How the Scottish Referendum for Independence Gave Me New Creativity

Aside from the obvious inspiration for my debut novel, there’s something sparkly happening in Scotland that has brought me back to life.

Today is the day Scotland votes on independence. The ballot question is simple: Should Scotland be an independent country? One box for yes, one box for no.

It’s easy to think of the politics in something like that. And they’re present, of course. But the real magic has happened in Scotland’s people.

National Collective, an organization founded by Ross Colquhoun a couple years back, took point on involving creative folks — artists, writers, designers, architects, actors, musicians, and more — in the discussion on Scottish independence. What happened next was the stuff of an Upworthy video, clickbaity title included.

All over Scotland, National Collective started getting people involved, using social media with facility and power and passion. They grew to thousands of members. They engaged with the Yes campaign. They mobilized each other and their peers, and together they mobilized a generation — and more.

What I’ve seen in the past two years since I first met Ross and wrote a little op-ed for their website back in August of 2012 is a picture of what a society could look like if they cared. To see Scotland take up the banners of fairness, justice, peace, and diplomacy is one thing — to see her people do so in the name of building those things themselves and committing to being better no matter how much work it takes, well. That is the stuff of legends.

The debate on Scottish independence has been fascinating for many reasons, but for me, the part that brings tears to my eyes and goosebumps pebbling across my skin is seeing the webs of connections the people of the Yes movement have forged across their country and the world. How voices in Iceland and Catalonia and Quebec (and here in the US) have raised in support of an independent Scotland. How the #YesGenerations conversation on Twitter showed families reaching across generational lines to have dialogue and how the passion of the youth to build a better nation helped convince their grandparents to give them the chance to try.

That is the kind of land I want to live in. One that values its people and knows that its human capital is far more priceless than pounds or dollars. One that feels the need to protect its elderly from cuts to necessary programs and one that welcomes immigrants and for whom an independent Scotland is for all who live within its borders, regardless of where they came from.

Watching this debate has fueled within me an even stronger desire to be there when Scotland goes her own way. I cannot predict the outcome of today’s vote. All I can predict is that it will be close, and it will leave Scotland changed. Those in Scotland who have risen up to engage with this very important question aren’t going to go away.

A big thing that has come out of this also is the concept that being an idealist and accomplishing something are not mutually exclusive ideas. Those working toward Scottish independence are far from having their heads in clouds or sand or both. They’re out there working, learning about policies, actively engaging in changing that which is within their control. This is the generation that will make up Scotland’s next leaders, and this is something of great value in a world where the recession has made many cynical and apathetic about their abilities to effect change.

So today, I’m looking forward. Scotland has taught me that it’s possible to exercise control things small and large alike.

Whatever the results are today, I’m behind the people of Scotland. Create. Innovate. Thrive.

 

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It’s okay to stop

Last week, Jen talked about saying “no” and that it was okay to do so. The other week I talked about rewarding yourself for your accomplishments. Today I’m gonna expand on that idea. Yes, you can tell people you don’t have time for the many things you’re asked to do, but on the same side, it is okay to let yourself stop.

download (1)As writers we’re always under pressure. Projects need to be started, need to be finished, need to be polished. There’s always some deadline looming, even if just self-imposed. When I’m in the  middle of a project, I try to write every weekday and on each of those days I have a word count I try to reach. On this particular project, I want to be done with it by the beginning of October so I’ve imposed a 3k day goal.

And for the first two and a half weeks, I was doing great. Week one, 15k. Week two, 30k. writingAnd then I hit 40k in the middle of week three and I hit a wall. I have a very detailed outline that is helping me get through this as quickly and painlessly as possible, but sometimes that doesn’t matter. That last day that I hit 40k was like pulling teeth and even then I was behind schedule because life got in the way. And then I woke up Friday morning, knowing I had a book publishing today, and I just couldn’t look at my computer. To catch up I’d have to write 4k (though I hit 40k, I did push to 41k), or write some on Saturday. I didn’t want to do either. I just wanted to sit and relax. So I did.

