The Childhood (and Parents) Lurking in our Writing

Recently I wrote a guest post on another romance author’s blog (shoutout to Delilah Devlin!) about how my male and female characters elicit very different responses from me as an author. For male characters, I am able to quickly get in their head and emotions. For females, it’s damn near impossible.

I’ve noticed this for years now, how my heroines are standoffish and overly analytical, while my heroes are full of angst and sympathetic conflict. This is not a good thing. Most readers of romance are women, and readers must be able to identify with the heroine in order to enjoy the story.

As in, feel her pain and understand her emotion.  Which doesn’t happen very easily if the heroine is standoffish and analytical.

Here’s part of what I wrote:

I’ve always had a soft spot for guys. In high school, I enjoyed hanging with a group of guys, not that I didn’t also have female friends. I did. But with the guys, I felt more relaxed.

There was also something about the conversation with males that I preferred more than conversation with females. It’s hard to exactly pin down what specifically annoyed me about chatting with females—maybe that there seemed so little substance to it. With guys, conversation tended to be more to the point. And the point seemed more substantive. And there was less conversation overall, which suited me fine.

Throughout my life, I’ve found less to like about women than about men. Women can be unbelievably cruel, vindictive, and easily provoked to violence. Verbal violence, that is, things like character assassination, gossip, and vicious bad-mouthing.  I seldom see the same kind of hatred spewed by men that I’ve seen from women.

No question that both sexes dish out their share of ugly remarks, but in my experience, men tend to walk away from that kind of confrontation whereas women can’t get your face long enough to suit them.

Maybe there’s some truth to the theory that while early man was out silently stalking game, women were talking up a storm around the campfire. By necessity, women had to develop words for every aspect of their close-knit lives that centered around children, food, and textiles. That setting bred endless options for intrigue, jealousy, nitpicking, and other negative traits for which women are infamous.

Men didn’t need words to signal other hunters about the elk he spotted or to carry dead animals back to the cave. If he used words, it would spook the game he planned to eat for dinner. Once he dragged the carcass home and turned it over to the women, and as long as everybody played fair, male tribal members just wanted everybody to get along. …

Things seem so much simpler with men than with women, at least, that’s how I see it. Maybe that too is part of my sympathetic affection for men. I tend to write my male characters that way, big, charming galoots with not much to say but determined to follow his heart. Not complicated, not conniving, not spun out over the least assumed slight, not changing his mind or mood every fifteen minutes…

Sooo… After I wrote the guest blog post, I started thinking about why my writing turns out this way. Why do I have this kind of attitude about women? Because without a doubt, there’s something off balance about my attitude. (Or maybe not…what do you think?)

Then I thought of my parents. Ah ha! My dad was my emotional support, the understanding one, the person who was there for me no matter what. It was my mom who always had something critical to say. Without thinking about how her words would affect an insecure, near-sighted daughter, she said things like how my knees were ugly or I was clumsy (her term was ‘slew-foot’), or how she and her mother laughed when, at fifteen and miserably sporting an optimistic A cup, I insisted I needed a bra.

So there—with volumes more that could be said about my lifelong difficult relationship with a woman who never ceased to amaze with her well-intentioned yet hopelessly hurtful interactions with others—is the key to my struggles as an author and with female characters in particular.

This revelation portends a hopefully fruitful introspection for me both as an author and a woman. I need to dig deep to see how I have internalized my mother’s attitude and determine what if anything I can do about it. Meanwhile, I’m going to try really hard to write more warmth into my female characters instead of recreating the strained and painful impact of my relationship with my mom.

This means I have to try to understand more about my mom.

Advertisements

Transgressive Sex

Brothel mural in ancient Roman city of Pompeii

Imagine, if you will, erotic scenes where Alpha males not only blindfold, bind, and spank a wildly excited woman but also touch each other. Imagine plural sex with two or three men kissing and grasping each other’s erect organs amid their lovemaking with a woman. These are the new transgressive sex scenes in popular women’s romance novels.

Back in the prim pre-Fifty Shades of Gray era, sex scenes hit the hot talk horizon by peeking into bedrooms of mistresses and gigolos. More hidden were stories of same sex encounters. Deviations from the happily-married norm, which wasn’t actually the norm, titillated readers with the excitement of lifting the covers on forbidden behavior. Would she succumb to his seduction before the wedding? Would he, the hero male, successfully awaken her carnal desires and fulfill her unrecognized erotic dream? That was the objective, the happily-ever-after ending that remains de rigueur for all romance stories.

