Liz Michalski’s novel Evenfall is beautiful and moving. I’ve read it. Even that scene. (Especially that scene.) In chatting with Liz, I discovered an aspect of the author/reader relationship that I’d not previously considered. If your book has a sexy element, how does that affect your relationship with fans?
By Liz Michalski
You've read my novel.
I can tell by the way you sidle up to me, checking before you speak to make sure no one can hear. The way you lower your voice, the way you lean in, the way you grin in embarrassment before you speak -- all these little things give you away. And then, "I read your book. (Pause.) And, um, THAT SCENE."
Sometimes, I pretend I don't know what you are talking about. "Oh? The scene with the goats? Thanks, that's one of my favorites too." Sometimes, depending on how well I know you, I may kid back. "Yeah, your husband was really helpful about sharing details with me." But sometimes, I have to admit, I'm a little embarrassed too.
In case you haven't read it yet, my novel Evenfall has one very steamy scene. It's short -- maybe three pages -- but apparently it's memorable. Ironically, prepublication it wasn't the sex I was worried about offending people with -- it was the cows.
In the Moo-D
When I was writing Evenfall, I came to a point when the sexual tension between two characters had to do ... something. It had been building and building for over a hundred pages, and needed to be released, metaphorically speaking. But how?
As a former Catholic schoolgirl, I leaned toward the Barbara Kingsolver method. (She's said that she's written one of the shortest love scenes on records. When one character notices the crackle of cellophane in her boyfriend's pocket, she tells him if he has a condom in there, it's his lucky day. Then Kingsolver writes: "He did. It was." End of scene.)
But Evenfall is strongly tied to the natural world. My characters live on a farm, for goodness sake! To gloss over sex, to ignore their earthy side, felt like cheating. So I put all thoughts of what my former teachers, the Sisters of Notre Dame, might say, sat down, and wrote the most tantalizing scene I could.
I finished that section of the book years before I got an agent. When he requested the full manuscript, I hesitated for a brief moment. I could delete that scene, maybe rewrite it ... but he'd asked for what I had, and I had to trust that it was good enough. So I sent it and forgot about it. Aside saying it was steamy, neither my agent nor my editor ever mentioned the scene. Neither did the copy editors. I figured no one else would, either.
What did worry me was the cows. In the story, one character gives a politically charged speech about land development and how it and taxes are killing all the family farms. Disappearing dairy farms were making headlines when I wrote the book, and as someone surrounded by farmers and worried about their survival, I decided to use my pen to call attention to their plight. Living where I did, surrounded by several organizations that were developing land at a massive rate, it felt incendiary.
Let us recap how well I judged that one:
Comments about cows to date: 0
Comments about sex scene: 2,362
Since I'm not going to win this one, I've decided to take pride in the fact that my love scene has stuck in so many people's minds. When friends confide that they've read it to their husbands, I smile. When they ask me if it is based on personal history, I try and look mysterious. When my kindergarten, fourth grade, and high school teachers all show up at a book signing, I talk about cows. Loudly.
Sarah: Dare I ask… is there a sexy scene in the book you’re writing now?
Liz: Of course! I haven’t written it yet, but it involves inter-species love and a 200 year age gap. I’ll never be able to show my face in the carpool line again.