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So I write mysteries. A series, actually, that follows two main characters and a host of their family, friends and coworkers in a small town–you know how it works, right? The heroine is an Episcopal priest. The hero is the town’s chief of police. They become friends. Good friends. They solve murders and missing persons cases. The Unresolved Sexual Tension rises faster than the body count.

Now here’s the thing: Over the course of the first six books, a lot of people get killed off. They get shot. They get bludgeoned. They get defenestrated (how I love that word!) No one ever came up to me and said, “Julia! How on earth did you know how to garrotte someone with a spool of baling wire?” No one ever looked at me suspiciously and asked, “Put anyone down with a cattle gun this weekend?”

Then I wrote a sex scene. Several, in fact. I had tortured my poor hero and heroine with unrequited longing and forced separation for five books–really, it seemed only fair to finally let them, shall we say, embrace. That’s when the comments started.

“Woo hoo!” one friend said. “I had no idea you had it in you, you racy woman!”

Another took me aside at a party. “So–that thing on the kitchen table. Do you and your husband really do that?” (For the record, we live in a 200-year-old house in Maine with three kids. Even if we could find the privacy to get it on atop the kitchen table, it would be too damn cold to do so at least nine months out of the year.)

My priest, whose wife got an advance reader’s copy, gave me the old nudge-nudge-wink-wink one Sunday. “Feel free to ask me for any expert advice for the next book.”
“You’re talking about church stuff, right?” I asked. “Please tell me you’re talking about church stuff.” He just grinned.

What is it about writing sex that makes readers think it’s autobiographical? Is it because most adults (especially married ones) are assumed to have a basic competency? The same thing could be said for driving a car, and no one ever suggested the high-speed police chase or blow-out accident I described were based on personal experience. Is it because I combine genres? Do romance authors who have a strong crime-fiction storyline get quizzed about their homicidal tendencies over cocktails?

I was expecting some pushback when I took readers inside the bedroom (or the kitchen, as the case may be.) There are a lot of mystery readers who don’t want any love chocolate in the peanut butter of their detection. There are a lot of romance readers who don’t want to get within ten feet of a couple when one of them–as with my two protagonists–starts out married.

But readers, thank heavens, can surprise you. I was signing books in a small shop in the New York Adirondacks, where my novels take place. A sweet little old lady brought in my complete back list in paperback and bought the new hardcover. “I love your books, dear, but I do have one complaint,” she said.

Uh-oh, I thought. Is the swearing? The priest-who-falls-for-a-married-man? The gay characters?

“You need more sex,” she said, patting my shoulder. “You need more sex.”

Don’t we all?

Julia Spencer-Fleming is the Agatha and Anthony-award-winning author of the upcoming One Was A Soldier, the seventh Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne mystery.

One Was A Soldier is available for preorder at: Amazon

Barnes & Noble



Powell’s Books and your locally owned independent bookstore.


Hi Guys, Karen here, post a comment below for your chance to win an ARC of Julia’s latest Millers Kill book, One Was A Soldier. I’ve got two of ’em to give away, so get commenting!


  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Sarah Tanner, Keishon and Detective Mysteries, JuliaSpencer-Fleming. JuliaSpencer-Fleming said: I'm blogging at Karen Knows Best, talking about sex. That's right, I went there. http://bit.ly/e0Po0l […]

  • kerry
    February 7
    5:31 pm

    I love romance novels and mysteries, so your books are the best of both worlds for me! I read them all in one week last year after Karen talked about them here. I can’t wait for this one to come out!


  • wavybrains
    February 7
    7:38 pm

    I love your books so much. “No Married Hero/Heroine” was one of my strict rules for romance, but you shattered that one for me. And yeah, as a primarily romance reader (but certainly not exclusively), “I Shall Not Want” is by far my favorite book of the series, both because of the new POV characters introduced and because the heat level turned up. I’m hoping “One Was A Solider” continues in this vein because it felt true to the characters and where they are now–the love scenes wouldn’t have fit in the early books at all and neither would the additional POV characters. It’s a testament to your ever-growing skills that you followed the series where it wanted to go.


