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Updike Is King of the Bad Sex

John Updike was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award in the Bad Sex in Fiction Prize.   The Bad Sex prize is given out each year by Literary Review magazine to the author who has the worst prose describing a sex scene.   British author Rachel Johnson won for her description of oral sex in Shire Hill.   Last year Norman Mailer was awarded the prize.

Johnson was singled out for her novel’s slew of animal metaphors, including comparing her male protagonist’s “light fingers” to “a moth caught inside a lampshade”, and his tongue to “a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop”. Literary Review deputy editor Tom Fleming was also disturbed by the heroine’s “grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside”.

I find Updike’s Lifetime Achievement award particularly humorous since our favorite startup epress has touted one its erotic fiction authors as an Updike protege.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Antonella
    Nov 25, 2008 @ 19:34:33

    Funny, most of the winners, past and present, are male.

    Kinda makes you go hmmm…

  2. Randi
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 10:08:20

    Also, if I remember correctly, most of them are important “literary” authors. Makes me giggle, it does.

  3. Evie Byrne
    Nov 26, 2008 @ 11:04:47

    It’s hard to write good sex!

    I think the lit fic folks get so overwrought about trying to be original that their sex tends to be silly. Sex in non-romantic genre fiction, like thrillers, is often perfunctory and sometimes squidgy. And even really good romance writers sometimes back down from the physicality of the act and describe it as some sort of disembodied, effervescent, altered state of consciousness, so I end up thinking “is she in bed or in a university lab somewhere tripping on ecstasy in an isolation tank?”

    I don’t blame anyone for taking the escape hatches described above. Or just plain panicking. Writing sex is technically difficult. A sex scene is an intricate, emotionally charged action scene. I know that when I write, I spend more time on the sex scenes than any other kind of scene. If you’re writing hot you have to show enough to thrill–but not so much that it reads like a numbing transcription of a porn film. And worse of all, no one is going to agree on what’s too much and what’s not enough.

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