Dear Church Lady: Why Do You Care What I Read?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Angry woman: freeimage.com

This post was prompted by an article that was being shared around on Facebook the other day, in which a Christian woman held up romance novels as one of the ‘new’, great evils of all time, sucking hapless female victims into their thrall. I’m not going to link to it here because it’s not necessary to drive more traffic to her blog post. There’s enough of that sort of thing out there as it is. In fact, the GOP has declared pornography a public health crisis that is ‘destroying the lives of millions.’

Think about that for a moment. Now, I’ll be the first to say that anything taken to excess can be a problem—even a health crisis. Alcohol, for example, or doughnuts. But along with controlling reproductive rights and standing for the most anti-GLBT platform in the history of the party, the GOP has deemed pornography as one of the main things it must battle in the upcoming election.

Not the fact that climate change is destroying our world.

Not the fact that scarcely a day goes by without a mass shooting here in the U.S. In fact, the U.S. outstrips all other countries when it comes to violent acts, accounting for 31% of all mass shootings in the world since 1966.

Not the fact the U.S. has an abysmal ranking for infant mortality, child poverty, and health care out of all other developed nations. Or that we’re sadly behind other industrialized nations in math and science.

No, what is most important to the GOP is what goes on in the privacy of our own bedrooms between consenting adults. And for this particular Church Lady, this includes what’s on my Kindle.

Not that she represents all Church Ladies. I grew up knowing some fantastic women, stalwart and forthright Church Ladies who would appear on your doorstep with a casserole and a hug at a death in the family, and a crocheted blanket for your newborn baby. They run the after-school programs for the latch-key kids, and the soup kitchen for the homeless. They don’t criminalize you for being poor. And when they raise money for the Church, it’s because the roof really does need repair, not because someone believes a multi-million dollar complex is what God needs from his faithful.

As you can probably tell by now, I was born and raised in a Christian household. I have very strong beliefs, and yet I broke with the Church some time ago. In part, because I didn’t believe that religion and politics should be bedfellows, and I don’t like being told from the pulpit how I should vote. In part, because I believe in the separation of Church and State. But also because I believe very strongly in free will. I believe in God. I no longer believe in the Church. And while someone has every right to come along and tell me I’m going to burn in hell for what I say and do, their right to dictate what I say or do or think ends when it infringes on mine. I suppose that’s where all the legislation comes from. There are states where any sexual position other than ‘missionary’ is illegal, where oral sex is illegal, where sex outside of marriage is illegal and so on. Probably so some fiercely intrusive neighbor can rail at you, “But it’s against the law!”

I call it the Sodom and Gomorrah effect. In this Old Testament story, God announces he will smite the people of these two cities because of their ungodly behavior. Not just the wicked and the guilty, mind you. ALL OF THEM. Abraham negotiated with God’s messengers, who said they would spare the towns if fifty righteous men could be found. Abraham talked them down to ten, but in the end, ten men could not be found. Before the smiting began, God’s angels allowed Lot and his family to escape.

Historians believe that Sodom and Gomorrah were actual cities struck by a natural disaster, which makes sense because earthquakes, wildfires, tornados, and the like wipe out everything in their path with little regard for your religious affiliations. Today, Sodom and Gomorrah are synonymous with evil and immortality—and there is a strong belief among some religious groups that the actions of your neighbor affects your own moral standing. That someday, everyone will be smote by association, regardless of how fervently you pray in your own home. I believe this is the fear that drives most of these anti-everything legislations. The willingness of some to stick their noses where they do not belong because on some level, they believe the entire nation will suffer hellfire and damnation for the actions of their neighbors.

The U.S. has always had a strong Puritan streak. These days, however, certain factions in government have forgotten the Puritans came to America to avoid religious persecution. They have forgotten the words of our Founders written so that others may have the right to worship as they see fit. They have forgotten the precepts of our Declaration of Independence. They want to amend these documents to say, “Only for those people who believe exactly what I believe” when they themselves are splintered into so many subsets within their own religions that this is impossible.

So I say to the Church Lady: yes, child pornography is wrong and it is a crime. What two consenting adults choose to do is not, even if they film it for sale under the rules of the industry. Yes, there are probably people who watch too much porn, just as there are people who drink too much. Yes, porn has probably led to unreal expectations and caused more than one marriage to buckle—but I suspect it was only a catalyst to an already unstable situation. And no, explicit romance novels aren’t new. They’ve been around for a long time. Yes, they’ve been called ‘soft porn’ for a long time, too. Why am I not hearing any ‘slippery slope’ arguments coming from you on this one, as so many do with gun control? Probably because you believe everything should be banned. Do you really think this is where you need to focus your energies right now?

I am perfectly happy with your decision, Dear Church Lady, not to read romances, or allow porn of any sort in your house. You can raise your children to believe sex is somehow wrong unless it is for the specific purpose of procreation, and wonder why they turn to other sources to learn more about one of the strongest human drives there is. You can wonder, too, why spouses stray or hire sex workers. Could it be on some level, they’re missing something in their love life? Some joy, some spontaneity, some freedom from the belief that sex, as an act in and of itself, is bad? In fact, it seems to me those that shout the loudest about controlling the thoughts and private lives of others should check to see if their houses are made of glass before picking up those stones.

Maybe that’s not the case for this particular Church Lady. It’s hard to know exactly what motivates someone to try to hold everyone around them to their specific standards. Just because I decide to go on a diet, it doesn’t mean I get to force everyone around me to do the same. Self-control and willpower are my responsibility, and no one else’s. And keep your nose out of my Kindle.

In the original draft of this post, I was prepared to go on ad nauseum about certain uptight women who think they should have say over what I read and write. (Never mind who I actually sleep with, or my right to access birth control) Who believe the ‘moral decay’ in America is more important than feeding the hungry, providing health care, or creating a strong economic base with the understanding that everyone benefits when there is more discretionary income—even the ultra-wealthy will see business profits go up when there is a strong economy. Tempting as it was, I canned that first draft.

Instead, I decided to share with you why I write romances.

I write because for most of us, life is fairly sucky and we need the distraction of being taken out of our lives for a few hours every now and then. Seriously. You had a crappy day at work? Lose yourself in the fantasy of meeting a wealthy billionaire who will sweep you off your feet and take care of you for the rest of your life. Put in a 12 hour day at the office only to come home and take care of small children and/or elderly parents? Immerse yourself in a different world for a few minutes before bedtime, a place where exciting things happen to characters that you’d like to be.

We need to believe that things can turn out okay. That we can get our happy endings.

We need to see depictions of healthy relationships. And yes, for the vast majority of us, this includes sex. It isn’t a dirty word, not to be spoken except under the covers and with a sense of guilt.  And yes, perhaps there are readers who get off on our words, who are titillated by the scenes of passion we’ve created. You know what? THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS.

Perhaps the reader is single and has no other recourse to relieve a physical need.

Perhaps the reader has had his or her trust violated, and is not in a position to let someone into their lives at the moment.

Perhaps the reader has reached a point in their lives where they are comfortable being alone.

Perhaps the reader is in a relationship, and for various reasons, their partner can’t meet their needs. Maybe it’s due to illness, travel, or stress. For whatever reason, maybe this reader uses romance novels to keep them satisfied until their partner is ready for them. Maybe they understand that their partner’s needs will always be different from theirs and this is how they remain faithful.

Perhaps the reader simply needs more than his or her partner can offer, and uses stories to help get them in the mood for a loving session with that partner. Things change, either because of illness, age, or workload. Reading a sexy scene can stoke the fires for a truly passionate session with one’s partner.

Or~gasp~maybe the reader just enjoys it.

Whatever the reason, I’ll let you in on a little secret here. You may think the reason people read romances with explicit sex scenes is because of the sex. It isn’t. People read because of the romance. They want to see a particular set of characters work out their differences, overcome obstacles, and come together for a happily ever after in the end. If there is some smokin’ hot sex along the way, for some of us that’s just icing on the cake.

