Lures

When I was a little girl, my best friend’s father had a company that sold fishing lures.  If we had to go to his office – he worked from home and the lures were sold mail-order – for anything (usually a pen or a stapler or something for homework) I would walk around, fascinated staring at the lures and reading the descriptions.

The lures had names like grasshopper or fly or other stuff, but here’s the thing: they didn’t look a thing like grasshoppers of flies.  Instead, they often had violently colored tendrils protruding from oddly shaped plastic “bodies.”

And I used to think fish were really stupid, which of course, was true… And false.  Fish are perfectly fine in their environment, but they are not human-like, nor is their perception the same.

But this is not a post about the relative intelligence of fish and men – this is a post about how editing warps the mind and damages the taste (yes, there, I said it) and makes a person unfit for the very gatekeeping they do.  And how, ultimately, when they can’t figure out how to attract the readers, they turn it all into lures which are about as realistic and logical as fishing lures, but which attract the fish… er… readers, in a way, because they lock into hereditary pathways which were never meant to act that way.

Sarah, are you saying all editors are damaged?  Well, no.  Some editors are very careful to limit how much slush they read in a day or a month.  Some also filter that slush in various ways.  And editors of micro presses, particularly those working with indie, where the idea is not “read everything and filter it” but “take everything that’s good enough to sell, even if not my cup of tea.  So not ALL editors are damaged.  But a lot of them are.

Let’s start with what an editor was supposed to be, under the old model.  Here I’m going to use what I was told by at least four editors.  “We are the filter.  We receive all the raw, unfiltered stuff from writers and would be writers, and we filter it down to good stuff.”

Now, if you’re wondering what good stuff is, that was what the editors brought to the fray.  Their own taste and thei own view of what was “good.”  This was a narrow gate for stuff to pass through (hence the term gatekeeper) because making a book, or printing a story as part of an anthology was endeavor that took money.  Okay, never as much money per individual paperback as they told you – not unless they were promoting the book heavily – but a few thousand dollars anyway.  Besides a cover and editing, they had to produce a paper book which then had to be distributed, which implied paying the salary of the book reps, as well as transporting it to the stores, laying it down, taking it back if it didn’t sell.  Either the editor or the house the editor worked for had a strict budget and a number of books they could publish in a year.  This was usually a completely ridiculous number in comparison to what they had to read to select them.  These are not real numbers, but they are in the right vicinity: an editor might have to read a thousand books for each book they accepted.

Here’s the problem: I’ve done editing for short periods of time, and I can tell you after a while you go a little insane.  (I highly recommend the experience, because it will teach you what you need to do to make your writing stand out more than about anything else, including workshops and courses.  On the other hand, I don’t recommend doing it for more than a few months at a time, and here’s why.)  You go a little insane because even if you ARE a reader (and a lot of junior editors in NYC never were, but that’s something else) it changes the mechanics of how you read.  You’re not reading for pleasure, anymore, you’re reading for a job.

Now, ninety percent of the books you’re reading to reject and you find reasons to reject within the first page.  “Doesn’t grab me” is a reason, as is “three misspelled words.”

I’m a bit more soft hearted than that, and I remember being on the other end.  I also know – from mentoring – that some writers for reasons known only to their psychiatrists MUST write five to fifty (depending on the size of the story) pages of crap before the real beginning of the book.  And that THEY can’t see it’s crap.  So I usually tried to read at least that, depending on length, but I confess I rejected 90% of stories within that time.

The problem is in the other 10%.  The other 10% you’ll read to the end and find yourself baffled on what to do with them.  Mind you, if you were working for a traditional publisher, you can probably eliminate half of that, because they simply are NOT what your house publishes.  No matter how good a story about a baby elephant learning to balance on a ball, or how great the illustrations accompanying it, the chances of its getting published by Baen are probably zero… or very close to it.  And yes, people will submit crazy stuff like that.

