Author Brand

corp brandAccording to many knowledgeable sources, an author’s brand is essential to success. If readers enjoy one book, they’ll come back for more. When an author produces works that don’t fit that brand, readers walk away. That’s the message about brand.

And that’s a problem. I’m not a one-genre writer. In fact, my problem is even bigger than that. I’m not a product. I don’t fit in a box with a logo. I’m a creative force channeling whispers from the universe.

Or something like that.

Under my real name, I write non-fiction: whimsical essays about life and the world around me, local history, biographies. For my real name books, I have an author page as an offshoot from my personal Facebook page. I have a website and blog. I’m on Goodreads and maintain an Amazon author page.

Under my pen name, I first wrote and will continue to write erotic romance. I have a Facebook presence as well as an author page. I have a website where I blog. I have a Goodreads page and an Amazon author page. (Aside from that, I maintain two Facebook pages for my commercial rental properties.)

I feel like the Red Queen: It takes all the running I can do to keep in the same place.  I’m a writer. I’m supposed to be writing.

In November, I published Salvation, a dystopian novel, under my pen name. According to the knowledgeable sources, this was a big mistake. My pen name readers expect erotic romance.

I’m sympathetic. However, other knowledgeable sources say one pen name is enough. I agree. There are only so many hours in the day.

emo resp copyIn reading about author branding, I was struck by one cogent comment to the effect that if the emotional payoff for a reader is the same no matter what genre an author writes, then sticking with one genre isn’t necessarily critical. There’s no clear cut answer here.

When readers of my erotic romances pick up Salvation, my dystopian novel, they won’t find the main character in a happily ever after. He’s an anti-hero at best. In Denial, Book II of this House of Rae series, the main character grows more toward his potential, no longer an anti-hero. Still, there’s no HEA. Maybe by the end of the series—at least two more books down the road—there’ll be a happy ending. For readers who start reading in hopes of romance, they’d have to last a long time to get to that payoff.

But then, the hellish other horn of my brand dilemma is that most dystopia readers don’t expect what I include in these books.

A word of explanation seems in order here. Set in the mid-21st century, the House of Rae series involve legal, upscale houses of prostitution that serve women. (Yes, there are houses that serve men as well.) The sex energy produced there, along with pleasure energy created at dance centers and meditation rooms, is channeled by psions to a grid that redistributes the energy over populated areas. The energy serves a vital purpose—it heals a mysterious illness that leads to brown death.

(An entirely other issue revolves around whether ‘dystopian’ is the appropriate description of this series. Other useful terms might include slipstream, utopian, ecotopian, and soft science fiction, but none of those are options in official book categories.)

There’s much more to the storyline than that, but there is sex, some of it explicit. So these dystopian stories of mine bust through the general wisdom about genre margins which says, more or less, that you don’t mix explicit sex with science fiction. Sci fi readers, especially the men, don’t like to read explicit sex because it slows down the action. I refuse to believe that men or women readers are this narrow.

What is my brand if romance readers pick up Salvation and don’t get their HEA? What happens if a Salvation reader picks up the uber-explicit BDSM story of Jarrod Bancroft: The Novel and walks away shuddering? What happens when I start releasing books in my Chroma series, which is way-out-there sci fi with no sex at all?

By any metric, I seem to have successfully mixed up genre elements enough to alienate any and all readers. Yet the reviews coming in are four and five stars on all my books.

I refuse to be crammed into a box where I write only one genre. I refuse to dilute my time even further by creating another pen name. My compromise is to make it clear in the blurb that this book is erotic romance. Or dystopia with sexy bits. Or what the hell ever.

I’ve decided my ‘brand’ is to be known as a writer of realistic characters, dynamic immersive plots, and innovative ideas. My scenes will be rich in descriptive detail. Readers will linger over particular phrases and thoughts. I respect my prospective readers enough to believe that what they want is to be entertained and to grow through the experience of reading. I can deliver that.

What do you think?

Product? cattle

 

 

 

Or

 

be orig

 

Artist?

On Genre

College 0013I’m a writer. I’ve written nonfiction and fiction. In 2012 I was thrilled to find an agent who liked my latest manuscript, a fiction story set in 2059. We spent six months on edits and another six months on pitching it to the big houses. Finally even the few smaller publishers we queried said ‘no.’

Why? All agreed it was well written. But there’s Explicit Sex. Sex is a key element in the storyline, not because of romance but because it serves a critical role in the main character’s development. According to the agent who first handled the story and all the publishing houses who rejected it because it was Mixed Genre, the majority of those who read sci-fi do not like explicit sex. And the majority of those who enjoy explicit sex expect a romance story.

While I’ve written a story with a bit of romance as a sideline, this book is not a romance. Can there never be explicit sex in a book that isn’t romance?

