SEXY TALK: THE DILEMMA OF THE SLIPPERY CLEFT
In my novel COMPASS NORTH, Meredith falls into an unexpected romance and yes, she has sex. But the nuts-and-bolts of it happens, as they say, “off camera.” One website gave COMPASS NORTH a rating of 2 out of 5 for sensuous content. The scenes are sexy, but not explicit.
In the sequel I’m now writing (A LATE HARD FROST), I’m anticipating more sexual heat. The story is taking me there as I write about Cassandra, the damaged and temperamental artist. But now I face a common writer’s dilemma: How do you write about sex?
It’s not easy. (I was going to write “it’s hard” but thought better of that…) It’s not easy because there is such a huge variation in the language readers find acceptable and evocative in a sex scene.
For most of us, sex is very personal. One woman may adore being cuddled and cherished in bed, while another might want to be bound and spanked. And maybe a third wants both of these options, depending upon her mood. Similarly, one woman will find certain words, phrases and descriptions sexy, but another will be offended (or perhaps amused) by them. A writer has the daunting task of coming up with words and descriptions that will titillate but not alienate. And there is no way to please everyone.
Take the “slippery cleft.” I’ve seen it used frequently in sex scenes, and you probably have too, and you know what it denotes. But honestly, as a hiker who frequents the often damp Cascade Mountains, a slippery cleft is a moss-covered crevice into which I hope my boot-clad foot doesn’t slide. Even Diana Galbaldon, who in my opinion wrote some of the hottest sex scenes around in OUTLANDER, uses the slippery cleft. But personally, I just can’t get past the image of a dangerous gaping gash in a boulder field, waiting to trap my foot.
What if, during the darkest period of your life, you suddenly had a chance to disappear and start again, as an entirely different person? Would you take the chance? When Meredith stumbles into a new identity and a new life in a small town in Alaska, she finds it’s not so easy to leave behind the baggage from her past.
“That’s upstairs.” Rita jabbed her cane toward a set of narrow stairs near the back of the room. “There’s a bed up there–well, a cot–and some blankets and pillows too. There’s an extra towel in the bathroom, I’m pretty sure.” She barely glanced at Meredith. “I get up real early.” Rita gave her a curt nod. “Switch the light off when you go up.” She turned away and hobbled into her bedroom, pushing the door closed without a backward glance.
Meredith clicked off the overhead light and felt her way across the room and up the narrow stairs, trying not to think of the spider or what else might be ahead. She slid her hand up the wall to find the attic light switch, and pressed the door shut behind her. The room reeked of wet wood and old paper. The sharp pitch of the roof made standing in the tiny attic impossible, except in the very middle. She dropped her bag to the floor and collapsed onto the attic’s one dusty chair, causing it to creak and shift under her weight. She heard Rita below, moving around, probably getting ready for bed. One triangular window looked out over the meadow behind the cabin, but she saw only blackness outside. Sharp splats of rain knocked against the windowpane. She looked at the pillow and blankets on the cot, waiting to be made up for the night. She was tired, so very tired, but she couldn’t move. Not yet.
“What on earth am I doing?” she whispered. She wrapped her arms around her chest and bent forward, staring at the floorboards.
Her thoughts tumbled and tossed. Okay, okay, tomorrow I’ll go back. I was in shock. I’m still in shock. Anyone would have been out of their mind seeing what I saw. I’ll go back tomorrow and I’ll explain.
But even as she rubbed her face, trying to think clearly, trying to make some decisions about how to make her way back, Meredith knew, just knew, she really didn’t mean it. Yes, she was going to sleep in this dingy attic in the home of a grouchy old lady who didn’t want her here. Rita would surely want her to leave first thing in the morning. And Meredith had no plan, no path to follow. But somehow, being here was better than going back. She had no idea what tomorrow would bring, but when she thought about going back, she could only see an abyss, a place so dark and painful anything, anyplace was better than going home.