Writing in Spite of it All…

Hinfallingsnow_zps0b503108I’ll be the first to admit, 2016 wasn’t a very productive year for me.

To be perfectly honest,  I lived with a growing conviction we’d see a Trump presidency, and this hamstrung and paralyzed my ability to write.

I started at least four stories last year, reached the 40 K mark, decided they were utter crap, and abandoned them. Maybe they were crap. Maybe I just lost faith in them. It was impossible to concentrate on them to work through their issues as long as I lived with this utter, horrible premonition that everything was about to go to hell.

winter is comingAnd you know what? My worst fears came true. Since I’m a writer, that’s saying something.

Not only did Trump get elected President, but within hours of his taking office, links for climate change, civil rights, and GLBTQ rights disappeared from with WhiteHouse.gov website. Republican lawmakers in five states launched bills to criminalize peaceful protests. Every Cabinet member chosen by the Trump transition team could best be summed up by choosing the biggest, most vicious fox and putting it in charge of the respective hen houses. If he proposed making Cruella DeVille the Secretary of the National Humane Society, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. The gross manipulation of the confirmation hearings, with limiting questioning, means most of them will get rammed through regardless of the fitness of the nominee for office.

The GOP wants to defund Planned Parenthood and the National Endowment for the Arts. They announced plans to eliminate twenty-five of the DOJ’s Violence Against Women grant programs, and of course, they want to kill the Affordable Care Act. Millions will lose health care coverage as a result, and reinstituting the ability of companies to deny coverage based on pre-existing medical conditions will doom many to backruptcy at best and death at worst. Medicare and Social Security aren’t safe, either.

I should also like to point out that because we have a Republican Congress and Senate, we are unlikely to see an impeachment go through, despite the fact Trump has already violated the Constitution he just swore to uphold by taking office without divesting from his businesses.That doesn’t even touch on the disturbing possibility the Russians interfered with the election for the sole purpose of getting Trump in office. Or the fact that given the age of most of the members of the Supreme Court, the incoming administration will have the power to influence legislation for decades to come. Let’s not forget the last time we had a Republican House, Senate, and President, we had the Great Depression and it took World War II to end it.

Wait, I take that back. We also had a GOP-controlled House, Senate, and Presidency from 2003-2006. Also one of the worst economic downturns in American history. Believe it or not, driving the economy bus off the cliff has nothing to do with POC, ‘the gays’, Muslims, immigrants, or ‘uppity’ women and everything to do with the policies of the GOP.  Not that Trump’s supporters will see it that way.

It’s a lot to take in. Not to mention, my firm belief we have an unstable man who cannot bear criticism in any form who has been given access to the nuclear codes, or that his closest advisors could double for Hitler’s Cabinet. Or that science and education are considered dirty words and in some locations, government officials are actively prohibited from using the words “climate change.”

It’s also hard to believe, in the face of all of this, that any scribblings I might create could have value or meaning. Isn’t it the height of frivolity to continue telling stories in such an environment?

I don’t think so.

It took me a while to reach this point. I’ve read posts on the subject written–far more eloquently than anything I could say–by other people. Probably the best of them have been written by Chuck Wendig, who wrote How to Create Art and Make Cool Stuff in a Time of Trouble, as well as this morning’s words of encouragement about the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States: No One’s Coming to Save Us, So We Have To Save Each Other.

Good words.They didn’t sink in right away, though. And I will probably have to refer to them again and again as I struggle with what the future brings to our country and our planet. Until this morning, when Trump was irrevocably sworn in, I think on some level I was hoping for a last minute reprieve. The Ring is tossed into the fires of Mt. Doom. Harry Potter destroys the final Horcrux. Birnam wood comes to Dunsinane. Something. Anything.

And yet, it did not. Trump has been sworn in, and the ravaging of our lands and our rights, the savaging of the public programs, the crippling of the already struggling middle class, has begun.

The battle lines have been drawn. So mourn, but don’t stop resisting. Don’t allow anyone to normalize what the GOP and the President are doing. Be outraged, but don’t let it paralyze you. Remember to take care of yourself and those around you that are struggling: emotionally, physically, financially.

Never Give UpOne of the things I’ve done that seems to help me a little is order some of these rings from Amazon. I got the idea from a post by The Bloggess–it seems someone gave her one of these rings once, and now she keeps some on hand so she can give them out to people she thinks needs them. I buy them three at a time and wear one until I give it away. When I’ve given away the last one, I buy three more.

Remember that we cannot function in a state of sustained fear and anger. Share those kitten pictures. Penguins. Otters. We need more otters. Baby otters. Corgis. Hell, Baby Corgi-Otter crosses. Sharing something that makes you happy doesn’t mean you aren’t taking things seriously enough. It means you’re in this for the long haul and you have to nourish your soul. That includes celebrating the events in your life important to you.

Read. Pull out your comfort reads, whatever they may be. I find I’m re-reading a lot of the children’s horse and dog books I grew up with, as well as historical romances. There’s something very soothing in reading about an era where the worst thing that happens is that you get cut dead by society or your sister makes an imprudent match. But if zombie apocalypse is your comfort read, that’s okay too. Read, and then share your squee. Make an author’s day and tell them how much you enjoyed their story. Leave a review.

Watch your favorite movies. Remember why you love your heroes. You know who was the biggest hero is in The Winter Soldier? Sure, Steve Rogers gave a stirring speech about doing what’s right when everyone around you is doing wrong. But the real hero in my book is the little tech guy who refuses to push the button that will activate the Insight program–which would kill thousands of people all over the world deemed as a potential ‘threat.’

He was inspired by Captain America’s words. But he refused to give in to doing wrong, even when he knew the consequences for refusal would be grave.

Also, if you are a creator, then create. More than ever we need our creators, our artists, musicians, and storytellers. Because it’s the creators that taught us about Voldemort and why he needed to be defeated. It’s the creators that give us Fight Songs, our Katniss Everdeens, and our Princess Leias. It’s creators who wrote  Captain America the inspirational speech, and creators who give us hope.

Rebellions are built on hope.

If you’re like me, and you think we’re in for a very rough time ahead, there are some practical steps you can take.

We each have to resist in the manner we can best maintain, however. I can call my Congressmen. I can donate a little to some organizations, but not all. I can write letters of protest. I can pen stories of hope. Marching in huge crowds? Makes me want to run screaming for the hills. This is a sustained march we’re on–a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself accordingly. Pick the organizations it is the most important to you to support and remember someone else will have different priorities. If every penny you have is going to your own survival, it’s okay you can’t donate money. Consider volunteering or some other way of showing the President he does not have the mandate of the people behind him. If organizing and participating in a protest march is your forte, I will cheer you on.

As for my writing, I’ve been giving a lot of thought as to what kinds of stories I should be telling now. I still believe as much as ever we need stories with happy endings. Stories where two people meet, fall in love, overcome adversity and live happily together afterward. Stories that take you out of your stressful, crappy day and transport you to another world for a few hours.

More than ever we need stories where diversity and acceptance aren’t dirty words. But I also find that I have other kinds of stories within me begging to be told now. Stories about finding your inner strength and power. About standing up for what’s right. I suspect my storytelling is going to be changing over the next couple of years. I’ll keep you posted.

I think this also means I’ll be spending less time on social media in the name of self-protection and increased productivity. I’ll still be around, but less vocal, less angry. I think we have our work cut out for us in the upcoming years, and yet I will probably be making fewer posts like this one.

I have lanterns to light. Hope to share. Stories to tell.

Time to get to it.

 

 

The Number One Rule of Writing: Have Fun!

sorrow-and-worry-1434786-1918x1274I’ve been away from the keyboard for a while. The week before last, I was on vacation, and then I came home with a nasty respiratory bug that has knocked me flat for several days.

