One of my friends recently pointed out that all of my Odelia Grey mysteries contain a lot of sex. And he was right (and he also didn’t seem all that unhappy about it). They do not contain, however, graphic sexual scenes, but rather sexual themes and situations. Adult topics would probably be a better way of putting it.
The first book in my series, Too Big To Miss, involves adult-web cams and prostitution. Both The Curse of the Holy Pail and Booby Trap (the 4th book due out February 2009) contain central female characters bed-hopping to get what they want. And Thugs and Kisses contains a twisted scenario of extra-marital affairs and revenge sex.
Makes you want to read them, doesn’t it? You bet it does. Why? Because sex sells. Sex is a great motivator to the human adult. It’s also one of the main reasons people murder other people. But should we be adding sex to our books just because the audience will be titillated? Or for shock value? Better sales? Just say no!
My books contain a humorous, female amateur sleuth. In addition to sexual situations, they contain some violence. People are killed on the page right in front of the reader. Some consider them cozies, some do not. Personally, I don’t care what they’re categorized as, as long as folks read them. I write what I enjoy writing without thought to what sub-genre it falls into. And I like to write about sex. After all, it is a big part of our lives.
But when is enough, enough? How far should a writer go, especially a writer whose books are pegged as “cozy” or “soft-boiled?”
Regarding sex, a good rule of thumb I use is if there are a lot of sexual shenanigans in the book, my protagonist is not directly involved (i.e., she is not doing them). While Odelia Grey is certainly no prude, and does have sex with her significant other, she is no party girl. And what sex there is, is off the page. This helps to keep her likable to the wide variety of my readers, without taking the zing out of the books.
It’s pretty much the same with violence. I’m a firm believer that violence should not be gratuitous. If it isn’t important to the story that a character be killed on the page in living color, then I won’t do it. Neither will I describe to the reader death in gritty minute details. But if in some future book, I think the detail is warranted, then it will be done.
Most importantly, writers need to be true to their characters. Once you have a few books under your belt and a series has gelled with readers, certain things are expected about the series and the main characters. While a writer needs and wants to shake things up a bit, is it really fair to trash readers’ beliefs about the protagonist? I mean, if Jack Reacher suddenly became a Tupperware representative, wouldn’t his faithful readers be shocked and dismayed? Or if halfway though the series, Miss Marple suddenly developed a potty mouth and started attending swing parties, would her readers still want to cuddle up with her books and a pot of tea?
But back to the sex thing. I really enjoy writing about sex. Not sure what that says about me, but there, I’ve said it and it’s true. I love writing sweaty scenes and gritty plots, but so far have saved them for other books. Books yet to come. Books in progress.
I can’t wait. Might even have to change my name.
Sue Ann Jaffarian – author of the Odelia Grey mystery series and the upcoming Ghost of Granny Apples series. Visit her blog and website at http://www.sueannjaffarian.blogspot.com
Or check out the Odelia Grey mysteries here