General writing wisdom holds that writers need to read. It’s like cross-training for the brain, I guess, working muscles that support the muscles we use to write. New stories fill the well, give us new ideas, make us think about different ways of telling stories. And I’m totally behind that advice—I love reading, and I’ll probably be reading books long after I stop trying to write them.
The really ambitious wisdom-giver might also tell writers to read outside of their chosen genres: the sci-fi writer should read mysteries, for example, to give them new ideas of how to build suspense. Thriller writers should read romance to learn how to use emotional connection to enrich character development.
That’s all well and good. Grand, even.
But what happens when a little healthy cross-training becomes an obsession?
For the last six weeks, I have been reading almost exclusively Regency romances. And not, like, artistic, historically accurate Regency romances. We’re talking anachronistic, sex-with-strangers, totally trashy Regency romances. The kind with gorgeous, glistening men on the covers, or sometimes with lovely women in three-quarters profile looking wistfully out at the sea. The kind they sell in airports and at grocery stores. Those romances.
It started innocently enough. It was almost Christmas. There was an anthology of Christmas-themed Regency romances on sale on Amazon. I bought it. Some of the stories were good. Some of them were appallingly bad. One of them I couldn’t finish.
Somewhere around the third story, though, I was hooked. Right around that time, writer of extraordinary, artistic-contemporary-romance-erotica-all-around-badass writer Tiffany Reisz tweeted about a Christmas Regency romance she loves, one she said was filled with hate sex.
I couldn’t not buy that, now could I?
So I bought it, I read it, and by that time I was a goner. And I can’t tell you exactly why I’ve become so obsessed. Maybe it’s the simplicity of the stories, and the guarantee of a happy ending. Maybe it’s the escapism of a world where a prostitute can marry an earl and then be accepted by “society.” Maybe it’s my own need for low-pressure, commitment-free reading that asks no comparison to my own work. When I was a teen, I spent a month or so around finals reading Danielle Steel novels (I’m so ashamed), so apparently this is a lifelong pattern. With great stress comes the need for bad reads.
Christmas has come and gone, and I’m still reading the darn romances. I’m not using the added seasonal element to excuse myself anymore. I have better things I should be reading, friends’ books I should read, fantasy books I’ve been meaning to read. Hell, I have books own my own to read, edit, and even write.
But I’m not going to stop. I’m going to ride this rut until I crash. I spent months in 2015 not reading at all, simply because I didn’t have the mental energy to pick up a book or follow a plot, and I didn’t have the psychological energy to invest in anyone else’s troubles, fictional or otherwise. The fact that I’m reading now is a very good sign, regardless of what I’m needing. Writers and readers alike sometimes need the mental vacation that comes with consuming lighter media. There’s nothing wrong with that.
And who knows. Maybe I’m learning something, growing as a writer. If the general wisdom says it’s true, I can believe it, right?
So I grabbed the Thanksgiving week post because there’s a fair amount of activity going on in my writing life, but before I get to all that, I wanted to say – in public – how incredibly thankful I am for what my husband has accomplished. He’s a contractor, and after 17 years of living with a time-capsule 1940s kitchen, we have a new one!! A couple of the cabinets still need doors and there’s a little gingerbread still to be applied, but ready or not, we’re hosting Thanksgiving dinner this week. And I am SO EXCITED!!
Photography has never been a particular skill of mine, but I hope you get the idea…lol…
I’m thankful for my new kitchen, and for the continued health of my husband and kids. I’m thankful that the puppy almost always pees outside, and that we’ve brokered a truce with the elderly cat who cannot abide the puppy. I’m thankful for my circle of friends, who always have my back, and I’m thankful for all the fantastic writers I know who read and critique and promote my work.
And I’m thankful for readers, because without you…well…
As I said earlier, things are going to be hopping for the next week or so. First up, my m/m novella The Secret of Obedience…
I’m running a refflecopter giveaway for a $25 Amazon gift card. Jump HERE if you want to enter…and jump HERE to preorder.
