Let's Talk About Sex - A Roundtable Discussion
This week on my blog, we’re trying something different. I have invited several writers, WS Long, Andrew Q. Gordon and Hans Hirschi, all of whom write gay fiction, to join me a virtual roundtable discussion on the topic of sex in gay fiction. Deb McGowan, author, editor and publisher graciously agreed to act as our moderator.
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This discussion is divided into two parts. Part 1 is below. Part 2 will be posted here on Thursday, April 3, so be sure to check back then to read Part 2. In addition, we have arranged a giveaway of eBooks and a $30 gift card. Just click the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of this page for details and to enter the drawing.You have until 12:00 a.m. April 8, 2014, to enter and winners will be drawn on April 9, 2014. Winners will be notified by email.
Meet Our Roundtable Authors
Deb McGowan is an author and publisher. She writes character-driven fiction, going wherever the story leads, covering life, love, relationships - the whole shazam. A working class girl, she went back to college at 25, having ‘run away’ to London at 17, been homeless, unemployed and homeless YET again, interspersed with some animal rights activism (all legal). Studying with two toddlers was tough, but they had a ‘stay at home’ dad, so it all worked itself out.
These days Deb teaches social sciences to undergraduate students, writes novels and runs Beaten Track Publishing, occasionally grabbing an hour of sleep where she can!
W.S. Long writes male-male romance because he finds relationships and romance fascinating. Raised in a military family, he joined the military himself and left the service to go to law school. When he’s not lawyering, he enjoys traveling, and visiting Orlando theme parks with his husband.
Hans M. Hirschi has been writing stories since childhood. As an adult, the demands of corporate life put an end to his fiction for more than twenty years. A global executive in training, he has traveled the world and published several non-fiction titles.
The birth of his son provided him with the opportunity to rekindle his love of creative writing, where he expresses his deep passion for a better world through love and tolerance.
Hans lives with his husband and son on a small island off the coast of Sweden.
Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.
He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his partner of eighteen years, their young daughter and dog. In addition to dodging some very self-important D.C. 'insiders', Andrew uses his commute to catch up on his reading. When not working or writing, he enjoys soccer, high fantasy, baseball and seeing how much coffee he can drink in a day and not get the shakes.
Larry Benjamin was born in the Bronx and considers himself less a writer than a wordsmith creating beauty out of words instead of clay or bronze or paint. He is the author of the gay novels Unbroken and What Binds Us and, Damaged Angels, a collection of short stories.
He lives in Philadelphia with his partner of seventeen years and their Silky Terrier.
DM: Thanks to all of you for taking part in this discussion and agreeing to share your thoughts about sex in gay fiction. As an academic specializing in gender and sexual politics, I must admit this is an area of particular interest to me, but I’ll try not to make it too political! When Larry asked me to moderate the discussion, I was honored, of course, although a little wary, in that I’m conscious of how much of gay fiction is being penned by female authors, and I personally have very mixed feelings about this. However, it highlights how important it is to hear from the guys for a change so I’ll be taking as much of a backseat in this discussion as I can. Without further ado…
DM: What genre do you write in? (e.g: gay romance)? How do you define your genre (that is do you see it any differently to the way it is widely viewed/referred to)?
WSL: I write male-male romance. I think by its description it’s pretty self-defining.
HH: It’s been called and dubbed literary novels by the powers to be. Personally, I’d add gay to it, as all my stories (so far) deal with gay characters and story lines in one way or another.
I don’t have a problem with being labeled literary, as long as people enjoy the stories. I do have an issue with being labeled m/m, as my stories aren’t about steamy romances, but rather life in general, romances can be a part of that.
AQG: I'm not sure I write true Gay Romance. I know the genre is broadly defined, but if I had to describe most of my works, the romance is a minor part of the plot. I prefer Fantasy and Science Fiction with gay characters. The sub-genres of Paranormal or Urban Fantasy also apply to my work.
LB: My books are generally put into the “gay romance” genre and I like to think they push the limits of the genre description because while there is always a romance at the heart of it my books are always about people and the world around them; they don’t live in a bubble of love.
DM: In your books, do you have on/off page sex? Why?
WSL: In my book, Love and Murder, and, in another work in progress, the sex is on the page. I don’t think gay men should be ashamed to have sex explored on page as long as, in my opinion, the sex adds to the story and sex depicted involves consenting men. If the book is coming of age, or coming out, then it’s probably more age appropriate not to depict sex on the page. It really depends on the target audience your book or story is designed.
HH: Yes, there are sex scenes in all my books, some more detailed than others. I add them where I deem they are necessary to carry the story forward. It’s not a topic I shy away from, but it’s also not something I specifically add to attract a certain clientèle of readers who look for M/M romance novels.
AQG: For the most part, any sex in my stories is off page. And even the on page 'scenes' are rarely explicit. Hardly more than letting the reader know the characters are naked and aroused.
There are two basic reasons for this approach. The first is very personal – as in specific to my situation, not private. As a parent, and a gay parent with a husband, I know that at some point my daughter is going to read my work. Unlike a female writer who has kids, detailed sex scenes could never plant the – "I wonder if that is what my parents do in private" question in their child's mind. Perhaps it's silly on my part, but I do not want my daughter to read a detailed sex scene I've written and wonder if that is what her parents do/did. There isn't enough bleach in the world to erase that image from her mind.
