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When Women Write Sex Scenes

sex wedding nightThere’s been some hoo-ha lately over the sex scenes in the Starz drama OUTLANDER, based on the popular series of books by Diana Gabaldan. Seems the sex comes to us via the sensibilities of the protagonist, Claire, who is–as her name might suggest–a woman.

Let’s get right down to it. Sex on cable is often fantasy sex. You can see provocative body parts of Hollywood-beautiful individuals, usually well-oiled and lovingly lit. This is certainly true of OUTLANDER, the same way it is true of, say, GAME OF THRONES, which is written by a man. So why all the fuss?sex well oiled

Well, for one thing, Clare isn’t just there to satisfy the man, she enjoys herself. But so do the willing lines of strumpets in GoT–or at least, they pretend they do, if they know what’s good for them.

But in the OUTLANDER books(which, by the way, are great), as in virtually every book I’ve read that has steamy sex scenes written by women, there is one major difference: the sex, for better or worse, is all about relationship.

I write mysteries and thrillers, so I’ll admit that there are many fine thrillers out there now that are written by enlightened men, and have strong, intelligent, brave female characters. Robert Langdon, of DA VINCI CODE fame,  couldn’t get along without one. These women are, not surprisingly, gorgeous to a fault. And after our heroes are through racing along the razor’s edge between life and death, they will inevitably act on the fact that they find each other incredibly attractive. They’ll fall into bed, both willingly, as equals. And, next book, our hero will have hit the reset button, and do it again with another incredibly smart, remarkably lithe female companion.

In other words, men’s fantasy sex seems to include a gorgeously unavailable, yet (just for you!) willing partner who is also, for some reason, just passing through.

In women’s fantasy sex, the men are also built, gorgeously unavailable, yet (just for you!) headlong in love, and…willing to talk. A lot.

Kristen Stewart, James PattinsonI’m not saying that Clare’s first lovemaking with Jamie in OUTLANDER quite matched my favorite girl-fantasy conversation of all time. That was from TWILIGHT, in which Edward Cullen actually says something to the effect of, “If I have sex with you, it would be so powerful that I would likely kill you. So let’s just talk. What’s your favorite color?” On a “Yeah, right” scale of 1 to 10, that definitely comes in at a 15.

In the book of OUTLANDER, Claire and Jamie, who’ve been circling each other with interest, are suddenly forced to marry to save her from the Redcoats, and to save him from the lonely life of a man on the run. It’s vitally important they fulfill the letter of the law and consummate their marriage, and the group of “witnesses” gather below their room to make certain they do just that. So, they get married, repair to their room…and start talking. In time, for hours. In book talk, pages (and pages) of exposition. Of course, once they jump each other bones (finally!!) they pretty much can’t stop. This scene in the book always earned a 12 on that “Yeah, right” scale of 1 to 10. I was doubtful that even the talented Sam Heughan, who plays Jamie, was going to be able to pull off that much of a female fantasy and make it seem realistic. He kind of did. He added a “you’re joking, right?” laugh as they started into the clinch, and then Claire pulled away and  said, “Tell me about your family.”  Which is apparently the Scottish clan version of “what’s your favorite color?”

sex fifty shades

Even in 50 SHADES OF GREY, which featured lots of sex written by a woman (though women of the world seemed startlingly unaware that Romantic Times Book Review has reviewed actual, well-written erotica for decades) the entire point was that our heroine was willing to play along with Christian Grey’s sexual proclivities because, unlike his long line of former submissive partners, she was able to LURE HIM INTO A RELATIONSHIP. Not just sex. A RELATIONSHIP for which he was willing to face his demons and maybe even occasionally MAKE LOVE instead of just have sex.

I’m not saying that female writers don’t enjoy writing hot things about their male protagonists, and even some pretty heavy duty s & m. OUTLANDER’s Jamie Fraser is a prime example, because there are thousands of pages already written about him, and inside the first book ALONE, he is shot, stabbed, beaten, spanked (and these by his friends and family), has his shoulder dislocated, is whipped (multiple times and nearly to death), tortured, and brutalized. He shows his manly virtue by shooting, stabbing and fist-fighting legions of Redcoats, deserters, and drunken MacKenzies. Which makes him manly enough to admit to Claire that he’s a virgin at the beginning of their (lengthy) wedding night. Yet he’s such a fantasy-NICE GUY that I was almost relieved when he finally stood up to Claire when she is sulkingly withholding sex.

So, using an admittedly small sample of female-written sexuality (although including in the background sex scenes in my latest mystery THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS, in which an actress is torn between her co-star and her director, and in the most recent Eden Thrillers, especially TREASURE OF EDEN, which has the infamous cave scene, and PLAGUES OF EDEN, in which our Army chaplain heroine must choose between the secret agent she just married and the philanthropist rock star who burns for her), here is what I conclude.

When women write sex scenes that are meant to be violent and harrowing, they are just that. Especially because the reader often experiences them from inside the mind of the female.

But, when a female author writes sex scenes in which the female protagonist is a willing participant, while the sex itself can be as hot and creative as possible, it is in the context of RELATIONSHIP. And there is often a lot of TALK to get them there. While male heroes can pretty much be turned on by the sight of a naked woman, a female protagonist has to be fully on board. Her mind has to be engaged. And it helps if the man finds her SO FREAKING ATTRACTIVE because of WHO SHE IS that he can’t help himself–but he DOES, DAMMIT–barely–until she gives the nod.

If that’s causing a big hoo-ha on television these days, well, it’s about time.