  • I have to confess I only found you through a giveaway of your first book – and now I’m hopelessly hooked!

    And yes, you can never have too much sex. Or well-written sex scenes, of which you do SO well.

    (the praying had me LOLing around the house!)



  • Julia, you already know how I feel about you and your books, but I thought I should pop in just hear your take on the whole sex thing. LOL

    I’ll give Russ credit, the man sure deserved it!!



  • Julia, I am all about the sex dear, quite frankly, the more the merrier! Woohooooo!!!!


  • Karen and Karen, you both took the words out of my mouth.

    And wavybrains, I think a writer can’t go too far wrong if s/he treats sex the way s/he’d treat any other piece of writing in the book: does it show character and/or advance the plot? If it does, in it goes, and don’t be bashful about it. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t belong in the book, no matter how…tempting.


  • Margaret Franson
    February 7
    9:21 pm

    I love your books, Julia. Like all your readers, I have waited for “One Was A Soldier” (for how many years?). A friend got an ARC last month and let me read it. (I will buy my own copy when it is actually published, and on the first day of publication, since I know that is important.) Anyway, the wait was well worth it. What a great story, with an unexpected twist at the end. Didn’t see that one coming. I will say no more. Regarding the sex question, I am a mystery/suspense/thriller reader, but certainly don’t mind sexual situations in books, as long as they move the plot along (which yours did) and aren’t gratuitous (which yours weren’t). I think the way you have handled Clare and Russ’s unorthodox (no pun intended) relationship throughout the series has been right on target. They really are special characters. You have me believing that they actually exist in a place called Miller’s Kill, which I would like to visit. I can’t wait for the next book. Please don’t take so long, I’m getting older by the minute and would like to see what happens next.


  • Sotheara
    February 7
    10:10 pm

    I love this series and have been waiting for this one. Can’t wait to read it and there’s sex. . .LOL


  • Carolyn
    February 7
    10:50 pm

    I’ve read books where it shifted from kissing to the morning after to the extreme where it’s all, uh, hanging out. I accept that’s the author’s perspective and tone for their own work. I have enjoyed reading authors’ perspectives on it, the ones that talk about sex in their work, why they’ve added it in, never had it, or ceased using it. As far as its inclusion in a book, you know what they say, you can’t please all of the people all of the time (even if the main characters do!).


  • Karla
    February 7
    10:59 pm

    I found your books from a recommendation on another website. I found them late, so I read everything but I Shall Not Want in one fell swoop. Then, I waited impatiently for that. Now I have been waiting impatiently for One Was a Soldier.


  • JoBeth
    February 8
    12:00 am

    I picked up your first book in a used book store and I read every book in the series as I could find them. My grandmother also read them as I read them. I sat on pins and needles waiting for I Shall Not Want; my grandmother waited patiently. I read it in two days; it took her a week. I thought it was about time for Russ and Clare to get together; my grandmother announced, in front of the whole family, that she was “disappointed,” especially since Clare’s a priest; that’s when my mother stared at me. Being only 17at the time, all I could do was smile and nod.

    I love your characters, your settings, your plots, the social questions. I can’t wait until April 26th to return to Millers Kill!


  • Alison
    February 8
    12:10 am

    I love how you have portrayed the growing relationship between Russ and Claire throughout the series, particularly that you didn’t make Linda “evil” as a means to excuse Russ. As for all the free advice on the sex scenes? Perhaps unlike doing away with someone with a humane killing gun (excepting perhaps Dick Francis)readers feel that sex is something that they do know something about and would love to share their expertise with you! And speaking of which, allow me to share with you…


  • willaful
    February 8
    1:50 am

    I have to agree with the old lady. I haven’t previously wanted to read this series and now I totally do. 😉


  • Willaful, then you can say you have the same taste in fiction as sweet old ladies. It certainly took be aback at the time, but now I hope that when I’m 80, I’ll feel free enough to march up to an author I like and demand more sex!