Friday I managed to get my morning cardio photo 1 (4)in but then I made myself a latte and sat my butt on the couch. I turned on that week’s Project Runway and I just watched the show while I sipped my coffee. It was glorious. And for the rest of the weekend I relaxed. Sure, there were a couple of errands that needed doing, but otherwise I just relaxed. There was a tiny part of me that felt a little guilty, but I knew that I needed that decompression, it would benefit me and the book in the long run. Now, Monday morning, I’m ready to get back to the book and get my words done.

You deserve a break, remember that. And when you’re your own boss, there is no one around who is going to check to see if you’ve taken your mandatory vacation days for you, so make sure you do it. You. Deserve. It.

Posted in Creative Life, Television, Writing | 5 Comments

Finding Hope in Tragedy

Image used with permission (as given on site) from http://robwebster.net/2011/08/15/9-11resources/

Image used with permission (as given on site) from http://robwebster.net/2011/08/15/9-11resources/

Normally I try to avoid 9/11 coverage like the plague because I simply don’t want to be reminded of that dark day in our country’s history. But this year, an incredible book called A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner has made me finally face my feelings about what happened 13 years ago. I’m not finished reading it yet, but this tale of two women – separated by a century, yet bound together by loss (one on 9/11) and a mysterious marigold scarf – is teaching me that hope can come even from the bleakest of tragedies, that new beginnings can spring from death.

I was fortunate to not be directly or in any way closely affected by the events of that day. I don’t know anyone who was there or who lost someone. I can’t begin to imagine what the victims, their families, the first responders and the citizens of New York City went through. I am in no way comparing my minor experience to theirs. But the truth is, we were all affected in some way – even on a micro scale – on that bright September morning.

I was 22 and only three months away from college graduation in September 2001. My memory of finding out about the attacks is as vivid today as it was then. I was driving to school on Natural Bridge Road when the Kill Hannah CD I was listening to ended and the radio popped on as I changed CDs. It was tuned to some obnoxious morning show, so when I first heard about the planes hitting the Twin Towers moments before, I thought it was some kind of sick joke. But as I merged on to highway 170, it became clear this was chillingly real.

I drove to school in a daze, listening in horror as the news unfolded that it was a terrorist attack and that many people were trapped. Once at school, I parked and ran for the cafeteria, the only place on campus with a TV. Sitting with my friend and fellow international business major, Shawn, I watched the towers collapse. We both looked at each other in shock. Part of the reason we were friends was a shared dream of working at the World Trade Center, a dream that had just died before our very eyes in the most terrible way.

Like a lot of Americans, I developed a fear of flying for several years after 9/11. Me, the girl who took her first trip to Europe at 11 and was only recently returned from England, my first trip without my parents. The girl whose sole focus during college (other than local bands) was on gaining the skills to travel the world doing whatever job I ended up with when I graduated. Not only did the economy collapse that day, making getting a job very hard after I graduated, the terrorist attacks destroyed my dream job and killed my desire to be a globe trotting jet-setter. Suddenly I was about to graduate with no clue what to do with my life.

fallofmarigoldsA Fall of Marigolds is very much about the limbo time between tragedy and beginning a new life. That’s what the next seven years would be for me. Maybe they would have been like that had 9/11 not happened – I don’t know. But because of the terrible job market, I ended up having to take a job at a tiny non-profit that paid next to nothing and where I was miserable. I stayed for a year before getting a job at my current employer. Little did I know then that I was destined to become a writer.

I was already writing my first Guinevere novel, but it was just a hobby, something I did when I got bored. I only had three chapters written and I never even dreamed of publishing it. (It wouldn’t be until 2008 that started taking my writing seriously.) At that moment, it had been years since I’d touched the book and I had no intention of continuing. But as I grew increasingly frustrated with my day job, I realized I had to do something on the side that made me happy. I thought back to college and my second major, English (which had started out as a minor), and realized that something was writing. If I wasn’t going to travel the world in my day job (thanks, terrorists), why not write and at least hopefully affect readers around the world?

