Thursday, August 17, 2017

Are people with disabilities incapable of romance?

I write about lawyers in love, with a dash of kink, and in my next book, Kinky Briefs, Thrice, I feature a lawyer newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis—a disease I was diagnosed with in 2002.

Katia “Munk” Hrulata is a bright, spunky Chicago lawyer who suffered a severe MS attack (we call them exacerbations) three months prior.  The attack took out her legs and she was relegated to a wheelchair.  The story revolves around her need to adjust her life to a new reality.  Not only is she suddenly confronted with accessibility issues many MSers face on a daily basis, she also questions the impact MS will have on her relationships, in particular with the man she loves.

I am pretty proud of this story, primarily because it takes on some common stereotypes about people with MS:

That people with MS are incapable of leading productive lives.  Every disability is different and it impacts people in different ways.  That is particularly true of MS.  Some MSers may eventually become so disabled that they cannot work, some may not.  But that does not necessarily make those who cannot work any less productive.  It just switches their focus and their priorities. There is also a related assumption that when people are diagnosed with MS, their life is over.  They should just give up.  When I was diagnosed, I was appalled at how many family members suggested that I sell my home and start searching for a nursing home! (I fooled them all. I merely hired a contractor to make my home more accessible.) Admittedly, some MSers have made a conscious choice to give up, but for many others, MS provides the motivation to fight harder for what they want and need out of life.

That people with MS cannot work.  Here’s the thing—there are many people out there with MS who hide in the shadows, but have flourishing careers, as lawyers, doctors, teachers, corporate CEOs, politicians, and a myriad of other occupations. And they hide their disability for a reason. When I disclosed that I had MS, my clients and friends hastily abandoned ship.  MS is not only a cruel and fickle disease, it is one that frightens those who do not understand it.  But here’s the thing: Managing my MS has forced me to focus on what’s important, such as family and a lifelong desire to write books.  And I credit MS with my productivity:  This year alone, I have written five books—all due out by the end of 2017—and am working on another. I have also ghostwritten four books for professionals.  I needed to prove that I could write books, despite MS, and I have.  Many other MSers are accomplishing their own dreams as well. People make a lot of assumptions about what people with MS and other disabilities are capable of, and most of those assumptions are wrong.

That people with MS can’t have normal, loving relationships.  I must admit, the first time someone said this to me, it really burned my ass.  First of all, let’s get the word “normal” off the table. What’s normal to some is not necessarily normal to others.  There are many ways to engage in and experience love.  A disability may require some adjustment to the physical aspects of love, but to strip a person of their sexuality because of that disability is cruel and unconscionable.  Second of all, yes, people with disabilities have sex.  Again, adjustments may have to be made to accommodate “the act,” but it is certainly not impossible. Sure, neurological disorders—such as MS--and drugs used in their treatment may impact sexual desire and sensation, but that is on a case-by-case basis.  It is not a universal truth. Third, even people with MS actively seek partners/companions. We just handle it differently.  I tend to be upfront about my diagnosis simply because I don’t want to start falling in love and have someone bolt when I disclose that I have a chronic illness. And despite some very negative experiences, I have never considered giving up my search for “the one” or disclosing my MS.

That people with disabilities do not engage in kinky sex.  In researching my books, I have visited numerous discussion groups.  The first thing I discovered was that there are many subgroups devoted not only to people with MS, but people with other disabilities. There are also many articles about the subject on the Internet. If you are interested, take the time to check them out. Again, it appears engaging in kink is more about accommodating MS and other disabilities, rather than abandoning specific desires/needs.

While I wanted my story about Munk to fairly represent the MS experience, in the end, it is intended to be a love story. I have no doubt people with disabilities not only enjoy romance novels, they also embrace and enjoy romance!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Not every romance has a happy ending

When I began to write romantic fiction, I was told there were only two options for story endings: Happily Ever After (HEA) or Happy For Now (HFN).  I was told that a romance novel was not marketable without one of those two endings. What I struggled with then, and continue to struggle with today, is the fact that not every couple in love gets a happy ending.

