Monday, August 6, 2012

Some Like it Hot.

RHYS BOWEN : A few days ago Red Deborah Crombie confessed she'd been ambivolent about including a sex scene in her next Duncan and Gemma novel. Is it okay in a mystery, she asked.

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. 


  1. Stuffing gratuitous/overly graphic sex into the mystery? Not so much a fan . . . as a reader, I’m skipping it and probably not looking fondly on reading more of that author’s work. However, if the sex in the mystery [just like any other scene] is integral to the storytelling, is believable for the characters, and is not something randomly thrown into the mix purely for the sake of including a sex scene, then it has a place in the telling of the story. I do think it needs to be done thoughtfully, however . . . I want the scene to be real in the characters’ lives but I don’t want to feel like a voyeur.

  2. Aren't the Stephanie Plum stories mysteries? Having sex in them sure hasn't hurt that series at all. And there's plenty of sex. Isn't there sex in the Sookie Stackhouse series?

    To say there's no place for sex in a mystery, well, that seems pretty odd to me. Mysteries are as much about human foibles as anything else, and you can hardly be human without some kind of sexual shading. To just ban any reference at all, just because the story is a mystery seems very silly to me.

  3. Yeah, if the stories are about real people, there's going to have to be sex. As I said, even "no sex" is sex..and even sexier sometimes, because of the desire and the lust and the need.

    But long pages of explicit stuff...hardly ever--ever?--works. For me.

  4. I would never write a sex scene in a mystery -- unless one participant killed the other during or immediately thereafter. I think of it as the Praying Mantis Principle.

  5. I like sex scenes... in books about sex scenes. (Gasp! Did I just say that?) However, a graphic sex scene stuck in the middle of a "serious" mystery novel for no reason other than titillation turns me off of that writer. But you know what else I hate? Series that go on and on with the heroine vacillating between two suitors, or not proceeding in some way with the obvious hero. If you're going to write a relationship into a book, even if it's a mystery, write the damn relationship! Readers are like dogs - reward us occasionally and we'll keep doing what you want because of the possibility of a reward. But let it go too long without an actual reward and we're over it. Eventually we figure out we're getting tricked. I've given up on more than one series because of this.

  6. True story: One of my critique partners gave his mother a Kindle for Christmas. She is 91. He checks in on her every day. One day, he came in to find her reading an e-book.

    Friend: So Mom, are you enjoying the Kindle?

    Mom: I love it. I'm reading that 50 Shades of Gray book. It's sexy.

    Friend: *sputters* because his mother said the "S" word

    Mom: Russell, you are 64 years old, stop acting like a little boy. Sex, sex, sex.

    The End.

  7. Gee, Sandi, whichever series can you mean, with the heroine vacillating between suitors? LOL

  8. Ramona, I love that story. =)

    I seem to fall in the same camp as a lot of you. I don't mind romance, or even sex, in a mystery IF it either furthers the story or furthers the character development. But just to shoe horn it in for extra "spice" or "steam"? No, thanks.

    I've actually been reading romances lately, something I avoided for years, to learn how those types of scenes are used effectively (or not).

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  10. Ramona,
    I love that story!

    And Karen, I think the STephanie Plum stories are really romances disguised as crime fiction, but maybe that's why I really like them.

    I think it's all about the story, am not a fan of really graphic sex scenes, and while I could have done with a little less violence, they were a key part of Dragon Tattoo series.

  11. Ramona, LOL!!! Very interesting observations, all. I wonder if readers are more excepting of sex in other genres? And not just straight romance. I'm thinking of Diana Gabaldon, and Deb Harkness, and Charlaine Harris in the Sookie books (not straight mystery).

    I went to a birthday dinner for a friend the other night, and several younger women there were big readers, and all the books they loved had lots of SEX.

  12. Ramona, I love that story! "Sex, sex, sex." :-)

    Rhys, this is a topic that I've been thinking about a lot. In my Skeet Bannion books there's not really any sex per se. There are a couple of guys who'd like to take Skeet to bed or have a relationship with her, but one of Skeet's big problems that she's working on all through the series is that she's commitment-shy--and not just sexually. That, of course, is probably the real reason the guys want her. Based on my observation of men.

    I'm working on a mystery that's not part of this series with two protagonists who were high-school sweethearts in the distant past. The pain they caused each other then changed their lives, and they've had nothing to do with each other since but have kept up on each other's lives because their families are connected. Now, one is involved in a murder and the other is the homicide detective investigating the case.