So, in a roundabout way, the events of 9/11 led me to becoming a writer. I lost one career that day, but was unconsciously set on the path that would lead me to where I am today. I know this is nothing compared to what many experienced as a result of 9/11 and I am in no way attempting to upstage or take away from them. This is simply my story, my ray of hope from an unthinkably terrible day.

What do you remember about 9/11? What is your story? Have you found a ray of hope from the events? Have you read A Fall of Marigolds? What do you think of it?

(Before I realized what day it is, I was going to post about something that likely will ruffle some feathers, but you’ll have to wait until October for that one…I’m such a tease.)

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Just Say No!

As an author this is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. I’m a teacher at heart and I love to help people. So when someone says, “Hey, can you take a look at this for me.” I have a tendency to say, “Sure.” Especially if they are a friend.

Time management is so important in this business if you want to actually write books. Considering everything else an author has to do beyond writing…there’s so little time. I’ve had to learn how to prioritize. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s easier to tell someone that right now I just don’t have the time, than it is to offer to help and not be able to follow through.

I think most every author’s wish is that they could sit down and write all the time. And for a while, that’s exactly what we get to do. Then you start promotion. And editing. New books. Reader email (Which we love! Always feel free to send!) If you don’t prioritize from the beginning it is so easy to get caught up in the flurry of helping others get their start. My advice…when you learn your limits stick to them. Turn requests down in a professional manner. Don’t alienate people. A polite refusal will take you a lot further than a harsh, “I don’t have the time for you.”

 

A bit of shameless promotion:

My first shifter story…Not Just a Kiss is now available for free on Goodreads! You can find in the Goodreads M/M Romance group here or download it here.

Not Just a KissThe last thing Raju Bhandari expects on the night of his first leopard shift is to find his mate. He is ready to start training for the endurance test that will determine his place in the leap. But the son of the alpha has a different plan in mind.

Sujan Malakar, son to the alpha of his snow leopard leap, has found his mate. On the night of Raju’s first shift, he goes to Raju’s home to tell him how he feels. But Raju doesn’t acknowledge their mating bond. For the first time, Sujan is rejected. Not one to back down from a challenge, he continues to pursue Raju to show him they are meant to be together.

Raju’s pride keeps him from seeing the truth in Sujan. Everyone says they can see their attraction to each other, so why is he the only one who doesn’t?

Posted in Reading, Writing | 1 Comment

Back to School

Summers growing up were, to quote Nat King Cole, lazy-hazy-crazy. Relaxing days filled with sunshine and the all-consuming joy that for three whole months, school was out. Sure, I might have a week or two of soccer camp or an art class once a week, but summers were not the time for hard work. My summer memories: Sleeping till noon. Sunbathing by the pool. Driving to the beach. Sprawling out on the warm grass at dusk listening to the hum of cicadas. Fireworks like champagne flowers blooming across the sky. Hot sweet corn and ice-cold watermelon. Reading deep into the wee hours simply because I could.

I haven’t been to school for years now. But for some reason, when the first week of June rolls around my work ethic just plummets. Rationally, I know that grown-ups don’t get summer vacation, but those three months of freedom have been so ingrained into my psyche that getting work done during the summer is truly a struggle. I try to lock myself away, to focus on my personal deadlines and goals, but I can’t quite shake the reality of beautiful weather and popsicles and bare feet waiting just outside.

That’s why I’m glad September is finally here. Sure, it’s sad to see summer end–it’s not always easy to say goodbye to beach days and tank tops and barbecues and day-drinking (oops!). But as the days begin to cool off and the breeze starts to carry the crisp tang of autumn, I breathe a small sigh of relief. Because just like the first day of June makes me feel like I’m on summer break, the first day of September makes me feel like I’m going back to school.

Yesterday I bought myself a brand new notebook and a nice pen. Today I cleared out my inbox and made myself a to-do list complete with personal goals for the autumn and winter. And tomorrow, maybe–just maybe–I’ll sit down at my computer and feel focused and motivated to get some real work done. Not the slow, tortuous slog of doing the bare minimum so I can justify going outside, but the quickening of heart and mind when I know what I want to get done and plan on enjoying the journey.

