Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Westside Writers Schmooze persents 50 Shades of Blog

So ideally this month’s blog post would have been written in the style of 50 Shades of Gray, but that would've required us to get the book and read it, and the thought of that just made us tired and want to take to our beds.  And not in a good way.  So, instead, we decided to just tell you what happened. 
Well for starters, good ol’ Karol, who’d come up with this brilliant topic in the first place and had been waiting all year for this Schmooze, got deathly ill and could not attend.  Never fear though, because young Rita Crayon Huang stepped in to add a feminine counterbalance and avert the horrible prospect of “An Evening With Charlie Talking About Sex.”  As an added bonus, Karol was able to attend virtually, through speakerphone.

Karol later mused that it was just like an episode of Charlie’s Angels, except Charlie was in the room, and ”the angel” was on the phone.

It was a smaller group of Schmoozers than usual, around 15, the others scared off by the adult nature of the topic, no doubt (picture book writers are so delicate).  But it was a terrific Schmooze, nonetheless. 
We started off with a round robin of the first sexy scenes we remember reading that really impacted us.  There were lots of mentions of Judy Blume’s Forever (page 88, people!) and Mario Puzo’s The Godfather; even Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying and, uh, Bob Guccione’s Penthouse Forum, uh, came up.  (The age of the unnamed Schmoozer who copped to reading Penthouse Forum?  13.)
Charlie read some comically terrible romance writing he’d found, and we discussed what to avoid, like the words “throbbing” and “flowering” and phrases like “pink palace of pleasure.”  

Charlie read a great quote Karol had sent in from a Dear Editor.com post which suggested that, if you start from emotion and character and build up to the physical, the audience will be putty in your hands.
Karol then chimed in to give a full-throated (between coughs) defense of the Twilight series as an example of this, calling the work a “bodice ripping romance” rather than a supernatural vampire story.  “It’s hot because it could mean a literal death for the heroine.”  That said, she complained bitterly that, after thousands of pages of foreplay, when Edward and Bella are finally going to do the deed, there’s a nearly immediate fade to the moonlight on the ocean rather than the hot, steamy paranormal lovemaking every Twihard had long been waiting for. 

This led to a discussion of how far to go, with a sampling of various scenes, from the “Fade to Black/Jaws Approach” (implying but not showing the shark) of Harry Potter & The Order of the Phoenix to the explicit full frontal passion of Jenny Downham’s Before I Die.   

Along the way, Charlie insisted deference be paid to Sherman Alexie’s long overdue salute to masturbation in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, and Frank Portman’s awkward, and very specific, make out scenes in King Dork.  Comparing them to the swoony, sexy and emotional scenes in books like Jennifer Bosworth’s Struck, Charlie posited the notion that women write about sex as an overpowering force that takes them away, whereas men write about logistics: this goes here and that goes there, and if I grab this and fiddle with that, then that happens… etc. Rita noted that a lot of guys in the room began nodding vigorously, saying they much preferred scenes written the latter way.

At this point, a fight broke out.
Lee Wind wasn’t so sure that this was always the case, arguing that the lead character in King Dork was simply distant from his emotions.  Jeff Cox sided with Charlie, saying that this was how young sex was for him.  After we shook from our minds the image of young Jeff Cox having awkward young sex, Rita countered Lee's response by saying the emotion that connected her to the character in King Dork was performance anxiety, which she found convincing.
Josh Hauke (creator of web comic, Tales Of The Brothers Three)chimed in, taking exception to Bosworth’s young heroine’s description of desire as “a thing separate from me, a wild animal with a mind of its own, attacking the bars of the cage I kept it in, looking for a weak spot.”  He argued that the wish of women in these stories to be “conquered and overpowered” was unhealthy and a result of sexual stereotypes.  Lee agreed.  Charlie stared off wistfully, imagining what it must be like to conquer… anyone.  As for the women at the Schmooze, they seemed to take greater exception to the fact that all these young girls so easily achieved orgasm in their first sexual at-bats!

– –

An aside from Rita, after the Schmooze: "The Sex Schmooze was so good, I stayed up half the night afterward still thinking. I particularly loved the examples Charlie brought in of gendered Point of View differences – and the assumptions this unearthed from all of the men and women in the room! A lot of the guys took offense to the idea that the female point of view would involve sex as surrender – as opposed to liberating or empowering – and even though I and other women defended this as obvious, it really got me questioning whether I've been harboring repressive ideas without realizing it. Which got me mining my memories deeper, afterward, as well as remembering the experiences and attitudes of various friends . . . "
Said Sara Wilson Etienne after the Schmooze as well: "The best part of the night was when a woman started off, "It's all about the male gaze . . . " and it took some of us a while to figure out she meant gaze g-a-z-e and not gays . . . "

But we did talk about gays, too, as you will see . . .

– –

Rita quickly reeled in the discussion before Charlie could start talking about his first sexual at-bat and pointed us to a blog post by author Marianna Baer.  She was having difficulty writing a sex scene, so she studied sex scenes from various novels to help her break her block. 

