September 5, 2008

Sex & Writing: Zetta Brown, author of Messalina - Devourer of Men

The Author

Zetta Brown’s debut erotic romance, Messalina – Devourer of Men, hit the streets in June 2008 and has already received an excellent, 5-star review on from The Original ChickLitGurrl as well as a Coffee Time Romance Reviewer Recommends Award.

A native Texan, she met her husband, author and publisher Jim Brown, online and their internet romance led to their marriage and her moving to Scotland. She has started to chronicle her experience in her blog, Sistah in Scotland, or SiS for short. She is also the owner of The Full-Bodied Book Blog that discusses “characters of substance” found in books of fiction and nonfiction.

Zetta holds a B.A. in English/Creative Writing from Southern Methodist University and is the author of several short stories published in literary journals. In 1998 she was the regional first-place winner for The National Society of Arts & Letters (NSAL) Award for Short Fiction. In 1999 and 2000, her stories were adapted for performance at the Craft of Writing conference in Denton, Texas. She has also had the honor of obtaining a residency at The Writers’ Colony in Dairy Hollow in 2002 as well as attending the Hurston-Wright Foundation’s Writers Week in 1998.

Learn more about Zetta through her website, book page, and blog!

The Book

When life imitates art . . . expect to be framed.

Eva Cavell is a woman with an embarrassing secret.

She is sexually frustrated and is convinced that her size and race intimidates men.

In an attempt to relieve her sexual tension, every Thursday she goes to a local movie theater and allows strangers to fondle her in the dark. During one of her escapades, Eva meets renowned artist, Jared Delaney, a smooth Southern gentleman with irresistible violet eyes. He has been watching Eva on her weekly visits and sees through her icy defence and straight through to the hot passion burning underneath.

Messing about in dark theaters isn't a good pastime for Eva. She has an image to uphold as a tenure-track instructor at a private Denver college and the youngest child of a prominent black family.

Despite desperate attempts to maintain control, Eva's world is spiralling into chaos. As emotional pressures build inside her, an explosion is imminent. Will she ever be able to live her life how she wants and without shame?

Click cover above to purchase MESSALINA - DEVOURER OF MEN today!

The Question: Is sex an important component to develop in your writing? How are you able to weave it into a work AND also have a strong plot development?

I have said that I don’t trust asexual people. In my opinion, sex isn’t a villain or a hero, it just is. Sex can be used negatively (rape), or it can be used positively (procreation), or for fun and entertainment. I prefer to use sex for the latter. Sex can be written in any genre—but does it need to be there? The answer to the question of whether or not sex is important in my writing depends on the story and how much focus the sexual act is to have.

I’ve written short stories and novels with varying heat levels. I wrote my first “love scene” (I was too young to see it as “sex”) when I wrote my first novel at the age of ten. I was already reading Barbara Cartland, Harlequin, and Silhouette romances. Granted, those early books were not as explicit then as some of the lines are today, but they helped open the door to my sexual education.

When I wrote my early stories, I would copy the “love scenes” from my favourite Silhouette Desire books and incorporate them into my own. Yes, I am admitting to plagiarism. But since these early stories never saw the light of day and are long gone, I’m not going to worry about any copyright infringements.

But copying those scenes were an education in itself. It helped me deconstruct what was happening. I may not have known entirely what was going on, but I was having fun trying to figure it out! It also led me to read more erotic tales, like Story of O, The Pearl, and others.

I discovered that writing about sex doesn’t have to be explicit in order to convey sexual intimacy. For example, the Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice can
be considered erotic but not by the usual means of sexual penetration—but penetration through the bite on the neck. Whereas stories by Anais Nin portray sex as we (generally) know it: insert tab A into slot B, albeit with extra flair.

In my novel, Messalina – Devourer of Men, Eva Cavell is a woman in her mid-thirties who is sexually repressed despite her strong sexual desire. As an erotic romance, sex is important in this tale. Throughout the novel, Eva is coming out of her sexual shell, and the story calls for various levels of detail to show this. For example, here’s a snip from the first chapter where she admits a penchant of hers:

But there’s something thrilling about sitting in a dark room with other people all facing the same direction with our eyes, supposedly, focused on the screen. The darkness allows fingers to fumble with buttons, zippers, and other obstacles that prevent flesh-on-flesh contact. Darkness allows nimble digits to circle around a man’s swollen pride or spread apart the vertical lips of a woman’s secret. Suddenly, the room brightens because of a scene change and, depending on level of nerve, fingers recoil to their proper, prayer-clasped position on your lap or they probe deeper, squeeze harder . . . get wetter.

