The Lowly Romance

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The female writer, pensive as she looks over her scribbles, probably a heartfelt journal entry or love letter. Note the ribbon typifying her work as romantic and ephemeral.

Plenty of women who read and/or write romance novels are fully aware of the stigma attached to the genre. Gallons of ink have been spilled in the discussion of how romance gets no respect. If you’re a new writer hopeful of making your way in the world of romance stories, you should start off knowing what you’re up against. And if you’re a jaded veteran of the romance genre, you should know that there’s a bit of light at the end of the tunnel.

Romances suffer derogatory terms such as ‘bodice rippers,’ ‘literary porn,’ and ‘trash,’ to name a few.  These fictional stories have endured a lousy reputation since they first appeared in literary history. Oh dear, these stories deal with private matters. No one goes around talking about the intimate details of their emotional relationships or their sex lives—not now, and especially not in the 18th century when the first romance hit bookshelves in the story of Pamela. Nevertheless, in 1740 no less than now, the novel and its sequels were huge hits and spawned countless clones.

Multiple reasons have been put forth for the failure of romance stories to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the publishing industry and its coterie of learned critics. One might hear that romances lack literary merit, or that the stories follow a formula, or that the cover images are hopelessly sleazy. But then, much of fiction lacks literary merit, mysteries and most other genre fiction follow formulas, and what is more visually disturbing than covers depicting murder and death?

One might even argue that the noble ‘literary fiction’ features its share of formulaic content, lack of literary merit, and sordid covers.

Yet all other genres aside from romance routinely enjoy critical review, even if some reviewers eviscerate the work in question. All other genres gain public notice and appear in lists of best-selling fiction. Romance, on the other hand, rarely captures a mainstream review and appears on lists only if those lists are specifically dedicated to romances, one assumes in order to allow readers to cleanly avoid wasting their time looking at titles that are beneath their dignity.

The Romance Writers of America define romance as stories that have a central love story and an emotionally-satisfying and optimistic ending. If that wasn’t shameful enough to earn the scorn of the publishing industry, its authors and readers are almost universally female.

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Note the serious legitimate male writer, glasses on, intent on his work in a book-lined space. Google ‘writer’ images and you’ll see that males outnumber females five to one.

One observer remarked that “Romance is seen as unserious and frivolous because women are seen as unserious and frivolous, and romance is written largely by women, for women, about concerns traditionally seen as feminine …”

Psst! Don’t tell anyone that without the massive annual revenues generated by romance books, the publishing industry would be unable to put out those fabulous literary works.

Without sounding sexist, I’m at a loss how else to say this. The universal denigration of romance writers, readers, and the genre in general is, well, sexist.

One might argue that criticism of romance is not necessarily sexist. Indeed, feminist Germaine Greer’s 1970 tome The Female Eunuch eviscerates romance novels as exploitative reinforcement of women’s submissive role in human culture. But as some of Greer’s critics have pointed out, she herself is stereotyping women by assuming that women who write/read romance are submissive little waifs clinging to their hero Alpha males.

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Here we have the whimsical female writer, flowers on her desk, few books in sight, as she toys with an out of date typewriter in a position blocking her access to serious work.

Okay, some may be. But for the very real percentage of women who enjoy and thrive in such a role, why denigrate their choice of reading material?

Increasingly, the liberation of women from cultural stereotypes has spawned writers and readers of romance novels who are strong independent women with careers in fields including law, medicine, and political office. Romance stories often include protagonist women with meaningful goals and intelligent life choices as well as relationships where the male and female see themselves as equal partners. How sexist is that?

One might even say that the two go hand in hand. Women reading about women grappling with the difficulties and rewards of careers and relationships, among other things tackled in romance novels, are the same women struggling for workplace equality and partnership marriages.

Most stories including literary fiction involve characters struggling with emotional conflict, love, loss, and sexual encounters just like they do in romance novels. With two differences: romances have happy endings and sex is more often described in specific detail.

This hints at the real issue many book snobs hold against romance novels. Life doesn’t have happy endings, not in the literary world. In literary fiction, people die in terrible ways and reading about these deaths and losses is supposed to inform and entertain readers. And sex? Well, let’s not hear the details, shall we? It’s titillating. It’s gross.

