Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Some endings never come

I am often asked why I “serialize” some of my short stories.

The easy answer would be because as a child, my parents inundated me and my siblings with magazines and kid’s newsletters—Highlights, Boy’s Life, Weekly Reader—which sometimes serialized stories. I was totally hooked on them, fighting my brothers and sisters for every single copy. (You should also know that my parents were teachers, so reading seemed liked the perfect way to keep a herd of five children busy.)

Or I could tell you that I found the continuing stories of Brenda Star, Mrs. Worth, and Dick Tracy—always featured on the comics pages of the Milwaukee Journal or the Chicago Tribune—enthralling. I could not wait for the next installment. My parents loved having a child who actually ran out and collected the newspapers each day, without having to ask.

But I won’t. Because that’s only part of the truth.

Perhaps more revealing is that I love some of the characters in my short stories so much, I simply don’t want their adventures to end. 

Like the Sheikh and his American lawyer wife, Harun Ali and Marianne Benson. Something about this couple just stirs my heart. A lawyer whose husband was killed in Desert Storm, inspired by 9/11 to fight for the victims of terrorism, falls in love with a lawyer from the Middle East. You see, this is more than just a story about a heart-throbbing, panty-wetting, hot and sexy romance hero. It’s about two people reaching across a cultural divide to find love, despite the prejudice, despite the danger, despite the risk.

This couple loves hard and loves deeply. They are as passionate about each other as they are about their fight for the victims of terrorism. They have faced with some dangerous circumstances, but they remain strong, because they have each other. They are not without conflict, but they love enough to resolve their differences. They understand that love always finds a way.

And then there’s the police chief and the criminal defense attorney, two people who fight for what’s right, rather than what’s expedient, or the law school professor who moonlights as a secret agent and is in love with her own James Bond. And Munk, the lawyer newly diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic illness I share.

How can I stop fantasizing about their lives, about the perils and dilemmas they face? Their journeys are long and romantic and just too damn scintillating to end.

Call it the curse of a writer blessed with an overactive imagination and a wicked pen, but I can’t stop writing about them. I won’t stop writing about them (she said petulantly).

Can you blame me?

Monday, March 5, 2018

Why is “consensual rape” even a thing in romance novels?

I have never thrown a book across the room, so livid that I think it’s a candidate for burning.

Until now.

Because in an era when issues of consent are at the forefront, I am having increasing problems with books that feature relationships built on “consensual rape.” As a lawyer, I would argue that legally, rape cannot be consensual. And I would argue further that it is irresponsible for authors to intentionally portray it in that way.

The stories always begin innocently enough. The young maiden, let’s call her Abrella, recently abducted by pirates, finds herself alone in her cabin with the hot handsome “Pirate King.” She is horrified by this man. He is a barbarian. He has murdered her parents and many others, claiming her as “the spoils.”

He moves toward her with intent, stealing a kiss. Then he paws at her, squeezing her breasts, his hand reaching underneath her gown and slipping into her knickers. Abrella is terrified and she tries to fight his advances. She is a virgin, you see, and she is saving herself for marriage. So, as his hands roam her body, she kicks and struggles, but he is too strong and she is too weak. Then he kisses her again, his kiss passionate, filled with tongue thrusting, sucking, biting. Abrella the innocent is overwhelmed. She has no experience in such things. She lacks the maturity necessary to divorce hormone driven impulses from reality. So, she stops fighting.

But when the Pirate King begins to undo the buttons on her dress, Abrella again attempts to pull away and declares, “Unhand me. I’ll not be granting my virginal charms to the likes of you. I must save myself for a proper man, the man who shares my marriage bed.”

The Pirate King growls and rips the dress from Abrella’s body. He will not be denied. Abrella screams and attempts to run. “No, stop, please stop,” she pleads. When he captures her, she begins to cry.

The Pirate King throws her on the bed, stripping away her underclothes, leaving her naked and helpless before him. He stands and removes his clothing, then moves between her legs. He, of course, possess an unusually hefty penis, the size of which terrifies the young maiden. Abrella kicks and claws, trying to prevent the sexual assault, but the Pirate King leans in and kisses her again. Abrella loses all willpower, her common sense abandoned to the heat building between her loins. When the Pirate King spears her, the pain is excruciating, but no matter. Ultimately, she bucks and squirms, then collapses in ecstasy.

Wait. What? She said “no,” repeatedly. And in my world, “no” means “no.” So Abrella was taken without her consent. She was legally raped. By whose definition is that even appropriate?

Let’s take the story a step further. After Abrella recovers from the brutal rape, she slowly realizes she has fallen in love with her captor and he with her. WTF? How can any true healthy, loving relationship be built on sexual assault?

Now some of you will argue that this type of behavior was acceptable in days gone by. But in reality, it wasn’t. Men were entitled to force their wives to have sex, but it was never legal to force sex on anyone else. Sure, people looked the other way. And in an incredibly sexist society, they also tried to justify it in ways that made it more palatable. Note, however, that in “polite society,” besmirching a girl’s/women’s virtue required that the besmircher marry his victim or face considerable consequences. In addition, claiming historical accuracy as justification for a rape scene is credible only if all other information in the book is historically accurate.

