(Or, “How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Write the Dong”)
In retrospect, I think this was doomed to happen from the moment, as I wrote the earliest drafts of The Necromancer and the Revenant, that I decided to include a sex demon who isn’t portrayed as evil purely because she happens to enjoy being a sex demon. (Or portrayed as evil in general; said character is actually one of the most likable and, in fact, moral in any of my works!) There’s been a certain shift on this blog over the years since its creation, trailing on like unraveling threads–now, at last, winding together again.
I wish I could say Gratai hacked the blog, but no–I just write like that sometimes. Over the years I’ve become more and more open about my psychological foibles, my traumas, my strengths and failings as a human being. In direct proportion–but to an even higher threshold–my writing has become more raw, intense, unforgiving, and most recently:
Yes, dear readers, as I promised when I announced The Necromancer and the Revenant V3, yours truly now writes uncensored erotic scenes. Ugly-bumping! Explicit, in-depth, high-fidelity high fantasy fuckery of the most literal variety! Well, that’s it. I’m done for as a writer, my professional integrity gutted, my legacy in ruins. While you yourselves likely find that last statement hilarious, there are people who would argue, in all seriousness, that I’ve lost all credibility as a writer.
After all, there are now two explicit sex-scenes in The Necromancer and the Revenant. They feature two different pairs of consenting adults in loving relationships who just really, really want to fuck each others’ brains out.
The Necromancer and the Revenant also features a primary antagonist who rampages, a crimson tirade par excellence, in a non-stop rending mayhem of body horror and Myers-like silent malice. In fact, it was partly the sheer hypocrisy of this which ultimately drove me to the realization that… you know… I do actually want to write sex scenes. Fades to black never really cut it for me. Why was it okay to include levels of gore and carnage in my book which I haven’t seen rivaled anywhere in fantasy prose, but not (as odd as this may sound to some) wholesome sex between enthusiastic partners?
You’ve seen the above idea before, of course, and that’s because it’s a contradiction woven throughout media in the United States, where I’ve (almost) always made my home. I’m sure I’ll write about this at some point, but for now we’re just working through my own move past that contradiction.
Furthering this, I started supporting a certain artist on Patreon–I still do, and plan on continuing to do so for a long time. This is that sort of post and you’ve been warned several times where this has been going, so: along with OCs and patron rewards, this artist draws porn. They’re pretty good at it, and I frequently tell them so. Now, they’re pretty good at art in general, and I frequently tell them that too, but it’s the profound effect of chatting with other humans who’re open about their sexuality and, yes, fetishes that we’re interested in for this post.
The artist–who runs under the username nintengatos and is a delight to chat with–has a Discord for Patreon supporters. As you’d expect, there’s a channel for discussing sex and sex-related material (a strict no-own-dicks policy is, wisely, in effect).
Lo and behold, not a single person there is even vaguely slimy. Even most of the pornographic art–almost uniformly of OCs, for it’s a cruel soul who envisions a character and will not let them fuck–was raunchy, but in a way that felt totally normal. The users themselves are all wonderful people. As kitschy as this may sound, all this finally drove home on a personal level what I’d accepted rationally long before: it’s okay to be horny as long as you’re not demanding others help you with it. Just like that, writing explicit material no longer seemed out of the question or even out of the ordinary.
I stopped meaningfully being prudish years ago, so why all the reluctance here? The answer, I realized, was that long after I stopped being a prude, I retained some of a prude’s habits.
Maybe you hoped for some deeper insight there, and I do apologize if I’ve disappointed. The truth runs simply that it’s difficult to recognize an irrational or vestigial impulse if it’s been with you long enough. Without going into needless detail, during my childhood and teenager years I encountered many influences which were, shall we say, puritanical. As I grew older and college forced me to learn critical thinking in order to keep up both with my professors and my classmates, and at the same time I gained distance from those influences, I started to see the logic gaps, loop holes, and flat-out contradictions in the morals I once adhered to.
So, without malice towards most of those who taught me those morals, I threw out the ones which didn’t work and sought to devise better ones. I changed many things over this process’s course, and on the whole it pushed me towards being a less-judgmental, more compassionate person. Fairly early on, I came to the conclusion there was no inherent shame in human sexuality and desire, and that any organizations conditioning us to feel shame in these things clearly do so as a cynical means of social control.
Yes, this really was my thinking. I’m not saying this to portray myself as clever, because others have stated all these ideas before me. Even though it’s often reinventing the wheel, I think this way about everything and it’s damnably exhausting. It often reaches self-parody levels as I engage in serious philosophical ponderings about the origins and implications of whatever I ate for lunch.
On the bright side, all this introspective jargon probably has you hoping we’ll return to the whole “writing sex scenes” bit, doesn’t it?
After the above there were no more “Oh, shit, that’s why I think this?!” moments, only a slow process of examining myself against the world, figuring out where I and society stood in relation to each other, and determining whether or not I wanted to move in a given direction. Of course, there was one final concern which I’ve already alluded to.
As much as I enjoy putting on a devil-may-care front at times–in the same vein as a British gentlemen who’s clearly not cool enough to pull it off but, bless him, still tries–here on my blog, I confess I’m deeply analytical about my writing’s content. Believe it or not, I really do worry about its marketability, its mass appeal to audiences or lack thereof, whether this character or that is problematic and, if so, whether the story just plain needs them to be that way.
