Please sit down. This heart-to-heart is long overdue. We need to talk about sex.
In fiction, and especially romance, there’s a smorgasbord available for you, the reader. Like at a Chinese buffet, some of the selections are hotter than others, which is to say, they contain more explicit sexual content.
Just to review, here’s the rating system that’s widely used:
Level 1 – Sweet (kissing and petting)
Level 2 – Sensual (kissing and at least one sexual encounter)
Level 3- Spicy (one or more ramped-up sexual encounters)
Level 4 – Hot (lots of sex, language)
Level 5 – Scorching (kink, raunch, language)
So, the question is, what level of heat do I write? I can’t predict what my future self will publish, but for now, I write books that stay at level 1.
I do this for a couple of reasons. As a reader, I flip past the pages with the sex scenes. I’m sorry, but what intrigues me most, what keeps me reading until 2 in the morning, is the connection between the characters: the banter, the conflict, the silliness. Sex? Not so much. Also, and perhaps more importantly, my family members read my books, and frankly, I don’t want to publish a novel I would feel embarrassed for my Aunt Mary Rose of Rogers, Arkansas, to read.
Now, does this mean I look down on authors who write romance novels with a heat factor of 5? Absolutely not. Do I snub erotica authors? Nope. It’s just not what I write.
Folks who follow my blog know that every Sunday, I offer my website to other authors to talk about their writing journey and showcase one of their books. I don’t limit that website to any specific genre. I recently featured Sabrina York, who writes erotic romance and sells a lot of books. I congratulate her and wish her every success! It’s just not what I write.
So why has all of this come up, you ask? A few weeks ago in one of my blog posts, I mentioned that I used the word “vibrator” in a scene. I also confessed that I had to look it up because I didn’t know how to spell it. This comment has come back to haunt me. So, I offer to you the scene I was referring to.
Here’s the set-up: Caroline, our heroine, has just come home after attending a disastrous Valentine’s Day party to find her slutty neighbor, Kelly, aggressively courting Geno.
WARNING: THIS IS A LONG SCENE
“…Once upstairs, she saw Kelly pressed up against Geno against the kitchen cabinets. Kelly giggled, and seemed to be trying to kiss him, pressing her weight against him. He moved his head away from her, as though to avoid her kisses. He held her arms at the wrist, but she squirmed and got loose.
Caroline cleared her throat, and Geno looked up, startled. The expression on his face changed from surprise to pure relief.
“Hello. Hope I’m not interrupting anything,” Caroline said.
“You’re not,” he said. His eyes shifted between the two women, and he frowned. “Kelly was just leaving actually.”
“Oh, Geno, you’re no fun,” she said, faking a pout. Her bright red lipstick reminded Caroline of a circus clown’s makeup. She narrowed her eyes and glared at Caroline. Kelly inspected her from head to toe. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
“Hello to you too, Kelly,” she said, stepping into the kitchen. She grabbed microwave popcorn out of one of the cabinets. “Excuse me,” she said, gesturing at the microwave behind the entwined pair.
“Oh, sure. I’ll just walk you out, Kelly,” he said, pulling himself out of her embrace and bolting to the front door.
“Did Caroline just get home?” Caroline heard Chris ask, and his dad told him she was.
Kelly sauntered over to Caroline and hissed, “You think you’re so smart, but I know men like Geno. You’re a little too vanilla for their taste.”
Caroline said nothing. She put the popcorn bag in the microwave and turned it on. Then she looked at Kelly and asked loudly, “How’s your boyfriend, Kelly? Miss him much?”
The younger woman smirked at Caroline. “Tom is gone, and I’m a firm believer that if you can’t be near the one you love, you love the one you’re near.”
“Oh, that’s so profound. Did you think that up all by yourself or did you read it in Cosmo Magazine? Can I get that embroidered on a pillow?”
“We’ll see what happens here,” Kelly said, sneering at Caroline.
“I know what’s going to happen here. You’re gonna take your size two ass out of this kitchen, and I’m going downstairs to be with my sons. Now good-night. Happy Valentine’s Day,” Caroline said sarcastically, waving good-bye with her fingers.
“Hi, Caroline,” Chris said, coming into the kitchen a few minutes later. The microwave dinged, and Caroline took out the hot buttery popcorn. She poured it into a large bowl, then offered it to Chris. Anthony surfaced as soon as the smell of the popcorn wafted down the hallway.
“Hey, guys. Happy Valentine’s Day. My boys are downstairs watching movies. Want to join us?”
“Sure,” Chris said. She handed the bowl to Chris and both he and Anthony disappeared downstairs.
She heard the front door close. Caroline grabbed an armful of plastic cups from the counter. Geno walked into the kitchen.
“Sorry to interrupt your… whatever,” she said, taking ice cubes out of the freezer.
He leaned up against the counter. “I don’t understand women. Tom has been gone less than two months, and she comes onto me like that.”