Opposites attract, but secrets divide…
Ronnie Durand is a country boy who transfers to the University of Washington after two years at Central. He’ll have to give up playing football, though finishing his education at a major university in Seattle–and being out and proud without having to look over his shoulder–makes the sacrifice worthwhile.
But finding friends at a huge school is tough, especially when the hottest guy Ronnie meets makes him doubt his own sanity.
Sang’s been on his own a long time. He’s only a couple steps away from living on the street, and he’s got dreams so big they don’t leave space for a steady boyfriend. Then he meets Ronnie, who just might be strong enough to break through his barriers….as long as Sang lets him in on one big secret.
And THEN, because there’s not enough going on with two releases, King Stud will be on sale for $1.99 ALL NEXT WEEK (11/30 – 12/4). Bookmark this one, because it’s a great deal. Jump HERE for the Amazon page.
Danielle’s got three months to make her grandmother’s rundown Craftsman house livable. Her game plan is to get in, get grubby, and get back home to L.A. She needs a carpenter, and her best friend’s younger brother is a good one. It’s hard to ignore the buffed body under Ryan’s paint-splattered sweatshirts, but her friend declares he’s off-limits so Danielle reluctantly agrees.
Ryan doesn’t have the cleanest record, anyway. His recently ex-ed girlfriend wants him back, and he has a reputation for brawling. He’s also had a crush on Danielle since he was a kid. Despite their nine-year age difference, he knows she’s worth pursuing.
Soon the paint under Danielle’s fingernails starts feeling more natural than the L.A. sunshine. She’ll have to navigate plumbing disasters, money problems, and one seriously cranky best friend to find something she hasn’t had before: a real home, and a man who loves her.
And finally, my holiday short story The Santa Drag will be FREE this weekend, 11/27 – 11/30. Bookmark this one too, because FREE!! Jump HERE for the book’s Amazon page.
Things aren’t always what they seem, and this shopping mall Santa has a secret that only true love can reveal.
Mackenzie’s an out-of-work actress who takes a job as a shopping mall Santa to pay the rent. She fools everyone with her Santa drag, until the day Joe McBride walks into the mall. Joseph Timothy McBride – the real-life, got a soap opera gig and you saw him in Scream II actor. The only guy she ever really loved. Can Mack stay in character, or is it time to strip off the red coat and peel off the beard for good?
There’s lots going on, and this post got kinda long. Thanks so much for hanging in with me, and I hope you have a very happy Thanksgiving! Before I go I want to give a quick shout-out to Shauna Granger, who keeps all of us SpellboundScribes on track with the schedule and the occasional timely reminder. Thanks Shauna!!! And now, I’m off to start cooking…
I am an enabler. That’s what my friends call me, anyway. An enabler. The one they turn to when they need a good book recommendation. Back in the day (before ebooks) I used to run an informal lending library, and if a book was really fantastic I’d buy multiple copies so I’d be sure to have one on hand if someone wanted to borrow it.
Enabler or addict? Not sure.
Though it’s possible to lend ebooks, it’s not as easy as throwing a paperback in your purse and passing it off to someone. But back in the day I didn’t have blogging opportunities, either, so I guess there are trade-offs. I can’t hand you a paperback, but I can still tell you about some really good books…
I’m not much for truly frightening stories – I’ve only read one Steven King novel, never read The Amityville Horror, couldn’t finish The Passage – but for this post I did want to keep things seasonal, you know? So I came up with a list of seven spooky, romantic stories that I would totally lend you if I could.
Hainted by Jordan L. Hawk
This book is amazing! I’ve reread it at least four times because it’s just that cool. Dan is a haint-worker, which means he has the skills to lay the dead to rest when they crawl up out of their graves. Leif shows up on Dan’s doorstep in the North Carolina hills, asking for help in fighting an evil necromancer. Leif’s got secrets, Dan’s got a few of his own, and the haints keep rising. I love the setting and the mythology and the intensity of the attraction between Leif & Dan. Good stuff.
