Thirty-eight years old, never kissed a girl.
Yes, as of last Friday, I am thirty-eight. And yes, regardless of how I may feel about myself and how I fit into the dynamics of sexual and interpersonal relationships, I have never had the pleasure of kissing a girl. (And no, this post is not about confessing our most deep, dark secrets.)
But there's some talk going on at Dear Author in regard to Writing What You Know, and whether an author has to be it or have experienced it to be able to write it with any claim to authenticity. While being a forensic anthropoligist undoubtedly helped Kathy Reichs pen her Temperance (Bones) Brennan novels, was her professional expertise truly necessary to the process? Could a part-time hairdresser with a high-speed modem and access to a good university library have brought that level of authenticity to those books, or would her efforts have been an epic fail? Should authors really limit themselves to Writing What They Know?
When it comes to writers like Thomas Harris and Jeff Lindsay, the question is ridiculous. Lindsay, you hack, pack up your lame Dexter books and come back when you've chopped up a few people--then you can talk to me about homicidal sociopaths. What, Mr. Harris? Never eaten a person? Or a fava bean? Take a hike!
My own typical reaction when folks waggle their eyebrows and ask me if I "do all the things you write about, hur hur" is an enthusastic, "Well, of course! You can't write convincingly about chopping a man's fingers off or how it feels to pull a sword out of someone's belly unless you've actually--what? Oh, you mean the sex? Nah, I don't do any of that." But as the Dear Author debate unfolds (venturing predictably into that well-worn area of female writers who pen male/male sex), I have kind of begun to ask myself:
How can I convincingly write girl-on-girl sex having never even locked lips with a woman? (And no, Sue, that birthday kiss didn't count!)
How can I convincingly write guy-on-guy sex, never having been the proud owner of a penis? (Except by proxy, that is.)
Well, I'm sure there are things that will give my practical inexperience away--at least in the guy-on-guy department. Woman writers of male/male erotica are often accused of focusing on characteristics women find attractive in men, and largely ignoring those that tend to appeal to gay guys--the over-abundance of sandalwood in lieu of the kinds of "ripe, sweaty, gamey" smells (bluh) gay male writers evidently celebrate being just one. (The reverse of this is even more appallingly obvious in male-produced "lesbian" porn. I shudder every time I see some bimbalicious babe with full-on, red-painted talons plucking and prodding at her bottle-blonde, boob-enhanced screen-partner's squoogey bits. Now that's an invitation to an injury if ever there was one.)
But reasonable research measures aside, if you have to know "it", do "it" or be "it", to write authoritatively about "it", I'm in big trouble, as is every writer of fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, and pretty much all books where people get killed. Because no matter how well you research a subject, it's fiction. It never happened. And in real life, a hundred people will experience the same event in a hundred different ways.
And even when you do get it right, there's gonna be someone somewhere who goes "Come on! That's totally implausible." Just like I'm sure that somewhere out there, there's the odd gay guy who loves the smell of sandalwood, the rare lesbian with three-inch-long fingernails and a girlfriend who doesn't live in fear, and a homicidal cannibal freak who doesn't grimace at the mere mention of fava beans.