The Politics of Sex and Crime
What percentage of crimes is rooted in sexual desire, frustration, deviancy, or possession? There are no stats for this broad spectrum, but according to the Bureau of Justice, “One third of female murder victims were killed by an intimate partner.” If you throw in abduction, assault by intimate partners, voyeurism, rape, and sexual abuse, you see that sexually motivated crimes are highly prevalent. But do they make good fiction?
According to an editor at a major publishing house, they’re a tough sell. She says, “The sex crimes issues dealt with in both books remain topics that are very, very tough to make a success.”
Can that possibly be true? How many bestsellers over the years have been about sexually motivated crimes? Don’t many best-selling novelists (especially woman) consistently write about sex-based crimes? One unique example comes to mind. Best-selling Chelsea Cain bases her police procedural/serial killer stories on a sexual attraction between the cop and the killer.
My novels are not based directly on sex crimes, but instead have the underlying theme of sexual politics as the motivation for the crimes. For me, that term covers a lot of ground: gender, sexual identity, sexual desire, sexual suppression, and reproduction. I believe these issues are the cornerstone of human behavior and form the basis (conscious or not) for many of our decisions.
In The Sex Club, the first story featuring Detective Wade Jackson, I wrote about the repercussions of 1) teenage sex, 2) the suppression of sexuality, and 3) limited access to reproductive services. My primary goal though was (and continues to be) to tell a compelling story, and the novel has been extremely well received with hundreds of readers contacting me to say so.
In Secrets to Die For, another fast-moving police procedural, the events that unfold are rooted in the suppression of homosexuality and the violence that can spring from that. The book has just been released, and early readers are enthusiastic.
Thrilled to Death, the third Jackson novel (coming soon), is a story about missing women, and on the surface doesn’t seem to be about sexual politics. But in the long run, sexual deviancy is one of the motivations that sets events in actions.
The Baby Thief, a standalone thriller (early 2011), explores the world of reproduction—women who want children (but not men in their lives) and women who want to have a child and can’t… and the decisions they are driven to make.
This recurring theme is not intentional, but often when I explore connections between crimes that I see in the news, sex issues seem to emerge. Sexual desire (and all its consequences) may be the most powerful motivator of human interactions. (Money is a close second, and the story I’m writing now, Passions of the Dead, is more rooted in that “evil.”)
Do you read or write about sexually motivated crimes? Have you found them to be a tough sell to agents, editors, or others in your reading group?