Sex and the Single Novelist
A fantasy novel I’m working on is as much a love story as an adventure story. My characters have a couple of scenes where they indulge in a bit of kissing and hugging. I wanted the scenes to seem romantic and charming. I do neither of those well in my writing (I do them fine in real life, thank you for asking) so I thought research was needed.
I went to my local library, waited until right before closing, and then checked out 10 modern romance novels, including several historical romances. I explained to the clerk I was only doing research. She cleverly concealed her avid interest in what I was saying by yawning widely.
I took the books home and opened one. I was pretty sure I’d know the plots of the book: girl meets boy, he treats her badly, they fight the whole book, and then they fall into bed as the last page is turned.
Man, I’m out of date. They fall into bed a lot sooner and more often these days. Many times. The rest of the plot is still the same, but they’re doing the naughty and doing it with a lot of detail. A lot of detail. Of course, they don't use clinical terms to describe the sex – apparently that would kill the mood – instead we are treated to phrases (and I didn't make up any of these) like "his throbbing man-shaft of pleasure iron," "her snow white, silky soft nursing mounds," and one that I had to read twice to fully appreciate its complete awfulness: "her undulating cavern of velvet passion."
Cavern? My gosh, how big is this woman? Do they give tours? Is her last name Carlsbad? And that undulating can’t be good. She needs to see a doctor and fast. As for the “pleasure iron,” I showed that part of the book to a friend of mine, and she said, “Ouch.” Then she borrowed the book and hasn’t returned it to me yet.
And the way they talk during sex. Something like this: "'She spread her arms wide and cried out, 'I cannot wait! Take me now. Fill my senses with your savage love. Let me fly among the heavens. Let us soar to the stars above, my love, and we will shine among the hosts.'" Look, lady, he’s not the space shuttle.
But instead of running away from this madwoman, he draws closer and says, "Yes, my love! We will outshine the stars! We will blaze like a fiery comet on its journey to the illuminating sun!"
Later on, she would awaken to discover he had stayed awake all night staring at her “pure alabaster body softly gleaming in the moonlight.” Rather than being creeped out, she felt all warm and fuzzy to know he had watched her drool and snore all night.
The historical novels followed the same plot, although they had more pirates and sword fights. The women are all cold and haughty, but hiding a burning passion. They only need a handsome rogue for their passion to be finally released. Luckily enough, the men are handsome rogues, but need the love of a good woman to realize that they always wanted to live in the suburbs and have several children who will carry on their family name (since they are actually the wayward sons of dukes or princes, but never accountants or lawyers).
This is not to say that they were badly written books. At least three of the books kept me reading as the writer cleverly found ways to tweak the conventions that confine a romance novelist. And two of the books were even intentionally funny. Don’t think I’m picking on romance novels.
But I was shocked by the graphic nature of the books. As I read them over and over and over ... and over and over, I kept wondering what’s this world coming to? And these were at the public library. Not in a brown paper wrapper or anything.
Still, reading those books was informative and helpful. I learned what phrases I will not be using in my book. In fact, I think the characters in my fantasy novel will have to content themselves with shaking hands and exchanging meaningful glances. Any more than that could cause undulating, and none of us want that. I don’t think we do. Do we?
Excerpted from Floozy & Other Stories, copyright 2010 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved. No copying without express permission from the publisher and author. Thank you for reading.