The Secret Casebook of Simon Fleximal by KJ Charles
Simon Fleximal is a ghost hunter, and his novel is really a series of linked stories. A couple of the stories had been previously available as free downloads, and while they were good, reading them in the context of the larger work made them even better. Simon is grim and fairly frightening, and his stories are told by his lover Robert. The dark, Victorian atmosphere in this one is about as spooky as I like to get, but it makes a wonderful setting for Ms. Charles to explore human nature.
The Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James
Another ghost hunter story, but this time the ghost is really, really pissed off. I read this book in July, in my parent’s RV, near the shore of Lake Crescent, which is one of the loveliest spots on earth – but in my head I was off on a misty English countryside. Set right after WWI, there are some romance-y bits, some frightening moments, and a tight mystery plot. Overall, though, my memory of this story is of a lovely vacation from my vacation, and a thoroughly entertaining read.
The Gravediggers Brawl by Abigail Roux
This is a contemporary story with a cool historic feel. Wyatt works at a museum, and Ash’s personal style has a heavy Gasslight vibe (which basically means he coordinates his tongue rings with his suspenders.) Somewhere I read that Gasslight is like Steampunk without the steam or the punk, but that angle – and the character of Ash – were pretty damned appealing. The mysterious haunting, the fun contemporary/historic vibe, and the nice little romance made for a fun read.
Restless Spirits by Jordan L. Hawk
It’s Science vs Spiritualism in this fabulous we’re-trapped-in-a-creepy-old-house-with-a-ghost story. Henry’s an inventor who’s determined to prove his Electro-Séance machine can identify spirits faster than any old human, while Vincent is the real deal: a medium who can connect with spirits on the other side. No one is exactly what they seem, some of those spirits aren’t very friendly, and Henry and Vincent could lose more than their lives in this race. Restless Spirits recently gained a sequel, Dangerous Spirits, and though I haven’t read it, I have on good authority that it’s just as much fun – if not quite as spooky. (And yes, this is the second book by Jordan K Hawk on my list. Whatever. She writes good fright.)
Fish and Ghosts by Rhys Ford
Fish and Ghosts is another trapped-in-a-haunted-house story, but in this book one hero owns the place while the other is a professional skeptic. Tristan’s family hires Wolf Kinkaid to prove Tristan’s crazy so they can get their hands on his money, but the thing is, he’s as sane as they are. His house really is haunted – though he thinks the ghost hunter is hella sexy. This book is a happy combination of scary bits and naughty bits and a whole lot of fun.
Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
In 1920’s San Francisco, Aida’s making her living as a medium at the Gris-Gris speakeasy. The thing is, she’s legitimately talented, and is really capable of summoning the dead. Winter’s a bootlegger with a curse problem, and it isn’t long before he has a thing for Aida too. Their chemistry is somewhere close to a 10 out of 10 (he has VERY big hands), the whodunit is fun to figure out, and I do love a good historical. Visiting the Roaring Twenties was a blast, making Bitter Spirits a terrific near-Halloween read.
There you have it. Seven Spooky Stories to keep you company while the little ones are fighting over Halloween candy. Hope you found at least a couple of them intriguing, and Happy Halloween!
I don’t mean ink on paper. I mean ink on skin…tattoos. They are hot right now. I think it’s funny how many heroes have tattoos, but I don’t find a lot of heroines with tattoos. At least not as many as I’d like.
Why do I bring this up? Because I love tattoos. I have lots of them, and I’m getting a full “sleeve” this weekend on my calf. So I’ve been thinking, why aren’t there more heroines with tattoos? Is it because tatted up women still aren’t as mainstream as men? Since I write a lot of romance, I wonder if it’s because the ideal heroine is still very clean cut, not the bad girl of romance. We love the bad guys, but not so much the girls.