While not graphic, I’ll give you three guesses as to what she’s describing. Later on in the novel, I’m less subtle when showing the action between Eva and her man Jared because, at this moment, they are in heat:

His loins slap my thighs as every ounce of his power goes into each thrust. He ploughs into me, making the bed springs quake, and we ride them for all they’re worth [. . .] I spread my legs wide to accommodate him and he hooks his arms under my knees, anchoring me in place.

Pretty obvious as to what’s going on . . . but what about here?

It is slow going but worth it. I am in sweet agony feeling a combination of being ripped open and stuffed simultaneously. Some moments later, Jared gives a sudden thrust and we both cry out. He is completely lodged and I constrict around him. He embraces me and we lie still, both of us trembling.

It’s not blow-by-blow like the passage above, but it is evocative, just the same. The “heat” is still there and what you have here is a couple who now trust each other enough to expand their sexual experiences.

When it comes to sex and strong plot development, it is my characters who control the sex. Their character development drives the plot, and if they are not focusing on the sex, neither will the story.

The Excerpt

“I’ve seen you here before, you know.”

I freeze for a moment, but soon recover then put down my cup. “I beg your pardon?”

“I’ve seen you—here—before. Several times.” He takes a sip of his coffee not minding that he’s just uncovered my greatest fear: the fear of discovery.
“Frankly, I’m surprised you’re alone.”

I look at him again, hard, my brain cycling through all the faculty, departmental, and staff meetings to try and place his face. I can’t.

“Who are you?”

He laughs but not in a derisive way and turns in his seat to face me. Once again his mouth turns up in a smile making me wonder if his lips are as soft as they look. His knee brushes against my thigh sending a spark of electricity up my spine.

“Don’t look so scared, Evadne. Your secret is safe with me.”

“And what secret would that be?”

“Do you really have to ask?”

“I think I do.” Even I couldn’t resist smiling as he gives me a knowing look. I twist my upper body in his direction and rest my arm on the back of my chair. As expected, Jared takes in the presentation of my cleavage but only for a moment. “I’m not used to conversation.”

“Well that’s a shame. A pretty thing like you is bound to have something to say.” He winks and turns away to take another sip of coffee. His lower lip looks full and succulent as it supports the rim of his cup. The muscles in his neck flex as he swallows. I would love to bite that neck. Mark him.

“Do you think?”

“Come on, Evadne.” Smiling, he faces me. “Don’t sell yourself short. You may try to look easy, but you’re not. You have taste. I can tell from the films you see—viewing companions not included.” He winks at me again and I get butterflies in my stomach. “You carry yourself like a queen. And girl,” he says, shaking his head, “there are some things you can’t learn off the street.”

This time it’s my turn to laugh. “You’re very observant.”

“It’s what I do, darlin’.”

This time there’s no hint of playfulness in his tone and we sit, taking each other in. For the first time I notice something else about Jared’s gaze.
Although clear and open, his eyes are still dark enough as not to give everything away.

In the silence, we hear the downstairs lobby fill with patrons. He looks back over his shoulder, once again giving me a view of his neck. “The film’s letting out.” He smiles and stands. “Shall we go?”

“It depends.” I raise my head to look up at him and give a playful smile. “What do you think of my viewing companion now?”

In response I am treated to a flash of his white, even teeth in a grin that would melt the resolve of the coldest virgin.

“I also said you had taste.”


Poetic Genesis said...

VERY interesting! Zetta, you have mad skills. Great interview!

Jennifer C. said...

CLG great interview question.

Zetta, this is the second excerpt of your book I've read and it has me wondering. Now I need to add it to my ever growing list.

As for the sex in writing, I try to be subtle if I need it to make my story move forward. Very rare do it get hotter than hot.

Jeanie Johnson said...

Absolutely love it Zetta! GREAT interview and loved what you had to say! Much love to you and Mr YOU!


Osaverde Quixote said...

sweeeeet. So they finally have sex, after all? Good. I thought the whole book was going to be a tease!! :) j/k. As an anthropologist... I have to say that for better or worse, our sexuality influences everything. It's a big damn deal. More on that later. :)

Unknown said...

Zetta this was an interesting interview I liked it very much because you were very open and expressive of your views on sex in a story. I loved the snippet given about a pair in the movies enjoy the thrill of being in was not in detail/blow by blow but it gave you just enough to know what was being talked about and gives the reader a chance to use their imagination. Loved the excerpt and I can't wait to read more of your work.


Jennifer L. said...

I enjoyed your article Zetta. As for me I think sexuality is a facet of a character's personality that should be explored, in most cases. Just like height, hair, and eye color. While some books may not mention those characteristics, in my opinion it helps the reader develop a full picture of the character