So I say to you, Dear Church Lady, I have no problems if you only want to eat broccoli, and shun all sweets and confectionaries. I applaud your willpower for passing up bread and pasta, instead noshing down on zucchini and Brussels sprouts. Hey, there are days when that’s what I want to eat as well. But don’t come down with righteous indignation because I also like crusty French bread hot out of the oven brushed with melted butter. Don’t curl your lip because I dip my strawberries in heated chocolate, or try and legislate away my right to eat brownies. If your religion forbids such things, more power to you. Mine doesn’t. And I certainly wish the government would stop trying to legislate what goes on behind closed doors between two consenting adults.

Here’s a thought: why not check out a little spicy romance? Who knows, it may rock your world in more ways than one.

Fool'sGold-400x600For those of you who are interested in such things, check out my latest release, Fool’s Gold. Now available on Amazon and Kindle Unlimited.

Blurb: Eight years ago, Jake Stanford had it all: a spot on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team and the love of his life, Rich Evans. A tragic accident wipes out everything in the blink of an eye. Hard work and sacrifice get him another shot at Olympic Gold, but only if he puts his past behind him and agrees to work with Rich again.

Bound by secrets he cannot share, Rich was forced to give up Jake eight years ago. Now he has a second chance to help Jake realize his dreams. But the secrets that drove them apart haven’t changed, and Rich must face them or risk losing Jake forever.

 

 

Anger is Not My Brand

Angry Ann by Josh Janssen flickr creative commons

Angry Ann by Josh Janssen Flickr creative commons

I’ve been thinking about this post for several weeks now, wanting to present a coherent essay instead of a random assortment of thoughts. The truth of the matter is this has been on my mind for some time.

Back when I first began publishing original stories, I came fresh out of the spill-your-guts school of thought when it came to creating blog posts. I’d spent years on Live Journal, where the anonymity of a fandom name lent to the fiction that you could speak your mind because no one really knew who you were. Though I was always friendly and made sure interactions on my on LJ were polite as well, I was far more free with my thoughts than I probably should have been, even in an f-locked entry. When I made the transition to this website, the inclination to be too chatty and to overshare tagged along with me. In part, it was due to the freedom of sharing such thoughts after a lifetime of having to hide who I really was.

Social Media guru Kristen Lamb has written several good books on the subject and runs a blog well worth following. I don’t agree 100% with everything that she has to say, however, and early on when I read her strictures against being too political or ranty on your blog, I tossed away that nugget of advice. Basically, she said that unless it was part of your brand, then you shouldn’t overwhelm your readers with political commentary, outbreaks of religious fervor, details of your medical conditions, or too many fluffy kittens. And while it was possible to use your interests to drive traffic to your blog (say, for example, you were searching for the Holy Grail of Gluten-Free Baking–edible bread…), they should still be in line with your brand. Dressing up in leather catsuits swinging a flogger might not be the best image for an author of children’s stories to share.

ATG sun - CopyI could see her point, and yet at the same time rejected it. Just because I’m an author with a product to sell, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have any opinions. Besides, how else do we change the world except by enlightening those around us? Maybe my viewpoint on a subject would alter someone else’s stance. Perhaps my struggle with chronic pain might help someone else who suffers the same. Who doesn’t need more fluffy kittens in their lives? At the time, I saw her advice as too limiting to myself as a person with interesting content to share. I didn’t want my blog to be ordinary or, God forbid, boring.

But my own opinion on this has changed over the years. For one thing, everyone seems to be so angry these days. Granted, there’s a lot to be outraged about. The political climate in the U.S. is so toxic right now that I have serious doubts we’ll ever recover, no matter who wins the Presidental election. People are furious, and rightly so, after spending a lifetime busting their ass only to discover the American Dream is not theirs to grasp. Many of my friends and acquaintances are one medical crisis away from total bankruptcy. State governments are overturning national statutes, passing unconstitutional laws, making discrimination legal in their region while making access to birth control and abortion nearly impossible. God forbid you be a single mother trying to make house and car payments on only one salary while raising your kids. My timelines are filled with horrific stories of yet another mass shooting or abominable crime, while nearly every week, someone within my social circle goes on a complete meltdown. These are things we should be outraged about, and open discourse on the subject.

And yet, lately, it has become too much for me. I feel like I’m on media and outrage overload. I’ve had to take breaks from social media altogether. A Sunday afternoon checking Twitter shouldn’t leave you breathing into a paper bag to calm your hyperventilation.

Author Heidi Cullinan recently posted an excellent essay entitled Pitching My Fork: Confessions of an Outrage Addict. I read it understanding how empowering channeling that kind of rage could be, and why someone might feel the need to shout their anger to the world–not only because they believed they were right, but because of the joy of cracking that whip, making people jump, starting angry dialog that you could continue to inflame or stomp out as you saw fit. I was relieved to realize on reading her post that I was not an outrage addict. I’m usually the person who sits back and shakes her head, waiting for the discourse to become more reasoned before weighing in with an opinion, if at all. People being attacked frequently become defensive, and say things without clearly thinking them through. People determined to be offended will see outrage in anything that is offered as rebuttal, and both sides continue to pour gasoline on the fire.

NotMyMonkeys-FBThat’s not to say we shouldn’t get outraged, or that someone else’s outrage isn’t a starting point for education. But that’s not how it turns out most of the time, is it? Whenever I see the latest kerfuffle turn into WW3, I frequently remind myself of the old Polish saying, “Not my Circus. Not My Monkeys.” I post it on my social feeds when I’m tempted to wade into a confrontation that is not about me as a reminder to sit on my hands and keep out of it.

The problem is sometimes it is my circus, and I wish to hell the monkeys would stop fighting.

Recently a discussion on one of my groups came back around to the advice Kristin Lamb gave about not getting too personal or too political on your blogs. One of the group members responded much as I would have done five years ago, saying that anyone who met her would know she is a feminist and a GLBTQ ally and she didn’t see why she had to hide these things about herself. That meant sharing things that she felt was important, and not painting over her content to make sure it was offensive to no one.

I agree with her in principle. I do. And you will still see me post from time to time on subjects I’m passionate about. But I cannot live on a steady diet of outrage, and that seems to be the growing trend wherever I turn these days. This is not about maintaining a level of professionalism or presenting a generic face to an audience at large. This isn’t me pointing fingers at those who choose to not to censor their thoughts. I applaud those who can share their outrage with wit and humor. This isn’t about following the advice of wiser people farther along on the same path. This is about me controlling how much power I give to other people to make me upset. This is about me being known for the kinds of books I write, and not the ranty blog posts I make. This is about anger not being my brand. I will not give it that kind of power over me.

 

Does Sex Really Sell? Genre and Reader Expectations to Consider

78812398_8Today’s post was prompted in part by this insightful blog post on Sex Scenes by Theo Fenraven. If you haven’t read it yet, go check it out. We’ll wait here for you. 🙂

It’s also a topic that my fellow authors and I have been bandying about lately. How much sex is too much? Too little? Just right?

I confess right here, I agree with much of what Theo says about the boredom with reading–and writing–repetitive sex scenes. I was participating in a Facebook conversation the other day, and I mentioned that I frequently skimmed sex scenes if I found too many of them in the story. I also skim them if they go on for pages and pages while the main characters participate in amazingly athletic sex, all while either maintaining painfully witty banter or else delivering the kind of dialog best suited to a cheap porn movie. One thing I have discovered by cutting back on the sex scenes is that I frequently get another 20 K words in which to tell my story. Given that I tend toward James Michener-sized novels (okay, not really), that can be a huge boon to me as an author.

The funny thing is, many years ago, I took part in a huge fandom poll about sex scenes in fanfic, and whether they were the ‘money shot’ of the story or something you skimmed. I was stunned at the time to find that the vast majority of readers said they skimmed those scenes, that they weren’t the most important part of the story for them. As Theo so eloquently put it, “What ultimately makes a story sexy is the relationship between the main characters and the story being told.” This was obviously how many readers felt.

108267663_8I remember being taken aback because I assumed that’s what the majority of readers wanted–after all, fanfic provides the story they can’t or won’t show in the original canon, right? Isn’t it the reason people read romance? To see the characters get together?

