I’m writing a lot right now, which is pretty amazing. Actually, the current situation is a bit of a dream come true—daily writing, watching a manuscript expand and expand. But, while the word count increases, I’m just not feeling my story and the characters, they’re… meh. At best.
Thankfully, since the last time around, I’ve developed something of a network of expert writers who, I’m pretty sure, just saved me from a lot of pain. And by pain, I mean many wasted days and angsty tears. Writing, when it goes smoothly and the characters speak to you and the plot works like well-oiled gears, well, that writing is heaven. To me, it’s like a really, really good conversation with a best friend, where you’ve already interrupted each other for three hours and you never ever want to go home. That conversation. But when it doesn’t work, writing really messes with your emotions. It makes you think that maybe you didn’t actually just finish two other books. It makes you feel like you might as well give up because you just don’t have it in you and these stupid characters deserve about a half sentence in a How Not to Write manual. You get the picture.
This weekend, thankfully, when presented with my character/plot dilemmas, a rather excellent group of women helped talk me off the ledge of writing despair and into a better plot. I came out of that conversation jazzed and ready to go. The final piece of advice I received was to try starting with the juicy scenes--the ones I couldn't stop thinking about--and expand from there.
So, this morning, I sat down and started to write. Only, when things got really, really good--when my heart got all tight with excitement and the ideas started streaming in--I stopped. I set it aside and thought, ‘Great, now I can tackle the harder stuff.’ But there’s an issue with that and it’s something I forget about myself: I save my favorite for later. Always. Over the years, I’ve adjusted, forced myself to wear a favorite sweater or dress, rather than pushing it to the back of the closet. The same with books: I save that one I’ve been wanting to read forever, until… well, later. Which I realize is pointless.
It’s weird. I’m weird. But at least I know it, right?
And I even think I know where it comes from. By nature, I'm not a delayed gratification type of person. If they'd given me that marshmallow test as a child, it's pretty clear that I'd have swallowed that thing down in seconds. From the age of five until I was about ten, I had a best friend who knew how to wait. In fact, she made something of an art of it. While the rest of us gobbled our treats down, she collected them. By the end of the day, when the rest of us were just starving for a new round of treats, that bitch always had a marshmallow or ten. Eventually, I learned my lesson. After too many years of disappointment and end-of-day envy, I began to copy her, finally training myself in the art of delayed gratification.
But I'm older now. And I'll eat marshmallows for breakfast, if I want to. Besides, this is about more than a stupid marshmallow.
So, this morning’s new task is easy, because there’s no word count goal and I’m not looking to get any major plot work done. All I’ll do today is draft a fabulous love scene. That’s it.
I wonder if this auto-withholding is a kind of self-sabotage. Am I the only one who puts off the good parts or are there other writers out there torturing themselves for no earthly reason? And, if you've done this, but fixed it, how did you go about that? I'm dying to know.
It’s a long and sordid story.
First, I’m going to just put something out there, once and for all: I am obsessed with sex. Isn’t everyone, on some level? There’s a reason that sex sells. It’s exciting, voyeuristic, depraved. It’s intertwined with love, power, hate. It feels good and looks strange and everybody does it differently. We need it to survive, as a race and, whether we consciously think about it or not, it’s a part of us, inevitably linked to our growth, maturity and, I will venture to say from personal experience, childhood.
My story is also about reading and writing and how they have made me more me. Those who know me well are aware that reading has always been my distraction of choice—my parents can attest to the mountain of illicit library books collecting dust under my bed for years, not to mention the overdue fines I stuck them with upon my departure to college. Books have shaped me, from earliest childhood through today, and writing them even more so. I’ll never forget the day my father decided it was time for me to stop reading pocket romances and start reading more mature books. He took me to the mall and bought me The Catcher in the Rye, along with a book called Maia by Richard Adams. I suppose he thought that the Watership Down author was a safe, innocuous bet. If only he had read this review, he would have known that it's actually an "erotic epic."
What I discovered, as I quickly consumed that thousand page fantasy tome (which is, sadly, no longer in print), was a world of intrigue, violence and [drumroll] sex. My poor father, who had absolutely no idea of the monster he’d created with that one innocent purchase, was thrilled. He had succeeded: I was hooked on reading. I remain today an avid reader and, while over the years my tastes have certainly evolved, I am the type of person who would prefer to read something—anything—than nothing at all.
So, I’ve read a lot of books in a lot of genres and would never limit myself to only romance or erotica. In fact, authors like JRR Tolkien and PG Wodehouse are some of my favorites, because despite everything I just told you, there’s more to life than sex. But halfway through a favorite mystery or thriller—a Martha Grimes or a Robert Parker—a love interest will come along and my pulse will pick up and I’ll feel it—that thrill. Because, in the end, what turns my crank, more than finding the murderer or getting that ring or avoiding Aunt Agatha is when people fall in love. That stupid, trite, happily-ever-after.
That answers half the question—the why romance part. Erotica, though, is more personal, older history. It’s half-memories of neighborhood kids playing doctor and the weird feelings that came with those games. There’s a French film from the 1960s, based on a novel, Angelique, Marquise des Anges, about a woman who goes through a multitude of mid-17th century trials and tribulations. There’s a scene in this film where poor Angelique, who has already survived a forced marriage, amongst other things, is being paraded on the auction block, in front of an audience of lecherous men. I was just a kid when I first watched it. I had no understanding of why, but the feelings… oh the feelings were there. To this day, I remember the titillation, the excitement engendered by that particular scene.
That is the excitement that I seek to capture through my writing. It’s an exploration of things that I’ll never live through and don’t particularly need to. What happens when you bring together these two people, in this situation and throw in a little dash of chemistry? Writing erotica lets my brain answer those questions and experience those fantasies without the commitment of real life. It’s therapy.
Erotica is, by its very nature, hot. It makes you horny; or at least it should. There’s a notion that it’s filthy, dirty smut. Well, yes. But, unlike pornographic films, where every last hair (or lack thereof) is displayed in vivid Technicolor detail, the written word spells out the basic framework and the reader’s mind fills in the blanks.
There’s a scene in the series Breaking Bad, involving a bathtub, a corpse and acid. I stuck with the show until that moment, but I just couldn’t force myself to sit through such graphic violence as that scene promised. For those of you out there who don’t, or can’t, watch porn, books may just be the way forward. I can read about violence—my brain helpfully provides only those details that it can handle—and I recommend reading about sex the same way.
A final thought on ‘Mommy Porn’: Contrary to popular belief, erotica isn’t just for frustrated moms who aren’t getting any at home. It’s for anyone who recognizes that sex is actually the good part. Like holding hands and secret smiles, physical intimacy is a highlight of a relationship, the best part of the rocky road we negotiate along the way. It’s the chocolate chips and the marshmallows and the cream in the middle. So, if I’m going to write about love, well, I’m going to make it sexy, because I'm a big fan of that cream in the middle.