Hot! Hot! Hot! All that Sex and Why it Works (or doesn’t)
When I was growing up a million years ago, the only places you could find explicit sex in written material was at pornographic bookstores. Mostly they were located in the seedier sections of town and were frequented by men. The nineteen-sixties changed all that.
Now it’s sometimes hard to find books that don’t have sex. And lots of it. I started thinking about why some books feel hotter than hell and others are so blah I find myself skipping over the love scenes. (Critical caveat: These are only my ideas. I’d love to know what the rest of you think.)
Each of us is unique, but for me a book starts and ends with characters. They need to feel real and their motivations need to feel believable. If I can’t get into the characters, it’s hard for me to care what sort of love mess they’ve gotten themselves into.
Let me back up a few paces here. If I can’t get past the cover, I’ll never even get to the characters. Cover art is really important. I always check to make certain my contracts say I get input into cover art. And I’ve been blessed with really talented cover artists who share my vision of what's in my books.
Moving along here. So we have a dynamite cover that draws you into clicking on it, reading the blurb and, hopefully, liking what you’ve seen well enough to buy. While I’m ranting about covers, I like the ones with less flesh better. I think you can do way more with inference. And after being inundated with sleek, airbrushed bodies and six-pack abs, they’ve sort of lost their punch.
Vivid, three-dimensional characters are a combination of “real” with “larger than life” that works. That means the men are alphas and the women strong and sexy. Ditto for GLBT stories. The characters have to draw you in regardless of their sexual orientation. Strong characters can pull off gay, straight and ménage without breaking a sweat. They make you care what happens to them. I volunteer as a judge for the EPIC contest each year. Last year, one of the books I read had a secondary character with an androgynous name. I was well into the book before I discovered they were female. The author was skilled enough, it didn’t matter a twit.
With good characters, you can do just about anything. Sex in books that leaves you panting for more always involves credible characters yearning for one another. There’s a very old saying that the best sex happens in the mind. So we think about what someone’s body might be like, how they’d kiss us, or how their hands would feel on our bodies. Self-stim scenes are perfect to spin fantasies and ratchet up the sexual heat.
It’s the yearning and the moving towards and away from one another several times that builds the tension an author needs. I want characters strung tight as bow strings so when they finally do get together, it’s so steamy you need to crack a window.
Effective sex in writing is way more than who touched whom where.
What about for all of you? What makes sex in a book so compelling you can’t put it down? If you had to pick a favorite character, who would it be and why?
A Time for Everything
Siobhan Macquire’s fortune has attracted a string of men who are out to drain her for everything they can get. Her last boyfriend was no exception. Furious at being used—again—she goes for a walk in the Highlands.
With the weather worsening, she wanders alone for hours. She’s soaking wet and starting to get scared when someone calls out to her. A striking-looking man emerges from the mist. Except there’s something wrong. His kilt is way too long and he talks with an archaic accent. Siobhan soon finds herself not only lost in the countryside but also in time.
Sam pulled the draw cords of her hood tighter, squinting against driving rain. She shivered, willing her legs to move faster. Even in the northern latitudes, it got dark eventually during what passed for summer, and the light was definitely fading. One foot sloughed into a hole. Cursing roundly, she yanked it out, noting the mud added what felt like ten pounds to her tired leg. Going on a ramble—as the locals called it—by herself had seemed like a good idea earlier in the afternoon. Now she wasn’t so sure. It had been hours since she’d seen another soul. The air felt heavy—and threatening, somehow.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” she scolded herself. “My imagination’s off the clock, working overtime.”
A flash off toward the river was followed almost immediately by a rumbling crash. It started raining harder. The sky lit again, casting the wet greenery and surrounding mountains in a macabre glow. Thunder sounded so loud it made her ears ring. The next lightning flare sparked off a rock not twenty feet away. Sam’s heart sped up. She stared at the mountains ringed about her. Why wasn’t the storm up there? Lightning was supposed to be drawn to high points, not meadows saturated with water.
As if determined to prove her wrong, another flash struck the ground off to her left. She threw her hands over her ears but the thunder reverberated in her brain as if someone had struck an anvil right next to her. Shaking her head to try to make her ears stop hurting, she started walking again. Lightning struck inches from her feet. Sam lurched to a stop, blinking to clear the afterimage. Even as wet as it was, the air felt electrified, thick with sharp edges. She could almost see marauding electrons reaching for her, hungry little mouths wide open.
Fear raced along her nerve endings, making her feel as if she’d downed half a dozen double espressos in a row. The breath whooshed out of her and her head spun crazily.
The storm’s trying to kill me.
Oh, please, she answered herself. Sam hated her tendency to engage in two-way inner dialogue, but she’d done it all her life.
An excruciating twenty minutes and half a dozen lightning strikes later, she thought it might be safe to move. It was raining like a son of a bitch, but after striking what looked like a circle around where she stood, the electrical part of the storm had left as quickly as it had come.
Guess the storm gods didn’t want me, after all.
Why should they? No one else does.
Sam sank into a funk. Shit, could I possibly be any wetter? Weather in the British Isles had been particularly wretched this summer. “Yeah, sort of like the rest of my life,” she muttered as she tried to assess if she’d be better off staying on the track or cutting cross-country toward where she thought a roadway was. Resolutely, she struck out for the road and promptly stepped into calf-deep water. It ran over the top of her boot and soaked her thick, woolen sock before she could jerk her foot back to solid ground.