I was also surprised because I work hard on my sex scenes. They aren’t just about the mechanics of sex, I try to instill in them something about the characters and how they relate to each other as well. I was honestly flabbergasted to find out so many of my fellow fans sort of breezed right through those scenes. I couldn’t understand why anyone would do that. If sex scenes were irrelevant, then why were the stories with ‘mature’ ratings usually read more often than any of the others?

Then I began reading stories where five to seven sex scenes per book were considered standard–and I found myself skimming as well. When I look back at my own stories, I tend to have one major sex scene and one or two minor ones, with the rest alluded to. I like sex. I think it is a part of most romantic relationships, and since I am writing romances, I expect to include some sex scenes. I just don’t need that many to get the gist of how the characters feel about each other. The M/M genre in particular seems to have a high demand for sex scenes, compared to other romance genres, but there are definitely subgenres that call for more or less sex scenes within M/M romance as a whole.

Some of it comes down to reader expectation, I believe. I read a review for a truly well-done Regency romance in which a handful of readers left nasty reviews because the story included graphic sex scenes. I think those readers felt blindsided by the inclusion of these scenes in a genre that typically doesn’t lend itself to them. I can see their point, to be honest. I frequently pick up Regencies because I know the formula and know what to expect, and there are times when I’m in the mood for any dalliance to be behind closed doors. But in this case, I thought the scenes were not only appropriate to the character, but the book was so enjoyable, I found it hard to understand why some reviewers would be so harsh.

I’m working on (among other things) a traditional M/F romance set in the 1950s that is also written in first person. My heroine isn’t very inclined to share her deepest most private moments with me (or the world) and I suspect any sex scenes will end up being fade-to-black. Appropriate for the story and the character, to be sure, but a part of me wonders if I will lose a large number of readers because of it. Maybe not, because it’s a historical. But maybe so.

M/M romance was a breath of fresh air to me because it didn’t come with a lot of preconceived notions of what constituted appropriate behavior. It didn’t have double standards for one half of the couple. The sex scenes were more likely to be free of euphemisms and purple prose. But I really don’t need to see my characters going at it like rabbits in every other chapter to understand they have the hots for each other.

146272154_8Which brings me back to the point of this post: does sex really sell stories? Or do we include it because it’s expected of us? Do you as readers skim sex scenes? How many sex scenes do you want to see in the average romance? What’s more important to you–having characters declare their love for each other or them having sex? Do you need a wedding or a promise of marriage–or are these leftovers from when ‘good girls’ didn’t have sex before marriage without the promise of a ring? Are we trying to model all romances on the original Harlequins (or Mills and Boone, for my UK friends) from the seventies?

Inquiring minds want to know…

Agent Carter Hits It Out of the Park

Agent Carter PosterAnyone who follows this blog knows I’ve been a Peggy Carter fan from the moment Captain America: The First Avenger was released. So, be prepared, this post is going to be a bit of social commentary combined with fangirl glee.

Captain America was one of my favorite Avenger movies from the Marvel Universe collection. I’ve written about my love for Steve Rogers before, and why I think we need more heroes like him. I adored Peggy Carter in that film, and was sorry to realize that we’d probably never see Hayley Atwell in that role again. Once Rogers wakes in modern-day New York, after being in the deep freeze all those years, the following movies are all about Captain America in the contemporary world. But the funny thing is, fandom loved Peggy Carter, too. She got a 15 minute short film as a DVD extra in the Blu-Ray version of Iron Man 3, and we got a glimpse of what her life was like post WW2, an agent who was treated more like a file clerk and grieving for Steve’s loss. The agent who took it upon herself to get the job done where other agents had failed. The fans, myself included, loved it! Then she appeared in Captain America 2:The Winter Soldier, both in newsreels about her role in S.H.I.E.L.D. and then later, Steve visits her in a nursing home, in one of the most painfully poignant reunion scenes I can recall in a movie. My father lost the ability to put anything new into long-term memory toward the end of his life. I could completely identify with Steve having a conversation with Peggy, who was lucid and clear one moment, only to turn for a second and have to watch Peggy re-discover that he was alive all over again in the next. Oh, my heart!

Even then, Marvel wasn’t done with this character. The fandom reaction to the One-Shot Agent Carter film was so positive, rumors began to circulate that they were considering a series. I can tell you, I was both excited and nervous. I loved this character and I sincerely hoped they wouldn’t get her wrong. Now that might sound odd, considering that Marvel put her on the screen for me to fall in love with in the first place, but I’ve seen it happen before. Take a great actress in a terrific movie role and try to build a weekly television series around her, and before you know it, the character isn’t even recognizable anymore. Even my boyfriend fell into the habit of muttering, “Please don’t let them screw this up…” every time a promo came on.

Marvel is a wonder for tie-ins and story-arcs across their universe, but in many ways, Agent Carter is fresh ground for them. They have some facts they need to retain, and they can seed the series with nods toward future events (like they did with an appearance by a younger Anton Vanko, who goes on to create the arc reactor with Howard Stark), but they aren’t tied into comic-book events the way the Avengers are. In many ways, it’s like what they did with the reboot of the Star Trek franchise–since the new movies follow an alternative timeline, the writers aren’t locked into re-telling old stories, but can play around in this brave new world of their own making.

I was encouraged that the showrunners were on track for getting things right when I read that the same writers for Captain America, Markus and McFeely, wrote the pilot and the first episode. I was reassured when I read this interview with Atwell in which she is quoted as saying the show “feels like a small triumph for women on television.”

But it all boiled down to the premiere. Would it live up to my expectations?

Agent Carter promoOh man, did it ever.

I’ve never been moved to live-Tweet during a program before, but I joined the legions of others on Twitter that made #AgentCarter trend on Tuesday evening. The show had everything I wanted: a strong female lead who doesn’t take the crap she’s handed out by her co-workers lying down, who is fiercely independent, but it’s because she is the most competent person she knows–and that people she cares about tend to wind up dead. She just also happens to dress fabulously, too. I’ll be honest, half of my fascination with Peggy Carter is the juxtaposition of her kick-ass toughness with her ‘ladylike’ appearance. (Not to mention I simply adore 1940s style clothing)

I found the scene between her and Agent Daniel Sousa interesting. At one point, Sousa demands an apology to Carter from co-workers that had speculated on how many men Carter had ‘known’ during the war. Sousa is far more sympathetic to Carter than most of the field agents, perhaps in part because he is a disabled war veteran who also is discriminated against. When Carter first speaks to Sousa about the incident, he assumes she’s going to thank him for sticking up for her, but instead she lets him know in no uncertain terms that Sousa isn’t doing her any favors by making such a distinction–and that she doesn’t need his intervention on her behalf. It’s interesting because it sets the tone for Carter as a character–no sooner does she give Sousa a mild set-down, she softens it with an acknowledgment of their commonalities, and then sharply takes on one of her co-workers who sticks her with his filing–thus proving her point that she doesn’t need a man to stand up for her. While I was thinking that she should be giving encouragement to anyone who sides with equality in the workplace, I am reminded that this is 1946. A male customer can slap a waitress on the ass and she has no recourse. The customer is always right, especially if he is a man. Carter has learned when and where to take up for herself because she can’t count on having a man step in on her behalf. This is Peggy Carter: independent. Not used to asking for, or receiving help. Not a bitch, as some would probably label her. She’s just not a whiner.

This doesn’t mean that she can’t be hurt. She can feel pain. She can cry. Her hands shook as she tried to deactivate a deadly bomb, and she reached for the whiskey as soon as it was done. If she’s hard on the people in her life, it’s because the bad guys don’t show any mercy, and she doesn’t want anyone else to die simply because they know her. She curses when she hits her head. She likes nice things. She isn’t above using her sexuality to meet her goals, but she’s more than a beautiful woman. She’s not afraid to play the ‘female’ card, however. And why not? Sometimes it’s the best card in a woman’s hand, especially when the rest of the deck is stacked against her. She’s tough, and smart, and sexy, and she gets the job done. Better still, she has to learn to ask for help. To accept that she ‘cannot carry the weight of the world on her shoulders alone.” I know a lot of women who struggle with this concept. I am one of them.