    The unfinished romantic business between them has to be a part of the book and the sexual tension, as well as the determination to never be hurt the same way again. It's important to how the mystery is investigated for the ways it hurts and helps the investigation. I don't see any actual sex scenes in this book, but tons of sexual tension that's actually important to the plot.

    I'm not a huge fan of long, explicit sex scenes in anything. Like Hank, I think sex is a part of everything, even if it's no sex (which is often the sexiest). Still, lots of mechanics or flowery (or crude) language for sex and body parts turns me off. Show what's absolutely needed for character or story development, hint at the rest, and move on with the story. Debs does it extremely well, and of course, Julia is the queen of sexual tension.

  13. Sex can have a place in mystery. It can be what drives the culprit to break the law. It can be a break from the case for the detective. That said, a mystery would focus largely on mystery-solving. Erotica would focus on sex. A mystery wouldn't be awash in sex unless the sex trade, adult entertainment, etc. was a key factor in the mystery.

  14. I agree, Julia does what she does brilliantly. So many aren't able to write sex scenes as well and in trying, seem to keep the scenes going longer than necessary and then it just becomes a little embarrassing. I generally prefer my mysteries to have some romance, yes. And some sexual tension, yes. A hint of sex to come is, to me, fun and sexy and that's all I really need in a mystery.

  15. I was not a huge fan of Dragon Tattoo - partly because I felt every time the story lagged there was a flashback to a gruesome rape (Okay...time to revisit the rape again!)

    OTOH nothing wrong with a little nookie if it isn't just stuck in to prop up a flagging middle (did that come out right?)

  16. Ro, I love you. And here I've been trying so hard to watch my language.

  17. Ramona: LOVE it!
    I agree, Julia does tasteful love scenes...even when they are hot.
    When they are appropriate, love scenes are great. And when they are not too graphic. Too much detail isTMI.

    Although I do have a funny to share. My hubby is not the reader I am. But one year, for Christmas, he bought what he believed to be a mystery to stuff in my stocking. It was one of the mystery-around-gratuitous-sex scenes book. And the author's favorite phrase? "Throbbing man-root" ! For heaven's sake, sometimes you just have to call a penis a penis!

  18. Oh boy. Where to start? Where to end? Let's just say I don't want to hear anything about "a throbbing manroot," as enjoyable as one might be any place other than the mystery I'm reading.

  19. AND THE WINNERS of the welcome KAYE BARLEY contest are ARE: Sandee Barrowclough and Lil GLuckstern! Please contact HANK to choose the Red book of your choice! (Email me at h ryan at whdh dot com )


  20. Lora, I'm going to snickering for the rest of the night... "Throbbing man-root" indeed. That's hysterical!!! And a good example of why one shouldn't write graphic sex scenes unless one is very, very good at it.

  21. What I love to do is throw in clues while my characters are fooling around/pillow talking. My critique partners are either distracted by the romance and miss the clues or skip the scene because she is afraid they will have sex.

  22. Simple quesiton: Does it work in the overall context, and flavor, of the story?

    If so, sex away.

  23. Sorry I'm late to this party. (And what a party!)

    Personally, I prefer for any sexual activity to be hinted at rather than blatant. I adore the way you JR authors cover that. (That scene when Russ picks up Clare from her deployment - in the truck - umm, pretty hot!)

    But as for Georgie and Darcy? I'm rooting for them to "get it on" and soon. LOL But that would remove the tension and the fun, right? I can't read fast enough when they're together.

    I tend to skip over any explicit sex scenes. So much of that adds nothing to the story and I'd rather imagine than have it spelled out for me.

  24. Echoing what everyone said upstream about Julia being the MASTER of sex-in-mysteries! Not only was I powerless to resist buying the next and the next and the next, when I was wrestling with how much sex to put in Nightshade, I went back and studied how expertly she seduced readers into caring so much about her characters. If I ever write a sex scene as good as hers, I can bite the dust happy.

    And on the less-is-more point, don't you think that one of the most erotic moments in literature is the chapter in Cold Mountain where Inman grabs Ada's FOOT?

  25. There's nothing more hideous than a story that leaves out the juicy parts. Life is messy; an author that tries to clean it up is denying reality. I don't need pages of gratuitous sex in any genre, but to go from 'a kiss' to 'the morning after' is damn disappointing. You don't need to put it all out there, but throw me a bone as a reader. That would be a bone with a little meat still left on it. I'll make a steak out of it if I like your writing.