Love and Infatuation in the Spiritwalker Trilogy

To my mind, and in the approach I take when writing, love and infatuation are related but different things.

Love has so many variations; it is infinite; nothing bounds it. Infatuation is often defined within the bounds of sexual attraction (infatuated with someone you are sexually attracted to) but there are multiple ways to be infatuated that have nothing to do with sexual attraction. One can be infatuated with people intellectually; one can be infatuated with a new friendship; one can also be infatuated with an idea or a song or a new activity, and so on.

All my novels deal in part with loving relationships. Some are romantic relationships while others are friendships and/or family relationships. How people build and sustain bonds of trust and love remains a central element of everything I write.

Reading across my body of work, one might notice that all my novels include romantic love stories. These romances are woven into a larger plot as part of characters’ stories, part of their life experience. These love stories whether primary or secondary may also reflect or comment on other elements in the overall story or may be important to the larger plot in related ways.

So far many of these “love stories” have been sexual in nature (and usually but not always heterosexual–I’m working on expanding my range in this regard), but not all of them are.

I want to talk about love versus infatuation in the Spiritwalker Trilogy because the trilogy involves two love stories: one a romance and other not.

(behind the cut will be spoilers if you have not read all three Spiritwalker books) Continue reading

How Much Sex Is Too Much Sex In Your SFF?

Many of you read the Extras chapter for COLD FIRE, which was not in the book because it is not written from Cat’s first person point of view but rather Andevai’s third person point of view. Some wished the chapter had been included in the book; some were happy that it was available but not in the book; some did not read it at all because they do not like to read the explicit sexytimes.

I mention this because I’m about 83,000 words into a a new epic fantasy novel (projected to become another trilogy). I am writing this one in third person multiple points of view.

Writing in first person for me means I have to adhere to the sensibilities of my narrator. If s/he would talk explicitly about sex, then I can; if s/he would not, then I can’t even if it is germane to the plot.

Writing in multiple third allows more leeway along several axes.

Even if I’m writing in tight third (where the text only sees, mentions, and notices that which the pov sees, mentions, and notices), the narrative still sits one step outside the pov, and that space gives me room to make decisions about what to describe that I don’t have in first person where the narrator would either mention something or would not.

Furthermore, writing with multiple povs means different characters will necessarily be written with different sensibilities. In fact one of the great things about multiple third is its ability to supply diverse views of related events and characters.

In The Spiritwalker Trilogy I was constrained in writing about sex by what the narrator, Cat, would say. [By the way, there is a reason the Spiritwalker books are narrated in first person; it’s not an arbitrary choice or a “flavor”. But you have to read the whole thing to understand what I mean by saying that.]

In the new book I’m not limited (in that particular sense) by first person. I’m writing in several different points of view, and a number of the characters have sex, like people do sometimes (or even often). I have leeway. I can be vague and allusive, or I can be absolutely as explicit as I want to be.

Hence my question:

How much sex do you like in your sff?

I need to specify an important clarification: I am speaking of consensual sex. This question is not intended to devolve into a discussion of representations of rape in epic fantasy because I have previously talked about that here and here and because I’m more interested in how consensual sex is depicted.

And it is a curious thing, is it not, that many readers seem more comfortable reading about non consensual sex than consensual sex as if non consensual sex is properly dramatic and consensual sex is not?

But again there was a great discussion of that specific issue in this post earlier this year.

So, how much sex DO you like in your SFF?

Should epic fantasy should be pristinely free of sexual feelings or reference? Are vague foreplay and kissing all right as long as the curtain is drawn early and often? Is explicit sexual description acceptable as long as it is only described when it absolutely matters to the plot? Or are sexytimes always welcome, regardless? Or something else entirely which you will note in the comments?

Tell me what you think, people. After all, presumably you may end up reading these scenes and lamenting that they have too much or too little sex in them. Speak!

What Is Your Consensual Sex & Love Doing In My Epic Fantasy? (Spiritwalker Monday 16)

This post by Foz Meadows on Grittiness and Grimdark covers a lot of ground in discussing the current fashion for grimdark and why it is important to analyze some unexamined assumptions underlying an insistence that it is realistic.

She writes:

when you contend that realistic worldbuilding requires the inclusion of certain specific inequalities in order to count as realistic, you’re simultaneously asserting that such inequalities are inherent to reality

Cheryl Morgan follows up on this in a response post:

the fairly common view that because a book portrays the world the way it is, then it is portraying the world the only way it can be . . .
The problem is that if you try to challenge [this view] then your ideas are dismissed as escapist fantasy. It is a seductive argument. But it is wrong, and we know it is wrong.

Both of those posts are well worth reading and I don’t want to go over ground they have already covered (that discussion is already going on in those posts). In fact, the Spiritwalker Trilogy was in part written to address this very question of things always having to be “that way” when “that way” relies on and perpetuates within the story the racism, sexism, and other historically attested and currently experienced inequalities.

However, I want to follow up on the (seemingly endless) discussion of the depiction and frequency of rape and sexual violence (most commonly against women) in gritty realistic grimdark fantasy.