Ultimately, that’s what makes Peggy Carter the heroine I can admire. She gets things done through grit, courage, and ingenuity. She thinks fast on her feet and meets new developments with aplomb. She didn’t take a super serum. She didn’t gain special abilities through a lab accident. She gets by on guts, brains, and training. And yes, this is a comic-book universe, but she is closer to any one of us than the average superhero. She could be the cashier at Wal-Mart, or your dental hygienist, or the data entry person for a large company. She is us.

Besame Red VelvetBesides, who among us hasn’t felt like we weren’t appreciated by our bosses? Who hasn’t longed for a secret identity or mission that sets us apart from the other people we meet in our daily lives? The appeal of this basic scenario is HUGE, at least it is for me. Which is why I squealed like a fangirl when one of my friends told me Hayley Atwell tweeted an “Agent Carter Starter Kit”, letting fans know what color nail polish, lipstick, and perfume Carter wears. Because let me tell you, if I can paint my nails with OPI’s Cinnamon Sweet and spritz on a little Besame’s 1940’s perfume, and walk out the door asking myself, “What Would Peggy Do?” then there is nothing I can’t face during my day.

That’s what fictional heroes are for. To make everyday heroes out of all of us.

Sex Positivity Blog Hop: Why Sex Shouldn’t be a Dirty Word

spbhbadge (2)Hello and welcome to the Sex Positively Blog Hop, the brainchild of fellow author, Grace Duncan. For the next two weeks, you’ll be hearing from some of your favorite romance authors sharing their positive views on sexuality, as opposed to the negative spin we get from most lawmakers, the media, and ‘concerned citizens.’ For the entire list of participants in the hop according to dates posting, check out this link here. There is a link at the bottom of the post for the websites themselves.

I think this is a terrific idea! I believe that what two consenting adults choose to do in the privacy of their own home should be just that: private. And I believe we have the right to read and watch and enjoy what we like, as long as all parties involved are consenting adults as well. You like to read Dinosaur Erotic Fiction? Okay, not my thing, but I can respect that it might be yours. It’s not my place to judge you on it. It is certainly not my place to try and have it removed from Amazon. You think 50 Shades of Grey is the best book ever? Well, I disagree, but I’m not going to try and get it banned from the local library or condemn your morality because you enjoyed it. Likewise, I would not expect you to get your knickers in a twist because I write male on male romance, or because one of my friends loves what she calls ‘tentacle porn.’

Why do so many people put their noses in your private life? There’s a small business near my house that sums it up pretty well, I think. Painted on the side of their building is a picture of a large, ugly city, a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. The painting quotes a Bible verse about how we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God: and then goes on to state that unless we put to death the sinners, our nation will fall. Um, remind me not to take my business there, okay? But it illustrates a real problem with the viewpoints of some religions: it’s not enough to say, “My religion forbids me to eat doughnuts, therefore I won’t.” It’s the religions that state, “Doughnuts are the gateway to hell and everyone who eats doughnuts are sinners and we must BAN all doughnuts or else our mortal souls are in jeopardy, so prevent access to doughnuts NOW” that are the problem.

Daisy DukeSex is a weird beast when it comes down to it. We revere it in advertising, as long as it follows certain rules. Daisy Duke had to wear panty hose in order to get her miniscule shorts past the censors on the Dukes of Hazzard, and yet Catherine Bach’s poster of the Daisy Duke character sold over five million copies. There’s no doubt, sex sells. When it comes to products, to television series or movies, or novels, sex is often a big part of the marketing campaign, even if there is little sex in the actual item being promoted.

And yet sex is strangely taboo, as well. I’m sorry, but I think it is a bit strange that we here in the US have a high tolerance for blood and gore in action films, but showing a little bit of flesh can move a film into a restricted viewing category. It’s the push-me pull-you reaction on the part of the public to sex that is so puzzling and frustrating to me. Especially when it comes to how women are portrayed.

Redhead bondageA few months ago, I got into a discussion about tropes in traditional romantic fiction with a friend of mine, Pir8fancier, on Live Journal. I’d read a scene from a best-selling novel from a famous author, and due to an unfortunate choice of words, I’d mistakenly assumed that the new lover had handcuffed the woman to the bed when she showed signs of leaving. My misinterpretation of the scene threw me right out of the story. I was already having issues with the scene as it was: the heroine had a history of sexual abuse, and there were elements in the scene that made me very uncomfortable, as the hero refused to back off, but persisted in his pursuit of the woman. One of the things I’d been enjoying up until this point was the fact that the heroine was only interested in the man for sex. She only wanted to scratch an itch. I had found it to be a refreshing take in a story from the woman’s POV, and was pleased to see it. But then, out of nowhere, came what I perceived to be dubious consent.

Pir8’s take on this was interesting. The heroine, who’d previously shown herself to be tough and uncompromising, was having her role flipped on her. She said, “It sounds as if the author is actually punishing the heroine for wanting to be sexual and not be the submissive little sex slave that she should be. That her role is to be the woman who is enthralled with the man, NOT with his sexual organ. That sex for sex’s sake is bad and she has to be put in her place. PHYSICALLY. All of her sexual agency in this scene is taken away from her. He physically overpowers her. She cannot direct the sex. She is there for his pleasure. And naturally because this is fiction, his pleasure becomes her pleasure. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be? We can’t have our own pleasure, we can’t please ourselves. We have to be passive and let the man please us.

I know that this type of scenario plays into a lot of our shame about sex, which society promotes big time, and it is no surprise that this would appeal to many women because it absolves us of the burden of enjoying sex. We are helpless! It just happened! I had nothing to do with it!

I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines to embrace their sexual selves.

THIS. I want to draw hearts and flowers around this statement and decorate it with glitter because YES.

GOP PLan for WomenThe discussion turned to the conflict between the sexualization of pre-teens, while constantly sending out messages that women need to be passive sexual partners. It was Pir8’s opinion that this conflict was possibly behind many of the self-destructive behaviors such as cutting and anorexia. And it is not just limited to women any longer, though the stigma of being a ‘slut’ is still actively being championed by the Far Right. For the heterosexual male, being sexually active is more likely to be viewed with pride than with shame or name-calling, and yet more and more we’re seeing legislation being passed to limit access to birth control measures, or as some people on the Right refer to them, “Whore Pills.” When the Hobby Lobby debacle came down, I had people on Twitter telling me they didn’t want their tax dollars going to pay for some slut’s whoring around. Funny, we don’t see any bans on insurance companies selling Viagra or performing vasectomies, now do we?

But I digress.

I agree with Pir8fancier. We have a heavy media presence pushing sexuality on one hand, and a social presence condemning it on the other. Yes, the message is definitely be sexual and get punished for it–or don’t be sexual and be ostracized and turned into a pariah. I can remember driving up to pick up my younger sister from her high school and being treated to a gauntlet of stares, nasty comments, and laughter as I waited for her. When I mentioned the reactions I’d received while simply waiting to pick her up, she looked me up and down and said, “Well, if you’d bothered to do your hair and wear nice clothes, they’d be the ones jealous of you.”

I stared at my then 15-year-old sister and asked, “Why would I give a rat’s ass about what some teenagers think of me?”

She didn’t get it. That was the message she’d gotten from her peers and from society around her was, “Look the part but don’t act the part.”

Which is sad. It’s sadder, too, that online misogyny and slut-shaming seems to be growing in strength rather than diminishing.

