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Sex and the Big Brain

(Archive)

Bernini Hades and Persephone close uptumblr_lg4h59T3z31qe2nvuo1_500I had a sex blogger ask me once how I could possibly write about things I hadn’t experienced. My answer at the time, though accurate, was a bit flippant I suppose. I said that it’s fiction. It’s no more difficult for me to write about sex that I’ve not experienced than it is for Thomas Harris to write about serial killers when he certainly isn’t one.

I think I can write about sex I’ve never experienced, would never even want to experience in the real world because I have a big brain. Oh, not my brain in particular. All humans have ‘em, and we use them in sex even when we’re not having sex. The thing about having a big brain is that it adds a new dimension to a biological act. In the hormonal, pheromonal soup that drives us to fuck, we get the added pleasure of making it up as we go along. In our heads — anyway we like it. And this, we can do completely and totally without the help of anyone else.

Which leads me to wonder how much of fiction writing – any genre of fiction writing – is really our big brain masturbating – first for our own pleasure, and if we get lucky and our work gets published, then we get to be exhibitionists and do it for an audience. Is that yet another layer of our sexuality? There’ve been countless of books and essays written on the connection between sexuality and creativity, and I’ve experienced it myself. When it’s right, when I’m in the zone, the rush, the high, the incredible buzz of getting characters and plot to move together in just the right tango of conflict and passion and drive, the experience from a writer’s point of view is extremely sexual, and yet somehow better than sex. It’s sex on steroids, it’s free-falling, it’s roller coaster riding, it’s fast cars, mountain tops and touching the tiger all rolled into one. And it all happens in some nebulous part of our brains that only a neurosurgeon might be able to pin-point for us. And who cares? Who cares as long as it gets us there!

Those moments don’t happen often, but it doesn’t matter. They happen often enough to push us forward, to keep us going and writing and longing and digging deep for the next wild brain-gasm. I just came off of one of those experiences while racing to finish the draft of The Exhibition. It was a
late-night write, a dark, dangerous sex scene in which the characters staged a coup and completely took control of the action. I came away staggering, looking down at my hands, wondering how the hell I wrote that. I was too hyped to sleep, too creeped out to think about who might be america-artist-art-paintings-prints-note-cards-by-howard-chandler-christy-nude-women-reading-approximate-original-size-18x16waiting for me in my dreams after what I’d just written. And yet … And yet I felt stretched, expanded, like for a second I’d seen sex at the core where the dark and light meet and swallow each other up. And what’s left is a wild, crazy pull to translate what just happened into some kind of written account that will convey that feeling, that sense of being beyond myself, yet deeper into the dark recess of myself than I felt really comfortable going. And as any writer would, longing to drag my reader right in there with me, into the dark, into the fire.

It was a long time before I could sleep. It was a long time before I felt quite like myself again. And that’s what got me thinking about my big brain,
which at times, seems so much bigger than just the space in my head. And I guess maybe I do have to experience something in order to write about it. But the big brain creates that experience in the privacy of my own head. That being the case, how could I not keep going back for more? How could I not want desperately to write what my big brain allows me to experience? How could I not want to bring it out and flaunt it for the reader’s full participation?

 

Voyeur or Body Thief

(From the Archives)
One of the most intriguing parts of story for me has always been the way in which the reader interacts with it, more specifically the way in which http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photo-abstract-black-white-writing-pen-image20156020the reader interacts with the characters in a story. I find that interaction especially intriguing in erotica and erotic romance.

To me, the power of story is that it’s many faceted and it’s never static. And, no matter how old the story is, it’s never finished as long as there’s someone new to read it and to bring their experience into it. Like most writers of fiction, I’m forever trying to analyse how a powerful story is internalised, and why what moves one reader deeply, what can be a life-changing experience for one may be nothing more exciting than window shopping for another.

In my own experience as a reader, there are two extremes. I can approach a story as a voyeur, on the outside looking in from a safe distance, or I can be a body thief at the other end of the spectrum and replace the main character in the story with myself.

One extreme allows the reader to watch without engaging and the other allows the reader to create sort of a sing-along-Sound of Music- ish experience for themselves. As a reader, I’ve done both and had decent experiences of novels doing both. As a writer, however, I don’t wish to create a story that allows my reader to be a voyeur of a body thief.