The excitement I always used to get on the first day of school, when I marched through those doors and vowed to work hard and do my best.

Productivity is, of course, a process. My creativity ebbs and flows with the seasons, with my own state of mind, and with the events happening around me. That won’t change. But sometimes knowing when to relax, and when to buckle down, is half the battle.

Do you have a summertime complex? Does September make you feel like going “back to school”? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

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The Girl from the Dream: JO

Ever wake up from a dream and think, “Hey, that’d make a killer story/character/movie?”

Ever actually attempt to write that story/character/movie?

I did it. It…wasn’t easy. But I now know anything is possible, and today I’m celebrating the release of JO, the story of the girl from the dream that started it all.

So first…the dream. It was of those early morning ones, where you know you’re waking up soon, and yet somehow it’s vivid and clear. In the dream, I was in my first college dorm room. My bed was across the room from the door beneath the only window. I was sitting on the bed.

There was a knock at the door, and it opened inward. There, in the doorway, was a girl. She had long, tangled hair, and a serious expression.

Beside her stood another girl, and she couldn’t stop giggling. But it was a nervous giggle, you know? Not at all a joyous, mirthful one.

The tangled-hair girl looked at me, sitting across the room, and she said something to the effect of, “I’m dead. Can you tell? Can you smell it on me? The death?”

And then I woke up.

Let me tell you, those two girls stuck with me like white on rice, and I found myself wondering for days and weeks: why was the girl dead? Who killed her? Why? And how was she there to tell me about it?

I can still see them standing there if I close my eyes. I grew obsessed with these two girls, and I spent countless hours trying to figure out the answers to the questions posed above.

It soon came to me that Jo was a mangled science experiment, a walking corpse running on a dying battery, and that she was desperate to find a way to save herself. That the story would take place on a college campus was never in doubt, but where and why was a bit trickier.

Where took shape in the form of the White Mountains of New Hampshire, a place I visited and fell in love with many, MANY moons ago. Why? Well, I couldn’t exactly set the story in Charleston, where I currently live, could I? Jo was a walking corpse, for God’s sake! In the heat of South Carolina, she’d surely rot!

So no, I needed somewhere colder, somewhere with nooks and crannies in which the girls (and the bad guys) could hide. So a remote mountain college, then, in the dead of winter.

Thus, my snowbound story found a home.

It took a lot more time to figure out the answers to all the questions posed in those early days following my dream, and I’m certainly not going to answer them all here! I want you to find the answers for yourself! Because the girl with the tangled hair became Jo, the title character in my modern-day re-telling of the Frankenstein monster that releases TODAY OHMIGOSH I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S TODAY!!! The giggling girl became Lucy, Jo’s best friend. Their story, in part, begins here:

From behind the door, Lucy groaned. “Come on,” she said, in a voice so muffled I could practically see her head buried under her fluffy, ragged comforter. “It’s too early. Leave me alone. Please.” Always polite, in her own, special way. That was Lucy.

I banged on the door, still afraid to trust my voice.

“Please please please go away, I said.” She was grumbling, whining, but at least she sounded more conscious.

I moaned. I couldn’t help it. It slipped out. But then I tried out my voice again. “Luce!” I said. “Lucy! It’s me!” I didn’t sound like me, that was for sure, but it was enough.

The door jerked open. “Jo? Is that you? Jo, what the fuck! Where have you been? We’ve been worried sick about you! Come in, come in! What are you doing? Whose coat is that? Eli’s been by seventeen times looking for you, he’s so worried. I didn’t call your mom, but I almost did. Where the hell have you been?” A mile a minute, that was Lucy. Finally she stepped aside to give me room to pass. “Ugh, you smell like ass!”

I looked at my friend as I stepped into her room. She was still muffled, wrapped up in her favorite blanket, with big, fuzzy pajama pants peeking out the bottom. From the way she squinted, it was obvious she didn’t have her contacts in. She was blind as a bat without them.

