For the Love of Bathrooms
Silence spread across the room, thick and sour.
"So where’s the bathroom in this place?” Josh asked, looking around the dull metal room. “I know we’re supposed to pray and all, but I really have to pee.”(Hill, The Tithe)
My first sci-fi romance novel, The Tithe, comes out in early August. Yay, me! I always pen paranormal romances, although early in my writing career, I seriously contemplated writing high fantasy, especially since I enjoy reading it so much. I’m also a history buff, albeit mostly 20th-century American history.
In spite of all this, I will likely never publish any flavor of historical romance, in large part because most of human history happened sans bathrooms.
I like bathrooms. To me, those small rooms with their plumbed water and bath towel racks
signal the height of human civilization. Now,
I don’t say this just because experts consider safe
water and sanitation two of the main reasons why Americans’ life
expectancies leapt from 47
in 1900 to 79
in 2014 -- although woohoo!* No, I simply crave comfort any time I engage
in excretory – or, well, any --
|The bathroom in my new house looks just like this --|
at 1/6 the scale. And without the fancy bits.
Historically, humans have not experienced perfect safety, comfort, and cleanliness while eliminating. Sure, the Romans and others had indoor plumbing, but most of the history of human waste involves “technologies” like holes in the ground, outhouses, chamber pots, and buckets. Shudder. I am grateful on a daily basis we’ve moved from crude wooden slats over gaping holes to aggressively white, porcelain chairs with shiny, metal handles.
I could always ignore the eliminatory habits of my literary characters, but I revel in those shots of realism. How can I get my readers to relate to characters who don’t eat, belch, and run to the bathroom first thing in the morning? To do otherwise feels like inserting a Barbie™, with her smooth, uniformly beige, featureless body, into the story in lieu of a sneezing, snacking, peeing, and thoroughly embodied character.
|Public bathrooms: An untapped source of dramatic tension.|
In The Tithe, a lot of the whispers, plotting, and even a murder attempt happen in the women’s bathroom. In the excerpt above, my novel’s shero, Josh, evokes the bathroom as a symbol of embodiment to not-so-subtly poke at the dogmatic religious beliefs of her sister and brother Tithes. Toward the end of the book, someone literally shoves Josh’s face in the toilet. It’s not a coincidence.
There’s something to be said about writing about simpler times. Only, as we all know, those times weren’t really simpler; all the human dynamics remained. The only “simplicity” involved was the technology and I, for one, approve of humanity’s technological progress. So, hey, count me out, historical romance writers, and kudos to you for writing about those times before we had air conditioning, indoor plumbing, and, of course, glass window panes through which we could witness the bounty of nature. From a safe, safe distance.
* My apologies for being so American-centric, but as I mentioned, I focus on American history.