Even in paranormal, where I think there are more women with tattoos, I don’t think they are as prominent as they could be. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe not.
What are your thoughts on women with tattoos? Do you read about them? Would it bother you if the heroine was inked from head to toe?
Curiosity killed the cat and all that. Just for fun, share your ink in the comments if you want.
Here’s one of mine!
Before I leave…Authors After Dark (August 12-16th) has opened up more spots for authors. If you want to go to a conference with multiple genres to read and authors to meet that’s a whole lot of fun this is a great opportunity. Readers…I highly recommend it! Authors…same goes! Check out more here.
You know the old phrase “Never say never?” Yeah, I used to ignore it, thinking I knew my heart and wouldn’t change my mind. Now, not so much. As I’m getting older (all of 35) I’m coming to realize that most of the things I said I’d never do are exactly what I end up doing. There are more examples, but here are a few that come to mind:
Exhibits A and B(they are related) I was born three months premature. I mention that only because I had a lot of health problems when I was young (but thankfully nothing nearly as serious as it could have been) that required me to be in and out of the hospital. Hence, I developed a hatred/phobia of hospitals that lingers to this day. So, naturally, when I was old enough to start thinking about my career path, I swore I’d never work in a hospital or in health care.
Toward the end of high school and early into college I was a big Days of Our Lives fan. During that time, they ran a storyline where Carrie – the idol of most young girls at the time – was a PR representative for the local Salem hospital. I’ve forgotten the particulars of the storyline, but I very vividly remember a scene where she was hounded by reporters asking for a statement. I was so stressed just watching her deal with them that I swore I would never work in public relations, especially for a hospital, because I didn’t want to go through that.
Fast forward about a dozen years. I’m in my second (and current) job. Doing what? Working in the PR department…of a health system (corporate office, not hospital, but still).
In the past, I’ve made no secret about not being a huge fan of the romance genre. The root of my issue goes back to when I was about 10 or 11 and my great aunt gave me my first romance novel, Navy Brat by Debbie Macomber. Obviously, I was too emotionally and sexually immature to be reading that book because it scarred me for life, even though it was nothing compared to some of the books out there today. I remember thinking while reading one sex scene, “Why would you do that and how is that even physically possible?” After that, I swore I would never write romance novels.
Cut to December 2014: I’m not only a writer, but a writer of romantic comedies (in addition to historical fiction) who just joined the Romance Writers of America (RWA). What’s more I just entered one of my books their Golden Heart Awards and am considering writing a short story for an upcoming anthology. I still prefer the sweeter/less graphic side of the romance genre, but I’m quickly coming around, despite my previous vow.
In the ultimate case of irony, when I first started taking my writing seriously, probably back in 2009 or 2010, my best friend Courtney suggested that I start blogging. I was adamantly against it, saying it would take away from my writing time and that I didn’t have anything to say that anyone would want to hear. I was dead set against it and I swore I would never blog.
I really, really need to learn to never say never. It’s not that any of these things are bad; on the contrary, they have all turned out to be wonderful opportunities. My training in public relations is very valuable to my job as an author. Blogging has helped me meet so many wonderful people (I love all of you readers) and gives me an outlet for my endless research and constant opinions on everything. Joining RWA has already opened some amazing doors for me, not to mention opening my mind to the genre.
Based on this, I’m starting to wonder if I should say, “I’ll never get a book contract” or “I’ll never be a best seller.” If my previous pattern holds, all I’ll need to do is wait a bit and that will be exactly what happens. Nah. On second thought, I’m too much of a believer in manifestation to utter such negative phrases. But I will watch what I say “never” about from now on!
Can you relate? Do you have your own “never say never” story? I’d love to hear it in the comments.
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.
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.
So apparently we’re having an unofficial smut month here on the Spellbound Scribes, thanks to Kristin & Emmie. (Emmie’s post will be up later in the week. I peeked. It’s good.) Since this is the release day for my novella Between the Sheets, what could I do but play along? (And the title refers to sheet music, y’all. Get your minds out of the gutter!)
