RHYS BOWEN: When I first started writing my Molly Murphy mysteries, which was almost 15 years ago now, my editor was insistent that I cut out a sexy scene. She felt it detracted from a serious mystery and I shouldn’t be crossing into romance.I was told that mystery readers didn't want romance. I disagreed and felt the scene was important to my characters and the plot. We compromised and I was allowed a toned-down scene.
Things have changed a little since then and I also started writing a second series with a wild and wicked Irish hero called Darcy O’Mara. When I first created him as a love interest I didn’t realize how obsessed some of my readers would be with him—including my current editor. We were having a serious editorial discussion once when she said, “Do you think that Darcy could take off his shirt more often?”
I get emails that say “More Darcy please.” Whether I like it or not I have crossed over to a certain extent into the realm of romance. Or is that mysteries are just getting more sexy?
A plot thread running through my Royal Spyness series has been that my heroine, Lady Georgie, is a virgin and we’ve had that ongoing will they/won’t they tension. It’s the Moonlighting syndrome, I suppose, but I happen to love a touch of romance and that sexual tension (and of course it adds to the humor, as they are lighthearted novels).
Recently I’ve been getting pressure from fans that it’s finally about time that they DID IT. So I thought I’d try a social experiment and ask my Facebook fans whether they should get on with it or wait until they might marry in the future. And I’d abide by their decision. Well, they were overwhelmingly in favor of waiting until they get married, which surprised me. What also surprised me was the way they wrote as if my characters were real and dear to them. “She won’t feel comfortable with herself. It goes against the way she’s been raised.”
I think my own take on sex in mysteries, or in any novel , is that it has to be relevant, to further character development or relationship, or create a plot twist. No sexy scenes just to titillate. I’ve read books in which I can almost hear the writer thinking “It’s sort of slow right now. How about they take their clothes off?” I'm not a fan of graphic sex, in fact the sexiest scenes for me are when nothing happens on camera--think of Robert Redford washing Meryl Streep's hair in Out of Africa.
So I’m curious, dear Reds—what do you feel about sex in mysteries? How do you handle it? We are certainly not lacking in sexual tension and steamy relationships in Red’s mystery series—Russ and Clare, Jake and Jane, and of course Duncan and Gemma have had their moments. Do you think that romantic relationships detract from the mystery? Do you think sexy scenes have a place outside romance novels? Have you had soul searching about whether to further your characters’ relationships? Are you happy with where they are now and where they are going?
LUCY BURDETTE: It's like everything else the characters do--eat, travel, work--if the steamy romance shows character or becomes important to the plot, bring it on! I unfortunately don't seem capable of writing scenes like those. I had my characters kiss in a recent scene, and all of us became embarrassed--from Miss Gloria to Hayley to me. Maybe I feel too much like Hayley's mom?
HALLIE EPHRON: In our discussion of this topic week before last, it was so interesting that the general agreement was: sex and romance in a mystery work when they're integral to the story. Nevertheless, Lady Georgie is a grownup - sounds as if she's going to have to "do it." But then what??
When I read a mystery I usually skip over explicit sex. Yup, I do. TMI. Love my ROKU because when I'm watching a show like Scandal which I sort of love, I can fast forward through the steamy parts. But that's me, and fortunately the world is full of all kinds of readers who love and detest books for identical reasons!
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I have no objection to writing (or reading) explicit sex scenes when those scenes further the plot. But how often does that actually happen? Only if something that happened changed the character's motivation or precipitated something integral to the story. And with my main characters, I think sexual tension is always more fun than play-by-play descriptions. I know how it's done--I assume my readers do, too.
As for Georgie, I agree with your readers. Women of Georgie's class and time period may have been quite promiscuous AFTER marriage, but not before. Imagine Georgie's difficulties if she got pregnant! On the other hand, you can't keep up the will they/won't they forever, and I'd love to see them get married at some point and become a sleuthing team!
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I agree that for Georgie, it would be out of character for her to give her all before marriage - the time, her class, and the bad example of her mother, the Bolter, argue against it. Of course, repression can lead to some amazingly steamy moments without the characters hitting the sack.
Any action fictional characters take should, I believe, reveal the character or advance the plot. If you're writing about two people falling in love, or resisting falling in love, or simply working around having the hots for one another, their moments together are going to reveal character and advance the plot. Of course, that doesn't mean the author has to get explicit. When Scarlett wakes up humming and stretching in bed, we all know what happened after Rhett swept her up the stairs the night before.
I think how much the author should show depends on a few things. How explicit action is in the rest of the book? You can't give a detailed description of a bullet bouncing around a victim's brain and then pretend to be too delicate for sex. What's the style and genre? Hardboiled readers expect and accept different things in their fiction than cozy readers, for example. Finally, to what degree does the story hinge on the H/H relationship? If your heroine has a cop boyfriend who pops in every chapter or two to help out, I suspect the readers are perfectly fine with keeping the bedroom door closed. If the love story has been front-burner, driving-the-plot stuff (let's face it, I'm talking about my books, here) readers will be disappointed if they don't get the big payoff they've been waiting for.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Anticipation, aftermath, imagination, longing. That's what I think is compelling. (Will Jake and Jane get together? On the PAGE? What do you vote?)
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Dealing with this very subject in the novel I'm right now finishing up, MRS. ROOSEVELT'S CONFIDANTE. Maggie Hope and John Sterling have made it through four books without much more than a smooch, but how long can I keep this up? On the one hand, good girls of that era didn't. And yet, on the other hand, quite a few good girls of that era certainly did — especially with the World War II as a backdrop and everything uncertain. in terms of sex between other characters, I like to do the "fade out" and "fade in" that Julia refers to.
I don't mind reading sex scenes if they're important to the novel, but Miss Edna says she skips them. "I know what goes where," she says, "so let's get on with the story."
RHYS: I agree with Miss Edna (as usual). But we want to hear from you! Does sex belong in mystery novels? Detract from the plot? Annoy you? Let your voices be heard!