• “The smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting 'Scrooge McDuck' comics.”—Salon.com
  • A time-hopping, continent-spanning salmagundi of genres.”
  • “These books have to be word-of-mouth books because they're too weird to describe to anybody.”
    —Jackie Cantor, Diana's first editor

Historical Sex Scenes

Historical Sex Scenes

Now, don’t start hyperventilating. This isn’t about how to write historical sex scenes (though I might show you a sort-of one, in a bit*). It’s a solicitation. {g}

I was going to start out by saying that I have no idea how this happened, except that I do. I just don’t remember who to blame for it. What did happen was that six(ish) years ago, the Historical Novel Society (of which I am a member) held its biannual conference in Albany. It was the first conference of the HNS that I’d attended, and in my usual amiable way, I’d told the organizers that I’d be happy to do whatever they liked, in the way of panels, etc.

So they put me on three or four panels, and one of those was a panel on writing sex scenes. There were six people assigned to the panel—which is kind of a lot, really; you get a great variety of input, but with such a large number, it’s hard to have a good discussion.

Anyway, the six of us conferred via email as to the best way of managing the panel, traffic-wise, and someone (actually I think it may have been me, maybe I am to blame for this, what a horrifying thought…) said that it’s really hard to talk about the techniques involved in sex scenes without having examples to refer to.

So someone (and it may have been Chris Humphreys…then again, it might have been me…) suggested that since there was no conceivable way in which six people could read sex scenes in an hour, and then have any time in which to talk about them, that we see if the conference would allow us a separate session, outside the regular programming, during which any panelists who liked to could read one or two samples. That way, attendees who really didn’t want to hear sex scenes could avoid them and just hear about techniques, whereas those who wanted the…er…full experience (so to speak), could listen to the samples, which we would then talk about the next day.

Well, the organizers were willing (and it was Chris Humphreys who suggested it to them, I know that much), and they scheduled the Saturday Night Late-Night Sex-Scene Reading, after the official banquet.

I think five of the six panelists agreed to read sex-scenes—a couple of us came in nightwear (I almost always change into a yukata covered with cranes—I have three, in different colors—after the official part of a conference day, because while I’m happy to go on socializing into the wee hours, I’m not doing it in an underwired bra and high heeled boots, after wearing such clothes all day); Chris wore a suit, I seem to recall—or it may have been the pirate shirt open to the waist.

Anyway, two-thirds of the conference attendees came, and a Very Good Time was had by all, let’s put it that way. {cough} (The hotel kindly kept the bar in the dining-room open for this event, and when I staggered up afterward for a glass of much-needed wine, the bar-staff applauded and insisted on giving me the drink for free, which was nice of them.)

Anyway, the long-term effect of this public spectacle was that I’ve been urged (and/or dragooned) into doing it twice more—once as another team effort for the last HNS conference in Illinois, and a solo appearance for The Poisoned Pen bookstore—and now find myself not only booked for a reprise at this year’s HNS conference in San Diego, but charged with running the event.

Chris (that’s C.C. Humphreys, btw, whose Jack Absolute series is on my Methadone List, and I recommend it highly for fans of the 18th century, the British army, adventure, and/or Mohawks) tells me that he and Gillian Bagwell (MY DARLING STRUMPET—which I also really enjoyed (life of Nell Gwyn), and gave a cover quote to) want to do a team-reading of a scene from her book, which he described as “one of the best blow-jobs in fiction.” (Bear in mind that as well as being an excellent author, Chris is also a professional actor. I’m looking forward to this. He did just say “reading,” mind…)

To get to the point here, though—

In order to insure variety and the increased pleasure of the audience {cough, cough}, we’ll need a few participants besides Chris, Gillian, and me. SO—

If you are

1) A published author of historical fiction (traditional publication, please, not self-published)

2) Who will be attending this year’s HNS conference, and

3) Has a good sex-scene (the scene can be from an unpublished manuscript, if you like), and

4) Relatively few inhibitions about reading it aloud in public (costuming (including mask) optional)…

Let me know. {g} Email me at dgabaldon@aol.com, or find me on the Compuserve Books and Writers Community board.

I don’t think we will have to hold auditions {g}, but we’ll see how many volunteers we get.

*You’re sure you want to see one? Well, OK. I’m going to put it here, because not everyone likes to read excerpts. This is—I think—the beginning of SCOTTISH PRISONER, even though my husband, who read it, wrote in the margin, “Are you sure you can print this?!?”

