Saturday, February 12, 2011

Mysterious Sex

Guest Author: Craig Johnson

When I was asked to participate in the Poe’s Deadly Daughters’ blog, the first thing I did was look at a calendar and see what part of the month of February I had free. There was a little time toward the middle of the month where I was home at the ranch, so I contacted Sharon Wildwind to offer the date, wherein she informed me that it was a perfect choice because it was Valentine’s Day. I was completely unaware, and how it is that I’m married and have been able to stay that way for twelve years is still the true mystery.

I’ve heard it said that women have sex to achieve love and that men have love to achieve sex; either way, the two are pretty well entwined.

People always want to know what the most difficult parts of a novel are to write, and when I tell them it’s sex and violence, they’re usually surprised. . .or not. When I was starting out, a lot of mystery authors were pretty free with their advice, and one of the things they told me was that if there was sexual tension between any of my characters, I had to make sure I didn’t let anything “happen” for a good sixteen or seventeen books.

My immediate response to that was, “What kind of women are you dating?” I don’t know any woman that would wait sixteen or seventeen years for something to “happen”. It just didn’t seem realistic, and I figured all it would do is complicate my characters lives, and I’m a firm believer that a series survives on the development and complexity of its characters. Still, it took me three novels before I girded my loins to the point of writing my first sex scene. It was one paragraph long. I remember coming up from the shop where I write with a strange look on my face.

My wife asked, “Is something wrong?”
“I think I just wrote my first sex scene.”
She showed more than the usual interest. “Is it any good?”
“I’m not sure.”

Sex scenes are tricky the same way scenes of violence can be; make a mistake and they immediately become vaudeville, and vaudeville at the precisely wrong time can be really, really embarrassing. I’ve always prescribed to the theory of less-is-more, and I think that holds true with sex (literarily, but maybe not practically), as well. Consequently, I’ve written a few scenes that are after the fact or lead up to the ubiquitous curtains blowing in the window or the proverbial train going through the tunnel. I’ve always been a fan of the drift away from the kiss to the heroine’s one, high-heeled foot being lifted.

I guess I’m old-fashioned and, like Blanche Dubois, have always depended on the kindness of strangers or at least their imaginations. I think you can simply plant the seed of an idea, especially one as powerful as sex or violence, and just let the reader’s imagination do the rest. That’s when I really feel sorry for the television and movie production studios in their attempts to match the custom-fit, mind’s-eye of the reader. I don’t think it can be done.

That or I’m just chicken-shit.

To prove a point, one of the erotic scenes that I’ve gotten the most responses about was a scene where a female highway patrolman has a leather, search glove unsnapped, and my protagonist, Sheriff Walt Longmire, notices the tan line at her wrist. I got a ton of guys emailing me over that one.


Fully grown, upstanding ranchers in my area of northern Wyoming keep asking me who’s going to play Under-sheriff Victoria Moretti in the A&E pilot based on my books. They don’t care who’s going to play Walt or Henry, just Vic.


Men keep emailing me pictures of actresses and models or sometimes even NFL cheerleaders. Somehow, I don’t think the women’s thespian talents are the immediate concern. It’s also tough explaining to my wife.

Women are almost as bad, though; happy to tell me which actor they think would make the perfect Walt or Henry and then staring off into the distance with a dreamy look in their eyes. Generally the female vote is split: Walt is the one they want to marry, but Northern Cheyenne Henry Standing Bear is the one they want to run off with for the weekend.


After the “sex-scene” book came out I was touring in Olympia, Washington, and got to the Q&A portion where a woman was jumping out of her seat. “I want to talk to you about that sex scene in your book?”

I was a little nervous. “Yes, Ma’am?”
“It went on forever.”
I paused. “It’s only one paragraph long.”
The crowd started laughing as she turned bright red.

I couldn’t let it go. “How many times did you read it?”
She came clean. “Oh, a bunch of times.”

I took that as a partial vote of confidence and have started feeling a little more confident in my abilities—but I’m on book seven and I’ve yet to write another explicit one. Maybe book eight, maybe not.

Craig Johnson author of Viking/Penguin’s Walt Longmire series including The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished (the “sex scene” book), Another Man’s Moccasins, The Dark Horse and Junkyard Dogs. The seventh in the series, Hell is Empty will be released by Viking, June 2nd. To learn more about Craig and his book, visit his web site.

Photo credit for Craig's picture © Catherine Henriette.


Sandra Parshall said...

Craig, I thoroughly enjoyed your take on sex scenes -- and readers' reactions to them. I'm used to female readers telling me which celebrities they envision playing my characters (not that my books will ever be filmed), but I was surprised to learn that male readers do the same thing!

Thanks for being with us this weekend.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Craig, your post made me smile. My question is: What did your wife say when she read your sex scene?

Donnell Ann Bell said...

Fantastic blog. I have to admit I've never been fortunate to read your work. I'll remedy that fact, and not just for the sex ;) what a sense of humor. Thanks Poe's Deadly Daughters for introducing a new author for me to read.

Peg Brantley said...

I'm with Donnell. An author I'm definitely going to check out. But Craig, you didn't mention what book that paragraph is in . . .

Pat Brown said...

Perverts! I love it. Great post, informative and very entertaining. Thanks, Craig.

Tina said...

Everyone else can have their train and blowing curtains -- I'll take the scene with the glove and the tan line. I guess that makes me a pervert.

Polly Iyer said...

I write sex scenes, and it's very difficult. I can spend a whole day on one scene so it comes off just right. Hmm, maybe that wasn't the best way to explain it.

Unknown said...

Sandra, I've always said that man was formed first 'cause God needed a warm-up before really getting serious.
Elizabeth, generally she's open to research.
Donnell, get movin'!
Peg, third book, Kindness Goes Unpunished, but I'd rather not tell you the page so that you can get bushwacked...
P.A., Well, they are.
Tina, Pervert.
Polly, I like your methodology...

Julia Buckley said...

Craig, I love your writing, and I also love a good sex scene. Please leave those in. (I know--pervert).

I also love your website--awesome covers of those books.

Tim Moran said...

Loved your post and love your books. I appreciated your one paragraph sex scene because it left my imagination working! Sometimes I just skip those scenes which go on and on in other books. Can't wait for your next one!

coppertop45 said...

Loved your post and love your books! Your one paragraph sex scene was just enough to really get my imagination working (pervert!), but some authors' books just go on and on and I skip those sections. Can't wait for the next book!

Dana Stabenow said...

Craig, how wonderful to meet you if only online, so I can say what a huge fan I am of the work. Walt and Henry are two of the smartest, funniest men I've ever met between the covers of a book, and Wyoming lives and breathes like a character itself. So you know, I'm already looking forward to June 2.

(Love your post. If all the men who are waiting for an intro to Kate Shugak stood in line, it would stretch from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Perverts.)

Anonymous said...

Coppertop, I fixed your multiple posting. Sorry I didn't get to it over the weekend. Life was unglued.

A weekend with Henry Standing Bear? Oh yes, please. Could it be a long holiday weekend?