So, one result of the VCFA residency was that, with my semester advisor, I was began a Proposed Reading List for The Semester Ahead. It is chock full of high-brow Literature, with a capital L, by which I mean "literary fiction" and "craft books," you understand. And, don't get me wrong, I am excited by them and thrilled to have my literary horizons expanded and my craft honed.
But everyone deserves a little brain candy.
I'm not even going to front. I totally loved Turbulent Sea. It was trashy and steamy and it kept me up till 4am and I totally loved it. It struck the perfect balance of detailed oofing, intrigue, murder, violence, bondage, clothes ripping, rock stars, Russians, undercover ops, and paranormal activity.
Really, all six of the Drake Sisters' books have been fantastic, with perhaps the notable exception being that Magic in the Wind, the first book in the series, which concerns oldest sister Sarah falling for Damon Wilder. It seemed Feehan started the series with Sarah and used this very slight book to introduce readers to the whole family, but frankly Sarah and Damon were not even fractionally as compelling as the other six sisters and their mens. I love how predictable romance novels, in general, and the Drake Sisters books, in particular, are. I realize that is usually not a compliment to a writer: to have written a predictable plot. However, hello, it is romance-smut, so it sort of goes without saying that plot is formulaic. By halfway through the series, perhaps even earlier, the reader knows quite well who each of the sisters is going to end up with: whichever man irks and irritates her the most. Eventually, the two will stop dueling and start oofing wildly and inappropriately, fall madly in love, break each other's hearts with some stupid miscommunication, sort it out, oof some more, then one or the other will announce to the whole family that they are getting married, and usually said Drake Bride is already preggers too.
But Turbulent Sea was especially awesome because . . . well, damn, did Feehan write a sexy motherfucker in Ilya Prakenskii.
Less so in this music video book trailer (what the hell is that, anyway! I have never heard of that before in my life). I definitely pictured Joley and Ilya to look more like the hot pink cover of the book: her all tiny, blonde, and powerful; him all muscles and dark good looks, like a more chiseled and Russian Olivier Martinez, definitely circa Unfaithful (2002).
Recently I read Overleaf Hong Kong, a book of short stories and essays by Xu Xi, one of my workshop leaders over the summer at VCFA. I enjoyed the book and liked the conceit of combining one's writing with one's essays about (among other things) the process of writing. In one of her essays, Xu Xi opines that "we write of things sexual because of what they tell of humanity. Yet language that is blatantly sexual quickly falls flat, descending into the predictable and unexciting" (p. 168). She tells of the (successful) eroticism of Nabokov, writing "Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul," and she explains that "these opening lines are erotic because they do disclose, but with an underlying promise of something half concealed" (p. 168).
I see her point. Sometimes the sexual act on the page can seem formulaic, staid, boring, and definitely predictable. I mean, pretty much once the clothes ripping ensues you know that eventually both people are going to cross the finish line. Eventually. (Unless it's not a smut novel, and it's actually Literary Fiction and then any amount of disfunction between start and finish line can be imagined.) Sometimes you're not in the mood (ha), or you're in the hands of a writer who cannot write good sex, or maybe you're on the subway and just realized how embarassing it is that you're reading a book called Turbulent Sea with a busty blonde on the cover and that the words "STROKED," "BREAST," and "HIS MANHOOD" seem to be jumping off the pages of their own accord and panhandling your fellow subway riders. In those times, you might skip past the sex and assume you can figure out what happened.
But as a writer who does write some detailed sex scenes in stories, I have to speak in defense of sex, smut, and the American way. To me skipping over sex is like skipping over an important fact of life--yes, sometimes smutty, sometimes messy, sometimes unpleasant, and definitely complicated, always. But to gloss over it with euphemism ("they made love. she felt like time stopped. there was no other man in all of eternity but he.") or with some carefully placed white space indicating a lapse in time--going, for example, from two people laying down and turning out the light to the next morning when they're fixing post-coital waffles--well, to me, that's just dishonest. You learn a lot about a character--or for that matter, the people in your life--about the way they have sex in their lives: the whos, whats, wheres, whens, whys, and hows. You learn even more by understanding what sex means to them, how much they will or will not talk about it, how they talk about it, and more still by how they deal with the intricate complications that enter their lives because of it. As Xu Xi herself points out, we write about sex because it is writing about being human.