Crossing the streams

by Diane Duane
from Tales of the Five #3: "The Discussion"

So lately I’ve been working on what ought to be (REALLY ought to be, this is running later than it should have) the last 20,000 words or so of the next in the “Tales of the Five” short novels: this one being #3, The Librarian. The phrase “short novels” is relative here: TOTF3 will top out at around 80K and change, just a little longer than TOTF2: The Landlady.

Anyway, as so often happens with one of these operations, I’ve been holding hostage what looks like the most fun part of it until the rest of the work has been well advanced, if not completed. And in this case, that means the Hot Gay Sex Scene.

I mean, let’s get real here; for me, Herewiss and Freelorn are the core of this fictional universe. Without the two answers to the question I asked my mom when I was about six, “Why can’t a prince rescue another prince?”, there wouldn’t be a Middle Kingdoms series. So Lorn and Dusty hold a special spot for me… not least the one established in The Door Into Fire when Herewiss’s dad yelled up the stairs to them, “What are you doing?” and the answer came back, “We’re fucking!” (Some meta from the characters regarding that and other issues can be found here.)

So the time has at last rolled around to deal with the after-”happily-ever-after” version of that scene. And it’s been a bit of a balancing act, as the last sex scene involving both of these characters happened “out of shot”, with the doors shut, the mid-series ones were either similar to that or simply inferred, and the ones in the first book were conducted pretty much with the lights turned out. Now, of course, these works not having to deal with editorial at a traditional publisher, it’s possible to let everybody off the leash a little bit. Yet there are also matters of style to consider: this work needs to be tonally of a piece with earlier works (and with The Door Into Starlight, when it materializes). So, as I say: a balancing act.

Something that’s been helpful of late is a work tool I didn’t have in previous years: digital art. I can’t draw… but I can see things in my head, and the computer can draw them. (Some of this art appears on the MiddleKingdoms.com website and on its Instagram.) My preferred tool is Daz Studio, especially since the Daz 3D platform is the source of male and female figures who (especially in the case of the males) look almost exactly like the main MK characters as I’ve imagined them for the guts of forty years. Anyway, these days when I get stuck on a scene or a piece of written business, I can take a break and spend a day or so imagining it graphically, and usually the problem at the prose end of things will break during that process. And afterwards I’ve got art, too! So everybody wins. It counts as crossing the streams a bit, I guess, creatively speaking, but generally this approach seems to work.

One tactic I’ve also been exploiting here, as regards the Hot Gay Sex scene, is the Sneaking Up On It By Stages approach, where you deal with what happens before the sex, or after, and then go forward or back as necessary. (I am really, really restraining myself here from using more loaded idioms.) In previous days this has taken the form of art that’s appeared elsewhere on my Tumblr or over at Pillowfort or wherever. (The more-finished version of this lead-in scene, during which Freelorn is explaining to Herewiss about how he has to go away on sort of a mystical business trip with the [peculiarly] good friend who killed him during the War, and how Herewiss can’t come, appears at the top of this post.)

But now at the prose end I’m getting into the thick of it (oh Goddess, this is going to wind up sounding like some kind of bad lube ad, isn’t it…) and it’s time to get into the heads of the characters actually doing eeeeet. Which means designing the art that’s going to help me think about the ins and outs (WHY AM I EVEN TRYING TO AVOID THE DOUBLE ENTENDRES NOW) of what happens in that bed.

Which meant, to start with, designing the bedroom – in this case, the royal chambers in Kynall castle in the Arlene capital city of Prydon. Earlier attempts at this were unsatisfactory in that the set I was using was too crude. So instead I pulled out a set that’s a little more modern and aged it backwards. It was originally just a three-sided set, so to complete it I wound up stealing pieces from other digital sets and indulging in some electronic kit-bashing. Then, of course, the set had to be dressed. Nice windows. Better floors. Furniture. (The bed’s not optimal but it’s OK.) Books. Lamps. Personal effects. Linens. And finally, of course, the characters. (I should mention here, if there was any question, that it’s entirely likely that no one but me will ever see this work: it’s primarily for my reference. But while making it I’m likely to find some piece of character business that I wouldn’t have found otherwise.)

