Sex in the Shugak (Park)
[repost from 2008]
Okay, let’s have this conversation.
Sandy, one of the Danamaniacs managers, just forwarded me an email from a fan which read, in part:
“I love the Kate Shugak and Liam Campbell books. I just hope that Ms. Stabenow takes into consideration that some things are best left to a person’s imagination… having the characters smile, kiss, and close the bedroom door is enough information for me.”
Contrast this to a fan who said at one of my bookstore appearances, in a clear, carrying voice in front of fifty people, “Please could you let Kate and Jim have more sex?”
Between such Scyllan and Charibdisian rocks do I sail my little literary dinghy.
Sex is a part of life, and it’s fun, or it’s supposed to be. Love and laughter make life worth living, and there will always be plenty of both in my novels. It happens that I write sex well. If I didn’t, this topic wouldn’t, er, arise. My characters are healthy, red-blooded human beings with all the natural instincts flesh is heir to. Unless they are monks or nuns or charter members of Chaste by Choice, they are going to have sex, dammit.
So, I put it to you. How much sex is too little? How much sex is too much? Have the Kate Shugak novels crossed the line or are they way back in the novel pack? Or the Liams, if you can remember back that far? Go to page 53 of Prepared for Rage and tell me true, would you have been okay if that scene ended with, “I don’t have time to dance”?
Dana View All →
Author and founder of Storyknife.org.
As one of your Lesbian readers, I’d say the sex level is just fine. I read your books for Kate, a strong independent woman, who can take care of herself. If she and Jim want to have a shag, leave it to the reader’s imagination. Please I want a great story, not soft porn.
To be honest I thought the amount of sex in the Kate and Liam books was just about right. Also, I do think you write the sex scenes really well. It provides just enough sexual tension to keep things interesting, and just enough actual sex, so that it isn’t all tease. Just nice, healthy sex. Nothing prurient, and never boring, or overdone.
I would hate these books to sound like True Romance. They are murder mysteries, but more. Visits with friends, and true enjoyment of their lives. And life, if your lucky, means good old fashioned sex once in a while with someone special.
Why worry about sex ? Sex is only one aspect of character . As long as the characters are fresh and captivating they will drag you through their lives . I read men , women ,gay and straight with characters as varied as the “Chanur’s Pride ” to Spencer to ” The Left Hand Of Darkness . A good read can be found in varird places .
The only time I was put off by a sex scene in your books was when I read Fire and Ice — not too long after “hello” and Liam and Wy are going at in the the truck. To be honest, if I hadn’t already been a big fan of Kate and company (and you), I might have put the book down. I kept reading though and once I learned more about the two of them, the scene made complete sense to me. Your characters are well-rounded and delightfully imperfect people who have sex — works for me. Although Kate and Jim could have a bit more…
I love your books and have read every one of them, some I have enjoyed more then others, but some people like day light ,and others love the night. So we are all different, You just happen to hit the center of the readers heart, and to me are a great writer, who appeals to all. Your books have gotten me through many a night, that would have other wise been pure hell..
Sex in the pages, why heck yes , that makes the characters real, and if they arn’t real, you surely make them seem real too me, and that what I pay for when I want a good read…
Phil…… one of your DANAMANIACS
May the warm winds of Heaven blow softly on your home, and the Great Spirit bless all who enter there.
Sex is a part of life and I read your books because they reflect life in all it’s many facets. Your characters are made believable because they live life fully; or, as the case may be, die. If there was no mention of sex in all its many guises, the good (Kate and Jim) and the bad (sexual pedators) your stories wouldn’t ring true. I say if there are scenes that offend anyone in your books, for whatever reason, then the reader has the choice to stop reading them. No one has a right to force their preferences on another. Keep up the good work and be true to yourself. If you lose a reader or two you will gain others with your honest look at life. We recommend you to all our friends and have lent many of them copies of your books from our library to get them hooked. No one has read just one of the books and said “Not for me, too much sex!” P.S. The only time I have been tempted to stop reading a book was when you killed Jack! I read it to the end; but, it is the only book I haven’t been back to read over and over.
I think you’ve got it right. I love the sexy scenes in the Kate books. And I didn’t think the one with Liam and Wy was out of place either. You’ll never please everyone all of the time, but my opinion is, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it..and it’s not broken!
Personally, I’m totally bored with other people’s sex, in real life or, especially, in books. This is not something I read for and it is a total waste of time. I feel very uncomfortable reading anything remotely explicit. I like it when the author closes the door and leaves it to readers’ imaginations. It interferes with the plot, and slows down the book.
