Monday, September 27, 2010


  by Gina Sestak

Well, folks, it's been an interesting few weeks.

Remember awhile back I mentioned a manuscript of mine that had been rejected by an agent?  Well, I've been working on rewrites and took portions to my critique group on two back-to-back Saturdays.  That, in itself, was unusual.  Our normal practice is that only one person submits per week, so it's typical for a month or more to pass between my submissions.   It was unusual, too, because, for the first time with this group, I submitted not one, but two, SEX SCENES.

Sex scenes are hard to write.  You run the risk of sounding way too clinical or just plain pornographic.  [Hint: if every third word is "Ung!" it's definitely pornography.]   Sex scenes are scary, too, especially if you draw on your own experience.  I don't know about you, but for me real life intimacy never goes as smoothly as it does in movies.   For one thing, you have to figure out where to put your elbows.  I won't go into further detail.  Suffice it to say, I identify with comedian Gary Shandling who said, "I am very good in bed.  I almost never fall out."  So I tried to capture a little of that in the writing.  My protagonist Sue isn't a smooth seductress.  She's intoxicated, acting on impulse, and her venture into free love is both awkward and inappropriate.

So this is the scary part.  You write the scene and people look at you as if you just flew in from Mars with paper monkeys dancing on your head.  Last weekend's critique wasn't quite that bad, but it was close.


That's why I've decided to change the subject and write about my cat.  That's a nice inane subject, right?  Well, not exactly.  You see, my 17-year-old cat Taffy recently went blind.  Here's a picture of him, slightly Photoshopped:

The vet says Taffy's blindness is due to detached retinas and he may regain some sight.  Meanwhile, he's locked in the back room so he won't fall down the stairs, at least until our next vet appointment.  If the disability is permanent, I'll have to let him out and help him learn to find his way around the house.

I have the feeling that, if I write about a cat who's lost his vision, people will identify with it a lot easier than my critique group did with Sue, the protagonist in my sex scenes, even though I bet more folks have had awkward inappropriate sex than have had cats who went blind.

Oops.  Sorry for digressing back to the original topic.  Ahem.  We were talking about kitty cats.

I acquired a second cat recently.  A member of the same critique group had to relocate out of town, so I took in his 9-year-old cat, Kala.   He retains visitation and reclamation rights.  I don't have a photo of her yet, so let me do a description:  a huge black female with white paws and some white under her chin.  She goes limp when I try to pick her up, so it's a lot like handling a mass of risen dough with fur.  So far, so good. She's eating and using her litter box and has started to cuddle with me on the sofa.  We've begun to bond.

This is a problem in the making.  Except for the first few days of Kala's residence here, during which time the cats avoided one other, Taffy and Kala have had minimum contact because of my having to keep him confined.  How do I integrate Taffy back into the household with this new cat here?  Will he think he has already been replaced?

So back to the sex scenes, which involve a threesome - two men and a woman.  {No, it is not based on personal experience exactly.  I wouldn't do anything like that!}  And anyway, Sue gets it on with the guys - Josh and Randy - one at a time, with a break in between.  That's why I call it two sex scenes.

On the cat front, I've got two females (me and Kala) and a male (Taffy) and, while I certainly don't intend to have sex with either one of them, it seems as if the interpersonal dynamics might be just a bit similar.  Wouldn't you think?

So, do I use the cats to help me make the relationship between Sue and her two lovers more believable, or do I just give up and go to live in some secluded loony bin?  You be the judge.

And while we're on the subjects, how do you do with sex scenes?  Kitty cats?


PatRemick said...

I'm not quite sure how to react to this post so let's just call it an unusual beginning to the week... and it's not often that I'm laughing so hard before I finish my first cup of coffee. I can only imagine the looks on the faces of your critique group partners.
I'm allergic to cats so I can't offer much there but as for sex scenes, I'm working on a cozy so that means writing minimal description, thank God. That's not to say that I avoid reading about them but it struck me recently that Janet Evanovich can write very hot sex scenes with very few words.... because she lets the reader fill in the gaps....

Martha Reed said...

I'm with Pat. I think leaving most of it to the reader's imagination is probably the best bet although for a long time I kept a copy of an old bodice ripper I found in my desk while temping called Pirate's Passionate Princess. The sex scenes in that book were so ridiculous it was priceless - just the thing to read whenever I needed a laugh!

Annette said...

LMAO, Gina! I'm imagining a scene where the protagonist's blind kitty climbs in to bed with the couple during the sex scene.

It's been a long time since I wrote a sex scene. My last couple of protags have been romantically challenged. I think that's my way of avoiding a very tricky subject.

I wish you luck with both the sex scenes and the kitties. At this very moment, my new kitten is busy filing herself in my filing cabinet.

Gina said...

