Friday, September 16, 2011

Bouchercon 2011: Sex and Blood and Dirty Words

As promised here's an overview of the down and dirty panel that was especially scheduled from 9 PM - 10 PM on the first night. It was a frank and uncensored discussion of the use of sex scenes, graphic violence and swearing in crime fiction. The panel, led by Scott Montgomery, was his idea and unlike many panels where the writers are assigned to a moderator he was allowed to choose his own panel. They were Christa Faust, S. J. Rozan, Chris Holm, Scott Phillips, John Rector, Benjamin Whitmer, Jonathan Woods. With the exception of one writer I have not read any of their work and only recognized two names -- John Rector and S. J. Rozan. But having read Christa Faust's Money Shot - a private eye style thriller about a porn star - was more than enough to prepare me for what followed.

Needless to say this was another panel that tended get outrageous but in a completely different manner than the others I have attended. Humor was present as always. This time it, was dirty humor. Raunchy humor. Filthy humor. It was kind of a relief actually to be around so many candid adults willing to talk about what is usually condemned in popular fiction.

There were some examples given of scenes I think it best not to recount here. Just read the author's books and stories. Scott Phillips started the night off. He went into great detail about a scene in his book The Walkaway (set in the late 1940s, by the way) where a guy goes to buy lubricant for a rough night with a prostitute. Needless to say he had to resort to Vaseline given the time period and the clerk about to sell it to him starts extolling the benefits of mentholated rub - not knowing the true purpose of the Vaseline and where it would be used. The punchline to the scene I've already forgotten but it involved some body part. Uproarious laughter followed. And that was the tamest example of the night.

Interestingly, the most often mentioned aspect of "dirty books" that seems to bother readers more than sex or violence is foul language. Swear words. Especially the dread use and heavy use of fuck and fucking. S. J. Rozan contributed some much need gravitas to all the raunchy humor and sick jokes. Her articulate explanation of why characters need to say something like "Fuck you, you fucking asshole!" highlighted the complex emotions that for some characters cannot be seen or felt without the right words. Often those words cannot be anything other than swear words.

John Rector talked about writing about sex and violence by distancing himself from it. He said that rather than indulging in graphic descriptions that he prefers to describe it so coldly and directly that ironically the scene becomes more powerful to the reader.

There was a brief discussion about the difference between sex for titillation, erotica, and sex that occurs in a story for a specific reason. Many of the sex scenes discussed in the books by these writers were about character and were the most intimate way they could reveal parts of the character that dialogue and other action could never hope to reveal. Stories are about first and foremost about characters many fo the writers stressed and reiterated. What they do and how they do it -- including sexual choices and sexual practices -- should only be included in a book if the scene tells us who the character is and how it affects the story. Each of these writers gave specific reasons for all their characters' kinky sex, strange sexual games, and use of special equipment. Gratuitous "sexy" scenes meant to titillate seemed to be dismissed if not outright condemned.

When the writer's audiences were brought up most of them talked about older generations who seem not to want to read these types of books. That they tend to be the ones who complain the most. But Christa Faust surprised everyone and provided me with the quote of the night. She said that "the older broads" love her books. And you know why?
Everyone thinks that when a woman reaches a certain age her vagina goes away and all she's going to do is read cats books. Wrong!
No one made a pussy joke afterwards. I was disappointed.

1 comment:

  1. I'm not convinced that the foul language is necessary. Authors did just fine without it for more decades than I care to estimate, and we still understood how nasty the characters were. I stopped reading and otherwise well-liked author because it seemed way over the top, as if it was there just for the shock value and it certainly wasn't needed. A character can just give a shake of the head instead of saying, for the 50th time, No fuc*n' way.