So I started reading the old HWSW blog posts and hit this one, which is about the beginning of our collaboration and the early discussions of our first novel, Don’t Look Down. I’d forgotten all of this, but especially I had, mercifully, forgotten writing sex scenes with Bob. Those e-mails must have been interesting. It must have been like talking dirty, only in anger.
There’s a reason we stopped collaborating, people.
Saturday, March 11, 2006
SHE WROTE: Writing Sex Scenes in DLD
I almost titled this “Sex in DLD: How We Did It.” There is no good catchy title for this blog entry that won’t get people snickering, so you get the boring title. But people have been asking how we did the sex scenes, so here it is, campers, the inside story. (See? There is nothing that doesn’t have a double meaning. Beavis and Butthead, 24/7. Heh heh.)
When we started Don’t Look Down (our Romantic Adventure novel, out April 4, I’M DOING THE TALKING POINTS, BOB) back in ought four, we agreed there weren’t going to be any sex scenes. Bob didn’t like writing them, and I got squicked out thinking about writing them with somebody else, especially with I’m-just-gonna-sit-here-and-stare-at-you-like-I-think-you’re-a-ditz Bob Mayer. (It took Bob a while to get my sense of humor. Actually, he still doesn’t get my sense of humor, he just puts up with me.) So we started putting the book together and I was so excited about it that I told my agent. She was lukewarm on the whole deal—there was a pool boy flavor to the whole “I met this much younger writer in Maui and he suggested we collaborate on a book, why yes, is he attractive, what’s your point?” thing—but when I said, “And there’s no sex in the book,” she said, “Oh, yes, there is.” I said, “But Meg, the book only lasts four days. She can’t have sex with him when she’s only known him for four days.” The laughter that one got reminded me of why one of the agents there said, “Oh, right, you live in Ohio” when I argued with him once. Then Meg said, “Jenny, if I’m going to sell a collaboration, there’s going to be sex in it.”
That seemed fair.
So I e-mailed Bob and said, “There has to be a sex scene, and I think you should write it because people are used to reading my sex scenes, they’re no big deal, but a sex scene from the male point of view, that would be interesting.” And Bob e-mailed back, “Let me think. No.” And the deal had been that I’d do the YEC (yucky emotional crap) and he’d do the violence, so I was stuck.
There were other factors, like we’d both been through some fairly bad times and neither one of us was out of the woods yet, so we were both grim for different reasons. So the first draft of the book was . . . dark. In-the-darkness-there-is-death dark. Read-it-and-kill-yourself dark. Lucy was bitter and angry, and the first sex I wrote was between her and her ex-husband who was trying to get her back. It’s probably the best sex scene I’ve ever written, the character arc was brilliant (she said modestly) and Meg said she’d never read anything like it, that it was great.
But dark. Dark, dark, dark. And as we showed the book to Meg and Jen the same thing kept coming up: Nobody liked Lucy. She was depressed, she was bitter, she was angry, she was mean. Jen wrote to us both in e-mail and said, “Lucy is too depressed.” Bob wrote back, “Depressed Jenny equals depressed Lucy. Cheer up.” Okay, not helpful, but he was right. Plus, they all loved Wilder, so Bob clearly knew what he was doing. (As our agent put it, “Wilder is SO FUCKING HOT.” Yeah, I know, but how about Lucy? Nope. Sigh.)
So I deleted that dark sex scene (kill your darlings, people) and tried again, this time with Wilder and Lucy. The problem was that for the four days of the book, they’re fighting the Russian mob, a murderous ex-IRA agent and his minions, and nasty people on the movie set, and it never let up. So I wasn’t seeing a place for Wilder to turn to Lucy and say, “I’ve only known you a couple of days, and we’re in extreme danger, but you’re a babe, so how about a boink?” Besides, at that stage of writing the book, Wilder wasn’t even speaking in complete sentences.
So I did what I’d vowed I’d never do: I twisted my heroine like a pretzel, completely violating her character to make that sex scene happen. After having spent the entire book as a take-charge , kickass gal, Lucy got all weepy and clingy and one thing led to another . . .