So I’m self-publishing because I refuse to edit out the sex or make it a romance. I’d call it science fiction, but there are no spacecraft or laser guns. No otherworldly creatures taking over the planet. No travels to distant galaxies. My options for sub-genre under sci-fi are: general, action & adventure, alien contact, apocalyptic & post-apocalyptic, collections and anthologies, cyberpunk, genetic engineering, hard science fiction, military, space opera, steampunk, or time travel. None of those fit.

Dystopian? Yes, it’s a future society, but the government isn’t oppressing the characters. Utopian? Kind of, only people are dying from a mysterious illness and terrorists lurk in the shadows. Ecotopian? Well, yes, there’s a strong environmental twist in the story, but that hardly categorizes the book.

Not apocalyptic—the world continues. Post apocalyptic? Not really.

I could go to the extreme of calling it Visionary & Metaphysical but it’s really not, and besides, calling my work ‘visionary’ makes me gag.

I’ll agree it’s speculative fiction. Everyone nods to that. But spec fiction isn’t a genre.

I’ve been searching for more information on genre. I’ve concluded that I could spend the next ten years reading all the suggested works by authors from Lois Lowrey to Cormac McCarthy to Kelly Link and thereby reach my own conclusion as to how my work fits in. I could delve into the differences between New Wave Fabulists, the New Weird, Interstitial Fiction, or the Romantic Underground as discussed by Pawel Frelik’s 2009 article on the Science Fiction Research Association website. I could further examine Parallel Universe v. Multiverse v. Metafiction, or Speculative Fiction v. Magical Realism v. Slipstream as critiqued in a recent Book Riot post (February 16, 2015) which undertakes an analysis of “literary fiction” works with a sci-fi/fantasy slant.

Arghhhhh! Help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda. Can’t I please just write?

Categories available to indie authors through Amazon’s ebook and paperback publishing branches include Magical Realism. Psions are part of my story, including directed energy and telepathy. But is that the best way to describe this work?

I could call it Literary Fiction and step back and watch as the book gathers dust on store shelves. That classification conveys little meaningful information. Oddly, while I’ve been through countless classes in writing and literature and trudged through writing workshops at both the undergrad and graduate levels, I’ve ended up with a jaded opinion of ‘literary’ anything. Who decides what is literary? Is the work adequately focused on ‘big’ themes and presented through appropriately evocative language? What if it is both plot driven and a manifesto on social issues?

Yes, a writer can deem his/her book ‘literary fiction.’ But so what? Nothing is confirmed until the label emerges in a review from the shadowy world of literary criticism.

Who are those critic guys, anyway? Writers tired of writing? Professors? Readers who appoint themselves this task? Is there a degree in literary criticism?

Yes, Virginia, there are degrees conferred in the field of literary criticism. God help us.

Is there really so much time in a critic’s life that he/she can read all the literature, produce scathing or complimentary reviews of said literature, and still have time to pontificate about whether the latest release is New Wave Fabulism or Slipstream? What do they do for fun?

Bigger question: why do I care? Self-published authors aren’t deemed worthy of mainstream criticism. We’re left to flounder in a sea of self-appointed ‘reviewers’ whose blogs clog the Internet. Largely comprised of females eager to receive free books in exchange for what often amounts to a book review, the majority of review blogs focus on romance genre. A few review blogs address the wider range of literature including science fiction in all its forms. All of the review blogs have become crushed under the onslaught of self-pub works, some of which might actually be worthy of reading.

There seems to be no adequate winnowing process by which the better works filter up to informed reviewers. If somehow an indie writer might stumble into a legitimate reviewer’s welcoming arms, he/she might gain a favorable review to encourage the buying reader to try this one. Otherwise the marketplace is an abyss lined with books.

Thus the importance of genre.

I’m a writer. I want to write. I have stories to tell, stories I think readers will enjoy. My stories don’t fit neatly into genres. I don’t want them to. I don’t want to write by formula. I want to create characters who tell me stories that I convey the best I can.

What I don’t want to do is spend hours trying to figure out a label for my work. Or for that matter, prostitute myself at conventions and signings or cultivate online relationships with people who might be coaxed to read my work–but that’s another rant.

For now, I’ve determined that every so often I’ll change the genre designation for this book and see if it matters.

Salvation, House of Rae Book I — Excerpt

fire over KCThis edgy feeling won’t go away. It’s been in my neck for days. Maybe think it’s the mission, but I’ve known about the mission for a long time. This is different.

It’s not the fire either. By the time I finished high school last year, Class of 2058, the countryside had been on fire for years. When the fires range within a hundred miles, there’s a glow at night. They burn toward us from out past Leavenworth or Topeka, sparked by lightning or agricultural machinery. Every dawn and every sunset carries the orange-red hue of smoke in the air even when real clouds gather.

