Written by Guest Blogger Lois Winston
Today I welcome guest blogger, Lois Winston, author of the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries published by Midnight Ink. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death By Killer Mop Doll, the sequel, was released earlier this month. Anastasia is one of the most hilarious protagonists I’ve ever met. Join Lois for a discussion of a very hot topic.
Let’s talk sex. (That got your attention, didn’t it?) I began my writing career in the romance genre. For romance writers, unless you’re writing for one of the inspirational imprints or “sweet” romance lines, it’s pretty much expected that your book will contain a sex scene or two. Or three. Or four. Or five. Sex sells.
However, now I’m writing a mystery series. A humorous mystery series. You won’t find any hot and heavy heaving bosoms in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries. I’ve come to learn that mystery readers don’t generally care for sex in their reads. They’re interested in solving the mystery. They don’t mind a relationship between the protagonist and whomever, just as long as it doesn’t get in the way of the whodunit.
However, lately I’m seeing a trend toward steamier mysteries. The windows are definitely fogging up in some series. In one, the protagonist has actually begun doing the dirty with not one, but two guys on a fairly consistent basis.
Imagine having to decide between Hunk #1 and Hunk #2! It would certainly take Anastasia’s mind off her financial woes. And her pain-in–posterior mother-in-law. But Anastasia is a bit too old school to bed two guys. Heck, she’s fighting off the urge to bed just one. Will she or won’t she?
In Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, Anastasia is recently widowed. So no matter how she begins to feel about tenant Zack Barnes and no matter how she now feels about her dead louse of a spouse, given that he gambled away their life savings and left her up the wazoo in debt before dropping dead at a casino in Las Vegas, propriety wins out over hormones.
Death By Killer Mop Doll, the second book in the series, opens three months later, and there’s a definite tug of war developing between propriety and those hormones.
Sexual tension drives romance novels. Once the hero and heroine have their happily-ever-after, though, they wander off hand-in-hand into the sunset. If there’s a sequel, it usually involves secondary characters who become the primary characters in the next book.
In an ongoing mystery series, the protagonist remains the protagonist throughout the series. Consummating a relationship often sinks a series. Although sexual tension doesn’t drive mysteries the way it does romances, it still plays a part in driving the characters’ internal goals, motivations, and conflicts. However, dragging the will-they/won’t they out too long can also spell disaster. Readers get bored with the same old/same old. Relationships need to grow in much the same way characters need to grow. If they don’t, each book becomes a clone of the one before, and no author wants that to happen.
Our characters’ relationships become a balancing act for us, one where we have to determine what’s too much and what’s not enough. Get it wrong, and readers will be quick to let us know.
So how do you feel about sex in mysteries? Post a comment, and you could win one of 5 signed copies of Death By Killer Mop Doll I’m giving away as part of my blog tour this month.
The full tour schedule can be found at my website, http://www.loiswinston.com, and the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can read an excerpt at http://www.loiswinston.com/excerptap2.html. You can visit me at my website: http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog: http://www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com. You can also follow me and Anastasia on Twitter @anasleuth
Sex is part of life, a beautiful part that can change lives and touch your soul…so I think it belongs in all contemporary stories. The question I struggle with, as a romantic suspense writer, is the amount. Remember, the old days when they just closed the door and you got to imagine the rest? I kind of like that. I’ve got a very good imagination. But I know many readers want more. Thanks for the good post
I like the idea of building sexual tension between characters; it gives the reader a secondary mystery/puzzle to ponder as they work toward resolving the crime. But I think, unlike what you might find in romantic suspense, that the relationship, if consummated would prove to be a distraction.
I am really enjoying “Assault with a Deadly Glue Gun” btw!
This is an interesting topic for a mystery series. The good thing about mysteries, though, is you can always kill off the love interest (as you did with husband #1) The new relationship can last a couple of books along and then murder can happen again. Although it’s tough for writers to kill our favorite hunks. Thanks Lois and Cindy for the thoughtful post.
Jo-Ann, isn’t it nice that there are all levels of sexuality in books? Something for everyone’s taste. You can close the door completely, leave it open a crack, or fling it wide open.
