To celebrate the publication of Jordan E. Rosenfeld’s Forged in Grace on February 28, our members blog on the subject of “fire.”
MY BIG FREAKSHOW
by Frankie Rose
“My nipples are on fire!”
Ever heard anyone screaming that from the top of their lungs, mid-coitous?
Didn’t think so.
You may be wondering why you’re being asked this question, and the answer is simple. I began wondering the other day…y’know, randomly, while trying to pen my first ever steamy sex scene, about the language we use when we’re writing sensitive stuff like that. In the past, books containing anything vaguely sexual were immediately categorised as erotica, and the descriptors inside were enough to make your teeth hurt. All trembling loins and swollen members, it’s a wonder no one did themselves an injury on all the baby oil used to slick up those man-chests. And that long flowing hair? Seriously. Get a buzz cut and some tattoos, man! Sheesh.
These days, things are a little different. With slick business men doling out the orders, or those incurably manly-yet-broken-yet-aggressively-protective-over-you cowboys swooping in to make your legs turn to a sack of jello, Fabio seems to have been cast out. In his place, a whole new plethora of fire-starters are waiting in the wings to get you hot and steamy under the collar.
Following the success of certain NYT best-sellers, more and more women are realising that sex in books doesn’t need to be cheesy, cringe-worthy stuff. It can be fun, romantic, as graphic or as subtle as you like, but most importantly it can be HOT. The New Adult genre, while still in its very early stages as a category, is admittedly speckled with a few poorly written yet well known examples, but there are authors out there trailblazing a ferociously popular path into new territory: well crafted, exciting stories that incorporate powerful language to create an equally powerful impact.
Gone are the double entendres and euphemisms that frankly border on the ridiculous, to be replaced with the stark realities of desire. There’s something very satisfying about calling it how you see it. At the end of the day, both participants should be willing, and as such, adults. So what’s so wrong with knowing what you want and asking for it as plainly as you can? Saves on the confusion. No extraneous baseball bats (yes, I have read more than one book where the protagonist has referred to her party buddy’s privates as a baseball bat), or “Little Debbies” hanging around (don’t ask–evenI don’t even get that one).
I think Sex and The City had a lot to with the current revolution women are experiencing in the bedroom. I can’t say that I was an avid SATC viewer, but I know enough to abbreviate the title, and that the characters’ frank and open discussions about sex made it okay for other women to do the same. I guess it’s hats off to those four NYC ladies, whose names I can never remember, for liberating the female gender worldwide. It’s now okay for us to say a whole range of four letter words that would have had us blushing into our bar of Cadbury’s in any other decade.
So, since we have all these curse words and anatomically correct titles for body parts at our disposal, does that mean our books are better? I guess that’s down to the reader at the end of the day, but I certainly think so. They’re less of a parody of themselves, and while it can be hard to write a graphic scene, it certainly makes it more believable. People are less inclined to laugh their butts off at what should be a serious interaction if you’re using grown-up words for your hoo-ha and not calling it, well, a hoo-ha.
I think that’s what I took away from writing my very first sex scene. Conveying the true impact of something like that in a novel is difficult regardless of your lexicon. It’s a moment shared between two people, filled with an intensity that can often be hard to communicate. What are the right words to make someone feel something as powerfully as you do? It takes a lot of soul searching and analytical thinking to even successfully pinpoint what you’re feeling in the first place. Regardless of the old and new ways of telling these stories, there is a certain symbology that will always cross over.
Fire is definitely something that will always find its way into our work. It incites potent emotion in a reader for many different reasons, some of them on a very basic level. Back when we lived in caves and clubbed each other over the head in order to get some, we had very few drives: eat, survive, and procreate. Fire played a big part in our continued survival, and I can only imagine that our fascination today lingers in part because of that.
I guess part of it is a sensory thing, too. Passion in poetry has literally been burning up the pages for centuries using the imagery of fire.
I have gone marking the atlas of your body
with crosses of fire.
–Pablo Neruda, “Twenty Love Poems: XIII”
… because nobody knew how or when
my heart was burning: only
your great dark eyes knew,
your wide mouth,
your skin, your breasts,
your belly, your insides,
and your soul that I awoke
–Pablo Neruda, “One Hundred Love Sonnets: Morning, III”
The carnal, animalistic words we use—devour, consume, ravage—are all strongly associated, too, and fire’s hypnotic effects can definitely pertain to more menacing sexual connotations. One of the three associated causes of pyromania is stated to be that people derive sexual gratification from fire starting. Yet while so destructive, fire is also a source of re-birth to some—the phoenix rising from the flames; the giver of life. This balance between the light and dark is a mirror of our relationships with one another, the good and the bad. Our passion sets us alight and our hearts are aflame.
So, while it’s definitely better to cut out some of the more juvenile metaphors we use in our work, I feel others will have a lasting place in our prose for some time to come. But of course, just because that’s the case doesn’t mean there will be any flaming nipples among the pages of my new venture!
So, what do you think of a the New Adult Wave? Have you read something recently that’s set you alight?