But you’re still left with say 50 stories – 49 more than you need – that are perfectly functional, decent, and COULD be published by your house.  This is when – yes, I did it too – you start finding reasons to reject because you can.  The first and most obvious, which people even convince themselves is valid, is “this cr*p promotes evil opinions.” … Which wouldn’t even be a problem if the entire publishing industry hadn’t been concentrated in one region and limited to one rather echoey echo-chamber.  We all have stuff we consider evil – yes, even I – like, in my case, anything that recommends 2/3 of the population be killed so we can go back to being peaceful cowherders in an idyllic landscape will fall down “evil bullsh*tting lies” and get into that return envelope so fast it will leave burn marks.  Not that I don’t think people have the right to think – or even say – that, but there is no reason on Earth or beyond it that I should promote this under MY imprimatur.

That will allow you to get rid of maybe 10 stories, 20 if like me your triggers are the exact opposite (or close to) of those drummed into hopeful college students for years.  You still have nineteen.  You then start rejecting for what can only be called “bullsh*t reasons” One of the most obvious of those is “it’s too much like other stuff.”

The thing is that what triggers those alarms for an editor is not necessarily even what triggers that alarm for other people.  Why not?  Well, because they see a lot of stuff that – to put it bluntly – no one else ever sees.

Some of it might be obviously plagiarized from stuff that’s out, but a lot of it will be… ODD to extremely odd.  There is something to Pratchett’s idea that some ideas fall from the sky onto all receptive heads.  Some of them can be explained by a movie, an interesting science article, or current events.  And some just make you go “WHAT?”  Like, in my brief stint of editing in the early nineties, we got a FLOOD of stories about mailboxes that ate people.  it got to the point you opened the envelope and you went “ARGH.  Killer mailbox.”  At that same time, I was reading the major mags, and none of them published a cannibal mailbox story.  So…  Would people have liked a cannibal mailbox story?  Who knows?  I know we – editors – couldn’t take it anymore.

More commonly, though, what burns you out on ideas is that you’re seeing so much of them.  Look, this is the reason why high-volume readers like me tend to rotate our reading material among genres.  Truly, I can read regencies for three months, and then the very mention of Miss so and so and the Duke of– will send me screaming into the night.  The same with cozies and, to a smaller extent (because there’s a broad subgenre range) with science fiction.

But imagine you have to keep reading that subgenre.  Year after year.  day after day.  More misses and Dukes, endlessly.  You go a little insane.  You start looking for the “different.”  And if you live in an echo chamber and can’t be different on anything substantive without getting disinvited to all the RIGHT cocktail parties, you start looking for the different that’s REALLY different.  And you don’t realize it’s a different that will put off ninety percent of your readers.

Because here’s the thing about subgenres of popular fiction: when I’m in the mood for a regency, I don’t want an alien to come through halfway through the book and kill everyone, including the hopeful couple.  We want different but not crazy-different.  Yeah, if you can put a new twist on boy meets girl, yay.  But if your twist is that the boy is really a disguised girl, tread carefully.  Your average romance reader – and you average Sarah, too, for that matter – will go “ew” and fling the book across the room.  Not that we’re homophobic or don’t have Lesbian friends, but because frankly this is bait and switch on our romance reading.

This is complicated by another bit, which is where the editors give up on finding different enough and instead find “Agrees with me politically as much as possible.”  And because the editors live in an echo chamber, most of the stuff you get is SO BORING it makes your eyes glaze.  It’s the same stuff most of us got back in school in the SEVENTIES for crying out loud, and it is by way of being a catechism.  Blah, blah, humans bad for environment; blah blah, evil polluting corporation vs. glorious challenging worker; blah, blah young smarter and wiser than the old (minority of your choice might replace young); blah, blah, blah, woman refuses marriage to live un-oppressed… blah, blah, blah.  Paint eyes on my eyelids and I’ll sleep through reading these books.  How bad did that get?  Well, for a while there, before competition from indie introduced one MODICUM of sanity, EVERY regency romance heroine was a suffragette or a modern-day feminist in period clothing.  This included the maids, and, possibly, the female horses.  To make things worse, all of these are package in a way you feel the editor thinks he’s pushing something particularly daring and important and “speaking truth to power.”  Reviewers who suffer from something like this disease for similar reasons go trolling through books for reasons to approve or disapprove of them and often fixate on “agrees with me on something no one will dispute.”  For instance, the big reasons someone found to love Any Man So Daring was that it was against racism.  (Which no, was not what I was writing it for.)  This of course made it daring and different from all the books out there that promote racism, right?

