Sarah Madison – How Much Sex is Too Much: Defining What’s Just Right, Goldilocks?

We all know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Our very particular heroine finds her way into the home of the Three Bears, for various reasons that have evolved and changed over time. The important part of the story is how, when she examined and tested the belongings of the bears, in each case, she found fault with the porridge, the chair, and the bed. The first item would be too hot, too big, too hard. The second too cold, too small, too soft. The exact terms of her dissatisfaction aren’t important. All you really need to know is that whatever she found wrong with the first item, the second item she tried would be diametrically opposite in its wrongness. At last, she would come upon the same item, but belonging to the littlest bear, and decide it was ‘just right’, claiming it for her own.

And so we run into that same dilemma within romance stories. By the very nature of the genre, readers expect some degree of romantic involvement between the main characters. The degree of which varies among all the subgenres in romance—from the so-called ‘sweet’ romances, or religious ones, in which nothing more than a chaste kiss is bestowed, to the erotic romances, that might be little more than one sex scene after another. Reader expectations are important. You can’t write cozy murder mystery and have your Miss Marple-type character drinking whiskey straight from the bottle or getting into a grisly shootout with the vicar. That would be all wrong for the genre, and the readers (quite rightly) would bay for your blood. You have to understand your audience.

But within the genre expectations, there is room for variance. For the sake of discussion here, let’s stick to M/M romance. As a niche within the romance genre, M/M romances also run the gamut of stories with discreet, fade-to-black sex scenes to the extremely explicit, but they tend to lean toward more sexual situations and more graphic depictions of sex itself. In fact, it might be fair to say your average M/M romance isn’t your grandmother’s Harlequin! But to be honest, neither is today’s Harlequin. Times have certainly changed since the days when a ‘good girl’ heroine had to be forcibly taken against her will in order to prevent her from being viewed as a slut. When it comes to M/M romance, the expectation for sex is high (to the point that if it is not there, the reviewer frequently apologizes on behalf of the author and tells you why you should read the story anyway). The question of what is ‘just right’, however, boils down to individual tastes and expectations.

And there’s the rub. Because if you’re writing in a genre where there is a high expectation for many explicit sex scenes, then it may be difficult to figure out what is just right for the reader. Instead, as the author, you have to figure out what is just right for you.

By far and large, I am happy with one or two major sex scenes per story, and a couple of smaller, anticipatory ones, with the rest implied. I’m all about the quality over the quantity! I think the scene should tell you something about the characters. After all, we are our most vulnerable during sex! I’m not a big fan of Olympic-style sex, where each scene has to be more athletic and more spectacular than the one before. I prefer my scenes to be realistic. Hot, yes. I want it to be smoking. But even that comes back down to the Goldilocks effect. One person’s hot button kink might be another person’s ‘meh.’

Recently, the sex between Special Agents John Flynn and Jerry Parker began changing in its dynamics. Some of the changes between them are inevitable, as that moment of intense can’t-keep-their-hands-off-each-other settles into an established relationship. Initially, in Unspeakable Words, Jerry was convinced John was straight. Even when it became apparent John wasn’t as straight as Jerry thought he was, Jerry was always conscious of the fact that, had it not been for the extraordinary effects touching a mysterious museum artifact had on Flynn, they might not ever have gotten together.

In Walk a Mile, the newly forged relationship takes some major hits as Flynn wants to do anything possible to return to ‘normal’, while Jerry fears that could be the end of their relationship altogether. So I was astonished when I found a degree of BDSM creeping into their sex. This is something neither character has shown an interest in before, and I think they will be feeling their way into it, even as I am trying to understand it! Dom/Sub relationships are another ‘test the porridge’ situation. People either like it or they don’t. But the nature of sexual relationships is that they seldom remain static. They are always evolving and changing, even as the characters themselves do.  I do run the risk of upsetting some readers that might not enjoy the changing dynamics between the characters. Do I refuse to give in to my characters’ desire to explore their sexuality in different ways?

No, I don’t. I’d rather run the risk of upsetting some readers with surprise!BDSM-lite sex than to serve them a bland dish of lukewarm porridge, so mild and tasteless that it appeals to  no one. Because no matter what I do, someone’s going to cry, “That’s too much sex!” while another sighs, “There’s not enough sex.” The sex will be too kinky or too vanilla. I will know, however, that the scene is really about the characters deepening their bond with each other, and not a desire on my part to ride current trends in the genre.