Scene from the 1975 movie version of the “Story of O.”

A few notable exceptions to the mundane modern history of romantic works of literature (which, sadly, critics argue are not Literature at all but rather mere tawdry fluff) have been the startling chronicles of female enslavement and its various permutations such as The Story of O by Anne Descois. Other 20th century offerings include the works of the reportedly-bisexual Anais Nin, who explored same-sex attraction and incest, among other off-shade topics. Anne Rice’s mid-20th century Sleeping Beauty stories, unfolding in a fantastical world of extreme BDSM, set the high-water mark for over-the-top perversion.

Unlike Rice’s books, however, more recent works exploring dominant-submissive relationships don’t stop there. BDSM is already passé. The newest hottest form of transgressive sex in romance novels is the plural relationship. Specifically, the story’s heroine yields to seduction by men who fulfill her most craven desires by making love to her–and loving her–as a group.

In the 2017 novels by author J. A. Huss, The Turning Series, Huss goes further down the path than any previous author I’ve read. The three men of the story line, all ultra-rich Alphas with killer good looks, participate in group sex with a woman who contracts for the experience. In exchange for lots of money and adhering to a rigid schedule of who gets to be with her when, the men pursue their bisexual fantasies in the guise of pleasing a woman. Huss presents these activities in a highly provocative style without draping it in any tarnishing social condemnation. These men enjoy touching each other, admit they love each other, and yet manage not to make the male-male aspect the main point of their encounters.

Similarly, another author successful in exploring plural sex is Tiffany Riesz whose Original Sinners series delves into multiple forbidden topics. Her main characters include a female ‘switch’ who enters the story line as an adolescent named Nora who is alternately mentored, seduced, and dominated by Søren, a Catholic priest who also happens to be a sadist. His previous homosexual love affair with a school chum named Kingsley continues throughout his relationship with Nora. In occasional fits of priestly conscience, Søren ‘gives’ Nora to Kingsley who then teaches her the skills to become a highly successful dominatrix. The pinnacle, although not the end, of this storyline occurs when all three end up in the same bed.