The less, the better, unless, of course, you want the book to be some Romance Novel.
My personal preference as a reader is for less explicit sex. But I’m more interested in whether someone who’s always gone at it like a bunny with multiple partners would really fall in love and go monogamous–in other words, character and relationships. BTW, I bet you get lots of hits today. But which S-word on DorothyL drew folks like me: sex or Stabenow? Nice to see you on DL. 🙂
I read a lot of romance novels, and these days most of them seem to have sex scenes. Some are great, some not so great. As long as a sex scene fits in with both the plot and the character arcs, and doesn’t seem plopped in because it was time for another sex scene, I’m okay with it. Some of the most moving and enjoyable sex scenes are where one or both characters are working through an emotional issue.
So, judging by this my- not-so-humble standard, your books have just the right amount of sex.
I think the amount of sex in your books is great. And you do sexual tension superbly! However….
I almost hate to pick up the Liam/Wy books because I know there will be, er, graphic moisture and expicit anatomical friction.
I honestly don’t want an explicit description of where either of their mouths are (in exceptional detail).
I have a great imagination, and the sex scenes with Kate are incredibly evocative without making me wonder whether the book is sticky.
It all depends on the characters and what they and the story demand. I’m not a proponent of sex of sex’s sake in novels, even though I do write romance. The sex has to be a natural part of the developing relationship between two characters, and I think you’ve written this aspect of the stories well — as you do the other aspects of the stories. Even in the romance field, there are huge differences in the levels of sex between publishers and even lines within one publisher. Again, it just has to fit the type of story and the characters who are populating that story.
I love your books. For your characters not to have sex would make them flatter. Kate does everything else fearlessly, why would she shy away from sex?
Just remember that most of us read for the story, not for the sex.
I’ve read some books where you could just hear the editor say “put a little sex here at this point” and it’s like a movie clip in the middle of the movie. No relationship to anything else.
So, you don’t do that. I’m looking forward to your next book.
I am so totally for some hot, fun sex scenes with your great characters. It gives the story richness and gives the reader a break from the suspense tension. Everyone’s life is made of dark and light, soft and rough, mundane and strange. We need it all. Keep it up!
I appreciate all the comments, here and on my Facebook page. As I said there, what I find an eternal mystery is the American preoccupation with sex, side by next to our eternal tolerance for violence. I can slaughter legions and nobody lets out a peep, but if someone hits the sheets for a good time by all, incoming!
I am re-reading the whole Kate series and am enjoying what Jack and Kate shared – in all ways. I remember thinking also that I wished Jim and Kate would get down to it. LOL. No, Dana you bring all aspects of the great personalities into these stories and sex is an important part of it.
More, less, you decide. It’s not what I read the Shugak books for, but I think you do, in fact, write sex well, and I’ve never thought it was too much or too explicit in the
Shugak books. Now, as for the Liams–do old people really have that much sex? ‘Cause if they do, I’m looking forward to getting old real soon.
Depends on who the old folks are. Bill and Moses do. Around the time I was writing Liam1, I read a story about the active sex lives of people in retirement. It wasn’t across the board (what is) but I thought, okay, let’s stand another stereotype on its head.
It’s true that in the US, people will react strongly to sex but violence is casually accepted as part of life. It occurred to me that the Park is a really dangerous place to live – low population density, but all those corpses! I hate to see people I have met killed (like Enid).
Also, it gives me a feeling that I should find a way to fit a corpse into my book (I’m at my 1st rewrite), because even though it moves along, and there are good guys and bad guys, and there is some sex, there is NO CORPSE!! Can I ever find an agent if I don’t have a rotting corpse ? 🙂
From the very first book, Kate 1, I was drawn into first the sexual tension then the sex between Kate and Jack. It’s not why I read…I read for the visit with the characters…even the mystery is secondary now…but first there was the tension between Kate and Jack during the opening pages of Kate 1.
As a rule I skim read the sex but some of the it stays with me long after the book is back on the shelf…Kate and Jim in MCA when her heart is breaking for need of Jack…I forget the book but the shower sex between Liam and Wy is HOT HOT HOT.
Keep up the great work, Dana, I read because of you as much as the characters.