While “chick flicks” tend to focus on heart warming, heart melting endings, that perfect moment when two people run into each other's arms, a passionate kiss foretelling a future of bliss, for many that’s not reality. Let’s face it. Love is hard. It can be a struggle to not only clarify your feelings for another but also to act on them. The search for love is not always sweet, and sometimes, it ends tragically. 

Let’s go back to that “chick flick” a minute. What if after that panti-wetting kiss, the couple reluctantly pulled apart and walked off in different directions, never to return to one another’s arms?  Or what if they spent a week locked in a lust-filled paradise only to discover that they had allowed their emotions to overrule their heads, and in fact, what they felt was only lust, with no possibility of love? Or what if, after declaring their love for one another, a long-lost love reappears, forcing one of the partners to make a choice, and he or she does not choose the new partner? Or what if one partner decides he is simply not ready for a commitment and needs more time?

Do those endings make the story any less romantic? I would argue that romance is more about the journey than the end result. Passion and seduction titillate, they invite us to follow along as two people—or more—explore and test their attraction, ultimately determining whether there is a foundation upon which to build. Personally, I do not need to be sated with happy tears. I just want people to be given a chance to find their happy, whether that happy translates into a passionate affair, a memorable reunion, or two ships connecting in the night, for only a brief moment.

As Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” And the fact of losing that love does not make it any less romantic.

I do not begin my stories knowing the ending. I allow my characters to lead me to a natural conclusion. Sometimes, the ending wraps up with the discovery of love, the possibility of love, the affirmation of love, the rediscovery of love, or even the loss of love. What is important to me is that my characters have the opportunity to explore the wonders of love, no matter where it winds up.  

It’s the journey, not the ending.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Using the erotica label as a form of censorship

In the past few months, I have received multiple offers to join writing groups, post guest blogs, run free advertisements, and participate in interviews with other writers, only to have those invitations withdrawn when it was discovered that I write erotica. Apparently, many in the romance writing/publishing industry disassociate romance from erotica. To wit:

“We don’t consider erotica to be included in the romance genre.”

“We cover all types of romance, except for erotica.”

“I love interviewing all writers of romance. However, I consider erotica to fall outside that genre.”

Hmmm. Relationships in the romance genre are notoriously broad and wildly diverse: Women are paired with multigender shapeshifters, men engage in threesomes with vampires, and teeny tiny fairies steal the hearts and souls of entire football teams. Yet, when explicit sex enters the picture, a story about a love relationship no longer qualifies as romance? Oh, my.

Time for a reality check. In my more than 20 years of marriage, I cannot remember a single time when a passionate, erotic encounter blunted the romance. In fact, I can honestly say sensual sexual encounters enhanced it. So the actual fact that sex actually occurred can’t be the problem. I mean, seriously, we no longer live in an age when women are advised to give up their virginity with a stiff upper lip, laying on their marriage bed solemnly accepting their wifely duty as their husband’s “love handle” was used to commit “unspeakable acts.” Do we?

Wait. It must be the words, the need to use pretty metaphors and purple prose to cloak the sexual act in respectability. But the attempt to manage words and other forms of expression by denying people access to a marketplace is, in effect, censorship. Surely an industry (publishing) dedicated to the written word supports free expression for all writers, not just for writers who use only the words they prefer? I mean, they wouldn’t use the shaming and blaming scam to punish those whose word choice fails to meet with their approval? Would they?

Yup. They would. Because by kicking erotica out of the romance genre, I would argue that the romance industry is attempting to regulate the words of those who prefer to describe romantic, albeit sensual, encounters honestly and accurately. And they can do it without shame because they pack a mighty financial punch. The romance publishing industry has the power to censor without recrimination and some players do it simply because they can. And in so doing, they are consciously shaping the minds of the public with negative results.

For example, it may be possible to link the unrealistic portrayal of romance to an increasing rate of divorce in this country. Most people do not automatically become a pantiwetting, loin heating, passion rendering partner with just a heated look or a lingering touch. They have to work at it. So when someone reads that scenario book after book, and embraces it, chances are they are going to be woefully unfulfilled and find their partner lacking. Because to many, romance novels are not truly fiction, they are based on reality. And of course, this view of life and relationships is vigorously reinforced by television and the movies.