Uncle Dan’s old Dodge truck vibrates as we sit at the stoplight. The thrum of its engine comes up through my shoe soles, through the worn seat to penetrate my body. My edgy feeling gets bigger in his truck. If I was driving, I’d slam my foot to the floor and drive as fast as this old beast would go. That’s what I mean—this isn’t about the mission.

The light changes and the engine noise increases as he accelerates. Other people in their quiet little electric cars look at us. That used to embarrass me, but I don’t care now. We’re the ones who know the truth, and that’s all that matters.

To the west, past the city lights, the night sky gleams orange. This burn is running south along the far side of 435, forcing people to evacuate to the old speedway or Wyandotte Lake. Or into Kansas City proper. It’s safer in town. Pavement and concrete don’t burn like timberland, fields, and crops. Like old farmhouses built out of wood. Old neighborhoods burn, but new buildings are mostly concrete with metal roofs.

Granddad Carter’s house was wood. So were his barns, outbuildings. Uncle Dan told me how it was when all that burned. Even Granddad’s rigged up water system couldn’t stop it. The fire came in on a strong wind, jumped the fifty-foot fire break he’d plowed. Afterwards, they made the best of things, went out into the blackened prairie and harvested burned deer. That’s the family story. My dad Victor, Uncle Dan, Amos, and Granddad cured over three hundred pounds of venison jerky from that. Before I was born.

We drive along in the hot wind tinged with smoke scent. Bits of music break through the engine noise, pealing out from shops and street cafes, nightclubs and dance centers. Crowds throng the sidewalks now that the sun has set, families with eager children, groups of enthusiastic young people, loving couples staring into each other’s eyes. You’d think, looking at them, that the world wasn’t in its last days, that we’d just go on living like we always have rolling around in our desires, our appetites. I used to think I wanted that, what everybody else had. I know better now.

“Look at them, boy,” Dan scoffs. He nods toward a line along the sidewalk waiting to enter a store. New Shipment! the signs announce in big letters. Level II Meat, Dairy. “They ain’t got more sense than to spend all their money on a lie.” He glances at me. “You’re damn lucky, Josh Carter, you know that?”

“Yes sir,” I reply. Because I do know it. I’m among the few who see, the few who hold to the old ways, respect the truth. The rewards will be ours.

Only, since I got this feeling, this shivery sensation that runs up the side of my neck a few times a day, it seems like the world has tilted a little. Used to, knowing I was special, knowing the way things were headed, I had the energy of five people. I’d do my morning run, go to work, go to school, get everything done and be ready for the evening workout like I’d been resting all day. Lately, since this feeling started chewing on me, everything I do is like clawing through a layer. Like a clogged pump straining to drain. And I don’t even have school any more.

I stare out the side window as we drive along. We pass through residential districts. There’s a long stretch of apartment buildings, those big complexes they build for all the people that keep coming here. I don’t know why they come. Kansas City isn’t that much better than anywhere else. Maybe every place is this crowded. But I haven’t been anywhere else, so I don’t know. I’d like to know. I’d like to think that I’ve seen everything and made the choice to be here. But I’m going on nineteen, so I guess I’ve still got a few things to learn.

It’s hard to face what I’m facing and only be nineteen. I’m not afraid of what I have to do, of the challenges that lie ahead. Even before my father died when I was little, I always knew I was in line for a mission. That’s what the menfolk of the Brotherhood do. Until this strange feeling started, I didn’t worry about it at all.

We’re in another district now, housing thinning out to commercial—places to buy things. They’re always crowded at night. The distant glow of white light reflects up from the sports arena. If Dan turned off the truck, we could probably hear the crowd from here. The Royals, home game.

I keep my face turned away from Uncle Dan. Even as well trained and dedicated as he’s raised me, I can’t stop my feelings. There’s excitement in that crowd, in all these throngs along the streets. It travels through the night and hits me in my chest. Makes my stomach tight. Just once, I’d like to mingle in those crowds, smell the tobacco and marijuana smoke, the beer. I’d like to hear the laughter up close, stare into the colorful lights and video displays. I’d like to know how it feels, that pleasure, that freedom to sin.

But I can’t. I’m one of the chosen ones.

Because that’s how things are.

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Sex and the Young

youngRecently a reviewer of one of my novels commented on the age difference between the female and male main characters. In the story, the female is pushing forty and the male is a couple of years shy of thirty. Their first acquaintance, however, had been ten years earlier when she was a high school teacher and he was her student. Their attraction went unmentioned at that time, but now, ten years later, the connection catches fire.

The reviewer became uncomfortable with this dynamic, partly because the story follows a Dominant/submissive relationship. In the early weeks of training this new submissive, the female ‘domme’ uses the term ‘boy’ as a humiliation. This particular word choice added to the reviewer’s unease about the relationship because of the word’s implication about his age. She still gave the book four out of five stars, but her protest troubled me.

