I’ve kind of painted myself into a corner, genrewise. It started when I sold Trash Sex Magic, a magical realism novel with lots of sex. Then an editor who had read that book asked for a fluffy, romantic, sexy fantasy series. Then I got this boss idea for a series about slacker sex demons who are good at meeting girls but suck at hell’s paperwork. Now I’m looking at a sequel series… just looking at it… honest, I can give it up any time I like.
But I admit that about three-fifths into writing Hinky Chicago (The Brass Bed series) I began to wonder if I had any more to say about sex. I mean, I’d covered some of the class issues and the childhood sexualization issues, in Trash Sex Magic. The Brass Bed was just a romp through the romcom potential of the sexual slavery of an alpha male. The Velvet Chair explored ideas about consent, self-image, and personal power. In The Bearskin Rug I got to visit sex worker territory and talk about sexual harrassment in the workplace, so I could work off a lot of steam I’d built up toiling in the pink-collar ghetto. Slacker Demons, the new series, spends a lot of time on immortality and commitment, and the different ways by which sex can slip a wedge into someone’s most inaccessible emotions and allow love to enter. Oh, and how we can destroy the world, and rebuild it, through the power of sex.
With every book, I worry that I’ve run out of things to say about sex. If I weren’t doing this in a paranormal universe, I might. But the grand thing about the fantasy element is that it’s like a kaleidoscope.
As I’ve said elsewhere about science fiction, there’s always a central gimmick to a fantasy or a paranormal story. Sure, I may have smoking pigeons or pink smog, but the central gimmick, or “idea” as science fiction likes to dignify it, has to be big enough to change everything the hero and heroine think about one basic feature of human life. Let’s call it the “specdulative idea.” Oo, doesn’t that sound intellectual?
When I write a sexy paranormal story, the speculative idea is like that little turn of the wrist that makes all the pieces in the kaleidoscope shift a fraction of an inch … and suddenly you see a whole new pattern. The junk inside the kaleidoscope is the same old junk. But because the light is shooting between all those mirrors, an ordinary little piece of life becomes fascinating.
Do this with sex and you’ll see what I mean about keeping it fresh.
When I trapped Randolph Llew Carstairs Athelbury Darner, third Earl Pontarsais, in a brass bed and told him to learn how to satisfy women sexually, he suffered all the comical indignities of an alpha male being enslaved to women’s needs. But that’s not the end of the story; it’s just the beginning. He gets out of the bed. The woman on whom his ultimate fate rests doesn’t need sexual liberation–that was the first curve I threw him. She’s readily, insatiably orgasmic. She needs help with intimacy, and he is the last guy to help with that. In bed he’s in control, emotionally remote but a sexual mind-reader. Out of bed he’s a stuck-up lord again. By giving him the power to take her to demonspace and show her a good time in a skillion magical ways, I give them a chance to dramatize the impossibilities built into their relationship. They can both play chicken with intimacy without it ever going stale.
I even got to drag Clay, Jewel’s other lover, into demonpace a few times in The Bearskin Rug. Clay can’t tell Jewel the truth in real life–but he proposes in the corniest way, offering her the picket fence and the golden retriever in demonspace where he cannot lie, where sex happens the way you really want it, not the way you think it ought to go. In that same story, Jewel’s prejudices about sex work show Randy the depth of her disrespect for him, even as he shows her an intense good time.
Slacker Demons is giving me a chance to add magic to sex in new ways, different from Jewel and Randy’s Hinky Chicago series, and the magic gives me a chance to say something fresh about sex. Here, my central idea is that sex is the bait that serves love. These five slacker sex demons think they’re working for hell, but they’re really suckering fresh souls into an even older and stickier trap. And one by one, the slacker demons themselves fall in love.
Some of the sex in the Slacker Demons series has major special effects and some of it just gets a sprinkling. It all depends on the relationship between the characters: what does each one need? where does s/he have to go, to become fully worthy of love? what inner walls need to come crashing down? can they give their way out of the maze, or do they have to learn to take? All those questions can be made sharper and stronger with the right sparkles.
Sometimes I write sexy romcom without any magic at all. I know, weird, right? Since I don’t get the magic crutch there, I have to think extra hard about these characters. What kind of sex will ambush them? Change everything? Can I use my central conflict to make them fall deeper in love, have great sex, and break their hearts in the same sex scene? My favorite example of this comes in the middle of Fools Pardise, book two of Backstage Boys, when Bobbyjay and Daisy pretend to have sex while her relatives are listening in via spyware in the next room.
It can be done. It’s just harder when you can’t use sparkles.
In summer 2013, look for a new release, with deleted scenes restored, of the full Hinky Chicago series–all three original books, plus the companion roller derby vampire romance A Taste of You, and the fourth Jewel-Randy-Clay adventure!