As per my norm when I’m ill, I tend to enter a weird shadow zone of ginger ale and crackers, comfort reads and cheesy television shows from the past. I don’t want anything that requires too much concentration. I don’t want anything that is going to blindside me or hurt. I read or watch TV until I doze off, sleep as long as I need (or until one of the dogs wakes me to go out), then get up, get a little something to eat and drink, and do it all over again.

As long as I don’t have to work while I’m sick, more and more these days, I don’t want the cycle of reading and snoozing to end. I am constantly on the go, and sometimes it seems nearly everyone’s needs come before my own. I’ve come to enjoy sick days. Once I get over how much time I’ve wasted being sick, I find I wish I could continue lying on the couch, binge-watching old television shows and reading favorite books.

Not all of the old favorites hold up to the test of time. Sometimes I reach for something I loved as a teenager and wonder what was I thinking when this was a favorite thing of mine. But there’s a common thread through most of my favorite entertainments: they know how to have fun.

Not just outright humorous stories, mind you. I rarely find the typical comedy shows funny. No, what I mean is a story or show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. That knows its premise is ridiculous and doesn’t mind poking fun at it. Bonus points if the *characters* themselves take it seriously–that just adds a delicious layer of irony to the whole process. Even the more serious shows, such as the gritty crime dramas I love, know when to place a ‘silly’ episode in between three or four more intense ones.

And after several days of re-reading and re-watching these old classics, one thing struck me about my current WIPs: I’m not having fun with them.

I’ve started and abandoned four stories in the last year–very unlike me. The first dealt primarily with job burnout, and whoa! Too close to home. I just couldn’t finish it. Not now. Maybe never.

The second is a Regency I’m revamping, adding in more secondary characters and fleshing out the backstory of the MCs. I love Regencies, but this isn’t my period or my forte. I know there are people out there who do this sort of thing better than I will and they already have an audience. Part of me wonders if it even makes sense for me to write this story when it’s not part of my ‘brand’.

The third is a contemporary story in which one of the MCs is a former solider and an amputee. It’s important that I get the details right, which means lots of research. Again, there are people who do this sort of thing better than I do. That’s not to say I’m afraid of hard work, just that again, is it part of my brand? I don’t really know. My ‘brand’ is all over the place, to be honest. I tend to write what I want to write when I want to write it. Perhaps a little more discipline and development of a recognizable brand would be useful.

The fourth is a major departure for me: set in the 1950s and dealing with an agency that investigates paranormal events (you read the part where I said my brand was all over the place, right?). Oh, yes, and instead of male/male romance, it would be more along the lines of a traditional romance, perhaps even with the sex scenes fade-to-black. It’s been so important to me to get the heroine right that it dawned on me the other day that the story has bogged down–and it took being sick and bingeing on my favorite stories of all time to see that I’m not having fun with this, either. I’ve been tossing obstacles at my heroine left and right in order to justify her attitude, and really, the fact she’s a woman in the 1950s who desires to be more than a housewife or secretary is enough of an obstacle right there. At least 25 K of what I’ve written so far needs to be scrapped. And what could be more ridiculous than Ward and June Cleaver meets the X-Files, which is how I refer to this story? I should expand on the wackiness here, not try to dress it up like a serious story. It was a relief figuring this out, let me tell you.

oh-these-photographers-1430111-1600x2400So yeah, first law of writing: have fun. Write what you want to write, not what you think will sell. Cross genres. Hell, mix them up. Don’t take yourself–or your characters so seriously. Sure, do the research (you have to respect the genre and the character) but don’t belabor it to the point of tedium. If it bores you, it will bore your reader as well. Let your wild creative side out to play. Sometimes you have to write 25 K to realize who your character is. Sometimes you have to write 25 K to realize who your character is not. Either way, they aren’t wasted words. Don’t dole out your sentences like each one is a precious heartbeat you can never get back again. Words are more like Doritos. We can make more. We can also trim them when they don’t fit the story we’re trying to tell. So don’t be afraid to be outrageous. You can always ‘tone it down’ in edits. When I look at which of my stories were wildly popular compared to others, they are usually the ones where I let it rip, threw in every trope but the kitchen sink, and in general said, “Yeah, I know this isn’t grand literature, but it’s fun.”

Have more fun with your writing. If you’re having fun, your readers will too. That doesn’t mean you need to turn every story (or piece of art, or whatever your medium is) into a 1930s screwball comedy. Some people find horror fun–I’m not one of them but I’m all for whatever floats your boat and makes you happy. These days, I think we could all use a little more fun in our lives.

Dear Entertainment Industry: A little hope, please?

candle by Q8y_dream Flickr Creative Commons

candle by Q8y_dream Flickr Creative Commons

Sometime toward the end of last year’s television season, I quit watching most of my shows. I work in an incredibly stressful profession. I describe it as life and death in a microcosm every fifteen minutes. I come home at the end of the day totally wiped out, with barely the energy to walk the dogs and cobble together some sort of dinner, which is often the first chance I’ve had all day to sit down and eat a meal.

One of the things I look forward to are my ‘must-see’ television shows, when the BF and I can relax, kick back on the sofa, and watch the next installment of whatever thrilling drama the entertainment industry has to offer.

But toward the end of the last mainstream television season, several things happened at once: many of my favorites went on hiatus or were cancelled. Of those that remained on my watchlist, many had become too intense, too dark for me to enjoy. I realized that 99% of everything I watched was incredibly violent. Storylines went from captivating to grim. Combined with my increasing anxiety over the upcoming elections and what the outcome could mean for the world as a whole, I felt as though I had to stop watching television and movies. At the end of the day, I didn’t need to be devastated by the death of characters or the destruction of everything I loved.

I took a hiatus. I read books. I watched old favorites. Thanks to the wonders of Netflix, I could re-watch old television shows that managed to entertain without nearly destroying me in every episode. I listened to music. I took up meditation.I walked the dogs. I began riding horses again. I wrote stories–a lot of stories. Sometimes when I heard friends discussing their favorite shows around the water cooler or on Facebook, I felt a little left out, but for the most part, I enjoyed my quieter evenings.

As the current fall TV season crept closer, I found myself getting excited about the returning favorites or the new possibilities. I watched a few episodes I missed in order to catch up with the season premieres, and I settled in to watching the first eps of the season.

After two such attempts, I complained to the BF that everything was horribly dysfunctional and dystopian. No one could be trusted. Teams betrayed each other and were broken up. Leaders were replaced by people that were evil and dangerous. Friends were forced to choose sides. Beloved characters were angry and vengeful. And I’m sick of it.

Worse, it’s not fun.

No, seriously, some of the franchises I’ve loved in the past have become so unrelentingly hopeless and dark that I Just. Can’t. Even.

Look, I get it.  We tend to write stories that reflect how we feel, and examine our fears and concerns. The mythology of werewolves is believed to have risen out of a need to explain serial killers. I recently read a study somewhere that suggested certain kinds of fiction arise in certain types of political atmospheres–and surely the rise of dsytopian and zombie apocalyptic fiction is a reflection of how angry–and terrified–so many of us are right now.

Hope: Steven Snodgrass Flickr Creative Commons

Hope: Steven Snodgrass Flickr Creative Commons

But I need hope. I need the possibility of a future that is better than my fears. One of the reasons Star Trek has had such an enduring fandom over the years is because Gene Roddenberry’s vision of our future was more hopeful than nearly every other sci-fi universe out there. In Roddenberry’s universe, we overcame our worst failings and inclinations. We solved the problems of how to feed people and create clean energy and how to embrace diversity without being terrified of it. Star Trek is about sending the best and brightest out as ambassadors for the human race. Sure, they were flawed, but week after week, they got the job done. Better yet, they inspired generations to be the very best human beings they could be, in the hopes that one day, they’d be good enough to be considered for the Enterprise crew.

