Sex at Work
I recently mentioned to a friend in publishing that I was planning to go to Bouchercon, and she told me this story. When she was a naive little thing just starting out in the biz, she was thrilled to be asked to represent her big publishing house at BEA. BEA is one of the most prestigious events in the industry, and this was her chance to shine. So she gathered her courage and marched in to ask her notoriously intimidating female boss how best to prepare for such an important assignment. The boss pondered for a moment, then uttered these words of wisdom:
My friend's story suggests that the book biz is just as rife with office romance and scandal as any other field, including my previous chosen profession, the law. The law?, you ask skeptically. That province of dry old statute books and arcane judicial opinions? But I wasn't just a lawyer; I was in law enforcement. When you mix prosecutors and federal agents and danger and stress and guns, you end up with some interesting situations and plenty of salacious gossip.
To give you an idea of the overheated atmosphere, the most popular drinking game in the U.S. Attorney's Office when I was there was called "Who Would You Rather Do?" Sometimes the game was played for laughs, as in "Who would you rather do -- Judge X (vile!) or Judge Y (ick!)?" But sometimes it was played in all seriousness, with real-life consequences. At least one attractive female prosecutor ended up marrying the male prosecutor whose name topped her "do" list. He'd heard about it; he was flattered; she was on his list, too, and the rest is history.
Now, this post is really about writing (at least, if you've read this far), and here's how. A vocal minority of readers out there think that crime novels should be about crime alone, that there's no place in them for romance, and certainly no place for explicit sex scenes. I thought about those readers recently when I wrote a pivotal scene in the next Melanie Vargas book, Cover-Up (coming March 2007). In the middle of a dangerous and difficult murder investigation, Melanie and her heartthrob, FBI Agent Dan O'Reilly, do it in the office. On her desk, to be exact. This happens at a moment when Melanie's career is on the line, and even though it's a stupid and risky thing to do, it's also very human. I believe in that scene, but I know I'll also get complaints about it. When I do, I'll take comfort in the great sex and office romance scenes in crime fiction. (To me, the best legal thriller ever written is still the one that started the whole craze -- Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow
So, a couple of questions to go with your coffee on this Monday morning. (1) Do you like sex in crime novels? (2) If so, what's your favorite sex scene in crime fiction?
And the next time you're sitting in a bar at a convention at a loss for words or bored with the chit chat, you have my permission to pull out that old U.S. Attorney's Office standard and ask your companion, "Who would you rather do?"