talking about writing about sex (a weekend with Dreamspinner!)

IMG_5130Good and gorgeous sunny morning to you. This morning, I’m feeling wildly grateful for the warmth we’ve been enjoying here around the Bay, for the smell of basil and jasmine, for the puppy’s panting next to me. I visited the midwest this weekend, and was reminded that, in the parts of the country where I used to live, spring is only just now arriving – the tree branches are still bare and it’s not even close to time to pack away the winter jacket yet because there’s still the possibility of a serious snow storm. My body can remember that cold, the deep expectation, the near-hopeless-but-still-maybe sort of anticipation, desperate the first wash of red buds on the maple tree. I don’t get that kind of exuberant reaction to spring anymore, since it never quite seems to get to winter here in California (at least not for this Nebraska-Maine girl), and I miss it – though I’m not sure if I miss it enough to move away from the sort of place where you can be in your garden all year round.

This past weekend I went to Chicago and got to write with a larger-than-usual group of experienced and published authors about the challenges and joys of writing about sex! I’m so grateful to Elizabeth North of Dreamspinner Press, who invited me to the Dreamspinner Press Author Weekend to lead a workshop with her writers. Elizabeth created Dreamspinner just six years ago, and now the Press offers a full and fabulously-varied line of MM romance (and a newly-formed off-shoot, Harmony Ink, offers LGBTQ Young Adult fiction). I got to spend a couple of days with the fun and nurtured community of writers that Dreamspinner attracts. These are fantastic and (many of them) prolific writers who turn in good books and, in return, are provided with consistently excellent marketing and sales – what a concept!

During the workshop last Friday, over the course of four hours, we talked some about what we love about writing about sex (that it’s sex, of course) and what we struggle with (staying close to the characters, finding new ways to say the same things, keeping sex between long-term-partnered characters fresh, embarrassment around the language, moving from the build up to the actual mechanics of the act). We also talked about how much weight a sex scene can carry, especially in the context of a larger work. There’s so much going on when our characters are having or are about to have sex — their history (individual and joint) is in the room, along with their big longings, their fears; underneath everything the characters say is all that they’re not saying. Couple that with the cultural expectations/stereotypes that accrue to any depiction of sexuality, and that’s a lot to maneuver gracefully! However, since these were experienced MM romance writers, they had a lot of good ideas to share with one another about how to move characters into scene, how to stay attentive to individual character details/development so that sex scenes don’t get boring or repetitive, and where to go for inspiration and research!

We laughed and commiserated, and then got down into some writing. The writers broke into small groups and wrote and shared together. For a couple of the exercises, we wrote about sexual/sensual/romantic first times (so as to take advantage of the heightened sensory detail often available to us when we are experiencing something for the very first time), and then wrote into characters in a long-term relationship appreciating something in particular about their lover’s body. I got to wander around the room, listening in here and there, and noticed how many of the writers leaned into their discomfort with the idea of reading their brand-new writing out loud — and how, in so doing, they got to connect more deeply with their peer writers and receive positive feedback about their work. After I initially invited the writers to share their work with each other, the room was silent for a moment — folks looked around the group, waiting to see who would be brave enough to go first. And in each group, someone was – slowly the room transitioned into the sharing of story, into appreciative conversation, into celebratory laughter.  I was so grateful to get to witness this.

I’m looking forward to reading more Dreamspinner Press books, and staying connected with the writers I got to meet during my couple of days in Chicago!

Thank you for the ways you connect to your own writing community — how you help hold space for new creation, and allow others to do the same for you. Thank you for your words today!


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