Yet each of us hope for happy endings and find great pleasure in hearing that our neighbor or beloved family member has survived cancer or some other brush with death. We hunger for the satisfaction of healthy sexual relationships and the pleasure we gain in orgasm. The fact that some people find these too disturbing to read about says more about their psychological and emotional problems than about any shortcomings of romance stories.

Does it take a psychologist to caution women that what they read in romance novels should not form the basis of decisions about their lives? A British psychologist says that romance novels can be a bad influence on women and lead them to make poor health and relationship decisions. “The novels give women unrealistic views about what to expect out of a relationship because they, well, romanticize love,” said Susan Quilliam, a relationship psychologist based in Cambridge.

Please. Talk about sexist.

Does this mean that novels about war cause readers to rush out and murder someone? After all, they romanticize the glory of war.

Fortunately, with self-publishing and the continuing elevation of women to positions of power and wealth have earned romance a bit higher standing, at least in some venues. Prominent institutions of higher learning have begun offering classes that discuss romance as a legitimate art form. In the January 13, 2016, issue of the Princeton Alumni newsletter, Jennifer Altman wrote about classes that focus on this genre:

Women always are center stage in romance novels, and those women are guaranteed to find a satisfying relationship by the book’s end, whether it’s with a Viking or a vampire or another woman. “Romance fiction is about hope, and about the possibility of finding a relationship in which you’re appreciated for who you really are,” [Laurie]Kahn says. And if critics find the stories unrealistic, well, that’s what they’re meant to be. “Romances are fantasies,” [Nancy] Herkness says. “We try and make them as authentic as we can, but it’s still a fantasy.”

It’s the uplifting final pages, say many, that draw readers to romance. “I need a happy ending,” [Anna] Muzzy says. “The world is a dark and grim-enough place. I don’t need to read dark stories.” No matter how difficult the complications of the plot are for the protagonist, the story always ends on an optimistic note. “You know it will be emotionally satisfying,” [Mindy] Klasky says. “There’s a comfort in knowing that, despite everything, there will be a happy ending.”

Similarly, the Yale Herald surveyed the world of romance writing in a thorough discussion of the pros and cons from an academic viewpoint. No less than the Smithsonian Magazine recently published an overview of criticism and opinion about romance and how there are winds of change in academia.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the Princeton ladies with their praise of fantasy and uplift. Nothing is more fundamental or relevant to human life than loving relationships and satisfying sex. These are the emotional nests from which our children spring and the context in which we go forth each day to wage our battles for security and meaning. It’s been an ongoing failure to recognize this primal need and stand up for its literary importance to all detractors.

As women’s fortunes rise in society, romance will continue to gain a stronger position in literary circles. Emotion and relationships have always been the realm where women reigned supreme just as war and conquest have been the arena where men ruled. Until recent decades, arguably until the arrival of self-publishing where women have been able to break past the publishing stranglehold, men controlled the industry and formed the predominant ranks of literary criticism; books about emotions and relationships failed to interest them.

So make it good, ladies. Put out stories that make us proud. Entertain us with inventive plot lines and unique characters. Enlist beta readers and work hard to be professional. The future is ours.

Stealing Your Words

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Periodically, my Facebook news feed erupts with the latest update on works ‘stolen’ from authors and re-published by someone else. In the early days, I hurried to track down such lists. Mostly I found links to links and then no access unless I signed up for something.

But there is a thriving industry of thieves who make a few changes in what a self-published author wrote then release it under a new title. This was extensively discussed in an excellent article in June 2016.

It seems romance writers are the primary target of such scoundrels for two reasons: many romance authors are self-published and romance sells. As noted in an Atlantic Monthly article, “In 2013, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) estimated that sales of romantic novels amounted to $1.08 billion, and accounted for 13% of adult fiction consumed that year, outselling science-fiction, mystery and literary novels.”

Self-publishing is like walking home alone at night. There’s no big–or even small–publisher to back you up. Yes, Amazon has software that supposedly scans new manuscripts for duplication in an effort to prevent such horrors, but a cunning thief can substitute a few words and character names in your text and easily fool that software.

Even worse are the occasional outright thefts of authors’ work by small e-book presses and/or agencies which promise to format, publish, promote, and/or sell your work. This kind of wraparound service appeals to new authors, many of whom jump into writing with the specific idea of self-publishing a romance story. Most recently, romance writers are outraged to hear about the theft of fourth quarter proceeds (among other things) by All-Romance Ebooks, LLC.

