Me, Too

At first when I saw this “Me, too.” effort sweeping social media, I didn’t think I qualified. I’ve never been raped.

But I have been sexually assaulted, a reality that dawned on me slowly as the week has progressed. That counts. Finally I said, “Me, too.”

At eighteen, I went on a blind date and found myself trapped under a 200-pound linebacker trying to take off my clothes. I wriggled off the bed where he’d tossed me and made my escape.

At nineteen, I endured the disgusting advances of my boss in a part-time job. He’d stand directly behind me while I worked at the cash register, pressing his body against me and sometimes putting his hands on my arms. I quit the job after 30 days.

At twenty, I was married and while he was a good man, he wanted to ‘try things’ which at one point included anal intercourse. I preferred not to, but he insisted. I never knew anything could hurt that bad.

At twenty-two while my husband was overseas in the military, an acquaintance decided he’d have a piece of me. After forcibly kissing and pawing me while I said ‘no’ and ‘stop,’ he picked me up and started toward the bedroom. I realized he wasn’t going to give up and grabbed his hair. I said I would call his boss, who I knew personally, and that I would report him to the police. He put me down and left the house at which point I locked the door. And I did tell his boss, who was a Methodist minister. The offender was an associate pastor.

In my thirties, I was at my office. No one else was around when an acquaintance stopped by to talk about a project. As we stood there, he stepped forward and cupped his hand between my legs. I was like, what? What did he think would happen, that I would fall onto my back in a fit of uncontrolled passion? He had this weird smirk on his face. I stepped away and said nothing. I didn’t want to confirm what he’d done. Afterwards, I refused any phone calls or other contact.

In my mid-forties, I sought out a realtor who owned a property I wanted to buy. When we met to sign the Offer and Acceptance contract, he closed his office door, grabbed me by the arms, and kissed me. I’ll never forget the slip of his tongue along my lips. He was in his 60s.

I saw all these acts–and others I haven’t described–as the dues I paid as a female. I never considered it as abuse or assault. Not until ‘Me, too.’

But now that I’m thinking about it, I see how much of my life and the lives of other women are shaped by men who take it for granted that they have a right to touch women whenever and however they please. Even more, men consider it their right and duty to direct and control women’s place in the world: my father’s decision that the only career suitable for me as woman was to teach school; an employer’s decision that I could run a cash register and stock shelves, but never decide how products were displayed or advertised; or a spouse’s determination to control how I dressed and what jewelry I wore.

More than that, I see how I was brought up to be complicit in such controlling and/or abusive behavior by men. My parents followed a strict religion. Women were not allowed to speak in the church and were assigned, by God, to a submissive position under men, just as men were in submission to God.

I was mildly flattered with the touching. It affirmed my femininity. It made me feel desirable. It was a measure of my value. This was part of the female experience.

It’s been a long hard struggle for me to learn my way out of patriarchy.

My daughters know better. They are among the first generation of women to assert their rights as human beings, not to be touched unless they wish it, not to be assaulted in any way at any time. I’m so proud of them. I’m proud of how far women have progressed in my lifetime.

I’m hoping there will be no more generations who can say “Me, too.”

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Sex as Liberation

One of my best friends gets completely sidetracked by the sex scenes in my romance novels. Not in a good way. I get that sexy romance novels are not everyone’s cup of tea. I’m positive that if she wasn’t trying to be a friend, she’d never read sexy romance. So there’s that.

But what triggered my recent, well, shock, was an email where she said I’d do just about anything to upset my parents.

It’s hard to hear something like that from a best friend. I’m stunned at her total lack of understanding about why I write sexy stories. Or, more importantly, why I’ve lived my life the way I have. We’ve shared experiences from our earlier lives and I’ve been honest about my adventures. She’s been aghast but not condemning.

I thought.

I want to sit her down and emphasize that my choices about sexual behavior have nothing to do with rebelling against my parents. But then, I really don’t think she can ever understand. Although she hasn’t specifically stated this in so many words, I’m pretty sure she’s only ever had sex with her husband.

That’s her choice and I haven’t made any judgment about her for limiting her life experience to one man. Or judged any other woman for any decision she’s made about how to live her life.

Unlike my friend – well, let’s say I lost count somewhere around seventy. This was over a four year period in the early 70s and maybe a few after-divorce flings in my mid-40s. (Okay, I’m old.) This information blows my friend’s mind and apparently causes her to decide (a) that I’m a hopelessly immature minx forever rebelling against my parents (my dad has been dead since 2004, but I guess that didn’t factor into her analysis) and (b) that I’m a unrepentant slut. A dear friend slut, but nevertheless…

I have to guess that this is probably the way she’d see herself if she enjoyed sex with multiple partners.