As a writer I want to create a story that’s a full-on, in-the-body, stay-present experience from beginning to end. I want characters that readers can identify with and are drawn to but don’t necessarily want to be. I want a plot that feels more like abseiling with a questionable rope than watching the world go by from the window of a car. I want to create that tight-rope walk in the middle. I want to create that place in story where the imagination of the reader is fully engaged with the story the writer created. That place is the place where the story is a different experience for each reader. That’s the place where the story is a living thing that matters more than the words of which it’s made up. It matters more because the reader has connected with it, engaged with it, been changed by it. In that place, the story and the reader are in relationship. Neither can embody the other, neither can watch from a distance. The end result may be a HEA, the end result may be disturbing and unsettling, but at the end of a really good read, the journey to get there is at least as important as the end result.

Erotica and erotic romance are by their nature a visceral experience. Though I think that’s probably true of any good story. I don’t think good
erotica can be watched from a distance any more than it can be the tale of the body thief. While either will get you there, there’s no guarantee that the journey will be a quality one. And I want a quality journey. I want to come to the end wishing I hadn’t gotten there so quickly, wishing I’d had the will power to slow down and savour the experience just a little longer. I want to come to the end wondering just what layers, what subtleties, what nuances I missed because I got caught up in the runaway train ride and couldn’t quite take it all in.

A good read is the gift that keeps on giving. Long after I’ve finished the story, the experience lingers, and little tidbits that I raced through during Sleeping woman reading181340322466666994_IswNAb85_bthe read bubble up from my unconscious to surprise me, intrigue me, make me think about the story on still other levels, from still other angles. When I can’t get it out of my head, when I find myself, long after I’ve come to the end, thinking about the journey, thinking about the characters, thinking about the plot twists and turns, then I know the story has gotten inside me and burrowed deep. There was no pane of glass in between; there was no body for me to inhabit because all bodies were fully occupied by characters with their own minds and their own agendas. The experience extends itself to something that stays with me long after the read is finished and makes me try all the harder to create that multi-layered experience in my own writing.

 

The Word I Just Can’t Say …

Writing imagePerhaps there’s something wrong with my mouth, the way my tongue touches the hard palate, or the way my lips purse. Perhaps it’s a genetic defect, though I don’t recall either my father or my mother having the problem. But then again it could have skipped a generation, I suppose. Maybe my mother dropped me on my head when I was a baby …

On the other hand, it could be some sort of psychological problem. Maybe I need to seek help. Maybe Freud would say I got stuck in one of the early stages of childhood development … oral? … anal? (Oh knock it off! I can see where your naughty minds are going with that one ☺) Possibly there’s a 12-step group that deals with my problem, or maybe there are psychologists who specialize in my particular affliction.

Note to self: Check online for self-help books on topic.

Well, it’s no good speculating when the damage is done. I suppose now all I can really do is treat the symptoms — the waking up in the middle of the night with my heart racing, the excess drinking of coffee, the panic attacks when I sit down at my laptop to work in the morning and realize just how much I have to accomplish that day, the associated inability to do housework, my inclination to hide out for days with no companionship other than my laptop.

I have a sneaking suspicion that my affliction is common among writers, though when I’m suffering from a particularly bad bout, I feel like I’m the only one in the world who just can’t do it.

I feel like I’m the only one in the world who just can’t say NO!

Oh, believe me, I’ve tried, but I break out in a cold sweat of fear that this might just be the one time when I absolutely, under no circumstances, should refuse the possibility that this could be the best opportunity ever. So I say YES!

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-birthday-background-party-streamers-confe-colorful-balloons-design-childrens-design-kids-image35629278The way I see it in my fevered little mind, saying no shuts doors. Saying no means that whatever might have resulted from the simple uttering of the YES word, whatever adventures I might have had, I’ve just refused with a simple two-letter word. I’m a firm believer that the more doors we walk through, the more doors are opened to us. That’s all positive, that’s all a good thing, but just how many doors can one person walk through before they become a twitching, neurotic heap, hunching bleary-eyed over their laptop? … er … wait a minute. Why does that sound so familiar?