Now, Between the Sheets is a little different than most contemporary romances, because instead of being billionaires or Navy SEALs or desperately underloved high-fashion models, the main characters are music teachers. Maggie teaches grade school kids the basics of music theory – when she’s not trying to keep the kindergartners from peeing on the carpet. Randy (aka the Ginger God) can rock the house when he’s on stage with his blues band, but his main gig is teaching high school students to play in tune. The two of them go to a weekend-long teachers retreat, and while they don’t start out to fall in love, well, it wouldn’t be much of a story if they didn’t, right?
I wrote about music teachers because most of the important people in my life are musicians, and some of the most influential teachers I know teach music. Between the Sheets is my (slightly naughty) love letter to all of them.
Here’s a short(ish) excerpt…Maggie & her BFF Krista are at the opening night dinner…and fyi, P. Kirk Ringdahl is NOT the one Maggie falls for…
Once everyone was seated, Kirk stood to give Professor Baumgartner an unnecessarily long introduction to the soundtrack of clanking silver and scraping plates. Most of the people in the room were UW graduates and already knew the professor, but we all smiled and applauded as Kirk spoke. He planted himself behind me, resting a hand on my shoulder, and after shifting in my seat, trying to shake it off, I gave up. Krista only shrugged and ignored me, like she thought a P. Kirk hookup was a done deal. Then I noticed the Ginger God seated at a table across from me.
Looking in my direction.
But not at my eyes.
He slouched in his chair, arms crossed as he gazed south of my shoulders, in the general direction of my breasts. My cheeks got warm and, even more embarrassing, my nipples got hard.
He smiled slowly, as if he noticed the last bit even from across the room, and his gaze traveled up even slower, peeling off my halter top on the way. His attention felt way too intimate for a room full of more than two hundred people. I shifted in my seat again, trying to ignore the burst of heat between my legs.
My independent streak started screaming about arrogance and invasion of privacy and inappropriate behavior. Whatever. My fingers twitched, ready to trace his Celtic tat and go exploring under his soft green T-shirt. For the first time in five years, three months, and five days, I wanted to be alone in a room with a man when he had that look in his eye.
Instead of listening to an illuminating debate on the possible applications of world music pedagogy compared with Dalcroze and Kodaly, I imagined how a Sex Diva would handle the situation.
And desperately wished the Cosmo article had some tips on cross-room eye sex.
The meal could well have been composed of sawdust and turpentine. The Ginger God’s attention shifted when the servers started plunking dessert on the tables, leaving me chilled, like someone had just pulled the covers off me in bed. Krista was too absorbed in an exchange of text messages to talk, and Jessica and the Sues rose in a block. I followed close behind and made a break for the door.
Kirk caught me in the lobby, but as I was stumbling through some half-assed excuse about why I couldn’t walk with him, a warm body pressed against my back and strong arms wrapped around my waist. Jerking my head to the side, I managed to plant my mouth on someone’s waiting lips.
Warm. Soft. Tasting of savory man and smoke. I should have done something to escape, except he held me and turned me and pulled me closer. And kissing the Ginger God beat the high holy hell out of dealing with P. Kirk Ringdahl.
Hope you liked that little teaser. Keep reading for the blurb & the buy links at the end. It’s a steal at only $0.99!!
Life for music teacher Maggie Schafer has been full of flat notes lately. Sick of being single and celibate, she vows to get her groove back at the upcoming Western Washington Choral Directors Annual Retreat.
Too bad the only guy who seems interested is a pompous dork who thinks he’s God’s gift to women—and the music education world. When he gets a little too arrogant and crosses boundaries, gorgeous pianist Randy Devers swoops in to run interference. After sharing a shockingly hot kiss in front of the whole conference, Maggie and Randy come up with a plan to pretend they’re dating.
