Monday, June 4, 2007

Progress report: Two orgasms down, ??? to go

Two orgasms into my current manuscript, I'm continuing to mull over Jane's Big Bang post, with its well-wrought orgasm and its equally thoughtful questions.

Which inspired me to revisit my copy of How to Write a Dirty Story, to see what the indispensible Susie Bright thinks about this. And to find that Susie's overriding advice is to be brief. Reading about an orgasm, she says, ought perhaps to be even quicker than having one. And she warns that:

Writers who insist on drawing it out for paragraphs, with detailed ocean metaphors and inner burst of karmic sunlight, are killing it. Because the orgasm scene is the final shoe-dropping from the prosy foreplay that you've been teasing us with all along. When that relief comes, it had better be exquisite, sweet -- and brief.
Which advice gave me pause, because I can well remember how enamored I was of ocean metaphors in The Bookseller's Daughter. And it made me wonder if I ought to check out what my characters and I have been doing in bed together these many years.
And suddenly, she was past caring what he could see. Let him see -- let him know -- every inch, every iota of her, let him hear the deep moans, the gasps, the greedy, bestial growls issuing from her lips, rising from the volcanic tremors (but he must be able to feel them too!) at her center. She threw back her head and cried out; she heard him cry out as well, before he pulled her down to his wet, salty-tasting chest, his heart (or was it her heart?) pounding wildly, his arms hard around her, both their bodies drenched, trembling, exhausted -- as if they’d been out together in a hurricane.

What's interesting to me about reproducing this excerpt here is that I'm not sure I'm past caring what it lets you see about me.

Which is not so surprising, because for me and my heroines, the relief of orgasm is always a relief from exaggerated, wordy self-awareness. Orgasm's the blankness wherein, (as another of my heroines, describes it, in Carrie's Story):
I had lost a kind of authority, a defense, both against the world and my own gleeful, brute body.
Orgasm is the ultimate defenseless gotcha moment. Your human words turn to bestial growls (hmm, the Marquis de Sade has a mechanical device to make this happen) -- and, anyway (excuse the digression), for the moment you don't even care.

For someone like my self and my talkiest heroines (Carrie, Marie-Laure, Mary Stancell) the inarticulate moment may be precious but it's sure as hell gonna be brief.

So it turns out I don't have to worry about that Susie's proscription. Whatever I or you may think of Marie-Laure's orgasm, most of what I wrote was lead-up. The actual event takes no more than the time-space of a semi-colon. The rest - as a wise old guy once said, about something else entirely - is commentary.

Marie-Laure's orgasm is the eye of the hurricane, the moment of silence between her cry and Joseph's, before the chatter of her consciousness starts up again, before she gets enough in control to create the metaphor of the hurricane. She thinks therefore she is (well, she's French). But while she comes, she isn't thinking, she isn't commenting, she isn't quite herself or even quite present.

I love that paradox of erotic writing. All that chatter surrounding the brief, precious moment of release, of submission, of the open mouth, the open cunt, the round, blank pre-verbal O.

And it’s that same paradox that leads me to write about smart girls who try (and gloriously fail and try again) to control, to organize themselves and their world through words and wit. And why I fall in love with them in books and movies and TV, from Jo March to Lizzy Bennet to my new pop culture goddess, Liz Lemon of Tina Fey’s brilliant TV show 30 Rock.

And why my sex scenes get rewritten the most of anything in my books -- sentences turned about until I can get a rhythm that at least for a moment lets me move with it. A pattern of stresses and rests, advances and releases, words and the spaces between the words. Because that's where it happens, in the spaces -- if only for the length of a semi-colon.


Elizabeth Parker said...

Wow, what a wonderful post, Pam. Breaking things down into what goes on during orgasm and how it can best be written, capturing all the emotions and nuances. I agree with your conclusions, too. Thanks for the insight!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Elizabeth. I'm pretty psyched lately, by the book I'm writing.

Kalen Hughes said...

Oooooooo, Pam. I'm so glad to hear you're loving your WIP!!!

Kate Pearce said...

I'm like you Pam, I try so hard to capture that moment-find the perfect words-not sure if I manage it as well as you do though!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks Kate and Kalen. It is a little like falling in love, isn't it, with a couple, with the idea of a couple who have to get from here to there (or maybe from there to here).

Jane Lockwood said...

For some reason I find the idea of orgasm expressed as a semi-colon a lovely idea. And a semi-colon seems right, somehow, a sort of blip between two segments.
Great post, Pam, and glad the wip is going well!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Jane. I sorta thought you'd like the semi-colon. I know that Zadie Smith is a big fan of that particular punctuation mark (as am I), and I think she said it's a particularly female punctuation mark. But maybe she didn't. Maybe I just made that up.

As for all the messages of relief that I'm finally having a good time -- those who don't know me personally should know that I'm prone to spells of... self-doubt, should we say? Or perhaps whining and complaining is closer to the mark.

New romance writers, if you ever go to a RWA conference and get trapped in an elevator with a wild-eyed lady who wants to tell you how sucky her current wip is, that'll be me.

janegeorge said...

Jane Austen made great use of many, many semi-colons.


Expiration Date said...

Well, as Lenin would say, I'm all about "bending the stick." I wrote my ocean-bashing orgasm rant because it has been entirely worn to a nub by too many people who havent' been to sea in years. Ya know what I mean? And I think there's a brilliant writer exception to every rule. Thank you for referring to my book in any case though... I'm glad you like to pick it up, even now!

YOur fan, Susie Bright

Pam Rosenthal said...

Wow, you don't suppose I could get a comment from Tina Fey as well? Thanks, Susie, tho I think I was agreeing with your proscription first time around.