(Do I have your attention now, class?)
Iâ€™ve been thinking about sex lately. My current villainâ€™s sex, to be precise, what kind and how much to describe.
Sex is a tricky thing for a writer. And Iâ€™m just talking about whatâ€™s on the page, so stop your sniggering, you in the back. Because itâ€™s so loaded with emotional and physical baggage, because the actions being talked about are so intensely personal yet universal, itâ€™s nearly impossible to avoid clichÃ©s. One of the best sex scenes in recent fiction is the core event in Ian McEwanâ€™s ATONEMENT, a lovingly described coitus interruptus that reverberates through the lives of every character there, and even that scene flirts with clichÃ©s as a means of avoiding them.
For various reasons, Iâ€™m often labeled as a cozy writer, whose books you can give to granny or your adolescent daughter without worry. And itâ€™s true, the Russell books, because they are written as if by an old woman looking back at her lifeâ€”whatâ€™s more, a dignified, faintly supercilious, and very proud old womanâ€”she doesnâ€™t go into details about her sex life. She has it, you can read that in what she doesnâ€™t say about her reactions to having her hair brushed by her husband, but itâ€™s all between the lines, yearn though readers will that the narrator will go past hair-brushing and playing-with-fingertips into the juicy stuff.
Similarly, the Martinelli stories. Kate is presented, from the beginning, as an intensely, almost phobically private individual. And because her sex would be of the lesbian variety, and because Iâ€™m not writing those books for an exclusively lesbian audience, I kept them, um, less detailed than I might have had she been straight.
Of the standalones, in FOLLY and KEEPING WATCH the protagonists are a little busy with other things (sanity and rescuing children, respectively) to do much rolling in the hay. Thereâ€™s one fairly explicit scene in DARKER PLACE, at a place where the character needs the intensity of the sex act to complete the transformation of going undercover (the theme of the book is alchemical transformation, and the alchemists knew all about sex-as-metaphor for their work.)
And now TOUCHSTONE. Six main characters, four men and two women, and theyâ€™re a lusty lot. Plus, the mid-Twenties were as liberated a time as the Sixties, for similar reasonsâ€”freedom of movement (the motorcar as a tool for liberationâ€”thereâ€™s a PhD topic for you), a war in the background, mind-altering substances (the martini vs marijuana/LSD), a surge of womenâ€™s lib, readily available birth control (the rubber in the Twenties, the pill in the Sixties).
And thatâ€™s to say nothing of the music, you know what that kind of music will do to the urges of young people.
So here I have a noble American whoâ€™s been around several blocks; a wounded Englishman (â€œTouchstoneâ€) who is still in love with his ex-fiancee (whom he left so as not to tie her to his problems); the ex-fiancee who is now attached to a radical politician; the wounded Englishmanâ€™s sister, the only virgin in sight; the radical politician (and you can imagine how demure he is); and the villain.
With all those pheromones flitting about, is it possible that the villain doesnâ€™t have a sex life? And being the villain, wouldnâ€™t his sex life be, well, villainous? Heâ€™s sure not the sort to have a gentle hand-holding relationship with the vicarâ€™s daughter, nor is he the kind for a wife and kids. Heâ€™s kinky through and through, and the only question is, how much of that kink do I put on the page?
So you can see why Iâ€™ve been thinking about sex.