Both authors present their ideas in well-written tales full of rich backgrounds and compelling story lines. These aren’t stupid little sex scenes isolated from any greater character development. Sex serves not only to gratify readers in ways that many of us would never pursue in person but also to examine theoretical and even ideal human relationships. Such fiction reflects our innate yearning for absolute freedom in pursuing emotional and physical completion.

~~~

There’s no limit to how far back in literary history one might go in exploring the depths of such erotic tales. The Greeks celebrated male-male relationships in poetry and in art and named the island of Lesbos as the place where female-female sex proliferated. Roman art depicting all kinds of erotic couplings survives to teach us about that aspect of their culture. Throughout the succeeding centuries, with works ranging from the Marquis de Sade’s Justine to Nabokov’s Lolita, censors managed only to heighten a work’s notoriety by banning them. A major success of modern culture has been the lifting of censorship so that humanity might more fully express its sexual fantasies and realities. [Look here for an overview of erotic literature.]

1969 movie “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” played by (L-R) Elliot Gould, Natalie Wood, Robert Culp, and Diane Cannon.

As recently as the ‘free sex’ period of the 60s generation, however, the movie Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice found couples willing to tolerate extramarital affairs and even an attempt at wife-swapping, but nowhere in even the subtext was there a hint that Bob and Ted would consider touching each other.

What does it mean now, if anything, that women’s romance novels reveal an intense interest in Alpha males, successful, intelligent, and seductive men, who not only want to pleasure women but also each other? These aren’t gay men. In Huss’ series, these thirty-something males have shared their sexual relationships for years. They suffer no guilt and no second thoughts about their pleasure in each other.

Parameters of their bisexual activity are obvious, however. They never act on each other unless in the process of acting on the female. The woman and her desire, her satisfaction, is the appropriate arena for them to express their erotic thrill with each other. As they dominate her, their genitals may touch and even be handled by one or the other of the three males in the relationship. They may kiss. Watching each other expose and self-stimulate their arousals serves to both trigger the men’s greater excitement as well as the female reader’s.

One of the favored features of such play is double penetration so that both men’s genitals enter the women and can be felt through the thin fleshy wall between the woman’s vagina and rectum. The woman’s fulsome enjoyment in such penetration is described but so is the man’s gratification in feeling the other man’s cock next to his own.

Not every reader enjoys such stories, as reviews of these works quickly testify. But that’s the nature of erotic literature in general, forming a rabidly interested readership on one hand and a horrified coterie of critics on the other. But the fact that we as a culture have advanced to the point where authors can openly present such ideas to the public gives hope that human sexuality can flourish in offering new and important ideas to society as a whole. What is more promising than the concept of men who aren’t afraid to acknowledge their desire and love for each other alongside their love and desire for women? Nothing could be further from the inherent violence traditionally characterized in male control of females.

Not to say that women’s romance literature offers much of interest to men. Tending more toward the visual, men’s erotic media often show a man with two or more women intent on pleasing him in all ways as well as delighting each other in various lascivious acts. Finally there’s a full set of options available for male as well as female delectation.

So-called ‘plural marriage’ such as shown in the reality TV series “Sister Wives,” is just the latest iteration of men taking more than one wife. In Biblical times, men such as Abraham had a wife and concubine. Harems featured multiple wives and concubines with varying degrees of favoritism by their husband. Mormons most famously practiced polygamy (more accurately polygyny), but other cultures around the world share wives between brothers, among other examples.

Polyamory, the practice of or desire for intimate relationships with more than one partner, with all partners aware and accepting of those relationships, is the latest actual manifestation of the new sexuality making inroads into longstanding tradition. This is not exactly the same as a plural relationship. A woman could have two male partners in a plural relationship and not be polyamorous, meaning she and her partners would not see anyone outside the relationship. Or they could all be polyamorous, meaning that while they enjoyed a committed relationship with each other, they could dally with persons outside the relationship.

The movement of a socially-enlightened population toward diverse sexual relationships promises an interesting road ahead. These are natural progressions of people freed from the strictures of ancient religious rules promulgated in the interest of preventing bastardy and confused inheritance. Old patriarchal traditions no longer hold sway over the actions of women, thanks to the advent of effective birth control. While the nuclear family may remain the norm for rearing children, experimentation even in this arena shows us that the male-female couple is not necessarily more successful than a same sex couple or even a communal family.

In her stories, Huss sidesteps the potential of her characters to form a plural family. [Spoiler Alert] Each of the three novels conclude with one of the men pairing off with a woman in a happily-ever-after. Personally, I found this mildly tragic and somewhat disappointing. Why should men who both love the same woman and each other have to yield to tradition? Why couldn’t there be a happy family with two men and a woman and their child?

Similarly, in her Original Sinners series, Riesz conforms to the expectation that true love between a man and a woman results in a monogamous relationship. But is that true? Is three always a crowd?

So far lacking in any measurable amount is literature showing female domination of men in ways that strengthen the female or liberate the man from his duty to be Alpha. Romance stories still affirm the male’s ability and desire to take care of the female and the female’s ability and desire to ‘complete’ the male’s life. These are elements women demand in ‘escape’ reading. Apparently, the more ‘liberated’ and equal women become in the real world, the more they crave fantasies where men take unerring charge in the bedroom.

~~~

Further reading:

More than Two, written by Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert and published in 2014, addresses the ethics of consensual non-monogamous relationships.

The Ethical Slut, written by Dossie Easton and Catherine A. Liszt and published in 1997, discusses how to live an active life with multiple concurrent sexual relationships in a fair and honest way. Discussion topics include how to deal with the practical difficulties and opportunities in finding and keeping partners, maintaining relationships with others, and strategies for personal growth.

Why rules don’t apply:  https://www.quora.com/Why-do-the-various-plural-relationships-like-polyandry-and-polygamy-survive-flourish-in-society-Shouldnt-they-be-crushed-or-declared-a-crime-the-very-day-they-first-come-into-light

Multiple ‘husbands’ per woman (None of this material addresses male-male sexuality in polyandrous relationships.): http://jezebel.com/5981095/polyandry-is-actually-way-more-popular-than-anthropologists-have-thought

Freebie Time!

Free full-length historical romance novel, Caerwin and the Roman Dog! This special offer ends June 30, 2017. To get in on this deal, sign up for Liz’s Hot News, a free monthly newsletter. Each month’s issue includes free short and sexy fiction, hints and factoids, and lots of fun! Sign up this week at http://eepurl.com/bHOyS9 and get our Super Hot July Freebie Novel!

5 stars — “A great read worth 5 stars!

“5 STARS for Ashworth and her historical genius!”

5 stars — “Ms. Ashworth has created a complex tapestry of characters all set against a well-researched backdrop. I continue to applaud her ability to mix history with eroticism so aptly.”

