Pardon Me Sir, Your Fly Is Down   Leave a comment

Not long ago I spotted a piece titled ‘The Naked Author.’  I got excited because I thought it would be something about how an author must bare his (or if you prefer, her) soul.  I was disappointed when it turned out the nifty title only had to do with the agent process and noting to do with how we, as writers, stand naked before the world.  So I’ll write the piece I was hoping for.


You’ve been a naughty girl, you let your knickers down.  P. McCartney

What does it mean for an author to stand naked?  By the way, these mindless ramblings apply first to fiction, but then doubly for memoirs.  For this discussion I’ll treat them as one and the same.  To cut to the chase, my basic premise is simply this: if we insist on hiding our nudity from the reader behind the literary fig-leaf, they will immediately get it, and they will resent it.  They want to see, to know, to feel that they are sharing what you have – all of it.  When they offered to give you their time and read your work, they fully anticipated being invited into your world (real or otherwise) as honored and confidential guests, privy to all.  They expect you to pull back the curtain and let them talk directly to the little man hiding behind the smoke and mirrors.

A few years back a popular sportscaster was caught consorting with a prostitute, doing some rather kinky things.  Whether or not I or we approve of his personal and private conduct (his wife did NOT approve) is completely beside the point.  He was banished from television until he could convince the world he’d paid due penance.  The crux of the matter, as explained by league officials, was that a sportscaster is invited into people’s living rooms as an honored guest so they expect him to present a wholesome face, not one of a man led around on all four and made to bark like a dog.

Sorry, Charlie, that’s just part of the baggage of being a sportscaster.  (Perhaps the real crime was letting himself get caught…)

So what’s this all got to do with me?  Simple, I say.  He’s got a role to play, and so do you.  If you have a character who is doing kinky things with a shady lady, then they expect it to come off as real and not contrived.  That’s not to say you have to visit your local brothel to get your research right, but it does mean you have to be able to convince the reader you know whereof you write.  Kind of like some paintings of sailboats with implausible rigging or flags flying the wrong direction.  A non-sailor may not know why it doesn’t feel right, but they will still sense it.


I stood high by the mountain tops, Naked to the world    The Animals

Okay, so I still haven’t made my point clear.  I’ll try again.  When I was thirteen, I tried to write a sex scene.  Mind you, at that time I still believed women had staples in their navels because that was how they appeared in the copies of Playboy I’d filched from my father.  The only folks who would find that sex scene believable would be those who were even less experienced than I.  At that point in my life, that probably included only a few readers – either gender – less than ten years of age.

Some of my recent works do include sex scenes.  No big deal, most writers understand a character’s need for intimacy to be part of developing a rounded person and not a cardboard cutout.  But I’ve been married for forty years and have learned a few things along the way.  Am I describing my own experiences?  I would say that it is impossible to separate life from fiction, in that regard, if you will get it right.

A couple years ago, my writer’s group included an older gentleman – let’s call him Henry – who had a pretty remarkable childhood, that he intended to record in his memoir.  He was the child of American consular folks, assigned to Mexico in the early thirties.  In those pre-war days, Henry attended a private school, and many of his classmates were children of Nazis, in Mexico for the same reason.  Pretty amazing stuff.

“I don’t want people to see all that stuff,” Henry protested, apparently not grasping what memoirs are all about.

“If you don’t, nobody will care about what you do write,” we tried to tell him.  He wasn’t buying it.  Meeting after meeting, we had the same conversation.  Henry was adamant; he wasn’t going to let his guard down.

Then he came in with some new material, where he lifted the curtain on his private memories.  We sat there in stunned silence while he read his submission to the group.

I don’t remember who was the first to speak.  “We all told you, you could do this,” someone said.  It would have made Hemingway proud.  What he had given us took us onto a boat traveling across a lake in Mexico, and we were all on that boat.  Maybe it was seventy years later, but to us, it was happening and we were part of it.

We never saw Henry again.  I have no idea what happened to him, and hope that he had decided that he’d share with his reader things he didn’t want to share with us.  I know that feeling.  Mowry Beach takes me there.

On another note, I have a few characters who are gay.  They are minor players and I never go past their bedroom door, not because I disapprove of what they may be doing, but because I distrust my ability to accurately (and honestly) depict whatever it might be.  In particular, I don’t want to impose my own heterosexual interpretation of  the emotions involved in what they are doing, because I know I’d get it flat wrong, and do them a huge disservice.

On a lark, recently I self-published Murphy’s Bar And Grille, using Lulu.  The main reason for doing this, as I explained to my incredulous wife, was that it allowed me to put a nicely bound collection of my earliest works (most of which include a high erotic content) on my own bookshelf.  Cost me my internal price to buy one copy, but now it’s out there for anyone to look at.  As I wrote in the preface, I intentionally did not go back and revise these short stories, just put them out, warts and all, exactly the way I wrote them back then.

We all started somewhere, and now you can follow my earliest footsteps, for whatever it’s worth.  But… You’ll have to purchase your own copy.  My brother-in-law read a subset of these some time ago; he said they reminded him of the little book he once found in his older brother’s bureau.


Posted September 28, 2012 by JD Rule

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