At the risk of sounding like someone’s cranky old granny, I want that in my entertainment again. Sure, you can give me adversity to overcome–that embodies great storytelling to me. Yes, there must be conflict, otherwise it’s boring. But give me that happily ever after–or happy for now. End with a note of encouragement, a candle lit in the dark against the forces of evil. Maybe you don’t trust your team mates in the beginning because you don’t know them–but show us that trust building over time.

Because otherwise, you could end every story with “Rocks fall. Everyone dies.” And in a world where it seems increasingly likely that this is our future, I want a little fantasy, please.

So give me hope.

 

What Do Creators Owe Their Fans? Or: Say It Ain’t So: Captain America is Hydra and Fans Say NO.

I’m just now coming up for air after working hard to meet a deadline. I have a story I’ve been revising for re-release in an expanded version, and another in edits. Now that I’ve finished the revision, I’m taking a few days break before looking at the one in edits again–I find letting the story ‘rest’ a bit is better for the final read-through. I’m waiting to hear back from my publisher on a third story as well–so let’s just say I’m happy with my production at the moment.

Cap intervenes2When I take a break from writing, I allow myself indulgences I restrict at other times. That’s not to say I don’t read books or watch television when I’m in the middle of a story, but I only have so much time in the day. When I’m working on a story on a deadline, I can’t binge-watch on Netflix or stay up all night reading fanfic. But now that I’m on break, I can poke around my favorite fandoms and see if there’s anything that grabs my fancy. One of the beauties of fandom is pretty much no matter what happens in canon, there’s plenty of ‘fixit’ fanfic to go around.

Something that happened recently in the Marvel fandom had me wondering just what exactly do writers and creators owe their fans? In May 2016, the editors at Marvel Comics announced that Steve Rogers had been–and always will be–an agent of HYDRA.

The fans HOWLED their outrage, taking to Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other social media outlets to shriek at this latest plot twist in the long-running series. #SayItAintSo became a hastag on Twitter, with even actor Chris Evans, who portrays Steve Rogers in the movies, weighing in. I don’t blame them. HYDRA is the antithesis of everything Steve Rogers stands for–the idea that he could be a secret HYDRA agent is so out of character the soul recoils at the declaration.

Captainamerica1

Captain America Cover #1 Source wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not to mention the ghosts of the original creators. Steve Rogers/Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, two Jewish writers at a time when the Nazi regime was herding thousands of Jewish nationals into prison camps where they suffered and died. It’s no coincidence Captain America was depicted on the first cover of his series punching Hitler in the face. It was a conscious decision on the part of the writers, who were repulsed by the Nazis and felt war with the Axis powers was inevitable. If the current writers of the Captain America comics wanted to stir things up, they certainly got their wish. Pleas of ‘please stay calm’ fall on deaf ears as head writer Nick Spence was attacked so hard on Twitter, he received death threats. I’m not surprised, frankly. Not after skewering a character that’s been beloved for 75 years. Not after laughing about his plans and boasting that this isn’t a temporary plot twist, and had readers been paying attention, they would have seen the clues all along.

Cap and Bucky 1You know what? That’s his prerogative: to spit on the memories of the original creators of Captain America and enrage the fan base. I recall a WTF moment when J.K. Rowling paired Hermione and Ron, despite the fact Harry and Hermione had tons more chemistry together and were much more similar in mindset to make a logical pairing. I remember shaking my head when Charlaine Harris received death threats because fans were in an uproar over how her Sookie Stackhouse series ended and who she paired the main character with in the end. But I’m a big girl. I can stuff my fingers in my ears and sing ‘la-la-la’ if the writers/creators of a beloved series take it in a direction that is unpalatable to me. I wouldn’t dream of sending death threats or hate mail to the people who, in many cases, are the original creators of the characters I’ve become so invested in. They aren’t mine, even if they are beloved.

In all honesty, I suspect I know why Nick Spence is taking the series in the current direction. It’s because as it stands now, many people find Captain America the most boring of all the Avengers. He was hugely popular during WW2, and then his popularity fizzled when there were no clear enemies to fight. He’s been recast, reincarnated, and resurrected many times. The franchise has to keep the bottom line (and dollar) in mind. I’m reminded of the scene in Legend in which Lily is seduced by the darkness–and becomes ten times more interesting than she was before. Oh, I get it. Villains are simply more fun to write.

I have problems with the mentality that we need flawed heroes so they can be more relatable to us. I feel like I need to have Inigo Montoya say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think you know what it means.” I’ve written previously about why I don’t think Captain America is boring, as well as why we need heroes. See, here’s the thing. We need something–someone–to believe in. We need someone to look up to. Relatable? Yes, perhaps in the way that frail little Steve Rogers became a Superhero. But what some people seem to forget is that Steve already had the heart of a hero even when he was too ill to fight. Relatable doesn’t mean feet of clay, or stark betrayal. We love our heroes because they give us something to cling to in an ever-increasingly scary world. We love our heroes because they give us the courage to stand up to bullies and say the right thing and refuse to give in to intolerance and hate. We need our heroes to be better than we are because we need someone we can strive to emulate–not relate to in our failings.

Cap and Bucky 2So yes, I’m an adult. I can walk away from any franchise if it utterly disappoints me. That’s my right, just as it is the right of the creators to perform outright character assassination, should they choose. I can make up my own endings, tell my own stories. I can ‘fixit.’ But here’s the thing. I am an ADULT.

What do we say to those kids holding up their action figures, their belief in their hero smashed beyond redemption, when they ask, “Is Cap really a bad guy?”

Because you as a creator may not owe anything to me, but when you’re dealing with such an iconic character as Captain America, I think you do owe something to those young fans. Particularly if the character is not your creation, you’ve merely stepped into the creators shoes.

As for me, I leave you with this classic Bonnie Tyler song. Ignore the 80s style production values, close your eyes and listen to the lyrics. Because we all need heroes.

New Release and Giveaway: Broken Solider by Jamie Lynn Miller

Broken Soldier Book cover

I’m so excited to have Jamie Lynn Miller for an interview today, and to share about her latest release, Broken Solider!

I was fortunate enough to meet Jamie at Rainbow Con last summer, and it was like meeting an old friend! We share a lot of the same interests, including our love of sci-fi television shows and hot men in hot water. 🙂 Be sure to check out the terrific interview, and leave a comment to be entered for a chance at one of Jamie’s backlist stories.

Without further ado, here’s Jamie!

Hello! Welcome to my blog and thank you for answering my nosy discerning questions! First, please tell us a little about yourself and the kinds of stories you like to write. Would you say there is an underlying theme behind your stories?

Thank you so much for having me! Little bit about myself – I’m a 40-something graphic designer who loves my husband, my cats, science fiction, photography and of course, writing.

I would say the underlying theme of my stories is “Hearts and flowers romance with a bit of angst thrown in for good measure”.

But that statement changed pretty drastically with Broken Soldier. I believe in challenging myself as a writer and taking chances. And that’s what I’ve done here. This book is dark and gritty. It tackles drug use/addiction and how far Shawn is willing to go, submitting himself to the bad guy emotionally and physically until it breaks him and nearly kills him.

This is a big change for me, and I hope that my regular readers will give this book a chance. Because even though it’s not my usual style, I am, and always will be, the Queen of Happy Endings. I will put my boys through hell, but love and dedication will always put them back together again. So give it a try! You just might like it!

What part of the world do you call home? Can you tell us a little about where you grew up and where you live now?

I’ve lived a pretty boring life in that I was born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago and still live there today!

How long have you been writing? Did you write as a child or is it something you developed a passion for later in life?