So between thievery by outsiders and by insiders, what’s a hopeful writer to do? Is the answer only to wait until you can get a toe in the door with an agent who, if you’re wildly lucky and a damn good writer, can get you in with a mainstream publisher, both of whom will shave off a healthy 80-85% of your book’s proceeds? The reality of that world is pretty dim, as discussed in a recent article about book sales in that arena.

Fact is, romance is still looked down on in the elevated sphere of mainstream publishing. Never mind its sales numbers. Never mind that romance stories deal with important fundamentals of human existence like courtship, love, sex, and–sometimes–having babies. That’s just beneath the thin air world of Literary Fiction.

Besides, most of the readers of romance are women, an easily dismissed demographic in the still-patriarchal world of mainstream publishing.

Put it all together and romance gets no respect.

If that’s not enough to depress you, how’s this? Even if you find an agent who thinks your work is great and you get a contract for that agent to shop your manuscript around town, there’s no guarantee that your work won’t get stolen. This has happen to me, actually. Twice.

First time the problem arose from me submitting to a publisher directly. This was a non-fiction project, but the lesson applies across the board. I sent my outline of chapter summaries and overall concept to all the big publishers like Random House. Each query letter solicited a form letter response. No.

Before I embarked on that quest, I had checked the most recent list of ‘books in print’ as well as ‘forthcoming books’ where publishers list everything they’ve got in the works. Nothing in the realm of my project was listed.

Despite all the rejections, I started contacting agents. Three said yes, we’re interested. I contracted with one of them and after making edits he suggested, I sat back and waited for the good news.

Four months later, the agent notified me that Random House was coming out with a book very similar to mine. Very Similar. Topics grouped in each chapter almost identical to my proposal–check. Overall concept exactly like mine–check.

The difference between this book and mine? The author. She had previously been published by Random House, already in their stable, plus she held professional credentials in the subject of this book which I did not.

Time frame: My proposal had been sent to Random House in March. The ‘new’ book would be released in the following January.

No reason this wouldn’t have been listed in forthcoming books at the time I searched if indeed they already had the project underway.

The agent questioned whether such a work could be completed in such a short time frame…until he learned the author also taught at the college level and could have easily accessed a small army of graduate students to do the research.

I consulted an intellectual rights attorney and provided him with the materials I had sent to Random House and the fresh-off-the-press copy of the other author’s book. He agreed the similarities were too striking to ignore. Then he told me the truth about copyright infringement.

First, until I could discover what profits had been earned, I had no grounds to sue. That’s because lost profits were my ‘damages’ and lawsuits were about damages. Second, Random House was in New York City and in order to sue them, I would have to retain an attorney who was licensed to practice law in New York City.

There were other reasons I walked out of his office in the depths of despair but mostly it was the fact that I had no money for a NYC attorney. I had lost my idea and all my hard work.

There’s a nasty sequel to this story. With the agent’s encouragement, I rewrote the proposal. Jazzed it up, made it more about fun than scholarly. Added cute quotations at the beginning of each chapter. Etc. He started making the rounds with the new version. A year later as the manuscript sat in so many publishing houses’ ‘maybe’ piles, a new book came out.

Yes, you guessed it. Same concept down to the exact same quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Two young women ‘authored’ the book. Not coincidentally, they both worked in the NYC publishing industry giving them easy and quick access to proposals they thought might be successful, evidently.

I have a file drawer full of all my research, proposals, agent contract and other random bits of worthless paper that grew from that bitter lesson. Including both the books that were stolen from me.

The point is–nothing is safe. But as the agent remarked at the conclusion of this relationship, fiction is harder to steal. Non-fiction is usually subject matter that anyone can research but fictional stories are yours alone.

Unfortunately there are many ways to steal fiction as the unfortunate authors tangled up with the All-Romance Ebook LLC scandal are finding out, not to mention the countless authors whose works have been pirated. It’s an ugly world.

My advice to myself–and to anyone reading this post–is to write because you can’t avoid it. Write because the story keeps you awake at night with words flowing through your head like water through a river in flood. Write because you love to write, because you have something important to say.

Even if very few people ever read the work and especially if you never get rich from it, writing is what some of us have to do no matter what.