What can we do about it? Well, for one, we can stop buying into society’s playbook. We need to teach our kids not to be ashamed of their bodies or their sexuality. We need to do away with the ineffective (and largely American religious-based groups) abstinence only programs and teach proper sex education in schools again. We need to talk to our teenagers about consent (an excellent open letter written here–but be prepared, the comments are just as ugly and inflammatory as you could expect). We need to talk to our kids about protecting themselves from inappropriate sexual contact without making them fear and revile ALL sexual contact. We need to stop making sex a selling point in advertising.

ink pen_wikipedia_orgI think the biggest task, however, lies in the hands of the writers. Yes, we writers. The pen is mightier than the sword, after all. 🙂 The writers are always on the forefront of changing society’s perception of accepted mores. It’s writers telling stories about same-sex couples finding their happily-ever-after or introducing GLBTQ characters into television shows that has been instrumental in increasing both the visibility and acceptance of this community, as well as championing their rights. Star Trek put a black woman in an officer’s position on the bridge of a spaceship, taking her out of the traditional role of a maid for the first time ever. Star Trek also gave us the first interracial kiss (even if it was The Aliens Made Them Do It) and then decades later on Deep Space Nine, the franchise gave us this scene, in which Jadzia Dax is faced with the woman she was once married to–but as a man.

 

 

One of the things I love about this scene is that the love is between two characters–not their external bodies. Not who they are on the outside, but who they are on the inside. The taboo in the relationship is not that they are both women now, but that Trill society forbids romantic relationships between former hosts from past lives.

We need to keep breaking the ground on what is ‘acceptable’ in terms of romantic fiction and refuse to play into the old tropes where a woman had to be forcibly overcome during sex so that she wouldn’t come across as a slut, or that a man had to come over all alpha and dominate his partner in order to be seen as a ‘proper’ romantic lead.

It’s up to you readers as well. In many cases, you hold the most power. Vote with your purchases and your reviews. Don’t accept the tired old tropes (unless of course, you like them). Tell authors what you love about their stories. Tell your friends about the books they must read. Leave reviews on the stories that touched your heart and why. Share. Promote. Talk about it. It’s time to embrace your own sexuality as well. Yesterday I tried on a pair of ridiculously inappropriate shoes. Inappropriate because my life is filled with mud and animal hair, with horses, dogs, and cats. Inappropriate because I nearly killed myself trying to walk down a short flight of stairs in them.

My Frozen ShoesBut damn, they looked good. And that’s reason enough to have them. I feel like a princess when I put them on, and I’m learning to embrace my Inner Princess. She’s the one who dresses up simply because it pleases her, and she’s not afraid to ask for what she wants–and take it when it is offered.

Like Pir8 said, I cannot accept this sort of passivity any longer. I want my heroines and heroes to embrace their sexual selves. And that means starting with myself.

Here’s the link to the rest of the blog hop! Do join in the fun!

My latest release is Walk a Mile, the second installment in the bestselling Sixth Sense series from Dreamspinner Press. FBI agents John Flynn and Jerry Parker are struggling to keep their evolving relationship together while on hunt for a murderer. Do check it out!

UnspeakableWordscoverWalkAMile

Why “Frozen” Embodies Everything the GOP Fears Most

Frozen_GOT Mashup

Frozen_GOT Mashup

Okay, so this isn’t the first time I’ve written about the movie Frozen. The first time was with delight, to share how much this movie resonated with me and how much I identified with Elsa, always hiding who she really was for the good of her people, to please her parents, for intentions well-meant but ultimately wrong for her. The second time I posted about it was in response to some of the ludicrous reactions that followed: that by breaking with the standard Disney traditions of the ‘princess’ being rescued by the Prince in the end, Frozen was somehow dangerous and should be prohibited viewing for young, formative minds.

Today’s post takes that theme a bit farther into darker territory. To be honest, I am reeling from the recent SCOTUS decision handed down in favor of Hobby Lobby ruling that they are exempt from having to provide health insurance for their employees that does not agree with their religious beliefs. In one single action, SCOTUS has determined that corporations are things that can hold beliefs, that the religious beliefs of one set of people trump the access to basic health care for another set of people, that employers have a say-so in their employees health care, and that women are second-class citizens. Ruth Ginsberg was right when she stated in her scathing rebuttal of the decision that this was opening a minefield. Already corporations are filing lawsuits to not cover other kinds of birth control under the same reasoning. One of the things I find most damning in the SCOTUS decision is the mandate that this ruling pertains to certain kinds of birth control only: that it in no way should be taken to mean that other forms of health care, which might also be forbidden or offensive to certain religions, will be subject to the same exemptions based on religious beliefs.

Oh. I see. It’s not people needing blood transfusions or having allergic reactions to shellfish that you are discriminating against. Just women who want to have some control over family planning. I had a woman respond to one of my tweets on the subject by saying “I don’t want my tax dollars going to support some other woman’s immorality.” That’s what it really boils down to. Sex is for procreation only, and if any woman indulges in it for any other purpose, well, then she is a dirty skank. Note that the prohibition doesn’t apply to men. After all, boys will be boys, right?  Let’s completely ignore the fact that many, many women take birth control for medical reasons (I was one such person, who could not function with erratic periods that hit without warning, resulting in overwhelming nausea and blackouts. Without birth control, I was simply not functional for several weeks out of every month) Let’s eliminate the case of the woman who gets pregnant as a result of rape as being “God’s will”.  So let me get this straight. It’s not God’s will that some man can’t get it up? What purpose is there for Viagra besides sex?

I was tempted to respond to my twitter troll by saying that I didn’t want my tax dollars going to support her church, but really, that’s not true. I haven’t minded the fact that my tax dollars goes to support schools when I have no children, and fire departments when I’ve never had a fire–simply because I believe in the idea of communities and having support available to all when they do need it.  However, if churches are going to become such huge political entities, I think we need to re-think their tax-exempt status.

GOP PLan for WomenI’ve read several excellent and damning articles on the subject over the last few days. Best selling author Kate Aaron has written an insightful essay into why we all should be worried about what this Supreme Court ruling means. She says what I’ve been saying about the implications of this ruling with far more eloquence than I have; you should read her post. I also read an excellent article posted by Salon this morning, which states what I’ve been saying all along: the only thing the GOP finds more frightening than the mythical “Gay Agenda” is the Independent Woman.

And that’s the heart of the antagonism toward Frozen by certain parties. If you haven’t watched the “Let it Go” scene (and where have you been, hiding under a rock?) then I invite you to watch it now. Go on. I’ll wait.

Did you see it? The most frightening thing to ever appear in a movie! *gasp* The heroine who discovers the power within herself to be herself–without a man standing at her side. Notice, too, how Elsa’s transformation into her true self was decidedly sexy and seductive–and yet with no other motive than because it pleased her to look that way. In another stunning twist on the old tropes, it isn’t Kristoff who saves the day when Anna is turning to ice (though it would have been a nice ending–Kristoff’s a good guy and he *isn’t* a prince, so Disney could have stopped there and it would have been trope-breaking enough). No, Anna’s last act before turning into a solid block of ice is to rush to her sister’s defense. To throw herself between her sister and the sword about to fall. Her sister.

You would have thought that this act of sisterly love would have embodied the core of the GOP’s professed ‘family values’. What could be more pure than the love two sisters have for each other? What could be nobler than the self-sacrificing act Anna made (which incidentally ended up saving her own life)? Nothing.

So how did Frozen come to represent the mythical Gay Agenda? Why were people jumping up and down and screaming that it promoted lesbianism, among other things? The answer is quite simple–and yet very ugly at the same time. As of the most recent US Census, women outnumber men in this country. Women represent 41.6% of the workforce (for which they average salaries over $10 K less annually than men). Single, independent women tend to vote democratic. There. I said it. It all boils down to politics. So why target Frozen as the work of the Gay Agenda? Because it’s safe to do so. Because the far right can still ramp up its political base with the words ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’. They are doing a good job of ramping up their base with the word ‘slut’ as well. And every single term is considered a permissible form of name-calling in today’s media.

But there was no slutty behavior in Frozen. And to scream, “But look at her! She’s promoting being a Strong, Independent Woman!” would sort of point out the GOP’s real agenda: to keep women financially dependent on men. It’s a harder sell to say, “Don’t let your little girl watch Frozen, as she might grow up to be able to think for herself!” than it is to say, “LESBIAN ALERT!!”