Getting the characters into the bed? No problem. It’s positioning that becomes absolutely key. A fraction of a degree’s worth of bend or flex in the wrong direction can render everything hopelessly wooden or unnatural. Hands in particular are so vital: a pinky put wrong can destroy everything. And as for facial expressions… these are probably most vital of all, depending on context. And changes in lighting, or very minor changes in position, can completely alter what a moment before looked perfectly executed.

So… they’re in the bed, and the search has begun for the perfect position, the perfect expressions, to communicate the realities of lovemaking between two now-powerful but still quite vulnerable men who know for a fact (because the Goddess told them so) that they and the other people they love the most dearly are essentially living on borrowed time; and one of them’s about to go away on a business trip that may be nothing in particular, something not-routine but necessary… or may kill him. Or not. Who knows? Why borrow trouble and imagine what may not happen? Yet still. This might be the last time. And there’s no way to tell.

…And so to bed. All this thinking, and the consideration of positions, actions, dialogue, character, is going on in the back of the writer’s brain. While in the front, other business is being handled. Lighting. Making the damn pillows stay where they’re put. Moving the lights around for best chiaroscuro. …In the foreground work, Herewiss is pretty much where he needs to be, and now we’re hunting expressions. Move a limb or a torso, wait for the rendering engine to show you how it looks in real light. Move it again, wait again. And again. Again. Again.

One time Herewiss’s head looks like this.

Mmh, yeah, that one at least suggests that whatever’s going on south of his waist, he’s enjoying it. Mouth still probably needs work. But meanwhile, okay, good – let’s turn his head a little more into the light and see how that works.

Whoops, hit an extra control there, hope I haven’t twisted his head completely out of shape. Screen goes black. Wait for the render engine to do its thing. Turn away for a second, turn back… and find this.

…WUT.

My own character is giving me the stink-eye. WTF.

Nothing to do but laugh like anything as the internal dialogue instantly unrolls (and the whole nature of the artwork in progress changes in my head as a result, but that can’t be helped.)

HEREWISS: Excuse me, but can you please hurry up with this? We are trying to have sex here. 

FREELORN: (o.s.) Emphasis on the trying. 

HEREWISS: Do you know how distracting this is? Imagine if whoever made your universe was watching you do it with your spouse.

DD: Okay, there’s an image I didn’t need. And indeed a whole concept.

FREELORN: Is all this really necessary? Just smash us together any old way and let us get on with it.

HEREWISS: Yes, there’s a phrase, isn’t there? “NOW KISS.”

FREELORN: Trust me, I know where his bits are! I’ve known for forty years.

HEREWISS: I can safely say the same. In fact it’s kind of impossible to miss them.

FREELORN: (grins, blushes) Flatterer.

HEREWISS: Still the truth. And anyway, you love it.

FREELORN: (attempts expression of becoming modesty) What? I’m as She made me.

DD: From both of us, you’re welcome.

FREELORN: (breaks down laughing)

HEREWISS: Don’t encourage him. Anyway, come on, stand back and let me get him sorted out.

DD: (snickering) Can you even hear yourself.

FREELORN: Whether he can or not, you may as well. He’s been sorting me out ever since we met.

DD: This is absolutely not how I imagined this evening going.

FREELORN: Me either, so please let’s get on with it, can we? This man has not had an orgasm since 1992.

DD: (collapses in helpless laughter)

HEREWISS: On-set, anyway. It’s really not the same.

DD: Fine. Fine. Meantime, it’s late. Can I finish this piece of work first, please?

HEREWISS: My King?

FREELORN: (graciously) I give you leave. …Especially the leaving kind of leave, if you take my meaning.

DD: (shakes head) (saves file) If you two were smart, maybe you wouldn’t get so salty with your creator.

HEREWISS: As if we’re even slightly worried.

FREELORN: You love us too much to do us wrong.

DD (resigned): You smug SOBs.

HEREWISS: Go to bed. We promise not to look.

DD: (snickers and does as she’s told)

above: “Excuse Me, We’re Trying To Have Sex Here”

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