That doesn’t mean you have to be stupid about it. I still self pub, fiction and non-fiction. If I ever decided to engage a third party to help me market or publish my work, I would research them thoroughly–how long they’ve been in business being a primary concern. And if you’re going to seek advice on writing or publishing, try to not fall into the quicksand of buying such advice. Plenty of good input is available at no cost, not the least of which is your local author group (if you can find one you like).

For example, check out this excellent blog post about self-publishing and e-book sales.

Yes, acceptance into the lofty world of mainstream publishing provides stunning validation and what author doesn’t want that? But if that’s what you want and need, contemplate a long period of learning to write well and then write something beside romance.

Write on!

 

 

Apocalyptic Romance

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Okay, 2016 is over. Hopefully we’re not barreling toward a complete apocalypse. I kind of predicted this in my House of Rae series. The good news? Sex for hire is legal. The bad news? The world is on fire.

Here’s an excerpt from Book I, Salvation, set in 2060. Smashwords coupon WF94N puts this book at $1.99 (half price) through January 5. This is not a cliffhanger, fully standalone. Don’t miss it!

~~~

Lu wrangled his vintage Harley through heavy Kansas City traffic of early evening, coming in off Oak Ridge Road and onto the Loop for several miles before exiting to Ward Parkway. Red taillights and blue-white headlights glared on his face. The rushing air dried and heated his skin, poured over his head and pounded like a hard massage, whipping his clothes and hair.

A car whizzed past with its moto-tunes turned up way beyond the legal limit. Kids. Lu laughed. Night had always been their time to play. Off to the left, light poured up from one of the sports arenas. Like so many other activities, sports happened now in the protection of night. Construction, road repairs, athletics—anything that took place outside had become too dangerous in full sun. The mixing of worlds remained a congested and uneasy one with nighttime recreation now butting heads with work hours for so many.

The venerable Plaza district vibrated with activity. He loved the art deco buildings with their decorated facades and ornamental towers. A European village atmosphere made the shops and restaurants a uniquely appealing destination in the old town. People clustered along the sidewalks and around the splashing fountains and their bronze statuary—a mermaid blowing her conch, bare-breasted Pomona clutching ripe fruit, Poseidon amid rampant stallions. Lu parked the Harley and started toward the dance hall.

Absently, he looked at faces as he ducked and shouldered his way through the crowds. The mood here buoyed him. It had been one of the first places in the state to embrace the new agenda with buildings that accommodated energy collection and direction. The Plaza Energy Center had become a healing mecca for people from all over the region as well as the gathering and distribution point for energy sent out over the grid. Even now, he could see people crowding the entry to the three-story building and feel the buzzing furor of the energy healing process underway there. Above the roof, the air crackled. If he ever had time, he wanted to see the stats showing how much of the metro area population was covered by the Plaza grid. It had to be a major contributor, and that gave him deep satisfaction.

At the glossy red doors of Figaro’s, Lu waited in line until he faced the muscled attendant.

“Tiberius.” He grinned at the big man.

“Hi Lu, good to see you.” Tiberius flipped the switch and the door opened.

Lu pushed through the doorway and stood momentarily in the lobby.  Music crashed through from all directions, momentarily louder when one of several doors opened. The walls glistened and throbbed with a kaleidoscope of lights and sound. People came and went: men in tuxedos escorting elegant women in silk gowns, a cluster of enthusiastic young people with wildly coiled hair and fake buckskin clothing, two women with jeweled bracelets and ruffled flamenco skirts.

“Lu!”

He turned as he recognized the voice.

“Randy, how have you been?” He embraced the older man and exchanged a quick hug with the woman beside him. “Amber. You guys working a shift here?”

Randy nodded. The braid of his long reddish hair had partly frizzed out around his ears and neck, creating a coppery halo. “Tiring, though, for old geezers like us. Lots of energy pouring up the lines.”

They laughed, enjoying the company.

“Hell, it’s tiring even for young geezers,” Lu observed. “New adept at the House—and we need to hire at least another two subs.”

Amber nodded. “Next shift is training a new one here, lots of good people learning these skills. All the institute branches have waiting lists, especially for the dimensional stuff. Really gives me a lot of hope.”

“Me, too. But I wish science would catch up with us. What the hell is a dimensional shift, anyway? Are we hallucinating or are we really jumping past the fourth dimension?” Lu shook his head.

“I know, it bothers me, too,” Randy agreed. “Makes me wonder what we’re missing. I think we could be accomplishing more.”

“Need some kind of get together one of these days,” Lu said as they started their separate ways.

“Absolutely,” Amber called back, her long turquoise and pink skirts flaring as she strode off.

Lu smoothed back his hair, straightened the white silk shirt, and brushed his hands against his black slacks before pushing through the door marked “Tango.” Subdued light outlined the long room and its crowded dance floor. Once inside, all the building’s other music and noise died away leaving only the compelling strains of “Gallo Ciego.” He cruised along the tables of people before stopping by a woman sitting alone. Her dark eyes settled on him.

He bent at the waist in a formal bow. “Lieutenant Whitman.”

“Mr. Haverson.” She gave her hand, standing and smiling as they strolled to the dance floor without talking.

Her long fitted dress split to the hip, framing her left leg in shimmering yellow. Lu dropped her back against his arm, waited for the beat, and then they were off. Their dance with its rigid poses and abrupt turns became another of the many on the gleaming dance floor, elongated and rhythmic as their bodies pulsed to the tight drum and guitar thrums. Her skin brushed along his, her legs matched his steps thigh to thigh.

After a time, when their breath had quickened and outpaced the pulse of the music, they returned to the table.

“Fabulous, Lu,” she said, fanning herself with her hand and sipping from her tall frosted glass. “Been too long.”

“My pleasure, Cass. I love dancing with you.”

“Now, of course, you want to know what I found.”

“Yes.” Lu leaned forward, apprehensive about what she would say.

“Nothing. That’s the short answer. The long answer is a wreck about four days ago out on I-70 East. Might be a terrorism connection. The guy carried large quantities of explosives, looks like C-4, but the event didn’t leave a lot to pick through. Domestic thinks there was some kind of self-destruct mechanism involved. Driver evidently fell asleep, wrapped his ass quite neatly around an overpass support.”

