Sexual Preference in Black and White

When Jai Elle Mitchell invited me to guest blog for her, I was at first thrilled, and then I immediately took a big gulp. What would I, a writer of literary fiction, have to say to an audience of romance readers? I knew I needed to find common ground between romance and literary, besides the usual story structure stuff. What do most readers, and for that matter most adult humans, have in common?


But of course we all have our individual sexual preferences, as Jae Elle suggested in her June 17th blog “Are you into….” Likewise, we have different preferences when it comes to reading about sex.

Claire Davis, award-winning author of the literary short story collection Labors of the Heart and faculty member at Pacific University’s MFA program, periodically gives a craft talk about writing sex scenes. She believes that sensuality is most powerful “in what’s not shown,” and when it comes to scenes involving what might be considered sexual deviancy, she said that literary masters like Vladimir Nabokov and Denis Johnson rely heavily on pathology and landscape to convey the tension of the scene without making the reader feel complicit in the acts.

Alan Elsner, author of a historical fiction novel called Romance Language, said in a Huffington Post blog that love is primarily expressed through sex in the romance genre, whereas literary works such as Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice, present romance more “in the [characters’] heads.”

When I sat down to write two sex scenes in my new novel, The Damnable Legacy of A Minister’s Wife, I took the approach that Davis and Elsner would likely have used. In the scene excerpted below, a mountain climber begins to seduce another climber on the flanks of Denali, in Alaska. I felt I could best show the heat of the scene (juxtaposed against the frigid landscape) by not relying on graphic description. Instead, I slowed the pace, relied on benign clothing accessories like gloves, and incorporated the briefest verbal exchanges. I also used food as part of the landscape because food can be so sensual. And then, just as the foreplay is about to burst into full-on sex, I ended the chapter. The reader knows what’s coming and can imagine the scene just as well as I can. The reader doesn’t need to see the words on the page.

Here’s the excerpt:

He sat beside her and unzipped her jacket, slowly. Then he pulled her glove from one hand, finger by finger, and their eyes met. She was cold, tired, hungry. She was a lonely woman, too.

He pulled her other glove off slowly.

“What are you doing?”

“Just making you comfortable.”

He handed her a tin of crackers and fed one to her. When she bit into it and crumbs fell from her mouth, he caught them in his palm and licked them off his skin.


He reached into the bag of chocolates and fed one of them to her, licking his fingers again after they’d been touched by her lips.

“Will, what are you doing?

He cupped his hand behind her neck and pulled her closer. “I’m doing exactly what you want me to do, baby. I’m keeping you warm.”

“God, I’m tired,” she said. “I can barely focus my eyes.”

He piled some of his clothes into the corner of the tent and pulled her back; she was limp. He kissed her cheek.

“Is the tent spinning?”

Mm-mmm.” He licked her neck. He kissed the tip of her nose, then brushed his mouth against hers.

“You’re lonely,” he said. He trailed his tongue from her hairline, around her ear and down to her jaw, then to her shoulder and then to her breast. He stroked her hair.

This blog was originally posted on Jai Elle Mitchell‘s page, where she interviews other authors. Jai Elle is an author of romantic, erotic, suspense fiction.

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