Angelyn, it’s very tricky to consummate a relationship in a mystery series. In romantic suspense the author generally doesn’t have to worry about the next books in the series. So we mystery writers walk a tightrope. I’m glad you’re enjoying ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN!
Shannon, I don’t know about jumping from one love interest to the next every few books. Mystery authors get very upset when authors kill off a favorite character!
You know, Lois, I had never even thought of this before even though I’ve read tons of mysteries. DUH, right? I wouldn’t mind it at all if there were sex scenes in a mystery novel. I just would want the sexual tension to overwhelm the tension built up for finding out who done it.
Patti, in a mystery, the reader expectation is that it’s all about solving whodunit. So I’m sure readers would be very upset if the sexual tension took a front seat to the solving of the crime, but a certain amount of sexual tension can add another layer to the story.
Lois, what an interesting blog. I, too, write and love romantic suspense, but LOVE, LOVE, LOVE mystery. So, as a result, I write what I love. I love the romantic tension that the h/h have, the sex if there’s too much in the book, in my opinion, it slows the story. I mean if there’s two characters in the scene, I can pretty much figure how that scene’s going to end.
Sex might sell in romance, but in mystery, it’s more about about plot.
Anastasia works JUST fine, no HRT therapy for her, please 😉
LOL, Donnell! Thanks! And don’t worry. I have no plans to put Anastasia on HRT.
Hmm. As in many aspects of life, I have two answers.
1. As a guy, I like a bit of ‘skin’ in most movies. Sorry … can’t help it. Just call it curiousity — if the actress is pretty, I want to see more. But I don’t particularly want to “follow them into the bedroom”.
2. In reading fiction, however, I think the developing sensual tension is the right way to go. Many friends and colleagues write erotica, but I don’t think it’s a good fit for me. I’d rather focus on the plot action and character development — and HUMOR — in a story than on getting my glasses steamed-up. Besides, my own imagination is probably as good as whatever the writer can put on that page.
I think it depends on the story, Jeff. In a mystery you don’t always have a romantic interest, so it would be very hard to have sexual tension in all mysteries. However, that doesn’t mean there can’t be tension of other kinds between characters. Just look at Anastasia and her mother-in-law!
Boinking happens. If the intimacy occurs through a natural flow of action, then a sex scene is very important to the flow of the book. However, the scene must add to either the character, the development of the relationship of the characters, or the plot line. If an author places a sex scene for the sake of titillation, then the writer needs to rethink their genre.
Personally, I’m frustrated when two characters go along for a couple of books in a series and nothing happens…I’M frustrated FOR them.
Lee, that same advice goes for all scenes in a book, no matter what’s going on with the characters. Every scene in a book MUST either advance the plot or tell the readers something essential they need to know about the characters at that given moment.
I kind of like the closed door approach also, although I like the build of sexual tension. I know what’s going to happen and I don’t need all the details.
I lean in the same direction, Morgan. When I’m reading a romance or romantic suspense, I often flip through the sex scenes to get on with the story.
Sex in mysteries is always a tricky subject, but mainly because a lot of writers aren’t very good at sex scenes and no author wants to ruin a romantic or sexy moment by making the readers laugh when they’re not supposed to. But if you’re one of those writers who can turn up the heat and bring the emotion to the motion – then go for it. Sex can be used in such a variety of ways to show an interesting side to a character: is he/she romantic, power hungry, manipulative, a giver or taker, etc.
— m.c.grant – Angel With A Bullet (coming this fall from Midnight Ink)
Good points, m.c.
I am not interested in finding sex in mystery novels. SO distracting. Even when I was younger, I had zero interest in other people’s sex lives. I mean, why? I can deal, with great reluctance, if I must, with a suggestion and the chapter ending with the lights. But the audience for such stuff is not me. Cozy and uneasy are antonyms, pretty much. Who wants such stuff in the cranium? It takes away from the story. It does NOT enhance it. Not for me.
Carol-Lynn, that’s why there are so many sub-genres. Something for everyone.