    Alison, I’m sure we’re all waiting for you to share your experiences with us…


  • Nora
    February 8
    3:57 am

    Romance novel relationships and the subsequent sex scenes are, with rare exception, awfully formulaic — fun, escapist, wonderful fantasy, but formulaic nonetheless. And we know how it all ends before it even begins.

    I like a complicated romantic subplot mixed into my mysteries, and I think mystery and sexual tension compliment each other very nicely.

    I’m definitely jumping on the “more sex” bandwagon, lol!


  • Putting my hand up for the more sex thing…


  • And people say the British are repressed.


  • (Please don’t enter me in the giveaway–I have yet to read the series and it would be rather unfair to get the latest while there are plenty of fans on tenterhooks for it!)

    I need to agree with the sweet old lady and with Ms Spencer-Flemming. We all need more sex.


  • willaful
    February 8
    5:06 pm

    Hey, this is the internet, maybe I am a sweet old lady!

    I actually am happy to read books just with good tension… I prefer romance to mystery, which is why I haven’t started this much-lauded series, but you seriously have piqued my interest and I’ll try it.


  • Heh. So, I believe I’ll go look you up on Sony and see how many I can download to my reader! The post was both delicious and intriguing. Thank you!


  • I just dropped in to check the comments and found myself staring at that picture of the homemade peanut butter cup. Don’t read this post before you’ve had dinner!


  • Anne W
    February 9
    6:29 am

    Great blog! I have enjoyed each and every visit to Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Miller’s Kill and love all the wonderful characters residing therein. I can’t wait for my next visit in “One Was A Soldier.”


  • FD
    February 9
    7:32 pm

    Does it have to be a coherent comment? ‘Cause what’s coming to mind is me! me! memememememe! Pick MEEEEEE!

    Otherwise, heh, such a universal thing, forgetting that little old ladies weren’t always old. I only hope I’m so willing to bring it still at 80.

    I wonder if male authors who have sex scenes in their books get the same level of intrusive questioning? I’d be willing to guess not, as generally men’s sexuality isn’t as publicly policed in the same way.


  • Divine
    February 9
    8:52 pm

    I found IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER in a used bookstore and have been hooked on this series ever since. As a reader, you know you’ve hit the jackpot when you fervently surf the net looking for info on the author and the book, and when you program the release date into your computer, iPHONE, and netbook. It is rare when you find a series that just gets better and more complex with each book. Thank you, Julia Spencer-Fleming for wonderful characters.


  • Hi Julia,

    I actually heard about your books on this very blog. I noticed them right there (=> see right column) and looked them up on Google. Bought the first one, got hooked, bought all the others in one big swoop. I’ve been waiting for One Was A Soldier for what feels like ages, and if I could get my hands on an ARC I’d probably scream and scare my daughter!

    As for people commenting on your writing sex scenes, I’ve experienced that before too. Of course, it’s even worse because I write erotica. I’m sure everyone thinks my husband is very lucky (hmmm). I had a colleague once tell me she’d learned quite a few new words while reading a book of mine. Oh, and positions too. I told her I was here to serve…so to speak 😉


  • Emma,

    Great website! Your book covers are beautiful.

    I’ve seen how the erotica thing works. I’m friends with Lori Armstrong, who writes very hot erotica as Lorelei James. My husband picked up my e-reader and started to enthusiastically read her books. “What’s she like?” he asked.

    “About my age. Married a couple decades, three kids, college bills–just like us.”

    He was quite disappointed. Despite living with a writer, I’m sure he was envisioning her dictating her stories striding around in high-heeled boots and a whip instead of sitting at a laptop drinking coffee and taking calls from her editor.


  • […] author has been visiting several reader blogs, promoting her books. This is an author I don’t mind getting behind and […]

  • willaful
    May 7
    12:41 am

    I just bopped back into this thread to mention that I finally read In the Bleak Midwinter and just loved it. Even without teh sex. 🙂


  • […] you here for Julia Spencer-Fleming’s post on sex in mysteries? I was, back when I was just a visitor, even though I hadn’t then read any of her books.  […]

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