~~~

And now, a glimpse of the bad boy of our tale, Josh Carter:

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A Christmas Story Like No Other

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Jarrod Bancroft — a five part series with the most outrageous kink you could ever imagine. Part I “A Gift For Jarrod” now FREE through December 31. Use this coupon code RG53U at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/383857.

If you like it, if you can stand the heat, you’ll want the entire novel, available at half price with this code KC86A through December 31 at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/535279

~~~

With everything she cared about gone, Dominatrix Macie Fitzgerald has built a new life in service to those seeking pain and submission. She takes pride in her success. So when she accepts Jarrod Bancroft’s application to her next training session, she acknowledges the risk. The ten years that have passed since he was her high school history student have only made him more magnificent in every way.

jarrod-1Life has been too easy for Jarrod Bancroft—rich parents, football star, law degree, high powered job, women by the score. Something is missing. He wants whatever Stonybrook Academy can dish out, much as it scares the hell out of him. And he was right to be afraid. He never imagined this. And the voice behind Madam’s mask sounds familiar, but after days of torture and deprivation, Jarrod’s only thought is to obey.

Macie faces her biggest challenge as she struggles to fulfill her professional obligation to give Jarrod what he wants. What he needs.

Will Santa leave anything under the tree for her? And if he does, can she bear to open it?

~~~

Averaging 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!

“…hotness, explosive sex scenes and most of all one of Lizzie Ashworth’s signature immersive plots, which keep me returning to her books.” Kirsty

I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of writing and soon lost myself in the story.” Tracy

“…surprising revelations, steamy sex and desperation…” Donna

*5 stars* I could not put this book down once I started on it. Drue’s Random Chatter

*5 stars* Great book—it was hot and sweet. Thanks for a fun hot read! Kindle Lover “Mom of 4”

*5 stars* …I loved the Jarrod Bancroft series…  Almost immediately I felt the story was good and it had me hooked. A Wanton Book Lover

*5 stars* Great book! Kristin Heller

*5 stars* I couldn’t put this book down. I highly recommend this series to anyone and everyone. Lizzie Ashworth is an amazing author. Breanna

*5 stars* Another scorcher from this amazing author! Bookaholic Mama

*5 stars* Really great hot and sexy story. Cheeky Pee Reads

…great conclusion to a highly erotic and thrilling series. A Closet Full of Books

novel-j-2Part II (in the novel) —

In the two months since Jarrod Bancroft showed up at her Academy for submission training, Macie Fitzgerald has violated every rule she ever made for herself. But as Jarrod keeps nudging the line, Macie must confront her fears about this man and the fires of desire he ignites in all her secret places.

