I just finished writing a four paragraph sex scene in a new work. The scene is in a male point of view. Breasts are prominent along with one or two other features this character appreciates.
When writing sex scenes, I tend to go for a more minimal approach laced with a heavy dose of sensual information. Mechanics are important, but a couple of heady details about the scents, the tactile sensations, the sights tap into more of my characters’ experience. My characters are regular people complete with a few wrinkles, maybe a paunch, good hair and, usually, long limbs. If one of those traits turns on their fellow characters, wonderful. But does the reader need to feel or see the baby pooch one character knows the other character hides under sweaters? Probably not.
So I’m not trying to recreate Shades of Grey. My characters don’t need a room built for sex or closets filled with tools or a sinister philosophy to make the earth move when partially naked. (It is trying to write this without sinking into at least one could double entendre, so if one appears please enjoy it.) Some stories demand sex, others are fine with everyone keeping their clothes on for the duration. Not that keeping clothes on denies having sex (regardless of the position President Bill Clinton tried taking).
Writing unwelcome, violent or abusive sex scenes is a a somewhat different situation I’ve not tried often. We’ve all read plenty of good fictional sex and almost an equal amount of uninteresting activities. Sometimes lack of context turns good sex writing into an unnecessary surprise. Just like in real life, sex in writing is tricky and timing can mean everything.
A couple of things left out of the opening sentence include the characters involved are in their sixties and one is six months into remission following chemotherapy treatment for leukemia. Someone reading this might be thinking they can do without that scene and someone else is wondering how everything worked for the couple. Let me add that they are dairy farmers (can this get any further from your urban coffee shop reading site) who are in a hurry as they hear the herd moving toward the milking parlor. Writing from the male point of view gave me access to a set of data that drive the action. So to speak.
A Room of Her Own Foundationis dedicated to helping women artists achieve the privacy and financial support necessary to pursue their art. For a handful of very fortunate women AHOHO’s 6th Gift of Freedom Award has provided $50,000 to make that possible. Recently they asked me to complete a survey about my life as a woman writer. Their goal is to collect 50,000 completed surveys and gain insights into how creative women think about their work, opportunities and obstacles.
At the end of the survey, a participant is asked if any questions were irritating and which question was the most provocative. I decided the most irritating and provocative question was the same: “In what way do you see your gender affecting reception of your work in the marketplace?”
The whole concept of how gender impacts my success as a writer is a topic I try to ignore. Looking at the bestselling authors of 2011, eight men and five women are at the top. Genre literature trumps the group. The fifteen top selling writers of all times list has almost the same break down with nine males and six females. William Shakespeare and Agatha Christie share top honors followed by Barbara Cartland. Again, writers of genre literature dominate.
What role does gender play in the marketplace? Research by Bowker describes the typical book buyer in the United States as a 42 year old woman. Women make 64% of all book purchases. The numbers look fairly consistent across e-books. Shouldn’t the domination of female buyers give female writers a break?
VIDA’s 2011 reporting on women in literature paints a dreary answer to that question. Across the elite publications reviewing books and writing about literature, men outnumber women on editorial boards, as book reviewers and as authors of books reviewed. The numbers are not insignificant. Usually the ratio is at least three to one. So women may be writing damn fine books, but it appears that the main voices in the marketplace are making other decisions about what should be reviewed and read. In Mother Jones, celebrated poet Erin Beleiu of VIDA said, “A friend of mine defines this kind of intellectual segregation as the “tits and nether bits” ghetto, a place in which women only speak to other women. Meantime, men are allowed and encouraged to speak to whomever they want.”
I don’t really want to end this train of thought on Beleiu’s quote, but at the moment I can’t think of one thing to write in response. As I work diligently on submissions to smaller publications than VIDA studied, AROHO diverted my attention to a bigger subject. Now I wonder why they are asking women in the emerging phase of their careers if their gender has affected reception of their work in the marketplace. Isn’t the answer documented?