I’m just going to have faith that my ‘just right’ will be someone else’s as well, and that those readers will gravitate toward my stories over time.

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TH2014Blurb

Six months after starting their hunt for a serial killer who is still at large, FBI agents Jerry Lee Parker and John Flynn are partners in every sense. But Jerry has serious doubts about their relationship and whether they would even be together if not for the way Flynn changed after touching a mysterious artifact in a museum.

Flynn hates the extraordinary power bestowed on him by the artifact and wants nothing more than to have a normal life again. Jerry fears that without the unusual connection they forged, Flynn will no longer want or need him. Chasing after a similar artifact takes them back to Flynn’s old stomping grounds in Washington D.C., where his newfound abilities uncover long-buried secrets, the kind people would kill to protect. But they aren’t the only ones looking for these powerful relics, and what they discover will threaten their relationship—and their lives.

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TH2014Excerpt

 (NSFW)

Flynn was waiting in the middle of the room.

Jerry had no idea how long he’d been there or what he might have picked up on as Jerry had showered. He had a rumpled look about him that went deeper than usual. His expression on seeing Jerry come out of the bathroom was bleak, almost angry. Jerry couldn’t shake the feeling that he’d been waiting impatiently, however. Expectantly. Almost needy.

Jerry pulled up short at the sight of him.

Not taking his eyes off Jerry, Flynn tugged at his tie until it came loose. “I need you to fuck me.”

Jerry gaped at him for a second, and then plunged all thoughts into the soundproof booth as he rapidly processed them. Flynn rarely bottomed—not that Jerry minded. He often thought he was getting the better deal. But even when they’d been going at it like rabbits, Flynn had never asked for sex. It had just happened. Like spontaneous combustion.

 Jerry felt his eyes narrow as he fought to keep his thoughts hidden. Flynn looked exhausted. His hair and clothing were damp—he must have been walking in the rain. He seemed to want to be punished for some reason, and he had chosen bottoming as the means of achieving self-flagellation. What that said about his feelings toward sex with Jerry wasn’t to be thought of right now. What mattered was giving Flynn what he wanted the way he wanted it without ever having spoken about it before. Jerry had only one shot at getting this right.

“Fine,” he said, when he’d found his voice again. Frost chilled his words. “Strip.”

Flynn raised an eyebrow.

“You heard me.” Jerry spoke in the clipped tones he reserved for the truly stupid co-worker. “I’m not going to ask twice.”

He buried the internal sigh of relief when Flynn shrugged out of his jacket and began unbuckling his belt.

“Yeah. That’s it.” Jerry felt an astonishing rush of power come over him. His cock approved, slowly filling to tent his towel. Flynn undressed carelessly, his underlying anger causing him to tug at his shirt buttons in a manner that normally would have pained Jerry to watch. This time he felt a simmering excitement at the knowledge that Flynn was pulling roughly at his clothing at Jerry’s command.

For once, he was in goddamned control. Unexpected confidence surged through him and he cast aside his towel. He planted his feet firmly and stood as though he expected to be worshiped, and by God, for once he felt as though he should be worshiped.

Flynn watched him with flattering attention, to the point that he fumbled with the buttons on his fly.

“Stop.” Jerry infused the word with all the authority he’d developed from years as an agent and was gratified when Flynn froze and looked up in confusion.

“You can’t take your pants off before your shoes.”

TH2014Author

Sarah Madison is a veterinarian with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

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Guest Post & Excerpt – Anne Barwell: Music Code

Thanks, Charlie, for hosting me today.

When I was studying Music History as part of my degree, one of the things that fascinated me was the use of code in music.  Although it was used in WW2 when my upcoming release Winter Duet was set, it had also been used long before that.

Bach used musical notes to spell out ‘Bach’ in his music, using the fact that modern music notation had developed from modes—in German ‘B flat’ was ‘B’ and ‘B natural’ was H—and phonetics. Later, Schumann used several musical cryptograms in his music, spelling out not just his own name, but that of Clara Wieck, who would later become his wife.  Other codes were based on pitch, motifs (repeated musical phrases) and note lengths. There are many more examples and variations out there across a range of different composers.

And yes, Clara Lehrer, Kristopher’s sister, is named after Clara Schumann.

