Spider Bites And Randy Monkeys:
Time For The Bad Sex Awards

By PJ Parrish

So I was cleaning out my old external drive the other day (I’m running out of things to organize during our sheltering time).  And I found one of my unfinished manuscripts. It’s called Tarantella. 

Yeah, yeah, I know. We should be careful about using foreign words in titles. (See Sue’s post yesterday).  But this is a really great title, trust me. A tarantella is an Italian courtship dance that gets its name from peasant women working in fields and getting bit by the tarantula spider. The venom makes the women fall into a trance and the only cure is to sweat out the poison through a frenzied sexy dance.

Did I mention my manuscript was erotica?  (A repressed American woman goes to Italy and meets a hot guy…fill in the cliches here). Now, when I was publishing romance and family sagas, I wrote a lot of sex scenes, but they were pretty tame, Burt-and-Deborah-on-the-beach stuff.  Erotica, well, that’s a whole nother can of spiders.

It’s not easy writing really steamy sex.

Some writers are naturals at it. I remember reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying when I was twenty-two and being stunned. (Go here for first chapter excerpt…it gets good when she gets to Italian men). I wasn’t an erotica connoisseur, but every once in a while, I’d happen upon a writer who got it right.  Like Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus. Like Joyce Carol Oates in her Monroe homage Blonde. Or like Anne Rice. Her vampire books are just a more upfront take on the eroticism that pulses through Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From Rice’s The Witching Hour: 

She closed her eyes, feeling his lips on the back of her neck, feeling his fingers tracing the length of her spine. There came the pressure of a warm hand clasping her sex, fingers slipping inside her, lips against her lips. Fingers pinched her nipples hurtfully and deliciously … She felt herself being lifted, her feet no longer touching the floor, the darkness swirling around her, strong hands turning her, and stroking her all over. There was no gravity any longer; she felt his strength increasing, the heat of it increasing … She was floating in the air. She turned over, groping in the shadowy tangle of arms supporting her, feeling her legs forced apart and her mouth opened. “Yes, do it…”

So back to Tarantella. The only good thing about it is the title.  The writing itself is cringe-worthy. Really bad. Just plain icky.

Which brings me to my topic for today — The annual Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction Awards. I apologize, but I think I have a duty to bring this to light every year. We mere crime dogs need to know that even the literary lions can whiff bad at the plate.

Before we get to the winners, here are the short-listed entries:

I Told You To Take A Left At The Pancreas…

“He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper and, no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.” –The River Capture by Mary Costello

I Hear That Train a Comin’

Then I felt it. There was a sensation occurring here that I didn’t even know could occur. I took the sharpest inhale of my life, and I’m not sure I let my breath out for another ten minutes. I do feel that I lost the ability to see and hear for a while, and that something might have short-circuited in my brain – something that has probably never been fully fixed since. My whole being was astonished. I could hear myself making noises like an animal, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably (not that I was trying to control them), and my hands were gripping down so hard over my face that I left fingernail divots in my own skull.

Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.” — City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert 

Don’t Know What a Slide Rule Is For…

“The actual lovemaking was a series of cryptic clues and concealed pleasures. A sensual treasure hunt. She asked for something, then changed her mind. He made adjustments and calibrations, awaited further instruction.” –Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel

Now to our winners. Yes, plural.  In a shock announcement, the judges awarded the grand prize to two authors this year: Didier Decoin for The Office of Gardens and Ponds and John Harvey for Pax. 

Decoin is a French writer who received the Prix Goncourt in 1977 for his novel John l’Enfer. In 1995 he became secretary of the Académie Goncourt. Harvey is a writer and a Life Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He has written five novels, as well as essays and books on visual culture.

The judges said, “Faced with two unpalatable contenders, we found ourselves unable to choose between them. We believe the public will recognise our plight.”

Indeed, we will. Take a deep breath, we’re going in.

Global Warming

“She was burning hot and the heat was in him. He looked down on her perfect black slenderness. Her eyes were ravenous. Like his own they were fire and desire. More than torrid, more than tropical: they two were riding the Equator. They embraced as if with violent holding they could weld the two of them one.” — Pax


Spank that Monkey!

Katsuro moaned as a bulge formed beneath the material of his kimono, a bulge that Miyuki seized, kneaded, massaged, squashed and crushed. With the fondling, Katsuro’s penis and testicles became one single mound that rolled around beneath the grip of her hand. Miyuki felt as though she was manipulating a small monkey that was curling up its paws. –The Office of Gardens and Ponds

It just doesn’t get any better than that.


19 thoughts on “Spider Bites And Randy Monkeys:
Time For The Bad Sex Awards

  1. I wonder if this is one of the areas where the differences between men and women will manifest themselves. Here’s how Adrian McKinty did it on his debut police procedural-esque novel, The Cold Cold Ground:

    (For context – spoiler alert – the male protagonist had just been kissed by a young man, enjoyed it and thus was harbouring doubts about his own sexuality)

    “She shook her head, smiled and kissed my furrowed brow. Her lips were soft and she smelled good.

    I kissed between her breasts and I kissed her belly and I kissed her labia and clitoris. She was a woman. I wanted that. I needed that.