I’d been writing short stories since I was a kid and I also had two English teachers in high school that really encouraged me. But didn’t get serious about it until the mid-90’s when I started writing fanfic.

What gave you the courage to submit your first story to a publisher?

I got tired of hearing how bad all fanfic was, that fanfic writers had no talent. I took it as a challenge and decided to give going pro a shot. And what do you know, my very first book was accepted to a publisher on my very first try. Take that, fanfic haters!

I see you write M/M fiction. Would you characterize your stories as M/M romance, erotica, or something in between?

Definitely contemporary romance.

What draws you to the M/M genre? Have you written in other genres?

This goes back to my fanfic days as well. I started off writing m/f fic and then by complete accident ended up reading my very first m/m story. To say it was a life changing experience would be an understatement! LOL! My eyes were opened and I jumped ship to the m/m world and have never looked back.

Are you a panster or a plotter? Do you outline extensively or write your story as you go along?

I’m a big time plotter. My outlines are extensive, like pages long. So that takes up a good chunk of time before I even write the first word of the book. But then because I have done such detailed outlines, the writing of the actual book flows pretty easily after that.

Of the stories you’ve written, which one do you like the most? Which one would you recommend a new reader begin with?

Oh gosh, that’s like choosing your favorite child! LOL! But if I absolutely had to pick I would choose Burnin’ for You. I spent a couple of months in a fire academy class and used that experience to write the book. My firemen have a special place in my heart.

Most authors admit to feeling uncomfortable with the degree of self-promotion necessary to be successful. Are there some aspects of social media and self-promotion that make you more comfortable than others? Are there some you avoid like the plague?

I think the only thing I’m not really comfortable with is approaching reviewers. They make me nervous! Their word can either build me up or knock me down.

How often does your real life experience figure into your story telling? Do you base characters or stories on your actual experiences?

Oh yes, absolutely. It was actually my time spent in various citizen police academy classes that inspired me to write Broken Soldier. I would listen to the detectives talk about undercover work and how far they needed to go and how dangerous it could be and how it could end up breaking them, living this other life. And this was just to take down drug dealers or gangs. So I upped the ante even further by making this a military book and the “target” an arms dealer supplying weapons to terrorists. Just imagine the lengths a covert ops team would go to, to stop this man. I really put Connor and Shawn (most especially Shawn) through the emotional and physical wringer to complete their mission.

How much do you think that a good blurb and good cover art figure into the success of a story?

A LOT. If you can’t hook people with a few hundred words they won’t click on the BUY button. And a picture’s worth a thousand words, right? So I believe cover art is very important. And this is coming from a graphic designer who’s been doing advertising for over 20 years!

Do you miss your characters when you come to the end of their story? Do you find ways to write sequels for them or do you become entranced with a new set?

I do miss them! I’ve just spent sometimes a couple of months with them non-stop and suddenly they’re not talking in my head or appearing in my dreams. But that said, I’ve only ever written one sequel (to Burnin’ for You called Where There’s Smoke). After my “mourning period” I find new characters beginning to talk to me.

What are your writing goals for 2016?

My tag line is “Men in uniform…and out”. So far I’ve written cops, firemen, paramedics and now soldiers. I would like to tackle a Coast Guard book next. I’ve already started scribbling down notes.

 

SUMMARY:

Sergeant Connor Finley and Sergeant Shawn Weller are dedicated soldiers working covert ops for Shadow Unit — a joint UK/US anti-terrorism task force.

 

Partners in the field and out, they had been through hell together for the last four years and made it through standing side by side. But when their latest undercover op to bring down an arms dealer plunges them into a world of drugs, sex and violence, Shawn must literally get in bed with the enemy in order to complete the mission. And Connor is forced to watch, helpless, as his partner is broken into pieces.

 

Will love be enough to put them both back together or will this be their final mission?

 

WARNING: Contains scenes of drug use, graphic sex and realistic situations

 

EXCERPT:

Connor continued on, pointing at Shawn, his voice rising. “Look at him! We’ve turned him into a fucking addict! Do you know why he’s here right now? Because he was so strung out last night that I couldn’t leave him alone!” Connor’s voice was steel, his eyes flashing anger. “This has gone too far. Pull him out. Now!”

“NO!” Shawn pushed himself to his feet and slammed his hand down on the table.

He knew full well that he looked like hell and knew what he was turning into. But he also knew he was a soldier and not a fucking quitter when things got rough. He would see this mission through to the end, not be consigned to the sidelines.

“No one’s pulling me out,” Shawn said forcefully. Connor angrily shook his head and Shawn ignored him. “Not when we’re this close to nailing this asshole.” He pointed to Mandy. “We don’t even know if we can use anything on that drive. But I know the weapons will be here soon. I can get the name of the supplier and where the exchange is going down.” He stared straight at MacDonald. “Leave me in.”

There was utter silence in the hub as the team waited for MacDonald’s answer.

After a long moment where neither Shawn nor MacDonald broke eye contact, MacDonald finally tipped his head. “Very well. I trust your judgment.”

“Fuck!” Connor spat, then threw his arms out. “Am I the only one that sees his judgment is impaired?”

Shawn blew out a long breath. “Connor, I can –“

Connor jabbed a finger at him. “Don’t you fucking say you can handle it, Shawn!” He crossed his arms over his chest. “I mean, do you even have any idea how you’re supposed to get back in Chan’s house undetected? You were supposed to have been there all night.”

“Actually, yes, Connor, I do,” Shawn snapped at him, angry that his partner suddenly seemed to have so little faith in his ability to do his job and it stung.

“I found a blind spot in the security camera grid outside of the pool. I purposely left the doors unlocked in case I ever needed to use that route to get in or out unseen,” he explained. “I noticed that the guards do twelve-hour shifts and they change at noon. Right now there’s only one at the house. Jae took the other two with him. The guy who came on at midnight will have thought I went with Jae to Jakarta, so he wouldn’t have been wondering where I was last night. The guy who comes on at noon and then sees me in the house will think I’ve been there all night.”

Connor’s brow furrowed. “That’s bloody risky.”

“Maybe. But it’s all I’ve got,” Shawn said simply. He looked down at his watch. “And I’ve got to go if I’m going to time this right.”

“Watch yourself,” MacDonald told him.

“Will do, boss,” Shawn answered, bending down to pick up his drawstring bag then turned and headed for the stairs.

Connor caught up with him halfway down, taking hold of his arm, stopping him. Shawn pulled out of his grasp, his expression hard.

“I’m not going to apologize for being worried about you,” Connor said. “I’ve seen things they haven’t. I know what’s been going on between you and Chan. They don’t.” He put his hands on Shawn’s shoulders, his voice quieting. “It’s not that I don’t think you can do your job. I just don’t want to lose you to it. I can’t.”

Shawn’s eyes softened. “You won’t, Connor.” He touched his paracord bracelet still on Connor’s wrist. “I told you I’d be back for this. And I always keep my promises.”

 

BUY LINKS:

All Romance Ebooks (ARe): http://tinyurl.com/phwnx9k

LuLu (ebook): http://tinyurl.com/hveo8lq

LuLu (print book): http://tinyurl.com/hp921w3

 

BIO:

Jamie Lynn Miller has been writing fiction since childhood and decided to take the plunge and go pro in 2008, finding to her amazement that people truly enjoyed her love stories. She’s a romantic at heart, and her tales reflect the desire we all have to find “the one,” persevering through trials and heartache for that happy ending.

Jamie has a degree in fine arts and has spent the last twenty years working as a graphic designer, though she’d much rather be writing. She was born in Chicago and still lives there today with her husband and their two furry, four-footed children, er… cats.

If she’s not brainstorming story ideas, you can find Jamie at a sci-fi convention, in front of a furnace doing glass blowing, or on a mat twisted into a yoga pose.

