Dear Cupid

My third annual writerly (and readerly) Valentine’s Day Q&A


How do you keep people from thinking that every sex scene you write is based on your own personal experiences? ~ W. Tyson, PA

You can’t. No one will ever believe you. When people read your sex scenes, they are absolutely picturing you and your spouse doin’ it.

And the embarrassment doesn’t stop there. At the launch party, someone who’s already read your book will take you aside and make a comment in a low voice like, “So, W. Tyson, quite a scene on page 337, huh?” You’ll deflect the comment, but they’ll make it again. Maybe three times that evening. And this person will absolutely be someone you already have an awkward relationship with. Like a distant step-uncle. For the rest of the evening, he’s going to smile at you. It’s going to creep you out.

Oh, and someday your children will read what you wrote and be horrified. Homer said it best here.

How do you meet your writers’ constant need for love and validation without your head exploding? ~ H. Smith, MD

Oh, silly, that’s impossible. It’s a bottomless well. One time, I went to a friend’s house and their beagle insisted on trying to mate with my leg. And I gently pushed her off, but she came back again. And again. And the last time I moved her, the dog looked up at me with helpless dog eyes, like she wanted to say, “I can’t stop doing this, I’m sorry.” That’s how writers are with validation. It’s a biological urge.

One way to remove a writer from your leg is to give him or her realistic expectations. For example, if a writer asks you to read something they wrote, they’ll almost always give you a fair deadline. But the truth is, the moment their work is in your hands, they want a response. They’re hoping you read the first sentence, found it utterly brilliant, and kept reading. They want a call that same night, preferably at two in the morning, with you saying, “I wasn’t going to read it right away, but I started and couldn’t sleep, eat, or look up until I finished!” Every day that passes, the writer grows more and more dejected. And begins to resent you. The best you can do is tell the writer something like, “I’ll start this in a week or so.”

Fair warning: Expect a phone call or email exactly one week later. You brought that on yourself.

How do I maintain the romance when I’m stepping on LEGOS and covered in Post-It notes? ~ P. Stankus, MD

Wear nothing but the Post-It notes. Number them in the order in which they should be removed. To make sure your partner gets the hint, arrange the LEGOS in phallic formations. Chances are, as a dad, you do this anyway when your kids aren’t around. The LEGO thing, I mean, not the Post-It thing.

Why can’t my husband be as romantic as characters in romance novels? ~ A. Hiltz, CO

Are those characters really romantic? They’re more lust than love. Take this dude from the cover of Enchant the Heavens. No way he’s showing up at your office with a nice bouquet of flowers. No chance. If the Enchanter shows up at your office, he’s ripping off his shirt in the lobby, storming to your cube, taking you in his arms…and then swiveling you around in your office chair to give you that weird head massage thing he seems to enjoy.

I don’t know why he’s doing that to her head. I just tried it on my wife and she laughed. And I don’t know where I left my shirt. It’s very cold here and my nipples look weird.

I love my spouse dearly, and OF COURSE Valentine’s Day is special (yada, yada, yada), but how do I let him know that there will be no nookie until I’ve gotten my word count in for the day? ~ M. Opperman, MD

Write flash fiction. Then flash (nonfiction).

The man I love is fictional? Is that so wrong? ~ B. Goffman, VA

Definitely wrong. Men in novels, by necessity, tend to be haunted and flawed. You don’t want to end up with a Hemingway character — strong, silent, thinks hunting is a pretty good solution to most problems. Those guys are disasters in relationships. A Faulkner character wouldn’t be much better, plus you’d have to move to Mississippi. I’d rather rip my eyebrows off with a Post-It note than go back to Mississippi.

It still counts as a dinner date if you’re reading a book, right? I mean, so long as the other person hasn’t walked away yet? ~ C. Callahan, DC

Those are the best dates! A co-worker of mine and I used to go to lunch once a week, and we’d sit at Sbarro and read while we ate. We called it a “reading lunch,” and even had a firm no-talking rule. One time, there was a flood in her hometown in North Carolina, and she mentioned that she was worried about her family. I glared at her. Appropriately chastened, she looked back down and we kept reading quietly.

The only thing I regret about that story is that we went to Sbarro.

This Saturday, come check out Cold Dark Flash, a FREE reading of dark flash fiction co-sponsored by SmokeLong Quarterly and DC’s Noir at the Bar. Some of your favorite Independent columnists will be there (me, Tara Laskowski, Tara Campbell, Art Taylor) along with a number of other terrific writers. My collaborator and pal DJ Alkimist will be providing music throughout the event. Saturday night, 7PM, at the Pub and the People. Click HERE for more information.

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