    • I think this one is quite well done! I think, when writing sex, less is usually more. And as a reader of the Literary Sex Awards for about 10 years now, I find no difference between the genders when it comes to awfulness. 🙂

      • Absolutely. I loved the scene!
        I meant to say but didn’t that this scene is a great example and doesn’t deserve any dubious award.

        This was also intended to illustrate the seeming difference between male and female literary erotica. If the thesis were that no relevant differences exist, then the question would have to be this one:

        What’s happening to contemporary literature that biological and psychological differences between men and women aren’t showing on the page?

  2. Ahem…another eye-opener. My friend, James L. Rubart, would say you just Shocked Broca. Not a bad thing.

    I’m in the class who didn’t know there were such things as this until I was almost 30. Blame it on my non-free-range parents. They “had a narrow set of rules” (Newt, in Lonesome Dove), and usually kept the gate shut tight on the four of us.

    Each to his own, I guess.

    Give me a shoot’em up spy thriller complete with bombs and bad guys, or a gentle tale of love and lies in the south (without steamy details-my imagination works just fine, thank you very much), or the story of a Marine vet who discovers that God knelt with him in the dark green jungle over the body of his best friend. Or a courtroom drama where the judge learns that the accused serial rapist sitting in front of her is her long-lost whatever.

    Actually, give me anything but the details of the love between a man and a woman. IMHO, it’s sacred and should be shuttered behind closed doors and only alluded to on the page. Alas, I’m probably in the minority, but it is what it is and I am what I am.

    Thanks, Mom and Dad… 🙂

    • You made me smile, Deb. My parents were pretty much the same way, so you can imagine my exploding head when I happened upon Lolita in a public library in my mid teens. 🙂

  3. Hahahahahaha. Love the visual for the monkey verse! You really nailed it.

    Tarantella works as a title. Even though it’s foreign, the word implies a tarantula story. Too bad you couldn’t find a way to use it. A fun short story, perhaps?

    Thanks for the morning giggle, Kris. Laughter really is the best medicine. 😀

    • Yeah, I still cling to that title. It would make a good thriller maybe, a black widow character who goes around killing guys. But I already dealt with such a character in my book “The Little Death.” She was using sex as a lure to murder. (The title is a double entendre).

  4. Literary writers really don’t understand sensual writing. They’d do well to study an outstanding romance writer who uses the senses and the emotions, not an erotica writer who is all clinical body parts and dirty words. I read my first romance novel because I was having difficulty with the romance part of my first novel. It was very well crafted and intelligent which was quite surprising for a literary snob like myself, and I realized it was a market for me. I went on to become “a thinking woman’s romance writer.” One of the best compliments I ever received in a review.

    Erotica exploded in the early days of ebooks, and lots of friends made lots of money from it, but it wasn’t for me. I’d rather watch paint dry than read it, I thought it was boring, and, as a writer, I’ve always loved writing the action and adventure instead of the scenes in bed although I dutifully wrote them because romance.

    • I agree that romance writers know how to do it. (sorry about that). They stress sensuality and know how to manage the choreography of the various body parts so it doesn’t sound silly.

      • In a workshop on the 12 Steps to Intimacy Linda Howard said the hard-wiring differences between men and women came into play.
        This from my notes: Women write detail in sex scenes, while men write detail in action scenes. And, since we were an audience of women, she told us we had to work especially hard when writing action scenes from a male character’s POV.

        She said that writing details in scenes of violence takes guts, but that we should suck it up, describing things that make us uncomfortable. And she urged us to remember the emotional detail as well as the physical. Violence, danger and sex have an emotional price, and that needs to come across on the page.

        She used Barry Eisler and Vince Flynn as examples of suspense authors who write extremely detailed action scenes. Their fight scenes show every detail. She went on to say that Vince Flynn once said he wished he could write love scenes as easily as Linda Howard.

        But, she said, if she had to write an action scene, this would be her first draft: “He was shot. It hurt. He shot back. The other guy died.” (From that example, I’ll let my readers extrapolate how a man might write a sex scene—and I’ve read all too many of them!)

        So, while she (and most women) struggle to write an action/fight/violent scene accurately from a male character’s head, men must dig deeper to write love scenes.”

  5. I’ve always felt that Anne Rice and Jacqueline Carey were literary writers who excelled at the sensual and erotic.
    Within the realm of fantasy, you really don’t get any better than Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel series (imho.)
    NK Jemisen takes a close second to Carey’s sensuality with her Inheritance Trilogy, but I wouldn’t consider her literary.

    Oops….but I digress. We were talking about badly-written sex scenes weren’t we? Haha! And oh my, were those examples bad!

    I loved your Tarantella title. I think some leeway should be given for foreign languages in titles, within reason, and especially if they’re clever. But then, I have a great love for languages beyond English.

    I also find it amusing that you included Anaïs Nin in your tags. Very appropro!

  6. Someone should start a Bulwer-Lytton contest for the intentionally worst paragraph of bad sex writing. It would be so much fun.

    • It was a dark and stormy night. The rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

      “Do me, big man,” she gasped as the rain gushed through the gutters of her passion.

Comments are closed.