One of the best known axioms in advertising is “sex sells” and if you look at the stunning popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray, you can certainly see some truth in that. I haven’t read it myself, nor do I know anyone who’ll admit to reading it, but out of the 32,000 or so reviews on Amazon.com, almost a third of them are one and two star, with a common theme being the lousy quality of the writing. I’d be willing to bet that given the same quality of writing but a much tamer subject, we wouldn’t see this kind of success. However, well done to the E.L. James; she’s managed something almost none of us will ever be able to do when it comes to being an author: write a bestseller.
I completed the first re-write of the next Dunmoore last weekend and am currently writing the next Decker and I’ve had occasion to reflect on my differing approach to including sex in my books when it comes to either characters. First off, I’m not one to write steamy scenes, seeing as how I’m writing space opera and not erotica, but it’s more than just that. There is absolutely no romance or sex in the Dunmoore books (nope, none in the second one either). Why? Because the story revolves around a starship captain, in space, and unlike over-the-top characters like James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame, a captain doesn’t reach down his or her chain of command for hanky-panky, otherwise morale among the crew is going to take a hit. Therefore, adding sex to a Dunmoore novel makes no sense outside perhaps some shore leave (she doesn’t take any, so that’s not a problem) and would only be sheer titillation that doesn’t advance the story.
The Decker character is different. First, he’s not in the military anymore and is thus free to find companionship anywhere he wants. Second, by his very character, he’s a randy bugger and his liaisons either get him in trouble or out of trouble and through that, they do advance the storyline. Yes, there’s a bit of adult fun in the one I’m currently writing, just as there was in the first book, and yes, it does advance the storyline. More importantly, it’s fairly tame by today’s standards so it doesn’t detract from the plot.
I didn’t consciously make Dunmoore celibate or Decker randy when I developed their characters. They simply unfolded that way, and I cannot think of them differently now. The thought of writing about an amorous starship captain simply makes me shudder, and an ex-Marine who isn’t interested in the raunchier side of life would simply be wrong (see General Patton’s famous line on the subject).
One reader whom I know quite well did note the absence of sex in No Honor in Death. I haven’t yet heard if he got his normal quota reading Death Comes but Once. I’m sure the racier bits in the Decker story aren’t to everybody’s taste, even though they’re hardly explicit, but then I don’t expect folks who liked Siobhan Dunmoore to like Zack Decker in the same way, or vice-versa for that matter.
Onwards and upwards, and hopefully when it comes to The Path of Duty my editor won’t send me sideways.