Expect this post to be all over the place, and probably to make less sense than usual (an achievement I grant) because I’m dealing with a probably terminally ill and much loved old dog. I’m trying to avoid him having any more discomfort than necessary in treatment, and that’s meant very little sleep for the last four nights. We do what we must, and he trusts me absolutely, and I can only do my best to live up to that trust. It will mean opening the door into summer, when he is in anything more than temporary, curable pain. It’s not something any decent man finds easy.
Anyway: to entertain, and possibly make my fellow writers think and improve their sales.
‘May you live in interesting times’ – an ancient Chinese curse (well, possibly merely invented by Eric Frank Russell – but true none-the-less. EFR saw human psychology too clearly… but is monotony so great? I mean…
From things that kids write in their school-books –‘When a man and woman get married that is called monotony.’
Heh. Speaking as 35 year veteran… that probably isn’t all that accurate if you’re still married thirty-five years, or at least you know to keep your yap shut, before it becomes rapidly less monotonous. No, seriously, humans are strange, but mating for life isn’t actually that strange. Trust me. I’m a biologist. Humans are kind of fixated about sex. This is, in purely biological terms, a good thing… unless you consider extinction of the human a good thing. Because that ‘monotony’ seems to have worked pretty well at producing a comfortable civilization, albeit with things like New York. (Which the dolphins (according to Douglas Adams, who would know) consider to be signs of lack thereof.)
Look, biology has a whole sub-branch entirely dedicated to sex and sexual strategies. So do most book-shops. It’s labelled ‘fiction’, in case you’re looking. Because biologists can escape political correctness to some extent they can be quite realistic and pragmatic about sex, about things ordinary people just don’t talk about because we like to pretend it just isn’t so.
Biology can talk cheerfully about sizes and physique of males and females, and what effect that has, and what male territory means to females and why social display exists and what it does. They can talk about cheating – of both sexes, and how their strategies differ, and numerically how common it is… And very little of it is politically correct. Take size difference between the sexes. In strongly polyandrous species like the anglerfish for example – the female is large, and males small. In polygamous cichlids like the appropriately named Pseudocrenilabrus philander – the male is substantively larger than the females in his harem. And females are attracted to the fish with the biggest and best territory, as well as the highest level of aggressive braggadocio. Humans – had anyone the courage to talk about it without someone shrieking and throwing tantrum — would probably classify as ‘weakly polygamous’ as the size difference between males and females isn’t particularly large. So monogamy is actually quite close to normal for us, and as we’re still surviving, works, at least well enough to increase our numbers. For various good biological reasons (see cheating and the cuckoo syndrome) both sexes are biased to think it a good idea… especially in the other sex.
Oh. What’s the long words about parrots? I’m sorry. I should have explained. Pollygamy: That’s what a psittaciphage finds the flavor of his food to be. Moan-a-gamy is the complaint uttered as a result. I hope that is clearer now? And Polly-am-are-us is someone who self-identifies as a parrot. Polly-and-rye is a drink you probably should avoid. Isn’t biology wonderful? And don’t ask me why Polly wants a cracker, because that’s got me… What is she going to do with a cracker? Ahem, to continue more seriously about books and writing.
Now, we’re in the business of selling books. And for most of us that means to as many people as possible (although there is a niche for targeted books for small groups. To put it simply 100% of 0.1% of the population may make you a better living than competing with a lot of other authors and ending up with 0.00001% of the 20% of the population who like that broader category. Typical here is the local interest book. CHANGELING’S ISLAND is a runaway bestseller here – having sold to more than 10% of the population. If we had the population of Melbourne I’d be rich. And I couldn’t have written that book.) Sex interests many of us (and obviously most in the same way, or we’d be extinct. We’re selected to the same attractants. Generation after generation: Those who aren’t, have failed to breed). The US elections are none of my business, but it’s pretty obvious to a disinterested observer that candidates genitalia and sexual issues are things that are getting a lot more traction in the media than healthcare and jobs. Therefore I presume people must care, or at least some of them do.
So to entirely ignore sex in your books, or to entirely ignore sex the way biology and evolution shaped us to respond well to, is probably going to limit your market. Unfortunately, despite the evidence that someone 4 foot tall and five wide with a face like a bulldog and breath to match, and all the grace, charm and humor of an enema… and several million dollars (or casting choice for a movie, or a publishing contract), being incredibly attractive to a surprising number of mates whose physical appearance suggests prime breeding stock, this just doesn’t sell.
A mystery… well, not really. Books are fiction and to some extent wish-fulfilment exercises. Happy fantasies – by and large most of us are neither wealthy nor powerful nor famous. Nor, frankly, are most of us the epitome of fertile pulchritude (yes, actually, once again the biologist – a fair number of the chosen features of handsomeness or beauty translate as sign of a healthy mate, good genes. Although, it is fair to say fashion screws around with that a lot.) So: depending on the target market, the sex that sells is probably a far cry from the unpleasant reality of wealth and power. Remember: we are in the game of selling illusions, dreams and hopes. Like the super-attractors that catch fish (things that look like the prey, but are just about 10% bigger) what many of us are looking for a rose tint – not bright crimson glasses.
This of course is where target can change the nature of the book. Jane Average may love a book where someone not too far from Jane Average gets her fantasy (I gather that’s some of the appeal of Fifty Shades). And likewise Joe Average’s fantasy is probably not taking out the garbage for Mz. Dominant who thinks he’s a doormat. I suppose one of my weaknesses is the daydream that neither Joe nor Jane are that average (despite appearances) and when the crunch of the story comes find this out. But then, I’m a hopeless romantic. Men have been dying for those ideals for millennia. I’m not sure what the biology, genetics or sense of that is!
But whatever you do avoid monotony. Even monogamy needs to be interesting.