Unfortunately, what ends up emerging from the combination of “I want something that validates my opinions and I want something very different – but it must sell” is stuff that no one in their sane mind would want to read.

Which is where we get lures.  Faced with falling circulations, publishing houses have moved more and more towards using one of the primal lures: sex.

Now, I like sex as much as the next person, and I’ll confess when I was very young I was curious about what people did behind closed doors.  It was, after all, among the “secrets of adulthood” I couldn’t wait to er… penetrate.

As an adult, though, reading about sex makes me yawn.  Unless the sex is integral to the plot (and very little is) I tend to skip those scenes (it makes some romances very short.)

I know however that I’m not in the majority in this.  I realized this back in the late eighties, when a colleague was devouring the clan of the cave bear books because they had explicit sex scenes.  She was particularly thrilled with his scene where the guy devotes attention to the main character’s breasts.  (Yes, when I read the book at her insistence, I read like three paragraphs, sighed and skipped it.  Sex is just NOT a spectator sport for me.)  

Throughout the years I’ve met many women like her.  They will read anything that has sex in it, particularly if they can have another excuse for reading it.  “I read it for the story” or “I read it for the character.”  It’s as thin and transparent as “I read playboy for the articles” is for guys, but it works, partly because guys want to believe that women are naturally pure.

Publishers, faced with burnout and the need to attract people to books that they were picking increasingly on “odder and odder” and “politically correct” factors, started putting more and more sex in EVERYTHING.  You can trace the decline of the popular appeal of editorial gate keeping in how much sex books started having.  By the time regencies included full pre-marital anal sex, you were will within “the only reasons people are buying this is for the sex scenes.”

Look, I don’t even have anything against pornography.  I’m a libertarian.  If people want to screw their neighbor’s daughters on the front lawn, I’m cool with that, provided the daughters are within age of consent, the lawn isn’t mine and they don’t scare the cats.  And maybe reading about it will keep them from making a nuisance of themselves and others.

BUT this is not the reason most of us read.  Just like the reason most fish snap at stuff is for food, not for hard bits of plastic with a hook concealed within.  BUT you can make the fish snap at the plastic, and you can make people read for the sex, even when nothing else in the story is interesting.

Which is how you end up with such interesting concepts as “YA erotica” – an idea that makes me throw up a little in my mouth – and which Dave demolishes here.  Or my rejection from a fantasy-romance house, because my book is not sufficiently “female-centric” since it has a strong male hero.  Or…

Beyond the reason that it gives young people a very odd idea of what’s important in life and/or relationships, the infusion of sex into everything allows some truly repulsive ideas (like that all men are evil) to fly under the radar.

BUT it is a direct result of what gatekeeping IS.  And a good reason to celebrate being rid of it.  Because while sex makes a good lure, in the end Man doesn’t live from funny bits of bright colored hard plastic alone.  Or, indeed, at all.

– and now I’m off to enjoy Memorial Day.  To everyone who served, thank you for your service which makes it possible for people like me to enjoy freedom and peace.  Have a good Memorial Day.

64 thoughts on “Lures

  1. Good post Sarah.

    However, when I saw “Lures” I thought of a SF book I read a few years back. Two strangers came to this modern day small western town handing out flyers for some sort of event. What the reader knows but nobody in book knows is that everybody who saw the strangers saw them differently. It turns out that the event was a hunter party with them as the prey. The strangers were Lures used by the alien hunters to “draw the prey in”. [Very Big Evil Grin]

    1. I also thought of a book, but mine was “The I Inside”, by Alan Dean Foster, where the main character is irresistibly attracted to a woman, who it turns out was “crafted” to attract a particular sort of person for their colonization projects. She was referred to as a “Lure”.

  2. ::Applauds:: I agree. Sex, for me, is not a spectator sport. I flip past sex scenes (and if I happen to watch a movie with one, I fast forward if possible). It’s somewhat like softball — I loved playing softball when my knees allowed it. But it’s boring as watching paint dry to *watch*. *Reading* about softball would be even more boring, I would think. (Yes, there’s “Casey at the Bat” — that’s baseball, and has a twist.)

