Check it out! Author SM Harding is here at Women and Words! Woo! Be sure and read all the way to the end, because she’s got a fabulous giveaway and all the deets are there.
In lesfic, that is. I was surprised when a member of my writing group, a straight woman who’d been a core member for over ten years, said she loved I Will Meet You There—except for the graphic sex. Graphic sex? Really? Then she said, “But I guess you have to put that stuff in for the genre.” The genre? Lesfic, of course. Since we were at our group’s annual Christmas dinner, I let it go. But it bothered me. It was one of those aborted conversations that replay when trying to get to sleep. I didn’t think I’d written “graphic” sex scenes; I thought I’d written one scene that pushed the story forward and one that deepened the reader’s understanding of the characters.
I’d let it go until I received a query from a lesfic reader a couple of months later. She expressed surprise at the amount of sex (thank goodness, she didn’t say graphic) in the book and wondered if my publisher had pushed the sex scenes. Here, in part, is my response: No one from Bella Books suggested more sex, or pushed it. Do you remember your first time with a woman? For me, it was an overwhelming set of feelings that blew me away. Can you imagine if your first time was at forty-five? That you’d lived your life as a straight woman, including marriage to a man whom you loved? I wanted the reader to understand the moment that changed Sarah’s world forever.
Though I didn’t go into Win’s scene with this reader—a wee bit of bondage lite—I could’ve added that I thought carefully about her motivations before I wrote it. Win hates surrender—the word, the notion, the action—and not only can we chalk it down to her military training, but she’s let her barriers down once before with disastrous results. That she would open herself to Sarah so completely seemed to me to deserve a scene. The “why” to me was clear and I hope readers saw this scene with clarity and saw Win as a real risk-taker with her heart. And falling in love with Sarah is a risk. Win tries to warn Sarah about repercussions of their love, but she doesn’t listen. She rarely does! Instead, she shoves the feelings down, doesn’t examine them and simply plunges forward.
Now, some of my favorite lesfic authors rarely visit the boudoir of their characters and I’m sure you can think of myriad examples. On the other hand, some stop the forward progress of the story for a sexy romp, complete with the number of digits used. In the latter example, my eyes glaze over and I tend to skip to where the story picks up again. Because I believe whatever scene we write has to serve the story—that the scene either pushes the story forward or deepens the understanding of the character/s. Granted, I write under the banner of the mystery genre, specifically police procedural and thriller, but I want fully developed characters in a plot that flows from them and their actions. If it involves relationship building and sex, so be it.
So did I change the second novel in the series, A Woman of Strong Purpose, because of these comments? Absolutely not! Though, while Sarah and Win talk about sex—after all, they are new to one another—there’s no full-blown sex scene in this novel. Why not? Because there was no need to push the story forward or to deepen the readers’ understanding of them through a sex scene. Period.
But this brings up the question of whom do I write for? Not for my publisher, nor even my readers. In my heart of hearts, I answer that I serve the characters that have tapped me on the shoulder and told me their stories. Sarah and Win are married as A Woman of Strong Purpose opens, living together and Sarah feels pushed to come out publically. Win says when straight people think about lesbian relationships, all they consider is sex. Yes, it’s part of a lesbian relationship, but not the totality of two women who are trying to build a long-term relationship. I need to feel free to explore all the aspects of their marriage, emotions, thoughts, heart and sex. What? You think women over forty-five have no libido?
Now I have some questions for you:
- Which subgenre of lesfic do you read the most? (You know, romance, mystery, etc.)
- How do you read sex scenes? As welcome titillation or an interruption of the story or something in-between? Explain, please.
- How much is too much? Not enough?
- Do you favor “fade to black” before orgasm?
Answer one of the questions and if I find your answer good and intriguing, I’ll send out a copy of A Woman of Strong Purpose or a print of the cover photo (your choice, just let me know).