Christmas Special!

Cara Carson only wants one thing, and it isn’t a man. Her new business, Cara’s Kitchen, is all she cares about. Her recipes are perfected and the old house remodel is underway. But on this raw March morning, the contractor isn’t returning her calls, there’s a bulldozer mired in mud on the side lot, and the man operating it has managed to destroy the old willow tree she wanted saved. Furious, she charges across the mire to demand answers and finds her feet stuck and then her heart flailing after the bulldozer operator has to come carry her out.

Morgan Woods never believed in love. Until now, it’s been easy to take and leave women. This woman shouldn’t be any different, except something about her pouty pink lips and her blazing hazel eyes sails past all his defenses. His business-partner dad is sick and his businesses are struggling, but he never wants to let this woman out of his arms.

Can two broken people love again?

5 day special — only 99¢ (Discount ends December 19)

Amazon

Smashwords (all formats)

Advertisements

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

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.

Grabbing Pussy

488x-1

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

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

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

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

The price is allowing herself to be grabbed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Romance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Long live the dream!