    I gave up on gothics when I hit about 13, because that seems to be when they started in on the ‘must have a sex scene *here* – I don’t care if the only other creature on the deserted island the heroine has been imprisoned on is a soft shell crab’ dictates from the editors. I’ve just been introduced to Georgette Heyer in the last year, and *those* are everything I loved in historical fiction.

    Enjoy your Memorial Day 🙂

  3. Hm.

    Okay. First off, just to set a baseline, I do like reading about sex, and I do like writing about sex. I have written about sex for money, back when Penthouse Variations was paying $400 for 3000 words. And I’ve been struggling through Fifty Shades of Grey because it’s basically a sex novel that is selling like hotcakes and I wonder why.

    It’s ain’t the prose, I’ll tell you what.

    Here’s my suspicion — it’s serving exactly the audience the gatekeepers don’t like: women who like strong, dominant male characters and like submissive roles. Exactly what the college-feminism gatekeepers say women don’t really like.

    The MMORPG Second Life is an interesting environment to research this: while sex isn’t the reason for Second Life, it is pretty well purely social, and when people are socializing on computers, some of them are going to have cybersex. And as people starting building their own content and they own in-world virtual environments and situations, which is what SL really is for, some of them are going to be sexually oriented.

    Do some exploring, and you’ll find basically three repeated sexual themes:

    (1) Gorean D/s. So much so that there are modified software setups that allow actual “nonconsensual” sex. Nonconsensual in quotes because both partners have to actively seek out the software, activate the “I can be forced” bits, and can at any time leave the scene because you can quit the viewer. In effect a perfect safeword.

    (2) Escort clubs in which women flirt for tips, virtually strip, and sell cybersex, primarily but not exclusively to men.

    (3) BDSM.

    All three of them have more women than men.

    The point being that there is a very politically-incorrect porn market — just as we’re finding there is a politically-incorrect science fiction market — that isn’t served by the gatekeepers.

    1. I said I don’t have a problem with porn. I don’t do much reading for sex because it — for whatever reason — doesn’t do it for me. I CAN write it, but it’s not my main interest in writing.

      OTOH — and this is very important — I don’t want it in the middle of EVERY romance or worse, fantasy or worse YA I open up. UNLESS it’s integral to the story, and right now I’d judge it to be in maybe 10% of the cases. With luck. Most of the time it’s “tacked in because some people who are apparently afraid to guy erotica will buy this other book for the sex. I THINK fifty shades of grey is SUPPOSED to be erotica, pretty much.

      1. Right, did I manage to imply I thought you did object to porn? Didn’t mean to.

        But you and I are making isomorphic points: the gatekeepers think everything needs sex scenes and the sex scenes have to have certain characteristics. That automatically means that the market for “don’t want sex scenes” and “want sex, but I like different kinds” wont’ be served.

        1. which makes the capitalist in me positively cry out…
          I don’t think you implied that, so much as I wanted to make it clear.
          Look, part of the reason the scene with some guy feeling up the main character’s boobs did ZERO for me is that the way to make that GOOD is to have her feeling involved. the “and then he felt to the right” “then he felt to the left” “Then he traced the nipple” started sounding like a breast exam for me. CLEARLY people with more vivid visual/tactile imaginations get involved by this sort of thing. I just go “Yawn, meh.”

          1. My attitude has generally been of the “When I want porn I will bloody well buy porn, otherwise don’t put my novel on hold for twenty pages of psuedoporn” subset. It is like putting a waffle under my General Tso’s chicken: I like waffles, I like General Tso’s, but the combinatiion doesn’t really do much for me.

  4. You go a little insane because even if you ARE a reader (and a lot of junior editors in NYC never were, but that’s something else) it changes the mechanics of how you read. You’re not reading for pleasure, anymore, you’re reading for a job.

    VIctor Nell did a fair bit of study and experimentation in this, which was reported in Lost in a Book: the Psychology of Reading for Pleasure. It turns out fun reading, ludic reading, is a physiologically different state than reading for class or work.