Perhaps we as a society have gone too far when even the use of the word ‘boy’ and an attraction that began while the male character was seventeen trigger thoughts of child molestation. I’m all for laws that protect young children from predation. But there’s a difference between a seven year old and a seventeen year old. There’s a difference between taking advantage of a youngster and reciprocating a mutual attraction. Today’s laws fail to note the difference.

Maybe it’s inevitable that initial efforts to address child molestation will necessarily overreach. For too long, children (as well as women and minorities) were used and abused by male adults. Whether beatings, forced labor, or sexual molestation, children were subject to the whims of whichever adult had ‘possession.’ Until the child grew old enough to fight back or escape, the abuse continued.

No one argues that child labor, beatings, and sexual abuse should occur in a compassionate society. Unfortunately, the current state of affairs easily descends into hysteria. Hardly a day passes without notice of an arrest where molestation charges are brought against the older partner in a consensual relationship with an adolescent. How often are these relationships not crimes but healthy interactions in a very long tradition?

Gaining sexual experience has always been a rite of passage for adolescent males who wish to discover the ‘secrets’ of sexual activity and achieve the confidence and self-development that accompanies this milestone. In the past, an older woman often served as a teacher and mentor in such matters. Stories abound of fathers or older brothers bringing the quaking younger male to a bawdy house where a friendly prostitute would instruct him on the finer arts of pleasing a woman. Thus informed, the initiated young man would go forward with greater confidence in all matters.

Is adult-adolescent sex harmful? New York Magazine published an article examining this topic. The author cites a study which remains a spear in the side of the ‘molestation’ argument:

In 1998, Bruce Rind, Philip Tromovitch, and Robert Bauserman (professors at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan, respectively) published a study that has resounded through the psychological Establishment ever since. The article, published in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, was what’s known as a meta-analysis, an overview of the existing science, in this case on the long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse. The authors concluded that “negative effects were neither pervasive nor typically intense” and that men who’d been abused “reacted much less negatively than women.[i]

If we subscribe to the idea that a sixteen year old male is not capable of acting in his own interest in deciding whether to engage in sexual activity with an older woman, what does that say about our view of our youth? A hundred years ago—and virtually at all previous times—age sixteen was often seen as the start of manhood. Through the nineteenth century, census takers required a statement of ‘occupation’ for any household member age sixteen or above. Even at age ten, young people were expected to contribute to the family’s welfare by working in the fields or tending livestock, or cooking, sewing, and tending younger siblings as surrogate parents. Especially after the American Civil War with its widespread disruption of families and communities, teenaged males rode off to the West to find their fortunes.

By virtually all accounts, youth today is more worldly wise than any previous generation. With modern media, sex is no longer a secret whispered among adults in Victorian parlors. Both sexes have abundant opportunity to view naked human bodies, read about sexual encounters, and discuss sexual liaisons with sexually-active peers. We can’t assume that sexual activity with an older, caring partner is somehow inherently more damaging than sex with a peer.

Wisdom sufficient to properly conduct one’s affairs does not begin at the age of majority, although this is the age at which most nations allow its citizens to vote, engage in military service, and conduct any and all financial matters. Similarly, understanding and experience sufficient to ensure healthy personal relationships don’t begin at the age of consent. There are long years of effort, arguably a lifetime, required to gain excellence in either arena. Indeed, mastery in relationships and wisdom in conducting one’s financial affairs may never be accomplished. Are we to believe that delaying the onset of one’s involvement in these matters confers any greater skill?

Are adolescents capable of making decisions in his/her own best interest? Does age alone define the ‘power’ position in relationships? Does an adolescent know enough to decide whether a sexual relationship will cause harm? There simply is no hard and fast answer. The individual’s choice becomes part of the fabric of his/her life, for better or worse. A set of laws dictating that only one decision is the right one can only be right part of the time. The rest of the time, such laws cause as much or more harm than no law at all.

American society in the twentieth century moved toward a parental role for government. In the process, we have demanded a longer adolescence of our young people. More schooling, extended virginity, and parental financial support even into the late twenties are key features of this mindset. Meanwhile, biology hasn’t changed. Sexual desire arrives with the hormonal dictates of puberty, and while not all sexual desire should necessarily be satisfied by an older partner, the impulse to criminalize May-December relationships is as misguided as is the belief that young people can or should deny their sexual appetites.

An older caring sex partner can be a far better option for an adolescent than a peer who may or may not pay attention to important concerns such as birth control, protection against STDs, or the thoughtful management of tangled emotions. Perhaps even more importantly, the young male learns how sex is done in a caring exchange instead of relying on pornography and the inflated stories of his peers. Just as we need instruction and training in job skills, we need experienced teachers in personal relationships. There’s an argument to be made that initiation by older lovers could foster healthier long term relationships for young people.

