Saturday, June 15, 2013
Got a bit of a treat for you today. My good friend and colleague, author Carl Brush has written an essay on “Literary Sex” which I thought you’d find interesting. Carl and I have been friends for many years and since he lives in Oakland, CA, he’s my source for everything S.F. Giants. Whenever they win the World Series… like twice in the last three years (hear that, Dodger fans?), he sends my son Mike and I all the newspaper accounts and pictures. Thanks, Carl!
Here’s Carl’s thoughts on sex on the page…
LITERARY SEX—A GUIDE TO THE PROMISED LAND
So your characters are in love, or at least lust, and you’ve brought them to that point. What’s next? Maybe a stream of moans and groans and slurps and visions of bodies contorted into circusy gyrations? Or how about the tender embrace followed by the gently-lowered curtain with violins in the background? Or will it be something in between? Pun intended.
Part of the answer depends on your story’s genre. If it’s erotica, you probably need to go for the liquid gold. However, I’m neither the audience nor the writer to talk to about that. I have no moral objection, and I have read some erotica with interesting characters/plots. It’s just that when I get to the carnality parts, I find myself skating on by to find out what happens next in the tale. I’m much more interested in how to make the lovemaking scenes, both exciting in themselves and part of the overall development of action and character.
You don’t have to go far to find a couple of superb examples. Les Edgerton’s ThePerfect Crime contains one of the most erotic scenes I’ve ever read, yet there’s nary a salacious detail. Our intrepid hero and his lady are on a stakeout in an apartment so empty it’s bereft of furniture or carpeting, and they’re directly above the apartment of their quarry. A single sound will reveal their presence, leading to serious injury or death, as well as the foiling of their mission. Yet, their brand-new relationship is heating up and is on the brink of the big it. Thus, their decision to yield to their impulses is not only in character, not only crucial to the plot, but is triply erotic because of their need for absolute silence during the act. Mine is a second-hand description, and the experience is in reading Les’s masterful writing, but I trust I’ve made my point about the merging of the lovemaking with character, action, and story.
Staying with Les for a moment, let’s turn to Just Like That, in which the narrator undergoes a male-on-male rape. This time, Les gives us pretty much every in and out and back and forth of the physical event. However, the way he writes it, the main focus is still not the sex so much as the razor that’s poised at Jake’s neck during it. In terms of both action and character, the dramatic tension for the reader comes from wondering if Jake can or will fight back. So action, character, sex all at once, not separate elements.
Of course, both the examples I’ve given are from what the critics might call “gritty” crime novels, and one might assume it’s easier to accomplish such intertwining there than in lighter fare. Well, let me introduce you to a couple of historical thrillers and demonstrate that it ain’t necessarily so.
My “Vendetta Duo,” the recently released The Maxwell Vendetta and its sequel The Second Vendetta take place in 1908-10 San Francisco and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountains amid more “proper” surroundings than Les’s settings. Nevertheless, the course of young love cannot be denied, and I didn’t find it necessary to deprive readers of a share in the proceedings by doing a fadeout when the going got hot and heavy.
Andy’s been pursuing Virginia for a long time, and the reader (I hope) is wishing he’d just forge past her obviously insincere denials. Finally, in her artist’s studio, the time seems right. His jealousy aroused by the drawing of a nude male model tacked to her wall, Andy strips and assumes poses such as the David, then invites her to follow suit. She’s tempted, but demurs, giggling about his circumcision (unusual for the times) and his awkward positions. He’s made a bit of a fool of himself and is still a long way from home plate with Virginia. End of scene. Failure? Not so. Delay. And we know how tantalizing that can be. Andy’s clumsy efforts prove endearing and, in the end, effective. Consummation follows not long after. I don’t provide more graphic description, though. After all, we’ve already seen the goods, so we can vicariously join the proceedings while Andy gets his romantic groove on. Thus, action, character, sex. All at once. With a bit of the comical thrown in for good measure—always welcome and sadly missing from novels these days, I think.
There are other sex scenes in the Vendettas, scenes I intend to arouse the reader without much play-by-play but still juicy. I guess I prefer my literary sex to be more like a Japanese painting in which the space is as important as the object. After all, what’s the strip without the tease?
About Carl Brush
Carl Brush has been writing since he could write, which is quite a long time now. He grew up and lives in Northern California, close to the roots of the people and action of his historical thrillers, the recently-released The Maxwell Vendetta, and its sequel, The Second Vendetta. A third volume of the trilogy, set in pre-gold-rush San Francisco is nearing completion. Its working title: Bonita.
You can find Carl living with his wife in Oakland, California, where he enjoys the blessings of nearby children and grandchildren.
Journals in which his work has appeared include The Summerset Review, Right Hand Pointing, Blazevox, Storyglossia, Feathertale, and The Kiss Machine. He has participated in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference, the Squaw Valley Community of Writers, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the Tin House Writers’ Workshop.
Hope you enjoyed Carl’s essay! Get his books—just first-rate writing and storytelling!