  5. Suffragette mares? 😀

    I’d love to read more old-fashioned adventure with a modern take – and for me that ‘modern’ would be something like a heroine who is shown as clever and resourceful, but who is willing to be saved by the hero without protestations of how she is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. Or having to show off to him how she is as good as he is with stuff, until we get to that scene where she has to be rescued anyway. While possibly bitching about it. And a hero who can act as the rescuing knight, but doesn’t have the need to bash her over the head with it – which seems to happen fairly often now if we get that strong hero, he often then acts like a cad about his superiority compared to her until she shames him by being a lot better in something. How about pairs who actually can see each other as actual partners, in spite of one or the other being better at some things?

    Okay, I think I’ve been reading way too many ‘romantic suspense’ novels lately.

    1. And yep, I could do without the sex scenes too. Especially those cases where the nominal plot gets forgotten for pages in order to fit in the sex scenes.

    2. In the past women often were clever and resourceful — it is a vanity of our time that “clever and resourceful” women have to be like modern women. By all means let female characters be clever and resourceful, but make them true to their times, too. Scarlett O’Hara and Echo Sackett were clever and resourceful without being the least bit modern.

      1. Yes, I didn’t write that very clearly. So, let’s try again. We still seem to be getting stories where one of the starting premises seems to be that men don’t respect women’s abilities (or at least the hero doesn’t), but Women Are Every Bit As Good As Men, and the heroine needs to show that to the hero. And these heroines sometimes seem to behave as if any show of weakness would nullify all of her previous achievements (at least in the beginning – if it’s an adventure there is still a good chance she will need to be saved by him in the end, and then it’s usually shown as okay).

        Plucky interpreted as an argumentative show-off. That’s kind of 70’s, I think, or at most 80’s, and maybe the modern heroines should be getting past that.

        Back to being clever, resourceful and actually plucky, which the pre-70’s heroines were often enough. Personally I quite like Marian Halcombe. 🙂

        As said, could of course just be that I have not been lucky with my choices and managed to run into a disproportionate number of those during my last reading sprees.

  6. Just wanted to mention that I also skip through pages of sex scenes, which really means I should pay 2.99 for a book instead of 7.99 (more or less). My opinion. 😉

    I like story. However, there have been times in my story when the characters go knock, knock on my shoulder and asking when they will be having sex. I am not one for a full sex scene either.

    I used to love romance novels. It makes it hard for me to read romance and sometimes even some of my fav. genres.

  7. Apparently through the process you described the gatekeepers put all these extraneous criteria ahead of selling. So, after all this clutter has clogged the pipeline what manuscripts come out nobody wants to buy.

    Then someone gets the idea: sex sells. and the big publishing corpse adds racy scenes and if sales slow kinky scenes.

    Seems horribly inefficient and degrading. And it’s a bizzaro world “gatekeeping” function.

    Why not focus on selling? Why not focus-group the slush-pile to find the story elements that appeal to the buying public and write a program (or instruct interns) to rate every manuscript on those elements. Put a representative sample up on Amazon with a test imprint and confirm the focus group’s opinion. Once confirmed, allocate promotional resources accordingly. It’s all by the numbers, and if you do it right, nobody can jigger the numbers to his own benefit.

    Are the big six so colossally stupid that nobody’s thought of this? Why hasn’t Google written a “page-rank” for slush piles?

    1. They do NOTHING to figure out what sells. The mechanisms aren’t in place, period. because again, what they had to do for years was “sell” to the distributors. The public wasn’t even on the radar. Sad, sure. But all too human.

      1. This is incredible, Sarah. When I heard all the laments that publishing has become a soulless financial numbers machine, I had something like my penultimate paragraph in mind. If things are as you say, young lady, thar’s gold in them thar hills.

        1. heck, they estimate what sells. They are a numbers machine, but mostly a “misapplied numbers machine” and a “self feeding numbers machine.”

        2. Steve, I heard probably the biggest CEO in sf/fantasy tell me that they decided on sales numbers what to buy and how hard to push. I’m a reformed statistician :-). This is like saying we look up the horoscope in the newspaper to decide what shares to buy. Here it is: blunt, unadorned. They have NO IDEA HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT SELLS OR TO WHOM. (Sales numbers, without a tonne more data, are near meaningless. Book A sold 500 copies. Book B sold 50 000. B is better… Book A had a print run of 1000 copies. It only appeared in 25 independent bookstores, had zero publicity or marketing spend, and has a mess of a cover that was photoshopped by the publisher’s boyfriend. Book B had a print run of 200 000, publisher spent 2 million on marketing, was in book dumps of every chain bookstore right next to the checkout, and has a cover to die for. But Book B is better). Where Amazon is winning, hands down, no competition, is that its still very basic algorithms are putting readers closer to books they might like. It could be done a lot better, and will be.

