Saturday, April 28, 2012

Cowboys; or, What I Learned About Testicles While Researching a Novel

Just over a year ago I decided that I would address a long standing item on my bucket list and start writing a short novel.  The novel would be a western, of course, and I decided that it should have all of the things that I like to read in westerns- vast landscapes, a love of the wild, eroticism, and occasional gunplay.  A few different plotlines came and went, and eventually I settled on a story of small scale range war and two cowboys, once pards, now foes, who fought that war.  Details came together, but one problem emerged when I just couldn’t wrap my head around writing a female character. What the heck, I know that there is a dearth of good female characters out there, but I would go about solving that problem on my second novel- I just had to write one for now.  So there’s the characters, the conflict, the plot, the gunfight, the sex… ah, now we get to the problem with this novel.

I tend not to write things in order, so I just hopped around the outline filling in pieces.  It hummed along pretty well at first, drawing on memory, personal experience, and other western books and movies.  A hike through Oak Creek Canyon stood in for one location, a shootout from Encore Westerns filled in the gunfight in one chapter, and so forth.  I kept skipping the sex scenes, though, because I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how they would work.  There were clear points in the story where the sex scenes should go.  There was a tense almost kiss in the early pages that was easy to write.  I’ve kissed before, and lips are lips.  I took almost all of it from an odd encounter with a friend who may in retrospect not be so lesbian, at least not after a half dozen cocktails.  But the sex?

It doesn’t take too much imagination to figure out what dudes do with other dudes.  Tab A, slot B, etc, etc.  Easy enough to find out what it looks like in the vast pornographic engine of the internet.  I could probably write bouncing genitalia, but what I really want to write is characters and how they feel.  This is, alas, a rare problem that is not solved by internet porn.  There was always the option of asking gay friends, but I couldn’t think of anyone I knew well enough to ask real details from.  There is a big difference between having someone over for dinner and asking that someone “so what do you think about while you do it with another dude?”  Finally, I decided to go to the source, as it were, and bought a book of erotic short stories about gay cowboys entitled, appropriately enough, Cowboys: Gay Erotic Tales

I learned two important lessons from reading these stories that I will take with me in my writing.  First, gay men (or the straight women that read gay porn) have a much different view of genitalia than I do.  I figured that there would be some exaggerated descriptions of extraordinary phalluses, and there were a few.  What I was not prepared for was the focus on testicles.  At least once in each story there was a loving description of a cowpoke’s balls: hairy or smooth, high & tight or low & wrinkly, hefty, large, or epic in scope.  There are apparently no small testicles in the land of gay cowboys.  The bigger, the better; I had no idea.

The second lesson that I learned was that even the hack writers that contribute short stories to erotica anthologies are better writers than me.  Really, these things are almost all well written considering that they are essentially porn.  It is amazing the kind of character development that you can spin out in a dozen pages, particularly when half those pages are devoted to fucking.

While I learned a few bedroom (or haystack) gymnastics and some alternate views on genitalia, what I really got out of reading Cowboys: Gay Erotic Tales was the notion that short erotic fiction is still fiction, and you can leave the pages feeling like you’ve been inside the characters, so to speak, even if you did leave those pages a bit sticky.


  1. Hey, just checking by to see how things were going on your end, glad to hear the novel's still coming along (and I'll give a much belated "yer welcome" for the inspiration to pursue it).

    I must say this is one of the most unique research posts I've ever seen, kudos to you not only for having the idea to check out some perspective from "the other team" but post about it here. While I haven't had eroticism on my mind lately, I've definitely been engaged in some thinking on the difficulties in representing viewpoints outside your own personal experience and doing them justice... for instance (if I might be permitted to shill... err... share...):

    So gay men (or at least the ones writing for this book) seem to be as obsessed with balls as straight men are with boobs. Fascinating. Mind you, I think I'll still stop short of trying to show off a little testicle to get out of my next traffic ticket.

  2. Thanks, Clint! Always enjoy hearing from you. Tonight's post will have substantially less testicular content if you care to stop by. I haven't been by Zombie Ranch in a while. It's looking pretty good! Keep up the good work.