Annette -
I'd be tempted to draw the curtains if this was a cozy, but it's gritty crime in which Sue is just stepping onto the slippery slope that leads her, Josh and Randy into a crime spree that culminates in murder. There is graphic violence coming up, including explicit sexual violence, so discretely tip-toeing around the consensual sex between adults would be a disservice to the readers who would be totally blind-sided by what happens later in the book - believe me, that will be shocking enough. This way, the more prudish among us have a chance to gentle close the book and walk away.

Joyce said...

Is it just me, or is Blogger being stupid again? It lost my comment.

Here's what it said: I only had one scene in my last manuscript, but it wasn't very graphic. I didn't want to write it at all, but my characters insisted.

Wilfred Bereswill said...

Hmm, interesting reading here in Playa Del Carmen.

I never kill cats & I do sex scenes as if I were watching through a tiny crack in the door.

Patg said...

Well, I don't write sex scenes. Back when I wanted to try my hand at romance I read a ton of the ones that claimed to have sex scenes. What they meant was bedroom scenes, and what was shocking was how much bad sex authors were willing to imply was good because their hero was supposed to be so wonderful.
Yuck! I gave up. I don't do bedroom scenes, I prefer the sensual scenes that lead up to what the protag and the partner feel allows them to want to get into bed together. After that it's all subjective anyway. Who likes what, when where and how.
I'm not prudish, but I don't think you have to be to want to avoid the details of violent rape, even when the situation is important to the story. I skim those.

Gina said...

I haven't killed any cats either, Will, in real life or in fiction - heck, I don't even kill bugs in real life - but a dog does get poisoned in one of my unsold manuscripts. Believe me, it's very integral to the plot. Again, the perpetrator is my protagonist (Dolly), but she is relying upon Nick's assurance that Pepper's death will be painless. It isn't, and at that point astute readers will realize what Dolly does not - Nick is not to be trusted, and believing what he says will lead her to disaster.

Don said...

I have something in common with Taffy. I had a detached retina five years ago. Surgery improved the vision in my right eye somewhat (from 0 vision in that eye to about 40 %).

I am looking forward to reading what happens next to Sue, Josh and Randy on their passion-filled crime spree that culminates in murder.

Gina said...

Pat -
Sometimes it's necessary to write about the horrible stuff. A more detailed exposition of my feelings on the issue is set forth in my April 14, 2008 post titled "THERE IS NO JUSTIFICATION FOR CRUELTY." It can be accessed by searching the title in this blog, or by painstakingly going back through past posts a few at a time.

Ramona said...

Hi Gina, I've been trying to respond but Blogger is being a pill.

I've written some sex scenes, and read many. What trips up a lot of writers is that they mistakenly think a sex scene is about sex. It's not. It's about what the scene accomplishes in moving the story forward. Forget the elbows and other body parts. How characters have sex tells about their feelings towards one another, how they feel about themselves, maybe their past experiences and upbringing.

A sex scene offers an opportunity to see characters at their most vulnerable and naked. Think about what you want to tell the reader about these two people (assuming it's two, and they're people). Gentleness, patience, fumbling, forcefulness, giggling, what they say, what they don't say--this is what's important to the scene, not what goes where.

Also, are the cats present during the sex scenes? Just curious, LOL.

Gina said...

Ramona -

No cats in the sex scenes. No elbows, either. That was my problem, not Sue's.

This sex scene takes place in the back of a commercial-type van, so there is some physical discomfort (think grooves in the floor, shedding clothes in a dark confined space, etc.). The purpose of the scene is to establish the relationship between the three main characters - Sue, Josh and Randy - with a bang (no pun intended) and to set up the next action in the plot. Although Sue is the POV character, all three of them drive the story. There is some fumbling and several socially uncomfortable moments. The three have only met and all are intoxicated. A lot of things that get said and done - both blatant and subtle - figure into what happens through the rest of the book and begin to reveal their characters.

Ramona said...

Oops, Gina, I just realized I got your post confused with another one I read while Blogger was giving me a hard time.

Three people, no cats. Got it.

One trick to writing a sex scene that's not completely G rated is to do the lead up hot and heavy (kissing, fondling, ripping off of clothes) and then have one character say some like, "Shut the damn door" and end the chapter. You give the reader an idea of what the sex will be like from the foreplay, but you don't have to go all the way. As it were.

Obviously, I have warmed up to this topic. ;-)

Jennie Bentley said...

Damn, can't believe I missed this yesterday! I love a good sex scene. I don't mind writing them, either, although I rarely get to. Cozies, you know. Although there's a sex scene in the third Savannah book. Tasteful, of course, since Savannah is a lady. Of course, that one won't actually hit stores until 2012, so it'll be a while to wait.

Apart from that, I agree entirely with Ramona: it's not about the sex, it's about the people and the emotions and how the scene moves the plot forward.