Jarrod Bancroft knows what he wants: Macie. What she doesn’t give, he takes—a risky venture when you’re a sub. To complicate matters, there’s a legal hammer hanging over his head at Bancroft Investments that threatens to ruin his professional future. He takes comfort that Macie has his back, even if only in yet another sadistic torment.

But does she really? Or has he pushed too far?

novel-j-3Part III —

Jarrod’s life takes an unexpected and life-threatening turn when he’s sucked into his father’s illegal business mess. Powerless as a nightmare unfolds around him, he dreams of his queen, the only woman he wants. But there’s nothing Macie can do for him now.

Terrified over Jarrod’s disappearance, Macie makes her choice. She loves him. She’ll do anything to help him. No risk is too great, even confronting the tyrant responsible for Jarrod’s danger.

Mysteries unfold as Jarrod fights to save himself and stake his claim on the woman he loves.

novel-j-4-copyjarrod-5Part IV and V — no hints! But guaranteed to shock and please you!

Sensuous Food

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Sex and food are closely related. Both trigger endorphins, those little chemicals that bestow pleasure. Eating can be a most erotic activity, especially if your partner is placing tidbits of savory lobster on your lips and telling you to open up.

Wow.

OK–I admit, I’m a lifelong sensualist. And my writing reflects it. Most of my stories have at least one scene of food bliss. For example, here’s an excerpt from Hers to Choose:

Half dressed in silk robes, they lounged at Dan’s low living room table where catered food had been spread out. Flames leapt in the fireplace and candles flickered in the dim light, reflecting off their glasses as they sipped wine. Snowflakes drifted against the window, dotting the city lights twinkling in the dark night. They fed each other salty home fries and chunks of crisp lettuce drizzled in blue cheese dressing, each in turn laughing and moaning with pleasure.

Melted butter dribbled on Bryn’s chin as she took another mouthful of tender lobster. Alex fed her a slice of the charred steak, using the thick side of his thumb to wipe butter from her lower lip and chin and then push against her lips. She slowly licked his thumb.

Or how about this scene from the futuristic novel Salvation?

I wasn’t just an employee. I was her whore. Her toy.

I gave in to her insistence to take a glass of wine with dinner, violating the plan I had formulated over the long day. I didn’t want to make any more waves. The wine’s bittersweet tang flooded my tongue. Halfway through the meal I realized that each sip set up my mouth for the next slice of salty steak. I barely suppressed my urge to moan over every mouthful. Delight rippled up my chest and down my arms as I chewed the last bite of meat with its strip of burned fat.

Across the table from me, this witch with her breasts half exposed, her hair piled up on her head, drew me toward her without doing anything. Long earrings with sparkling blue stones dragged over the bare skin on her neck and shoulders and hypnotized me every time she moved. 

One of my all time favorites is the scene from an old movie, Tom Jones, where they’re eating. You might as well say “having sex.”

For your holiday pleasure, here’s a quick and easy recipe for cheese ball. Mix it up, make 3 or 4 balls, logs, or whatever hits your imagination! Serve with ample winks and nods.

Cheese Ball

Makes a great holiday gift, too.

12 ounces cream cheese (1 ½ 8-ounce packages)

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

⅓ cup finely chopped red onion

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

Soften cream cheese. (Remove from package, place in glass bowl, and microwave 30 seconds.) Mash with spatula until fully blended and softened. Add other ingredients and mix well. Yield: about 3 cups.

Cheese Ball shaping and decorating options:

  1. Divide into three portions. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface and put one portion of the cheese mixture onto the paper. Gently roll cheese inside of paper into a log shape. Repeat for other two portions. Place the three rolls into refrigerator for at least three hours, until fully chilled. Remove paper. Logs may be rolled in minced fresh parsley or chopped toasted pecans. Place on serving plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature about ½ hour before serving.
  1. Place full recipe of cheese ball onto platter and spread out into a Christmas tree shape about 1 inch thick overall. Form 4-5 limb end points along each side. Use roasted red pepper strips or pimento strips to create a garland that zigzags from side to side. Slice green olives with pimento centers to create tree ornaments. Alternately, the entire “tree” can be sprinkled with minced fresh parsley and then ornamented with red pepper strips and olives as described. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Allow to come to room temperature about ½ hour before serving.
  1. Using waxed paper between your hands and portions of cheese ball, roll balls of various sizes. Coat each ball in a different material: minced fresh parsley, toasted pecans, toasted chopped almond slivers, finely sliced green onion (include some of the green part), diced red and green peppers, diced green olives, diced black olives, or other ingredients of your preference. Arrange balls on serving platter.