We need to ask ourselves what we’re really afraid of in this rush to label any and all sex with minors as criminal activity. Is there a wish to enforce religious rectitude? Have we so enshrined a ‘youth culture’ that we want to paralyze our young people in an artificially-extended innocent state?

While seeking to protect young people truly incapable of self-defense, we’re harming young people ready to explore. Sexual attraction doesn’t see age. Rather, lovers are drawn to each other through lust, empathy, affection, and an instinctive desire for the spiritual epiphany that sex is uniquely able to bestow. We should welcome these pursuits between consenting partners of any age.

[i] “Dirty Old Women” by Ariel Levy, May 29, 2006

Jarrod’s Favorite Things to Eat

cookJarrod Bancroft’s Top Ten Meals, or My Favorite Things to Eat

Food? I’m a fan. I’ve got no issues with cooking for myself. I like to cook. First meal I served to my bitch mistress, Macie Fitzgerald, sure surprised her. Hey, she had few surprises for me too—in the kitchen, hallway, den, her bedroom… But that’s another story.

10.  I have to be desperate to cook up a batch of lasagna, but the good thing is, when I do, I have enough for four meals. That stuff freezes great. You can use bottled sauce if you want, but if I’m going to make this, I want to do the whole thing. Sometimes I use ground beef, sometimes not. But definitely onions, green peppers, garlic, and diced tomatoes. Throw in the seasoning–fresh herbs if you have them, or dried–but use basil, thyme, oregano, parsley, and a little rosemary never hurt. Or buy the premixed Italian seasoning and add about a tablespoon. Simmer until it’s a smooth, thick sauce, at least an hour. Figure out your favorite—bottled or made from scratch. Don’t skimp on the sauce—you’ll need a lot.

Boil the noodles, rinse in cold water, and set aside with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking together. For a 9×13 pan, mix 16 ounces of small curd cottage cheese with four ounces of grated Parmesan, 2 eggs beaten, and 12 ounces grated mozzarella. (Please, none of this low fat junk.) Add the same seasoning as you used in the sauce, another tablespoon. Spread sauce, then noodles, then cheese mixture, then sauce, noodles and cheese, until you run out of ingredients. End with a layer of sauce, sprinkle with more parm, bake an hour. Open the wine, heat the bread… Come on, I don’t have to tell you that, do I?

9. Jambalaya. I admit to watching a few cooking shows. Rachel Ray knocks it out of the park with her jambalaya recipe—Andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp. Look for it online at the Food Network site. No major production with making roux, or fussing over details. Just cook that spicy baby ‘til your mouth is watering so bad you’re going to burn your tongue not waiting for it to cool. Doesn’t hurt that it’s all one pot—except for the rice. Better the second day, the third day—as long as it lasts, or hell, freeze batches and eat it later. Gotta have crusty bread. A tall cold one earns extra points.

8. Broccoli-Beef stir-fry. Buy sirloin or chuck steak. Stick it in the freezer until it’s almost frozen—that makes it easier to cut thin slices. Slice a cup of green onion and two cups of broccoli. It doesn’t matter if the broccoli is all flowerets. You can slice the stem, too. Depending on how meaty you like it, use 1 ½ to 2 cups of meat. A little green pepper doesn’t hurt, if you like. Put the rice on to cook—I like long grain, organic basmati, but that’s up to you. Mince 2-3 cloves of garlic. Prepare fresh ginger to grate onto the mixture, about a tablespoon. Get some of that paste beef bouillon. Then turn the fire on under your wok or iron skillet until it’s smoking hot. Throw in a little oil, then the beef and onion (and green pepper if you’re using it), sprinkle with salt, and stir until the beef has lost its redness. Then add the broccoli. Keep stirring until it starts to dry up in the pan, then add the garlic and ginger. Stir a bit longer until you really start freaking that the whole mess is going to burn then pour in a cup of water. Careful, it’s going to sizzle. Add another half cup of water, then a level teaspoon of the beef bouillon paste. Stir until fully blended. Let it bubble a couple more minutes. You decide—want your broccoli al dente? Serve now. Like it softer? Put on a lid, reduce heat to low, and wait another five. Killer: garlic-butter croutons on the side.

7.  When I said I liked to cook, did I give you the idea I was into a bunch of fancy composed dishes? Well, forget that. Nothing turns me off a restaurant faster than some tortured stack of mystery ingredients in the middle of a big plate. I want real food. Like baked chicken. Rinse the bird inside and out, pat dry, stuff some celery, sage, and onion inside that baby, rub the skin with butter all over, and sprinkle with poultry seasoning (easy, now, maybe a half teaspoon), salt, pepper, and minced garlic. Put it in a clay cooking pot or cast iron Dutch oven with a cup of water, let it bake for at least two hours at four hundred degrees. (Check at least once to ensure there’s still some liquid in the pan. Add more water if necessary.) If you’ve got room in the pot, add some small onions and fingerling potatoes. Damn. That’s a feast I never found in a restaurant as good as I can cook it at home.

