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June 10, 2010

Alright, I’ve neglected the blog for long enough now. (This is why I was reluctant to start one from the beginning though, because when I’m too busy for blog + work+ life, blog is the first thing to go.) But anyway…

Even at my relatively young age, I’ve conquered a lot of literary territory already. I have been published, albeit mostly in nonfiction form. I finished a novel (which I don’t look at these days because it makes me too crazy. After three separate attempts at revision there are far too many loose ends and extra scenes that were supposed to elucidate a plot point that is no longer in the story and…yuck. It’s my monster in a box, and I’m pretty sure it will stay that way, growling and clawing the box and producing ogreish odors from its weird monster orifices…).  I haven’t shied away from any genre, no matter how daunting. I’ve written nonfiction, poetry, sci-fi, horror, mystery and even just plain vanilla fiction, where everyone is flesh-colored instead of green, grey, or covered in blood.

The one thing I have never done successfully is write an erotic scene. Not that there’s a huge need for such material in my work, particularly since I tend to write a lot of adolescent or teenaged characters. I know that teenagers are not exactly unlikely to grope each other in the backs of cars, but since I tend to value a degree of realism in my fiction, that whole “erotic” element would be sorely lacking, I feel.

“Jim fumbled with the clasp of Sarah’s bra. How long had he been trying to unhook the damn thing? It felt like forever. Aha, the first hook was free now! He proceeded to the second, gaining confidence. As soon as the third hook of the bra was undone, the first one had somehow fastened itself again…”

Yeah. Sexy. I know, I know, realism isn’t sexy, even when it doesn’t involve teenagers. She farts, he accidentally pulls her hair. She swears like a trooper when she’s enjoying herself, he grunts like ManBearPig. I have trouble letting go of these little details in any kind of fiction; personal quirks make characters much more interesting to me. Unfortunately, when I write them in to a “romantic” scene, I feel like I’m looking in my neighbor’s garbage. All the horrible little secrets about their lives that I never wanted to know about are sitting there, right on the top of the can. And it’s not sexy, or even interesting. It’s gross, and it smells.

So that’s one reason I struggle with erotica of any kind.  The Erotic World exists in a bubble, where everyone is pink and blond/e and shaven and has great muscle tone. The real world is the real world. Fiction falls somewhere in the middle, but I haven’t found that happy median yet.

Science fiction and erotica often go together. Half-naked Orion slave girls have been the stuff of wet dreams for young nerds since the original series of Star Trek aired. Arthur C. Clarke wrote some very racy material (which I can’t read because looking at his photo on the back cover is like looking at my granddad, and if granddad talked about the kind of things Clarke likes to write about I would have to run and hide). And Isaac Asimov was seriously obsessed with boobies.

Following in this grand tradition, I invented a culture for my sci-fi universe whose religion centers around the pursuit of sexual ecstasy. It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Suddenly, though, I found myself having to write about various characters having erotic encounters. Acts that I could talk about freely with my husband or my girlfriends came out horribly on paper, either crossing the line from erotica to pornography or sounding mechanical and awkward (“Insert prong A into slot B and engage thrusting mechanism…”).

The problem I have with combining  sci-fi and erotica  is language. Contemporary slang is tossed around a lot in erotica, because the words “penis” and “vagina” sound about as exciting as “Bartholin’s glands” and “seminal vesicle.”  But the key term there is “contemporary.” Slang changes over time. My mom tends to call marijuana “grass,” but my generation usually refers to it as “weed.”  And that’s only a difference of a few decades. Science fiction stories tend to take place hundreds or even  thousands of years into the future. What the hell will we be calling our dingle-dangles and hoo-hoos then?

I’ve seen other writers struggle with this problem. Iain Banks, who is generally  a very good writer of science fiction, drops f-bombs like no time has passed at all, which bothers me. In the new Battlestar Galactica universe, the writers introduce the obvious substitute “frak,” which is really no better. How does one invent words that no one else has ever used, and then imbue them with meaning in such a way that the reader immediately understands them, without the writing seeming labored or overly explicative? I have no frelling idea.

My solution has always been to avoid writing too much about sexuality, but I feel like there’s a whole big chunk of life experience that I’m not addressing at all because of that. Reading my fiction is like watching an old movie: a couple goes into a bedroom together, and then the scene cuts to the next morning. She’s making waffles and he’s reading the paper. The fact that he’s still there means that something must have happened the night before, but the audience isn’t privy to any of that. They just get to drool over the waffles.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 10, 2010 1:24 pm

    I think there may be another way of looking at this. The trick is to write what you find erotic. If we believe you’re turned on by what you’re describing, there’s a good chance we will be too. You just have to go there. Which isn’t always an easy thing to do. But the journey is always worthwhile. Does that make sense?
    Melody x

    • June 10, 2010 1:57 pm

      That does make sense. I think I might make some time soon and do some writing exercises on this topic. I’ll definitely keep your advice in mind.

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