For me, sex with multiple partners has been the most educational and liberating thing I’ve ever done. I actually consider it an essential part of my growing up to become who I wanted to be. Writing explicit sex in my novels continues that essential effort, my personal mission to free other women from millennia of patriarchy, just as it freed me.

I took part in the free love movement, the cresting wave of the sexual revolution that occurred in the 60s and 70s and continues in some measure even today. In 1961, birth control pills entered the marketplace and assured women they could have fun just like men—without fear of pregnancy.

Also, hooking up for a roll in the sheets was an important healing counterbalance to riots in the streets, assassinations, and the Vietnam War. But it was more than that.

Sex served an important role in liberating women from the traditional degrading view that we were only valuable as baby machines and housekeepers, subordinate to men in all ways. Women weren’t ‘capable’ of making important decisions like handling money or owning real estate. Thus men were required to maintain firm control on the ‘weaker sex.’

More to the point, while men could go out and get ‘experience’ with multiple sex partners, women who did so were unredeemable sluts. Women required strict supervision both by men and by society’s rules. Those who stepped over the line merited our worst condemnation. This is the narrative that seems to run in my friend’s head.

Sex was a dirty act to be hidden behind closed doors. Or it was a holy rite reserved to those sanctioned by church marriage and under the control of the male partner, preferably indulged only for the production of children. If you ventured away from the sex-only-for-babies concept, you at least limited sex to a chosen partner whom you ‘loved’ and with whom certain promises had been exchanged. Largely, those promises had to do with fidelity to the chosen partner.

The sexual revolution blew the doors off this Victorian mindset. Sex isn’t dirty. Sex shouldn’t be hidden behind doors. Sex is an option for any and all kinds of relationships. Sex is a joyful experience, a supreme human pleasure, and could serve as a path to spiritual awakening and connection. Sex is beautifully transformative, opening its participants to the connection we share with all humanity. Sexual intercourse allows its participants to soar beyond words and rules.

To interact with someone through sex means stripping away surface judgments about appearance, clothing, or hair style. It’s a way to say ‘Hi, nice to meet you’ without the games. Whether a one night stand or the beginning of a passionate affair, such interactions can be and often are the foundation of lifelong friendships. With the trappings of civilization stripped away, nothing stands between us but our inhibitions.

Looking into someone’s eyes while lying next to each other naked is a damn good way to get acquainted.

For me personally, and what I’ve tried to explain to my friend, is that sexual freedom gave me my life back. Stolen from me since the day I was born female, my life had been narrowed, judged, and denigrated by the mere fact of my gender. I could never be ‘equal’ to a man, never aspire to lofty goals. Rather, I should content myself with a wife’s role and be forever penitent that I embodied the Eve who introduced sin into the world. After all, God was a He.

Well, fuck that. I rebelled against that entire sexist narrative from my earliest memory. I questioned church teachings about women by the time I was eight years old. As soon as I left home at eighteen, I never again set foot in a church. But that didn’t mean the weight of all that crushing propaganda suddenly lifted.

As with many women who have sought to move beyond the confines of tradition, I struggled with confidence. Sex fixed all that. As I pursued my desires, I became skilled at picking up men I wanted instead of shrinking into a corner waiting for a guy to make a move. I gained assurance about how I looked and about the fact that it didn’t fucking matter how I looked. I realized I could meet another person on a level playing field. I slowly acknowledged my value as a human being.

My experience in one-night stands and short-term affairs freed me from the constraints put on me by patriarchy and its religious teachings meant to keep women barefoot, pregnant, and silent.

None of that prevented me from falling in love, getting married, having children, and leading a fulfilling life as wife and mother. But by then I had no qualms about starting my own business in a career dominated by men. I didn’t hesitate to participate in or take a leadership role in advocacy projects that sought to bring about social change in a variety of pressing issues.

I accept no boundaries in writing explicit sex scenes, some of which go way past what I ever personally experienced and which explore some of the darker chapters of domination, submission, and sado-masochism. I write females with the chutzpah to do whatever they want including pursuing a career as a dominatrix or happily fulfilling her desires as a masochist submissive. I write group sex when it fits the story. I write ‘normal’ romance when that’s what the characters demand. Whatever sexual preferences and activities thread through my writing, I see them as the vital organs, the blood veins, of humanity, just as important as how we treat our children and neighbors.

In my view, I owe this freedom of thought to my willingness to break through barriers of sex norms. Norms are what we make them. I’m so proud of how much the ‘norms’ have changed during my lifetime so that now we can openly accept same-sex marriage, homosexuality, and transgender identities — whatever makes us happy.

Maybe someday I’ll tell my friend.

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.

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

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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.