For many years, members of the motion picture industry sought to censor films with a strict rating system. Directors would reluctantly shave bits and pieces of their films, cutting just enough to obtain a respectable rating, guaranteeing a spot in more movie theatres. Similarly, writers of erotic romance are forced to alter or edit their books to qualify for the romance label, which provides entre into the largest bookseller market in the United States and many other countries. For that reason, some consider the erotica label a kiss of death.

My conclusion? Censorship does not require written regulations or legislative/judicial acts. All that is required is the denial of access into lucrative bookseller markets. These days, that’s accomplished by segregating erotica from the romance genre. And in this country, that makes a mockery of the First Amendment.

My name is Seelie Kay and I write erotic romance. Yes, that’s romance with an erotic twist.

Friday, June 9, 2017

A funny thing happened on my way to writing fiction

In 2017, after more than 30 years of writing nonfiction, I decided to try my hand at fiction.  It was most definitely a difficult transition.

As a former journalist, I was taught to deal in facts.  Not just any facts, facts that had been verified, usually by at least two credible sources.  I was also taught to be objective when covering a story, offering opposing views and contradictory facts.  As a journalism student, it was drilled into me that it was not my job to offer an opinion, but to provide enough relevant facts to permit the reader to make informed decisions.

As a lawyer, the search for the facts became more determined.  Lawyers not only collect facts, they also apply them to the law to determine where the legal issues lie. Then they identify the legal issues, apply all known facts, and determine what the likely outcome will be.  Faulty facts could have devastating consequences.  That’s why so much effort is put into discovering what the facts are, not what you hope they will be.

Throughout my career as a lawyer and journalist, facts were king.  So when I was thrust into a world where fact no longer mattered, I had to fight my very strong impulse to fact check my assumptions and justify my protagonist’s actions, because truthfully, that no longer mattered.  It seems that fiction encourages stretches of the imagination and flights of fancy, no matter how improbable or how impractical.  It didn’t matter if the story was believable, all that mattered was that it is entertaining.

I cannot tell you how many hours I wrestled with this conundrum. I had to fight thoughts of “No one is ever going to believe that” or “If someone did that, they would wind up in jail” because that was no longer of consequence.  The determination of how a protagonist acted and the consequences of those actions was solely up to me. I set the rules. Suddenly, I was judge and jury all wrapped up in a writer’s cloak, and that was somewhat frightening.  I was no longer accountable for the decisions I made, or the moral standards I ignored.  My job was simply to put words together in coherent sentences and tell a story.

However, a funny thing happened on my way to writing fiction.  I discovered that because I had existed for so long in a fact-based environment, people assumed that my stories were true and my characters were based on real people. I was constantly asked whether this character was that person or whether that situation occurred at a certain law firm.  It was baffling and concerning at the same time.  I had assumed fiction gave me the freedom to write wherever my mind took me, but it seemed some were still trying to hold me accountable.

Certainly, when writing fiction, reality may intrude at some point.  For example, a protagonist may not be based on any one person, but the sum total of their personality may be derived from numerous persons who have passed through my life.  Similarly, the descriptions of locations or situations may be pulled from personal experience, as well as from the headlines.  But in the end, my characters and my stories are not based on fact, they are fiction. They are figments of a very fertile imagination.

I have no wish to include people I know or situations I have actually experienced in my books, primarily I have no desire to be accountable for matters upon which others may disagree.  If I want to describe someone as plain, or a sofa as tattered, I want to do it without offending someone.

If fiction is indeed meant to be freeing, then I should be able to enjoy writing it. So please don't ask me whether my stories are based on fact, tell me that you enjoyed reading them!

