Sex. And violence. But mostly sex.

[from the stabenow.com vaults, 7/16/2010. Reposting, just because.]


I’m just saying.

sexI was on a local radio show recently, me and host Aaron talking about good summer reads, when someone called in to say that he’d read a couple of my books and called them soft porn. I admitted that, yes, there was sex in my books, told a funny story about me at age 12 and and my mom and Lady Chatterly’s Lover and finessed my way back to the topic under discussion, good summer reads.

But I’ve been thinking about his comment. My books have been accused of having sex in them before, and I find it fascinating that it is invariably the sex by which people choose to be shocked, shocked.

bodyNot on another topic, but the bodies lay pretty thick on the ground in my books. There’s at least one first degree murder and frequently more in each novel I write. The constraints of the crime fiction genre produce some graphic descriptions. People are strangled, shot, drowned, they have pickups dropped on them, they’re stabbed with boathooks, they’ve been used for bear bait and they suffer death by mosquito. In one book nine people die at once, and in another an entire Thai bar is blown up with a soccer ball stuffed with C4. A boatload of Coastie BTMs were killed in another book, and don’t think I slept well that night.

I haven’t poisoned anyone yet, but give me time.

Nobody ever says anything about the body count. Evidently it is acceptable to slaughter any number of innocents but when two adults dare to have consensual sex and then have the further audacity to enjoy it, not so much.

What does it say about Americans that we are more comfortable with written murder than with written sex?

We really need to get over the whole Puritan thing.

I’m just saying.

27 thoughts on “Sex. And violence. But mostly sex.

  1. KarenB says:

    This became much more relevant to me when I had children. I had to decide what it was I would allow them to see or read and how those parameters would change as they grew older. I would far rather them read about people in a relationship enjoying consensual sex than murder, torture, etc. My daughter, now 13, has thoroughly enjoyed Bujold’s Vorkosigan books (with a good bit of consensual sex) but can’t understand why I would enjoy yours with dead bodies littering the pages, and I’m really good with that.

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  2. John Sims says:

    You are SO right! This has bothered me for years, and it’s not just you and it’s not just books: what about movies and TV? Another of my favorite writers, Tamora Pierce, first came to my attention because some of the usual blue nose groups were trying to have her books banned in various libraries. Her crime? Writing about a young adult character who had sex. The really sad part IMHO was that in the book in question, the young woman made a very thoughtful decision, and prepared herself carefully with birth control beforehand. What a terrible role model for young women!

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  3. Lee Free says:

    Oh, dear, and I have been recommending your books to people who like a “clean” read – I’ve been thinking there was a noticeable lack of sex – does that say something about my smutty past . . .

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  4. Lil Gluckstern says:

    I like the sex in your books. It never appears to be gratuitous, and it seems to fit the moment. I don’t mind the violence because they are mysteries, but I really resent those people who are so uptight about sex, but think war, and terribly bloody crimes are acceptable. Love your books, and who couldn’t get a kick out of Kate and her interactions (hmm) with Chopper Jim.

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  5. DarrylB says:

    I love Kate’s being comfortable that way. I started to say “comfortable in her body”, but until she grows her hair out I’m not sure that’s true…

    Still, Bones can show the most horrendous crime scenes with no problems, but a pair of female nipples are beyond the pale (while male nipples are fine). And, at the same time, our society works to turn our girls into sex objects and our boys into viewers of sex objects.

    The lesson being display, but not too much, I guess. The virgin whore…

    I’m ranting to the choir here I know…

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  6. Marjorie from CT says:

    Not only do I really appreciate the sexual situations in your books, I love the fact that Kate seems to know how to get what she wants and needs to make the experience as good for her as it is for her partner. Keep it coming (no pun intended!). I am a adult and I enjoy getting to read about real adult moments. So thanks and keep it up (no pun intended!).

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  7. How very nice to find you here this morning. I’m a very remiss reader to find you so late in life. The sex is real…and I don’t mind it a bit. My only non-complaint is that you often scare me so I find I am holding my breath as I read.

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  8. Christalaree says:

    My theory is, if you don’t like it, don’t read it. I love the series and as adults I think we can handle some consensual sex.

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  9. berte schachter says:

    First off, don’t change anything! I am a huge fan.
    Second, the sex is great and fun and puts a nice frisson into the stories that is part of your style. Kate is a confident and very empowered woman – why not enjoy her adventures? Third – the violence is inherent in the genre. Don’t read mysteries if you never got over the spider’s death.