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98 Responses »

  1. Every once in a while, I start the whole series over again. I am currently re-reading Outlander for about the 20th time. Diana, your sex scenes are as engaging to read the 20th time as they are the first! The outdoor scene in which Frank discovers that practical Claire is wearing no underwear demonstrates the love that she left behind; the touching intimacy and awkwardness of Jaime and Claire’s wedding night is oh so familiar and authentic; the brutality of Black Jack’s sexual assault. You have woven together these (and more) different sex scenes in such a masterful way I really never get tired of discovering them again, even at the 20th reading. I have totally imagined Dougal and Geillie’s amorous adventures a few ways, and if you ever get time and feel the need to write a short story, I would love to read your version….

  2. I, like almost all who post here, own all of the Outlander series. I am pleased to be able to brag to any who will stop and listen that each of my hardbound copies have been signed by you. Most I have sent with my parents to Arizona to visit the Scottish Games but #7 I was able to stand in line clutching the paper with my hard won lottery draw for the chance to see you inside at Copperfield’s Books in Santa Rosa California.

    In reference to the sex scene that you posted for an example of your outstanding writing, that was far less descriptive than many scenes between Jamie and Claire. I found it amusing that your husband would query as to whether you might not be allowed to publish the scene…his hair must light on fire when he reads scenes that involve Jamie with the actual Claire rather than just her memory.

    Again, like all that post here, I have loved your books these many years and always stand ready when you gift us with the next installment. Thank you for sharing your imagination and your talent with us peasants!

    I’ll also have you know that because of these books, when faced with the ability to go anywhere in the world on the vacation of a lifetime with one of my oldest and dearest friends who, like myself, is Irish (shhh, don’t tell anyone for fear of reprisal) we chose to spend our three weeks in Scotland. We spent the first week in Edinburgh and the remaining two driving hither and yon throughout the Scottish Highlands. I overcame my fears of driving on the wrong side of the road, (Mr. Ford afterall, was an American therefore giving us the right to choose which side of the road was the proper side to drive a motor car on, yes?) and after becoming well aquainted with more than a few curbs, drove to the furthest point each day that we could complete round trip from our flat in Ullapool to see the beauty and the magic that is only found in this beautiful and welcoming country. So thank you for giving this to us lowly people who knew little of the world outside of our own so what we too might share in the glory that abounds.

    • Dear dtarlen–

      So glad you enjoyed the Highlands! (I get to go in July!)

      As for that particular scene, I think my husband’s hesitation was owing to the proposed placement in the book {g], rather than its content.


  3. Wow! That’s some kind of opening. Nothing like a masturbation scene to get the blood pumping!

    Diana, I’m thrilled to be attending the HNS conference this year for the first time…and to hear what you have to say about writing sex scenes in a historical novel. I’m starting the Outlander series for the first time on recommendation. If the series is anything like your reputation, I’m sure they’ll be a fabulous entertainment.

    I look forward to meeting you. Write on! :)

  4. Dear Diana,

    I followed this link from the HNS website, which indicated that this was the way to volunteer my services as a reader of a sexy scene at the HNS conference in San Diego this year. I am an panelist on Saturday morning, and I think that would be a perfect way to end the day.

    We actually met briefly in the author’s lounge at the Decatur Book Festival last fall, but I’m sure you say hello to many ardent fans every time you attend such an event, so I can’t imagine that I stood out; it was nonetheless a thrill for me!

    My second novel, published by Harper Collins, was just released last week: Heart of Deception. I think I have JUST THE THING to read on Saturday night, and willing volunteer my services.

    Hope to hear from you!


  5. Your excerpt shows how far we’ve come since the 1980s, when a romance novel I read in the 80s contained this forgettable/unforgettable line: “She touched the tip of his tumescence.” That was about as racy as it got, but that was then. This is so deliciously now.

    • Dear Sherry–

      Eeg. Well, luckily I don’t write romance novels (and even more luckily, most _good_ modern romance novels have excellent sex scenes. I strongly recommend Joanna Bourne’s THE SPYMASTER’S LADY, for one).


  6. i,,,,,,,,,,m lookong forward to your next book. Please make it soon. I LOVE THE ADVENTURES OF THE fRASER FAMILY!!!!

  7. Have loved your novels more than the TV show as I really don’t think the TV Outlander expresses well the
    deep sexual love that continues throughout the marriage of Jamie and Claire, the essence of the novels it seems
    to me. Perhaps words do that better than pictures.

    This may not be appropriate to say here, but I hope that when the Outlander series of novels comes to an end
    that you continue with a series devoted to William and his lady love as I think his history is as interesting as his father’s and his love life could be, as you’ve already hinted in some of the episodes you’ve written for the next
    Outlander novel.

    Thank you for these novels, all of which I’ve read more than once and enjoyed even more the second time as
    I tended to rush through the first reading.

    pat jarvis


  1. Updates, we have updates | Historical Novel Society ~ 2011 Conference

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