Monday, May 20, 2013

Fading to Black...or not...

I face a quandary many authors have faced at one time or another. Does one follow one's characters to the bedroom / back seat of the car / living room floor / beach / jacuzzi etc., or leave it totally to the reader's imagination?

I have struggled with this for as many years as I have been writing fiction, and have come to the conclusion that sex is part of life, and if we are looking in on the lives of various characters, there ought to be no shame in looking in on this part of their lives as well.

One editor puzzled me. Heterosexual lovemaking, described in what I fervently hoped were artful, sensitive terms, was considered "gratuitous." Better I should simply "fade to black." However, to this same person (a straight woman), descriptions of sexual relations between two men were an entirely different matter. There was never any objection to those scenes. Hmmmmm...

Admittedly, one of my gay male characters has been declared "hot" by folks from all walks of life: young and old, male and female, gay and straight. More than once, someone has been known to remark, "Man, I wish he was real!"

He -- Tamlin Marbeck -- is a strange combination of many diverse, possibly contradictory elements. He is a Scot with an incredible accent; tall, dark, and rugged; a bit dangerous; a rugby player; a bass viola da gamba virtuoso. Basically, he's a heady, intoxicating, overwhelming force of nature.

His partner, Neal Bryan, crippled all his life by a birth defect left too long untreated, is every bit as intense, albeit for different reasons. He certainly looks the part of the sensitive musician, but looks are deceptive. In his own way, he may be even tougher than Tamlin.

Neal is the character who has been with me longest, born one Spring morning in 1977, in the carels outside my Algebra classroom. I was supposed to be studying Algebra, but my mind wandered in a different direction. I loved my Algebra teacher, but I hated Algebra. What can I say? And what a coincidence! Neal  also hated Algebra and managed to avoid it completely by being an independently wealthy, orphaned musical prodigy, studying at Juilliard at age 15.

He's changed a bit since those days. Yes, he did end up being a prodigy, though not an orphan,  and attended music school in New York City (Juilliard is implied, but never stated), and commuted from Long Island with his father every day, until he was old enough to move into his own (funded by his parents) apartment. Eventually, he found a life partner, moved in with him, struggled through some really hideous corrective surgery on his bad leg, and established his career. (Teaching, and oboe performance).

His messed-up leg and the way his parents dealt with it ended up being a metaphor for my own asthma, in a visible form, and the way my parents dealt with that. Overprotection was the rule of the day. For both Neal and myself, being as closely guarded as we were, it was a wonder we ever became able to function in the real world.

Since Neal was that brother / alter ego I could look up to, if he succeeded in my fiction, then I could succeed in real life, too. This little charm never worked quite as well as I would have liked, but it was always there as a touchstone and did help to some degree, especially once the stories began to lose the unrealistic idealism of youth.

I find myself once again considering sex in literature, specifically MY literature.

In some scenes, it's just good old honest sex. It's detailed enough to be pleasant, but doesn't take up a whole lot of space.

Then, there's Epic Sex. Every book I have written has at least two Epic Sex scenes that I can think of. Sean and Mary's First Time in "The Balladeer's Tale" will always be a favorite. It's NICE Epic Sex.

One of my other personal favorites is not so nice, and involves Tamlin seducing one of Neal's (consenting adult male) students. Of course, that sort of thing wouldn't have happened at all, if the student had not always had the hots for Tamlin, or if Neal were well and not dying by slow degrees. It's a bad combination of factors, and both parties are sorry for it afterwards.

Epic Sex scenes go on for several pages, not just a few paragraphs. There is the setting of the scene, the establishment of the general atmosphere, and a progression of events leading to the inevitable conclusion. Some say I write this sort of thing well. Some, as noted above, say it's gratuitous.

Do I still feel squeamish sometimes, after writing sex, be it ordinary or Epic? You betcha! But squeamish enough to leave those parts out of my stories and "fade to black?" Hell no! It's part of life, and if I am to be an honest writer, I must embrace it.

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