So much for that idea. Obviously, there’d been so much rain the ground on both sides of the track had turned into a bog. She’d never seen one before this trip to Scotland. They were hideous. Miles of saturated ground with water deep enough to reach her knees in some places. Sam glanced at her watch and groaned. She’d been walking for close to five hours. No wonder it was getting dark. The village she was aiming for shouldn’t actually be all that far away. In fact, she should have been there long since. About to tuck her watch back under her sleeve, she took one last look at it and realized the second hand had stopped. She tapped the crystal with her finger but nothing happened.
Crap! Wonder when it quit? Must be the damp.
Yes, another less pleasant voice piped up, it also means I have no idea how long I’ve been walking. Peering through mist-shrouded countryside, she looked for some signs of Beauly Village but all she saw were sheep.
Sam told herself to keep walking. It wasn’t as if there was anywhere she could even sit to consider her options. Everything dripped water. Her jacket and pants, which had always provided adequate protection from the elements back in the States, were woefully inadequate here. She was afraid to pull out her cell phone. Electronics and water definitely weren’t compatible. Yeah, just look what happened to my watch. Dark thoughts crowded her mind. Why had she thought it would be romantic to spend a year in Scotland?
You know why, an inner voice—the nasty one—sneered. It was your infatuation with Clint. Sam gave her resident maven a point for accuracy. Clint, with his spiffy Scottish intonations, dreamy blue eyes, and red-blonde curls, had sweet-talked her into bankrolling a trip to his home. Between his ever-so-broad shoulders, washboard abs, and nice, tight ass, he’d barely let her out of bed for a month. By the time she’d figured out the reason he had so much time on his hands was because he didn’t have a job, it was too late. She was head over heels in love. And hoping desperately that this time it would lead her to the altar. After all, it wasn’t as if he had to work. All he needed to do was treat her like a queen. She had plenty of money for both of them.
Eager to grant her prince whatever he wanted, she’d readily agreed when he’d talked longingly of going back to Scotland for a while. Except he’d had a personality transplant practically the second they’d landed in Glasgow. In the month-and-a-half since they’d arrived, she’d scarcely seen him. He was always off with his mates, as he called them, drinking or climbing. There were weeks when he hadn’t returned to their rental flat in Inverness at all. Worse, she suspected some of those mates were gay. When she’d asked him if he swung both ways his eyes had turned to blue ice chips. He’d twisted away and slammed out of the house. That was the last time she’d seen him.
Water ran off the bill of her hood. Some of it dripped into one eye. “Oh to hell with it,” she snarled. “I’m catching the first plane out of here—without him.” She sighed, feeling sad and angry by turns. Clint was far from the first man who’d taken advantage of her. As soon as they found out she was an heiress to a whiskey fortune, they promised her the moon and then fleeced her for everything they could get. She’d gotten pretty cagy in the years between sixteen and her current twenty-five. She’d even rented a modest apartment in Seattle and pretended she lived there when she met someone new.
Eventually, though, when she thought a guy might be different, she took him to the Capitol Hill mansion she’d more-or-less inherited after her parents relocated to one of their many other homes. No matter how promising a relationship looked, the truth of that rambling mansion was always the beginning of the end.
Ann Gimpel is a clinical psychologist, with a Jungian bent. Avocations include mountaineering, skiing, wilderness photography and, of course, writing. A lifelong aficionado of the unusual, she began writing speculative fiction a few years ago. Since then her short fiction has appeared in a number of webzines and anthologies. Two novels, Psyche’s Prophecy, and its sequel, Psyche’s Search, have been published by Gypsy Shadow Publishing, a small press. A husband, grown children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out her family.
@AnnGimpel (for Twitter)
Ann Gimpel is a mountaineer at heart. Recently retired from a long career as a psychologist, she remembers many hours at her desk where her body may have been stuck inside four walls, but her soul was planning yet one more trip to the backcountry. Around the turn of the last century (that would be 2000, not 1900!), she managed to finagle moving to the Eastern Sierra, a mecca for those in love with the mountains. It was during long backcountry treks that Ann’s writing evolved. Unlike some who see the backcountry as an excuse to drag friends and relatives along, Ann prefers her solitude. Stories always ran around in her head on those journeys, sometimes as a hedge against abject terror when challenging conditions made her fear for her life, sometimes for company. Eventually, she returned from a trip and sat down at the computer. Three months later, a five hundred page novel emerged. Oh, it wasn’t very good, but it was a beginning. And, she learned a lot between writing that novel and its sequel.
Around that time, a friend of hers suggested she try her hand at short stories. It didn’t take long before that first story found its way into print and they’ve been accepted pretty regularly since then. A trilogy, the Transformation Series, featuring Psyche’s Prophecy, Psyche’s Search and Psyche’s Promise is complete. The initial two books have been published, with the final volume scheduled for release in 2012. One of Ann’s passions has always been ecology, so her tales often have a green twist and the Transformation Series is no exception.
In addition to writing, Ann enjoys wilderness photography. Part of her website is devoted to photos of her beloved Sierra. And she lugs pounds of camera equipment in her backpack to distant locales every year. A standing joke is that over ten percent of her pack weight is camera gear which means someone else has to carry the food! That someone else is her husband. They’ve shared a life together for a very long time. Children, grandchildren and three wolf hybrids round out their family.