Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sex, violence and the freelancer

This past weekend, I headed down I-10 to the Tucson Festival of Books, where I staffed the Editorial Freelancers Association booth for a couple of hours each day. During one of my breaks, I attended a workshop titled "Writing Convincing Sex Scenes (the PG Version)." While I'm not currently working on a novel, the title broke through the cacophony of "how to get published" and "you can make a living as a writer" offerings that populated much of the schedule. I figured, why not?

David Fulmer, author of The Blue Door and Chasing the Devil's Tail, among others, taught the session. He was at turns hilarious and insightful about these sensitive topics, which he has taught at the university level. (The course title usually includes violence as well as sex, but it was truncated to fit in the festival program.) In his own books, he uses profanity sparingly, doesn't talk about specific body parts, and cuts the scene "when the clothes hit the floor" so that the reader has to do some of the work.

Obviously, most of us don't spend much time freelancing about sex or violence--at least the circles I travel in! Nevertheless, Fulmer made a number of points that apply to our craft in more general terms:
  • You can't be afraid to step out of your comfort zone.
  • You can't care about what friends and family think, or you're in the wrong business. 
  • As a storyteller, everything you do needs to move the plot forward--if it's gratuitous, dump it. 
  • To succeed, you have to blend a writer's creativity with an editor's objectivity.
I'm not sure I've got the guts to write the ultimate steamy scene, nor do I know how many projects I'll get out of the festival, but at the very least I collected a pocketful of business cards and oddball stories. And in the meantime, heaven knows what kind of entertaining Google search word hits it'll drive having "sex" in the headline.


  1. Is that festival worth attending? I wasn't sure if it was worth the drive from Phoenix or not next year.

  2. Wish I had gone to this. I used to write smut for extra cash (that's the shameful writing skeleton in my closet) and I recently had a story published in Best of the Best Women's Erotica.

    I used to get a fair amount of stories from readers that were just awful. I actually thought about writing a book on how not to write a convincing sex scene, it was that bad.

  3. @Anon, I thought it was a pretty neat event, and I plan to go again next year.

    @Valerie, that is too darn funny! You definitely would have appreciated this guy's viewpoint.

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