It's kind of hard to be sexy when the world has fallen to war, starvation, and armies of cannibals...when you've pulled half your hair out and cut off the rest, you have multiple open wounds, and you haven't had a shower or brushed your teeth in weeks. Oh, and you're wearing bad shoes.
And yet, this is the state the heroine of my novel AFTERTIME finds herself in when she meets the man who will turn out to be her lover.
Much later in the book, after they've spent some steamy time together, she thinks back to the meeting and reflects that there was "something" there, even then, even as she stood trembling and stinking before him as his comrades decided whether or not to kill her.
That "something," my friends, is sexual tension and unlike almost everything else in this series of mine, it is not fictional. It's real. It exists, and only the unluckiest among us live out their entire lives without feeling it at least once.
Certainly there's a physical component. Like so much about human beings, it's messy and unpredictably and gorgeously varied. You may have your bulging-bicep fetish or your fall-into-the-limpid-pools-of-his-eyes tendencies, while I - and my dear friend Lynnie, with whom I've discussed this on many occasions, notably when we both fell instantly in love with Professor Snape/Alan Rickman - fall hard for a man's voice.
I was recently talking to a friend about this and one of us said something smart (sorry, i don't remember which - okay, let's go ahead and say it was me. :) Attraction has to do with the glimpses one gets into who another person truly is. A peek at the soul, ...the very rare tunnel-vision clarity about what drives, motivates, terrifies, provokes, elevates, sates, shatters another human being. It's all very well and good to see a fine-looking specimen of our species and feel that old inevitable lurching tug that has Nature rubbing her greedy preservation-of-the-species hands with glee. But that's just evidence that your parts are all working as they should. Huzzah, go team evolution! Yay!
Sexual tension is something else entirely, at least it is in my possibly-not-as-cynical-as-I-like-to-appear world view. Sexuality draws on the physical component I mentioned above, throws in a little spice-of-life, something-for-everyone diversity and says "your place or mine?" - but sexual tension says:"hello, I had no idea I could want something this bad until you showed up."
I actually spent a great deal of time - hours and hours - thinking about what made Smoke fall for Cass, and vice versa...and later, what makes her and Dor fall for each other. (It's critically important to get this right when you have a series with multiple romantic interests; if you don't believably motivate each, your reader will throw the book in rage.) I believe I was successful (that is it say, I know why in my mind; readers' MMV.)
If you want to make yourself crazy, try this little exercise: admit to yourself that you have insane sexual tension with someone. (I won't tell.) And then try to figure out why. You may well come up with a list; it'll be a lame-ass list, I guarantee it. There may be some things that make sense (he's still rooting for Obama, he smells like lumber, you can still hear a little of that accent in his voice, aw, did you see the way he swung his nephew up on those brawny shoulders?) - but you'll be left with a hell of a big chasm over the unknowable. In fact, if you took all those things away - stripped the object of your longing of every sexy attribute on your list - I think you'd still fall for the essence trapped within the humble pile of blood and bones that was left. (Again, the soul of the person, much as I hesitate to use that word.)
That was what simmered between Cass and Smoke the minute they met - her a wreck, him resistant.
They never stood a chance.
I believe that's how it's meant to be. So sue me.
photo Roger Sauterer