Tuesday, July 3, 2007

True Confessions: Pam Reveals Her Inner Pussycat

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?

7 comments:

Seeley deBorn said...

It's not so much the in bed that needs rapport, IMO, it's the in love. More than once I've caught myself asking "She loves him already? Why?" while reading a romance.

Kate Pearce said...

Absolutely crucial IMO.
I remember trying to get my hero to finally take the heroine in Antonia's Bargain to bed-he arrives all prepared with protection etc and I realized during the scene that he wouldn't do it because he finally understood how deeply rooted her fears of pregnancy, dependency and marriage are-so he leaves her be, asks her to make her own decision and walks away. Not very erotic romancy perhaps but absolutely in tune with the characters.
And Pam, I always admire the way your characters banter before they get down to the more serious stuff!

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks, Kate. But Seeley, I do think the bed needs rapport -- not love, necessarily, but some kind of sympathy and again, I'd say mutual curiosity. As I think this through (and what's a better place for that sort of thing than the blogosphere?) it becomes clearer and clearer to me how erotic I find the quest to understand what makes someone else tick. That and the quest to understand one's own sometimes mysterious attraction to the other. Love can be built on top of all of that, perhaps.

Kalen Hughes said...

I actually think the rapport is MORE important in an erotic romance than in a sweet one. If the characters aren't already "on" to one another, as you put it, then the sex is just clinical (and not at all sexy, IMO). I find this to be a problem with quite a bit of the erotic romance out there right now. A little of the old in and out, don’t ya know, and very little more. No depth, if you know what I mean (and clearly I’m not talking about your books, Pam).

I don’t need “luv, tru luv” for the sex to work in a book, but I do need characters to have the kind of intellectual rapport and attraction that you see in the old Cary Grant movies (I just got Holiday and The Philadelphia Story on DVD last week, LOL!). There’s something about the—forgive me—mind f*ck that’s just integral to the erotic aspect.

Sharon Page said...

Understanding and discovery play a major role for me as I bring my characters together. In my current WIP, Hot Silk, the hero and heroine begin by challenging each other. She's given her virginity to the wrong man (a titled lout) and argues that marriage has always been her direction in life. The hero tells her to find a new direction. He refuses to let her wallow or despair. He challenges her perceptions of her world, she challenges his. So while they end up in bed when they first meet, they have intellectually pushed each other in ways that no one else has done to them before. They are very "into" each other in their heads, which leads to powerful desire.

So I agree that rapport is incredibly important in erotic romance.

Celia May Hart said...

I love, love Cary Grant movies.

If you look at MADE FOR SIN, they are two very different couples. You've got one pair who are physically attracted, but the heroine cannot seem to tell the truth. (Hey, look, she's one of my "bad girls", why not be a "bad girl" in more ways than one?) And the other pair are also physically attracted, but when they start talking to each other, the heat level seems to go through the roof, even though they do not get off to a very good start. (My favorite non-sex scene is where she shoots him.)

Couple #1 were the main couple in my story, and couple #2 were secondary. I wasn't even quite halfway through when I realized that couple #2 needed more airplay, so in the end its a 50/50 telling.

But I've had readers say they like one couple over the other, and they don't always agree with me as to favorites :)

Pam Rosenthal said...

Thanks for the kind words, Kalen. And for the very apt one -- mindf*ck is exactly right.