SARAH HOYT'S post "We Didn't Invent Sex", I find myself wanting to muse about sex in the Dolly Canon.
As readers of the Apocrypha know, there is a great deal of the stroke book in those stories. I plead guilty to the artist's fascination with the erotic, acknowledge that a great deal of the aesthetic sense is driven by the same hormones flooding the brain as in titillation, and freely admit that I was all too easily influenced by the other list members' egging me on. (Go to the CFXS list archives, in the time period around December '98 - March '99 to see what I mean.)
And: I apologize for the massive delays in getting the Apocrypha up in its permanent home.
In attempting to re-cast the skits and mailing-list nonsense of the Apocrypha into something that might be pro publishable, I have come to realize that explicit sex in pop-lit is problematic and that publishers are (perhaps rightly) skittish about printing such unless there is a bulwark -- such as a big name author's outsized reputation -- against criticism. It gets so that people will just not read -- without prejudice, so to speak -- anything that smacks of the erotic. My younger sister, for one, refused to read an early draft of Genesis, even though there really isn't any explicit sex in it, for the erotic overtones I had to admit were there. And she's no prude, trust me.
But still... The element of sexuality is there. They tell you you must be totally honest in what you write, that the reader can detect insincerity like a dog smelling fear. It would seem to me at least dishonest to write about a female action-adventure heroine and then ignore the sexual aspect of her perils. Do you really think that no bad guy will ever manhandle her?
Will never try to humiliate and degrade her? Won't -- tell it bang, as Bobby the H used to say -- rape her?
And then there's the circumstances of the relationship between Dolly and Drummond. I could change this -- it's not cast in stone -- but it would irrevocably alter the overall arc of the Dolly saga so as to render it unrecognizable. Plus: I've done a lot of research, and struggled to weave the allusions into the stories without infodumps -- the stories of Gilgamesh, Pygmalion and Galatea and Aphrodite's part in all of that, the Golem, Pinocchio, and all of the stories that descend from the tales of Hoffman. To write about a middle-aged man who undertakes to create a living body for the spirit of a girl and ignore the sexual aspect of it... talk about the height of insincerity!
And, lately (for those who've read early drafts of Geppetto's Log this is a major shift), I've been re-thinking the relationship between Drummond and Witchlet.
Drummond, although he doesn't know it at the beginning of GL, is a demi-god. His mother, a second daughter of a scion of a minor sept of the East families, his father Hephaestus, Greek God of fire and industry. As we know from myth, legend, and Stranger in a Strange Land, demi-gods, like the gods, have their own rules about sex. Well, about everything, but mainly about sex, because Man invented gods to cast pornos about taboo subjects.
One of the problems I've always faced with Drummond is that he's not the hero. He has to be a strong and noble enough man that it makes good sense that Dolly would love him, but he can't be so outstanding an individual as to overshadow her. If I had to pick a singular flaw in the Apocrypha it is that, for the most part, Drummond is the hero, and he spends his time getting Dolly out of trouble or trying (and failing) to keep her out of it. It's something I want to change. Dolly has to solve her own problems -- in a loving partnership with Drummond (and Pete), yes, but still, the solutions have to come from within her nature and her deeds.
As it had stood before this rethink, Drummond is dumped by his longterm SIGGO, Semiramis East, at the beginning of GL...
(Spoiler alert: if you think you might ever want to read these books and are spoiler averse, STOP RIGHT NOW.)
We learn later on in the story -- as it happens, at the funeral of Charming Billy East, Semi's younger brother, and Child of the East for the period in question, as well as Drummond's nominal boss -- that Semi was seduced away from Drummond (and, as it turns out, away from the party of Hephaestus within Upothesa, the kiretsu of kiretsu between and among the gods and members of the East families (the Atreides of Bronze Age Greece brought forward to modern times)) by the Norse fertility goddess Freya. Semi pays for her betrayal almost immediately by suffering to be raped by Marduk (in order to demonstrate his male-fides*).
(OK, so saying "she pays for it" is a bit off-kilter, but there is a moral causal connection. Figure a better way to explain it in shorthand. Remembering that Marduk is the Babylonian fertility god whose principal myth is about how he slew and raped Tiamat, the earth goddess (rough equivalent to Gaia), thus bringing about life on earth -- there's a metaphorical parallel, here.)
Also, in the original, Witchlet -- Morgan Gitan Miranda -- is a lesbian, in a deep, committed relationship with Rowan Leaf, the Crown Princess and Heir Presumptive to the Throne of Faerie, (a parallel world inhabited by Elves, rather than humans, but in other wises resembling an Earth as settled and civilized by a feudal society -- don't ask)(Hey: it IS a fantasy!). They live together in grad student housing at East College of the Americas (the literary descendent of the Center for Xena Studies). Morgan is a bit of a celebrity for being the lover of the Princess of Faerie. There's a scene in the first chapter of GL as currently written which is a tearful airport goodbye between the two young women on the occasion of Morgan's departure to Athens to take employment with Hephaestus Industries (HEAE -- HEY-aye) as the team thaumaturge in the Executive Operations Team, (Drummond's crew).