I just finished reading all the “Silk and Song” chapters. One of them is sexually explicit, so I read it with recent discussion in mind. It advances the plot and helps build not only character, but also the depth of character histories. So even if I felt a little self-conscious reading it, it fit pretty well. Also, my perception was certainly colored by recent discussion. BTW I really like “Silk and Song” and I am looking forward to more! (And now how about I peel my butt away from the computer and get some work done…)
I personally think that you’ve mastered both techniques: not only that of writing sex descriptively, tastefully, and well; but also of leaving the innuendo hanging in the air and giving evidence in the befores and afters so the reader knows what just happened without having it spelled out. Like you said, sex is a part of life. You don’t detail every single sexual encounter by every single character, nor even every one by any main character. I think you’ve got it just right! 🙂
Too much sex in your books? Really? Wow. I think the sex to story ratio is pretty normal. Yeah, maybe for mysteries/thrillers, but sex is pretty normal across the board for all styles and genres. Feel free to up the sex ante – and veer from the pure vanilla if you want – but it wouldn’t hurt to intensify the plot line a little more to satisfy your readers searching for a good mystery.
My only question regarding Sex in the Park is – why doesn’t Kate practice safe sex? W/ Jack I never saw a concern for STDs, but often wonder how Johnny was his only child. Now, with Father of the Park Jim, I question safe sex for both reasons.
Kate & Jack, Kate & Jim, Bill & Moses, Wy and Liam: everyone of them have a healthy sex life that is in line with their characters. Personally, I think the sex scenes just flow naturally in progression of the stories, and have never made this middle-aged grandma uncomfortable. (Then again, my son does remind me that I am an “old hippie”. If he only knew how tame I really was!) For those readers who find the sex scenes too disturbing or explicit, just put your hands up and back slowly away from the book…..Dana, you’re the writer. You’re the pro. Write them however you want to!
Oh my gosh, seriously?
Dana, I think you must know from the sales of your books and the the feedback of your fans that you do it JUST RIGHT!
The characters and the lives they lead are what keep us coming back for more.
Please dont let the um, well, less than complimentary opinions change the way you write. I have to wonder why people would bother reading your stories if they were offended or bored by any of it?
As usual, please write faster….Barb
What a quaint viewpoint — must come from the Agatha Christie era, when sex simply couldn’t be mentioned because “it would take away from the story.”
Nonsense. You’re doing fine; the hot scenes you’re writing are there for exactly the right reasons in terms of the plot. Carry on.
Thanks for what appears to be a “nod” to my dad, Roger, as LSO.
He is a HUGE fan of your books..and when he read Blindfold Game, called me and said I “just have to get a copy, asap!”. A phenomenal read. Couldn’t put it down.
So, you guys don’t feel strongly about this topic at all.
But seriously, folks. I’m really heartened by the feedback. I’ve subscribed the RSS feed of this website to my Facebook page and there has been feedback there, as well. Go here to read their comments: http://www.facebook.com/people/Dana_Stabenow/1322434047#/note.php?note_id=18631468481
And thanks, Paul! It was my very great pleasure. The LSO job is the coolest one underway.
The balance of sex in the series works for me. Whether it occurs offpage or on doesn’t matter so much as whether it makes sense in the context of the story and characters, and whether the sex is in service of the story or vice versa. Stories which are thinly-veiled excuses for sex don’t hold my attention.
The balance of humor is just about perfect as well. I mostly hang out on Charlaine Harris’ board, which is where I got the recommendation for this series, and I absolutely loved the raven POV story in Powers Of Detection. The sex-humor balance is similar in her stories. Those who don’t appreciate it have plenty of authors to choose from.
It’s interesting to see that this blog’s topic was sex, and wow, there are 29 comments attached. Regardless of the stance that individuals take on the topic of sex, it would seem that that amount of response indicates that you’re getting it right as you’re writing it. Besides, as has been expressed that sex is a natural element of life, in Silk and Song particularly, the sex played an essential part in showing both Johanna’s character development along with the mores of the culture. Without those scenes, including Johanna’s emotional responses, she would have been a flatter character. And you don’t do flat, dull characters!
Also, a word of thanks. This has been another day of increasing national economic .. hitting everyone personally… problems, and further incessant political tit for tat. Your blog, along with all 29 comments, has been quite refreshing.
Thanks, Carol G.
O.K. Let us not forget this IS a STORY. We are not peeping toms looking in a window and there is no door to close. Sex is GREAT part of life!
Dana, as was said previously – you are a successful writer – and if you weren’t doing it right, you’d know it.