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

World MS Day: A time for thanks

      May 31 is World MS Day. No, it is not a day to celebrate the sometimes devastating disease known as multiple sclerosis, but for me, it is a time to acknowledge those who have made a difference in my life since my diagnosis.  There are many to thank:  Those on the medical side as well as family and friends.  But my greatest debt of gratitude is owed to my primary caregiver:  My son, John.
      My son is barely 21, still a man-child in my eyes. Yet, as he teeters on the brink of adulthood, cautiously dipping a toe into the pool of life, he has steadfastly remained at my side.  John has lived a thousand lifetimes since I was diagnosed with MS.  He was only six when our lives were turned upside down, and I can only imagine what was running through his young mind as he watched me struggle to find a new normal.
      We were alone in this fight—his father chose to abandon us, first emotionally, then physically-- leaving a child to function as an adult and my primary caregiver, without the requisite skills or knowledge. Together we learned how to manage my illness, and together, we learned how to adapt my new needs to our lives. When I began to have difficulty walking, he never flinched as I began to use a cane, then a walker. Instead, he sought to ensure that doors were always open, and that my paths were always clear and smooth.  And when I concluded that driving was no longer a safe option, he became my primary chauffeur, driving me to medical appointments and social engagements without complaint.
      I was nonplussed when he decided not to go away to college—I admit at that age, I was all too eager to leave the nest and spread my wings—but I eventually realized that if he had travelled miles away, my compassionate child would have worried his butt off.  His mind would not have been focused on his studies, but rather on whether Mom was okay. I felt guilty about his decision to stay behind when so many of his friends were out there reaching for the brass ring, until I realized he had a different dream. Music.
      While still a toddler, John would sit on my lap as I played the piano, eventually joining in to pick at a key or pound out a rhythm.  The first song he played was “Ode to Joy” (the ringtone assigned to him on my phone).  I quickly began searching for a piano teacher who would take a child barely in kindergarten.  Lessons were a source of amusement, but I should not have been surprised. At age five, John confidently recited the names of every U.S. president in the order they served and when he refused to practice, but effortlessly played each assignment at lessons, I realized he had taught himself to sight read. In the same way, he picked up the guitar and learned to play so well that one teacher simply threw up his hands in frustration and informed me that there was nothing else he could teach John. The rest, he said, John needed to learn on his own.
      And he did. John can play a rift as well as much more experienced musicians, and write songs that tug at your heartstrings and dance in your mind. He rides the members of his metal band like a drill sergeant and has little tolerance for others who do not take their music seriously. John is dedicated and driven in a way most will never be in their careers. He has a dream and he is not afraid to chase it.
      That’s why I trusted him to convert our basement into a practice space, then into an informal show venue. He hosts emerging metal bands from around the world and sometimes, a lot of exuberant   kids are in my basement. Sure it gets loud, and I have to call the carpet cleaner occasionally to shampoo the rugs and clean the furniture, but the look on John’s face after he has produced another successful show is worth it.  He is proud at his ability to book and manage shows, and I am not about to deny him.
      I am still prepared for John to eventually leave the nest—I have remodeled my home and secured the equipment I need to be self-sufficient when that day comes. But opening my basement and yes, my home, so that he can pursue his own dreams is my way of paying him back for years of patience, compassion, and care. 
      He has begun to take baby steps out of the nest—taking his band on the road for occasional weekends—traveling far enough away to be close but yet so far, and this summer he is extending a tour to a week. He worries about me and yes, I worry about him, but that’s what texting is for. I have proven to him that I can survive in his absence. And he has proven to me that he is responsible enough to be unleashed onto the world.
      I once feared that my MS was holding John back. Now I realize that he just adapted and found a different way to spread his wings. And there is no greater joy than watching your man-child fly.
      So on this World MS Day, I urge you to take a look around and thank those who have made a  difference in your battle with MS.  You can live a productive life with the help of family, friends, and medical professionals, despite MS!
      My name is Seelie Kay and I am a MS Warrior.



Sunday, May 14, 2017

That elusive thing called love

Ah, love. It is a theme evinced everywhere we turn, in books, movies, music, art, and even, advertising.

