Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sex in Literary Fiction 3

This topic has become a series, I guess. I wanted to include a female narrator. Here's a passage from Sue Miller's The Senator's Wife:

"Upstairs they stand on opposite sides of the bed and move quickly out of their clothes. Meri crawls across the coverlet to Nathan. She lies down on her side, looking up at him, opening her knees as he reaches for her.
The air from the open window is cool, but Nathan's body is warm, he radiates heat. He's hard, and she reaches down to help him, to shift him into place. She feels a kind of relief as he enters her. This is what she wants. This is the way she feels honest with him, safe. Here, she thinks. Yes. As he begins to move in her, she whispers it: "Yes. Yes!"
They make love quickly, fueled by his urgency, and when he comes, Nathan cries out so loudly that Meri can imagine someone on the sidewalk below stopping, listening under the darkening trees." 
This time we have a couple of newlyweds and despite the somewhat titillating language, there's so much more than sex here. It's such a great example of the advice every writer has drilled into them: "SHOW; don't tell." It could take pages for Miller to tell us what she has in just three paragraphs. Coupled with the revelation from a few pages before, that Meri thinks they're an unlikely pair that ended up together because of the sex, this scene provides something necessary. To leave it out, or "fade to black", would be a cop out.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sex in Literary Fiction 2

In my last blog, I promised an example of a sex scene from a literary novel that I think is done well. Here's an excerpt from Michael Cunningham's By Nightfall:
"He puts his lips to her left nipple, flicks it with his tongue. She murmurs. It's become singular, his mouth on her breast and her response to it, the exhaled murmur, the miniature seizure he can feel along her body, as if she can't quite believe that this, this, is happening again. He has a hard-on now. He can't always tell, he doesn't really care, when he's excited on his own and when he's excited because she is. She clutches his back, she can't reach his ass anymore, he loves it that she likes his ass. He circles her stiffening nipple with his tongue-tip, taps the other one lightly with a finger. Tonight it will be mainly about getting her off. This often happens, has for years--it reveals its form, on any given night (when did they last fuck anyplace but at night, in bed?), usually decided up front, by who kisses whom. This one's for her, then. That's the sexiness of it."
The scene goes on. It's actually about three pages towards the very beginning of the story and I think it does a great job of establishing who these characters are and their relationship to each other. There is a routine to their passion, but you get the sense that the intimacy is no less enjoyable for the familiarity. It will be important later for the reader to understand the intricacies of this long-married couple's love for one another and Cunningham has found a way to encapsulate it in three pages, right from the beginning. I think he manages to be graphic without being gratuitous.

But that's just my opinion. What do you think?

Sex in Literary Fiction

I recently read an article about how difficult it is to find quality sex scenes depicted in literary fiction. The argument is that the absence feels pretty conspicuous in a genre that prides itself on laying bare the internal mysteries of character. The author of the article suggests the lack may come down to simple embarrassment, in light of things like the annual Bad Sex Review, run by Britain's Literary Review.

As a writer myself, I'd say there are two main concerns when writing sex into my story. The first is: What will my family and friends think? As much as sex is a big part of human experience, it still doesn't get discussed in realistic terms even in some of our closest relationships. This is what makes it such great territory for a writer to reveal intimate parts of their character's nature, but it remains taboo. When I sent my dad a copy of my first novel, Monsoon Season, I blacked out all the naughty bits and in the margin I wrote: "REDACTED."

The second major concern for writers including sex in our books is: Is it gratuitous? We've all heard that "sex sells" and we don't want to be seen as using sex to transform an otherwise uninteresting story into a page-turner. Frankly, many of us don't want our work dismissed as a Fifty Shades knock off when we're trying to write something of literary value. But the "fade to black" approach can feel a bit cowardly.

