So you can read my books

Sunday, October 6, 2013


{In Whip Smart, Melissa Febos
 chronicles five years in her early twenties
when she was a dominatrix and heroin user.
But the book is about so much more than those details.
It’s about living a lie:
sometimes many lies at once.
It’s about lying to yourself.
And it’s about discovering truths about yourself in places you never expected.}

Martin Amis says literary sex is impossible, Hilary Mantel prefers to leave things to the imagination.


"Sex is irreducibly personal, therefore not universal.

It's not that surprising. Of all human activities this is the one that peoples the world. With that tonnage of emotion on it, if there is going to be one thing you can't write about then that would be it.

It's a bit like why it's so difficult to write about dreams."


"It is not difficult to write about sex. It is impossible.

Like its sister intimacies prayer and dance, sex is a live, three-dimensional

(well, O.K., four- or five- if your cylinders are firing)

happening, and black squiggles on a flat, dry page are, at best, a nostalgic distortion of a done deal — and usually skip the lube.


As I said, impossible. But being perverted, I mean perverse, I have always thought it would be a good idea to try. Besides, guaranteed failure has a thrilling upside: freedom."

{Winner of  last year's Booker for her historical tour de force Wolf Hall.}

"It's very easy to write a sex scene where everything goes wrong, you can do it in a funny way or in a way that's absolutely heartbreaking, but it's very hard to write about good sex.

"In good sex the individual personality kind of gets lost, people transcend themselves in a way.

Good sex and happiness are not a story, the story occurs when things go wrong."


"Writing about sex contains an additional anxiety on top of all the usual ones: that the writer might be giving him or herself away, that readers may conclude, when you describe a sexual act, that it must already have happened to you in pretty much the manner described.”

{Author E L James has regularly refuted claims the sado-masochistic content of the novels is based on her own experience.}

Do you feel a "Commercial Obligation" or
"Reader Insistence"
 to write about sex in detail as in 5O SHADES?
is still free:


  1. No way on earth I would write a sex scene. As I've said before, I'd rather do it than write about it. It is the most intimate act in the world, and if you're married, it's the one thing you don't (shouldn't) share with anyone else.

  2. Alex:
    As E.L. found out: readers will think you are writing from personal experience is the sex is ... ah, unique. And if you are married as you say, it is unfair to your spouse. Good comment. :-)

  3. Mantel (who also won the Booker for the brilliant sequel to Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies,) is absolutely right. It's impossible to write about good sex. Why? Because good sex means no conflict. One writing rule that isn't a rule but should be is this: if you're writing a sex scene, and that scene is only about the sex, then you'd best be writing romance or erotica.

    No, I've never felt an obligation to write anything that doesn't serve my story. And although I've written a number of sex scenes they're never about the sex but an underlying conflict that's runs far deeper than any manufactured sexual tension

    VR Barkowski

  4. VR:
    How true. Another Rule that is not a rule is: Every passage you write must possess conflict underlying it in some fashion. If not, you're just writing a travalogue! :-)

    As always a fine comment.

  5. Love those great quotes!

    The movement is away from putting explicit sex in non-erotica fiction. This is because Amazon now has a separate category for erotica and you do NOT want your book there. It won't come up on also-boughts or suggestions to anybody but erotica buyers.

    Because of this, my publisher had me remove all sex scenes from my new novel. Certain curse words too. You don't want anything that will say "erotica" to the algorithms.

  6. Thanks, Anne!
    It is nice to know that my PG-13 fantasies are acceptable now. My latest has moments of horror and a hot kiss but that is hardly erotica!

    I do what Hemingway and Koontz did with curse words. It flows and still gets the point across -- sometimes humorously.

    I will try to comment on your fine post now -- but every time I try, I get a STAT call for blood!

  7. Reminds me of an old friend, an international bestseller. His US publisher had him take out some (slightly kinky) sex scenes. When German rights were sold, the German publisher wanted some sex scenes. "Luckily, I didn't delete them," he told me. "I just put them back in."

    German publisher was thrilled with the "new" scenes.

    Chacun a son gout etc.

    (Ps: sorry but dopey iPad doesn't know from French accents.)

  8. I've yet to write one, and so far, I've felt no pressure to do so. No doubt that it sells!

  9. Ruth:
    There is a saying: 'Each to his own,' said the lady as she kissed the cow!

    Texas humor, what can you do? :-)

    Each country has its own kinks. My THE LAST FAE has a fae schoolgirl in a short skirt in Japan. The Japanese businessmen have really enjoyed that novel. I had no idea at the time I wrote it. It just seemed a nice juxtaposition: a fae girl in Japan.

    iPad is known for its stubborness.