5 stars — “This story just pulled me in. History, romance, mystery, political intrigue and just good writing. Can’t wait for the next installment!”

and many more!

The Witness

Cara Lawrence drained the last of the martini and slid the shiny stemware away from her. A little world to itself, the elegant glass on its clean white napkin. A little white square with a world on it. She wanted to go there.

The muscles in her neck relaxed. God, she needed this. She’d chewed the inside of her cheek raw, driving mile after mile across land colored in faded shades of brown, tan, gray. Scraps of bleached vegetation. Peaceful in a desolate way. Like her.

At some point, she had redirected the air conditioner vent away from her face and slipped into a reverie. She could be anywhere in any time. Not much traffic on the highway. Cactus dotted the landscape. Finally, as late afternoon started to quench the outside glare, she’d been able to smile.

Now, not so much. Much as she needed her senses on full alert, she also needed a break. She sighed, not carried away, not in a different world. That man lurked in the back of her mind, dark and threatening. Looking at her intently as if he could read her mind. She wasn’t good at hiding her thoughts. He knew.

Not many people remained in the dim hotel bar, but it felt good to be tucked into this corner booth at the back of the room. Everything about the place comforted her, the scent of leather upholstery, the clatter of glassware, the faint drone of the television above the bar blending with distant voices, the bartender, a couple of nearby people talking. Facing the door, she could see anyone who came in. Not that he would come in. She was seven hundred miles away in another state. There was no way he could have followed her here.

But she felt like he had. That feeling crawled up the back of her neck like he was watching, waiting. For what? Why did it matter what she knew? Wouldn’t he fare better leaving her alone no matter what heinous act he committed?

A short laugh rolled up her chest. Fucking ridiculous, Cara. What the hell is wrong with you? She’d never been this paranoid. All this terror built on the flimsiest of evidence, a few minutes of unexplained noise, a brief encounter…so what? He’d been polite, said he was sorry, left her alone. A killer wouldn’t have done that. Would he?

She hadn’t seen anything anyway, not really. She saw him go in, heard a loud noise like gunfire. Maybe it wasn’t gunfire. Maybe the sound didn’t come from where he went. Maybe he just went in and came back out. Maybe leaving the door open didn’t mean anything. She drained her glass, satisfied that between the hearty chicken-fried steak dinner and a couple of strong cocktails, she’d have a good night’s sleep.

Okay, most of the dinner had stayed on her plate.

She wanted to sleep, a deep restful sleep with no restless half-awake time lying there, listening, waiting. Resisting the urge to have a third drink, she slid out of the booth, dropped a generous tip on the table, and walked across the room. Her legs hadn’t recovered from being in the car all day. And the day before. Walking felt good. A long walk in the twilight would feel fabulous.

No. He might have followed her. She had been his only witness. He would want her gone.

Cara got to her floor gripping her door card. If she had a Xanax, she’d take it now. She kept seeing the guy’s eyes, pale gray in a weathered face. A face that had seen a lot. And that scar. How many regular guys had a scar on their cheek?

How much of this was being off balance from the breakup with Travis?

A cluster of young men stood at the ice machine, talking and joking.

“I need your help,” she said impulsively, aware of the absurdity of what she was about to say. “Someone is following me,” she continued, thankful the young men looked at her with concern. “I’m afraid to go to my room,” she continued. “Would you help me get my bags, maybe let me sleep on your couch?”

The young men glanced at each other, all of them tall and athletic. Surely they’d defend her, if it came down to it.

Had she gone mad?

“Sure, lady,” one of them said. “Charter,” he said, straightening his shoulders and sticking out his hand, his valor ready. “Besom, Hank, Jason,” he said, waving his hand at the others.

“Charter, nice to meet you. I’m Cara.” Maybe she was drunker than she knew. What did they think about this, really? What the hell was she doing?

It was a brilliant plan, she decided as they closed her room door and walked with her to their suite. A rugby team. That explained it. Did it mean anything to her that their bodies radiated youthful male exuberance? Maybe she would give herself to them, yield up her flesh to their exploitation for however many hours they would have her.

What if she offered and they declined? After Travis, could she endure another rejection? Oh hell yes, this would be exactly what she needed to get Travis out of her mind forever. Travis hardly mattered now that she had a murderer on her trail.

What was she thinking? First she was thinking a murderer was on her heels and now she was imagining sex with a sports team. She shook her head. Did therapists have nervous breakdowns?