    2. A focus group to go through the slush pile? Gads, they have to twist arms to get _a_ person to do it. And the Slush Readers run screaming in short order. My stint reading slush at Baen worked like aversion therapy–years later I’m still not reading as much published stuff as I was prior to the slush years.

      I could never figure out how I could possibly be cost effective. What they paid me to go through thousands of manuscripts, to recommend thirty-six total, of which they bought two? No wonder they out-sourced to Agents.

      The cost of getting a group to go through enough and select a _variety_ of sexual styles? And then there’s controlling for the quality of the rest of the story, the covers, the push . . . the mind boggles.

      1. Might be an interesting experiment for a publisher to go through the slush, throw out everything that can’t string a sentence together, and put the rest up in ebook form as “Focus Book: TITLE” — just a no-frills black-bordered white “cover” and the title in black. Then offer X pages of sample, sell cheap, give the author half of the cover price (gotta pay the slush reader(s) somewhere), and the best-seller after X months gets an offer for a paper version.

        Yeah, they’d have to publicize the Slush, but people who want Cheap and want lightly gate-kept (the “throwing out the really badly edited” part) might cough up a buck or two in hopes of finding diamonds in the rough.

  8. YA erotica ..(shudder). What a horrid concept. In all of my six HF novels, there are only two scenes of explicit sex and ix-nay on the mechanical descriptions – it’s more of the feelings of the characters involved, and they were fun to write, and were true to the development of the various characters involved. But I wouldn’t like to make a habit of it, and limit my books to adults (or near-adults) only. My first novel was totally G-rated, and all about a wagon train party; a number of parents have told me that they used it in their home-schooling program in teaching about the wagon-train pioneers. I loved that they were doing that, and I wouldn’t want to limit that by throwing in some R-rated material.
    Honestly, I think if I had to write a sentence involving throbbing members and turgid flesh, I’d go and stick my head in an oven. OK, it’s an electrical oven, but you get the point.

    1. In Sword and Blood I HAD to do that. Essential to the story. What I found is that it’s harder (I’m sorry, there’ s no safe words, in this topic) than it seems. So many of the words will give you giggle fits.

    2. Part of the problem is likely that for every act described that makes ten readers go sigh, another hundred readers are going THAT is supposed to be sexy???? Ewwwww. Which points to the sense of Sarah’s earlier comment about less play-by-play, more color commentary (with apologies to non sports fans who are looking at that and asking THAT is supposed to be descriptive????

  9. One of the main issues with editors is that in the process of going through the mechanics of what makes good and bad writing, they forget to be fans of stories, whether by design or not. Most readers don’t go through something for its political correctness or its internal mechanics, but because it’s something they’d like to read and enjoy.

    Not saying that editors shouldn’t be a lot more critical than the average Joe, but they disconnect from the very audiences they are trying to sell to when they lose too much of what drew them to books in the first place.

  10. This included the maids, and, possibly, the female horses.

    …thank you. Now I have the urge to read a Regency setting with magic horses. Magic, feminist, suffragette horses. Like, Black Beauty meets Heralds of Valdemar.

    And I don’t think I have either the brainspace or the background knowledge to write it myself.

    *cries*

        1. Yorkshire Lady edged away quietly. She wasn’t like those empty-headed fillies giggling in the corner of the paddock. Would it really be worthwhile to teach them the concept of “one mare, one vote”? She didn’t share their hopes and dreams. She didn’t want to be just another broodmare being serviced by a stud, bearing, nursing weaning, being serviced again. She wanted to be able to run wild and free across the greensward, hooves pounding, the wind in her mane. Perhaps someday, if she found just the right stallion, she would be interested in becoming his lead mare and having her own foals. But first, she had to think of her racing career.

          1. That’s close, that’s close… I think we might need s’more Magic/Spirit bond with humans or something, though. 😀

          1. The latest incarnation of My Little Pony is reportedly not bad, actually. Not up to Korra standards, but more nuanced than the toys are being marketed for.