Kristopher in Winter Duet is a musician, or was before he chose to pursue his passion for science.  He still tends to hum music while thinking through problems. So, when he and Michel need to work out a code to leave messages for each other, music is the logical choice.  Michel is also a musician. He plays the flute, and promised Kristopher, who is a violinist, a duet in the first book Shadowboxing.

He still intends to keep that promise.

One of the set pieces for that same paper that covered the music codes, was Schubert’s Winterreise — a collection of poems by Müller, Schubert had set to music.  In Winter Duet, the Resistance uses lines from one of the poems as code phrases, and Kristopher refers to one of the others later, ‘Der Leiermann’, which is about the wanderer in winter.  Also, given Kristopher’s background and education, it was something he’d recognise, even if the other characters didn’t, which led nicely into the use of music as code between him and Michel, something he’d been thinking about anyway.

I knew that university paper would come in useful somewhere.

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Winter Duet is available from Dreamspinner Press on 6th October.

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TH2014Blurb

Echoes book 2 – Sequel to Shadowboxing

Germany 1944

With Kristopher finally fit enough to travel, he and Michel leave the security of their safe house and continue their journey across Germany toward Switzerland. Caught in a series of Allied bombings, they stop to help civilians and narrowly escape capture by German forces.

While investigating a downed aircraft in the Black Forest, the two men discover an injured RAF pilot.  After they are separated, Kristopher and the pilot are discovered by a German officer who claims he is not who he appears to be. Determined to find Michel again, Kristopher has to trust the stranger and hope he is not connected to those searching for him and the information he carries. Meanwhile Michel is intercepted by one of the Allied soldiers he met in Berlin. His help is needed to save one of their own.

Time quickly runs out. Loyalties are tested and betrayed as the Gestapo closes in. Michel can only hope that they can reach safety before information is revealed that could compromise not only his and Kristopher’s lives, but those of the remaining members of their team—if it is not already too late.

TH2014Excerpt

“Oh.” Kristopher paused, his spoon halfway to his mouth. “I’m sorry. I never thought. I didn’t mean to….” The words trailed off. Telling them he hadn’t meant to embarrass them would only serve to do just that.

“I’d never heard the poems before either,” Michel said. He glanced toward the door, as though suddenly nervous.

“That’s the thing with wars,” Karolina said. “They draw all sorts of different people together, don’t they? It doesn’t matter who you are. Out there on the battlefield everyone’s the same, aren’t they?”

“Yes, they are.” Kristopher swallowed a mouthful of beans while he collected his thoughts. “I was a musician,” he said at last. “It was a long time ago. Sometimes it feels as though it was in another lifetime. I’ve been trying to work out why the code phrase sounded so familiar. I’m sorry. I guess I should have kept it to myself.”

“Nonsense,” Georg said briskly. “Don’t apologize for having a good education, and if it gives you some distraction to get through this terrible time, you should use it.” Karolina placed a hand on his shoulder. He reached up and placed his hand over hers. A sad look crossed her face, and she suddenly appeared a lot older.

Kristopher bit his lip. He lowered his gaze and concentrated on eating. He hadn’t meant to upset either of them. Michel had warned him to keep any conversation brief and focus on very general topics.

Damn it. He wasn’t very good at this at all. For a short time he’d forgotten their situation and been caught up in the moment, remembering his passion for his music and wanting to share it.

“Paul….” Michel spoke Kristopher’s assumed name, and he looked up. “Karolina’s right. This war has drawn people together who normally wouldn’t have even met. Perhaps we should take it as an opportunity to learn new things, hmm? We all have something to offer.”

“Well said, Gabriel.” Karolina squeezed her husband’s hand. “It’s been too long since Georg and I had the company of young people. You said you were a musician, Paul. What instrument did you play?”

“I play the violin, although I haven’t picked it up in years.” Kristopher watched the couple, noticing the way in which they took comfort from each other’s touch. He wanted so badly to be able to just lean over and take Michel’s hand in his and be open in front of others as to how they felt about each other. During the months spent in the attic at St. Gertrud’s, they’d still had to be careful, but they’d been left alone for much of the time. He hadn’t realized just how difficult having to hide their relationship was going to be.

“We’re not that young,” Michel said when Kristopher lapsed into silence again. He’d told Kristopher he’d turned thirty on his last birthday. Kristopher was almost a year younger and had wondered at the time where both of them would be by his next birthday, which was only a few months away.