    Thanks so much for visiting and staying to chat.

    Like you, I am not tempted ... well, maybe a little. :-) Makes me human.

  10. Roland: Japanese business men? Now that's a niche market I never thought of!

    Love it! :-)

  11. I think I agree with Hilary on this one. The good stuff is something ethereal and personal but illicit is easy.

  12. The Desert Rocks:
    Hitchcock was right: glimpses make more impact than long looks!

  13. Hi Roland .. thankfully blogposts don't call for them - usually! Interesting to read peoples thoughts on the subject ...

    Though now we're about to get a rash of sex on the mainstream tv and on screen ... just as you've written about it!

    Cheers - not for me though .. I agree with the others .. Hilary

  14. Write a dirty-like title and they all come a commenting... :)

    I have written stuff in my books, not extreme... just getting you to think it's going to happen. i am not sure how personal it is, maybe it's more of what I would like to do?


  15. When I was young I read a lot of Harrold Robbins and Jackie Collins. I couldn't write like that but sex does sell. I prefer to write with the illusion of sex, the tease...Like the tango. Some things are better left to the imagination.

  16. Not all stories call for a sex scene...

    BUT, like Hilary Mantel says....Writing one with where everything goes wrong can add an amazing dimension to your story....

    I had one sex scene in my second novel where everything did fall apart for the mc. IT adds so much reality in life. Not always is sex a pleasurable experience.

  17. Hilary:
    I'm more of a fade-away at the clinch sort of writer myself. :-) I hate being made a Peeping Tom in prose but that is just me.

    I rather thought my title was done in the form of a humorous tease not dirty. Alice might snack on one of my little fingers if I did "Dirty!" :-)

    Like you, I think we must write in good taste, teasing and flirting with what we might like to do ... which makes me concerned with E L James! LOL.

    John D MacDonald was extraordinary in his handling of the sex between his hero and his ladies. Oddly, I enjoyed the parts of his novels where I didn't feel as if I were peeking through the crack in the bedroom's curtains! LOL.

    Like you, I believe some things are better left to the imagination like horror and sex ... is there a connection do you think? :-)

    You know how much I love the tango, too.

    I'm with you ... and with Hilary Mantel. Writing sex or anything else where everything goes wrong holds the readers' interest more.

  18. Hi Roland,

    Great post and very informative comments!

    As E.L proved yet again, sex sells!

  19. Kelly:
    Yes, it does. The hour I put up this post, I got 144 hits! I've certainly enjoyed all the comments on this post. Thanks for staying to chat! :-)

  20. I don't think I worry about people thinking I'm writing sex scenes from the perspective of experience but then again, I don't write in really great detail either.

  21. My characters are too young for that. But if they were older, no, I wouldn't write about it. When the bedroom closes, that's that.

  22. Susan:
    Readers are funny in what they think about authors. What do you think many believe Stephen King does for amusement? :-)

    Yes, the gentleman in me agrees. But you know what society feels about gentlemen these days!

  23. I find myself at odds with the quotes. There were a couple of sexual encounters in my book (one violently abusive) which were integral to other elements of the story and without them some parts wouldn't make sense. Although the incidents were pertinent and relevant they were not what the story is about so I had to find a way of implementing them without offending sensitive readers. IMO the answer is 'less is more' in the same way a woman in a negligee is far more alluring than if she were naked. We mustn't assume our readers are idiots and part of the reading process should encourage readers to use their imaginations and fill in the blanks for themselves. One thing I had to agree with however is the fact my writing is heavily based on personal experience and yes, if I describe something it happened. As writers though we bare our souls to the world and have to accept we are sharing our inner most thoughts and feelings. Sex is a significant part of most peoples lives and I personally don't have a problem with 'baring all' providing it is in context and there is a point to it.

  24. Very diverse takes on writing the sex scene. I write YA and my characters don't have sex. So I write about sweet kisses and all those first kind of feelings that the young get. I might try a romance sometime, where sex is involved, but probably not erotica.

  25. jp:
    We must write according to what our instincts lead us to believe is right, of course. Less is, indeed, more usually.

    People of YA sadly do have sex many times. But like you, I do not have a desire to write erotica. :-)