            I need to finish watching the MLP:FIM/Phoenix Wright crossover fanvid.

            1. The new MLP reminds me of old Disney. Not as good as, say, Robin Hood, but an adult can watch it without their brains coming out of their ears, unless they’re allergic to pink. The ONE plot point I’ve noticed where I wanted to bang my head off the wall was a knee-jerk reaction to something that actually made perfect sense in context.

              Helps if you’re doing email or something while the kids watch, though. And my daughter is now going through a stage of loving horses.

  11. I’ve done my stint slushing and all I can say is hell yes. Reading for “work” is a totally different beast than reading for pleasure.

    As for the obligatory sex, well… if there’s sex in something I read, I like it to actually have something to do with the story. Preferably to be critical to the story or the development of one of people involved (Yes, the sex scene in Impaler does meet this – it shows a side of Vlad’s personality that doesn’t appear anywhere else, and without it a lot of what happens later wouldn’t have had as much impact. And at that there’s no actual sex shown.)

    For those who are interested, the legendary Sailor Jim post to alt.callahans “On the subject of penises” discusses many of the difficulties involved in sex scenes. Just don’t blame me for ruined keyboards.

      1. This is why that post is legendary. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it, but I still laugh so much I can’t breathe each time I reread it. Especially “boingy boingy boingy”

    1. *wipes tears from eyes* Oh my stars, that was too much! I think I’m going to take a vow of obscurity, never to write explicitly ever again. *takes deep breath, thinks of icebergs*

    2. I wrote a short story featuring no sex at all but *frequent* mentions of The Male Member (and I wasn’t even drunk at the time!) It was a Coyote story, and worth it just to see the male members of my crit group dissolving in giggles as we attempted to discuss it in a public venue (they did have helpful suggestions on alternate euphemisms). It got very nice rejection letters on the order of “the entire editorial staff died laughing, but we just CAN’T put this in our publication.” Sigh…

    3. I heeded your warning, and only sipped my drink between paragraphs, which kept me safe. I have a quibble with the writer, however. The man would NOT want to be in a condition for her to whistle “The Elephant Walk” during such a scene. It would either be followed by giggles and pointing, or her becoming offended because he wasn’t reacting to her.

      Of course, this thought came up AFTER I caught my breath… 😉

      1. I was going to say something about it depending on the man, but then dissolved into hysterical giggling, so I won’t.

    4. *giggles*

      However, he is off on his description with the plum — at least, it’s not a universal thing. (For people who wish to see more peens than you would want to poke with a stick, there’s a site which is an attempt at a semi-scientific gathering of as many photos of, well, erections as possible. It is cunningly named erectionphotos and the usual dotty com. It isn’t intended to be smut, last I looked; just, well, if you ever need to describe one, there’s a lot there to consider. >_> And “normal” covers a wide, wide range.)

        1. Well, I could have said it would be a tall order to find more photos of that anatomy, but that would’ve been even worse… 😉

    5. OK I guess I am out in left field on this one. I’ve had this same conversation with friends at my all-female gym, who agreed with y’all, and I find myself astounded at the number of people who don’t think the external reproductive organs are attractive. I think they are things of beauty, and the good Lord took some time with them when He made us. Yes, the post was funny, but unlike everyone else I was nowhere close to spewing my laptop because I didn’t agree with the general view being espoused.

      (Yes I said espoused. Tee-hee.) 😉

      I DO write sex scenes – I feel they are character development in certain respects – I enjoy writing them, I enjoy reading them, and I’ve been told I write beautifully romantic LOVE scenes. In fact I’ve been told by readers that I don’t write SEX scenes, I write LOVE scenes.

      I’ve also had my parents drop a herd of longhorns when they encountered them, but I deal. My uncle, who turns out to be a huge fan of my stuff, thinks they aren’t gratuitous and they flow where they need to be. *shrug*

      I write, or try to write, real-life characters and situations, with all the flaws and all the strengths they’d really have. That includes violence, catastrophic situations, murder, death, hate, love, and sex. These are parts of life. If I weren’t writing about them I wouldn’t be true to life.