It's a tricky balance. I notice when it's done well and think Michael Cunningham, Sue Miller and Lauren Grodstein get it right. Perhaps I will locate some of their well-written passages for my next blog.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: The Lights Went Out and Other Stories

This short story collection is beautifully written. As a novel writer, I was so impressed at how Hogan was able to get me invested in her characters in such a short space. Also impressive was what a chameleon she is in terms of style and voice. She writes men, women, teenage boys, vampires, dogs. She can write convincingly in different tense, genre, and POV. 

My favorites were Blood Orange and Twenty Years, which are both about the ferocity of new love compared with the fragility of long-term love. 

I am left thinking of many of these characters. Recommended!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Guest Post - Anna Belle Rose

The Long Road to Publication 

Years and years ago, actually decades ago, I was a stay-at-home mom for a bit, with my then youngest child who would not fall asleep at nap time. Over time, I realized that while he wouldn’t sleep, he would sit in his crib for a bit each afternoon, listening to Yanni at the Acropolis, looking at story books, and I could sit and write. And write I did. I wrote and wrote and wrote over many months. By then, my youngest was talking, and he somehow understood that Mommy was writing a book, and he kept nagging me to keep going. And I did.

Fast forward many years, and I’d keep opening the word file of that first novel, print it out, edit and revise, and eventually send it out to a few agents. Rejections would come in, and I’d put it away for a while, then that same son would poke at me again, and the process would start all over again. During this same time, I also started several other novels, and kept working on them in the same way. All of them were contemporary romances, heavily linked to life in Vermont, and all have gloriously happy endings – I mean, who doesn’t love a happily ever after?

Finally, late in 2016, I decided I needed to either get serious about writing, or give it up for good. So I pulled those two complete novels out again, and hired incredible professional editors to go at them. Then I started submitting them to a few agents, and a couple publishing houses that didn’t require representation by agents. And on June 13th, a publishing contract arrived on the novel I wrote first, The Phone Call. And on July 13th, a contract arrived for my second, That One Small Omission. And joy of joys, on December 4th, a contract was offered on my third, More Than I Can Say.

On October 11, 2017, That One Small Omission was published in e-book and print versions, and on December 12th, The Phone Call was published. The joy and excitement I feel each time I look at my mantle and see my first published novel is an emotion that I think only other authors can understand!

To find out more about Anna, visit her author page!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Ani Difranco might read my book!

The most exciting part about getting the rights to Ani Difranco's song lyrics in my novel, Blood & Water is the prospect that she might actually read it.

I've been a fan of Ani's since I was seventeen and I have all her albums. Her lyrics have been the soundtrack to my life and the lines I've quoted at the beginning of my novel are the premise for the story that follows:
I know that there's strength in the differences between us 
And I know there's comfort where we overlap.
When her management requested a complimentary copy, I began to have fantasies that she would read the book, love it, and we'd become great friends. I couldn't just send it in a generic envelope so I decided to have a little fun!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Female Positive Children's Books

I believe Christmas gifts are for children. In my life, there are five qualifying persons. Shopping for the offspring of my two best friends in the world is the most fun I have during the holiday season.

This year, I've decided to do books. I think kids should be exposed to more stories written by women with girls in the lead. I don't feel like there were enough of those when I was growing up. Here are some ideas:

  1. Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is 100 bedtime stories about extraordinary women and illustrated by female artists from around the world.
  2. Judy Blume. Any of them, all of them, but especially Are You There God? It's Me Margaret
  3. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montgomery.
  4. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott.
  5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
  6. I preformed a scene from Autumn Street by Lois Lowry for my seventh grade oral interpretation.
  7. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson is about the deep friendship between a boy and a girl. It deals with grief. I read this as a kid and was excited to learn she has a new award-winning book out called My Brigadista Year.
  8. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.
  9. A Wrinkle in Time by Madaleine L'Engle is getting a reboot as a more diverse version for Disney.
  10. For younger readers, I Like Myself by Karen Beaumont.
I'm selecting from this list and buying them from my local indie bookstore, Antigone Books. It ends up being slightly more expensive, but gift wrap is free!