It is a subject the fascinates us, most likely because its definition is so elusive. But we are in awe of its universal truth: Almost everyone is capable of love and being loved. We yearn for it, we seek it, we grasp it, we dream of it, and yes, sometimes, we even scorn it.

The problem is, there is no one definition of love. It is a diverse concept, meaning vastly different things among people, cultures, even generations. Take romantic love. Some books depict it as a selfless act, while other portray it as selfish. Romantic love can be wildly sensuous, merely pleasant, or heartless, unrequited, and cruel. Because there are so many different types of romantic love, we may not even recognize it when it falls into our laps or knocks us upside our heads.

There is obviously a difference between lust and romantic love.  One is bound by physical needs, the desire to satisfy urges that can only be quenched through a carnal coupling. The other is governed by emotion, a need for intimacy, the long sought after merging of heart, mind, and soul. Yes, you can experience both at the same time, but romantic love is what endures. Lust tends to dissipate with time—It is most often fickle and fleeting. Some say friendship is the foundation for love, while others claim compatibility or attraction rules.

Some claim that with romantic love, anything is possible. It sparks courage among the weak, charity among the miserly, and patience among the impulsive. Even the most despicable of human beings can fall in love and be changed by it. Romantic love reveals no pattern, no consistent series of events that lead to a revelation that your heart has been lost to another. It does not require traditional courting and seduction. It can occur in the blink of an eye or build slowly over a period of years. Sometimes love is reborn, sometimes love is lost but found, and sometimes love simply endures over distance or time. It can be a spark or a slow-burning flame. It can lead to euphoria, ecstasy, or nirvana. It an be fleeting, all-consuming, or life-changing.

Even writers describe love in a myriad of ways. Take these lines from song, film, and literature:

“Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

“Love is a many splendored thing.”

“Love hurts.”

“Love is patient, love is kind.”

“Love is blind.”

And this immortal line from Alfred Lord Tennyson:

“’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”

Perhaps that is why so many are enthralled by the notion of love, why we bury our noses in paperback novels and weep when love is threatened or finally consummated. We may not know exactly what romantic love is, but every one of us knows that it exists, and some day, hope to find it. 

And if you're waiting for love, just maybe, one particular writer will describe it in a way that tugs at your heart, inspires your soul, and opens your mind, so that when love does come knocking at your door, you'll know it and embrace it.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Writing is like a dance

Writing is like a dance: You must wait to hear the music before you begin to move.

That's because the inspiration to dance comes from the music. The feelings evoked by simple tones and simple beats are a visceral response. Your feet move and your body follows.  If you over think it, you stumble, or maybe--horror of all horrors--you step on someone's toes! You need to relax and allow the music to guide you, giving up control to the music and allowing it to overtake you.

Writing is no different. It begins with some form of inspiration, whether that be a conversation, an observance, a dream, even a sunny day. 

I am a dream writer.  I pick up my cues from daily living and somehow, those events translate into a story in my dreams. Some of those stories are romantic, some are stark, some are sad, and some are downright frightening. Unfortunately, by the time I wake, I have usually forgotten the dream. Flashes may come back throughout the next day as I attempt to recapture what I knew was a New York Times bestseller idea, but unless the dream repeats itself the next night, it has disappeared into the shallows of my mind.

Sometimes, however, a dream forces me to wakefulness. Then I grab my cell phone and record the dream. I am always surprised the next morning to find my "text to self," but the ideas I commit to text are what spur my mind and generate stories.

Similarly, if I fall asleep puzzling over a plot or a character, my dreams provide clarity and many times, a resolution. There is truth in the old adage: "Sleep on it." Sleep allows the mind to function without interruption, to burrow into the far reaches of your soul, and that is an invaluable tool.

I cannot ignore the inspiration born of my dreams, perhaps that is why I became a writer. I have always been fascinated with words and the magic of using them to shape stories. I enjoy crafting scintillating prose from random thoughts and mere germs of an idea. I love molding words into a solid expression of an idea. 

Writing frees my soul, words drive my passion. That's why I write books. There is nothing more fascinating or satisfying.

--Seelie Kay