by I.J. Miller
Taking a classic novel and combining the story with a completely different genre to form a single narrative has become popular these days. Mashups have been common in music for quite some time, with artists sampling older classics in their new rap song or pop hit. In literature, Seth Graeme Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies made the first big splash in 2009. With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey, publishers soon got the idea that erotic mashups might have an appeal. This past August I was commissioned by Grand Central Publishing to tackle Emily Bronte’s classic Wuthering Heights. Once a book is in public domain, you can use original sentences, but if you are just going to use a lot of verbatim text and periodically throw in a few sex scenes here and there, what is the point?
Having a strong background in screenwriting probably most tailored my approach. I looked at the project less as an addition of sex to an old story, but more as an adaptation of the original work with an erotic interpretation. Interpreting the story, rather than rehashing it makes it much easier for the erotic parts to become organic and not stick out like a sore thumb, or for erotic readers used to heightened sensuality, a small penis.
These classic works are usually longer than the final book a current publisher would want in the erotic romance genre. In addition, you’re adding material. To make it work, you have to break the story down to its core and have a plan.
Identify the true theme and through line of the book. What it is about? What is it saying?
The better you can emulate the voice and language of the original the more your new scenes will flow.
In order to reduce the book to a manageable length, look to consolidate scenes as much as possible, as one would do for a screen adaptation. Write the single best scene, or scenes that carries the broader drama in the liveliest way.
Very often these classic books have a lot of subplots and many minor characters. Only use what is important to the through line of your erotic story. The entire book will usually need to be streamlined and restructured to get the most out of the romance, love, and lust that is there.
Be creative in your approach to erotic scenes. The more they carry the story line, the more they reveal character, the more interesting they will be.
For Wuthering Nights, my erotic mashup, I got rid of the narrator, Lockwood, who hears most of the story in flashback from Nelly the housekeeper. I went with an omniscient narrator to get into the heads of both Heathcliff and his love, Catherine. After all, Nelly couldn’t be present in every sex scene! I went with a straight, linear narrative, starting at the beginning, finishing at the end.
This was a wonderful book to retell, because the characters are so complex. No one is above reproach. There is intense love and romance, but also bitter revenge and dark hate. It allowed for complex and varied erotic scenes, from deeply loving, to vengeful, to manipulative, to rough dungeon sex with Heathcliff as the ultimate dominator. The passion always fit what was happening in the story.
I adapted the book to three parts (the original had two long, sprawling sections), emulating a film’s three act structure. I developed the set up of the story and took it to its breaking point. Then, as in the original, I brought Heathcliff back with a longer middle section that continued to escalate his conflict of trying to win Catherine back while getting knocked off course with his intense thirst for revenge. The last section, as in the original, uses the second generation of the two families to resolve the story. I limited the focus Bronte had on Catherine’s daughter’s relationship with Heathcliff’s son (Linton), which was ultimately unfulfilling and not passionate in the original, and added a greater focus on the love story between Catherine’s daughter and Catherine’s brother’s son (Hareton) to bring about a more interesting and fulfilling end for a romantic love story, which is different from the more tragic, dark last parts of the original.
One of the things that usually make great books classic is the wonderful language and writing. There is no reason to lose the great description or dialogue if you don’t have to. Find passages that will add meaning to the new eroticism you are adding. The combination might be very close to what might have been if the original had been written this way, with a beautiful and interesting result. For example, Heathcliff ends up marrying Catherine’s sister-in-law, Isabella, in order to make Catherine jealous and as an act of revenge. It is clear in the original that it is an abusive relationship and that Heathcliff has changed Isabella from a noble lady to a “thorough little slattern,” as Nelly observes in the original. I eroticized this dynamic by making Heathcliff a dominant, with bdsm inclinations, who breaks Isabella down completely in his dungeon. As in the original, she is both addicted to and repelled by him. I used Heathcliff’s exact dialogue from the original that did not necessarily refer to his sexual relationship with Isabella, but fit perfectly right before a dungeon scene:
“She would rather I seemed all tenderness before you; it wounds her vanity to have the truth of her taming exposed. No brutality disgusts her. I suppose she has an innate admiration of it. I’ve sometimes relented, from pure lack of invention, in my experiments on what she could endure, and she still creeps shamefully back.”
There is no magic formula, but a thoughtful approach will allow one to use eroticism, to use what was not a viable alternative back in the day, to heighten all of the powerful emotions in a classic, while producing a story that pays homage to the great writing of yesteryear and is still powerful and interesting enough to stand on its own.
EXCERPT FROM WUTHERING NIGHTS
The more she rubbed, the more she rotated her finger at the bump of her pleasure, the more clearly she saw, and felt the presence of Heathcliff. She liked that he was so available to her, that she was not locked in her room, that they were not stealing time in the fields, that this was not a clandestine visit to the garret. No one else was around and they were free to be who they wanted to be, and do what they wanted to do. She rubbed more vigorously and Heathcliff looked up from his whittling and smiled with happiness: happy to be alone with her, happy to see her begin her pleasure so freely. There was so much contentment right now within them both. They were with each other in a way that had never been possible before. Heathcliff undid the buttons of his trousers and removed his erect cock. This stirred her mightily, for she enjoyed everything about his cock: the salty taste, the musky scent, the beautiful curved vision of it. She rose to her hands and knees and crawled on all fours to Heathcliff…up close, her face soon between his legs. She took a moment to sniff his member, then she took turns alternating the brushing of each cheek along the sides of his shaft, like a cat purring for affection. She kissed his ball sack, then up along the bulging veins, around the swollen head, tenderly, before she took this glorious specimen into her mouth. Completely without thought, she sucked, fingers still gyrating against her clitoris, applying deep pressure, as Heathcliff’s cock penetrated her mouth, and a passion grew within her body that she had only come close to feeling on that beautiful Christmas night. There was a temptation to quicken her pace with both her hand and mouth and give them both the pleasure they sorely needed. But this was not enough. Christmas night had not been enough. She rose to her feet, pulled her dress over her head, swiveled slightly so Heathcliff could enjoy the sight of her body as the golden flames from the fireplace reflected off it. He leaned forward and kissed her stomach. He said, “Catherine, you are the most beautiful woman to walk this earth.”
Wuthering Heights can be purchased from http://www.amazon.co.uk/Wuthering-Nights-Erotic-Retelling-Heights/dp/1455573027/ref=sr_1_10?ie=UTF8&qid=1359147830&sr=8-10 in the UK or http://www.amazon.com/Wuthering-Nights-Retelling-Heights-ebook/dp/B00AG0VMWO/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1359147971&sr=8-2&keywords=9781455573028 in the US.