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  10. I’m laughing here – I got all ready to make a comment and then saw the first one was from me. Never mind. Going off to drink my coffee here. Just a little, quiet “amen” from my corner.

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  11. Abigail Cooke says:

    “gratuitous” – not a word I would use about any aspect of your plots, characters, settings, or back stories. Your books are great because everything in them is real, grounded in physics/geography/natural history/human nature, and part of life. Thanks for not living by anybody else’s rules.

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  12. Mike Dressel says:

    I think you might ‘death by Alaska’ to your list modus operandi, too, but such thing is probably more suicide than homicide. The sex is simply a part of the characters’ lives in your writing. Certainly not contrived or added for schlock value, as some authors seem to do, presumably to sell books. I once had a potential literary agent tell me to make the sex in my manuscript more graphic. I sat down to try, hoping to land an agent, but it didn’t fit. I gave up and moved on. I think you, Nelson DeMille and a few notable others have mastered the art of saying a lot with few words in that regard. I say you can’t please everybody, so don’t change things. You’ve found wonderful stylistic ground and a unique voice. Stay put.

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  13. Laura Flynn says:

    What everyone else is saying about your books. I would also like to say that I agree completely with your statement regarding Americans needing to get over their prudishness and Puritan ideas regarding consensual sex.

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  14. Susan Shain says:

    I am constantly amazed that explosions, poisoning, war and other genial mayhem is good clean fun, but consensual sex by adults is considered evil… Kate’s love life seems to me to be good clean fun… almost.

    There was that time in A Taint In The Blood, where Kate almost weaponized the act in order to educate and show Jim the errors in his thinking… in a good way.

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  15. Gaelan says:

    I started reading your books when I was 12 or therabouts. I expected the bodies, what with the books being mysteries and all. The sex was less expected, but certainly educational, and I seem to have grown into a relatively healthy person in his thirties. Consequently , I can only assume reading the sex hasn’t done me any permanent harm.

    Also, the first few kate shugak novels I read? Borrowed them from my mother. Just saying.

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  16. Swanny says:

    Y’know, some of the folks who complain the loudest about consensual sex (and in at least 1 novel not so consensual) are still buying and reading the books. So long as they are contributing toward your future productivity and more really awesome stories, I say let ’em complain. It helps them get the guilt of enjoyment out off their conscience.

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  17. Joel Hutchison says:

    I’ve noticed that in many of the mysteries that I read, including yours, the body count gets pretty high. I often wonder if there will be anyone left in Cochise county AZ when J. A. Jance gets done. How would they be called murder mysteries without murder? As for the sex, thank you. And as for your opinion about the puritanical attitudes that seem to be purveyed by some readers, amen!

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  18. Ronald Ein says:

    Been having this discussion since I was about 13 or so, so that makes it about 55 years! Couldn’t see an American shoot-’em-up in a French movie theatre because it was too violent, but they let me see The Brothers Karamazov despite the sex scenes! My parents explained this to me and I’ve never needed to really think this through again. The Puritan prudery of America is still there and strong, in all its life-denying and in all its hypocrisy.

    I love that Kate is so fierce in her sexuality, just as she also is ambivalent about the men with whom she is is passionate. Keep it up, Dana.

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  19. Rick Bannerman says:

    I’m reading murder mysteries, so I’m not surprised at the violence. I am sometimes dismayed at victim ABC instead of victim XYZ, but that is author’s privilege. It is your universe after all. I have been disappointed at times by how little sex there is, however.

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  20. Kimberly Lee says:

    You have the perfect amount of sex in the story! It is part of the character’s makeup and essential to understanding their motivation.
    Coincidentally, I have a 12 yo, Mom, Lady Chatterly’s Lover story too. Our Minister came to visit on a day when I had been sprawled on the couch reading said book. I put it on the floor with the cover showing. Mom had to casually back across the room and kick it under the couch, all while politely conversing with the Minister. She is great that way. She never censored my reading and sent a written note to the bookmobile to let me check out anything I wanted.

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  21. Shirley McFall says:

    Eons ago, I ran a circulating film library for four school districts. One of our titles was “Future Shock,” based on the book by Alan? Toffler. The film was restricted from one of the districts because of one scene in which two men are being married. No comment was ever made about the scene in which a war protestor has the living crap beat out of him by several construction workers. I could never get an answer from anyone on why the violence was just fine, while a loving scene in a church was objectionable.
    When this was originally posted, similar questions came to my mind. Keep your books as they are, please!!!! You are the writer – the squeamish can page beyond what they personally object to….

    Like

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