Uncial Press

The Uncial Letter

September 2019

Mary Patterson Thornburg meditates on sex...

When I was a young person, people did not make love on-screen in American movies. In fact, until the middle 1960s Hollywood's Hays Code was so strictly enforced that married couples slept in twin beds with a little table between. If there was a steamy scene the audience knew was going to lead to a steamier scene, you saw a little clothed foreplay, and then the camera shifted to a misty meadow outside the window and the music got louder to drown out gasps and moans. So nobody learned how to have sex from the movies. Luckily (or not, of course, in some cases) most of us figured it out on our own.

When the Hays Code was abandoned, people started to have sex in movies. When a movie not frankly presented as pornography included sex scenes, these were generally not quite explicit (no sexual organs visible or mentioned, no frontal male nudity) and were sometimes artful and sometimes actually sexy. Other times they were neither, usually because the movie wasn't exactly Oscar material. My husband and I decided the sex scenes were included in some films just so the film would get an R rating and kids would be enticed to lie about their ages, spend money for the ticket, and learn how to have sex. We called the scenes OFS's (for Obligatory F*** Scenes).

Books too have sex scenes. If the scenes are explicit, the books are even sold in the U.S., since the Supreme Court ruled in 1959 that banning them was a violation of the First Amendment. Sex scenes in books before 1959 faded into their versions of misty meadows, and although I read those books carefully when I was in my early teens I was unable to learn anything from them about having sex. Later, having learned on my own (with help, of course), I read both explicit and inexplicit sex scenes, not for enlightenment but for the reason people are said to climb Everest: they were there. I found that, like the ones in films, they could be artful and even sexy, but often weren't either—at least not to me. They were embarrassing, and they knocked me, embarrassed, right out of the world of the story.

Eating Bugs by Mary Patterson Thornburg

I used to worry about this. Could I be a prim and prissy prude and not know it? Finally, though, it occurred to me that sex scenes don't embarrass me if they're well written. It's just that a lot of them really aren't. There's a reason why there are so few actual sex scenes in great books. A good writer can convey that a couple enjoys sex (or not) without showing them doing it. And a good sex scene is hard to write. You have to make the reader feel it, identify with one or both (or all?) of the participants, believe it's real and natural, and do this without writing pornography. That takes a lot of skill, and it's not easy.

I know it's not easy because I've tried. I've attempted three sex scenes in my own writing. The first, not quite explicit but sexy (I hope), artful (I hope), and maybe just a little bit funny, is in my novel The Kura. Another, again not quite explicit, but realistic, sad, and not at all sexy, is in the novella "Battle Royal." The third is in this month's Uncial release, "Eating Bugs." It's an OFS to end OFS's. It's not quite explicit, it's as artful as I can make it, and anyone who finds it sexy has been eating way too many bugs.


We have to confess. When we received a submission titled Eating Bugs our initial reaction was "Eeuwww!" But because we really enjoy reading Mary Patterson Thornburg's stories, we didn't delete without reading.

And we are really glad we didn't.

Imagine being in the diplomatic corps, being posted to a distant planet with bizarre foods, weird social mores, and a perplexing political structure. Even when you're not involved in real diplomacy, but are simply social secretary to the top diplomat's wife, there are pitfalls. Especially when you suffer from entomophobia, and you're expected to help plan a banquet at which the traditional pièce de résistance is a bug. What you don't realize is that genetic tinkering has given this year's bug hatch some interesting new chemicals that just might have unintended effects.

The intended effect of Eating Bugs is, of course to entertain. To make you chuckle (or even guffaw), to entertain you, to give you a pleasant hour or so of escape to another world, another life. Learn more at Uncial Press and find your own copy at all the usual ebooksellers. (ISBN 978-1-60174-252-0, $2.99)

Be well. Be happy. Be reading.
Jude & Star