 

CONTACT INFO:

Email: jamielynnmiller@live.com

Blog

Facebook

 

GIVEAWAY!

Leave me a comment (AND YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS) for your chance to win a FREE copy of any of my backlist ebooks!

 

Textual Attraction by K-lee Klein: Book Release, Excerpt & Giveaway!

TextualAttraction

Title:Textual Attraction

Author: K-lee Klein

Publisher: Amber Quill Press

Blurb: Lewis has spent most of his adult life looking after his aging parents, and he recently ended a relationship with a domineering guy who’d been nothing but bad for him. Despite his less-than-stellar track record with men, he’s still hopeful there’s someone out there for him, but he’s learned to be careful with his heart.

So he can’t figure out why a cryptic, gruff, drunken voice mail from a stranger named Jerry doesn’t make him hit the DELETE button. It’s clear the man’s got the wrong number. But when Jerry begins to text, Lewis finally responds saying he’s not the guy Jerry wants. Jerry, however, is nothing if not persistent, and he keeps texting and teasing Lewis, even after he knows the truth.

Lewis is surprised when something sparks between them. Jerry turns out to be charming and witty, and they develop an odd friendship through text messages. When Jerry suggests they finally meet in person, Lewis is apprehensive, yet curious. Can he take the big step to meet Jerry face-to-face? More importantly, can he maybe even trust Jerry with his heart?

K-lee and I share a great love of superheroes–especially Captain America! Who are your heroes and why?

Be sure to comment below with your email and name your favorite superhero to be entered to win an e-copy!

***

Excerpt

“I’m acting ridiculous,” he said to absolutely no one. “It’s only a phone call. Doesn’t mean it has to be bad news or any news at all.” He’d seen his mother earlier, and he’d heard his father shuffling around the apartment, so Lewis’ two biggest fears were unfounded.

With the gentle slide of his finger, he arrived at the voicemail page. He didn’t recognize the number, but he threw caution to the wind, guessed his password in two shots, and pressed the play button.

Hey, Tom. It’s Jerry…” LOL!

Tom and Jerry, really? Now all Lewis could picture was a feuding cat and mouse, and that made him feel old—old and extremely curious.

I know we didn’t end on good terms last week, but I found that color-challenged knit cap of yours in between the cushions of my couch. I know you’re pretty attached to it, so I figured you’d want it back. You already have my number…or maybe you don’t. It’s 555-6722, so, you know, if you want it just give me a call or else I’ll just drop it in the lap of that homeless guy down on Seventh. Doesn’t matter to me. Yeah, okay…well, later…or not.

Lewis quite liked the deep, raspy voice. It was one of very few kinks for him, surely obtained from television and movies with hot growly men in them. 🙂 Kink aside, he found himself interested in the stranger in the message, despite the weird cartoon names and telltale slur he attributed to alcohol. The background noise was rife with loud music and glass bottles clinking together. Calling from a bar to return, or not return, an ugly cap didn’t seem the perfect way to go about talking to someone. But who was Lewis, who rarely used the phone at all, to judge?

When he finally fell asleep, visions of knit caps danced in his head. They sat atop two lumberjacks he was certain he’d seem in one lumbersexual calendar or another. Yeah, that was definitely another kink of his lately. Unfortunately, they had the disturbing faces of a cat and mouse with appropriate matching plaid shirts and sexy growls. The men-animals were moving in what Lewis could only describe as the worst twerking dance ever, and, oddly enough, were accompanied by a dance version of “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back).”

Textual Attraction
Available November 22, 2015 from Amber Quill Press
35% off during first week of release
***

Bio

K-lee Klein has lived in one part of Western Canada or another for her entire life. She’s a doting mother of three now-grown kids, and has had characters and plots running around her head for as long as she can remember. In an attempt to avoid major writer’s block, she keeps the image of muse on her leg so he can’t run off too far, unfortunately it doesn’t work all the time. K-lee’s days consist of planning her next tattoo design for her growing collection, having a lot of baths since her muse loves the water, and fighting off an abundance of fabulous gay men, large and small who continually bounce off the walls of her skull, competing for their turns to tell their stories.

Among her favorite sub-genres to read and write are rock stars, cowboys, shifters, friends-to-lovers, and opposites-attract relationships. But to be honest, she’s open to almost anything if it involves messing around in the heads of her characters. She’s also big on series—because she has a hard time letting her characters go—and is usually working on a handful of stories in various stages of completion all at the same time.

Places to find K-lee.

Website – kleeklein.com

Blog – http://chaosinthemoonlight.blogspot.ca

Twitter – https://twitter.com/Klee_Klein

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/kleemoon

Facebook author/reader group https://www.facebook.com/groups/812548795471921/

Textual Attraction: Amber Quill Press – 35% off for one week only!

Promo_TextualAttraction

Breaking the Cycle of Defeat

Snowy ridgeLast week, I was meeting with some friends when I got interrupted by an emergency call. As I excused myself to take the call in the other room, I heard one of my friends say quietly, “Poor Sarah, she never gets a break.”

My initial reaction on hearing this was to smile and think, “Yes. Someone gets it. Someone understands just how sucky things are for me. How sucky they have been and how unlikely they are to improve.”

It was nice, this feeling of solidarity and support, something I frequently don’t get enough of some days.

But a moment later, it hit me. I don’t want to be that person. The person for whom nothing ever goes right, the one that can’t ever catch a break.

Now mind you, I deeply appreciate my friend’s support. She’s been a staunch ally in my corner for the last several years now: being there when I needed a shoulder to cry on, surprising me with the perfect Make My Day gifts in the mail, believing in my writing when I’m ready to chuck the whole thing in the trash and get a second job flipping burgers… It is not her sympathy and support I mind. I mind needing it.

I won’t lie. It’s been a rough couple of years. I’ve been hit hard financially, physically, emotionally, you name it. Creativity tends to dry up in rocky ground, so one of the things that brings me the most pleasure in life has been one of the hardest to maintain. My productivity went from roughly a novella a month to a novella a year. I went from struggling with depressing circumstances to being outright depressed–and the very fact that my circumstances weren’t going to change made it hard to snap out of the cycle. Not to mention I’ve always taken my health for granted and now I can’t do that any longer. I’ve been forced to accept far too much in the last few years as being the ‘new norm’ for me.

dear-whatever-doesnt-kill-me-im-strong-enough-now-thanks-614a9This inner loop has been playing in my head these last few years that whispers once a person reaches a certain level of ‘down’, things just continue to spiral out of control, as though I were a stalled airplane and had no choice but to plunge to the ground. I’ve seen this play out with enough other people in my life that it’s hard to believe I’m not caught in this vicious cycle myself.

But along with that feeling of “No, I don’t want to be that person”, I’ve had other inklings that perhaps what I need more than anything is an attitude adjustment. I’ve been trying to locate an article I read some years ago on the dangers of focusing on what you don’t have rather than what you do. I wish I could find it: the gist of it is that by dwelling on the things you lack, you create a mind-set whereby you never get the things you do want. I’m not talking about The Secret or any mumbo jumbo like that. To be honest, I frequently have trouble with the concept of positive thinking or trying to make yourself believe something that is frankly impossible. If I don’t feel sexy, or powerful, or successful, no amount of self-talk is going to persuade me otherwise.

Still, the last few weeks, the BF and I have been watching some quirkly little movies. Always his choice, and I’m learning to trust his judgement. The first one was About Time, which I wrote about here. More recently, it was The Giant Mechanical Man and last night, Chef. None of these were blockbusters. In fact, you may not have even heard of them. But there seems to be a running theme about decent people like you and me living their lives as best they can, not really knowing what they want or how to get it until they find the one person that makes it all make sense to them. Nothing about their lives outwardly changes until they change how they think about themselves. There isn’t any magic, or super powers, or explosions. It’s just people discovering there is more to themselves than they thought because someone believed in them.