      At least that’s the way I feel about it.

    6. The irony gods follow me around all the time. After much mirth on this subject, I get sent this tweet this morning. Not everyone will get that one, I’m afraid, but there are enough people here with programming skills to appreciate it.

  12. Kate, you wicked wench … I about choked on a mouthful of chablis as it went down the wrong way – but my keyboard and monitor are safe!

  13. I had an alpha reader complain/comment that there is no sex in 90% of my stories. Well, yeah, 1) there’s too much plot going on, and 2) the MC has a personal rule about mixing business and pleasure (as in DON’T DO IT). Maybe I should do another tongue-in-cheek piece with prompts like [begin gratuitous sex scene] and [resume plot].

    YA sex? No. Romance, flirting, absolutely. Sex, no. There’s far too much of that [stuff] in the everyday world already. Let’s leave a little pressure free space, please.

    1. In my opinion, those who show too much in the sex department are treating their readers like idiots. I’m not trying to come across as a prude – we’re always told to describe, but not to go too far so that the reader can fill in the blanks themselves.

      One of my favorite authors, Harry Turtledove, has this as perhaps his sole weakness. He describes too much of the sex between the characters, which, I believe, slows the progress of his plots.

  14. Since, people are wanting to talk about “Sex in Stories”, I have a good one. Finished reading Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer’s _The Grand Tour_. Told in diary form, one of the main characters (female) only said about her first real “wedding” night “I’ll remember it the rest of my life”. [Very Big Grin]

  15. I do “have a problem with” sex– in as much as I think our culture injects it into everything, and tries to marginalize those who aren’t obsessive about it– but if it improves the story, fine.

    Just rubbing salted lemons into the wound is how female characters being used like a blow-up doll is supposed to be empowering. Oooh, look, anonymous sex with multiple men I don’t even like– I’m so powerful! *gag*

  16. I think there’s both sex and religion (another ‘taboo’ subject) in just about all the books I’ve written. In at least two books, religion is central to the story. The sex in my stories is an integral part of character development, and isn’t exactly what I’d classify as “porn”. Some of Heinlein’s later books put far to heavy an emphasis on sex, sometimes to the detriment of the plot. Several authors I’ve read have used sex in ways that that make you stop and think (Anne McCaffrey’s “Pern” novels, for example). Mostly, I use both sex and religion to emphasize that man hasn’t really changed, even though technologically he’s advanced, and that his wants, desires, fears, and talismans remain fairly constant.

  17. The last explicitly-sexual story I read was David Drake’s “Smokie Joe”.

    If this story was taught in every sixth-grade English-Lit class in the US, the teen-pregnancy rate would drop to zero. (I would provide details, but this is a family weblog…. >:) )

  18. it works, partly because guys want to believe that women are naturally pure.

    Um, No, not quite. The average guy has near zero understanding of female sexuality and consequently rarely “scores.” It is easier for the guy to think women are naturally pure than to think: I have little or no appeal to women.

  19. On the subject of editors: does anybody know how such Godlen Age editors as John Campbell and Anthony Boucher managed? Are magazines inherently easier to edit than books?

    One cost to keep in mind for publishers is opportunity cost: if a publisher knows they can only ship to market 25 titles a month, they will naturally wish to ship the 25 titles most likely to earn big returns (all other things defaulting to “sane” in publisher land.) So a book that might be top ten one month gets lost in the month Martin ships the next Ice & Fire book or Rowling and King publish their collaborative venture When Harry Met Carrie.

    Putting sex in a novel is just an editor’s way of hedging a bet.

    The real monkey-wrench in this machinery is that editors attend cocktail parties with other editors (aka: networking for a promotion/fallback job) and a) want to brag about the quality of the dreck they’re putting on the market b) avoid snide comments from other editors about the quality of the dreck they’re putting on the market c) trying to avoid being the person all the others are pointing toward when grousing about the quality of the dreck that’s being put on the market (and out-selling their books.) When everybody is participating in a groupthinkgrope nobody can be faulted for failing by putting out something different (actually different, not sorta kinda different) from what everybody else is doing. NOBODY wants their boss demanding: A series about a boy wizard???? At a BRITISH boarding school?? What the !@#& were you THINKING!!!!!!

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