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5 Sexiest Male Characters in Modern Fiction (A Thinking Woman’s Guide)

Okay, I realize that what constitutes sexiness is a very personal thing. Could be you’re a curvy size 0 with a name like Tapathis Nau with no fear of disease or desire for commitment and Bond, James Bond, is right up your alley. God bless, you’ll get no tussle from this quarter. All yours.

For some of us, what makes a character attractive is a more robust mix of attributes. I’ll admit my top, in real life, is nobility of spirit. Courage, commitment and caring are right up there. Talent seasons everything. But something’s different on the page. In literary life, I like my heroes unattainable. Someone who is so heroic, he has too much on his mind to fool around with this silly little thing called love.

EXCEPT when he falls, for one singular woman, he falls HARD.  And we all know, were we ourselves fictional and he’d only met us first, it could have been…one for the ages.

So.  Here’s my short list.  These are presented with the hope you will share your list with me.

 

Ari Ben CanaanAri Ben Canaan.  This is where it all began for me. Politics aside, in Leon Uris’ book Exodus, there was a character so selfless, so courageous and so heroic, I was instantly in love. Ari exuded nobility of spirit, and I knew immediately that was not only the kind of fellow I wanted to marry, it was the kind of fellow I wanted to become. Even Paul Newman, bless his heart, did not capture the full essence of the Ari who was on the page.

 

Merlin CC coverAmbrosius. Yes, the Crystal Cave is about Arthur, and Merlin and (very notably) Uther Pendragon. But Mary Stewart presents Ambrosius is the prince that rises above all of them to repel invaders at the wall, live in a just way, temper his hotblooded brother Uther, and basically sew the seeds of the beginning of Great Britain and what would become the Round Table. He was also celibate…well, except for this one princess with whom he was still (secretly) in love, and the child they’d had together…

Gregory Pech as Atticus FinchAtticus Finch.  Need I say more?  To Kill A Mockingbird is narratred  by his young daughter, so the sexy isn’t front and center. But Atticus had a wife, obviously loved her, and could sure use help with some world-changing. If you ask me. Moral integrity and quiet courage are in as short supply today as they ever were. 

 

Jamie Fraser. Oh, Diana Gabaldon. In Outlander, she created that most illusive of characters, the courageous, OUT-102_20131106_EM-1710.jpgheroic, sexy man who finds his soulmate and stays true to her while continuing to have really really sexy conjugal relations. Yes, it involves time travel and the Scottish highlands. And yes, it is finally being made into a series by Starz. Whether Jamie will remain the well-spanked, well-built Scotsman who swaggered onto the pages of Outlander remains to be seen.

Mrs. MikeSergeant Mike Flannigan. Of the Canadian Mounted Police.  When 16-year-old Bostonian meets her Canadian sergeant with “eyes so blue you could swim in them” in 1907, a love story with a man and a wilderness was born. Mrs. Mike is not only a love story, but a story of a marriage and how love deepens and grows through hardship and wonder.

 

Yani. So it should come as no surprise to readers of the Eden Thrillers that our heroine Jaime Richards has a thing for men who have nobility of spirit. As she says in the upcoming Plagues of Eden, “For many years of her life, Jaime had assumed she would never get married. Not that she had anything against marriage, but she tended to fall for knight-errant types who were too busy slaying dragons to consider applying for a mortgage.” In other words, Jaime is me (and B.K.) in this regard. Bar set pretty darn high.Yani

So in Chasing Eden, she meets this mysterious man who kidnaps her in the ruins of Ur, enlists her help to recover a lost sword, and runs her through the ruins of Babylon, where she’s kidnapped once again. But before the story is over, he has also cared for and saved a terrified young boy who is bleeding to death, and an elderly man who is being pursued by the baddest of the bad. Now that I think about it, Yani is kind of Ari meets Jamie meets Atticus and Ambrosius. Mostly the first two. But did we succeed in creating a sexy thinking woman’s hero?

Let us know. And let me know who YOUR nominees are for sexiest hero!

Uris_Exodus-lowresMockingbird coverThe Crystal CaveOutlanderChasingEden_audio-cover

 

 

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Real life. Technically, the blog about the literary heroes is over and you’re free to go. But this all got me started about the fact that, sure enough, in real life, I really have always been a sucker for nobility of spirit. In fact, I remember reading the book A Man Called Peter as a girl, and bursting into tears at the end. Not because the courageous Scottish preacher died, but, as I cried to my father, “What if I can’t find a man like Peter Marshall or you to marry? Statistically, there just aren’t enough to go around!”

So, the fact is that I also appreciate real life heroes and nobility of spirit. It’s why I spent two years talking to Holocaust survivors and family and friends of Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish architect who saved over 100,000 Jews from Hungary at the end of World War II.

man called peter

 

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It’s probably why I’m married to Bob Scott, who is currently planning CREATING COMMON GOOD. A Practical Conference on Economic Equality, a conference with the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Cornell West, Barbara Ehrenreich, Rachel Held Evans and others, next January.  And why I’m so proud to visit my dad, on whom Peter Marshall had nothing, and who goes to dinner at his retirement community as “God’s secret agent,” sitting with different folks each night, just seeing where he can listen and bring healing. It’s probably why my co-authors are Chaplain (COL) B.K. Sherer, who cares about each and every soldier and cadet under her care.  Oh, and Axel Avian who truly believes that every kid (and grown up) can change the world.  How that has happened, I really can’t tell you, except that I am blessed indeed.

 

 

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