Then there was today’s Twittascope. Now, I’ll be the first person to tell you that I frequently mock Twittascope, using it as a guideline to do the exact opposite of whatever it recommends, yet there was something about this that resonated:

If you’re always fretting about the scarcity in your life, you’ll never feel the abundance around you. Prosperity starts as a state of mind.

success2I am conscious of the fact that when I put my mind to achieving something, it happens. The fact that I rarely believe in myself to the extent of making this happen all the time is beside the point; when I do believe in something, I’m unstoppable. So here is my formula for breaking the cycle of defeat. It might not work for you–I fully believe we all have to find our own Patronus spells to ward off the Dementors in our lives. But here are mine:

  1. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Concentrate on what you’re grateful for. I know, sounds like your typical pop psychology clap-trap, right? Only there is some truth to this one, at least for me. When I stop focusing on what is lacking in my life, and truly sit down and give thanks for what I’m grateful for, it changes my thinking. Maybe you have to dig deep to find something. Maybe your ‘somethings’ aren’t the kinds of things most people think of when they are looking at the markers of a successful life. But there are things in my life I wouldn’t trade for anything: not financial or creative success, not public accolades or a secure future. Someone who gets me, who believes in me, who makes me feel worth knowing? Worth more than winning the lottery.
  2. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Picture what you want. Imagine it in great detail a few minutes every day. This truly has worked for me, but only when I was very specific in what I was looking for and hoped to achieve. Telling yourself you’d like to lose weight or write a best-selling novel without a specific for either is a pipe dream. Make it real. Make it count.
  3. Stop focusing on what you don’t have. Stop focusing on what other people DO have. Stop comparing yourself to others! Sure, maybe you don’t write 4 or 5 novels a year, but you know what? Maybe the person who does has made sacrifices you don’t know about to do so. Maybe that person doesn’t work 50-60 hours a week, and isn’t trying to take care of elderly parents and raise kids at the same time. Or maybe they do. Whatever. They are not you. Maybe someone else has launched a terrific series just when you were sitting down to write something along the same lines. Does that mean your ideas have been blown out of the water? Does that mean no one is going to be interested in your Vampire/Space Cowboy shifter stories? No, it does not. No one is going to write Vampire/Space Cowboys the same way you are. I would strongly suggest if you move forward with that project that you not read the competition, simply to keep your material fresh and original in your mind, but the truth of the matter is if there is a market for vampires and cowboys in outer space, then there is room for more than one set of stories on the subject. So someone you like and respect has written an awesome series about FBI agents, or treasure hunters, or ghostbusters? That doesn’t mean your stories won’t be loved and cherished by readers. PUT THE WORDS ON PAPER. Worry about your audience later.
  4. Stop focusing on what you aren’t. Remind yourself what you are. There’s a reason why certain heroes and heroines resonate with you. Something about those characters speaks to you, and they wouldn’t if you didn’t value their traits and attitudes. Embrace them. Accept the things you like about them as the things you like about yourself. You’re not as different from them as you think. They are just further ahead on the same path as you. Borrow their strength until you can find your own.
  5. Stop focusing on the number on the scale, the image in the mirror, the ranking on Amazon, all the little ticky boxes of success as we’ve come to know it. Remember that so many industries make their money out of making you feel bad. It is in their vested interests for you to fail, to be miserable about yourself, to buy that self-help book, or this diet drink, or that product to try to make you feel better. That is not who you are. You are not a number on a scale, or the thickness of your hair, or how many books you’ve written/sold in the last two months. You are not the joint that is going to cause you pain the rest of your life, or the disease that robs you of so much joy. You are the stories you have to tell. You are the person your dog looks up to with love in his eyes. You are the person who laughs during an unexpected downpour, who can honestly be happy for a friend’s success, who the kids will call when they get locked out of the house in the middle of the night. Do you know what pictures I like the best on Facebook? The pictures of my friends wearing something that makes them feel good about themselves. That’s the look I want–the one that says, “I look smashing in this, don’t you think?” And they do, every single one of them. They look fabulous because they feel fabulous. I love the pictures people share of their kids in some moment of pride because the love for their children (or pets, or grandkids) shines through their posts. This is also who you are. You are the person who loves.

It isn’t easy to break the cycle of defeat. Lord knows I struggle with this more often than not. But I am not going to accept it. I’m not going to bow down to it, and nod sadly and say this is my lot in life. I will go down fighting, and then I will get up again. You’d better watch out for me when I do because I’m gonna come up swinging. 🙂

 

 

 

Why Peggy Carter resonates with so many women today

Value2Anyone who knows me even slightly knows I am a HUGE fan of Peggy Carter. Captain America: The First Avenger is one of my favorite movies, in part because I adored Peggy Carter in it. (I also might have a thing for the time period, seeing as I wrote The Boys of Summer 🙂 ) I’ve written about why I think Steve Rogers is the kind of hero we need, and I’ve written a little about my adventures in cosplaying Carter. I’m obsessed in the way only a fangirl can be. If you search this website for references to Peggy Carter, you’ll see what I mean.

Ever since Captain America:TFA came out, I’ve been toying with the idea of writing what would happen to characters like these after the war. After their brilliant, adrenaline-driven careers were no longer necessary, and they had to meld into suburban America. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing a series under the pen name Madison Dean, a kind of X-Files meets Ward and June Cleaver. I thought it would be fun, and I was enjoying the research for it. Then Agent Carter came out, and I realized that I’m going to have to change much of how I envisioned my original characters in order to prevent it from feeling derivative.

Besame 1940 PerfumeYou know what? I don’t care. Because I enjoyed Agent Carter as a television show so much, it doesn’t bother me that it might have shot down my brilliant idea for a romantic adventure series. I enjoyed it so much, it even knocked Queen Elsa off the throne for my current fangirl obsession. (Lord knows, I’ve posted a lot about Frozen, too! You should do a site search on that one if you want to read them all…)

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend off at Emerald City Comic Con, saying she had a surprise for me. Now, I’ve been running on fumes this last week, dealing with an injured horse needing round-the-clock treatment in an effort to save his eye. So when I got her text, it piqued my curiosity but I’d forgotten where she’d gone this weekend. Then she sent me a photo of my surprise: an autograph from Hayley Atwell! Those high-pitched dolphin squeals of glee you heard around the world yesterday? Yeah, that was me.

I showed the image to the BF last night at dinner, and he said he’d been looking for some sort of Agent Carter-related thing to get me ever since the series came out, but he’d had trouble finding anything he liked. Which gave me the warm fuzzies, you know? We watched Agent Carter together each week when it was on–it was our one Must See Live television show, and I believe he looked forward to it almost as much as me (given the amount of teasing I got, I’m sure of it!). The fact that he’s been looking for something Carter-related as a gift shows he *gets* me.

Besame Red VelvetWhich got me thinking this morning, why Peggy Carter? Why not Black Widow, or Wonder Woman, or Kate Beckett, or Brenda Leigh Johnson, or any of a number of excellent female characters over the years? What is it about Peggy that strikes such a chord? Why did Twitter explode with live tweeting during Agent Carter? It’s not just because Hayley Atwell is adorable (have you seen the pictures she posts of her sleeping almost anywhere on almost anything? The one of her in the suitcase is my favorite) but because Peggy Carter herself really struck a cord with a lot of viewers.