Maybe first thing tomorrow she’d look up a local therapist and try to get a session. Stay here long enough to get her head on straight. This whole thing with Travis had wrecked her equilibrium. Everything had been tossed in the air, years of shared goals, combined assets, promises about the rest of their lives.

She’d been a damn fool. And then she had to go and witness a murder. Or not.

Charter and the other boys jostled each other, joking back and forth as they walked down the hallway. She couldn’t believe she had invited herself to sleep on their couch. Or especially that she contemplated having sex with them. They probably had their pick of countless females younger and more attractive. What could they possibly gain from sex with a freaked out thirty-something woman clearly in diminishing grasp of her sanity?

Well, of course, they didn’t know that. The most obvious point was that they probably hadn’t thought about sex with her at all. They were upstanding young men, dedicated to their sport and their team, doing a favor for a stranger. She straightened as she hurried along behind them.

No one could say, actually, that she was losing it. Everything she thought could be true. She was intelligent and intuitive. There was something about that guy. He knew she knew what he’d done.

“Our team has six suites down this hallway,” Charter said. “So if we piss you off, you can check in with some of the other guys.” He grinned and the corners of his green eyes crinkled. His hand ran through short hair as he closed the door behind her. The room smelled of men, slightly sweaty, spicy. The television blared and she wondered if she would get any sleep at all.

“We’ll turn in pretty soon,” he said, as if reading her mind. “Game tomorrow, so no late crazy stuff.” He leaned slightly closer. “Tomorrow night, that’s when things will get wild. You’re welcome to stay around, if you want.”

He paused, his eyes searching. Oh, my god. He had thought about it. Her breath caught. She knew what he wanted to know.  Hell, she wanted to know too. How do you tell someone about a fear formed on so little basis? How do you explain something that makes no sense? She leaned up and brushed a soft kiss across his startled lips.

“Thanks, Charter. You can’t possibly know how much I appreciate you taking me in. Thank you.”

She watched him react, a slight blush, the inevitable thought of whether she wanted him, what he should do, if anything, in response. So young, so beautiful with his lean muscular body, perfect in so many ways. Her fingertips longed to smooth over his tanned skin. His scent filled her nose. If they had been alone, if she wasn’t on the run …

She stopped herself. Was she on the run? From what her marriage had become, from Travis and his selfish ways, yes, most assuredly. From the crazy incident this morning, something that even now at the brief memory, gooseflesh ran down her arms? Yes, that too.

But she was running toward something, too. A new life. On her terms.

She shook her head and gave him a thin smile. “Sorry, don’t mean to intrude. I’m just feeling worn out. It’s so good to feel safe. I’ll take the couch and get out of your way.”

He watched her with the eyes of an older man. Maybe that meant he felt desire. She had no energy to speculate. The day and the alcohol swept over her like a leaden blanket, and all she wanted, now, finally as she dropped her shoes, snugged her cheek against the pillow, and stretched her feet to the armrest at the far end of the couch, was to disappear into oblivion.

Sometime in the night a disturbance roused her. Light from the parking lot rimmed the heavy curtains and illuminated the room. Snoring, a cough. Someone moving around. Her head fell back onto the pillow. Probably someone going to the bathroom. She waited to hear the flush to know the coast was clear for her own trip to the toilet.

Sleeping forms reassured her as she returned to the couch, glass of water in hand. If her circumstances hadn’t been so completely bizarre, she would have been amused, even pleased, to be sleeping amid a room full of young men.

How long had it been since she felt the pleasure of men, their predictable ways with food, rest, entertainment. Simple and yet exquisitely complex, each one of them a world of contradictions and needs that would probably never be fully met. And yet so irresistible, sweet and funny and tender in so many ways. Nothing like Travis with his demands.

The pillow sweated her head and she couldn’t get comfortable. Alcohol did this, gave her that early crushing slide into sleep then later kept her awake. She lay on her back, forearm over her forehead as she wondered if the man in the truck had lost all his charming male attributes. What if anything did he still have in common with these young men? Not that she knew, really, anything about these young men. She turned to her side, pulling at her rumpled clothes.

She wanted to take off her clothes and lie naked on the soft upholstery, receive Charter and the rest one after another until their semen filled her like a warm flood. Let them kneel at the altar of her body, lavish her with their mouths and hands, spear into her with their hot cornucopias. They would fill her up and all her lines would vanish, her empty places, her loneliness and fear. There would be no place left untouched, no shadow not illuminated. Whispering, groaning, they would yield their youth and plenty to her age and hunger until she had been restored, reborn, resurrected.