However, the more time they spend together—and the more physical their “pretend” relationship gets—the more she wonders if there could be anything beyond just smoking chemistry and a friendly agreement between them.
Maggie’s got history, Randy’s got baggage, and they’ve got a weekend to get their rhythms in sync and figure out how to turn their solo lives into a beautiful duet.
Like every good author, I try to read in my genre. For me that means romance, and there seems to be a unifying theme in the last few books I’ve picked up.
The heroes are HUGE.
Just yesterday I finished Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennet. Lovely book. Loads of fun. Would read more by the author in a second. But damn, is the hero Winter Magnussen ever a big man. He’s described as a bear, as a wall, as a bull.
And yeah, in case you were wondering, ALL of his anatomy is proportional.
In contrast, the heroine Aida is petite, delicate, fragile. She’s spunky, and saves his butt more than once, but there’s always the feeling he might break her if he moves wrong.
Along the same lines, a couple weeks ago I read Silk Is For Seduction by Loretta Chase. A 2012 RITA finalist, it’s a grand book that did a tremendous job of carrying me back to 1830s England. And our hero, the Duke of Clevedon? He’s tall, and broad, and his hands are large. In fact, there were so many descriptions of his exceptional size, with particular attention to his big hands, that by the end the visual I had was of a pale, curly-haired Shaquille O’Neal dressed in Regency garb.
Perhaps not the image the author was after…
And like Bitter Spirits, the heroine in Silk is petite and feisty. I liked her and I liked the story, but as a writer, I had to wonder about the subtext. I think it’s pretty clear that by creating characters who are at the extremes when it comes to size, authors are throwing cultural expectations into hyperdrive. For some perspective, here’s a quick quote from a highly authoritative source (eHarmony.com):
“For example, taller men may be seen as more powerful and attractive, so women who are with taller men benefit by attaining a higher social status. In addition, if height signals physical dominance, it is likely that taller men make women feel smaller, protected, and perhaps more “feminine” as well.”
Readers identify with the POV character, and these books seem determined that for the time it takes you to finish the book, you’ll see yourself as 5’1” and 105 pounds with a big ol’ stud of a man trying to get you into his bed.
It kind of creeps me out a little. Because of the extreme emphasis on size, there’s an underlying dominance/submission thing that makes me uncomfortable. It’s one thing to feel feminine and protected, quite another to worry about getting broken.
Not all books roll that way. Delphine Drydens BDSM/Erotic romance The Theory Of Attraction has an overt D/s storyline, and while yeah, Ivan is taller than Camille, his dominance comes from an intellectual/emotional place rather than being a result of his physical size. (And if you haven’t read Theory, you really should. It’s one of the best examples of integrating the D/s lifestyle into a character that I’ve ever come across. You end up with the feeling that Ivan pretty much had to be a Dom, that nothing else would have worked for him.)
I also don’t generally find the same subtext in m/m romance. In Hainted, Jordan L. Hawk’s fabulous book about magic workers in Appalachia, Lief is taller than Dan. There are a few references to the height difference, mostly in terms of how comfortable it was for Dan to rest his head against Leif’s shoulder. Both characters are powerful men. They have different abilities, but if somehow things changed dramatically and they started scrapping, I’m not sure which one would come out the winner.
In fact, I tried hard to think of a romance hero who WASN’T a really big guy, and the closest character I could come up with is Micah, one of Anita Blake’s boyfriends. Though he’s not technically a romance hero, he’s handsome, hung, and just about the same height she is (~ 5’3″). Their partner Nathaniel’s only about 5’7″, which makes him the giant in the threesome. And you know what? While I get that Anita’s very attracted to both of them, they do NOTHING for me. I love Micah’s emotional maturity and I love Nathaniel’s ability to ground Anita, and I’ve sure read my share of sex scenes involving them, but meh. Can’t see myself in Anita’s shoes, and not just because she’s not wearing any and in the middle of several men at once…
So as usual in my blog posts, I make some observations but don’t really have any conclusions. What do you think? Have you read books where the hero is a giant and the heroine is tiny? Do you enjoy that kind of energy, or does your inner feminist rise up screaming? Conversely, can you think of a romantic hero who’s NOT a bug guy?