No wonder she let me in. I didn’t think it would be this easy to get inside.

“Get your glasses,” I said. “Please.”

“What’s wrong with your voice?” she said as she shuffled back toward her nightstand, where her black-rimmed glasses sat on top of a philosophy textbook.

“Put them on.”

She did.

“Now look at me.”

She did. Her eyes flew open, her own mouth dropped wide, and she stared. Stared. “Jo? What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?” Her voice rattled like tree branches in a wind storm. She stepped back, closer to the wall.

“Luce,” I said, my voice gravely and wrong. “Luce, I think I’m dead. Can you help me?” I reached for her. I wanted to be held, to be told everything would be okay. I stepped closer, arms still outstretched.

Lucy’s mouth opened wider as if to scream, but no sound came out. She stumbled away until the backs of her knees struck her bed frame. Her legs gave out and she wobbled dangerously. I reached a hand out to catch her and the parka slipped from my shoulders, revealing all of me.

Lucy fainted.

Naked again, I caught her and lowered her gently to the bed.

I should have expected that, I thought as I headed to the bathroom. After catching a glimpse of myself in the mirror, I realized I’d faint too, if faced with a walking corpse.

JO by me, Leah Rhyne, releases today! For more information on her tale, visit Goodreads, Amazon, Smashwords, iTunes, or Barnes & Noble. Or you can visit my web site any time and say hello! I’d love to hear from you!

 

Posted in characters, Craft, Paranormal, Reading, Writing | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

A Sexy Cycle: The Normalizing Power of Erotica

venice, romance, italy, blue

Image by Gnuckx, used under CC license.

Last week, fellow Scribe Kristin McFarland wrote about this being the golden age of smut. She of course referred to erotica, and described it (very aptly) as romance without the fade to black.

No curtains drawn, no blurry watercolors to be found. Erotica takes you not just into the bedroom, but underneath the sheets with the protagonists. It’s no secret that erotica has existed for a long time. Kristin wrote about how this golden age has come to be, and as I read her post and chatted with her about it, we both realized there was more to say on the subject.

50 Shades of Grey has been credited with bringing kink out of the closet. Detractors (myself included to an extent) will remark that its story is far from a normal, healthy BDSM relationship. Safewords ignored, consent in the titular shades of grey when it’s something that ought to be black and white, stalkerish behavior, and abusive red flags are all reasons I agree with that — but I will give it credit for one major, major thing: its normalizing power. Because of its success, many other authors have followed in its wake. My new rave is one Kristin already mentioned, Abigail Barnette’s The Boss trilogy. For me, that series is what 50 Shades wanted to be — Barnette created characters who have their issues but who deeply love and respect one another, for whom consent is first priority, and whose kinks are not acted out in an abusive manner. Also, her characters have lives and goals, friends and families and all the nuance that comes with them.

Erotica as a genre is something I’ve come to love. Over the past few months, I’ve read Mina Vaughn’s How To series featuring the elusive Dommes (or FemDoms) in a market saturated by male Dominants. Her books are often funny and lighthearted, but they depict BDSM in a down-to-earth way that gets me coming back for more. Tamara Mataya writes books with women who know what they want. I was fortunate enough to get a sneaky beta peek at her newest project, also centered in the BDSM world, and lemme just say — you want to keep an eye on her. I’ve also been reading Sylvia Day, Tiffany Reisz, and Amanda Byrne — all women to watch.

One thing that has struck me about the erotica genre is the power it has. It not only can erm…move you in unexpected ways…but in a world fraught with sexual shame and dichotomies and Madonna-whore complexes, erotica is a refreshing look at what things could be. Today I wanted to look at how erotica could very well change the world.