“Cara.”

She felt his hand on her foot. Charter. His weight dented the couch where he sat by her knees. His hand ran up her leg.

“Yes.” Her voice barely penetrated the thick silence. His breathing told her everything — shallow, fast. Her legs eased apart, welcoming his hand to her thighs as he eased his way upward.

She sat up and pulled her shirt over her head. The bra fell to the floor, exposing her breasts to the cool air. Her nipples shriveled to hard knots, more from the certain knowledge that he would touch her than from the air conditioning. She lifted her hips to let him remove her skirt and panties then lay in blissful quietude as his hands explored her.

He wore nothing but a towel, she realized, now that her eyes had taken a cat’s sight in the dark. He leaned over her, his torso rippling with honed muscle, his thighs parted. She slid her hand onto his thigh where fine hair bristled her palm. Tense, hardened, his body arched over her.

“I want you,” he muttered, bringing his lips to her mouth. “Can we do this?”

“Yes.”

His mouth grazed over hers, his tongue explored gently. His hands brushed her breasts, her belly. Asked permission, discovered, got his bearings. How many young girls had felt his touch? She smiled into his kiss.

He drove himself into her, plunging in short hard lunges like a coiled spring, like iron, like a lion stalking and running and leaping on its prey. His mouth on her neck, biting. His back bowed, his hips tucked. Her fingertips brushed over the soft skin of his taut buttocks. Tears of relief burned her eyelids.

She swallowed her shouts, her screams, her groans of pleasure. Short gasping huffs escaped her in the last seconds as his motions peaked, his heat burning into her with long trembling ejaculations. Maybe the sounds were as much his as hers, their muted voices as mingled as their bodies.

As much as if she heard his words, she knew his thoughts. They echoed her own, whether they had done the right thing, whether the other person was satisfied, what to say or do now that it had happened.

None of that matters, she said back silently. We did what we did. It was good and that’s what counts.

He returned to his bed. She dressed in silence then lay quietly, waiting for dawn. It’s my life now, she thought, smiling into the dark.

The Hell of Writing Isn’t Writing

There’s a perfect irony about self-publishing. Work hard, pay for professional editing and cover design, and then like the dog that chased a car until it stopped, what now?

Does it really matter how good you are if no one ever reads what you write? Oh, sure, you can pay for promotions and reviews, but in the real world of publishing, that simply doesn’t count.

The rule is that if you aren’t published by a “real” publisher, you can’t get “real” reviews. Without such, you might as well be waiting for hell to freeze over.

Traditional publishing has all the power. There’s a process. First you must convince an agent to read your work. Or you can write by the formula fitting your genre and submit directly to a select few publishing houses.

If you find an agent who likes your work, you then embark on a lengthy process of editing your work to fit the agent’s criteria. Then the agent submits your work to a variety of publishers which the agent believes will be interested in what you have to offer. Or make that, what you and the agent have to offer.

Assuming the publishing house thinks your work has merit, there’s more editing. The final product is not your work any longer, but rather the product of your ideas and hard work plus the agent’s tweaks and the publisher’s tweaks which fit their idea of what you were trying to say.

That’s when you find out that your publisher expects you to market the book yourself. You’ll be at their beck and call to appear (at your own expense) at book signings and conventions. You’ll be expected to maintain a website, Facebook page, and other social media platforms where you will work tirelessly to promote your book. At your own expense.

The only good thing to come out of this insider game is the “real” reviews your book can get now that you have jumped through the industry hoops. In exchange for this generous bestowal of a gold star in the middle of your forehead, you can expect to yield up to 90% of your book’s proceeds to the publisher and agent. For a book that retails for ten dollars, you’ll get one.

Been there, done that. Believe me, it hurts to see all that hard work and creative energy fly through your fingers into someone else’s pockets.

No wonder that so many authors choose to self-publish. No wonder hundreds of review blogs and Facebook groups have sprung up to assist Indie authors in getting the word out. Problem is that the vast majority of those blogs and groups are frequented mostly by other authors.

For example, I’ve “joined” over sixty promotional Facebook groups whose stated goal is to promote books. After five years of watching this ebb and flow, I’ve realized this is all preaching to the choir. Virtually everyone else visiting those groups is also an author.

I’ve participated in Goodreads groups to learn more and participate in various “communities” of certain genre writers all of which is intended to help authors reach more readers but ultimately consists mostly of writers or, in other cases, mostly of readers who’d rather not hear from writers unless they’re giving books away.