Oh, it was bad. And then it turned comic. I wrote Bob, “What is your guy wearing?” since I was going to have to take off his clothes, and Bob e-mailed back, “I don’t know what I’M wearing, he can wear whatever you want.” But I pushed and he told me and I thought, “He has to be kidding.” Under his loose untucked shirt, Wilder wears body armor. He just got back from Iraq and he doesn’t feel comfortable without it. Velcro-ed to the back of the body armor is his Glock. Under the armor he wears some kind of neoprene T-shirt (I’ve forgotten some of the details). On the inside of his belt is a garotte. Strapped to his calf is a knife. So I was writing this, Lucy discovering this as she undresses him, and I started to laugh, and so did Lucy. When she found the knife, she said, “What the hell were you expecting?” and Wilder said, “Well, not this.”
So okay, it’s a funny scene in a dark book, we needed to make it lighter anyway. (And it was great for learning things about Wilder. I wrote Bob, “She’s not expecting sex, would he have a condom?” and Bob wrote back, “He’s wearing BODY ARMOR, of course, he has a condom. He has to pass a physical every six months to stay on active duty, he doesn’t take chances.”) But then they hit the sheets and Wilder was not . . . interested. He was up for it, everything was functioning, but he was the least interested naked hero I’d ever written. And then it dawned on me that he’d been pretty passive when she undressed him. What the hell? So I wrote Bob and said, “You know, your guy is really passive here. What’s wrong with him?” (Some of you may be thinking, “Well, couldn’t you have written him interested?” I TRIED. He wouldn’t go there.) And Bob wrote back, “He knows he’s going on a mission that night. We never thought about sex before a mission.” And I wrote back, “Then why is he naked in bed with my girl?” And Bob said, “Well, he loves her, and he knows she needs it, so he’s gonna take one for the team.”
You know, even today, more than a year later, whenever I read that, the world goes red. Bob still doesn’t get it. “What wrong with taking one for the team?” he says. It’s a miracle he’s survived this long without some woman killing him.
So I wrote back, “IT’S A PITY FUCK???” And he wrote back, “No, no, no” or words to that effect and then he tried to tell me that he’d been wrong, that taking one for the team was when you were out with your buddy and there was a hot girl he wanted, so you slept with her less hot friend so your buddy could have the woman he wanted.
It was right about then I started checking flights to Savannah and looking for cheap handguns.
So while he was trying to find an explanation that didn’t make me want to hunt him down and kill him, I went back and wrote the whole thing into the scene. Lucy looked at Wilder and said, “What’s wrong with you?” and Wilder said, “Well, I know you need it, so I’m taking one for the team,” and then she made him crawl. I mean, he was on knees by the end of the scene, yes, that way, too. It was very satisfying to write in the heat of the moment, but it was one of the nastiest, ugliest scenes I’ve ever written, and I cut the whole thing right after that. Brrrrrrrr. Never again.
So we went on and revised the book, and as time passed we both got happier and the book did, too, and I went back to the beginning and wrote Lucy cheerful, and Bob wrote Wilder not as grim, and I started playing music while I wrote, mostly the three versions I have of “Holding Out For A Hero” which became Lucy’s song along with “Us Amazonians,” and Wilder’s best friend showed up hitting on everybody which gave Wilder a sense of humor, and once he had a sense of humor, Lucy went, “Hello,” and Wilder wiggled his eyebrows at her, figuratively speaking, and then because she was a take-charge kind of gal, she went out to the woods where he was sleeping (don’t ask, it’s a guy thing) and jumped him, and he was all for it, and I wrote a great sex scene, and everybody was happy.
By then the book had taken on a new rhythm, much lighter with hills and valley of tension. The first sex scene was at the halfway point, the mid turning point, and then just before the third turning point, stuff happens and they think the trouble is over, they’ll be out of there the next day, probably never to see each other again, and they’re alone in a hotel room. Yep, they’d have gone for it.
So I wrote Bob, eight months after the first e-mail, and said, “You know, you really should write this second sex scene in the hotel room,” and he said, “Okay.” To this day, I think it’s because I’d added a Wonder Woman motif and he was interested in the Golden Lasso, which sure enough, showed up in the scene. But I think it was also because he’d become as YECcy as I’d become violent. And the scene he wrote is great.
And then in the rewrites, we revised each other’s sex scenes the same way we revised each other’s non-sex scenes, and it wasn’t a problem. I think we hit bottom with that really awful vengeance sex scene, so after that, anything not actively squicky didn’t bother either one of us. Of course, we’re doing all of this writing in e-mail, too. I don’t see us discussing sex scenes in real life any time soon. Not enough beer in the world. But we’re doing fine with Agnes. In fact, we’re at the first sex scene now (mine to write) and it’s not a problem at all.
Because Shane is not taking one for the team, that’s why.
2020 Note: More He Wrote She Wrote Reruns are here.