By the time you read this, I’ll be in New Orleans. It’ll be my first visit, and one I’ve been looking forward to my whole life – or at least since I read The Vampire Lestat. While we’re there, I want to walk along Bourbon St and see Marie Laveau’s grave and eat bignet’s and drink chicory coffee.
Wow! Travel cliché much?
Seriously, though, I told my daughter yesterday to expect me to move slowly so I’d have a chance to absorb as many of the sights, sounds, and smells as I could. So I’d have time to talk to the person serving my coffee, to memorize their accent (unless of course they’re a college student from Brooklyn, which could also be cool, but in a different way). And so I’d have time to learn by heart the place I fall in love with a little harder every time I read about it.
I’m not 100% sure, but I think my first literary exposure to New Orleans did come from Ann Rice. (And yes, going past her house is definitely on the to-do list.) The city is almost another character in Lestat and in Interview With A Vampire, and it’s an even stronger presenceFeast Of All Saints, her novel about the gens de couleur libre, or free people of color, a class of black and mixed race people who carved out their own cultural place between the white upperclass and slaves. The city in that story is gorgeous and mysterious and vicious, a perfect fantasy to fall in love with. (Apparently it was made into a movie in 2001…might have to check that out…)
Another of my favorite series set in a similar version of New Orleans are the Benjamin January books by Barbara Hambly. The first, A Free Man Of Color, tells the story of a physician and music teacher whose skin color makes him particularly vulnerable to a murder charge because the document declaring him a free man is as fragile as the paper it’s printed on. The mystery is well-constructed and the period details are amazing. I almost want to go back in time and live in that Creole world.
A more recent – and tremendously fun – New Orleans appearance happens in Definitely Dead, book six (I think) in Charlaine Harris’s Southern Vampire mysteries. Sookie’s cousin Hadley is killed (and that’s in the blurb so not a spoiler) and Sookie inherits her estate, which turns out to be more than she expects. New Orleans is hot and sexy and so is Quinn, the were-tiger who’s along for the ride. This is one of my favorite Sookie books. Hmm…might have to bring my copy along to read on the airplane.
And I can’t forget one of the best books of any type describing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Royal Street by Suzanne Johnson begins a couple days before Katrina hits, and gives you an insider’s view of the storm and the people who survived it. The paranormal elements are fun (especially the very crushable take on Jean Lafitte!) but the real story is the city and her resilience. Royal Street is the first in the Sentinels of New Orleans series, definitely in the auto-buy section of my bookshelf.
So even if you’re not lucky enough to have a midwinter trip to The Big Easy planned, put some Kermit Ruffins or Harry Connick, Jr on your stereo and crack open one of the books on my list and have your own little vacation. And if you have a favorite New Orleans book that I should take a look at, leave a recommendation in the comments. Or tell me about a city you’ve got a crush on…
The last few weeks have seen a lot of talk about sexism in the sci-fi/fantasy world—and no, I’m not just talking about sexism in fictional SFF worlds. I’m talking about out-and-out hate against women who write science fiction and fantasy. Published, even best-selling women like Ann Aguirre and Foz Meadows have spoken out about the rampant sexism faced by female authors in SFF publishing.
But let’s stick a pin in the overall topic for now and look at one of its bastard children: the question of romance works with a sci-fi and fantasy setting. Female authors who write strong, female protagonists who have dangerous, intense adventures, coupled with some romance, have been maligned for writing “romance novels with a few new sets and ideas thrown in to keep them interesting” instead of innovative, boundary-pushing works of SFF.
As if innovative, boundary-pushing science fiction or fantasy cannot contain romance. As if true adventure never has a sprinkling of sex (or, heaven forbid, love!) in the mix.
