By Tracy Horan
All writers know an artist must suffer for her work. Right now, I am driving to the bookstore to do some research for my first romance novel. Of course, on my list of favorite ways to spend an afternoon, lounging around Barnes and Noble is in the top one. Maybe suffering for my art is a teensy bit of an exaggeration.
The passage I am stuck on is the sex scene. My characters are ready to take things to the next level, but I'm struggling with how to get them there. I have found writing about sex to be more difficult than doing it. I need inspiration from some masters of the genre.
I walk into Barnes and Noble and head upstairs to the Romance/Erotic Fiction section. I usually hang out in the coffee shop with a stack of new hard covers on my lap, so this little side trip is a foray into uncharted waters for me. I pick up a pink paperback at random and flip to the middle of it. After scanning a few paragraphs I start to feel my cheeks burn. Holy buckets, this stuff is practically pornographic. I put that one back on the shelf and choose a more dignified looking hard cover. Wowza, this one contains more graphic sex than Penthouse Magazine. I feel a trickle of perspiration run down the back of my neck. It is awfully warm in here. I peruse a few more steamy sex-filled books until my nerves can't take it. I'm nervously glancing over my shoulder every few minutes to make sure no one is watching me. Why is it so frickin' hot in here?
I can't stand it. I put those naughty tomes back on the shelf and leave the store. I need to step out into the snowy parking lot to clear my head. I certainly found what I was looking for. And then some. I walk out to my car and throw my heavy coat into the back seat. Don't need that bad boy right now. I give myself a mental slap upside the head and mutter, "Grow up, would ya?" As a married woman with two children, I feel sure I can do this.
I go back in, and take the escalator upstairs. I stride straight to the dirty—er, romance section, and choose three likely looking candidates for my research project. My work will be conducted at home. Late tonight. In private. I almost make it to the check out counter before I chicken out. I duck behind the magazine rack and hyperventilate. What is wrong with me? Suddenly, I have an idea. I go over to the "Top Picks" table and grab a copy of Barbara Kingsolver's 'The Poisonwood Bible.' There, some serious literature to sit on top of my stack of smut. Much better.
At the check out counter I feel just like a fifteen-year-old teenaged boy trying to buy condoms at Walgreens. I can picture the scene; his purchases pile up on the counter while he stutters, "Yeah, I'll take this pack of gum, and uh, a toothbrush, um and this can of mandarin oranges, and oh what the heck, how 'bout these Trojan Ultra-thins while we're at it? That should do it."
I keep up a running commentary with the cashier about those fascinating pop-up greeting cards next to the cash register. I believe magicians call this technique 'misdirection.' I feel infinitely better once my purchases are tucked deep inside a nice shopping bag with handles. Now, I can relax and cruise the mall.
When the security alarm goes off as I exit the store, I realize the clerk must have forgotten to remove an anti-theft device from one of my books. My heart sinks as the burly, uniformed security guard walks toward me. Oh Gawd, please no, just shoot me. He says, "Ma'am, I am gonna have to ask you to step over here so I can look at your purchases. Please open your shopping bag."