The other reason is also specific to me, but this is a personal preference. I don't really enjoy on page sex scenes when I read. They are rarely arousing and often seem gratuitous. I’m happy to imagine what happens after we fade to black. Keeping the sex off page gives a bit more license for a reader to connect to the characters by placing them in whatever 'roles' or situations the reader wants. That might just be me again, but I write the way I like to read.
LB: It depends on the book, on the story; I’ve done both. In What Binds Us, there isn’t a lot of sex that plays out in the pages. It’s certainly implied and led up to but not actually described. That was a conscious decision on my part because I wanted that book to focus on the emotional side of the characters’ romance. In Damaged Angels, it varied - I discovered it was hard to have a hustler as a main character and not describe the sex. Unbroken probably has the most explicit sex I have written so far. Again that was a conscious decision on my part. It is part coming of age novel, part romance so it wouldn’t have been authentic not to describe Lincoln’s sex life as he grew into manhood.
HH: I’m not surprised to read Andy’s point of view, even though I don’t share it. In fact, being a father myself, it never even struck me that our son (or anyone else who knows us for that matter) would picture me and my husband in any of those scenes, not even my autobiographically inspired novel. Besides, I think it’s great if children get a bit of extra sexual education from books, saves me the explanation. The real point though is that unless you write explicit M/M romance/erotica, the sex isn’t about arousal, it’s about moving the story forward, and unless it serves that purpose it’s as unnecessary as a car chase or a walk in the park…
DM: I find Andy’s point about keeping the sex ‘off-page’ really interesting. Readers tend to look for the author within their work. It’s quite a paradox really, as writing intimate, moving sex scenes does seem to necessitate having some notion of how these things work. So I have to ask each of you, how much of yourself is in your writing? Do your characters share your traits?
AQG: I think every character – even the 'evil' ones – have some whiff of me in them. Be it a stray thought, a like, a dislike, a mannerism. Some have more than others. But overall, I have a lot of me in my writing because I try to write what I know, and that by necessity means I've used more a than just a bit of me in my work.
LB: Like Andy, I think there’s at least a little of me most of my character. Certainly Lincoln in Unbroken is a lot like me—well he’s a lot better looking but personality wise he’s very much me. Further, I think there’s me in the characters who are not at all like me because they are often based on people I’ve met or know. My mother certainly appears a lot.
DM: Do you feel on-page sex is necessary? Why? Or why not?
WSL: On-page sex is necessary only if the story line involves adult gay men in the male-male romance. The idea is to show through the sex the emotions, the connections between the characters. Sex is a very intimate act and the use of sex scenes implies character change and development.
HH: It is necessary if it adds value to the story line, not otherwise. I add them to move the story along, e.g. bring characters closer to each other. Sex is part of our lives, so why not describe it? We have dialogue, car rides, dinners etc., sex is no different in MHO.
AQG: Can I answer with a qualified, "No?" No. Unless the scene is needed to advance a plot – for example, the MC has changed and is now more controlling or aggressive or passive or disinterested. Or if the sex is meant to show a reconnection between two estranged characters, then some – some – on page sex is needed. But only as much as is needed to advance the plot. There is an entire genre devoted to on-page sex – Erotica. Otherwise you run the risk of being PWP – Porn without Plot.
LB: I think it varies based on the story you are trying to tell. From my own writing, I feel it’s usually not necessary. That’s just my preference. Nothing bores me more quickly than page after page of sex that doesn’t tell me anything about the characters or their situation, that is sex thrown in simply to titillate, to entertain.
DM: Personally, I’m inclined to agree with Hans - that sex is part of life and deserves equal (though not preferential) treatment within fiction. I wonder how different everyone’s responses would be if I had asked instead, “Is on-page death necessary?”
AQG: Sex is a part of life and I totally agree with Hans that it is something that gives us a greater connection to the characters, much like any personal act would. It's a question of detail for me. What's the definition of 'on page-sex?' Is it kissing? Groping? Undressing? Getting to the bed? Or does it require penetration? Do you need to show the MCs fucking, sucking, rimming, whatever, or is it enough to get them to the point that it's clear that is going to happen?
In the law – and I'm a prosecutor by day – there are different 'degrees' of sexual contact. While the analogy is flawed, it also illustrates my point. There is a very wide range of what is considered sex. As a married man, I think my husband would consider me making out and groping someone 'on-page' sex and wouldn't require I get naked and fuck before it rose to the level of him getting mad.
HH: I think I also detect some cultural differences here. There is a lot of Anglo-Saxon angst when it comes to sex (e.g. Nipple-gate), which I find interesting, as the world’s largest markets for porn are the Anglo-Saxon countries. Nobody makes more, nobody consumes more, yet please, let’s not talk about it. As a European, I find this approach rather amusing. Go on Amazon and find German or French erotica… You won’t find much.
LB: Well I’ve certainly had my fair share of characters die on page. I agree with Hans, sex is a part life. So is death. To have fully realized characters, I think you need to show both—as long as it actually moves the story forward.___________
Please feel free to join the conversation by leaving a message in the comments section. Make sure you enter the giveaway below. Click here for a description of the eBooks Available for giveaway.
Part two of this discussion is now available on Deb McGowan's blog.
Part two of this discussion is now available on Deb McGowan's blog.
a Rafflecopter giveaway