I suppose as NaNoWriMo is now well and truly upon us, there’ll be a lot of people wondering if they should have said no. Maybe it’s a Pavlovian thing. Yes means possibilities. Yes means new opportunities. No means the doors are shut to those possibilities. Saying yes generates a sense of excitement, a sense of anticipation of new adventures, of new plots and new characters. But doesn’t saying NO also open the door to other, different possibilities? Saying no means that I could actually have time to give my house a proper cleaning. Saying no means I might have time to do girlie things like shopping for pretty stuff and practical stuff I’ve put off shopping for because I said YES too many times. Saying no means I could do some much-needed redecorating and renovating. Saying no means I might have time to take up a new hobby, to take an online course, to learn to speak Italian …

But to me, saying no means feeling lazy and unproductive. OK, I get that those feelings are just a part of my inherently neurotic self, but I feel them nonetheless. And if I’m honest, I can’t neglect that the doors that saying NO would open are often doors that I’m a little bit scared to walk through. Better the devil you know … Instead, I say YES, and I feel the exuberant panic that’s a cross between jumping up and down and punching my fist in the air in triumph and excitement and banging my head on the desk in the cold sweat of fear as I moan, ‘Ohmygod! What have I done?!?!?!’

the screamI’m in that scary exciting, run away screaming, writing like a madwoman against tight deadlines space at the moment. Grace Marshall is frantically writing Interviewing Wade to come out in February. KD Grace is butting in to write her first ever M/M novella, which just also happens to be her
first ever vampire story. To Rome with Lust is less than a month from its release date, with a two-week blog tour hard on its heels – posts still to be written … I’m right in the middle of the Lakeland Witches blog tour, and there’s a tongue-in-cheek billionaire novella waiting in the wings. All this in the midst of feeling bereaved that Demon Interrupted had now had its online HEA, and I’ll miss writing sexy, romantic stories for you on my blog. Do I dare say YES to another serial??? *Twitch, shiver, anticipate*

I’ll admit my reasons for sharing my NO-rosis with you are a bit mercenary. I needed a blog post for today and I couldn’t say NO! Also, I’ve read that it helps to talk about our neuroses. Isn’t that the first step to recovery? Doesn’t that mean I might be more likely to say NO next time???

… No, not really?

Didn’t think so …

 

Pointers for Writing Sex in Fiction

As a writer of erotic romance, I’m always trying to analyze the ways in which sex strengthens story. I’ve been very vocal in my belief that a story without sex is like a story without eating or breathing. Sex is a major driving force in our lives on many levels that I’ve dealt with in many blog posts. Because it is a major driving force in our lives it must also be a major driving force in story. Sex is a powerful way to create conflict and chaos in a story. It’s a way of allowing our characters to interact on an intimate level. And it’s one of the very best ways to cut through our characters’ facades and get an honest look at who they are when their guard is down and they’re at their most vulnerable. With that in mind, I’ve decided to share a few points that I always find helpful when I write sex scenes. For me, going back to the basics is always a great way to sharpen my skills. And I love to share the things that work for me.

Three occasions not to write sexwriting image 2

1. While writing children’s books
2. While writing the definitive work on antique saltcellars.
3. When you’re not a writer, you’re a bricklayer. Even then …

Three important reasons to incorporate sex in your writing

1. Sex adds tension.
2. Sex adds depth and dimension to a story, and gives it more humanity.
3. Sex adds intimacy and transparency to the story and helps the reader better know the characters.

Three big no-nos in writing sex

1. Sex should never be gratuitous. If it doesn’t further the story, don’t put it in.
2. Sex shouldn’t be a trip to the gyno office. Technical is NOT sexy.
3. Sex should never be clichéd or OTT. (unless it suits the story)

Four suggestions for writing better sex scenes
1. Write sex unselfconsciously. No one is going to believe it’s you any more than they believe Thomas Harris is a cannibal.
2. Sex scenes should always be pacey. Too much detail is worse than not enough. Sex should neither slow nor speed up the pace of the novel. It shouldn’t be used like an interval in a play. It should not serve as filler to bolster word count. It should always keep pace with the story being told.
3. Approach sex in your writing voyeuristically by watching and learning from your characters. Their personalities, emotional baggage and behavior traits will dictate how they have sex and how you write it.

4. You should always be able to feel a good sex scene in your gut. I’m not talking about wank material, I’m talking about The Clench. It’s a different animal. The clench below the navel is for the sex scene what the tightness in the chest and shoulders is for the suspense scene.

The power of good sex can drive a story in ways that almost nothing else can. Good sex can be the pay-off for a hundred pages of sexual chemistry and tension, but the pay-off is even better if it’s also the cause of more chaos sling-shotting the reader breathlessly on to the next hundred pages and the next.