“Yeah, looked like you were really struggling. Must have been awful for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Caroline shrugged. “It’s none of my business. Do what you want. I just think you could be a little more discreet when your boys are home. And by the way, wear a condom. That’s the best example of ‘rode hard and put away wet’ I think I’ve ever met.”
He studied Caroline. She practically threw the ice cubes into the red plastic cups now.
“What’s wrong with you tonight? I couldn’t care less about Kelly, and you know that.”
“Really? Then why did I find the two of you in such a compromising position? Part of your anatomy cared about her.”
“No. Not really.”
Caroline set the ice cube tray down on the countertop. She turned to face him. She stepped close to him, half a foot away and placed her hands on either side of him. She looked up at him, her green eyes studying his face. She leaned forward and smelt his aftershave, but did not touch him. She lowered her voice to mimic Kelly’s whisper. “So you’re telling me that despite being entangled in her, you felt nothing. Not the slightest stir of desire? Is that the load of bullshit you’re trying to sell me?”
Geno looked down at her and grinned, then stepped closer to Caroline, the slightest contact of his jeans against the front of her. She stood up straight and stepped a foot back. He pursued her until she was backed up against the countertop. He leaned in and whispered back, “Men like to do the chasing, Caroline. And we like it even more if we have to work for it.”
From downstairs, Caroline heard a long “Mom, we need more popcorn…”
Geno jumped back. He looked guilty, like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He leaned back on the opposing counter.
“Why do you care about Kelly? She doesn’t usually get this much of a reaction from you.”
“I don’t. Do whatever you want,” she said, looking away from him. She pulled another bag of popcorn out of the counter and plopped it in the microwave. She punched the buttons on the keyboard. The microwave turned on. “I went to this single parent potluck tonight. Yuck! The men I met there make Earl look good.”
“Well, not that good. It’s…” her words faltered, and she sighed. “Sometimes I miss being married. Valentine’s Day seems to bring home the fact that in a world of couples, I’m single. Do you ever miss being married?”
“I miss the sex.”
“Spoken like a true man.”
“Okay. Do I miss being married? Sometimes. I miss having someone to come home to talk to, to tell about my day. But towards the end, Cheryl-Anne and I didn’t talk much, just long periods of silence interrupted with screaming matches, followed by more silence.”
He was quiet for a minute, lost in his memories.
“And of course, my guys were always right there to see – the screaming, the door slamming, dishes breaking against the walls.”
“Really? You threw dishes?”
“Not me. Cheryl-Anne. She thought I was having an affair with someone at work.”
“Are we still being honest? Because I wanted to, but I have to look at myself in the mirror every morning. I don’t think I could if I added adultery to my weekly confession. Plus, she and I worked together. It would have ended my career,” Geno said.
He looked at Caroline. “What about you? What’s your story?” he asked.
Caroline shrugged. “A bad relationship that got worse. I think we packed our problems in the boxes along with our dishes when we moved to Alaska. When he started working out of town, things got worse. Then he met Mindy. That’s all she wrote.”
“Do you hate her?”
“God no. I felt relieved it was finally over. Mindy is what Earl needs – a young, adoring woman. I was too at one time, but just so many disappointments over the years. During the last year of our marriage, we slept in separate bedrooms. I played the ‘nightlight game.’”
“The what?” he asked.
“When Earl was out of town, I’d sleep upstairs in the master bedroom, and I’d plug in a nightlight by that room so the boys could find me in the middle of the night. When he was home, I’d sleep downstairs in the guest room, and I’d plug the nightlight in the outlet at the bottom of the stairs so the boys would know to go downstairs to find me. Kind of pathetic, huh?”
“Maybe we’re both a little pathetic,” he said, smiling at her.
“Mom, are you coming? We’re starving,” Bobby yelled. The microwave dinged.
She tucked a two liter of soda under her arm and started to grab the stacked cups of ice. “Gotta go. I got a hot date downstairs.”
“Can I join you?”
“Sure. But just don’t let my landlord know. He gets nasty when I entertain male guests.”
“Sounds like a real asshole.”
“Oh, God yes. He is,” she said, rolling her eyes.
“Here. Give me some of those cups,” he said, before taking them from her.
“By the way, how did you and Kelly wind up in the kitchen tonight?” Caroline asked.
“She came over here and asked me to change the battery in her…”
“Smoke alarm, thank you. Why? Are you jealous?” he asked, raising an eyebrow at her.
“I think nauseated is a better adjective.”
“Ouch! That’s hurts. During your marriage, did Earl ever call you a shrew?”
“You know, suddenly, I feel the urge to throw something.”
“Good thing these are plastic cups,” he said. He opened the microwave door and grabbed the hot bag of popcorn. In the other hand, he picked up two cups of ice.
Together they headed downstairs where their four boys waited for them.
Hands and arms inside the cart. Next: redefining success one reader at a time.