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June 29, 2008

Who Wants More Sex? Michelle Gagnon Guest Blogs

Who Wants More Sex?

By Guest Blogger Michelle Gagnon

The Tarts are so happy to have Michelle Gagnon as our Guest Blogger today. And what better topic for a blog with the slogan "IOCHFTS"?


Blog_boneyardwebDo you need it?

In books, I mean.

Apparently, my father thinks so. His main criticism of my books so far is that (as he so eloquently puts it): “Not enough sex. People like that in a thriller.”

Mind you, I have romance. Ok, in my first book (The Tunnels) it was more sexual tension than actual romance, but that counts, right? And in Boneyard, I hint very strongly at the fact that my characters ARE INDEED about to have sex, or have just had it. A few times that happens. In one scene, I even have my heroine getting dressed, implying that she was naked. So there.

The truth is, I have no idea how to write a sex scene. I know, it’s supposed to be just like riding a bike, but I never claimed to be great at that, either. I have nothing but admiration for the people who pull it off seamlessly. Janet Evanovich is particularly good at weaving it into the narrative so that it doesn’t seem like a departure from the other situations Stephanie Plum finds herself in. And in David Corbett’s Edgar-nominated novel “Blood of Paradise,” there’s a knock-down, drag out sex scene a few chapters in that goes on for pages and was the hottest thing I’ve read since stealing my mother’s Erica Jong novels in my formative years. (Mind you, there’s no graphic sex in the rest of the novel. It was a tremendous book, but I’m pretty sure that fact qualifies Corbett as a tease…)

But I can’t seem to do it. I’m the kid staring up the rope in gym class, trying to puzzle out how the hell to climb the damn thing.

Oh believe me, I’ve tried. I’ve written a few scenes that were hastily deleted from my hard drive when I re-read them. They were filled with things that throbbed and heaved and were probably the least sexy things ever written. I think part of the problem is that my heroine, Kelly, is fairly reserved, and I feel a little strange exposing her that way. Also, I’d compare it to not wanting to ever have to witness your friends having sex (I’m assuming that’s the case for most of us); part of me wants that to remain private for her. Strange, I know, but these characters do become real to us, don’t they?

And there’s the other concern, the fact that my parents do tend to be among my early readers. Maybe this is a by-product of being raised in New England, but the fact that they’re going to be seeing every word I write puts stoppers on me. I’m still early in my fiction career, so with any luck that effect will dissipate in future books. For the time being, however, I’m a PG writer in an R-rated world.

Blog_kamasutrabookWhat about you all? Do you expect your thrillers to be titillating? Is David Corbett a tease? What’s the best sex scene you’ve ever read (note: the Kama Sutra and the Joy of Sex don’t count)? Best comment receives an autographed first edition of Boneyard. And if you don’t win, console yourself by signing up for my newsletter at www.michellegagnon.com and I’ll enter your name in a drawing for an Amazon Kindle, iPod Shuffle, Starbucks gift certificate, and other fabulous prizes.

Blog_michelle_webMichelle Gagnon is a former modern dancer, bartender, dog walker, model, personal trainer, and Russian supper club performer. Her debut thriller THE TUNNELS was an IMBA bestseller. Her next book, BONEYARD, depicts a cat and mouse game between dueling serial killers. In her spare time she tries to figure out the poses on page 43.


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Now I know that if I want a thriller, I should look for yours, Michelle. Sex scenes rattle me (I put down I AM CHARLOTTE SIMMONS after an hour, despite wanting very badly to see what happened). And I couldn't write one if I had a knife in my ribs. Except the one on my blog, where a certain three-year old announces a particular intention.

Michelle, I'll have to read your books! I'm often embarrassed by graphic sex scenes*. I like your analogy of peeping at friends' private moments. It's better to hint that there will be, or has been, something special and then close that bedroom door.
My favorite scene in literature or film is Rhett carrying Scarlett up those stairs. It's absolutely thrilling! I don't need the graphics. Give me Romance, not porn.
*I don't handle graphic violence any better. I used to tell my students to write G-rated material for me as my mother wouldn't let me read anything else.

Listen to your dad. It's a big part of life so while a story can certainly function without the scenes, if you are pulled into the characters then it seems natural, and it almost seems odd if they aren't there.

The best one? Now that's a pleasant way to spend Sunday morning. As you noted, I think they carry more weight in the "formative years" since there's so much mystery at that point. So, this might really be two answers, a sort of before and after. Two stand out from recent reads, one from Berenson's "Faithful Spy" where the lead female character is revealing how she lost her virginity and it's such a personal moment that fits with the character that it paints a better picture of her. As for straight-ahead hot sex, then it would have to be M.J. Rose's "Delilah Complex" plus it has one of those great endings. Not the 'happy ending' from those massages, but you know what I mean. I'll have to get back to you on the Before Category, that's going to take some research.

Welcome to TLC, Michelle. I look forward to reading your books.