 

Mythology and Inspiration

(From the Archives)

It’s elusive, it’s mysterious, it’s exhilarating, and we erotic writers crave it more than the sex we write waterhouse_apollo_and_daphneabout. We chase it shamelessly, we long for it passionately, we would gladly make ourselves slaves to its every whim and, no matter how fickle it is, we always welcome it back with open arms. When it’s with us, it’s at least as good as the best sex. And when it’s not, we mourn its loss like a lover. I’m talking about inspiration, of course. It’s the breath of life for every story ever written and the coveted ethereal presence that every writer yearns for.

The mythological link to inspiration is especially interesting to me in the light of a life-long fascination with mythology. My novel, The Initiation of Ms Holly, is a retelling of the Psyche and Eros myth. My new novel, The Pet Shop, is a rough retelling of Beauty and the Beast, which of course is just another version of Psyche and Eros. Several of my short stories have direct mythological connections.

Greek mythology – mythology of any kind, really — is fabulous inspiration for smutters. The gods are always dipping their wicks where they don’t belong and finding ever more creative ways to do so. Nine months later, viola! A magical child is born, a child with gifts that will be needed to save the world, or at least a little part of it. But there’s one story where the lovely virgin resists, and no wick-dipping occurs. That’s the story of Apollo and Daphne.

The Muses serve Apollo, so of course this myth interests me. Apollo is the god of light and the sun; truth and prophecy; medicine, healing, and plague. He is the god of music, poetry, and the arts; and all intellectual pursuit. Daphne is a mountain nymph and not interested in giving up her virginity to some randy god. While Apollo is pursuing her, she prays to her father, who is a river god, and he turns her into a laurel tree. Ovid claims it’s not Daphne’s fault that she’s not hot for Apollo right back. He claims that Cupid, who is angry at Apollo shoots Daphne with a leaden arrow, which prevents her from returning Apollo’s feelings. But what matters is that she misses out on Apollo’s inspiration.

My theory is that the whole mythology of gods coming down from Olympus, or wherever else gods come down from, to seduce humans is really nothing more than a metaphor for inspiration.

leda Cornelis_Bos_-_Leda_and_the_Swan_-_WGA2486Consider all the different forms in which Zeus visits his paramours. He takes the form of a swan with Leta, he visits Danae in a shower of gold coins, he approaches Europa as a white bull. Writers understand that inspiration can take absolutely any shape, and often the very shape we least expect.

The gods aren’t always gentle in their seductions. Hades drags Persephone off to the underworld
screaming and kicking all the way. Zeus turns Io into a white cow, who is tortured and tormented by Hera. In the form of an eagle, he abducts Ganymede and drags him away to Mount Olympus. Writers know well that inspiration doesn’t always come in a gentle form. In fact one of my creative writing teachers used to advise her students to go to the place inside themselves that most frightened them, most disgusted them, most disturbed them, and that’s the place where they would find inspiration, that’s the place from which their writing would be the most powerful.

Finally, whether inspiration comes in gentle, beautiful forms or whether it drags us kicking and screaming and tears us from limb to limb, the result will be something greater than what it sprang from. From the seductions of the gods, the children born were always larger than life. They were heroes and monsters and fantastical creatures, but they were all born of that joining of divinity and humanity, they were all the result of what happens when something greater penetrates the blood and the bone and the grey matter that is our humanity. What comes from that inspiration may indeed be monstrous or fantastical, but it will always be, in the mythical sense, born of the gods.

Which leads me back to Daphne and Apollo. The cost of inspiration is the loss of innocence. We are seduced, we are penetrated, we are impregnated with something new, something fresh, something possibly even frightening, something that we, as writers must carry to term and give birth to. But none of
that can happen without yielding to the seduction. Daphne became a tree, unable to move, unable to
think, unable to ever be penetrated or inspired. One can only imagine what may have resulted from the psyche_et_lamour_327x567willing union with the god of light and truth and poetry and the arts and all the things we writers crave. I’ll be honest, I fantasize about Apollo. I fantasize about inviting him right on in and saying I’m yours. I’ll
take all you can give me, and please, feel free to stay as long as you like. Though, in truth, in my fantasy, I skip the dangerous and scary bits. And encounters with inspiration can often be dangerous and scary.

There is a cost to inspiration. It’s the obsession we all know as writers, the one that won’t allow us to think about anything else in the waking world and sometimes even in the dream world until we get the very last word down, until we make it shine exactly the way we conceived it, exactly the way it penetrated us. My heart is racing just writing this because every writer knows what it feels like, and every writer lives for it to happen again and again and again. So yeah, forget the tree rubbish, laurel or otherwise. Inspiration, take me, I’m yours. Have your way with me. I couldn’t be more willing if I tried.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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