Since I completed Version Two of The Necromancer and the Revenant in January of last year, I’ve had one particular audience in mind, and I could never make any decision about my writing without considering them: agents and publishers. I write this next idea not as an attack or a gripe, only acknowledging the obvious: both agents and publishers function according to profit motive. Every agent receives queries for, as far as I can tell, a minimum 2,000 projects a year–most numbers I’ve seen fall within this zone.
I don’t get to read as much as I’d like these days, but I keep up enough to know that certain material almost never shows up in fantasy. The old ultraviolence I’d already decided on (far more than a bit of it!) and woven into the narrative; there was no helping it. But it’s customary that U.S. writers submit to U.S. agents and publishers–you remember what I mentioned up above about sex as taboo in American culture?
I saw the writing on the wall as far back as last September. Agents weren’t just rejecting The Necromancer and the Revenant, they were rejecting it without notes, without explanation except of the most general variety. I’ve received exactly two concrete recommendations: one agent, in the very first round of queries last January, told me it sounded interesting but I was writing too much.
Ironically, this was true of V2’s 136,000 words, which contained many inefficient sentence constructs as well as unnecessary characters, details, and sequence-pieces, but isn’t true of V3’s 167,900 words! I became fanatically determined to keep word counts down, leading V2.44 having a total length of just 115,600 words. The problem? I’d long since realized that The Necromancer and the Revenant needed more room to grow, and badly. It received that room in the end, but not the way I’d hoped for.
Out of somewhere around 90 submissions, I received just one more concrete piece of feedback: one agency told me the opening description was too dense for them. I revised accordingly during Version 3, more by trying to break up the description with character action and dialogue (including some bits I ought to have included from the start anyway) than removing much description.
Whatever their reasons, I decided it was best not to take any more risks with the book’s content while waiting on further query responses. I realized my chances ran slim already, and didn’t want any new, troubling details to ruin me if I did get a manuscript request.
In the end, I queried every single agency I could find which accepted adult high fantasy. Every last one rejected The Necromancer and the Revenant in their own way–some with forms, a few with personal missives, and many by total silence, as is natural for those agencies who mention, “We receive too many queries to respond to each. If you haven’t heard back from us after 8 weeks, assume we’re not interested.” All my maneuvering to keep the manuscript from growing more perilous proved worthless; not one agent expressed the slightest interest in seeing it anyway.
When it finally sank in, near the end of May this year, that I’d tapped out my options and been found unworthy by basically everyone, I was obviously devastated. I’m an emotional man by nature, and no amount of schooling, discipline, or life experience has undone that thus far. I’ve learned it’s healthier anyway to channel those emotions somewhere. When I suffer a professional setback, I try to respond by breaking new ground elsewhere in my work, even if it’s just a private balm for as public a humiliation as my first novel’s total rejection.
I’ve written before that I typed anywhere between 50,000 and 70,000 new words for Version Three of The Necromancer and the Revenant; I cut significant amounts of material as well as rewriting many sections, making the 52,000-some gain in total word count a serious low-ball. An impressive feat when managed over the course of two weeks while mostly keeping up my other professional responsibilities, but lacking the emotional punch I wanted.
Content-wise, there was only one line left to cross. A line I’d wondered about since the earliest drafts, and one to which the last barrier was my own insecurity. Thus challenged by my psyche, I decided it was time to let that sex demon fuck. It was time to break the Pound Barrier.
So I did. (I will never regret that pun, and there’s not a damn thing any of you can do to make me!)
And I discovered something I’d heard about but never internalized: erotic writing is just writing. All the same rules apply if you’re doing it right: the sound and rhythm of words, characters and their personalities, the scene, the tone, the action’s pacing. There’s as much or as little literary value as one brings to it. Admittedly, it can be–AHEM–a bit hard to focus on the thematic implications of the scene at times. One learns to work around this. And–I’m sorry, readers, but I said I’m an Unsafe-For-Work writer right from the start–
If those scenes are just plain arousing, then that’s worthwhile too.
There, I said it–pillory me if you like! But honestly, I’ve found all this marvelously freeing. You might think I’d have felt driven to thoroughly write out every possible sex scene, but I’m really not. I find they work best, as with everything else, when the characters and plot converge to deliver the right moment and mood. I probably could’ve had five or more if I wanted to push my luck, but that would just be silly. Also, I’m quite new at this whole erotica thing and there’s only so much I can invent at the moment. Best refine my skills further before I risk repeating myself, no?
In the month and a half since, I politely marked my Twitter account as 18+ only and am now doubly shameless in bantering about character sexuality with those aforementioned Discord buddies. Otherwise, not much has changed. I think about how to write sex scenes the way I do everything else: with an eye to detail and emotional effect, and careful to keep in mind how they fit into the overall story. Simple as that.
I’m taking some time away from active book-writing–it hasn’t even been a month yet since I released The Necromancer and the Revenant. I’m mulling over my options, though. And wouldn’t you know it, I can think of a few character moments that would work so much better with a little more lewdness.
Any thoughts to share? Have I strayed too far from God’s light, or just done some growing up?–whoop, another sex pun! Share your thoughts in the comments, and share this article if you think it might provide insight to others. If, er, you don’t mind having the title in your feed. I understand what I’ve done here, trust me. Otherwise, leave a like, follow me on Twitter if you’d like to keep up with my day-to-day musings, and please consider supporting me on Patreon!