In answer to the question, graphic sex is good. The more graphic, the better. I mean, we're supposed to LEARN from books, right?

A bit OT, but a bookseller friend tells me she has to keep explaining to customers that graphic novels do not, necessarily, contain extra graphic sex or violence. "Graphic" means something else. She says they always seem so disappointed.

slong "IOCHFTS"?
Is that supposed to be slogan? or is there another "in word" I don't know?

Freudian slip, mayhap? LOL And speaking of that, a book called "The Tunnels"? Maybe you have more sex going on than you know, Michelle. ;-)

Personally, I like well-written sex scenes, but subtle ones, the kind that creates a lot of tension. I think that's why Evanovich is so successful, her scenes do not get graphic, but they are sexy as the devil. She has her readers' knees wobbling, right along with Stephanie's. And I wish someone would teach this in writing classes: Four-letter words sprinkled liberally in a text do NOT equal sexiness. It just equals crass, most of the time.

Yet another book to add to my list. So many books, so little time!

"Create" a lot of tension. Aargh.

I just finished reading Ian McEwan's "Atonement", from which the movie was created. There is a wonderfully subtle sex scene that takes place in the library. Nothing graphic, but your imagination goes wild.

Boy, Michelle, you came to the right place for this discussion! Thanks for being our guest!

You are right, if there is going to be a sex scene, it needs to help build the story rather than be an add on because sex sells a book. I get a bit squeamish from a lot of them, but Jenny Crusie writes hot scenes that are part of the story construction.

Sex, like any other part of the story, should be true to the characters who populate it. I do not expect Anna Pigeon to have explicit sex that goes on for three pages, she's too reserved and proper for being as earthy as she is. She's also too protective of her inner self for that to happen. On the other hand if I don't get a couple of hot scenes between Eve and Roarke I'm moping around the house all day in a big blue funk.

Also, an issue I have with some sex scenes is that the participants seem to have extra joints or are yoga masters. It's the only explanation for some of the contorting that goes on. That can pull me out of a story fairly quickly and I'm off to find my artist manikins too see if what I'm reading could actually happen. (yes, that proves I'm a nerd)

To ignore sex completely in a book makes the characters flat and unrealistic--it is a part of life. Although one wonders how some characters can get busy in the middle of the Amazon jungle while being chased by murderous drug-runners.

The amount of detail you show is up to you. If you're uncomfortable with the descriptions, it will probably show. Whenever I try to write a sex scene, I end up either giggling or saying "oh, ick". That's when I discreetly shut the bedroom door. We all have active imaginations, right?

Thanks for coming to TLC Michelle - great topic.

Mary - thanks - I fixed the 'slong' - which was supposed to be slogan. My fault, not Michelle's, since I wrote the little intro.

Sex in books? I agree that it depends on the book. I don't read many thrillers (I don't like to be frightened when I read - I get that from the news and certain press conferences...) so I don't know whether sex is a key ingredient or not.

Many (okay, most) of the books I read have sex in them. The sex scenes that work are the ones that the reader looks forward to - if it's gratuitous, I sometimes just skim it to get to the next scene. Unless, of course, it sounds like I might learn something.

I do agree with CC - if I have to do some kind of mental anatomical diagram to figure out if the characters can really do it that way, it's distracting.

I only like sex scenes when there's a real reason for them to be there. If it doesn't advance the plot somehow, or show something about the character, then why have it?

I'm a little squeamish about writing sex scenes. In my first manuscript, I chickened out. I only took it so far and had the guy's cell phone ring! But looking back, I can see that my protagonist just wasn't ready to have sex yet. It wouldn't have worked. In the second book, I have what I think is a pretty good sex scene in chapter 15, which yinz can all read if the damned thing ever gets published.

Welcome, Michelle! Great topic.

There's no right answer to the question. Some readers want sex scenes, others don't, and an author has to stay true to her characters and her vision. Personally, I fall in the group that would tend to agree with your dad. The heightened intensity of the thriller genre, which has a lot of violence and suspense, seems to call out for some sex, too. That doesn't have to mean lengthy explicit scenes, though. A paragraph or two is just fine.

hmmm, maybe you need to write 'love' scenes and leave the 'sex' to the readers imagination!
Who was it that wrote the 'horny novels' in the '70s? Rosemary Rogers? Got too graphic, more like a how to manual!

"Although one wonders how some characters can get busy in the middle of the Amazon jungle while being chased by murderous drug-runners."

Yeah, I had that problem with one of my books. It didn't seem right for the characters to have sex, becuase they were too busy running for their lives.

Michele, the sex in your books is perfect--not too graphic, and they add just the right amount of tension to the action. Melanie has a plateful, and you can see how the sexual tension adds to her general degree of stress. I do wonder how she keeps her mind on her work sometimes, though!

Sometimes she doesn't!

I was looking the books at Kroger yesterday and Bone Yard was prominently displayed. Just thought you'd want to know!

