When I wrote my first Molly Murphy novel (Murphy's Law) I included a steamy sex scene when Molly and Daniel finally get together. It wasn't just gratuitous sex. He had thought that she was the mother of the two children she brought to America and I wanted him to find out she was still a virgin.
But my editor struck through it firmly with her red pen. "No sex scenes in mysteries," she said, "Or you won't be taken seriously as a mystery writer."
I've stayed away from bodice ripping ever since, but I've kept the hint of romance going in both my series and apparently that is what many of my readers like. Messages to me from my website and Facebook often read "More Darcy please." Darcy being the wild Irish hero of the Royal Spyness books who has been trying to get Georgie into bed.
I confess that I love books with that touch of romance in them. I adored Moonlighting on TV and the will they/won't they tension. I realize that this has probably excluded me from ever winning an Edgar (although the book I was nominated for did have a hint of romance in it) but I don't care. I write what I like to read. And my theory is that a good mystery is all about the sleuth. The sleuth's life and character are as important as solving the whodunit. And if noir writers can bring in the sleuth's alcoholism, then surely I can bring in the sleuth's sex life, or lack of it!
On the other hand I get annoyed if a sex scene is included just to liven up the action. In fact I confess that sex scenes embarrass me if too graphic. My daughter has offered to lend me 50 Shades of Gray and so far I haven't dared open it.
So what do you think, Reds and readers: Do you like sex/romance in mysteries? Should a good mystery concentrate only on the crime plot? And how much is too much? Fess up!
LUCY BURDETTE: All I can say is that no one, no one, does sexual tension better than our own Julia. I've had friends admit they rushed out to buy the books just to find out what's going on with Russ and Claire.
On the other hand, I'm of the "close the door and let them have some privacy" ilk. In fact, I'm having to work on how to juice up the sexual attraction between my new character Hayley and her detective heartthrob. I'm beginning to wonder whether he really IS the man for her after all...
But in general Rhys, I agree with you. If the sex and sexual tension are an important part of the sleuth's life and the story, then fine, bring 'em on!
HALLIE EPHRON: Sexual tension: YAY! And yes, Julia is the champ.
I try to write sex but invariably I end up writing food instead. In the new book ("There Was an Old Woman" comes out in April 2013) it's a jelly donut. A really great jelly donut.
ROSEMARY HARRIS: If two characters happen to have sex and that changes relationships or motivations, as in the case of Russ and Clare, then I get it. But as a reader, most of the time I don't think throwing in a sex scene adds to the mystery. Particularly, if it's it's a long, flowery explanation of what is transpiring. Maybe when I was twelve I thought that was titillating, but now it's usually just goofy.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, you guys. You're making me blush. Well, yes, obviously, I believe that romance and mystery go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I've written several sex scenes in the last two books, and there's a doozy coming up, you'll pardon the phrase, in the next novel. I think sex and romance work with two caveats.
One, the romance has to be organically part of the characters and the storyline. I've read more than my share of romances with a mystery shoehorned in to give the H/H (hero and heroine) something to pass the time during the REAL story: falling in love. And I've read several mysteries where the romance has been used like grout to fill the blank spaces in the REAL story: the investigation. Neither of those work for me.
Two, the sex, LIKE ANY OTHER ACTION, must further the plot and/or reveal something about the characters. Is it important for the character of the take-charge female detective that we know she likes to be tied down and spanked? (Since we've been talking about 50 SHADES...) Then you need to show that. Are the investigators finally falling into bed despite their reservations about what it will do to their professional relationship? (A la Duncan and Gemma in Deb's work.) Then you need to show that. Tab A fitting into Slot B? We all know how that works. You can skip that.
Except you, Rhys. I want Georgie and Darcy and I want them NOW. With lots of extra Irish sexiness, please.
JAN BROGAN - I am a sucker for romance and to tell the truth, since I'm not much of a puzzle person and am not driven by "who did it," I really only read the mystery or the thriller for character. I am mostly rooting for the protagonist's life to work out. Most often that includes romance. But like Julia said, it can't be shoehorned in. I am not a big fan of overly graphic sex scenes. To me the sex scene has to be unique to the character and her exact moment in time. It has ago reveal a lot more than naked parts.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, I think you should have kept in your sex scene for Molly! I think it's very unfair for someone to say you can't be taken seriously as a mystery writer if you put sex scenes in a novel. I do agree that they should move the plot or reveal something about the characters--preferably both. As we all know Julia does so well....
I have written some fairly explicit sex scenes when I thought they were necessary to advance the plot, but weirdly, with my primary characters, I feel a little uncomfortable--sort of like knowing too much about close friends. (It wasn't Duncan and Gemma I was debating over, by the way, but that's all I'm saying for now...)
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Someone asked me once if I could write a mystery without any romance. "Not if the characters are supposed to be like real people!" was my answer. Even no sex is sex, right? THE OTHER WOMAN is essentially only about sex, and the power of it-- but are there any actual Naked Moments? You know me--what do you think?
And the desire of the main characters for each other is only heightened by the reality that they cannot have a sexual relationship. How long that'll last...who knows.
When there's a graphic sex scene in a book, I usually skip it. RHYS: So there you have it. Don't expect any of your Jungle Reds to write Fifty One Shades of anything in the near future. But how do you feel about sex in mysteries? And by the way: This week my latest Lady Georgie book NAUGHTY IN NICE comes to a store near you in paperback. To celebrate that milestone I'll be giving away a couple of copies at the end of the week to my favorite comments. So chime in please.