I think that it depends totally on how well it is done. Two characters touching hands can be as erotic as a full-out roll in the hay, depending on the skill of the writer. For me, it has to be intrinsic to the book, and not something tacked on for “the market.”
Good point, Terry!
That’s true for all genres, Terry. It’s always all about the skill of the author.
I don’t care for sex in my mysteries — it get’s in the way of the story!
Many mystery readers agree with you, Lynn.
As a reader I personally don’t like steamy sex scenes in mysteries. One series that I can think of–Amelia Peabody by Elizabeth Peters has been highly successful in putting out over ten sequels where relationships are important to the plot and sexual tension is there between various characters but the story is the driver. As I recall the to MCs marry at the end of book 1, and new characters are added, with sex tensions that the author draws out over a number of sequels but the MCs are still there but now have new challenges as they work on the mysteries as a team.
I stopped reading a number of popular works because I got tired of their formula ‘put sex here’ break from the plot.
As a cozy writer myself I prefer to write something that I feel comfortable sharing with a teenager or one of the church ladies, but is edgy enough to make my work stand out. Granted this may not sell to the wide audience who prefers romance/sex with a side of mystery, but I’m the one who must be happy with my work product.
Relationships are wonderful to read about but GIVE ME A PLOT to sink my teeth into!
Rosemarie, I completely understand. You’d be surprised at what some of those teenagers and church ladies are reading, though! 😉
I actually like a sexy mystery. I was a huge mystery devotee until my mom and sister introduced me to romance novels (at the ripe old age of 38) and I became hooked. Now I like a combination of the two genres, particularly with humor, something along the lines of Nancy Martin’s Blackbird Sisters series, Stephanie Bond’s Body Movers, and, of course, J. Evanovich. I was excited to find out this is what you write, Lois!
My second manuscript is in this vein (however with more sexual tension than sex). I had a hard time trying to define the genre after I wrote the story. Seeing your Anastasia Pollack books helped me to understand what genre I was attempting. I’m expecting it to be a hard sell as I send it out for submission, but I’m hoping that the sexy mystery genre will expand with more readers.
Larissa, there’s always a market for well-written books, and it’s always better to be on the cutting edge of a trend than after there’s a glut on the market. Good luck with your book!
If sex is an integral part of a story, ine, but too often it is clearly a ploy to create tension where mystery would serve better.
Goes back to my comment about there having to be a reason for the scene, Liz. It’s got to advance the story. Otherwise, it’s filler and shouldn’t be in the book.
I think I moved from mysteries to romantic suspense becaue of the romance, which in some books leads to scenes with sex. Without the romance(at least a hint), the mystery falls flat for me. Don’t have to have open doors and windows with everything showing, but gotta have the romance piece. Usually, the suspense complicates the romance and the romance complicates the suspense. When that’s well done, it’s pretty great reading.
I think cozies work for those who want a tad or romance without worrying about how much skin they’ll see. The humor you so often get with these is usually delightful, and the sence of community they provide fills a piece sometimes missing from our lives. The great thing about reading and writing is it’s all about personal preferences. There’s enough variety out there to satisfy all of us.
You’re absolutely right, Marsha.
Interesting topic. I’ve had to deal with this because my debut mystery, Toccata, will be released in April. In it, I have a disparate duo form as the book progresses. A rogue detective with a questionable past, and a clinical psychologist, whose sex life has been totally repressed for years. Integral to the plot development is the growing relationship between the protagonists.
The end result is a book more sexy than I’d anticipated, but one where the development of relationship leads to the next book in the series. In the closing stages of the second book, there is much less sexual activity on the surface, but lots of sexual tension and strange family ties. Hence the name for the second book, Blood Lust.
I think Lee has it pretty much the way I’ve had to write these books.
Good luck with your upcoming release, Pat.
This is an interesting post because my paranormal Victorian mystery does have some sex scenes between the two characters.I wondered if perhaps I shouldn’t tone it down or eliminate altogether. Nice to know I have options. 🙂 But I agree with many posters here who say that sex should be an organic part of the plot and not tacked on.
