People are animals. It’s easy to forget when you’re in the Starbucks line ordering a macchiato or watching beautiful people on the silver screen (slightly easier if you are looking in the mirror or at your husband). It’s also easy to forget our animal nature when appreciating high art or reading an engaging book, but even our highest art betrays our primal natures. The topics we revisit most often are love (usually of the romantic variety), fear, death, bad guys, good guys, etc. I didn’t look this up so maybe I’m way off-base, but I think most entertainment can be boiled down to two main topics: mating season and predator avoidance/predation. Sure, there are a million ways to spin those themes into something grander, more complicated, or more refined, but boiled down, we’re fixated on the essential facts of life that face all animals: staying alive and reproducing. If lions and wildebeests could read and write, their literature might look a lot like ours. Can’t you just see The Far Side cartoon? Mysteries are mostly about predator avoidance, but with mating season subplots. Cozy mysteries, one of my favorite genres, are so clever because they set predator avoidance plots in places like knitting circles.
My animal nature didn’t really hit home until I became a mother. One minute I was drinking a latte, caught up on Lost episodes, and the proud owner of two black pant suits. Twelve hours later, I had a brand new baby and would have eaten my infant’s embryonic sac if needed. Luckily, it didn’t come to that, but I did enforce hand washing rules. I never recovered from that powerful instinct (possibly an overproduction of some maternal hormone), so now I’m a SAHM cobbling together income in the after hours. My kids never let me forget for a second that humans are animals.
It’s a good thing I’ve fully embraced humanity’s animalistic side because that’s what people want to read about. Sex and violence sell. I recently signed a contract to write a romance (yay!), so I’m gearing up to write some steamy scenes–it’s mating season on my computer. (Like some of the other Mysteristas, I’m writing in more than one genre.) Love is one of our greatest literary themes, which I feel very comfortable writing about, but at the same time it is so closely related our most primal animal instincts, which can be more embarrassing.
To write a really good steamy scene, you have to forget about the audience for a while. Even if no one else buys this book, I know my grandma will read it and probably my high school band director. It’d be more palatable to write a really gory scene to share with that crowd. Passion is not meant to be shared. It’s supposed to be a secret, behind-closed-doors event. Those closed doors are one of the few things that separate humans from the rest of the animals and keep us off of the nature channel. Humans don’t have sex on the nature channel–we hire actors to entertain us with pretend sex on all the other channels. The lines of civility–they are so blurry. The doors are only closed in real life, not in art or on HBO.
I don’t have all my feelings on the topic categorized and filed, but I think there’s no sense avoiding humanity’s greatest passion. I’m going to embrace it and do my best to write a funny, fresh take on mating season.