At no small expense, I’ve given away paperback copies of novels, packaged and mailed, to recipients of Goodreads and other group giveaways as promotions. For the most part, the recipients don’t even bother to post a review as promised.

There’s reason here for me to point out that among the reviews of my works which have been posted, they’re mostly four and five star reviews. So it’s not like I’m peddling trash. And I write romance, so it’s not an obscure market.

There are 1.2 million hits on a Google search for “Indie author promotions.” Among the top sites appearing in such a search, Published to Death offers a cautionary list of how best to spend your promotional budget. Oh – don’t have a promotional budget with three or four figures? Well then, aren’t you precious.

Here’s a cheery note from another website on this topic: “Marketing is dead. You can’t go out there and promote your book to everybody you know. Sales and promotions won’t really work.”

Yep, I believe him.

Other blog posts and websites tell cautionary tales about how to spend a lot of money on marketing without getting a decent return. Or any return. The most successful method of promoting a book is to write a book about how to promote a book.

One of my personal pet peeves is advice to get to know your fans. It’s as if by making friends with your readers, you can get them to talk excitedly about you with their friends. This might work a little while, but there are multiple downsides to this, not the least of which is the coercion factor that you pretend to be friends and your only real purpose is to sell books. I mean, how many real friends can you have? What happens when you forget their birthday or don’t appropriately comment on their life event? I mean, you are writing, aren’t you? Or do you give up writing entirely just to maintain a stable of “friends”?

And when was the last time you heard from your friend, the author of your favorite book?

No doubt reviews are key to book sales. Any other kind of promotion is likely to flounder if there aren’t good reviews, and more than a handful. As noted by A Marketing Expert, along with lots of other good up-to-date suggestions:

Include a letter in the back of the book inviting your readers to review the book and link to the book page on Amazon. Make the letter friendly, thank them for taking time to read your book and ask them, good or bad, if they might also make the time for a review. You might be surprised how many of your readers will do this, simply because you asked. This back of the book letter is a must for indie authors.

So yeah, for writers struggling to work out character development and plot lines and settings, marketing is the last thing you want to do with your time. But face it—even if you snap up a hot agent and mainstream publishing loves your book, it’s up to you to do the bulk of the marketing. Best to write because you have no choice, do what you can to get the word out, and give up that dream of making it big.

You  might, but odds are against it.

How Primal Is Your Life?

What’s behind the popularity of romance fiction that features alpha males succumbing to women’s charms? Does it reflect the reality, that whether they admit it or not, men want women?

That’s what women want to believe. To some extent, it’s true. Men want women. They want the satisfaction of feeling manly, desirable, in charge. They want the pleasure of sex. Their libido is pushed along by the fundamental biological imperative to reproduce. Being the object of a woman’s attention gives men those satisfactions.

But men also need to satisfy other drives, and these other instinctual objectives can at times equal or surpass their interest in a woman.

It all has to do with evolution. For ancient man, survival meant traveling in small groups of tribal companions to stalk game, sit quietly for hours, then attack and kill the unruly beast and haul it back to the cave to share. Success as a hunter meant physical prowess, the ability to run, leap, throw a spear, and carry heavy weight.

Survival meant staying alert to possible intruders who might steal the food and kill you in the process. Or worse, steal your woman. Sometimes, men’s survival strategy meant attacking other tribes they considered a threat or who had resources they needed for themselves. Men had to be strong, wary, and focused.

Men don’t have much use for words. Successful hunting or preparing to attack another group of men meant not talking. When men sit on the deck with a beer or hang with the guys, they’re reliving the hunt mentality.

Men have built in alarm systems for other men checking out their women. Successful evolution meant keeping your woman because she took care of your children. When your man gives the stink-eye to your best buddy from high school, he’s reliving the need to protect the future of his gene pool.

Men think of faraway places they might explore, places where they might find more abundant game. It’s their duty to seek greener pastures where fewer people might mean less competition for scarce resources.

Who is responsible for teaching young people about the primitive past of our kind? About the reasons men are so different from women? What high school class delves into the basic natures of men and women?

Who teaches young men about women’s instinctive need to create a nest, a safe comfortable home where she might raise children? About the urge to talk and share information with other women, to express feelings as processes so essential to primal females as they kept the home fires burning in close company with other women and children.

Modern culture has moved so far from our early ancestry that many of us simply don’t know why we feel what we feel. But it’s important to know because these urges can end up putting us in places we really don’t want to go. Gangs, for example. Teenage pregnancies.