1. Turning Shame to Sex Positivism

Women especially are taught from an early age that our bodies don’t belong to us. “Don’t wear that; people will think you’re a [slut, whore, easy, tramp, floozy].” “She’s asking for it in that.” “Aren’t you just a pretty little princess?” “Don’t touch yourself! Dirty!” It’s reinforced in myriad ways through a culture that objectifies women’s bodies. Even Meghan Trainor’s smash hit All About That Bass is centered around the message that having curves is good because boys like women with booties. Not because your body is right and perfect as it is just because it is — but because of how men relate to it. It took a whole bunch of listens for me to put my finger on what bothered me about it, and since then it’s lost a bit of its empowering punch for me, also because of some backhanded jabs at women who happen to be slender. “And no I won’t be no stick figure, silicone Barbie doll…..I’m bringing booty back, go on and tell them skinny bitches that/Naw, I’m just playin’ I know y’all think you’re fat.”

There’s been enough shame, thank you. Let’s agree that all body types are worthy and that no matter what you look like, you’re a fucking 10 just because you’re YOU.

Erotica has the power to depict sexual relationships in a way that is positive and reverent — even when it gets right down to the sweat, the fluids, and the tumescent members. (Heyo, 10 Things I Hate About You)

In erotica, women are allowed to own their sexuality, to be the sexual instigators, and to be the ones with the higher sex drives. For me, reading stories where that was the case was more true to my own experience in several of my past relationships, and if I’m any indication, that can be a massively validating thing for any reader.

Sex positivism is something I long to see more of in the world and in fiction, and erotica not only allows for it, but it celebrates it. Stories have power to change the way we think. Seeing a protagonist take ownership of her body, her sexuality, and her desire can make others feel good about doing the same.

2. Exploring Kink

When even basic “vanilla” sexuality is colored with the marker of shame, exploring other proclivities can be even scarier for people. Erotica is a glorious safe space. As Kristin mentioned, with the advent of e-readers, anyone can read anything anywhere without the fear of someone scoffing at the cover or calling them out.

Beyond that, erotica is a place where readers can live vicariously through protagonists who might be into things we’ve never tried. From light bondage to caning, fisting to anal play, erotica is a safe space to engage with ideas and see how they can play out. One of the most awesome things about erotica for me has been to see writers who ensure they are depicting kink in a way that celebrates the kinkster code of Safe, Sane, and Consensual. (Or, alternatively, Risk-Aware Consensual Kink.) This means erotica writers who don’t shy from condoms and other barrier methods, who frankly discuss risks, and do it all with flair that makes even escapism something to emulate in real life.

Even if you don’t want to rush out and buy canes and spreader bars, beyond all else, erotica is a safe zone. You can pull the pages up to your chin and learn more about what you like without any pressure to actually try it until you’re ready. And bonus — unlike in pornography, you don’t have to worry about any chance of humans being exploited.*

Another major tenet of erotica’s magic is communication — especially in kinky erotica, I love seeing partners who make sure they speak their needs, use their safewords when necessary, and check in with each other to ensure that things ARE safe, sane, and consensual. It’s beautiful. Even for those who are not kink-inclined, there are many lessons to be learned from that.

3. Normalization

Finally, erotica has enormous normalizing power.

One of the biggest landmarks in the study of human sexuality was Alfred Kinsey’s reports on human sexual behavior. His studies took taboos to task and revealed that many things that had been seen as abnormal or overly risque were, in fact, incredibly commonplace. Masturbation, homoerotic feelings, female desire — his study shone light into previously darkened corners of how humans behaved in bed (or wherever else they happened to get their grind on). It created a conversation out of the realities of human sexuality, and that conversation helped lay the groundwork for the sexual revolution.

Erotica has that same power. Depicting female masturbation, fun with toys, kink, etc. — all of those things allow readers to see themselves on the page. By depicting equal, consensual, communicative relationships all across the spectra of kinks and and vanilla lovin’, erotica can show us something to aspire to in our own personal lives.

What do you think about the genre? How has erotica taught you about yourself, if you don’t mind sharing?

 

 

*I’m generally porn-positive, but I’m incredibly cognizant that there is always a chance that, especially in the jungles of free internet stuff, there could be some serious exploitation issues. This is one reason I advocate paying for it; you can generally find out from pay sites how their actors are treated, etc. Plus, compensating people for their work is good.

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