Today I’d like to talk about how exposed we
writers are every time we put pen to paper, or fingers to
keyboard. Once a
writer friend, who doesn’t write erotica or romance, ask if I would read her
work in progress. The woman is a fabulous writer, so for me it was no hardship.
I enjoyed the read so much that I had to remind myself I was supposed to be
‘being critical.’ Later, as we discussed the book, she surprised me by saying
how relieved she was that I had liked the love scenes. She had been concerned,
even paranoid, that perhaps they didn’t work. They did. Beautifully.
That got me thinking about just how
neurotic I am as a writer, about every piece of fiction I write. I’m not so
neurotic now about writing sex and romance, at least not as neurotic as I used
to be. Lots of writers, however, claim they can’t write sex well or they simply
don’t like to write it at all. That’s fair enough. I don’t like to write crime
investigation scenes. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do them well, so I don’t write
crime. But unfortunately this sex and romance -phobia often leads to dismissing
anything romantic or sexy as not worthy to be considered serious writing,
therefore not worth writing and certainly not worth reading.
Writing fiction to share with anyone less
indifferent than the cat is a bit like exposing oneself on High Street. As a
writer, I never feel more vulnerable than when I’m offering up a nice, fat
slice of my inner workings. And that’s exactly what happens when anyone
attempts fiction. No matter how unconscious it may be, it’s all about me, Me
MEEEE! It may not seem like me, I strive to make sure it doesn’t, and yet I’m
still there on every single page. I’m not the story I tell, and I’m not my
characters, but my unconscious is always there at the core, the driving force,
not only, for the tale but for my own creative process as well.
Since I write, knowing it’s all about me, my
neurotic little mind is racing, going wild, wondering just what conclusions
readers will draw as to just HOW it’s all about me? I expect people to be
bright enough to know that I’m not the secret agent, the lawyer, the prima
ballerina, the space ship captain. Yet, why is it that if I write one sex scene
peppered with a bit of romance, I suddenly fear everyone will believe K D
really DOES steal vegetables for lewd purposes, or that K D really IS a member
of some secret sex cult? And is that such a bad thing? People will believe what
they believe, and I would be a very rich author, indeed, if I had a dime for
every time someone has asked me, or my husband, if I actually did all the naughty things in my novels.
I’d be willing to bet no one ever asks that of Thomas Harris. But when the
fiction I write deals with the emotions that revolve around sex and love, I
feel more vulnerable, more exposed, somehow more flawed.
One of my favourite quotes on the topic
comes from a wonderful essay by Wallace Shaw on why he likes to write about
sex. He writes, “If I’m
unexpectedly reminded that my soul and body are capable of being totally swept
up in a pursuit and an activity that pigs, flies, wolves, lions and tigers also
engage in, my normal picture of myself is violently disrupted. In other words,
consciously, I’m aware that I’m a product of evolution, and I’m part of nature.
But my unconscious mind is still partially wandering in the early 19th century
and doesn’t know these things yet.”
Writing sex and
romance is that unexpected reminder that we can be swept away in our animal
passions just like all the rest of the animal kingdom. That implies a loss of
control, an unfitness for civilized society. Banishment from the social group
is an age-old punishment for what is considered improper behaviour in the tribe.
Though we may no longer be sent into the wilderness to fend for ourselves with
only a rusty knife, the archetypal fear of being ostracized still remains and,
along with it, the neurotic idea that surely we must have something to feel
guilty about. I suppose we might
chalk that up to two thousand plus years of
introctrination on original sin.
A writing teacher told me once that the
best stories, the ones with the most power to grip, are those that come from
the place inside us that makes us the most uncomfortable. Nothing any teacher
ever told me has stuck with me so powerfully, nor served me so well. The place
that embarrasses us, that frightens us, the place where we have the least
control, that’s the places where story begins. It’s the place where our
characters come alive, the place where their love and sex and violence and fear
and celebration compel the people to whom we’ve exposed ourselves — our readers — to keep reading to the end.
And, hopefully, if we’ve exposed just the right bits, those readers will
eagerly come back for more.