Serve with cheese knives and any of the following:

Savory crackers, toasted pita bread or pita chips, raw vegetable sticks such as carrots and celery, toasted French bread thinly sliced, sliced apple or pear

 

 

 

 

Grabbing Pussy

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Much of what romance authors write, of what is a primary theme in all romance fiction, centers on the chemistry of attraction and the dominance of the alpha male. He’s all powerful. The woman swoons in his arms.

So why is there this chasm between the fantasy and the reality where a male’s touch is deemed an assault?

It’s not difficult to see why men are confused. Poor things. They have such a hard time knowing how to behave with women. The Donald Trumps of the world just grab a pussy when they feel like it. (You’re supposed to swoon, remember?)

The compliment in such male behavior is that in his eyes, the woman measures up. If she’s beautiful and she’s looking to advance herself in the world, she’s worth grabbing. In being grabbed, she gains the grand title of ‘beautiful and worthy.’ She’s a success! She gains a step up because the grabber is a man of power. He can do things for her.

The price is allowing herself to be grabbed.

Nothing new in this. No matter how far back you go in history—a year, a hundred, ten thousand—women have allowed themselves to be grabbed by powerful men in order to (a) survive, (b) advance, and/or (c) gain favor/money/security. A woman who expects such benefits but who rejects being grabbed is considered a tease or a bitch and quickly finds herself on the outside looking in.

Or dead. The rejected lover could kill her. Or he could refuse to protect her against the raiding bands of thugs who rape then kill her.

With a deeper view into the genetic past of women, a person could argue that women are biologically predisposed to having her pussy grabbed whether by confident men with real desire or by a wannabe cocksman like Trump. (I’m guessing he suffers from a pathetic wiener. Men with nice wood don’t have to grab.)

As the larger of the two sexes, men enjoy a gender inequality inherited from our ancestors the apes. As such, they have controlled human culture through physical violence. Men’s rule has only begun to diminish in the last century as women gained legal protection from male violence as well as voting rights, property ownership, and most importantly, birth control.

Women’s historical power comes in their ability to attract men and produce his heirs. Thus we have ancient evidence of cosmetics, alluring garments, and sideways glances. If a woman’s value rests entirely in her ability to attract male attention, why wouldn’t she be flattered with a pussy grab? I mean, how affirming can you get?

Well, news flash–women have value besides her sexual role. Many women evidently haven’t figured that out yet, but historically, some women have broken the rules. Mostly, they died. Joan of Arc, for example, saved France and then was burned at the stake because we all know that a woman has no business acting like a man, wearing armor and running around with a sword.

Joan is not the only woman to die for breaking those gender rules. Uppity women are biologically less likely to survive. Thus we end up with women who vote for Trump.

But even among those of us uppity women who would never vote for Donald Trump, there remains a strong majority who do enjoy romantic stories about alpha men. What is this about?

First, I’d suggest that it has everything to do with biology and very little to do with rational processes. Remember, evolution has preordained that favorable attention from men serves women well. Secondly, we’re talking about Fiction. We can fantasize about a perfect man in a perfect circumstance where we abandon caution and allow ourselves to be swept into perfect love.

There’s a particular behavior set that identifies the fictional man we’d let grab our pussies. He possesses the traditional characteristics of an alpha male—physical fitness, rugged good looks, a twinkle in his eye that says he sees your bet and raises, and a genuine acknowledgement of your boundaries that he will respect even if he’s tormented by his restraint.

Meaning, he won’t grab your pussy until you give the signal.

Thus hinges the difference between reality and romantic fantasy. He’s got to insist. The chemistry has to be right. He must demonstrate that he finds you irresistible. He’s got to have something to offer—mastodon meat or mega billions, whatever.