6.  Same principle applies with a beef roast. I like chuck because there’s just enough fat in the muscle to break it down to fork tender. If you’re reading my story Ms. Lizzie Ashworth channeled for me, you’ll get the idea in Book III. Sear in a hot pan til all sides are browned, throw in some onions and garlic, add a splash of sherry and 2 cups water, then cook on low for at least four hours. Last hour or so, add some carrots, potatoes, and more onions if you like. Whole meal in one pan. I never said I liked doing dishes. Unless Mistress makes me. That’s a whole other meal, er, job.

5.  Barbeque ribs—let me say I never cooked any ribs as good as I had in Kansas City. There are too many good places there to single out one. The sauce is smoky, sweet, and spicy at the same time. Meat falling off the bone. Can’t stop eating that shit. Have to wash my hands before I pick up my drink. No way to eat pork ribs without getting messy.

4.  Johnny’s at the harbor in Santa Cruz, California—one of the best grilled fresh, wild-caught salmon fillets I ever tasted. Enough sear on the outside to give it that charred flavor. Insides still moist and flaky, just enough seasoning to compliment the natural delicate taste. Comes with some killer cheesy polenta and seasonal vegetables. Why did you ask me about this? I’m hungry, and it’s ten a.m. Alternate—buy your own salmon, set up the grill or use the broiler, swab with a bit of olive oil, sprinkle lightly with dill, freshly ground black pepper, and kosher salt, and…go!

3.  Okay, I admit that underneath it all, I’m a guy who loves what all guys love. A big juicy cheeseburger is perfection. Oozing with mustard, towering with slices of fresh tomato, onions, and dill pickles, crisp lettuce, a layer of melted cheese, oh damn, a thick burger on a toasted bun stops all conversation. Fries are nice, iced tea or a cold beer—sure, I’ll take it. Not necessary, though. Best possible—fire up the backyard grill.

2.  Steak. Baked potato. Iceberg lettuce wedges, salted. Sliced homegrown tomatoes. That is all.

And my Number One favorite tasty treat:

1.  Macie Fitzgerald. No cooking necessary. Prep as needed, ideally on a freshly made kingsize bed. Um, baby.

Jarrod Bancroft — his time is now

Jarrod the novel copyIt started innocently enough. A rich young man in search of adventure in sadistic humiliation. An older woman intent on her profession as dominatrix. Their crossed paths should have been six weeks of a purely business relationship.

But things never go as planned.

The story of Jarrod Bancroft becomes much more than scenes of extreme sexual kink. Hope rejected, regret and anguish, terror in captivity, and an awful truth about Jarrod’s family emerge in this richly-presented series. Told in stunning detail, Jarrod Bancroft’s adventure reveals old lies, ugly threats, and the raw human need for love.

Averaging 4.5 star reviews on Amazon and Goodreads!

“…hotness, explosive sex scenes and most of all one of Lizzie Ashworth’s signature immersive plots, which keep me returning to her books.” Kirsty

I was pleasantly surprised by the caliber of writing and soon lost myself in the story.” Tracy

“…surprising revelations, steamy sex and desperation…” Donna

Book I ebook FREE at the following retailers:

Smashwords           Barnes and Noble           Amazon

Book II and Book III ebooks only $2.99!

Paperback Jarrod Bancroft: The Novel includes all in Books I, II, and III

Buy it at Amazon for only $11.69

The Stranger

elevator copyI told myself no. A chorus of reasons shouted in my head—that I didn’t know him, that we were standing in a hotel hallway waiting for an elevator. Anyone could walk up. Additional major point: accosting a stranger simply wasn’t something I would do. Jennifer Franklin wasn’t that kind of girl.

The handle of my heavy briefcase itched against my sweaty palm. I could assign this momentary insanity to fatigue. Like all such conferences, this one had turned into a three-day blur of classes on everything from specialty cost coding and catastrophe adjustment to the latest on defining a collapse under a property insurance policy. Shaking hands, remembering names, smiling through dinners with speakers droning on about an adjuster’s duty to please both the insurer and the property owner. Keeping up with the latest industry standards and procedures zapped me with fresh confidence. But I was ready for a long hot soak in my tub and a mindless couch session with a bottle of wine and my cat Winston.

Yet here I was at the elevator a few feet from this man who made everything in my mind turn to mush. There was this urge, whatever recess of hell it sprang from, that caused my thighs to clench. I licked my lips, hoping my libido would tuck its tail and slink away. Maybe if I gave myself a few more minutes and couple of deep breaths…

Nope. Not working. Jesus, how did anyone exude such sensuality?