Georg chuckled. “You’re about the same age as our boy, so to us, that makes you young.” He got out of his chair. “I’m going to make some tea. Do you want some? Here, Karolina, have my chair. You’re not getting any younger.”

“My husband, he thinks he’s funny,” Karolina said. She gave him a light peck on the cheek and went to clip his ear again, but he ducked out of the way and headed toward the kitchen.

“He’s only offering me his chair to keep me away from my knitting. He knows full well I’ll poke him with one of my needles if he gives me too much cheek.”

“How long have you been married?” Michel asked. He seemed amused by their banter. Kristopher wondered if it reminded him of his parents.

“Since just before the last war.” Karolina picked up the cloth bag Kristopher had noticed earlier and settled into the other armchair. She opened the bag and took out yarn and what appeared to be a large knitted square on needles. “We’d met the year before, and I waited for him to come home to me and our newborn son. I didn’t allow myself to think he might not. Tell me, do you have someone waiting for you?”

Kristopher glanced at Michel. Karolina wasn’t exactly following what he’d been told about keeping to safe subjects either.

“I have someone, yes,” Michel said finally. “I want nothing more than this war to finish so we can have a life together, but sometimes I doubt that will ever happen.”

“It will,” Kristopher said firmly. He placed his bowl on his knee, feeling the warmth of it through his trousers. “When you love someone, you wait for however long it takes.”

 

TH2014Author

Anne Barwell lives in Wellington, New Zealand.  She shares her home with two cats who are convinced that the house is run to suit them; this is an ongoing “discussion,” and to date it appears as though the cats may be winning.

In 2008 she completed her conjoint BA in English Literature and Music/Bachelor of Teaching. She has worked as a music teacher, a primary school teacher, and now works in a library. She is a member of the Upper Hutt Science Fiction Club and plays violin for Hutt Valley Orchestra.

She is an avid reader across a wide range of genres and a watcher of far too many TV series and movies, although it can be argued that there is no such thing as “too many.” These, of course, are best enjoyed with a decent cup of tea and further the continuing argument that the concept of “spare time” is really just a myth.

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Guest Author Andrew Q. Gordon – To Happy Ever After or Not

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To Happy Ever After or not.

Pick up most romance books and you’ll find a Happy Ever After or Happy For Now ending.  I think for many, HEA is part of the definition of the romance genre. But is it the only definition.

I confess I knew so little about writing and publishing before my first book came out – I was truly clueless and I still don’t feel I know all that much. Word count, genres, troupes, marketing, you name it, I didn’t know squat about it. Back then I’d write the story and not worry about where it fit, would it fit a category. The main character dies for love – hey that’s a great story, right?  Not so much with many readers.

For good or ill, romance sells and romance requires a HEA or HFN ending.  If not, for many readers, it’s not romance.  Dreamspinner Press, a M/M romance publisher, has a ‘Bittersweet Dreams’ line for those stories without the HEA or HFN ending. But put your book there and it is a) not a straight up romance and b) not going to appeal to the same breathe of readers.

When Antya Sunday and I wrote (Un)Masked, we discussed whether one of the MCs  would die.[1]  The story could have gone either way, but for me–more so than Anyta–I didn’t want to kill off one of our characters. I was too invested in them.

And I think therein lays the answer to the question. If the author does their job right, the reader should feel invested in the characters and killing one off or not letting them find the HEA is something of a let down. That’s not to say that a bittersweet ending isn’t as good, but it certainly needs a different mindset from the reader. Which of course is why there is a ‘Bittersweet Dreams’ catefory.

This raises a different sort of dilemma: if you classify a story as romance or Bittersweet Dream, aren’t you giving away the ending? Put it in the romance bin and everyone has the right to expect there will be a HEA or HFN ending. Doesn’t knowing that the MCs are going to get that HEA spoil the tension and suspense?

In Purpose, I originally planned to not answer the question. The idea was to leave clues as to what I saw happening and then let the readers figure it out for themselves. There were enough clues to figure it out, but I also left enough doubt that you never knew for sure. I was advised to make the ending clear. So I did, but you’ll have to read the last paragraph to find out.

 

Blurb:

Purpose CoverForty years ago the Spirit of Vengeance—a Purpose—took William Morgan as its host, demanding he avenge the innocent by killing the guilty. Since then, Will has retreated behind Gar, a façade he uses to avoid dealing with what he’s become. Cold, impassive, and devoid of emotion, Gar goes about his life alone—until his tidy, orderly world is upended when he meets Ryan, a broken young man cast out by his family. Spurred to action for reasons he can’t understand, Gar saves Ryan from death and finds himself confronted by his humanity.

