Rainy Morning

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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.

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The Lowly Romance

woman-writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

effiespaper-man-writing-letter

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

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

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

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

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

female-writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please. Talk about sexist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sensuous Food

cheese

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

Wow.

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

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

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

Or how about this scene from the futuristic novel Salvation?

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

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

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

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

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

Cheese Ball

Makes a great holiday gift, too.

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

4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

1 cup sharp cheddar, shredded

⅓ cup finely chopped red onion

1 clove minced garlic

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

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

Cheese Ball shaping and decorating options:

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

Serve with cheese knives and any of the following:

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

 

 

 

 

The Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long live the dream!

New Year, New Start

hot news Jan 16

And a new chance to win a fabulous Surprise Gift Box including my latest novel, Caerwin and the Roman DogSecond place wins a paperback copy of the novel.

How to enter —

1.  Like and share this post on your Facebook page.

2. Like my Facebook page.

3. Subscribe to Liz’s Hot News monthly newsletter. FREE stuff, excerpts, pre-release deals, and much more. Sign up at http://eepurl.com/bHOyS9

4. Comment below saying you’ve shared, liked, and subscribed. This is important!

Entries close January 9. Winners chosen by random drawing and will be announced January 11. The contest is solely my responsibility.

New Release Giveaway!

hair pull copy

 

Three signed copies of Caerwin and the Roman Dog will be given away at the end of the Goodreads Giveaway Event! From now through December 1, you can sign up for your chance to win a copy at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/27235437-caerwin-and-the-roman-dog

This is a completely free, no obligation event.

Caerwin and the Roman Dog

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I’m so excited to finish my first draft of a new novel! Set in 47 AD, the story follows a young Briton woman caught up in her tribe’s struggle to fend off Roman invaders.

Here’s a scene from the early pages of the book:

Horses appeared at the edge of the clearing. A white horse came first, a massive beast draped with red saddlecloth and gold ornamented breastplate and bearing a man of Roman rank. His red cloak swirled and the red plume cresting his fearsome helmet bristled as he pulled his horse short. Two dark horses came up on either side, also mounted by cavalrymen cloaked in the hated Roman red and bearing weapons of war. They held their shields close on their bared thighs and carried short swords dripping with the blood of her kinsmen.

For a long frozen moment, Caerwin stood without moving as her eyes locked with the dark stare of the man on the white horse. As if the ground could swallow her. As if she could summon the powers of the ancient ones and rise to the sky to fly away.

As if he spoke to her in some forgotten language.

Motioning toward her, he shouted words she did not understand. Immediately one of the men at his side kicked his horse forward. He came directly toward her, galloping across the clearing.

Virico’s ghost whispered in her ear. Run, Sister. We are dead.

Caerwin dropped the bucket and ran. She leapt over rocks and thickets of dog violet, struggling for balance along the precipitous slope. Her feet flew over the ground as the sound of hoof beats came ever nearer. Plunging into thickets of young rowan and yellow-blooming broom too dense for a man on horseback, she ignored the gorse thorns tearing at her flesh and deftly wove her steps southward across the familiar landscape.

Blood pounded in her ears. She would escape to the river and float downstream to the caves. She could hide there, wait until danger had passed then return to help the survivors. She ran headlong, ignoring the lash of limbs and stones that bruised her feet. The ground dropped sharply. She gasped for air, dodging side to side to keep from tumbling headfirst off the incline.

She strained to hear hoof beats over her ragged breath and pounding heart. She risked a glance toward the hilltop as she broke free from the thicket of gorse. Smoke rose in thick black plumes.

Strong arms grasped her midsection and hauled her upward. In one unceremonious thrust that knocked the breath from her lungs, the Roman hauled her belly down against his battle-stained thighs. He stank of gore and sweat.

“No!” she shouted, fighting against his grip as he swung the horse around. She cursed him, pounding his legs with her fists.

He pressed her down against the horse’s withers and made no response to her insults. As they galloped back, she twisted and fought against his grip. His strange words issued in a torrent then a hard blow struck her head. Light flashed across her eyes. Then her eyes stared and saw nothing.

Stay tuned for the final version, coming soon!