Monday, July 6, 2009

Monday Morning Quarterbacking

Welcome to a regular feature of Making Modern Love in which I will critique the previous Sunday’s Modern Love column and thereby display my raging jealousy of the author.

Today we have “In My Fantasy, I Caught Up To Reality” where we find our hero is so incredibly introverted he misses the many signals that his life partner is about to ditch him. Then, once ditched, he consoles himself by ogling the really hot runner chick at his gym.

Men are so dense.

But this is about the writing.

I admire the writing of this essay. It is clean and spare, without extraneous detail or florid description. It also has several really nice twists. There were at least two moments in the essay in which I was genuinely surprised, yet not thrown out of the story. That’s nicely done – he was able to keep me engaged as I read and yet not telegraph the plot twists in this tale.

One way the author achieves this is by staying exactly in the moment when he writes – not analyzing it beyond its defined space in time. So when he is at the gym, watching his fantasy lover run on the treadmill, he relays information, thoughts, details, only in the gym. His narrative does not wander. That keeps us rooted to the moment, and prevents us from looking ahead to what might be happening next. So when his ex meets him on the beach and says she wants to come home, we are as surprised as he must have been at that moment. Come to think of it, the real genius of this piece is that it succeeds in making the reader – at least temporarily – as dense as the writer. Now that’s skill.

This strikes me as a classic Modern Love essay, in that it is heavily relationship oriented. It raises an interesting problem for me in my quest to use that space to leverage my novel. Although my novel is certainly relationship oriented, it is also about sex – sexual politics, sexually explicit material, sex lives.

Can sex and relationships mix?

You’d think that’s an easy yes, but I’ve encountered some resistance to this combo in the literary world. My rejections have taken an interesting pattern. The agents who rep “women’s fiction” find the porn angle too explicit and frankly, too over the line. Porn, they say, cannot be portrayed positively. It’s not possible. It’s ironic that this mindset gets me a rejection, since it is exactly the mindset of my main character at the start of the novel. And I’m not surprised by that mindset – I recognize it. Those of us raised by the first generation feminists were taught to view pornography as rat poison. Nothing, but nothing, could make it okay. Apparently, there’s not a lot of willingness in the women’s fiction community to challenge that particular assumption.

No worries, I moved along and began to target another set of agents – those with an interest in erotica. And they said: love these sex scenes, can you take out all the boring plot and character elements?

It appears with both relationship and explicit sex, I am between genres. But I’m undeterred, since genre crossovers are all the rage now. I figure if Jane Austen can mash with zombies, I must be able to make the case for feminism and porn in the same story. It’s not any crazier than Abe Lincoln, the Vampire Slayer.

Is it?

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