Spending time with Ryan helps Will claw out from under Gar’s shadow. He recognizes Ryan is the key to his reclaiming his humanity and facing his past. As Will struggles to control the Purpose, Ryan challenges him to rethink everything he knew about himself and the spirit that possesses him. In the process, he pushes Will to do something he hasn’t done in decades: care.

Pre-order link: Purpose from Dreamspinner Press

 

Excerpt:

“Will?” There was tension in Ryan’s voice.

“Yes?”

“I’d like us to go out with Jake if you still want.” His tone and body language didn’t match the words.

What brought this change about? “We don’t have to. I wasn’t trying to force anything.”

“I know you weren’t, but I’d like to go anyway.”

Will paused the movie. “What changed for you?”

“It’s like you said, you wouldn’t lie to me. Of all the people I’ve ever met, I know beyond any doubt, you’re the first one who won’t pretend. I trust you.”

Will felt a tingle in his nose, a precursor to a tear. The little time they’d been together meant so much to Ryan. How could affection be so missing in his life? “Thank you. I trust you too.”

“Why wouldn’t you?” Ryan snorted. “I mean, what fool who looked like me would leave someone like you?”

“Whoa. Stop.” He pulled Ryan’s face up. “What fool would ever leave someone as beautiful as you? No….” He put two fingers over Ryan’s lips. “Hear me out. The moment I saw you on the Metro, I was drawn to you. You deserve so much better than me, but I’m going to try to make you happy anyway, for as long as you let me.”

Squeezing his eyes tight, Ryan turned back toward the television. “Really?”

“Absolutely.” He gently stroked Ryan’s head. “So no more talk about you being anything other than beautiful and hot. Deal?”

Twisting, Ryan all but jumped on top of him. Pressing his lips hard against Will’s, Ryan kissed him with a passion Will hadn’t felt in a long time. It was over quickly, and Ryan settled back onto Will’s chest. “Deal.”

Clicking the movie back on, Will asked, “So why the change of heart on seeing Jake?”

“I… I don’t have any friends. Us having some would be nice.”

The impact of the statement took Will’s voice. Amidst the sadness in the words was the hope Ryan felt for his future. He not only wanted friends, he expected they would have them together. He swallowed hard, wondering what possessed him to give up his emotionally detached life for this swirling mass of conflicting emotions. Then Ryan gave him a gentle kiss on the chest, and Will’s arms squeezed reflexively.

Detached was easier, but it was empty. For the first time since David, he felt alive again. A little pain was worth it, if this was how it felt when it was good. 

 

Contest:

Enter for a chance to win a $25.00 Dreamspinner Press credit. To be entered, you can leave a comment here, on any of the other post release blog stops or on the Purpose page on my site. For those who don’t know what to write – you can answer this question. Which do you enjoy more, HEA/HFN or Bittersweet stories?

Please leave an email so you can be notified if you win. All comments from all guest blog posts between the June 21, 2013 release date and July 1, 2013[2] will also be entered to win. The winner will be chosen using Randomizer.org on July 2. One entry per blog, but you can enter on each participating blog for more chances to win. For a complete list of eligible blogs, please see the Purpose book page on my blog:

Purpose: By Andrew Q. Gordon

 

About the Author:

Andrew Q. Gordon wrote his first story back when yellow legal pads, ball point pens were common and a Smith Corona correctable typewriter was considered high tech. Adapting with technology, he now takes his MacBook somewhere quiet when he wants to write.

He currently lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his partner of eighteen years, their young daughter and dog.  In addition to dodging some very self-important D.C. ‘insiders’, Andrew uses his commute to catch up on his reading. When not working or writing, he enjoys soccer, high fantasy, baseball and seeing how much coffee he can drink in a day and not get the shakes.

Follow Andrew on his website: www.andrewqgordon.com,

On Facebook:  www.facebook.com/andrewqugordon,

On Twitter:  @andrewqgordon,

Or just email him: andrewqgordon@gmail.com

 


[1] I’m not creating a spoiler by stating no, because the book was not listed by Dreamspinners as a Bittersweet Dream.

[2] All dates and times are East Coast, U.S.A. (EST).

*** This contest is now closed ***