The whole sex and violence thing made me think. Most of the time, I read your books, especially the Kate books, over and over. But one I will not, and can’t bring myself, to re-read is “Hunter’s Moon”. I own a copy of it, and I’ve read it once. I won’t get rid of it, because I’m a book packrat, but I can’t re-read it…due to the violence. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the book when I read it. But I just can’t read it again. The violence is in character, it’s not gratuitous, and I’m not by any means criticizing you for it. What I think I’m trying to say, in a very roundabout way, is that evidently not everyone is inured to violence as opposed to sex. I’d rather read sex scenes than violent ones any day. Ok, so maybe I’m not normal….
To reply to Shel Franz: I, too, find it easier to read sex scenes rather than death scenes. Sex is more fun than being beaten about the head. Tried both, prefer the former. Strongly. I don’t think that’s abnormal. What I do think, though, is that in order to create a sense of “dramatic tension” in the plot, there has to be a threat to the protagonist, and what more primal threat is there than getting killed by some unknown nut? I think readers are more after the tension in the plot, which makes the heroine ever thus more awesome, than the description of violence itself.
RE: Hunter’s Moon, someday I will reread it but not anytime soon. It’s a powerfully crafted story, and also, it allows the author (hi Dana), to reinvent the protagonist, who was getting entirely too comfortable in her life (If you consider Kate Shugak as a character instead of a real person, in her “story arc” you’ll see that a “happily ever after” an adventure doesn’t make. Our heroes shine in adversity. That’s why we are so inspired by them.
Oh, just wait till you people read Whisper to the Blood.
I quake in fear – my gut tells me that it’s time for Johnny to bite off more than he can chew (my older daughter just turned 13 and she does that…) Just a wild guess.
Ain’t it so unfair that in order to keep our heros alive, we can’t allow them any peace? It started a long time ago – look at what Ulysses had to go through 🙂
As I mentioned in a post to you some time ago, I have enjoyed reading and re reading several times all of your Sugak/Campbell books as well as your two espionage books. I own them all, and look forward to the next ones with excitement. I love the way you develop your characters, their life experiences, and the reality of Alaska. Intimate moments are natural and well done. Thanks for writing these very enjoyable stories!
At the risk of repeating what has been stated often and well, I think that there has to be some descriptive explictness to a story–after all, the author’s job is to create a place for the reader to escape into. I can think of a couple of authors who have gone too far, and ended up with increasingly hardcore porm, but the Kate books don’t fall into this category. I love these books and feel no problem in reccomeding them to high school age readers…
Enjoyed these comments. From an older person’s perspective, the sexual activities are (hopefully) part of a normal life. The only question I have is that birth control is never mentioned. Just finished re-reading Singing of the Dead and see the similarity of the financial history of Alaska with Seattle’s. A woman named Lou Graham owned “sporting houses” in the late 1800’s and helped finance some of the famous pioneers with banks, stores, etc.
Omigod! I just finished Hunter’s Moon and I can’t stand that Jack died!!! I can’t wait until tomorrow to go to the library and get the next book.
I’m 68, a school counselor, and I think your books have just the right amount of religion and sex. Keep it up.
But what is Kate going to do without Jack???????
Keep reading, Janice.
Dana,as you have put it: sex and love are true parts of our lives. It is great that you put some “sex scenes” and some intimacy into your books because it helps us to better picture the characters, identify with them more closely, and for all involved to feel human.
It’s great that Kate and Jack and Kate and Jim are intimate, because it’s real. I love when Wy and Liam have descriptive intimate moments because it’s romantic, and it causes the reader to see and feel more instinctive needs of the characters.
If anything, add more details of sex and daily life functions because: it’s real.
Keep it up Dana!!
Will do, Carlen, and thanks!
Personally, I don’t have a problem with the sex scenes in your books because they make sense – they are not put in just for titillation purposes as so many others are. But the real issue is this: these are YOUR books, YOUR characters, and you can write them however you darn well please. Honestly, it never ceases to amaze me when people complain about what authors do within their own creations. There is no gun being held to a reader’s head. If you don’t like the body count, or the booty count, don’t read the books! (stepping off my soapbox now…)
Frankly, you can have Kate and Jim shag all over the park as long as you never, never, NEVER pull another “Jack Morgan ending” on me. I still bawl when I read that one.
I have only read one of your books so far and I liked the way you wrote the sex into the story. I agree that sex is part of life and you do a good job expressing it in your book!
I love it that you leave the bedroom scene to my imagination.