David’s Dilemma

 

He’d never been much of a planning type. For one thing, plans pretty much had a habit of blowing up in his face. He’d planned plenty of fabulous mansions he’d build with his music wealth. A ranch in Montana. A Lear jet he’d have painted red to advertise the band’s name. Plenty of parties with the best of the best chumming up to him, J.J., and the rest. Plenty of bullshit ideas that just got farther away the more he planned them.

Like the songs he’d planned. Somewhere back in L.A., probably burned to an ash by now, was the dog-eared list he kept on a yellow legal pad. Song ideas he’d get to as soon as he had time. As soon as the mood struck him. Phrases, chord progressions. The paean to his sister he never could write. Memories of his grandparents.

His love of good whiskey—well, that had made it into a few songs. But never quite enough, or clearly stated enough, to encapsulate the intense pleasure that came with the warm creep of intoxication while more of the fragrant amber fluid gently swirled in his glass. He had a clear memory of the grip of his hand around that small sturdy glass. The sweet aromatic smell filled his nose. His mouth watered.

If he was going to fucking spend the last of his days in this desert, why the fuck couldn’t he at least enjoy drinking?

~~~

This is an excerpt from my latest novel, Refuge in His Arms. The story follows Mackenzie Kilpatrick and David Evans, two strangers caught up in two simultaneous natural disasters. As they escape from Los Angeles in the midst of a massive earthquake, they quickly discover another more devastating event will impact their future for days or even years to come. Making things worse, each of them struggles with personal issues as well as the developing love-hate relationship between them.

In this story, David has to face down his alcoholism. Writing about addiction isn’t something I’ve done before, although I’ve seen addiction in real life more times than I’d like to admit. It’s a horrible illness, and I admit that I still have a hard time seeing it as such. My tendency is to believe that addictive behavior is a choice someone makes, even if it’s a choice not to be responsible for what he/she does.

Whatever my personal take on addiction, the character of David has traveled far down the road in his struggle with alcohol. In the story, he’s faced with a terrible choice, whether to fight for the woman he thought he’d never love or to give in to his deep thirst for a drink.

All of us, at one time or another or even multiple times, want nothing more than to escape from the pain and difficulty we face. Intoxication is one way to make that escape. Inevitably, the intoxication wears off and whatever pain or difficulty we hoped to escape from is still there, sometimes even worse than before. It’s a human dilemma that will never be erased from our common experience, either as an addict ourselves, or as an enabler, or as a grieving bystander.

I don’t delve too deeply into the topic of addiction. That’s not the purpose of the story. But I do hope that I’ve created a character in David who portrays the struggle so many sensitive and creative people experience in facing the acute pain of life.

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Can’t We All Get Along?

Looking back on the holidays, I accept the sadness that comes from being around my family. They’re good people—not sick or addicted or belligerent in the ways we normally might think. But they’re fundamentalist Christians and I’m not. So there’s always this huge gap between what we think and feel individually and what we can actually talk about or do when we’re together.

Which, fortunately, only happens one or two times a year. And even then, when we gather at our mom’s house (our dad died back in 2004), there are uncomfortable moments like when they all join hands to pray and I’m standing there thinking how bizarre it is to pray. Or when they start to say something like “Have a blessed day,” and I’m thinking loudly how much I don’t appreciate having them cast their voodoo on me.

It’s a warm fuzzy experience to gather at your parental home with your siblings to enjoy the reliving of Christmases past, to create yet another memory, to see and hear from people you’ve known since they were born. Shared experiences over the years form a strong foundation for deep emotion and poignant moments. We can talk about our early days, where we lived, what happened that summer when we went to California, or various aunts and uncles and their particular weirdness.

Aside from family history, the range of topics thins out drastically. We fuss over the turkey and green beans, substituting meal preparation for understanding and acceptance. Politics is definitely off the table. Absolutely no discussion of religion. Or really even our expectations for what the coming year might bring.

We do occasionally veer off into one or another verboten topic and find ourselves red-faced in the effort to make the other person(s) understand a different point of view. Sometimes even that doesn’t work. After learning that everyone but one sister voted for Donald Trump, I had to completely excuse myself from their company for the entire holiday season of 2016.

I have plenty of friends who share my world view, and three children of my own who, along with me and their father, think and live like modern adults. I wish the same for my siblings and their children, although I’m not deluded enough to think that they’ll give up their hellfire-and-brimstone view of the world. I can’t even begin to calculate how many hours I’ve spent trying to understand why any educated (and they are highly educated) and intelligent people could cling to the belief system that brought us things like burning witches at the stake, but there you have it.

Ultimately, family members are not very different from anyone else in the world. We can live alongside them without conflict as long as neither of us try to tell the other what to do. We can share what we have in common and avoid the topics and activities that highlight our differences. It’s a lesson I relearn every year.

Writing is Growth

When I started writing erotic romance, sex was the focus. Glorious uninhibited sex scenes with all the descriptive words that made the action come alive. (Heh–no pun intended) For a person like me emerging from a very conservative, religious family, this was a breakout moment.

Now, looking back, I’m not completely thrilled with the result. Oh, don’t get me wrong—the sex scenes are smokin’. But that’s simply not enough.

Stories of any kind are about people. And people are more than sex. While I managed to create compelling sex scenes, I didn’t manage to create compelling life scenes.

So I’ve decided to dive into revising a couple of my early novels with a greater focus on the personal struggle facing the characters. I’m adding scenes that show how they deal with adversity. I’m showing how they grow in the process of facing difficulties, how they develop more self-confidence or come to grips with challenges both internal and external.

