SULTRY, SENSUAL, NOT SLEAZY
What puts sizzle in a novel without igniting the book? The popularity of Erotica raises some intriguing issues that each author must consider. Elisabeth Benedict in her classic The Joy of Writing Sex makes a key distinction: a sex scene is not a sex manual. Moreover, even though a sex scene and a love scene share common elements, emotion carries the day in a true romance. Personally, my feelings about erotica range from mild distaste to utter boredom. Biology was never my favorite subject. I know the names for male and female body parts and they have all the allure of a frat house stag film.
Euphemisms can also be cloying. “Throbbing member” is a term popularized ad nauseaum by early romance writers. While it gains points for subtlety, it fails the reality test big time!
Most adult women have seen a representative sample of said product, but honestly, how often were they in motion? Moreover the term ‘member’ suggests a man more comfortable with Sam’s Club or the Kwannis than a passion pit.
I’m a strong advocate of sultry, sensual love scenes in which protagonists use each of their five senses to further the experience—a gentle touch on the cheek, a feathery brush of his lips against her neck, the faint hint of a masculine fragrance, (Creed’s Green Irish Tweed is my personal fav), the taste of honey cream on a woman’s skin, and the sweet sound of words that touch the heart. These things coupled with emotion will heat up any page without triggering the ick factor.
Let’s face it: strong, intelligent heroes with great hair and smoldering eyes rightfully claim their place in any love scene. Guys with a sense of humor and skill in martial arts surge right to the head of the line. Wimps, whiners and bullies can head for the exit sign anytime. In my novels, the most erotic scenes involve two dominant personalities whose hunger for each other overwhelms them. They unite despite their differences and find in each other that ‘missing self’. The experience for both the reader and the characters is heightened when the imagination is engaged. Consider this scene from The Abacus Prize as Grace Quinn and Patrick Fong find each other.
He rose and slowly walked toward me. “It’s not a crime to love something beautiful.”
I stepped backward. “You charmed your way into my life. You used me. I was a fool.”
Patrick smiled. “I didn’t hear you complain.”
My hand found the doorknob. I could escape, run away if I chose to.
He took slow, deliberate steps until he reached me. I caught my breath unsure of what would happen next. Patrick unclenched his fists and closed the bedroom door. He took my hand, gently kissed it, and pulled me to him.
“I never lied to you,” he said, “and I never will.”
He scooped me up and carefully placed me on the bed.
Bring out the fans, ladies! That’s my concept of a sexy scene that stimulates the imagination more than a description of body parts ever could. Margaret Mitchell understood the power of suggestion when she penned the famous staircase scene between Rhett and Scarlett. Without using explicit language, that Southern belle ignited passions and inspired sermons that reverberated worldwide.
To my delight, thriller king Lee Child included a tender love scene in his most recent Reacher novel,The Affair. He chronicled the union of his tough guy protagonist with a beautiful ex-marine in understated, exquisite prose that added dimension to his characters and his writing.
Bottom line time: sex, romance and love are interrelated concepts that spice up our reading material and our lives. The “X” factor is emotion, engaging the mind as well as the body of our literary creations. Novels offer a full menu of choices. I’ll take mine ala carte, please.