Okay, Jen, reason through this.

He wasn’t my type. I went for the slightly shorter, less sinewy man whereas this guy loomed several inches taller with an almost lanky frame. In the past, my tastes had ranged from blond and blue-eyed to dark and dangerous. I’d never given much consideration to men with light brown hair and eyes that were—what, amber? I stole another glance.

Damn. He caught my brief examination. One of his eyebrows rose slightly, asking. I quickly looked down and broke out in a little sweat. Damn damn damn.

His lips fascinated me, halfway between full and thin, sensual with a little flare at the bow and curling upwards at the corners. Tan and weathered, his skin stretched over prominent cheekbones and a bold jaw. And his neck, which happened to be directly in my line of vision—if I ever looked up again–what was it about his neck? Its intriguing cords and hollows disappeared into the open throat of his white shirt.

Oh, I could almost taste the salt on his skin. Feel the pulse in his throat against my lips.

I had seen him around the hotel, once passing along the corridor when I arrived for the first day of the conference, another time on the other side of the cocktail lounge where I hid at a dark corner table and sipped my wine. He’d been alone there, and I fantasized that he would appear at my table. I would allow him to join me and we would sit smiling in the dim light to pursue witty conversation with just enough innuendo. I refused to imagine what would happen afterwards, but I dreamed about him that night and woke up wet.

What the hell was wrong with me? I’d been around. No virgin here. Mild wear and tear, enough to consider any potential hook-up through slightly jaded eyes. No big hope left that some special ‘one’ lurked out there for me.

Now this? I wanted to slap myself for being ridiculous.

But, damn it, here I was at the elevator feeling as if my body had disconnected from my brain and would do what it pleased no matter what I thought.

Maybe it was that we were both leaving and I’d never see him again. Really, it wasn’t a choice I made, now that I look back on it. I was standing there with my briefcase gripped in my hand and a garment bag slung over my arm, my other hand seized on the handle of my wheeled travel case. Hands sweating. Knees trembling. Wanting a stranger so much I was about to embarrass myself in public.

The elevator was taking forever. He was standing a couple of feet away to my right, looking up to watch the elevator numbers frozen on floor twelve. He too had a garment bag over one arm and his travel case handle in his other hand, looking so incredibly fabulous in that simple white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up those tan forearms and in khaki slacks that looked a little wrinkled. I even checked out his shoes, Sixties style cordovan loafers, winey brown color, well-polished and clearly loved.

I could almost hear the switch flip in my head. Brain turned off. Instinct taking over.

I turned into him holding my gear on either side of me. He accommodated me by holding his luggage away from his body. With only a brief glance up at his face, I registered on his amusement, his welcome. As if we had known each other forever and this was going home.

I nestled my full length against him and brushed my lips against his neck, and oh god he felt good. At every point of contact, which actually was the entire front of me, he felt good. The strength of his thighs, the solid press of his loins, his hard chest—right there against me, holding his own, not backing away. And his neck—Jesus Christ, it was chocolate and musky wine and that skin, that soft velvet flesh that had served its time in the sun, warm and strong and scented with a heavenly fragrance that was aftershave and soap and him.

My lips savored him in that brief moment, brushing along the column of his neck as if he was my last sip of fresh water in the middle of a desert. In those few seconds—minutes?—that I stood there pressed against him, I had no sense of shame, no regret, no worry, no question. My mind stood still. I wanted never to move.

And then it ended. I don’t know how it ended. Maybe it was the elevator that ended it. A musical ‘ding.’ We moved apart. I really couldn’t remember, later, when I fought to overcome the searing embarrassment of what I’d done. One minute I was in full body contact with a man I didn’t know, oblivious to anything but him, and the next minute we were on opposite sides of the elevator with six people in between us including two kids and a dog.

I wanted to cry.

A Dane’s Bride

vikingAetherlin stared at the man through the leaping flames of the firepit. Hrald, Jarl of Dunholm. Her hands clenched in want of a weapon. Fire cast his shadow to the far wall as if he were a denizen of Hell itself, his tall frame looming and pale eyes glittering in the orange-red reflection. Breath hitched in her throat.

He wore fitted leather leggings and an open vest over his muscled chest. Lengths of dark hair brushed his wide shoulders. Gold bands wrapped his biceps and forearms, a badge of his prowess in battle and the respect of his tribesmen. His forehead creased in his determined expression, although the quirk of his cruel mouth bespoke lascivious thoughts. About her. And what he would soon do to her.

In spite of the message of anger and resistance she sent with her glare, he did not relent in his survey of her. She wore a red marriage dress with scrolling needlework and golden thread. Her attending lady had wept as she dressed her, ordered by her father Aetherwulf, Earldorman of Gloucestershire. These were not garments Aetherlin would have chosen, cut low to reveal the curve of her breasts, to present her body as if a fattened goose. But then, she would not have chosen this day, this man. Or perhaps any man at all.

