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In which I talk about sex, or to be more accurate, writing sex.

This is inspired by my reading an actual romance, one that came highly recommended and intrigued me because it was about a woman composer in the late Georgian period. In her afterword the author mentioned that she was inspired by the life and works of Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix’s smarter older sister. The best bits of the book were about music–what it feels like to listen, or to play or create.

The luurve business and the Hessian bumping business, not so much. One was a lazy fall back to some truly awful cliches such as her womanly core and the juncture of her thighs and I’ve spent so long complaining about the use of such dreadful terminology I’m beginning to bore myself as well as the rest of us. Truly, those terms are like iffy extended family members who slurp gravy and get mashed potatoes stuck in their knitting. We know what they are but somehow we can’t get rid of them and keep inviting them for Thanksgiving anyway.

But one thing this writer did get right was that h/h talked to each other–about what they wanted to do, what they were doing now, and could they … uh, have a bit more breast meat. And pass the gravy.

Which brings me to the other writing sex inspiration–a presentation for my local RWA chapter by a former dominatrix who is now a counselor for the LGBT community. She was extremely funny and brought the tools of the trade with her, a collection of whips and other items. But never mind that. And guess what she said–the problem with most fictional depictions of BDSM or polyamorous relationships is that participants don’t talk enough. That’s talking before you do anything. In fact, with threesomes etc. it’s a wonder people don’t wear themselves out with preliminary discussions and collapse in chaste and total exhaustion.

And unless not talking is part of the game–you could, for instance, have a drumstick (or something) wedged in your mouth–chances are these verbal folks would keep right on talking. Because the communication doesn’t stop once the action starts, although in romance it’s far too often all this teeth-gritted, grimacing, straining stuff which reads like a bad case of constipation, even if minutes before h/h have been chatting away.

So, my conclusion with writing sex scenes is nothing new–it’s all about communication. Or possibly the lack of it. Or a yearning to communicate, meld, belong, love as a physical expression. What do you think? And what makes a sex scene work for you?

Posted in Writing | Tagged , | 4 Replies

When I realized that my October 2009 historical from Berkley Indiscreet was going to be set, for the most part, in the Ottoman Empire, I had to do some research. It is a fact of my writing process that important developments develop in media res, so it’s not as though I knew ahead of time I wanted to set a story outside of England.

At some point during the writing, fairly early on, I am glad to say, I discovered — that’s how it seems to me, I don’t decide, I discover– that my hero and heroine meet in Turkey. Oh, how interesting, I thought. And then I thought I’d better do some research about that.

Some random Facts

Foreigners (non-Muslims for the most part) were not permitted to live in Constantinople. Instead, the extensive European community lived just outside the capital, in two cities, for the most part; Pera and Buyukdere. There were European diplomats from Britain, France, Russia, the Netherlands and Prussia among many others. The British had a not insignificant military presence, as did the French. And these men brought their families or were married here and started families. There was great alarm on one occasion when the wife of a British diplomat received a Turkish dignitary in her home in her husband’s absence. But there wasn’t the feared international incident with the potentate taking offense at being entertained by a woman without her head covered. By all accounts he was charmed. There was as well as subtext of his having found her sexually attractive. Were overtures subsequently made? There are hints.

The heavy diplomatic and military presences shouldn’t come as a surprise since Napoleon was mucking about in Egypt at the time. Egypt was fairly unstable internally, though Ibrahim Pasha had a firm grip once he’d massacred the Mameluks. Earlier in the 1800’s, British and Turkish troops marched through the desert to Egypt in order to put on a show of force. British accounts of the desert march were not particularly complimentary of the Turkish troops which were not trained with the European love of discipline. I’m quite sure prejudice and ignorance of culture and custom played a large role in the troubles.

It was customary for British ships to fire cannons (salute) when they passed the Seraglio, a word by the way, that was specific to the sultan’s harem, despite the definition having since been often misused to refer to any harem.

There were, reputedly, over 30,000 women in the Seraglio. Parents sold their daughters into the Seraglio in the hopes that she would catch the sultan’s eye and bear him a son. A son would immediately elevate the woman into favored status. Such a woman had political influence. The sons, however, did not have the princely life you’d imagine. They were confined to their own quarters, uneducated for the most part, and deliberately isolated so they would not represent a threat to the Sultan. Historians have speculated that this isolation and lack of training of any possible successor deeply contributed to the decline of the Empire.

British accounts of sojourns in Ottoman Turkey are overwhelmingly, gushingly complimentary of the horses. Arabians, of course. They were small but hardy, fast, tireless and smart, subsisting on meager rations. A day’s journey of 25 miles through rugged country was quite common. The British were not so complimentary of their treatment of these Arab horses. The local custom was to leave the horses saddled, wet blankets and all, for the entire course of journey. Most every account takes disapproving note of this practice. The Bedouins were considered heroic with respect to their horsemanship.

I came across some interesting spellings of city names which I conformed to current spellings where those cities still exist — most do. Iskenderun, on the Mediterranean coast of modern day Turkey, was commonly spelled Skanderoon. Beirut was often spelled Bayroot. Iskenderun, by the way, is named after Alexander the Great. It is not far from the pass where he defeated Darius of Persia.

The Syrian city of Aleppo, in ancient times and presently called Haleb, may well be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world — at least 5,000 years. Aleppo was once the crossroads for caravans from all directions. It was the trade center of the ancient world and for centuries beyond.

Throughout Syria, Serjillo to the north for example, there are Roman ruins, entire villages, actually, that stand as if only recently abandoned. Crusaders from England, Richard The Lionheart among them, came to what is now Syria, some were imprisoned in the Citadel of Aleppo.

The Syrian province of the Ottoman Empire, with Aleppo still dominant, was a religious melting pot. Christians (Nazrins), Druze (often spelled Drooze, in period writings) the Wahabists, Muslims all made their homes here.

The Levant Company was the functional equivalent of the East India Company. The diplomatic corp was funneled through and approved by the Levant Company. So, often, was foreign policy. King George, and later, the Regent, had frustratingly little input — in part as a function of time. It’s difficult to conduct foreign policy when instructions to the region might take 6 months to get there and by then, conditions may well have changed. The Levant Company, in effect, conducted British foreign policy in the region and you better believe commercial interests superseded politics more than once.

Well, there you go. A quick and random overview of the Regency era Ottoman Empire.

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