For a heroine, she’s super-feminine in a way that is disarming. She’s not in a catsuit. She doesn’t look like she could break your nose with her elbow, despite the fact she can. She is under-appreciated at work, and her male superiors dismiss her abilities while at the same time take advantage of them. I love the fact that she anticipates the mission’s needs and has the information ready to provide before her bosses can even ask for it. I confess, I was disconcerted by the scene where she takes a male co-worker to task for standing up for her–I thought she should have rewarded him for being progressive, after all! But I realized that she dressed him down for intervening because no one should have to intervene on her behalf. To have a man back her in that scenario meant that her presence and usefulness was only allowed if validated by a male co-worker. It was an interesting distinction to make, and one far more subtle than the average comic-book show.

Cinnamon Sweet resizedBut she can ditch the feminine look to get dirty in the trenches. She can knock back Scotch with the best of her male companions, the ones who know her true value and don’t question what she brings to the team. Her hand shakes when she diffuses a bomb. She’s known heartbreak, and personal loss. She’s made mistakes, ones that have gotten people killed, and she’s suffered the guilt, as well as the consequences of her actions. She eats out at restaurants a lot, because seriously, when does she have time to cook? She curses when she hits her head. She is tempted by the luxury of staying a night in Howard Stark’s townhouse, so far removed from a life sharing flats with other women. She is wonderfully realized as a character. She is human. And she is a damn sight closer to most of us than the average role model we see on screen.

One of the best moments in the series is depicted on the mug above: Peggy states clearly that she doesn’t need outside validation to know her worth. She doesn’t expect it. She’s learned to live without it. She’s learned that the only person she mustn’t disappoint is herself. Praise from others is nice, but she doesn’t need it to know she’s done her best.

Forites shoes 1That is a wonderful, amazing, empowering mindset. Seriously, it is everything we could ever hope for in a role model. No, we’re not going to be able to take out bad guys with a mean right hook, but we can look smashing while we go about our business, do our jobs to the very best of our abilities, and we can hold our heads–and our standards–high when the rest of the world would put us down. Without whining.

I sincerely hope Marvel and ABC decide to renew the series for another season. It was by far the best thing I’ve seen on television in years. We need more female characters like this in television, movies, and books. And she’s inspired me to create some of my own.

A friend, knowing my obsession, linked me to this wonderful, amazing essay on Agent Carter and the power of friendship. Do check it out. You won’t be sorry. 🙂

 

Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy. Live Long and Prosper, Mr. Spock

SPOCK-mr-spock-35423717-500-451I’ve been crying on and off all afternoon.

I just happened to be online when word of Leonard Nimoy’s passing was announced, and though I’d known in my heart that his time was near, I was still stunned by the news. I quickly shared it with my friends, as one does, and only gradually did the truth of it sink in.

Mr. Spock was dead.

Now before I go any further, I’d like to say that I know everyone and their mother is going to post some sort of statement about their reaction to the news. This isn’t about jumping on the bandwagon and getting people to come read what I have to say because I’m going to be amazingly articulate and say something worthwhile. No, in fact, I’m having a hard time typing through the tears. This is just one fangirl mourning the loss of an icon, and a lifelong hero, and the man who gave that character brilliant, enduring life. It doesn’t matter that I never met Leonard Nimoy, or that he was an actor on a very old television show. His portrayal of Mr. Spock has been, and always shall be, a big part of my life.

Star Trek, and my love for Mr. Spock in particular, woke in me a fierce love for science fiction. After I devoured the James Blish novelizations, I wanted more. I needed more stories about these wonderful characters and their adventures. Star Trek was one of the few sci-fi universes that believed we’d solve our problems, that we weren’t stupid enough to kill ourselves or poison our planet. I didn’t grow up thinking that a woman’s place was in the kitchen because I saw a woman right there on the bridge. I didn’t think the Russians were our enemies because, even though Chekov endearingly thought all great things came from Russia, well, he was Chekov. They weren’t black, or Russian, or Asian, or alien to me. They were the crew of the starship Enterprise, and I wanted so very badly to be a part of their five year mission. More than that, I wanted to be good enough to be a part of their mission. Above all, I didn’t want to disappoint Mr. Spock, Captain Kirk, or Bones. The fact that I was a girl was immaterial to me. It never even registered that I might not have a place on the Enterprise. You have no idea how powerful, how liberating that kind of life lesson that is for a young girl. I credit it with helping shape who I am today.

StarTrekoldpixI read all the tie-in novels, but when I ran out of those, I desperately tried to get on one of those mailing lists for these things called ‘fanzines.’ Failing that, I read some of the published short stories written by dedicated fans, and let me tell you, some of these works were utterly brilliant. I began writing my own stories, horrible self-insert tales where I would miraculously get beamed aboard the Enterprise and save the day (despite being twelve at the time). Still needing my sci-fi fix, I went to the library, where I discovered Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, and more. You should have heard the dolphin squeals of glee the day I realized that the ST episode Arena was actually adapted from a short story by Fred Brown. It was like running into a member of a secret club right there in the library.

I became a dedicated sci-fi fan thanks to Star Trek, and my love of sci-fi has brought me my most enduring friendships, introduced me to some of the best people (including my boyfriend of seven years) and brought me back to writing after a decade-long hiatus. So yes, I owe Star Trek–and Mr. Spock–so very much. More than a lifetime of shared jokes and laughter. More than some tears at storylines that hurt and cheers when things were put right again. Star Trek is one of those foundational cornerstones in my life. I can’t imagine the person I’d be without having experienced it. Mr. Spock made science cool. He made science sexy.

As the news broke today, people took to the airways to express their sorrow and to say their goodbyes. I think that’s when it really began to hit me.

As John Scalzi put it on Twitter: every geek has just lost their favorite grandfather. William Shatner tweeted that he’d loved Leonard Nimoy as a brother. My friends began expressing their sorrow, sharing their memories, their pictures, their stories. Every time I’d pull myself together, I’d read another tribute and I’d start tearing up again.

Leonard Nimoy brought Mr. Spock to life and made him the iconic character he became. He wasn’t always comfortable with being so closely associated with the role (hence the book: I am not Spock) but he came to embrace the role of Spock as being part of his legacy (hence the book: I am Spock) later on. He portrayed the character with a subtly that was the perfect counterpoint to the more bombastic style of Shatner’s Kirk. In fact, the on-screen chemistry between Nimoy, Shatner, and DeForrest Kelley was part of what made Star Trek resonate to such a degree with so many people for so many years. And though other people will play the role, it was Leonard Nimoy who first breathed life into a writer’s words and a creator’s vision, and made Spock unforgettable. He is the reason why other people will continue to play the role. Spock will live on.

I think perhaps this letter Nimoy wrote to a young fan in 1968, bullied for being biracial, shows best who Leonard Nimoy was and how much Spock has meant to so many throughout the years.

Yep, Crying again.

I’ll leave you with Nathan Fillion’s words, tweeted this afternoon:

“I have been, and always shall be, your fan.”

Goodbye, Leonard Nimoy. Your legacy will live on as long as even one person remembers Spock. Live long and prosper, Mr. Spock.

 

 

Is Our Thirst for Kink Promoting Rape Culture?

Keep off the Grass_flickrI shouldn’t be writing this blog post right now. I have a story on a tight deadline that’s kicking my ass and if I don’t get it DONE then I might well conclude that I have no business being a writer. I’ve been going through some deeply upsetting things in my personal life which has left me with the emotional stability of a three-year-old coming down from a sugar rush. And I know this post will piss a lot of people off. Also, there is no way I can say these things without sounding like a disgruntled old woman yelling at the neighborhood kids to say off her lawn.

Well, there you have it. I confess: I am a grumpy old woman yelling at the kids. Stay off my lawn!

You might ask what prompted this need to vent. Well, it’s simple, really. A few days ago I came across two things in close sequence that made me scratch my head and go WTF? The combination of the two things kind of solidified some thoughts I’ve been having for a while now. Namely that I’m concerned that some women might inadvertently be prompting the very rape culture they claim to abhor. That the freedom we experience now to indulge in our kinky fantasies celebrates the very opposite of a healthy romantic relationship.

