Midnight Mayor (which I’ve blogged about before, here), or it could just be a human that comes back and back, no matter how many times you think you’ve defeated them. That’s truly terrifying (and a worthy challenge for my protagonist).

Also, it occurs to me, that flipped on its head, it’s that quality of implacability, the refusal to yield even in the face of certain death, that defines heroes like Batman, Captain America and even Harry Potter. When it’s the villain who has this quality, I think it ups the game for the hero (or in the case of Throwing Fire, anti-hero) in just the way I’m looking for.

Do you find an implacable villain scary? Or is the unstoppable villain too unrealistic to get your heart pounding? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Pets in Space 2

Pets in Space 2

I’m delighted to welcome USA Today best-selling author M.K. Eidem to my blog today to talk about her new release, Pets in Space 2!

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As Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2 is coming out I thought I should introduce my fans to my grand fur babies.

So this is Bo, he is a 7 year old Brittany Springer and a little sweetheart. He loves to chase balls. He doesn’t care if they’re on the ground, in the water, or set on top of a ladder. He’s also very protective and is already very protective of my unborn human grandchild.

1 MK Eidem Pet Sketch

My story in Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space is A GRIM PET, a novella in the Tornian Series:

Grim’s two young daughters discover an injured raptor and their love, faith, and kindness creates far-reaching consequences no one expects.

Twelve leading Science Fiction Romance authors’ team up to deliver a dozen original never released stories that will take you to new worlds! Join New York Times, USA TODAY, and Award-winning authors as they share stories and help out Hero-Dogs.org, a charity that supports our veterans! Embrace the Romance: Pets in Space 2! Get your copy today! http://www.petsinspaceantho.com

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A little more about author M.K. Eidem:

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I have always loved to read and writing is just a natural extension of this for me. Growing up I loved to extend the stories of my favorite books and TV shows just to see where the characters went. I’ve been happily married for over twenty-five years to an awesome man and have two great kids. Now that the kids are out of the house, at least most of the time, I’ve found I have the time to write again. USA Today Bestselling Author. Chat with me at: http://www.mkeidem.com.

Connect with M.K. Eidem:

Website

Facebook

Twitter

Amazon Author Page

Writing A Sympathetic Anti-Hero

Writing A Sympathetic Anti-Hero

I love anti-heroes. I like heroic characters, too. But anti-heroes really float my boat. I think I first became enamored of anti-heroes as a teen reading Nancy Collins (Sonya Blue) and Tanith Lee (the demons of her Flat Earth novels). Then along came Richard B. Riddick, who will probably always be my favorite anti-hero (although the franchise is slowly eroding my adoration), followed by the 2012 version of Judge Dredd, and most recently, James Delaney in Taboo.

Because I write the stories I want to read, I write anti-heroes. Hale Hauser and his cousin Jon of Snowburn and Lure of Space are anti-heroes of the Riddick/Dredd variety. The demon lord Jou in Neon Blue may seem like the novel’s antagonist, but in my mind he’s the anti-hero of his own story, very much in the vein of Sonya Blue. There are heroic characters kicking around in my stories, but the characters I really want to wallow in are the anti-heroes.

What draws me to anti-heroes? Some of it is definitely the lure of the bad boy (or girl). Anti-heroes have more fun, it seems to me. They get to say and do things that heroic characters wouldn’t or couldn’t (although they don’t rise [or sink, depending on your perspective] to the level of parodic heroes like Deadpool). They occupy spaces avoided by heroes: the gritty underbelly of their societies. Those are the spaces that draw me anyway, and I’d rather follow an anti-hero down those twisty alleyways than walk the hero’s straight and narrow streets.

But there’s a fine line. It’s only a step or two from anti-hero to psychopath. The character J.D. from Heathers typifies this step for me: at the start of the movie he’s a bad boy on a mission to undermine stultifying high school culture, by the end, he’s a suicide bomber. Nothing against psychopaths, but they’re not the characters whose head-space I want to inhabit for several hundred pages.

So how to stay on the right side of that fine line when writing anti-heroes? Comparing a couple of my favorite anti-heroes, there are some noticeable similarities that I think makes them sympathetic rather than psychotic:

  • They have a recognizable moral code. It may not be a mainstream moral code; in fact, most anti-heroes are decidedly anti-authoritarian. But they have their own internal code that they do not violate. (I see this as the feature that separates anti-heroes from fallen characters like Michael Corleone in the Godfather series and Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler.)
  • They are survivors. As a testament to their strength of character, anti-heroes survive what kills mere mortals. This necessarily means they have suffered, often at the hands of an authority-figure, and carry the scars of their past suffering with them.
  • They protect the weak. This is a corollary of the anti-hero’s survivalism. They are sensitive to victimization and go out of their way to protect those they see as weaker (but deserving of protection) from abuse. (This is the trait that, for me, separates anti-heroes from rogues like Jack Sparrow and sympathetic psychopaths like Tony Soprano and Hannibal Lecter.)
  • They are leaders. Anti-heroes may be natural leaders, or they may be lone wolves who assume the mantle of leadership as a defense mechanism, but particularly in times of crisis, anti-heroes lead. Their strength of character and drive to survive draws others to them, and they lead their followers effectively, if ruthlessly.

The combination of these traits make for a character who is still likeable, but can do some seriously dark and unpleasant deeds. Those are the characers I want to get to know. Those are the characters I want to write.

Any essential anti-hero traits I’ve missed? Leave me a comment!