Pamela, remember that if an editor likes your book but doesn’t think the sex scenes work, she’ll ask you to make some changes in the revision stage. A sex scene alone won’t cause a book to be rejected.
Synchronicity appears in the blogosphere. I talked about this when I was a guest at Sarah Grimm’s blog on Tuesday.
I write both romantic suspense and mystery. I think the biggest difference between them in my books is there’s less sex in the mystery, but it’s there. Characters are (or should be) real people and having relationships is just part of rounding them out. I do like that with my mystery, I don’t have to wrap it up with the HEA or promise thereof.
However, I did have one reader say he/she could have done without the relationship stuff in my mystery. Another one found it an important part of the connection to the characters.
As with everything else, there will be opinions on both sides of the fence.
Terry, you’re absolutely right. As authors we’re never going to please everyone. All we can hope to do is please more people than we displease.
Way way back in my younger years I used to read Agatha Christie. If I recall, there was no sex in those novels, and that was fine. Now that I’m in my forties, I find I need that sexual tension to stay interested, if only but to add another facet to the story. Doesn’t have to be graphic, but some definitely needs to be there.
I’ve found my taste in what I like in books and what I don’t like has changed over the years, Tiffany. I guess it often depends on the stage of our own lives.
What an interesting question. If sex scenes are a well-written and integral part of the story, I guess I really don’t notice them all that much and it certainly doesn’t influence whether or not I’ll read a particular book. However, if it seems like they are used for “filler” it really bothers me and I find myself skipping pages. All in all, I’m much more interested in the mystery itself and the development of the plot and the characters (which may or may not include a romance or two!).
Filler is never good, Jane. No matter what the filler is.
I get really irritated when a mystery stops so people can have sex. Yep, it’s part of life. So is a seven course meal, but I don’t want to hear about it course by course. I outgrew my curiosity about what other people do in the bedroom (or on the kitchen counter) a long time ago. Now I want a story that moves, and I think that’s particularly true of mysteries. Lately I’ve skipped ahead in several books to get back to whodunnit? instead of who’s getting it on?
It doesn’t have to be a sex scene that pulls me from a book, Peg. Long passages of description that slow the pacing also pull me from the story.
Yes, I like sex in my mysteries. What are the top causes of murder? Sex and money. If the book doesn’t have it will I still buy it? Yes, a good thrilling mysteries with lots of twist is a great read.
Good point, Mary.
Another case where the evidence is clearly hinged on “it depends.” Quality of the writing, logic of the inclusion, the needs of the story. The takeaway. What does the reader learn from the sex (besides maybe experiencing a bit of titilation). Simply rejecting a sexual encounter, or a romantic one for that matter, because the convention says crime fiction eschews such scenes is to reduce the innovation and creativity of the writer
Very good points, Carl.
These comments are great. Thanks, Lois, for such an interesting post today. I personally like a little romantic conflict in my mysteries, just enough to keep the characters and the readers off balance and intrigued. I’ve been told that my forte is sexual tension. Could that be because no one is having any sex in my books so everyone is very very tense?
Thanks for inviting me, Cindy! And yes, lack of sex could make for lots of tense characters. 😉
I agree about sex scenes not working in a mystery series. I actually think that the struggle to do it or not is more fun to write. I too have a humorous mystery series and my character can’t choose between hero 1 and hero 2. I think it’s a way to keep people coming back, wanting to know “will they or won’t they?”
I read your first one and will have to read the second. I love your characters.
Thanks, Joan! I hope you enjoy DEATH BY KILLER MOP DOLL.
Wow! If you don’t think sex sells, look at the number of comments here. I write (suspense with a romantic element) at a level I’m comfortable with, which is pretty mild by today’s standards, but I don’t have a problem reading the steamy scenes if they fit into the plot and with the characters. If the writer can draw me into the emotional aspect, I’m more likely to go with it.
Good post, Lois.
Ellis, I don’t think it’s a matter of whether or not sex sells. A look at romance stats tells us it does and does so very well. I think it’s more about reader expectation. Readers who read across several genres seem more open to having sex in their mysteries. Readers who only read the traditional cozy don’t seem to want the sex added. And some don’t even seem to want any sexual tension. Luckily, there are books for everyone’s taste out there.
