MEET ELOISA JAMES/MARY BLY!
Yesterday I was lucky enough to spend the afternoon with my friend Mary Bly, who is also known as the romance novelist Eloisa James. Mary teaches English at Fordham, and I had a great time yesterday afternoon talking to her fantastic students.
I adore Mary. She's a super brilliant soul (Harvard, Oxford AND Yale — yowza) who is not only a professor of Shakespeare and Renaissance studies, but also, under her pen name, is a slammingly successful bestselling romance novelist. She's pretty awesome.
She also saved me during a rough patch while I was writing THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. I was about to write the first "binding closet" scene, and found myself balking. (Those of you who have read the book know what I'm talking about, but I'll try not to spoil it for others!) I knew that this element in Alma was essential to her character, but I didn't know how to describe it without humiliating her — as she had become very dear to me. I was afraid it would derail the book. But I also knew that if I didn't establish Alma's extreme sense of physical longing, then other aspects of the book would make no sense as we went along. I was stuck.
So I took Mary out to lunch to ask her opinion. (She has written A LOT of sex scenes in her life, people.) She gave me a simple piece of advice, which not only works for writing about fictional sex, but works for writing about nearly anything in the novelistic realm.
She said, "Just ask yourself honestly what your character would actually do. Then let her do it."
Well, I knew what Alma would do. Alma was a scientist, an explorer, a woman of earth and desire and body. Alma never left ANYTHING in her world unexamined. Yes, I knew exactly what she would do.
I let her do it.