This article contains sexually explicit content.
“She wanted to melt into him, merge with the passion he drew forth from her, and be the wild, wanton creature he summoned with his smile, his kiss, and whisky-rough whispers of what he was going to do to her. Bad things. Deliciously bad.”
What do you think of when you picture a romance-writer? A lonely little old lady with cats and no husband or children? You wouldn’t be the only one. It always seems to shock people when they learn that not only am I a fully functional twentysomething with a great social life, but I also work full time in law while juggling a writing career. In the 1980s movie Romancing the Stone, the heroine writes steamy bodice ripper novels with only her cat to keep her company as she drinks a little too much wine to drown her sorrows of being alone. Nope, it’s not exactly like that.
I didn’t pick up my first romance novel until I was in law school — a book by Christina Dodd (she’s a New York Times bestselling author with great hair). I loved how it made me feel, tapping into some inner desire to explore the nuances of a couple falling in love — a desire I never knew I had. I realized I wanted to write those kind of stories about men and women overcoming emotional and physical obstacles to be together. I wanted to remind readers that love is a powerful force in the world.
But where to start? With no actual sexual experience of my own, writing steamy scenes that left me aching and on fire like in Shayla Black’s Wicked Ties or Anna Zaires’s Twist Me did not exactly come naturally. I tapped into something I knew inherently, although not exactly sexy: my attorney skills. I’m conditioned to research, and love to dig deep into topics I am unfamiliar with. Picture me buried in a stack of books that were basically the equivalent of The Idiot’s Guide to Sex and The Little Black Book of Sex. My eyes popped wide open as I studied diagrams for positions like 69 and reverse cowgirl, oral foreplay techniques for blow jobs, protection options, spanking benches, and rope play.
With no actual sexual experience of my own, writing steamy scenes that left me aching and on fire did not exactly come naturally.
I watched a lot of shows like The Tudors and The Vampire Diaries, which played out so many sexually charged scenes between characters. I studied the body language, the way people leaned into each other or reacted to a touch or kiss. Observing this way gives me a mental place to start; I could write something more easily if I could picture it in my head. I’ve had a few boyfriends in the past, but none that ranked high on a passionate scale.
I hadn’t realized how involved having sex was. As a virgin, before I’d read my first romance novel I just thought: two people, a bed, and some humping. Voilà! Boy, was I wrong. After dipping my toes into these books, I discovered just how intricate the art of making love can be. It’s about more than this step-by-step put-what-where choreography, and instead how two people feel during the act. I may not be experienced in sex, but I do know about being in love. And for me, the key focus was to write a quality love scene and not let my lack of experience deter me from creating powerful interactions in the bedroom. Playing on my own emotions, I put myself in a situation where I’d feel love in a physical intimate setting.
When I’m writing, I try to create believable, enjoyable, and often humorous but steamy meetings between characters who usually lack as much sexual experience as I do. One of the joys of a memorable romance novel is the initial chemistry — what brings the hero and heroine together emotionally and physically. What makes my heroines realize that the hero is Mr. Right? Is it the way he actually listens to what she is saying? Is it the fire beneath her skin when he strokes a fingertip along her upper arm? Or the way he remembers her favorite flavor of ice cream and brings it to her when she’s feeling a little down?
I hadn’t realized how involved having sex was. As a virgin, before I’d read my first romance novel I just thought: two people, a bed, and some humping. Voilà! Boy, was I wrong.
This chemistry between a couple is crucial when I write about BDSM. So many people confuse BDSM with an abusive relationship, but if it’s written right, trust is what it’s all about. I’m leery enough of trusting any man into my bed for vanilla sex, but to trust someone in a BDSM scenario is a little scary to think about. Imagine letting a man restrain your wrists and hands to a bedpost. You can’t move — you can’t do anything except experience what he does to you. There’s a total loss of control, and you’re at his mercy. Scary — but with the right partner, it can be hot, too.
This is where I find myself relating to these characters I write. Everyone has insecurities and there are a thousand questions that flit through my head whenever I approach the subject of sex. Most importantly: what would that first time feel like and would my partner enjoy it, too? Would I be able to push my own personal boundaries and let a man see parts of me that I try to hide or am embarrassed by? In ways, these emotions feel equivalent to how my heroine feels when she’s being tied to a bed for the first time. Sex with someone is so intimate and losing control is frightening — whether you have experience or not. Putting myself in the heroine’s situation and playing on these personal emotions (the excitement! the fear!) and physical reactions adds emotional and physical depth to my protagonist.
I get a kick out of my readers finding out I’m a virgin after they’ve read my books. Their surprise means I’m doing my job right.
There may not be an actual statistic that shows how sexually active romance writers are, but most of the ones I’ve met are happily married and often teased about whether they live out sex scenes from their books with their husbands. Since I don’t have that kind of “help,” more of what I write feels new to me. I focus on the initial spark between a man and a woman, that first touch of hands or lips, the way a man’s voice can seduce a woman before he even kisses her. It’s the seduction, the building of these smaller passionate moments that I put most of my energy into before I get to the sex scenes, because I have a heightened awareness of those instances. I’m all about the “first blush” moment that leads to mind-blowing sex later in the book.
I get a kick out of my readers finding out I’m a virgin after they’ve read my books. Their surprise means I’m doing my job right — and you don’t need to commit a murder to write about it.
For now, my sex life is in the pages. But at least I know when the time comes, I’ll have plenty of tricks in my corset for the right guy.
Photo by Pietro Zuco/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)