So there I am, tapping away at my keyboard, while renovations go on down the hall from my apartment or I hear the goofy dog barking through the wall next door or the traffic is getting too loud, but it’s all okay because my magic carpet of a Compaq PC has whisked me off to New York City, where my two fictional gay lovers are getting it on. And I’ve typed something like:
Brin’s hands were already pulling down his underwear as they stared eye to eye, and he enjoyed the fact that the young man’s breath was growing rapid. He was swelling in Brin’s palm, Brin’s other hand cupping his testicles, finding the delicate sensitive area just underneath that prompted a moan of vulnerable longing.
And I think, Oh, damn!
Ahem, I have to excuse myself and go take care of business.
I won’t tell you what I was doing. You can probably guess what I was doing, which makes me wonder how common it is with other writers: getting aroused by your own sex scenes. To me, it’s downright goofy, a kind of literary masturbation that you almost feel as embarrassed over as the physical kind (but given that the first inevitably leads to the second one, I get to be embarrassed over both). Does this happen to other novelists? I wonder. It gets even goofier when you jump your partner with spontaneous passion, and since they might have the heard the clackety-clack of your keyboard moments ago, they can somewhat pointedly ask you, with some amusement, “You were writing something dirty just now, weren’t you?”
Ummm… Yeah… But honestly, babe, you turn me on much better than any fictional hunky guy! That’s all imaginary.
“Fine. Then you can make do imagining me for the next while…”
Okay, that hasn’t happened to me yet. But one of these days, I might be accused of imaginary adultery.
I know I can’t be the only one. We all have our peccadilloes. Lisabet Sarai, who’s written her share of hetero erotica M/M and M/M/F novels, writes in the nude and has a photo on her website’s gallery to prove it. Of course, she has the body for it. If I did that, I’d scare readers and might possibly blind them for life.
But back to our issue. Here’s the other strange thing. Just as you might get turned on by your own prose, once you interrupt yourself and (cough, clears throat) come back to work, it’s all largess. Was it good for me? Yes, but now we have to take care of you. Now I’m here for you, honest (ignoring the fact that we took care of me first; “You selfish prick”). Now it’s about turning on the reader, and you have to think over whether those purple, oh-so-rushed descriptions will be sexy and toe-curling for this anonymous audience. Quick! Delete, revise, put that here, change that there, take your time, no hurry—
Which brings us to another weird and wonderful territory. What’s entertaining, even arousing in sex scenes to readers of M/M?
But let’s back up. More foreplay please.
Back in 2009, on this very site, Wave did a poll, “Sex in M/M Books… Do Readers Want More or Less?” As it turned out, readers thought of our genre as “two categories of books – sweet M/M romances, and M/M ‘erotic’ romances where the sex is anticipated and very much desired.” I’ll let you go look up the results, but I was grateful at least that readers’ tastes sort of reflected my own in that they didn’t want too much “trash talk,” (neither do I, in bed or on the page), they wanted sex scenes to also have a point in advancing character and plot (so do I… No, honestly, I am trying to improve my character in bed…and, um, my plot; at the moment, I’m scheduled to be murdered in a totally cliché way). And they want tenderness. Don’t we all.
The heart wants what it wants when it reads, but there are no formulas to this kind of stuff. There can’t be. As with pick-up lines and banter in real life, I’m sure M/M readers can see the players coming. “You’re not really with me. You’re thinking of those other characters! This is too familiar!” It better not be. So we writers do have to show a bit of ourselves and our tastes in sex scenes, because no fan—and no devoted lover—wants a sex life to get dull and routine. Butterfly kisses again? Zzzzzzzz… If you mine the depth of your imagination, you have to bring up fresh diamonds.
But it gets complicated. In one of my pseudonym alter egos, I was interviewed by Writer’s Digest over hetero erotica and discussed the perceptions that readers might mistake the sex life of characters for the sex life of the author. Of course, the two are very different. For one thing, in real life, I use more puppets. When I did write straight erotica, one of my hetero partners casually remarked, only half-jokingly, “By the way, if you ever write about anything we do in bed, I’ll kill you.”
I was at a complete loss for what I could possibly describe that we did that would stand out as anything unique or different from a gazillion other couples on Earth. I found myself ticking off a mental list, like one of The Big Bang Theory geeks checking their comic collectibles: “Got it, got it, got it…” But in this case, it was, “Done it, done it, done it, so’s the rest of the world…”
When it comes to M/M, however, I have to confess my sex scenes have gone from the more personal, evolving to the more generic and less personalized with each book. My brilliant editor, ever on the watch for fanfic clichés, is quick to rap my knuckles with a ruler like a Catholic nun, should I ever let a “mewling” escape one of my characters in bed or have a guy sound remotely feminine in a somewhat submissive role. And in this, she’s right. Something can be written as true, but still feel hackneyed and like well-covered ground. But here’s the thing. If you’re a guy, having someone inside you—whether a guy or a girl with a toy—can be an incredible experience that does bring you to a vulnerable point where you sort of empathize with the feminine. Someone’s inside you. That’s powerful.
So swinging back full circle, I haven’t decided for myself when I write an M/M sex scene whether it’s “my job” to arouse the reader, since most readers in the genre care overwhelmingly more about the romance than the sex. But let’s face it, I’m no Jane Austen. I can’t do the “he took him in his arms” followed by hasty ellipses. I like subtext dialogue as much as the next reader, but an M/M Austen with sedate sex scenes, I ain’t:
“No,” said Darcy, “I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, Emmett, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper I dare not vouch for—and if you don’t drop your pants this instant, I’ll drag you into the billiards room and give you a blow job right there in front of Miss Bingley.”
Yes, I like my guys to talk, but I also want them to end up getting it on. To me a hot scene by definition should have nice build and lots of foreplay, and that makes it entertaining. And of course, a scene isn’t hot at all unless we care already about the two people involved.
The emotions are usually not the problem for me to write. The truth is, when I compose a gay sex scene, I usually get my limbs all tangled up as much as my pronouns. He kissed him down his chest, lifting his leg as—hold on, wait a minute, who the hell’s doing what to whom?
Yep, it’s possible to have really bad sex on the page. Writing it, that is. You can get interrupted. You realize you’ve let the guy go on for paragraphs kissing and fondling in over-the-top description, but you’re not gaining any momentum to move things into the bedroom, so you rush the sentences, but it feels forced until you’re finally telling yourself, “It’s not you, honestly, it’s me.” Um, who are you talking to, dumbass?
In the end, you have been playing with yourself all along even if you keep your fingers on the keyboard.
But when it works, when it really works, your partner—your reader—will tell you how you were, without you blowing your cool and credibility and asking if it was good for them. That’s one advantage over sex in real life. When it’s over, I don’t know many people who have their lovers put up stars in a public forum and who openly recommend you to friends and complete strangers.
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