Luckily for those of us who include some romance in our spellbound works—and I know that includes some of my fellow Scribes!—that’s just not true.
I would like to submit for reader consideration five works of high-adventure, innovative, genre-blasting works of SFF that contain elements of romance:
1. Tigana, by Guy Gavriel Kay: Admittedly, this is one of my all-time favorite works of fantasy, so I’m a little biased, but I will say also that Kay’s work is often considered some of the best fantasy currently being written. One of the plotlines in Tigana features a gut-wrenching “love” story that features a woman who integrated herself into a conqueror’s harem so that she could assassinate him—only to fall in love with him. He loves her, too, and the book explores the moral shadings of a tyrant who has a human side. Love, in this book, is just one way to explore the many facets of the human condition.
2. The Mistborn Trilogy, by Brandon Sanderson: When a young, male cousin comes to me asking for fantasy recommendations, I send him straight to Sanderson’s work. These are, to be a weird reverse-sexist, “boy books.” As one of Sanderson’s Writing Excuses co-hosts said of Sanderson’s earliest work, you can hear the dice rolling in the background. Fighting features prominently. And yet, these books explore the relationship between a former thief turned ninja girl called Vin, and a scholarly boy turned ninja turned emperor named Elend. It’s a sweet love story, and it’s wrapped up in a really cool (and kinda violent) magical system that works as a tool in a cataclysmic epic battle. And, oddly enough, my husband found these books via a Romantic Times book review.
3. The Kushiel’s Legacy (Phèdre) Trilogy, by Jacqueline Carey: Although as high-and-mighty of a writer as George R. R. Martin has described these books as “erotic fantasy,” that does not discount the high adventure held between the novels’ sexy covers. God-chosen Phèdre may be a high-priced prostitute, but she’s also a spy, ambassador, and all-around bad-ass who journeys to and from some of the worst places in her world. Threaded through her adventures is her love with formerly-chaste priest Jocelyn, and their story explores how love can change the people who experience it. These books are one part eroticism, one part political thriller, and two parts adventure. If ever there was an innovative fantasy, these books are it.
4. The Wheel of Time series, by Robert Jordan: I’m not a fan of these books, and I actually find their portrayal of women rather sexist. But let’s stick a pin in that, too, and consider the books as most people see them: modern classic fantasy. This is one of the best-loved, longest-running epic fantasy series out there, and it features no fewer than six romantic stories. There’s the Rand-Elayne-Min-Aviendha, erm, quadrangle, the Nynaeve-Lan romance, the Egwene-Gawyn semi-romance, and the Perrin-Faile-Berelain awkwardness. And those are just the love stories I remember. Clearly, for Wheel of Time fans, romance is not an impediment to high fantasy adventure.
5. The Fever Series, by Karen Moning. Here’s where I make a diversion from my list. *grin* These books actually sit on the romance shelf of your neighborhood bookstore. Moning is originally famous for her more typically “romance” Highlander novels, but her Fever series became a runaway hit. They feature a female protagonist who grows from a fluffy, ditzy-blonde Southern belle into a badass warrior and Fae-killer. Yes, there’s sex. Yes, some credit for her transformation goes to her male benefactor/lover. But over the five books of the series, Mac has one of the best character arcs I’ve had the pleasure of reading. These books are violent. They are epic—indeed, the world as we know it ends. They are one of the best contemporary fantasy series I’ve seen lately, but because they sit in the romance section, they will be largely overlooked by fantasy readers.
There you have it: of these five (series of!) books containing complex romance and, yes, sex, three of them were written by men. Now, I’m not much of a sci-fi reader, but I’d bet my first edition, British copy of Harry Potter and the Order of thePhoenix that epic sci-fi contains romance, too.Are women girlifying SFF with romance? Or is romance just another kind of epic adventure?
What say you, readers? What place does romance have in adventure? What other epic, romance-containing works of SFF can you think of?