Mind you, the rape-trope has always been popular in romance fiction for reasons I don’t fully understand. Maybe some readers readers enjoy it because they like the idea having all control (and responsibility) for their actions taken from them. For someone else to call all the shots. Okay, it’s a fantasy. I get that. The notion that you could fall in love with this person and enter into a healthy, loving relationship with your rapist is ludicrous, but persistent. Yes, I’m looking at you, Luke and Laura from General Hospital. No. That never worked for me, sorry. Face it, these fantasies were developed in an industry that, at the time, demanded purity from their heroines. God forbid your lead female character *wanted* sex, that made her a slut! Certainly we’ve moved beyond that, right? Women are allowed to want sex, think about it, talk about it. Nothing wrong there.

And I’m not condemning BDSM stories out of hand by any means! In the right hands, the depiction of a dominant-submissive relationship is not only incredibly hot, but completely understandable as well. The dynamics of the D-S relationship help me better understand what makes the characters tick as people outside of their sexuality. I get the intensity that the fine edge of pain can bring to a sexual situation. I love seeing a different side of a character–how who they are in the bedroom can be entirely different from the face they show the rest of the world. It’s fascinating storytelling.

I believe that the reason 50 Shades of Grey smashed sales records had much to do with the fact that for the majority of readers, this was an entirely new-to-them genre. For readers tired of the usual pirate-capturing-the-heroine story, or the handsome boss/faithful secretary, or even the vampire-slayer and her undead boyfriend, 50 Shades was something new. Romance readers are some of the most voracious consumers of fiction, and for some jaded readers it had to be like finding another wing of their library that they didn’t know existed. Suddenly BDSM became wildly popular, reflected in the explosion of popularity of kink-memes in fandom as well. For those of you that are unfamiliar with kink-memes, these are story fests where people write fanfic about their favorite characters in a kinky sexual situation. The stories are frequently what is referred to as ‘PWP’, which stands for “plot, what plot?” as the only purpose for the story is the depiction of the kinky act.

Redhead bondageI have nothing against any of that. I think it’s great that we as women can express ourselves and explore our sexual fantasies and desires. But the other day, I ran across a promo for a book that caught my attention. I don’t remember the title, but it apparently was doing *very* well on Amazon, better than anything I’d ever written, that’s for sure (so feel free to assign me the obligatory ‘sour grapes’ attitude now). In the blurb, however, someone was described as being in the position of finding subs for his Dom, and that he was ‘going to find out that this little sub came up swinging’. I read that and blinked. Okay, I know NOTHING about the bondage culture. What I know about the BDSM lifestyle comes entirely from stories that I’ve read. But correct me if I’m wrong, here. Doesn’t finding ‘subs for his Dom’ and a sub that ‘comes up swinging’ sound a bit like the woman in question doesn’t have a choice in the matter? Or am I totally missing something here?

I’m willing to concede that I am. After all, I don’t read in the genre very much, and there are certainly subtleties to the lifestyle I might be completely clueless about. But it made me raise an eyebrow, that’s for sure. The fact that this story was selling like hotcakes also made me wonder if anyone reading those stories questioned the relationship between the main characters at all, or if they ate it up with a spoon and reached for the next one just like it. And if the latter were true, what did our fantasies say about our ability to choose healthy relationships for ourselves?

man in handcuffsThe second thing I ran across was less ambiguous as far as I’m concerned. I stumbled onto a conversation on Facebook that kind of shocked me. Again, don’t get me wrong, here. I think we’ve come a long way from the kinds of stories written in the 70s in which the only way a ‘good’ girl could have sex in a romance novel was if she was captured by pirates and raped–or got married. I frankly enjoy seeing pictures of attractive people in sexy situations. We’re a visual beast, after all, otherwise we wouldn’t have so many pictures of cats doing funny things on our timelines. I’ve posted sexy pictures, and have entered into conversations where my contribution is largely to wipe drool off my chin and ask if anyone else thought it was hot in here? I’ve fantasized about favorite characters in sexual situations that explore different dynamics of their relationship.

But in all of those scenarios, my two characters were in a consensual situation.

The conversation I ran across was about two adversarial characters in which one is at the mercy of the other. Again, I’ll be the first to admit I read Draco/Harry stories or any other such pairing that might make you scratch your head and wonder how anyone can picture the two characters together at all. A good writer can make me *believe* in an unlikely pairing–even between enemies. I’m also not above hurting my characters. I’m not against dark stories filled with angst, either. Granted, these days I like to know that there will eventually be a happy ending, but sometimes there is great solace in suffering along with your favorite character. I’m fond of the Hurt/Comfort trope myself, but you know what? Usually the hurting and the comforting take place by two different agencies.

So I was completely taken aback by the conversation about the bad guy hurting the good guy–the inherent hotness of this non-consensual attack on someone’s person and his powerlessness to stop it–as well as the statement that ‘you know you were thinking this, too’.

Um. No. I wasn’t thinking that. And I’m not sure why someone would find this titillating and sexually gratifying, either.

There’s a scene in the 2006 version of Casino Royale in which Bond has been captured by the baddies and is being tortured. Okay, talk about a series of movies that has a long history of objectifying women (and I’ll be the first to say I had some problems with scenes in Skyfall as a result). However, Casino Royale played with traditional Bond film treatment of women by making Bond himself the objectification in the film. Yes, most women I know remember well the scene in the beginning of the movie in which Daniel Craig rises out of the sea. I know I do! I noticed as well how mighty fine Chris Helmsworth was in that completely unnecessary half-naked scene in Thor: The Dark World.

In the torture scene in Casino Royale, Bond is stripped naked and tied to a chair in what appears to be the hot, damp hold of ship, the only illumination coming from a couple of lanterns. Bond’s chair has had the bottom cut out of it, and it isn’t long before we find out why. From the shadows The Big Baddie asks him questions, swinging a weighted piece of rope. When Bond doesn’t give him the desired answers, the Big Bad smashes him in the balls with this homemade kosh. Bond is scared. He is in agony. He screams with each strike. When he is asked for the password, he takes a moment before he can come up with the Bond quip that will invite another hit to his balls. It is a brutal scene. It is meant to be.

The Bond we see recovering from this attack is a changed man. He’s questioning why he is doing what he is doing and whether it is all worth it. He resigns his commission in order to live some semblance of a normal life with Vesper. He doesn’t get that chance.

Casino Royale is one of my favorite Bond movies. And this from a girl who typically demands that happily ever after! Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond made him a human being to me, something more than just the suave spy or the government’s assassin. For the first time, I got the appeal of the franchise.

blindfolded man in handcuffsBut here’s the thing. Even though we have the interaction between Bond and The Big Baddie, and we can see the respect that LeChiffre has for Bond’s integrity and strength of will, at no point would I want to see the two ‘together’. At no point can I imagine the two of them getting together for more of the same. There is a huge difference in my mind between what took place in that torture scene and what happens between consenting adults. That’s entering into a situation with someone you trust out of your own choice, and I think that’s worlds away from the kind of gleeful suggestion that it would be hot and entertaining to see Loki brutalize a helpless Thor, or Sherlock at the sexually abusive hands of Moriarty.

I’m all for women being comfortable enough with their sexuality to discuss their hot-button kinks. I’m aware that some hot-button kinks are other people’s ‘hell, no, would never go there!’ But I wonder sometimes whether we are now celebrating that which we would despise if the characters in question were female. If maybe after all these years of forced silence, we now don’t know where to stop?

Or maybe this is just one more thing that I am hopelessly old-fashioned about and I should just duck my head and go back to working on that damned story…