One nice thing about working overseas on temporary assignments is how easy it is to meet other expats, at least on a superficial level. People who’ve been in the host country longer take you under their wing and invite you out to dinner and parties, take you shopping, and introduce you to people.
I’m currently in the Middle East, and was invited out to dinner a few nights ago by a woman I had met on previous trip. She also invited two Americans here on a short-term assignment. We were coming to the end of our meal, and the following transpired:
Woman: So, I’m having a small party tomorrow night, and you guys are of course invited.
Two Buff Guys: Thanks, we’d love to come.
Woman: And Shar, you’re invited too.
Me: Oh, thank you. I’ll be there.
Woman: Actually… Um…. Shar, we were thinking that maybe you could read a bit from your book, and we could brainstorm some ideas for your next one.
Me: [Total confusion. I write a rather specialized type of non-fiction, and while these were all nice people, they frankly weren’t qualified to help me with ideas.]
Me again: [Penny drops] Um… So… does the entire expat diplomatic community now know that I write smut?
Woman: Oh, no, not at all. I only told these guys so they’d know you’re cool.
Me: [I’m “cool”? Cool!]
Woman: And X knows, of course, and Y, and I think Z… maybe a few other people. But certainly not everybody. So will you do it?
Me: Um…. sure! I’d be happy to!
That was the right answer, as apparently X, Y, and Z had already been invited. We met at the woman’s apartment the following evening. One person brought his Kindle — in fact, he’d already bought my book. Some beers were opened, we chatted a bit… and somehow, I guess because no one was really in charge, the formal reading never really happened. But the brainstorming did.
First, I had a plot question for the group for one partially written story (I’ll spare you the question, but the answer was “a threesome”), and also some setting questions for the woman, because I want to set a story in a country I’ve only visited but she lived in for two years. Was this plausible? How could the characters do that? Would she read the story once I’d drafted it to make sure it sounded realistic? (Yes, she will!)
Then we talked a bit about the country we’re all in now, and what the erotic possibilities could be there. That was the most lively discussion, not surprisingly. I talked about my reluctance to write a story about a Westerner and a local person from, well, any of the Middle Eastern countries I’ve visited “getting it on,” just because the cultural implications are so complex. The others didn’t seem as bothered by the idea. “It’s just fantasy,” as one person put it.
However, the objections are my own personal ones, not something I’m picking up from publishers or readers, and there’s no reason to write something I’m not comfortable writing. For the record, I am not AT ALL opposed to bi-cultural relationships; however, they are (at least, in my opinion) more complex and layered than I care to investigate in a short erotic story. A novel, perhaps. 3000 words, no; not for me. I asked if the idea of one expat meeting another expat (or two travelers meeting) in an exotic locale was still hot, and the answer was a resounding “Yes!”
It was interesting to discuss things like story and setting and characters with people who were not writers. They didn’t give a hoot about “the markets” or what else might already be out there or what was currently popular. What they cared about, too, seemed not to be this sex act or that one. The strongest interest was in the story line gimmick. A tribal kidnapping! And then she’s rescued by a hot security guy! Or… there’s a flood, and their landrover is stuck! They’re on a rooftop overlooking the old city, and there’s no one around…
It encouraged me because that too is what’s most interesting to me. Of course, it’s erotica; the sex counts. But what I really care about is why these two (or more) people came together (so to speak), and what they’re like. What does having sex accomplish for them? If I know those things, I can fill in the rest. If I don’t know those things, there is no story, and I can’t even get started.
It was just a bit surreal, I have to say, to sit down with a bunch of mostly strangers (and a few barely acquaintances) and talk about writing smut. But what a nice opportunity. If such ever comes up again, I’ll grab it.
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