The fact that all of these words are used to denigrate and subjugate one group of people to the belief system of another is wrong. It needs to stop before we see the gradual erosion of civil rights across the board. You think I’m being overly pessimistic, don’t you? Perhaps. But I keep seeing posts about fathers making their daughters sign ‘purity pledges’ (and taking creepy photos with them like they were Prom dates or something–what’s up with that?) and men advocating keeping your daughters at home, preventing them from being sullied with education, and the like. So, yeah. I believe if we don’t wake up, we’ll be fighting to keep our very right to *vote* in another thirty or so years.

Talk to your boss

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe all of this has finally woken the sleeping dragon at last. You know the one I mean. The middle-aged woman who has been too tired to get involved in politics because she’s been too busy taking care of her elderly parents, and her own family, and working a full time job for less money than her male co-workers. She’s been up to her neck in house payments, and dealing with chronic illness, and surviving on too little sleep and anti-depressants, and burning the candle at both ends only to scrape up the wax and slap it back on the wick again because if she gives up and flops down on the couch, there is no-one else to get everything done. And this woman is *angry*. Most of the women I know are furious right now. And you know what? The GBLTQ community has our back because we have THEIR back. Since I’ve never met a homophobe who wasn’t also misogynistic and racist, it only makes sense that we support each other. And we’ll remember this come election time.

Dear GOP: Winter is coming.

 

Why My Feminism isn’t About You

Better livingI’m supposed to be cleaning the house today. The BF has a sports thing he’s doing, and I have several days off in a row. I’ve just finished one major writing project and am that little lull before I’m ready to tackle a new one.

I’ve also been doing a bunch of research on the 1950s as part of the background I need for a new series I’m contemplating: think of it as Ward and June Cleaver meets the X-Files.  With the emphasis on homemaking for ‘the little woman’ of that era, I might be feeling a bit guilty about the state my own home is in.

So right. Today seemed like the perfect day to tackle the house, which is long overdue for a major spring cleaning. The kind where you put on your favorite playlist, crank the music and PURGE your house of all the useless crap that has accumulated for decades, trimming it down to the bare minimum in the hopes that you will find that external hard drive you misplaced last year and now desperately need. Instead, I woke to the internet discussion of the Elliot Rogers shootings in Santa Barbara yesterday. And the ‘mansplaining‘ that had already begun.

In many ways, the need of some men to stand up for Elliot Rogers and claim that he was right to take out his frustrations on not being able to get a date by shooting up a sorority house full of women is more shocking than the fact that once again, we have *another* campus shooting here in the US because a mentally unstable person had easy access to weapons that allowed him to commit mass murder.

I began reading the Twitter hashtag #YesAllWomen. I read this well-thought out article by skepchick on the Alpha Male/Retribution syndrome and how Rogers’s rage will be blamed on his mental illness alone and not the growing number of Men’s Rights and women-hate groups on the internet fomenting his anger. Yes, Rogers was mentally ill. So yet again, we have an example of a mentally unstable person gaining access to a gun and killing large numbers of people with it. I don’t dispute this.

What concerns me is the amount of sympathy that Rogers got post-shooting, The numbers of men who took to the Twitterverse to cheer him on and applaud his shooting spree. “Damn right, blonde bitches, that’s what you get for friendzoning us” and “If a girl had just given the guy a little pussy, none of this had to happen” being two of the most chilling comments I came across.

I read the effing *brilliant* post by Chuck Wendig titled Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men in which Wendig tackles the problem head on for what it is–the utter insanity of men’s privilege and sense of entitlement when they already have it. More than anything, I am conscious of the double standards still perpetrated, in fact, even promoted by the GOP, that women are second class citizens who must be controlled and monitored like small children because their wanton actions might trigger unfortunate behavior in otherwise ‘nice’ boys.

DeLorean_Back to the FutureLike the GOP, growing louder in its religious and social cage-rattling in an effort to keep their base hopped-up and voting blindly for them (despite the fact that their economic policies are ruinous for anyone except the 1%–don’t get me started), it seems the closer women get to true equality, the more we get laws governing our bodies passed by men who want to keep us in ‘our’ place, or deny us equal pay, or erode the civil liberties we fought hard to establish. For every young woman out there, I’d like to tell you this: civil rights aren’t a battle fought and won and something you can just accept from now on. They are something that must be defended every day. If certain political parties could figure out a way to do it, they would strip voting rights from us, too.

One of the fun facts I discovered during my research was that up until the late 1960s, it was impossible for a woman to rent a car in the US without the written permission of a male relative. Presumably, this was to prevent women from leaving their husbands without their knowledge, denying them the right of a headstart away from someone who may have terrified them.

But I digress.

Shortly after the Steubenville rape case (and please, don’t get me started on the Football Culture/Rape Culture in this country. An openly gay NFL player will bring down the sport but rapists, murderers, and players who RUN A DOGFIGHTING RING are scarcely acknowledged? Give me an effin’ break.), a very good friend of mine posted an open letter to her son on consent. This was one of many conversations she’d had with her son over the years on his responsibilities for his actions and expectations when it comes to the people he chooses to date, and the letter was posted by The Good Men Project. It has since been reposted and shared so many times that I’ve lost track of the current stats (and have asked my friend to share them here with me), and has been translated into other languages. The GMP invited my friend to be a regular contributor to their site, and she was asked if she’d be interviewed on television.

She declined both offers.

Why? Read the comments on that post. For every woman thanking her for speaking up, for speaking to her son about such an important matter, three or four men chimed in with complaints that she didn’t address the comparatively small number of men who are raped and molested by women. Okay, that occurs. No one is denying that. But that is not what the letter was about. The letter was about a parent taking responsibility for educating her son about what constitutes sexual consent between two people, and to have a stridently vocal group try to usurp the discussion away from its true purpose was disheartening to say the least. Not because these voices didn’t deserve to be heard–but because some of these voices tried to make it seem as though the subject at hand–the rape of women by young men either through lack of respect or as a kind of sport–was somehow not a real or significant problem. Worse, however, in my opinion, was the number of men who wrote in saying that she should be turned in to child services for emotionally crippling her son by even *having* this discussion. Men who likened her to a monster. Trolls who called for her death and predicted dire ends for her children. My friend responded with courtesy, intelligence, and patience to these comments, but eventually she couldn’t take it any more. And I don’t blame her. The comments enraged me. No one should have to put themselves through that every day.

Redhead bondageSo when I wake up to find that mansplaining is in full force for Elliot Rogers today, by groups who advocate making women submit to the will of a man by making them bleed, I felt compelled to share with you some of my personal experiences on being a single woman in the US. I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m just saying how it is.

During orientation for college, the women in the audience were advised not to go anywhere after four pm in less than groups of two or three because of the rape problem on campus. Women were getting raped in the stacks at the library, and this was treated as a matter of course, something to be aware of, like a pothole in the street.

When I was in college, my chemistry tutor hit on me during our very first tutoring session together. I guess I should have realized something was up when he wanted to hold the tutoring session in his dorm room seated on his bed, but hey, I was young and naive. I thought he was there to tutor me in inorganic chemistry, not human biology. I was so incapable of dealing with this situation, it was so outside the ability of my teenage self to handle it appropriately, I ended up dropping out of chemistry and taking it another quarter.

Also while in college, a professor (whom I found out later had a reputation for being a rake), cornered me between two pieces of lab equipment while I was working on a project, pressing up against me from behind so that his dick was noticeable against my ass. I was a little older and wiser by this time. I pretended to be excessively startled by his sudden, silent presence, elbowing him sharply in the ribs and stomping on his instep before innocently turning and saying, “Oh dear! You surprised me! Perhaps you shouldn’t stand that close.”

Fortunately, he wasn’t *my* professor, or else I suspect I would have failed that class.