As originally written, Drummond at this point was kind of a nice guy. Milquetoast, really. Too much like me, as a matter of fact, as I've complained before. So how can I enhance the tension? I ask myself. How can I heighten the drama, increase the pain that the characters endure?
OK. Suppose Rowan, who, being a royal, is a bit of a spoilt brat, doesn't want Morgan to go -- despite the fact it's a major career-making opportunity. Suppose the parting, rather than tearful and loving, is stormy and resentful. Suppose, on her trek from Ohio to Piraeus, Morgan begins to question her commitment to Rowan, and she begins to doubt herself and wonder if she isn't one of those lipstick lesbians she and Rowan so derided -- GUG (Gay Until Graduation). Except for her, it would be GUD (Gay Until Doctorate). Suppose she arrives in Piraeus in even more turmoil than I've originally portrayed?
And, suppose that Drummond, Rebound Man, meets Morgan -- remembering that the meeting takes place at the very moment Drummond learns of the killing of Charming Billy and of the duplicity-in-foreknowledge of Hephaestus and Aphrodite in the event -- and conceives an immediate attraction to her.
And, suppose that, rather than having been loyal to Semi for fifteen (or however many) years, he's been a semi-divine sonuvabitch womanizer, chasing and bedding any willing -- or semi-willing -- warm body in a skirt, cutting a wide swathe across Europe and Upothesa for all of his twenty-plus years at HEAE.
And Morgan, a little bit like a baby waterfowl imprinting on the first mother-like thing it sees, falls head-over-heels in love with Drummond.
(Trust me, I am mondo trepidatious as to how to portray this change in Morgan.)
Then through all the adventures in Hong Kong and Auckland, and through the mad chase around Mt. Hymettus (in which Drummond was originally accompanied by Pauhlÿn), the rough edges of this "relationship" wear off. Sort of witness marks of the rubbing together of the two of them. Witchlet begins to find her feet and learn to stand on her own, and Drummond (at the tender age of 44) begins to realize the difference between sex and love and takes the first few steps on his journey to redemption that Dolly will eventually guide him to the finish of (in You Could Spend Years).
And, realizing that evolution is not so much a smooth continuum of change as it is accomplished in violent, jerky fits and starts, the killing of Witchlet at the end of GL is one of those spiritual body blows that just sucks the guts out of a character, and completes the beginning of Drummond's transformation from dick-focused asshole to decent human being.
"Fair enough," you might say. "But how does that require explicit sex?"
Well, first, why and how does Drummond end up the way he does -- so damaged as to threaten to ruin his life, but not so much so as to obviate his chance for redemption? The hint is in his being a demi-god. Let's say, he has that little extra something that, while nearly any random woman you stop on the street will tell you in complete confidence it doesn't matter, but -- nevertheless -- arouses sufficient curiosity in a certain subset of women as to assure that he never lacks for female company. From a very early age, he's had women coming at him. Older women at first -- the cougar friends of his dipsomaniac mother -- but, as he matures (physically at least), those nearer his own age, and then younger. But it is to notice that this denies him any chance at a normal emotional development. (Whatever that is.)
Second, my kind of storytelling is about the emotional kick -- manipulating the readers' feelings in aid of an more-intense experience. (And, one hopes, a most thorough catharsis at the end.) You don't get much more intense in the emotions department than new lust.
Third, there is the need therefor to get into that intimate space that is exclusively between the two people in the bed. On the couch. On the desk or the kitchen counter. In the airplane seat. The boss's swimming pool. The back of a motorcycle... well, you get the point. There's a bubble -- a shared head space -- the getting inside of which requires at least some degree of detail about what ELSE is going on in there.
Not to say that it needs to be so much about plumbing and friction as the Apocrypha. But still.
Like, the first time Drummond undresses Witchlet and discovers she has pierced her nipples. And how it both turns him on and turns him off at the same time. What does that say about the generational gulf between them?
Or, when Astarte catches them at the end, and Witchlet has to fight the old bag naked, fresh from having had mad passionate jungle sex up against a marble column in a temple to Aphrodite. While Drummond looks on, helpless in his inability to participate in the fight, and helplessly aroused by it.
Where does YOUR mind go, presented with that scenario?
*Male-fides, (pron: MALL-uh-fidez), the opposite of bona fides -- credentials as an evildoer.