Saturday, September 11, 2010

In Defense of Sex

One of my fellow authors has run into a bit of frustration recently. She chose to use a pen name because she knew her family wouldn't approve of the type of books she writes. Then a family member found her stuff anyway.

O.M.G. If I thought my writing wouldn't go over well with my family, nothing could have prepared me for the type of vitriol she's faced. Rather than congratulating her on her success, her family has been vocally unsupportive. It disgusts me.

The latest round went something like this:

"It takes no talent to write a bunch of sex in a book. Anybody can do that. It takes real talent to write a book without sex."


Idiot say what?

Now, if I'd heard this randomly, I would have just had a good laugh about people who don't know any better and moved on. But the author who had to deal with this is a friend, and I am pissed. Without a direction to point my ire though, we're just going to spend today discussing the comments. (And I'm going to do my best to stay civil about it considering the people who read and respond to this blog are unlikely to deserve my anger.)

Let's start with the last statement: "It takes real talent to write a book without sex." I've read a lot of books in my time. Many have sex, many more have sexual tension, and many have no hint of sex at all. IT FUCKING TOOK TALENT TO WRITE ANY OF THEM.

Sorry for (virtually) shouting, I hope you understand why that needs to be screamed from rooftops. The physical act of writing is easy. People learn how to put pen or pencil to paper in elementary school. Writing stories is not easy. It takes talent and hard work, especially if you're talking about something good enough for an agent or editor to say "Yes, I want this."

Now, within the realm of everything that gets published, there are stories that people don't like. Some have sex, some don't. But the same book I can't stand someone else will love. There are best sellers that I could barely make it through because I thought the writing was atrocious or the characters ridiculous. Obviously a lot of other people disagree. Those books? Some have sex, some don't.

So let's look at the first part of what she said: "It takes no talent to write a bunch of sex in a book."

I like writing sex. It's fun for me. Then again, I like writing fight scenes too. I like action more than I like musing. But neither sex nor action scenes are easy for me to write. And a poorly written one can destroy an entire book for me.

You see, sex scenes aren't just about mechanics. Putting tab A into slot B isn't enough no matter how vividly you describe it. You're still just putting a tab into a slot. A good sex scene involves choreography, much like a fight scene. It needs to have more action than just the insertion. But even that isn't enough. Great action is only going to get you so far. For a sex scene to really shine, it also needs emotion. People have thoughts and feelings when they're having sex, often more heightened than at other times. If you don't include that aspect, your sex scene will fall short of what it could be.

Plus, sex scenes aren't just about the act, they're about the characters and the story. I'll use the opening of "Of Course I Try" as an example. Yes, Max and Jocelyn are getting busy. And I could have just written about where his hands and mouth were. *yawn* That would have been sex with no point. The purpose of that particular scene is for the reader to understand that:

-       Max is an incredible lover who drives Jocelyn crazy.

-       Jocelyn wants to leave Max

-       When she's with him, Jocelyn can't think straight. It isn't just the sex that does this--it's him. Which in turn, gives hints as to how the first two points play into the story.


That is a lot of character information and plot shoved into one emotional roller coaster of a scene. Forgive me for patting myself on the back, but I think it took talent to squeeze all of that into just a few hundred words. And I've read work by other authors that did much more with a single sex scene. They've got mad skills that I can only hope I have someday.

Then there's her last bit: "Anybody can do that." Honestly, my response to stuff like this is always the same: "Then get out there and do it." Dismissing someone else's skill or talent doesn't take much effort. Proving you are just as good? That means putting yourself out there and risking that the world will prove you to be an idiot and a jerk.

Most people can put pen to paper and spew out sentences. That doesn't mean they can all write.


  1. Viva the sex! Oh, sorry. I got a little carried away with your rant.

    First, I want to say that I'm sorry to your friend and congratulate her on the success of becoming a published author, something most of us dream about, but might never attain. She f-ing rocks!

    Second, it's incredibly sad, heartbreaking even, that families can be so blind and cruel, especially when things don't fit inside the nice little box they've built for themselves. It's easy to dismiss the ignorance of strangers, it's much harder to face when it's family.

    Thanks for sharing, Sel.

  2. Sadly, I can imagine all too well that family's reaction and I'm sorry for her. Family can be our worst critics and enemies. Yes, I speak from experience though not writing related. I hope she will continue to write and write her way.

    Secondly, you make some very valid points about writing, reading preferences, and putting up or shutting up. I absolutely agree with you.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Seleste deLaney and Julie Klumb, Danielle La Paglia. Danielle La Paglia said: In Defense of Sex by @SelestedeLaney [...]

  4. Well said.

    For your friend, I have the biggest *hugs*. It's an awful thing when the people closest to you in your life rip you to shreds. When they remain closed to your talent and hard work, dismissing and disparaging your skill and effort with such comments.

    I'm also sad that something like sex or the lack of it could be considered a measure for the quality of a book. So are pieces of art in a museum depicting sex and nudity not to be considered art?

  5. Thats real tough for your friend. It seems to me her family are a bunch of small minded bigots who either don't understand the craft behind the writing or worse - are just jealous of her success. Either way she gets the last laugh by being published.

  6. I just released my first book this week and I wrestled with whether or not to tell my family about it at all. I decided to tell them and the reaction you described is the stuff of my nightmares. Thank God no one's said anything like this to me yet but I'm still kinda braced for it. The silence is a little deafening from some quarters, But then I've received unexpected support from others. So hopefully not everyone in her family will feel the same way as the person you quoted. And really, hasn't everyone read enough bad sex scenes in literary novels to know just how hard it is to write a good one?

  7. Man, I f-ing luuuuv u Seleste!!!
    Great rant!! You know I agree. I'll tell your friend next time I see her, "The best revenge is success!"

  8. maybe your friend should offer the opined family member a copy of Letters to Penthouse and her book and let them compare! Then tell her just to laugh her way tot he bank and the best sellers list.

    One last thing, have your friend thank her family member for finding me a new career path if its all that easy!!

  9. Sorry for not responding to everyone earlier. As many of you know, I've had limited internet access since I posted this. For myself, my friend, and anyone else who has had to put up with stuff like this, I want to personally thank each and every one of you for your support.

    And in case you wondered, I made sure the author I mentioned saw this post. :)

  10. Wow. That is just horrible and it is what I will face if I write the kind of books I want to write. My in-laws are very, um, religious. Not fanatical, but let's just say that they hold to very biblical based beliefs. I am nothing like that, even though I have faith.

    Give your friend a huge hug and tell her that she doesn't need their approval. Easy as that is to say, I know it is hard to actually deal with.

    Don't get me wrong, I love most of my in-laws. I just don't relate with them because I have different ideas about life and love.

    It takes great courage to not only write a story that you believe in and want to share, but it takes great courage to actually show it to others, knowing that everyone has different opinions and ideas.

    I hope that her family will at somepoint find it in their hearts to give her the support she deserves. If they don't, tell her that she's got a load of other people that DO support her and will rejoice for her success.

    All the best to her and of course, you ROCK for your steadfast support and love for her.



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