This has been an interesting discussion. I like romantic suspense where the sexual tension and emotional pull makes the story more compelling when one of the characters is in danger. However, I am reading a book by a well known author where the focus on sex and perceived impossibility of a happy ever after seemed drawn out too much even though there was lots of action and dangerous situations.
good luck on your mystery series.
Seems like the author of the book you’re reading has written herself into a very tight spot with her characters, Carolyn. I hope she can pull it off to your satisfaction. No author wants to lose a reader!
Thanks for the good wishes on my series.
I have always written sexual scenes in my books. In fact, I’ve written two erotic romances under a pseudonym. I don’t think anyone wants gratuitous sex unless they’re reading erotica–different than erotic romance–and even then, it should conform to the story. I always wondered why some readers had no problem with severed heads and blood and gore but they did when it came to two people making love. I concede that many readers of mysteries don’t want the blood and gore either. This is why they read cozies and can feel safe and sure that they won’t have to deal with either. As for me, I like the intimacy that is generated in a love scene. Maybe that’s why I read books with a harder edge. I’ve been criticized because one of my books has NO sexual tension at all. That’s because what happens in the story couldn’t happen if the H/h didn’t connect immediately. Bottom line: let the story dictate what happens.
Excellent point, Polly. The story should always dictate how the book is written.
I don’t mind sexual scenes in mysteries. The important thing is that it be a mystery and not a romance novel.
Pat, I think most mystery readers will agree with you.
Fascinating subject. I once took a class on writing sex scenes and the instructor (the delightful Delilah Marvelle) said that a sex scene should be a turning point in the characters lives. I think if there is a solid reason for it, if it’s exactly what the characters need at that moment then it’s fine. Sex is powerful and should be used accordingly.
Good comment, Alex.
Frankly, all this sex stuff is getting boring to me. I’m all for the story, the mystery, the adventure. Sex slows that down. But it makes the story shorter because I skip the scenes. I’m no prude, just tired of having to read imaginary sex.
And in a series, unless Anastasia makes the mistake of marrying the guy over the garage, she won’t have time to solve anything but “what’s for dinner, hon?”
Keep Anastasia out of the bedroom for as long as possible, except when she needs to sleep!
(It might be interesting if she could find a partner for her mother in law, though, one who would take her to live in North Korea where there are still some commies. Love to hear her rant at Kim Il Un or who’s in charge now.)
Irene, I hope I don’t disappoint you with the direction I’m taking Anastasia. Sending Lucille to North Korea isn’t going to happen, though. Too many other readers would object. Lucille is the characters readers love to hate.
The Alex Delaware series has had an ongoing, longtime relationship between Alex and his luthier lover, Robin. If both characters are interesting, I don’t think they need to get boring. I don’t want to lose track of the mystery, certainly, but a mystery with strong romantic elements (which is a category that RWA uses) gives the characters more depth.
Thanks, Sharon. It’s all about whether it’s done well, and that can differ from reader to reader. We have to remember that no author will ever please every reader.
Sex for the sake of sex really ruins my enjoyment of a mystery. On the other hand, sex is a natural part of life. When sexual attraction flows naturally in the story, I don’t mind. Just don’t spoil my admiration of that strong protagonist with hormone-crazed side junkets. Let’s stay on track with the clues and the mystery. Cindy excels at walking this particular tightrope. Laurel is human and feels attractions, but doesn’t fall into bed with every male character in the book. That’s part of what makes them such a joy to read.
I totally agree, Mary Beth!
Your books sound like a fun read! What I like in mysteries is a bit of a tease in the romance department, not full on sex, which some writers tend to add. To me, the tease makes you want to read more of a series to see if something does develop. Nice blog!
Thanks, Barb! You’ll find lots of teasing in my books should you decide to give them a try.
I bought your book! Finishing the one I am on and going to yours next. I have told some friends to check you out too!
Thanks so much, Barb! I hope you enjoy the book.