Or, as my lovable smart-aleck writer-friend Don calls it, Chapter Fornication. He kids of course, being one of the book's staunchest fans as well as someone who understands the novel's underlying themes and ultimate championing of traditional values. Having been raised with similar values as an Evangelical Christian, Don (like so many other readers) relates to the struggles my characters endure while endeavoring to honor their upbringing. And though just about everyone who's provided feedback on Water Signs expresses their delight at finally meeting fictional characters who share their world-view and experiences -- while simultaneously appreciating the (ahem!) celebration of God-given desires in the context of a committed relationship -- I wanted to post a few of my own thoughts on the evolution of Chapter 34, the scene in which Ken and Maddy finally consummate their star-crossed, 16-year relationship.
As an author, it was a bit of a challenge to unapologetically champion the worthiness of my characters' ingrained moral and spiritual beliefs, while at the same time sympathetically present the challenges that inevitably arise when putting these mores into practice in the contemporary world. The last thing I wanted was for readers to misinterpret Maddy's internal conflict between her desire to be with Ken in the Biblical sense and her unfailing belief that such carnal knowledge must not be revealed until marriage vows were taken in front of God and witnesses as some sort of parental "repression" based on the teachings of the "patriarchal" Catholic Church.
Not only do I stand by the values with which I was raised, I am eternally grateful to have been brought up in a traditional home, with a mother and a father who cared about imparting morality to their children, in addition to love, discipline and an appreciation for the United States. Part of my motivation for writing the book was to counteract the negative influences of a pop-culture gone crazy, and to appeal to an audience I instinctively knew was hungry for a story that would reflect their own experiences.
Nowhere in pop culture (except perhaps in Christian literature) had I seen an honest, respectful portrayal of the clash between normal human longings and Godly virtue. In most cases -- whether in daytime soap operas (as anyone who remembers the early 80s character of Annie Logan on General Hospital can attest) or in a Lifetime movie (We Were The Mulvaneys, for example) -- Christians who strive to live up to their moral foundations are presented as victims of an out-of-touch, oppressive religion whose time has long since passed.
So my challenge in penning Water Signs was to paint a sympathetic portrayal of characters with human flaws and weaknesses while also honoring their Christian sense of morality. Yes, the values imposed by God in The Ten Commandments and espoused by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament are more often than not difficult to adhere to on this earthly plane -- which is a validation of their inherent worthiness, not a scathing rebuke of their irrelevance. If anything, the current state of our culture should be a glaring example of the dire consequences of trashing the principles that helped shape America into a strong and prosperous nation.
I've noted previously that my novel is about the journey, not the outcome. Thus, in the Prologue, readers discover right away that -- no matter what happens over the next 435 pages -- Ken and Madeline eventually get married "at the end of a long, arduous and oftentimes broken road".
When writing about their long-awaited physical union that took place only after they'd fully reacquainted on a spiritual, emotional and mental level, I debated a few important points: Should the consummation take place following Maddy's acceptance of Ken's marriage proposal, or after they finally say "I do"? How descriptive should it be? Is it even necessary to write such a scene in the first place?
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that my readers deserved some sort of reward for suffering through 16 years of the moral struggles, miscommunication and heartbreak that characterized the relationship between the novel's two main characters. Further, since 1.) Ken and Madeline are into their early 40s by the time they find their way back to each other; 2.) They take some time to reconnect in every other way before even getting physical; and 3.) Readers already know they end up as husband and wife, I decided to cap off a romantic proposal scene with an even more romantic consummation scene.
Thus, Ken remains patient until the very end, even as passionate desire rages on internally, spurred on by the knowledge that the one he's loved for so long has declared her intention to surrender to her new fiancé as they embrace in the Penthouse among soft candlelight and fragrant roses. He's also cognizant of the fact that in spite of tremendous personal growth, Maddy's still has a few lingering insecurities:
"Hey!" he spoke in a comforting, yet firm tone. When she still didn't look up, he cupped her chin in his hands and brought them face to face again. "Madeline, you are the most beautiful woman in the entire world to me.Everything about you is exquisite. Don't you see that? Don't you see what you do to me?"
Ken goes on to place her hand upon his rapidly beating heart, as if to prove his sincerity. Thus assured, Madeline finally allows the desires of her heart, soul and body to take over, secure in his unconditional love and commitment.
Even in describing the events that follow, I did my best to keep the scene more romantic than sexual, more tasteful than explicit. We're all adults who understand what it means to give yourself fully to the one you love; there was no need to degenerate into Harlequin romance territory. Water Signs is not a romance novel in the sense that some meaningless, marginal plot exists simply to break the monotony between one descriptive, bodice-ripping episode after another. Rather, it is a tale of first love and second chances, and of becoming better people as a direct result of hardship and tribulation. In Water Signs, sex is the icing on the cake, a long-anticipated end to a literal and metaphysical journey.
That said, it was tough to reconcile the fact that, once I'd written the chapter, it would be read by people who know me, most notable among them, family members (Hi, Mom!). And as I've mentioned in Fun Facts about Water Signs, the Chapter 34 that made the cut is slightly different from the original version. I'd decided to remove one paragraph and a few lines of dialogue after coming to the conclusion that what is implied can be much more effective than what is actually stated. Suffice it to say, even in the final version, we understand that Maddy's love for Ken and desire to please him is a thousand times stronger than her previous insecurities and inhibitions. She knows he loves her unconditionally, just as she loves him. And in Chapter 34, she tells him so in word and action.