I acquired a stalker my junior year of college. I’d been out on *two* dates with a guy before I figured out he wasn’t the nice, funny, upstanding young man he’d pretended to be. In fact, he’d lied to me about everything that he said he was. He broke into my car and stole my schedule because he didn’t believe me when I said I had to be in class instead of going out with him. He became angry when I refused to pick up on his hints that he needed a place to live, or that, on our second date, he brought up the subject of marriage. He privately chastised me for ‘canceling’ our second date when all that I’d really done was suggest we meet for dinner instead of lunch as I had to go to the library. And when I refused to let him in my apartment after the end of our second date, when I told him I thought it would be best if we didn’t see each other any more as I had to keep school my first priority, I almost became a date-rape statistic. Almost.

I was forced to move, to change my appearance, to take an unlisted phone number. The fact that I could be so *wrong* about a person scared me–I no longer trusted my judgement. I made a conscious decision not to date for years. About the time I’d decided maybe it was time to give dating a chance again, I received a letter from the father of one of my best friends. Recently a widower, he felt this was the right time to tell me that he’d always admired me and that he would like to date me. Um, yeah, no. Bad timing there, dude. I went back into my self-imposed exile for another couple of years, disturbed by the fact that I could no longer enjoy my happy childhood memories of going over to my friend’s house. I was creeped out, to say the least.

When I was in my early twenties, I was followed on the interstate for over 150 miles by a man in a car that sped up whenever I did and slowed down whenever I did. I’d pulled into a rest stop earlier to get my packed lunch, never getting out of the car. I didn’t realize this guy was following me until I noticed that he’d pulled up beside me at the rest stop, and he’d never gotten out of his car, either. When I got back on the interstate, we began an hours long cat-and-mouse game that had me gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles trying to figure out how to safely lose him before I ran out of gas. This was before cell phones, so short of getting off the interstate and driving to a police station, I didn’t know what to do. What I ended up doing was speeding up until he was racing me, then slamming on the brakes and taking an exit as he passed it. I drove the back roads the rest of the way home sick with terror that he’d find me on them and I’d be at his mercy.

For the man who drove alongside me on the highway honking his horn until I looked over at him, so he could wave his dick at me, I asked my German Shepherd to sit up from where she was sleeping in the backseat. She sprang up like a spring-loaded weapon, and he hit the brakes and took the next exit.

When a man ran me off the interstate at night because I honked at him for tailgating me and flashing his high beams in my rearview mirror, I ended up zooming backward up a major interstate until I could flip the car around in an illegal U-turn and take the exit I’d just passed.

And I will never forget the night I was on-call and decided to dash into the grocery store around 7 pm to grab a few items for dinner. I say ‘dash’ because wearing a pager and planning to cook a meal is just asking for it to go off, especially when you’re stuck in line at the grocery store. So I pulled up, leapt out of the car, ran across the lot, dashed around the store picking up items on the fly, and trotted back out to the car.

When I exited the store, a pickup truck on the far side of the parking lot turned on its headlights. No big deal, someone leaving the store, right?

When I reached my car, the pickup truck was pulling up beside me.

By the time I jumped in the car and hit the lock button, a man was standing at my driver’s side door, looking at me with the expression of a tiger who’d just missed the gazelle at the watering hole.

Military Working DogsIt shook me to the core. I don’t go to the store at night by myself anymore unless I have the dog with me. And you know, there may be a reason why I keep getting German Shepherds. It’s why shows like CSI make me uneasy, as I see them as a blueprint for men who set traps for women. It’s why I always pay attention to where I park, why I carry my keys between my fingers like a shiv, why I took self-defense classes, why I don’t take up jogging. I have never been beautiful. The only thing that makes me a target is that I am female and alone. And I know that my risk of attack won’t go down with age because its never been about being young and pretty. It’s about being a target. Vulnerable. A soft-bellied gazelle that someone who wants to pretend he’s a big jungle cat can terrify and abuse.

I don’t even think about it anymore, except to warn the daughters of friends that they need to pay attention to their surroundings and that they need to be prepared to defend themselves. But daily I am appalled at the casual comments of hate my friends and colleagues report at the hands of the men who are supposed to love them. Men who belittle their creativity, their actions, hell, their very existence. Men who berate them when they try to cook healthier meals, who shove them in parking lots, who demean their opinions, their looks, their goals. I used to not be able to understand why someone just didn’t walk away from that kind of abuse, but as a single middle-aged woman, I can now understand how the fear of poverty or being without health insurance can be greater than the fear of someone’s unkind words. After all, it’s just words, right?

No, it’s your very soul. And you deserve better. And part of this culture of shaming women into believing that they deserve to be treated this way is to ensure that she’s there cooking your dinner for you when you get home from work.

I am a terrible cook. Thank god my boyfriend does most of the cooking, or I’d live off Cap’n Crunch. Thank god, too, that he believes in mutual respect, intelligent discourse, believes in my writing, and never belittles anything that I hope or aspire to. I’m a very lucky woman, living as a I do in a Red State (where daily someone is trying to pass a law to make me less of a person than I am), to find someone like him. Because if you look at my track record here, you can see why I almost lost hope of ever finding this kind of adult relationship. Believe me, it’s better than anything I can dream up in one of my romance stories.

The thing is, I don’t think my experiences are unusual. I think they are frighteningly typical of the average American woman. And that is wrong on so many levels.

One more thought before I go. I came across this article by Dr. Jill McDevitt, a sexologist. She sums up the current thought toward women and sex very succinctly. It is no longer damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s dead if you do, dead if you don’t. Read some of the comments and reactions Dr. McDevitt describes in the case of a woman who put herself out there online performing a sexual act and then was driven to commit suicide because of it.

Wow. Chew on that one a bit.

Right. Well, I’ve got a house to clean, folks.

 

 

 

 

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…

 

 

Faberge Shampoo, or what are you working on now, Sarah Madison?

red_flickrRemember that old Faberge shampoo commercial? You know, the one where the woman with the luxurious hair says, “And I told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on, and so on.”

That’s a bit how social media works, isn’t it? 🙂 I got tagged for a ‘and so on’ type of blog post by my friend and fellow author Margarita Gakis. The idea is that I answer a few questions about my writing and tag three more fellow authors, who will, well, you know. And so on. Margarita is the author of Trial by Fire (Book One in the Covencraft series) and one of those brilliant, amazing authors who creates splendid characters with depth and dimension–and is also darned funny. You should check out Trial by Fire–book two (Counter Hex) is in the editing process and book three is underway!

MargaritaTrial By Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are the questions I received:

1. What am I working on?

Hah, this might as well read ‘what should you be working on?’ I’ve just finished the sequel to my FBI/paranormal story Unspeakable Words. Walk a Mile will be coming out with Dreamspinner Press sometime this fall. I’ve started the sequel to that story because I left things on a bit of a cliff-hanger and I didn’t want my audience to suffer too long. 🙂 However, I’ve put that on hold a bit as I work on some other, smaller projects. I have a short story coming out sometime in June in the Not Quite Shakespeare Anthology from Dreamspinner. I’m working on a piece of fanfiction right now, and yes, I still write fanfic. I write it because it’s fun, and because I can let my imagination rip and stretch my writing muscles without worrying about whether or not it will pay the bills. I am writing less of it than I used to, though, primarily because of lack of time. I liken it to a palette cleanser between courses, however. Fanfic brought me back to writing after a 20 year drought. There will always be a special place in my heart for it.