Author Marianna Baer
This amazing post not only answers the question of “How far can I go?” but Marianna also addresses her own concern about “Where do I put their hands?”  There’s too much great stuff in it to recap here, but you owe it to yourself to click on over to it, if only to read the beautiful and explicit excerpt from Jenny Downham’s devastating aforementioned novel Before I Die, where oral sex is not only a plot point and the consummation of the book, but deeply moving as well.   

 Karol dubbed it “Coming Home for the YA set!”

After looking at all those novels, Marianna Baer came to the conclusion that the secret to writing sex scenes is to think about them not as sex scenes but just as scenes.  The hands go wherever they would go to show character and advance plot.

From there we discussed sex and the market, quoting (March Schmooze guest) SonyaSones, whose poem Ice Capades from her novel What My Mother Doesn’t Know led to the book being banned and thus selling through the roof!  Sones said she “never met a banned book list she didn’t want to be on.  I dance a happy little jig every time my book makes the cut again!”  So, shockingly, sex sells.

Things break down a little differently though, if your characters are gay.  While straight characters seem to be getting a lot of sex lately, with pressure from publishers to include more titillation, gay characters are, sadly, pressured to be more celibate.  

Lee (whose blog, I’m Here. I’m Queer. What The Hell Do I Read, you really must check out) said, “There’s definitely a straight kiss = PG13, gay kiss = R attitude that seems to be operating in our culture, and that seems to be reflected in the very few MG and YA books with major LGBTQ characters and themes.
 One exception is YA author Ellen Hopkins, who is equally revealing for all her very diverse characters in terms of their sex lives.  She treats gay and straight and bi characters the same, and I think that’s ultimately the guideline: don’t fade out at the kiss for lesbians but write pages and pages of intimate physicality for the heterosexual couple.” 
Rita thought that said it perfectly. 
Charlie stared off wistfully, thinking about lesbians kissing and pages and pages of intimate physicality…

And then it was time to go home.  Of course much more was discussed during the evening.  Near the end, the Almighty came down and revealed the secrets of connubial bliss, but to hear that you would’ve had to have been there (hint: it has nothing to do with dill pickles and chicken feathers).

Still not satiated?  Here are some more books, articles and excerpts cited in tonight's talk:

Rita brought in contrasting examples from Kristin Cashore's Graceling and Will Davis's My Side of the Story, which tied in to the discussion on character point of view and gender, whether less is always more (it depends on what you're trying to show), the power dynamic that can be involved, and when and how to give nods to safe sex.

For more on gay sex and the market - check out the “Four Levels of Sex Scenes” in the middle of this article – fascinating!

     Rita mentioned Storky, written by D. L. Garfinkle, a female author writing from the point of view of a high school guy.  This was in response to Charlie's wish to see a book truly, perhaps painfully, portray how focused many boys in high school are on a particular body part, which may or may not be cooperating at the precise moment when a guy gets called on to go to the front of the class. Rita found this scenario portrayed convincingly in  Storky and would like to know whether you do, too.

   And lastly…since apparently everyone was so completely astonished by her brilliance and not at all because she’s in any way an egomaniac and, coincidentally, the person who physically creates these blog posts…but merely because Charlie and Rita insisted…here are Karol’s kisses: 

From page 319 of Cursed:

         Suddenly, he’s mashing his lips against mine, trying to put his tongue in my mouth.  I keep my lips pressed together like they’re super-glued so instead he just slimes up my face and it is gross, gross, GROSS!
         It’s over in like a millisecond.  I leap to my feet, twisting my ankle in the process. 
         “What the hell was that?” I yell.
         “It’s called kissing,” Paul says, like I’m the idiot here, but it’s his face that’s all red.  Good.  He should be embarrassed.  “I should have known a freak like you would be a lousy kisser.”

From pages 327-328 of Cursed:

         “No, dummy!” Jeremy says, “I don’t want to be just friends.”
         He laughs at me, and all I can think is – why is he laughing?  because I don’t get it and then, after a moment, what he just said sinks in and…oh…and then I’m laughing, too, and then he’s moving closer to me, but just his face, and before I know it, I’m moving, too, just my face. 
         And then his lips, his soft lips, touch mine.
         And our mouths open, just a little, and it’s not gross, not at all, it’s…exhilarating, just like Dani and Noland said it would be.
         And then I stop thinking.

Stayed tuned to this space for our recap of March’s special guest, YA novelist Sonya Sones.

Until then,
Keep passing the open windows,
Charlie & Karol


  1. SUCH the great recap of a fantastic Schmooze. Thanks, Karol and Charlie, for inviting me to participate front and center for this topic, and then for giving our post-Schmooze comments for this blog post a nice, illustrated shine and polish, too!

    In addition to what we got to say above, I also appreciate Karol's note that Charlie was in the room while the Angel was on speakerphone, hahaha. NICE.

    1. And thank YOU Rita - for filling in! Re: the "angel on the speaker phone" - you know had to out-snark Charlie somehow.

  2. Drat! I am so sorry I missed it. Darn this improv class anyway. I want to start cutting to go to schmooze.

    1. Do it! We sorely miss have a P&I presence at the Schmooze!

  3. Fantastic recap to a really interesting schmooze! Thanks, Karol, Charlie and Rita!

    1. We had big shoes to fill - so we try our best!

  4. Wow, I really wish I had been there. It sounds very . . . informative!

    1. I really wish I'd "been there," too!

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