As it happens I have written about issues of sexual violence in fiction and film/media:

I’ve written about why I write about rape, and I’ve written about the disturbing prevalence of depictions of women in fear and pain in US media and literature.

That brings me to a point Anne Lyle raises in the comments to Meadows’ post:

Anne Lyle remarks that “it really irks me that consensual sex is often seen as “icky” in fantasy when rape gets a free pass.”

To which Meadows replies, “It’s like there’s this unwritten rule that rape can be described because the details are plot relevant, but sex can’t be because it isn’t, and every time, I can’t help thinking: where does this idea come from that the details of sex don’t matter?”

The details and presence of consensual sex and love, even in epic fantasy, can not only be plot relevant but crucial to the development of characters or to the outcome of a story. Writers make choices about how they construct and elaborate on their plots and what they leave out. Any time a writer weaves a plot element into the story that writer is making a decision about what is decorative and what is foundational. If consensual sex and love are developed and presented as part of actual lived experience that matters to the characters, as experience that changes and defines characters, then it will matter to the plot.

For the purposes of this post, my definition of consensual is twofold:

1) Between two (or more) consenting adults. Consent and intent are the crucial elements here; different cultures and eras will have different ages at which any given individual is considered to become an adult.

2) who are on the important levels equal in their ability to consent. For example both free (as in not indentured or enslaved unless they are BOTH so burdened). Paid sex workers and camp followers are another category in which it is easy to stereotypically write them as “in love” when in fact there are a lot of questions about equality of consent in such situations.

Feel free to argue with or augment this definition.

So here is my question:

What role does consensual sex and love play in epic fantasy?

In some cases I am sure there is “too much” for some people’s taste (and it is important to acknowledge that people’s tastes vary and that is how it should be). More often in my own reading I see less examination of the place of these central human emotions and desires. Consensual sex can be love or it can be sex. It can be romantic but it can be other things too. Love can be portrayed as intense hot romantic attraction or as a steady affection that may not be sexual at all.

Many societies both today and in the past have had arrangements by which marriages between families are arranged or brokered for a multitude of reasons (as would, for instance, be the case in most marriages made within the upper classes across medieval Europe for reasons of alliance, wealth, security, and inheritance). There is evidence that some of these marriages resulted in affectionate stable unions, and why not? Human beings on the whole seek connection; affection and trust are forms of creating connection.

It is also reasonable to assume that sexy hot love as a form of lustful attraction happens between people in all human populations, whether forbidden or allowed. Likewise in some societies this species of attraction is viewed as disruptive of the social order (for good reason!).

Out of the past we find time and again people who genuinely loved their partners or a lover (forbidden or otherwise). On Letters of Note you can read this heartbreaking letter from a widow to her dead husband, written in 16th century Korea, or this equally heartbreaking letter from a 17th century Japanese noblewoman before she commits suicide upon the death of her beloved husband. I don’t mean to highlight only tragic examples; love poetry and songs in one form or another are a staple in most societies. For just one example check out this review of Classical Poems by Arab Women (Abdullah al-Udhari).

To my mind, we lessen the story we are telling about human experience if we do not include and see as worthy all of human experience, especially including positive depictions of sex and love. What kind of world do we vision if we only tell the ugly stories about such intimate matters?

So I’ll ask again: How does epic fantasy–and heroic fantasy, and however you wish to define or parse the categories–do in conveying the realities of consensual sex and love?

Do me a favor: If you’re going to mention examples please don’t only mention examples from novels written by male writers (particularly white straight male writers of UK/US extraction). All too often these sorts of discussions devolve into talking about the same people over and over again. Nothing against male writers. Some of my best friends are male writers. Give the awesome dudes their props. But I would really like to see a more diverse set of examples woven into any discussion that may ensue.

Sex in 2012 (Smugglivus 2012)

This is more of a housekeeping post:

The fabulous book reviewing website Book Smugglers hosts a seasonal cornucopia of guest posts in December, more or less around the theme of your favorite something (often books, films, games, etc) of the year.

I wrote a guest post for them on my favorite literary sex of 2012 and expanded it into a discussion of why I think portrayals of positive consensual sex are so important in fiction (and film/tv, but I focus on fiction).

You can find my guest post at Book Smugglers.

A truly fascinating article

My goal has been to post on the weekdays and vacation, as it were, on the weekends.

But I have to post this now partly because you really ought to read it and partly because I want to bookmark it so I can easily find it again.

This is the most illuminating article on the clitoris I have ever read. Seriously.

Consider this: In over five million years of human evolution, only one organ has come to exist for the sole purpose of providing pleasure – the clitoris.  It is not required for reproduction.  It doesn’t have a urethra running through it like the penis, and thus, does not urinate.  Its sole function – its singular, wonderful purpose – is to make a woman feel good!!

There is even brief and fascinating discussion of the hope of reconstruction for women whose clitoris has been excised.

The article is itself a reminder of how women’s sexuality has often been overlooked, misinterpreted, misunderstood, or dismissed by male-driven science. I could say a lot about how women’s sexuality is treated in our society and in so many societies, but I wouldn’t even know where to start such a discussion.