Peggy's ShoesHowever, part of my temporary detour from the latest WIP, tentatively titled Truth and Consequences, is that I am seriously considering stepping a toe in to the traditional romance market. I came across a submission call for a M/F anthology with a tight deadline. I’m doing a little research to see if I can create something this particular press would be interested in. If so, I might be launching the Madison Dean line of stories sooner than I thought!  I’m also making plans for a new series of stories set in the 1950s, in which my main characters are undercover agents investigating paranormal events in a small Southern town. Think of it as Ward and June Cleaver meets Area 51. 🙂 This is a big departure for me, as Sarah Madison writes almost exclusively in the M/M romance genre. The Madison Dean persona and website still needs a bit of work, but we’re getting there.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Boys of Summer400x600Hmmm. I frequently describe my stories as being ‘romances with a twist’. I find odd things interesting. I spend most of my time running around thinking, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be cool if…?’ What that means is that you’ll seldom find a straightforward romance among my stories. As you can see from above, I describe Unspeakable Words as a ‘FBI/paranormal story’. The Boys of Summer is a contemporary story, but it has a long historical sequence within it. Crying for the Moon is about a vampire who wants to live a ‘normal’ life. The fun of writing for me is to create a set of characters and put them in a crucible of sorts–to put them in hot water and see how strong they are.
3. Why do I write what I do?
Whew-boy. That’s a tough one. I wish I knew. I write stories that appeal to me. I’m aware they don’t work for everyone. Sometimes I wish my own thought processes were a little more mainstream.  🙂 I’m aware that I’m your basic mid-list author and that I will never rise to NYT bestseller status. I’ve been toying with writing outside the M/M genre. In part because I want to try my hand at something new. In part because I am tired of justifying myself within a genre where some people repeatedly question the presence of any women authors at all. You know, that’s an inherent misogyny that is incredibly frustrating to face time and time again. The implication is that we as women are incapable of accurately portraying a gay man. That we wouldn’t do the same kind of research necessary before we’d write a story about someone with a spinal cord injury, or a historical novel, or a police procedural, or any other topic with which we don’t have personal experience. Sexism is just as ugly as racism or homophobia, and sadly, women authors (and by association female readers as well) are often accorded by some the intellectual respect that someone would give a semi-literate chimpanzee.
But also because I *adore* strong female characters and would give my eyeteeth to be able to create one that doesn’t make me want to bitch-slap her 20 pages into the book. You know what I mean. The kind of woman who can eat whatever she wants and never gain an ounce. The kind who is completely unaware of her beauty (show me a beautiful woman in ignorance of her attractiveness and I’ll call her a liar) and has improbably colored eyes–how many women do you know with lavender-colored irises?? No, my heroines are more like Zoe from Firefly, or Peggy Carter from Captain America, or Kate Beckett on Castle (before she started looking so much like a fashion model–seriously, I preferred her sharp-edged classy look from the beginning of the series) or Amelia Peabody from the Elizabeth Peters novels. So yeah. There are days when I dream of writing a ridiculously runaway bestseller like 50 Shades of Gray. Sadly, that kind of story doesn’t interest me as a reader or a writer. I’d die happy if I created a series heroine I adored.
And I love shoes. 😉Black shoes_resized
4. How does my writing process work?
Well, it usually starts with a ‘what if’ idea. What if rooftop gargoyles came to life every night? What if they were fascinated by humans, read their books, observed their activities? Or what if a vampire decided to shun his old existence and attempt to live life as a moral? What if a hard-ass FBI agent accidentally touched an artifact and developed paranormal powers? I LOVE what if questions. They take my mind on a wild journey where improbable dangers and cheesily romantic things happen. I play around with these ideas for a while, daydreaming over chores or before I drift off to sleep at night.  Eventually the characters take form and I tone down the more ludicrous aspects of my fantasy. And lo, a story is born. 🙂
So there you have it! Now I’m going to tag three authors to answer the same questions next week on their own blogs and tag three more authors themselves. And so on, and so on.
My three fellow authors:
Anna Butler is the author of several short stories in Dreamspinner anthologies, as well as her sci-fi short story Flashwired. I’ve been extremely fortunate to be part of the beta process for her epic five book sci-fi Taking Shield series that is currently submitted to a publisher, as well as her delightful M/M romance Gilded Scarab. She is an incredibly gifted author–her world-building is stellar!
Flashwiredcuddlinglg
My next victim tag-ee is Sarah Granger. I’ve only recently discovered this author! I fell in love with her M/M historical romance A Minor Inconvenience–I can’t say enough good things about it! You can check out my review here. I was absolutely entranced by this story and count it among one of the best M/M romances I’ve read this year. She also *nails* the Regency genre down cold. If you love historicals, this is Jane Austen meets Horatio Hornblower in a story Jane would blush to tell.
MinorInconvenience-A72lgUnforgivingMinute[The]
Last but not least is Hb Pattskyn! I was fortunate enough to have Hb on the website talking about her book, Hanging by the Moment, and I’ve been following with interest her decision to take charge of her health and remake her body. I’m looking forward to hearing what she’s up to now–all three of these tagged authors will have their posts up May 6th so be on the look out for them!
Daniel-and-PashaBound

Let It Go: How One Song Has Inspired So Many…

Frozen_GOT Mashup

Frozen_GOT Mashup

My friends and I have been discussing Frozen lately. I’m frankly obsessed with it, as I’ve mentioned before, but I’m finding that many of my friends are equally entranced. The movie itself has generated a lot of talk about some of the messages it sends—in particular I appreciated the fact that Princess Anna didn’t need a Prince to save her—she ended up saving herself. I also appreciated the message behind the “Fixer-Upper” song—in how none of us is perfect, and more importantly, we aren’t going to change the person we love. Love itself, however, will temper how we view perceived failings.

We’ve also discussed the ludicrous accusations of the Far Right that this movie somehow promotes the mythical Gay Agenda. Funny, I didn’t see that. I saw how the love that two sisters had for each other was more important than anything else in their lives—a testament to family. My guess is that the people crying ‘foul’ here are bothered by the real message: that a woman doesn’t need a man to be a whole person. There’s only one thing that scares the conservative Tea Party more than gays. That’s an independent, free-thinking woman. Why? Because collectively, we make up a very large minority. Big enough to take them down come next election time. This frightens them so much—which is why we are seeing more and more reactive legislature on their part: birth control and abortion restrictions, striking down laws for equal pay, killing programs that would benefit working mothers and help them get off welfare, etc. However, they can’t directly attack women without shooting their platform in the foot (again). Hence, the implantation of the idea that being an Independent Woman leads to becoming a Lesbian. That is a chain they can safely rattle, or so they believe. Keep your girls at home, don’t let them get an education. Isolate them from the world so they stay ‘pure’. Brainwash them into being the proper little women you want them to be.

Frankly, one of the many reasons I am so pro-marriage equality is that I’ve never met a homophobe who wasn’t also extremely misogynistic. I also believe that we don’t fight and win our civil rights battles once—they are an ongoing battlefield that must be protected every day, or else someone will try to strip us of those hard-won rights.

But that wasn’t what I started out to say here.

What I really wanted to talk about was how the song “Let It Go” has taken hold in the hearts of so many people. Everywhere I go, I hear people singing it. Jimmy Fallon does a rendition with Idina Menzel and the Roots on the Tonight Show. Type in ‘Let it Go’ on Youtube and you’ll get dozens of covers, from an Africanized tribal cover to one in multiple languages to a completely (and stunning) instrumental version by The Piano Guys. Why? Why has this song taken the world by storm?

I think it has a lot to do with the fact that is speaks to so many people on so many different levels. I think most of us have something we hide from the rest of the world, something that it is Real Us that we are afraid to share with the rest of the world because we’re afraid no one will like us, or that they will judge us. And truth be told, we fear with good reason. Most of us have been judged. Because we’re nerds who like Doctor Who and Star Trek beyond all reason, or because we are smarter than most of the people we know, or because we think we’re ugly, or we’re afraid to admit to our sexual preferences, or scared to follow our dreams. Because we’ve been taught to hide our real selves. We’re ashamed on some level of being who we are because who we are isn’t like everyone else and above all, we have to be like the crowd, right?

Wrong.

Who we are is what makes us unique. It’s what makes us interesting. It is where our power originates. The look on Elsa’s face when she finally releases the magic within her is truly glorious. I can watch that sequence over and over again as she remakes herself into her own image, stripping herself of the trappings laid on her by society. “The cold never bothered me anyway” has become my personal mantra.

We all have something that we need to let go. Past hurts and resentments. Fears and failings. The idea that if only we’d done ‘x’ differently, our lives would somehow be magically better. We forget that every decision made brought us to this moment in time, in contact with the people we know and love now, positioned to take what is being offered to us if we’d only take off the gloves holding us back. If we’d only stop letting fear control our decisions and instead, we embrace the uniqueness that is us.

Let it go.