Monday, June 9, 2008

This Sex Scene is Doing Nothing for Me--It Must Be Good

I know. Sounds like I'm talking about Norman Mailer's work, right? But no.

I'm talking about my own.

Fiction is filled (one would hope) with emotionally charged scenes, and while I'm writing one of them, be it a death scene, a declaration of love, the HEA or a sex scene, I'm often entirely caught up in the moment. Me, I am an emotional animal. I'm the kind of person who cries at movies, whether they're sad or happy or genuinely moving or shamelessly schmaltzy. I've been moved to tears over episodes of The Simpsons and Futurama, for godsakes!

I cried once to the point of exhaustion while banging out the scene that mercilessly killed two of my favorite characters in my grand, huge, massive, epic WIP. I had to tell people for two days after that I'd had an allergy attack, and that's why my eyes were all puffy and red.

I read that scene now, and I'm "meh". From sobbing to stoic after four passes of my dispassionate editorial eye.

Sex scenes, too. While writing them, I'm affected in predictable fashion--sometimes to my great discomfiture when I have to abandon a scene in the middle and say, function at work in front of, you know, people and stuff. By the time a book is ready to submit, that same scene often leaves me entirely cold. I have to remind myself of how I felt while writing the first draft, tell myself over and over--"Yes, damnit, it is hot! The reader will think so, too!"--because usually, by the time I've polished the living bejeesus out of it, well, it pretty much does nothing for me anymore.

My latest novel, Bound by Steel, which should be out in October, was a major departure from this phenomenon. The hot scenes in that book are, well, still hot to me--even the ones at the beginning. I don't know exactly what this means. I didn't sit on the manuscript as long as I usually do before sending it off, and let my editor know this. I was concerned the writing wasn't ready. She came back with an enthusiastic "I love this book!", which is an enormous relief. Perhaps it's simply a function of increasing confidence. I know I write pretty damn clean (editorially speaking, not smexing-wise, heh) and if I can submit a solid story without agonizing over every sentence, that can't help but be good for my mental health.

And even if the back-and-forth of edits with this one takes longer than it did with Crossing Swords or Healer's Touch, well, I think I'll be able to live with that for the opportunity to keep getting misty over the happily ever after. Because for me, getting all emotional is what good fiction is about.


laughingwolf said...

i'm with you on that score, k, if i don't get hooked into 'living' the book, it leaves me cold, if not indifferent, and i never go back to that author....

Madame Butterfly said...

Kirsten—I love this post, it’s so interesting. I often wonder what goes on with authors when they are writing.

My favorite books are the ones that affect me deeply. If I’m reading a book and it makes me laugh, cry, get pissed, get hot, feel good, or makes me think about things, then that’s a book I will love and remember for a long time. I love it when an author can take me to those places. So it’s probably essential that an author feels some of those things while writing it.

Do you still feel the same feelings you felt at first with the stories you have written if a fair amount of time has passed when you re-read it?

You write sex scenes while at work? That would so be a mood breaker for me. LOL

kirsten saell said...

Totally, laughingwolf. Books need to engage me, or I just can't be bothered at all.

Madame B- yeah, even angry is good, although I can't sustain that for long. And yeah, scenes that I've gotten inured to over repeated reading do become fresh again if I let them sit long enough. The curse of having a good memory for words is that sometimes that takes a loooong time!

And no, I don't write sex scenes (or read them) on the job (I'm a waitress), but I work mostly evenings and often I'll be excitedly typing away at home and suddenly realize "crap! I've got to be at work in fifteen minutes!" If the sex scene is cut off in the middle, I'll spend the whole evening writing ahead in my mind. Which leads to a lot of staring into space, followed by blushing and stammering when people finally manage to snag my attention!

Madame Butterfly said...

I've waitressed a lot over the years and one good thing about it is that it's mindless work, so you can be in your head dreaming while working.

It seems that writing and making up stories comes so easily to you and you write so well, I'm sure it won't be long before you are making enough money to write full time and you won't have to worry about coitus interruptus. ; )

kirsten saell said...

Oh, Mme. B, you are quite the flatterer. Keep talking ;).

I try to be realistic. I know there are plenty of wonderful authors out there who never make it big, despite all the talent in the world. But come to think of it, I only work part time (12-16 hours a week) and my income isn't huge. It is conceivable that I could quit my day job someday--but only because I've already trained my family to live on next to nothing. Much as I like to complain about them, they are good about making do.

Seeley deBorn said...

Funny, I get nothing while I'm writing, but if I read back what I've done...

I started writing at work, back when I was waiting out the time between my sawmill being shut down and my last day. I did work on a couple steamy scenes, and yeah, awkward when the shift supervisor or maintenance superintendant came into my office. I had to go from writing about wood to making wood pretty quick.

laughingwolf said...

none of the jobs i've had in the writing field, or any other, gave me time to play with my own scribbles, so had to shut myself away, initially with a typewriter! lol

kirsten saell said...

Heh, Seeley. I've been trying to stay away from anything *ahem* inappropriate at work, because sometimes - okay, frequently - stuff comes out of my mouth that I just should not say in public. Like when the two construction guys came in for lunch and caught me reading a very informative and interesting post on SBTB.

"Internet poker, huh?" one of them says with smirk. To which I reply, "No, actually, I'm reading about the decline of lesbian erotica in the publishing insdustry."

Um, yeah. That gave them something to talk about over burgers.

kirsten saell said...

Ugh, laughingwolf, the typewriter!

I remember when Smith-Corona came out with the "electronic typewriter" with 13 lines of memory, baby! Oooh, and autoerase!

I spent half my late teens sitting on a lawn chair in my folks' heated garage, chainsmoking (they wouldn't let me in the house) and writing longhand in pencil on graph paper.

I find I can't write if I have to be "on". So at work, where I'm expected to be sociable, or when my parents are visiting -- there is no writing at all getting done then.

laughingwolf said...

yeah, a manual typewriter, to start with :O lol

Madame Butterfly said...

I spent half my late teens sitting on a lawn chair in my folks' heated garage, chainsmoking

See, I love the image this conjures up. It's like this tough gristled writer, smoking and drinking coffee in the wee hours. Sort of the Sam Spade of writing.

I used to chain smoke in the garage. Good times that.