Michael pried me away from my computer last weekend to go hiking along the coast in Point Reyes, California. It's one of the most beautiful spots I know. When I die, I want my ashes scattered there and in Paris, but in in the meantime, I’m planning to plug the the landscape into my imagination to serve as a rocky Mediterranean shore for my book-in-progress, unless I can get to Greece or Turkey myself this year.
Anyway, we did a nice, exhausting up-and-down-hill hike, and as sometimes happens when you get a good walking rhythm, I kept hearing a certain song running through my head.
Except I wasn't just singing to keep up a rhythm. Because I know myself well enough to recognize that when I have a tune running insistently through my head, it's because my head's trying to tell me something.
The song was a corny old show tune, "Getting to Know You," from the Broadway musical, "The King and I." I've included a link to a funky YouTube Video -- I told myself I did this because people younger than I am wouldn't know the song. But in truth it's because I was raised on Rogers and Hammerstein, Guys and Dolls, and West Side Story; I love old show music and I wanted to share it.
So what was I trying to tell myself? Well, that's a sort of corny thing, too. My head was belting out this old chestnut to celebrate the fact that I was beginning to know the hero and heroine of my latest book well enough to get them into bed together. And had thought of ways (it's a romance, can you spell B-A-N-T-E-R?) in which they were coming to know each other, or at least to fantasize or ask questions about who each other were.
Because the corny truth is that of this getting-to-know-you stuff seems to matter to me. A lot.
In this case I know it from experience, because in a previous draft of my first seven chapters I plopped these characters into bed together, didn't believe it, and had to rethink and rewrite it. They didn't know each other well enough, they weren't intellectually aroused enough by each other, to make them (well, me) feel the erotic connection.
I'd gotten the characters wrong -- or I just hadn't gotten them yet. I made the conversation-to-coupling of scenes wary, silent, dark and dangerous, though now I know they should have started out brittle, intellectual and chatty, to turn dark and dangerous and then -- well then, as the text will say,
and then, oddly, it became terribly and wonderfully simple and straightforward. Marina was surprised, and she could see in a certain amused light in Jasper's eye that he was surprised too...Not because it has to be that way with all couples, but because now I know this couple well enough now that that's how it has to be... well, is... with them.
I find myself a little embarrassed by this. I mean, who do I think I am, Miss Manners? Why do they need to be so formally and elaborately introduced to each other?
I like to think of myself as a fearless voyager in the ways of written erotica. Personally, I do sometimes have fantasies of dangerous sex with unknown partners. And Carrie, the heroine who in some ways I think of as my erotic fantasy soul, has sex with people she'd never even speak to in real life -- my favorite being the unsavory French guy in the unspeakable green jacket in Safe Word.
But the truth is that when I'm writing a romance I like my lovers to like each other, to feel intellectual curiosity about each other and share affective sympathy -- maybe not all at once or completely, but eventually, yes. I think what makes me fall in love with them (and I do, and I get downright mournful when they have to go and leave me) is the ways in which they not only love but like each other. Which means how they're onto each other. Corny as it might seem. Which is the purpose, if it's not clear, of the shot from "His Girl Friday," though you could probably substitute any movie Cary Grant ever was in.
Confession done -- now you tell me.
Readers, is rapport between a hero and heroine as important in erotic romance as it is in the sweeter stuff? And writers, what part mutual understanding, knowledge, sympathy, and rapport play when you're trying to write the progress of an erotic relationship?