This is a thrilling process, delving into the character with greater willingness to sit at my desk and think about them to let their personalities take full form. Before, although there were strong storylines and situational drama, there wasn’t as much depth to the characters as they needed. I’m letting myself feel them now, where they came from, what they worry about, care about, more than the person with whom they’re having sex.

My previous mindset about all this was that sex was the key motivating element. Sex was the transformative event that broke the character from his/her previous point of view and propelled them into a new paradigm. Yes, this is important.

But it’s not enough to be the main thing. I admit it kind of breaks my heart to say that because I’ve always seen sex as having the potential to do exactly that. It still does have that potential, but it’s like a really lovely slab of chocolate cake. It doesn’t make a meal.

It’s exciting to dig deeper and important enough that I can justify taking the time to go the next mile with revision rather than plunging into yet another new story. This learning process about creating stories with rich character and complex plot lines is an important one for any author.

Writing is a multi-phase, multi-layered endeavor. Creating something meaningful out of thin air isn’t an easy pursuit, and it is as much about looking deeper into oneself as it is about thinking up story details. After all, inside our minds and our life experience is where our stories come from. I’m happy to see where I stand on the long road toward ‘great.’

And yes, ‘great’ is my goal!

Happy writing in the new year, everyone.

The Hell of Romance Book Covers

The right stuff

Another holiday season has come and gone. It’s back to the writing desk. And now here’s a fervent plea to photographers hoping to sell stock photos to self-published authors who desperately need images for book covers.

I know it must be difficult to find attractive men with sexy bodies. And you’re doing a semi-okay job with dark-headed men. But please try really hard to produce some decent stock images of blonde men. They surely exist—Brad Pitt comes to mind.

Currently, searches for ‘sexy blond men’ through Dreamstime, iStockphoto, and Shutterstock yield images like these—not a bicep in sight.

Excuse me while I puke.

If I’m looking for a grown-up blonde man with dom tendencies, there is Nothing Out There.

This is heartbreaking because this guy in my story is deeply blonde and this is one alpha male that I refuse to change over to dark hair. I’ve done that before, you know, in desperation for a suitable male cover image.

Now as far as stock photos of men in general, what’s missing are images of men in poses that might actually work on a book cover. Authors don’t need men grinning inanely toward the camera. We need men with attitude, moody and boiling with pent up emotion. We need men standing at a door waiting to knock, men looking away from the camera absorbed in thought, men turning in surprise. Well, I could go on but hopefully you get the idea. Real life stuff.

Currently, what does a search for “sexy man” yield? This guy, for God’s sake. In what universe is this sexy? Or this one?

Okay, maybe for a story featuring a young guy who doesn’t know he’s gay and the breaking in, so to speak, by an older man. That might be sexy.

But the guy on the bed? Clearly he has no idea where to find his own ass. Who figured out that sexy pose? Give me a break.

Then there’s the inane batch of men with super-developed musculature, veins popping as they pose in front of gym equipment. I get that they’re proud of all the time they’ve dedicated to body building, and I get that photographers may feel so desperate to capture images of ‘muscular’ men that they resort to this bizarre subgroup, but I guarantee you that putting an image like this on the cover of a romance novel is a sure-fire route to zero sales. Gak!

Keep in mind, photographers, that virtually all romance for women readers is written by female authors. We are the ones looking at these images for something that triggers a faintly hot response. Muscle bound males grinning like idiots or, worse, looking at their triceps in adoration takes the female libido in the opposite direction. Read: self-absorbed, dude.

What’s wrong with men in sports jackets? Men sitting at a desk in a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up? How about carpenters, electricians, and auto mechanics who epitomize the allure of blue collar men? Cowboys actually on horses?

Oh, and another thing. Please try to tag your images with appropriate descriptions. There’s no reason for this image to show up in a search for “sexy men.” I agree that platforms for stock photo retailers should offer more discriminating search options. Like if I want to search for images of a threesome, why does a photo of a three women show up?

Why can’t I designate that I want to see two males and one female in the image? As it stands now, such a search might yield three women, but more often what shows up is two women with one man. I get that a lot of men have that fantasy, but we’re talking about women’s romance, you know, that market that sells more books than any other genre? Two men!

I appreciate that many photographers and male models may be gay, and maybe it’s that point of view that causes them to label images like this guy as “sexy man.” But in whose feeble imagination, even among gay men, is this ‘sexy’? This is simply embarrassing.

And a turn-off. This and so many other images that turn up in a “sexy man” search feature men who would never garner the description of “sexy” even in the wildest stretch of their own personal fantasies. Elfin, maybe. Jail bait perhaps. Creepy? Goofy?

Why do I have to look through over 170,000 images of idiots like these to find a handful that actually show a truly sexy man with personality, like this one?

Or this one?

The problem with useable images like these is that none of them are blonde, and, more importantly, they’ve been used over and over again by authors desperate for anything that shows a hint of male sexuality. Is it that photographers have no idea what they’re producing photos for?

Yes, I understand that there may be a few uses for sexy male images that are not for romance book covers. What those might be escapes me at the moment, but with romance authors publishing new books at a pace that far exceeds any other genre in the market, and with many of those authors minus the funds required to hire custom images, that leaves a huge opening for photographers/male models to give us what we want!

I think websites like Dreamstime and Shutterstock should set up a ‘want list’ among subscribers  so that there is clear information for photographers on what buyers want. Many photographers obviously go to a lot of trouble trying to meet demand but they’re working in the dark. Why not establish a workable dialogue between the producers and the customers that allows for a better match-up between the two parties?

This is the service retailers should offer instead of just raking in the bucks with a mute line-up of images, poorly sorted by description, and sadly lacking the aspects that made for a salable cover.

And please, for God’s sake, no more crass attempts at humor like this guy in a search for “blonde sexy man”!

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But things never go as planned.
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