“Loose your hair, maid,” Hrald commanded, his deep voice echoing through the empty hall.

Her body stiffened. Again she thought to refuse, to turn and run. But the great hall had been emptied and the door barred. She had been given to him, to be his chattel just as the hall itself, the trenchers and tables, the servants moving in the adjacent kitchens and storerooms, his pledged warriors and lesser vassals going about their evening tasks in the courtyard, the stables.

In a fury, she yanked off the narrow silver band holding the linen scarf and flung them to the floor. Her thick braid took more time as her numb fingers combed through the long wavy strands, separating and spreading them over her shoulders and chest. Golden glints of firelight reflected on the red-blonde hair. Aetherlin could not look at him, but she knew his gaze stayed on her—it burned like coals on her skin.

He said nothing for a time. The fire’s crackle barely matched the noise of her heart thudding in her ears. Did he mean to possess her here, in the public hall?

“Now the dress,” he demanded.

His voice had taken a husky tone. That recognition startled her. She wished it did not matter whether he cared about what she did. Surely he did not want her, but rather embraced the power, lands, and wealth that came with the marriage. Still, his reaction caused her to flush.

Her glance flew to his face. What did he intend, forcing her to undress in the main hall? Anyone could enter, even though he had dismissed them all. Would he shame her? What man treated his bride so coarsely?

A fiend. A filthy, bloodthirsty Dane.

His eyes had narrowed and his body leaned slightly forward, so that the spiraling patterns carved into his leather vest picked up more of the fire’s light and seemed to move of their own accord. Likewise, the inked design of dragons rippled over his muscled arms as if alive. His dark hair brushed at his wide shoulders, casting his clean-shaven jaw in shadow.

Why did he not simply rip down her clothes like the ravening beast he was? The sudden thought of such an act caused her heart to leap against her ribs. Her fingers stumbled at the clasps. The heavy woolen dress fell to the floor around her ankles. She stood in the linen shift, waiting, her breath shallow and fast.

“Do you think I wish only to see your undergarments?” he questioned in a hard voice.

“I think you wish to lower me, so that I am the least of all possible things,” she snapped back. “Expose me, like a village girl at the hands of your men.”

He laughed. “Beauty and spirit. It seems I’ve bargained well.”

He came nearer to her side of the fire and braced a heavy boot against the rock hearth. She feared what he might do. Her tongue slipped along dry lips.

“But you will please me,” he said, lowering his voice slightly. “The rest of it, bride. Now.”

(More of this story in a future publication…)

Excerpt, Jarrod Bancroft Book I: A Gift for Jarrod

new Jarrod 1 copyHe had also lost track of the changes underway inside his mind and body. He reacted to light strangely, as if it brought the comfort of food or a warm touch even when it was simply the removal of the blindfold. He became accustomed to the loss of control of his body as he was shackled to his bed at night, no longer pissed when he wanted, no longer held his own penis to do so, no longer even shat without someone in attendance. He ate like an animal off the plate they placed on the floor, food that was unrecognizable although flavorful and evidently nourishing.

There were daily parades into rooms where people waited, all of them masked. He stood with other naked submissives as the masked people chatted, drank, nibbled on hors d’oeuvres, occasionally casting their eyes in his direction, occasionally stroking his body and the cock that strained in front of him. After a first few times of shivering humiliation and terror, he took their glances, their touching, as comfort. His worry that they might know him, recognize, spread gossip about what they had seen, slowly subsided into the greater submissive state of mind that fed his constant arousal.

No longer questioning his decision to come here, his thoughts now focused on the current situation, the moment in which he existed, whether his attention was captured by the lash or the ever larger plug in his anus, or the engorgement that plagued his genitals. The people who serviced him had become objects of his affection—he wanted to kiss Sal who nightly administered to his fracturing body, the woman who slipped her hand over his cock each morning to help him piss.

Everything excited his senses. He’d never felt so alive. Yet for all the arousal, he had not been allowed to have another ejaculation. The need to release had slipped to the background, no less urgent, no less achingly painful, but one of those things he endured like he endured the beatings. He felt like a stringed instrument, increasingly tuned to a finer and finer tightness, waiting for the right moment, the right hand, that would turn him into a beautiful song.

Another excerpt, Faint Heart

1780877_679810408732762_2039753660448518315_nPart of him wanted to run after the car, call for her to come back, the same way he’d felt that night so many years before. Throat tight, he opened the gate and walked into the back yard, where his dog had always stayed, where the toys of his childhood had been tossed around, where he parked his bike. All of it lay in his chest like a fresh bleeding cut.

Morgan Woods

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Great reviews stacking up for this sexy, contemporary romance!