I was talking to some friends/acquaintances the other day and I was asked why I have a different name on my Facebook profile. When I explained that I write and set up my Facebook page under my pen name, then the questions started. I am used to most of the common ones like “how do you find the time?” or “is anyone we know a character in your books?” or “where do you get your ideas?” but the latest ones were around how hard it is to write a sex scene. (No off color puns intended.) So, for giggles, how many of you romance writers out there get the same questions and how far out of whack are my responses?
Question: “Do you get embarrassed writing that stuff?”
When I first began to write, yes, I did. In high school, two friends and I would write steamy love letters for our classmates to give to their boyfriends. One girl provided the imagination courtesy of a purloined (from her parents) copy of The Joy of Sex, the other relied on her own experiences and a facile understanding of common jargon and street slang. I was the grammarian who kept the purple prose flowing and reasonably well written. Was I embarrassed? Oh yeah, but I learned a lot from a theoretical perspective. It all came to an end with a very uncomfortable conversation with the head mistress of the school, a rather dour nun, and my father when one of the letters was seized during the exchange of money for the letter. Yep, I was the one caught selling the goods. My accomplices got away but I was left with a rather unsavory reputation since it was assumed I had been relying on my own (nonexistent at that time) expertise in the area to create such “disgusting and sinful” letters that would ultimately see me writhing in the fires of hell, or so Sister Mary David assured me. My father’s response out of earshot of the nuns was to laugh but he did step up his intimidation tactics of any poor guy who tried to date me.
Later on, my very first romance story (which will NEVER see the light of day unless it is published posthumously and I hope I have burned every page of it well before then) was a sweet little formulaic “bodice ripper” tale that took the better part of 2 bottles of wine and much giggling between me and my best friend to get the scenes correct. I think the giggling was more from the wine than the topic though.
Between then and now, I have read a lot. I’ve read books that were full of vague euphemisms (“mutual splendor” anyone?) to raw and raunchy porn for women. What I have come to realize is that it’s more embarrassing to write something that takes a reader out of the story to think, “Wait, what? Is that even physically possible?” or “Where did that extra hand come from?”
Question: “Do you write about your own sexual experiences?” aka “Have you really done THAT??!!!?”
The short answer is: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everyone has heard the old saw of “write what you know” so they assume that if you write it, you’ve done it. I always caution people, especially my husband who is fond of raising an eyebrow and remarking that he can’t recall us every having done whatever my characters happen to be doing, that writers have very fertile imaginations. Let me repeat that. We..have…very…fertile…imaginations. We also know how to do research and the internet is full of research material if your imagination fails you.
Would you go up to a friend who writes a crime novel and automatically assume she/he knows how to violently kill, dismember, and dispose of a body based on personal hands on experience?
I rest my case.
Question: “Why didn’t you make it more/less explicit?”
Well, here’s the rub. (Again, no pun intended.) In my opinion, different stories require a different approach. I know I get annoyed by a certain popular romance author, who shall remain unnamed, because the last four books of hers were more or less recycled sex scenes from her prior works. Change the names, change the locations, and change the villains, then presto – new book and more royalties. Otherwise the sex was a cut and paste. If nothing else, I do not want to annoy my readers. Especially, since I do not have a large following, yet.
When I write, I pay a lot of attention to what makes sense and what is in character for the players in the scene. I let their personalities shape how explicit – or not – the scenes will be. The language used to describe body parts and who is doing what to whom will be pretty character specific. If my hero is an edgy bad boy, then there may be some explicit language and it’s not going to be a tame scene. If the heroine is shy and virginal, she’s probably not going to know exactly what she wants or to be comfortable talking like an experienced woman.
If a scene isn’t racy enough for you, use your imagination to figure out what the characters may or may not be doing out of your eyesight. Likewise, if it’s too racy, skip the next couple of paragraphs or pages. Sex scenes, even in my romance novels, are not the main attraction. At least I hope not because I put a lot of thought into character and plot development.
Question: “Don’t you worry about what your family/friends/co-workers will think of you if they read your books?”
Not really. I do write under a pen name to somewhat shield them but anyone with even basic skills of internet research could figure out who I am in real life. I also rely on the fact that: (1) I am not a widely published novelist at this point, (2) it is fiction and anyone who knows me is aware that I am very imaginative and my mind can go in some pretty odd directions at times, and last (3) if someone wants to make assumptions about who or what I am based on my writing, it’s their problem.
What other questions have you had to field about writing romance novels?
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.