Women who have experienced molestation or sexual assault appreciate trigger warnings in erotic romance because they’ve learned from painful experience that forceful men taking what they want without permission is anything but romantic. It’s disgusting. It’s painful. It’s a nightmare that never goes away.

This is the part that men don’t understand. That’s why, in all the uproar following the release of the video where Trump talked about grabbing women by the pussy, there were so many male apologists claiming that because of the success of Fifty Shades of Gray, outraged women were lying hypocrites. One way or the other, they said. Either like being dominated. Period. Or don’t adore romance novels that feature domination.

Completely missing from their grasp is the basic fact that in Fifty Shades, The Woman Gave Permission.  They had a relationship. She wanted him. Also missing in Trump’s assault was the key point about romance: it’s fiction.

Also confusing for men is that women go to great lengths to ornament themselves in order to be sexually attractive. Hair styles that impair vision plus shoes and skirts that limit movement signal a woman’s vulnerability. Add cosmetics and a talent for seduction and a woman has maximized her sexual wealth in order to maximize her value in a culture that still, fundamentally, presents women as sex objects for men to choose among.

You can see how men would get mixed signals. Does she want me to grab her pussy? Yes? No?

Even older women in powerful positions—think Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, for example—dress in colorful clothing, adopt fashionable hairstyles, and wear cosmetics. Men may update a hairstyle on occasion, but they wear the same dark suits decade after decade. Cosmetics for men? Get real.

These traditions of female glam simply won’t go away quietly. But what does it mean? It means women’s appearance is more about social expectations and how she sees herself than an invitation to be molested. A lot of men never got that memo.

No woman wants a strange man to walk up to her, land a sloppy kiss and/or grab between her legs. It’s disgusting on the face of it. Disgusting that he sees her as a mere object available for his amusement. Disgusting that he thinks he’s such hot shit that he commits sexual assault without any fear of repercussion. Disgusting that even today with space travel, worldwide social media, and incredibly advanced technology, a man like Trump exists at all.

We’ve come a long way, baby. But we’ve still got a long way to go. Meanwhile, read more romance!

The Romance

gandyThat little spot in your heart that still believes in fairy tales, in the prince in shining armor who will swoop in and make everything right—that spot lives on in women no matter how life’s disappointments have crushed us down. That man who cheated on you, hurt you, left you with debt and children and heart-stopping pain? That man who never lived up to his promises, your expectations? Those men are out there. We know them.

But surely there’s one man, one perfect man, waiting just for you.

This is the lure of romance. This is the duty romance writers must fulfill. It’s a daunting task.

On one hand, the fictional hero must be suitably flawed—irascible, a little too proud, bullheaded. He’s impossibly unattainable, not our type, completely out of our league. Despite his supremely arrogant demeanor, deep inside he’s suffering. He needs our love even if he doesn’t yet know it.

We can’t turn our back on him even when we try.

On the other hand, our hero must be exquisitely capable of seeing through our defenses and, against his intent, is drawn to the task of making us happy. He’s ruggedly handsome, his body sculpted like a Greek god. He’s intelligent and sensitive, thoughtful and kind. Above all, his sexual prowess leaves us without recourse.

He is specially made just for us. The soul mate. The man who fits us inside and out.

Not all woman are alike. Thankfully neither are authors of romance. For every author who tends to write the strong silent type, there are others who create male leads with a talent for witty banter and intellectual pas de deux. There are heroes in hard hats and those who carry Viking swords. Rich men with tortured pasts, lost men clinging to the shambles of their lives.

For every story that follows a woman burdened by life’s tragedies and unable to continue, another story reveals a woman too hardened to give a man a chance. Stubborn women. Faltering women. Terrified women. We’re all in there.

The plot takes us through the journey, scenes of seduction that thrill us, scenes of rejection and conflict that remind us of what we’ve suffered. In these stories, we look for something to believe in, some revelation, some escape. The knight on the white horse may not be on our doorstep but maybe the heart and soul of such a man lingers inside the furnace repair man or the man staring at us across the McDonald’s parking lot.

It’s the possibility that tempts us, makes us believe enough to pick up yet another book and indulge in the fantasy. It’s a sacred task, this spinning of tales that revitalize us, inspire and comfort us. I for one am an author who cherishes the opportunity to participate in this world of magic.

Long live the dream!