Monday, September 3, 2012

For Laura Antoniou, May She Forgive Me

Kathleen Bradean

If you haven't already, read Charlotte's post because she puts so much of my feelings into words. I adore the idea of fanfic. (I would be extremely flattered if my stories inspired people to create.)  I love re-imaginings such as when Steven Moffat's Coupling on BBC told the same tale from several viewpoints much like Akira Kurosawa's brilliant movie Rashomon. Moffat's version fit together with such a delicate sense of timing and story structure (for each POV as well as the complete story arc) that I'm still in awe. And while I hate to turn my disapproving auntie face on other writers, I can't get over this feeling of wrongness when the project is to use the original text of classic literary work (not rewrite the story) and insert stuff. *squeamish shiver*

A writer's style has a rhythm. It weaves a spell. Once you've been drawn into their story, the worst thing that can happen to a reader is getting yanked out of the story against your will. Inserting sex scenes into text that was never intended to titillate or explore desire is a Sleeping Beauty kiss of death that breaks the spell and dumps you unceremoniously back into reality to find some randy prince with no sense of personal boundaries humping your leg. And you are supposed to be grateful for that? *diva head wag* Uh uh. I don't think so, honey.

However, since I can "entertain a thought without accepting it," I decided to explore how well it works to try to duplicate the style of another writer and insert stuff seamlessly so as not to break the original author's spell. So of course I immediately thought of Atlas Shrugged, because I'm that nth degree of cruelty, an "evil things lurking under your bed" black swan event horizon. Alas, while I have it somewhere around here, I'm not about to dig through my stacks of books to find it just so I can torture you. (In the movies, this is the cat jumping at you out of the dark while the music reaches a fever pitch scene. Next time, it might be the crazed killer, no doubt wielding his well-thumbed copy of Atlas Shrugged. So what I'm saying is, don't get too comfortable yet. Literary gore awaits you later in this blog entry. But first, I must lull you into a false sense of security.)

Since I'm too lazy to leave this room to find a book for this exercise, I turn to the book shelves within easy reach of my computer. Damn. I read a lot of history. History is written in blood and sex, no need to embellish that.

I have a lot of smut. I review it for Erotica Revealed and publishers send me other books for some reason I have yet to figure out plus I buy a fair amount so my collection is huge. However, adding sex scenes to classic works in erotica isn't the point of sexin' up the oldies (my name for this project), so that's out.

Sometime in the Grip's past, we were challenged to write in the style of our favorite author, so if you're a constant reader you've seen my Raymond Chandler pastiche. I'll imitate his style, but I love his work too much to change or add a single word. Gorky Park has sex scenes. So do a lot of mysteries. Not explicit. "We did plenty," is about as graphic as it gets in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Adding more sex to books that already have sex scenes is, again, beyond pointless. While I have the Complete Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes at hand, and I'm aware of the intense longing of fans to put Watson and Holmes into a carnal embrace, I prefer the relationship stay out of the bedroom because it's much more challenging for the audience. How simple things would be if we could just check off that box that defines their sexuality. But while our pencils remain wavering over the choices, our minds are open to all the possibilities, including the unnerving one where two men living together can deeply care for each other without it being sexual. We've been raised in such a homophobic society that ironically we have no concept of platonic love anymore. I refuse to help anyone check off that box by adding sex scenes. 

Above my mystery shelf are the classics. The Black Tulip by Alexander Dumas, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (pulling that one out for a re-read), and Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad, to name a few. Oh look-- The Illiad! So that's where that went. Again, not work I feel like slicing open like Catherine Eddows. (Bad analogy. Jack the Ripper took things out of her, not inserted them, and I'm not saying that slicing open a human is ... Well, I've written myself into an uncomfortable corner, haven't I? Let's move on, shall we?)

At this point, a bit desperate, I turn to my vast science fiction collection. And there it is, the Holy Grail of this evening: Dune. Since Laura Antoniou (The Marketplace Series) threw out the idea of a Dune-themed erotica anthology-- He Who Controls the Sex Controls the Universe!-- I've had gom-jabbar sex toys on the brain.

Not really.

As far as you know. 

So, without further guild-worthy space and time warping, I lunge at you from the darkness under the basement stairs (you forgot this was coming, didn't you?)  with Dune Sex! (To make it easier for you to discern the inserted stuff from the original text, I have italicized my contribution.*

"You're so quiet," Chani said.

He held himself poised in the awareness, seeing time stretch out in its weird dimension, delicately balanced yet whirling, narrow yet spread like a net gathering countless worlds and forces, a tightwire that he must walk, yet a teeter-totter on which he balanced.      

And then he fucked her.


I stand corrected. That seamlessly flows, like the spice.

*My sincere apologies to Laura, because I do not wish to imply that this desecration was what she proposed.



  1. OMG, Kathleen,

    Quite a build-up!

    I'm so glad you made the point about the rhythm of an original classic. It's not just a question of style, though - it's not just what's said - but also what is (we assume deliberately) omitted.

    We've all had the experience of cutting a sentence, paragraph or even a whole scene from our work and watching the work bloom and tighten. I have to assume that Jane Austen, Conan-Doyle and H.G. Wells did the same. And here we are proposing to add stuff, stuff that was dreamed up after the fact, stuff that may do significant violence to what the author was trying to accomplish.

    Here's a thought - maybe some of these classics originally had some sex scenes - but the author decided to remove them, because they didn't fit!

    Never the less, I'd love to read a more elaborated DuneSex scene from you!

  2. Lisabet - I agree about the deliberate omissions. You know I'm not shy about writing graphic sexual content, but in my last novel I cut away from the only sex scene right after she pushed him down on the bed. If someone were to take my story a hundred years from now (you know I'm rolling my eyes over that comment. such an ego), and rewrite it, I'd have no problem with them continuing that scene. But I have a lot of experience writing sex, and I could tell them right now that there's no way to make it more graphic using my original text without screwing up the balance of the story-- because I tried to do it and had to cut it.

  3. Kathleen, I would also love to see your version of a Dune story. And while I have the same mixed feelings about changing another author's work as (apparently) everyone else here, it must be remembered that in some past eras, explicit sex scenes could get a book banned and an author arrested (& even pilloried, literally!). So an author's choice to omit sex or (in fine Victorian style) wrap it in Latin phrases and extended metaphors might not only have been a personal choice, based on esthetic concerns.

  4. Jean - I can understand why writers didn't get more graphic, but I wonder if they weren't obsessed with sex because it was a fact for them. Was it Dorothy Parker who said only Americana think they invented sex?