For males, athletics serve as an important replacement for the urge to hunt and wage warfare. For females, gathering with women friends to talk about men, about clothes, grooming, and a thousand other topics is simply a re-creation of the primitive conditions of survival. Knowledge of our evolutionary past gives us power over urges that need to be controlled but it also gives us important tools to enhance our daily lives.

Males need to find constructive outlets for all that machismo that no longer is directed toward stalking wild animals. Females need to understand that one of the reasons you tend to gravitate toward romantic fiction that feature alpha males is that deep inside, you haven’t changed much from the woman in the cave waiting for that big hairy muscle man to drag home an antelope.

Great books to help explore underlying primal motivations include “The Selfish Gene” by Richard Dawkins, “Survival of the Prettiest” by Nancy Etcoff, and most anything by  Steven J. Gould.

 

 

Rainy Morning

4c8459483cc311c2f8ad282ae143bfc5

Rain spattered on the rock walkway around the outside garden. Rose turned in the bed, lifting her face to the narrow window opening to inhale the scent of wet grass. Misty gray dawn. She smiled.

With the covers tucked over her shoulder, she snuggled against the pillow. In another time, Jameson would have been behind her in the bed, awakening to her stirring. His big hand would settle on her waist, warm and reassuring. He would cuddle up behind her, bringing his hot silken skin against her back, her buttocks, and inevitably, his morning wood would press between her thighs.

Jameson. The one man she had loved without limit, without reason. She could see him now, suntanned, his chest wide as he stood with his fists on his hips wearing nothing but cutoffs and a straw cowboy hat that shadowed his face and its rugged features. His blue eyes penetrating the brim’s shadow in a heated gaze that spoke of his love, his promise.

His hand would slide up her side, inexorable as it traveled toward her breast. Already her nipples would have peaked, anticipating. The grip of his rough hand spoke of ownership but also affection, belonging, shared memories and a future yet to unfold. As he pressed her nipple between his thumb and forefinger, the gentle prod of his cock spoke of its need to find its natural home.

Rose turned, resting on her back to stare at the ceiling. Rain continued its drone on the roof, on the rock walk. Just yesterday the narcissus had bloomed, pale yellow blossoms releasing intoxicating scent. Over the last week, the yard had erupted in vibrant green. Dogwood and redbud dotted the woodland with their blossoms. Another spring.

Tears leaked from the corners of her eyes as memories of prior springs flashed like a slideshow in her mind. Jameson walking naked across the yard, grinning ear to ear as she ran then let herself get caught. Jameson sitting beside her on the porch in fragile sunlight, not yet hot, not yet summer. But not winter. Not cold.

Jameson, the father of her children. Jameson, the only man who brought her repeatedly to the pinnacle of pleasure. Jameson, the man who shared her dream of life.

She’d always love Jameson.

Twenty years since she sent him away. Twenty years living alone, remembering, wondering. How could it have been different? How could she have helped him reach inside himself to gain the strength he needed? How could she have changed, somehow, to accept his anger, his disease, in a way that didn’t destroy her?

There was no going back to a time when she might have taken a different path. When the dark side of Jameson would have told her to run and never look back. By the time the realization came to her, it was nineteen years on with three children and lives so intertwined that separation inevitably tore parts off of everyone.

Rose threw back the covers and stood up, shivering in the rainy morning air. Outside, fog had crept into the woodland, strangely luminous in the reflection of green from the nascent grasses.

Another spring. Another morning. Alone.

Jameson could never again be part of her life, but she could still admit she loved him. Nostalgia could sweep her away, make her sad about what no longer existed. Nostalgia crowded out the ugly truth, that Jameson hardly ever woke to touch her or murmur words of love. He bolted out of bed already angry—at the crying child who woke him, at the rooster crowing outside, at a job he hated.

That was the real Jameson. Young, eager to make her dreams come true, she had seen what she wanted to see, what she needed to see. As long as she could cling to her fantasy, she could avoid the truth and ignore the inexorable drip of poison slowly eroding her ability to live one more day with a man who hated himself.

Rose turned on the shower and waited for the water to steam warmth into the small bathroom. This was her life now, not a fantasy. Not misty memories that mostly weren’t true. She stared in the mirror. Aging, yes, no youthful beauty there. But strong, an experienced, determined woman. Weathered by storm, by life, by Jameson. But not beaten.

She grabbed the shower door and stepped into the hot spray. Behind her, Jameson waited.