Sex in the Literary World
When Jai Elle invited me to guest blog for her, I was at first thrilled, and then I immediately took a big gulp. What would I, a writer of literary fiction, have to say to an audience of romance readers? I knew I needed to find common ground between romance and literary, besides the usual story structure stuff. What do most readers, and for that matter most adult humans, have in common?
But of course we all have our individual sexual preferences, as Jae Elle suggested in her June 17th blog “Are you into….” Likewise, we have different preferences when it comes to reading about sex.
Claire Davis, award-winning author of the literary short story collection “Labors of the Heart” and faculty member at Pacific University’s MFA program, periodically gives a craft talk about writing sex scenes. She believes that sensuality is most powerful “in what’s not shown,” and when it comes to scenes involving what might be considered sexual deviancy, she said that literary masters like Vladimir Nabokov and Denis Johnson rely heavily on pathology and landscape to convey the tension of the scene without making the reader feel complicit in the acts.
Alan Elsner, author of a historical fiction novel called “Romance Language,” said in a Huffington Post blog that love is primarily expressed through sex in the romance genre, whereas literary works such as Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice,” present romance more “in the [characters’] heads.”
When I sat down to write two sex scenes in my new novel, “The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife,” I took the approach that Davis and Elsner would likely have used. In the scene excerpted below, a mountain climber begins to seduce another climber on the flanks of Denali, in Alaska. I felt I could best show the heat of the scene (juxtaposed against the frigid landscape) by not relying on graphic description. Instead, I slowed the pace, relied on benign clothing accessories like gloves, and incorporated the briefest verbal exchanges. I also used food as part of the landscape because food can be so sensual. And then, just as the foreplay is about to burst into full-on sex, I ended the chapter. The reader knows what’s coming and can imagine the scene just as well as I can. The reader doesn’t need to see the words on the page.
In truth, Davis and Elsner might even take exception to the tongue and breast; certainly Jane Austen wouldn’t have taken it that far. But then again, Ms. Austen didn’t live in the 21st century. Times are different. Mostly for the better, I think.
The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife is now available in print or digital versions through Amazon, Ingram (at your favorite independent bookstore), and a variety of other retail outlets.
G. Elizabeth Kretchmer holds an MFA in Writing from Pacific University. Her short fiction, essays, and freelance work have appeared in The New York Times, High Desert Journal, Silk Road Review, and other publications. When she’s not writing, she facilitates therapeutic and wellness writing workshops and spends time in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and three sons. Visit her website at www.gekretchmer.com.