Sex in books - ummm, yeah. I like it. Crusie is good. Evanovitch's sex scenes are not very graphic. You KNOW what's going on but... Really though, I read more mysteries than thrillers. BUT if the sex scene doesn't "fit" the book and looks like it was "thrown in", and doesn't add to the plot, I might skip it.

Honestly, I've found women writers do hotter sex scenes than most of the male writers I read.

I've read and enjoyed books with very little sex to very graphic sex. I have to agree with the comments above - the sex, both type and degree - must be true to the character and needed in the story.

But I don't think it's the actual mechanics that's important, it's the tension. And I don't think it's necessary to show every moment of the event to provide the tension.

One reason for not going too graphic, in my opinion, is that not everyone likes the same types of sex. A writer might put a variety of approaches/activities in a story, trying to appeal to various likes, but the only sex scenes that will "work" for me are the ones that actually appeal to me.

For example, the minute the sex becomes too much about power, particularly if it gets into bondage or humiliation, the writer has now lost me - I've been pulled out of the story.

For this reason, I think that giving less detail sometimes works better. People can then fill in the blanks with what they like.

I think Janet Evanovich's sex scenes have gotten better as she stopped putting too much detail in. She says that being too graphic embarrasses her, and I think it showed in her earlier writing.

Thanks, everyone! I was actually at the Book Passage conference today (with David Corbett, funnily enough) so I'm just catching up on the comments, but hey, looks like I struck a chord! And don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved that sex scene in Atonement, and it was obviously completely intrinsic to the story itself. I agree, there are authors who suddenly have their characters drop everything (literally) in the middle of a chase scene in a jungle, and I don't think I'm alone in thinking, "Never in a million years would I be in the mood under those circumstances." But then, I'm a native New Englander, so maybe it's just my puritanical streak.
And btw, that "slong" Freudian slip? I love it, almost wish it was still in there.

And Cyndi, you saw Boneyard in Krogers!!! Thanks for letting me know, that made my day. Yesterday a friend sent me a pic of Boneyard sitting next to Kathy Reichs's latest in a Duane Reade, and I spent the entire day walking around telling people, "I'm in Duane Reade!" They were surprisingly not impressed...but don't think for a minute that pic isn't going on my site, and anywhere else I can think to post it.

I'm the type that will skip the sex scene if I feel it's too graphic, or the language too much to read. Then again I know I'm conservative for my age. *G* I'll be on the look out for Boneyard the next time I visit the Bookstore!

One final note: Arkansas Cindy won the signed edition of Boneyard! Thanks so much everyone for stopping by...

It's great to know I'm on the cutting edge of things for a change, since I started upping the sexual quotient in my novels with the one just completed. But then again, on the side I write erotica, so I guess I know how to write a sex scene. :-) The hottest sex scene I've read in a thriller had to be Tami Hoag's Cry Wolf. The sex in there with the very sexy Jack Boudreaux had me wanting to move to the bayou and I hate swamps!

The hottest sex scenes I've read: Jean Auel's Earth's Children series, almost any scene with Ayla and Jondalar!

Mostly I prefer implied sex scenes, though. Most explicit sex scenes in novels are just bad writing.

Yay for the signed book!

I'll get a picture of the Bone Yard at Krogers the next time I'm there!

Sorry to be so late to the party!

As one who learned about sex from reading Sonny Corleone going at it with Connie's bridesmaid early on in THE GODFATHER, I have to vote for sex. It's educational.

Welcome, Michelle!

Throbbing and heaving... oh, spew alert, please, Ms. Gagnon! I'm not a big fan of most sex scenes - they're usually poorly written and feel like they've been...er...okay, I"m gonna say it... inserted in the book because someone told them they had to have a sex scene there. I agree with you re: Janet Evanovich and her ability to have some not too explicit, yet kinda hot scenes in her books...although 'hoo hah' is a little cutesy for me when describing female genitalia. Or 'dingle' for the guys.

I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who thinks about the fact my mom is gonna be reading my stuff...

LOL, I forgot about the hoo hah/dingle thing. So maybe I shouldn't use Evanovich as my guideline...and ah, the young James Caan...

I can't handle anything hotter than Nora and The Mick in the Blackbird Sisters mysteries. I know exactly what you mean about the feeling of watching your friends "do it". Eeek. No thank you very much! The trend toward a tiny bit more romance in cozy mysteries is perfect for my sentiments.... call me Anti Mae West, but too much of a good thing is NOT wonderful.;) Don't ruin a good thing, please.


I'm right there with you on the "no sex in my novel" bandwagon. In fact, I read your blog post with fascination because most of it could have been written by me, almost word for word.

I do have a scene in my second manuscript (unpublished, by the way, in the interest of full disclosure) where my male and female protagonists "melt together," but that's as steamy as it gets so far.

Maybe in the next manuscript, who knows?

I do not believe this

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