My conclusion?  “Consensual rape” scenes in romance novels are a plot device used by lazy writers to justify inappropriate titillation. They are intended to mask the real issue: That rape is never acceptable and certainly never consensual. Do you want to get your readers all hot and bothered? There are much more creative ways to do that without glorifying a brutal crime.

Now, I could do the lawyerly thing and quote all sorts of laws, legal articles, and other commentary on the elements of rape and informed consent, but I won’t. I suspect the offending writers are well aware of the lines they have crossed. Instead, I will ask a few questions:

·       .  What responsibility do romance writers have when writing rape scenes? Do they have a responsibility to portray it as the crime it is? Is it ever okay to glorify and mask it as a romantic event?

.  And what about issues of consent? Do writers have a responsibility to incorporate informed consent into love scenes, much like they have embraced safe sex and the use of condoms?

.  What about the influence of such writings on young, unformed minds? Teens and young adults, who as impulse-driven individuals, have little experience with sex, much less utilizing their right to grant or deny consent? For the younger population, in particular, portraying forced sex, i.e. rape, without consequences seems very unwise.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions. But I do know they are questions writers must answer, and soon. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Suddenly, kinky is cool…and that may not be a good thing

Once a topic discussed in hushed tones behind closed doors, it seems kinky sex is no longer banished to the closet. In fact, kinky is cool.

Admit it. The topic may make you giggle, it may even make you blush, but when someone brings up blindfolds and handcuffs, you nod knowingly, with a certain tone of acceptance. After all, you have read those books and seen those movies. You’ve had your kink education and you’re all in. The sting of a whip seems like a small price to pay to snag a billionaire’s heart…

Here’s the thing. Those books and those movies are fiction. That’s right, F.I.C.T.I.O.N. There is little chance you’ll garner the attention of a rich dude simply by claiming to be submissive, and permitting a stranger to tie you to a bed and have his or her way with you is just stupid. And there is little in those books that accurately portrays the kink world, or the elements of a true Dominant/submissive relationship. Because believe it or not, not all Dominants have been abused or are psychologically damaged. And not all submissives are innocents who surrender control to a stranger just because they foolishly got drunk.

Yet, some consider those books the bible on a very complex lifestyle. And the damage that has resulted is tragic. There’s the case of the two women who decided to hook up with an alleged Dominant they met online. Both wound up chopped into pieces, stuffed into suitcases and left on a roadside to rot. And there’s the case of the recently divorced middle-aged women who decided to flit into a kink club, proclaiming to everyone who would listen that she wanted to serve a Dominant. Four men cornered her and convinced her that as a submissive, group sex was the key to proving her value. So, she allowed them to gang rape her—without protection—and wound up with an incurable sexually transmitted disease.

Then there are the online discussion groups that cater to those in the kink or BDSM lifestyle. They are filled with ads from lost men and women who offer to do “anything” in exchange for the protection and/or support of their Christian Grey. And those groups are also filled with post after post from naïve men and women who were taken advantage of by alleged Dominants and scammers. They tell stories of rape, abuse and more.

Obviously, the people in these examples were unable to make informed decisions about a lifestyle they knew little or nothing about. They relied on a fictional book or a movie to override what little common sense they possessed. They leapt right into harmful situations because they thought kink was trendy, cool, sexy. They gave no consideration to the consequences, only the mythical possibilities.
And in so doing, they missed a vital step, one not often portrayed in books or movies, but one those in the lifestyle will tell you is essential—building trust.

As in entrusting a person with your well-being when that bedroom door closes. As in being confident that you have taken rational steps to ensure your safety before surrendering control to another. As in trusting that the other person understands what you have consented to and will stay within those boundaries.

And that’s what’s missing in so many novels about kinky relationships. The steps between the meet and the handcuffs. If you don’t truly know and trust someone, why in hell would you permit them to blindfold you, tie you up, and stripe you with a whip? Because they might be a billionaire who will take care of your every need? Really?

You know what? I am pleased that the flurry of books on kinky romance have made it more mainstream. That just creates a bigger market for my books. However, while tolerance is good and more book sales are good, ignorance is not. 

Ignorance can harm you, maybe even kill you.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The art of the kiss

In my many years on this Earth, I have discovered one very disconcerting fact: Many men just do not know how to kiss me.  

I am not talking about a kiss on the cheek or the kiss you give an old aunt. I am talking about the romantic kiss, the kind of kiss that curls one’s toes, heats the loins, and sends a mind catapulting off of a cliff. The kind of kiss that so overwhelms that the recipient becomes putty in another’s hands. The kind of kiss that leaves someone utterly shaken, a mere shell of themselves, a quivering puddle of need. The kind of kiss that leaves you desperately wanting more. Yes, that kind of kiss.

I believe kissing is a lost art. Sadly, some seem to be unaware that there are many different types of kisses, among them gentle kisses, deep kisses, passionate kisses, breathless kisses, quick kisses, long kisses, wet kisses, dry kisses, gentle kisses, and stunningly erotic kisses. It is best, of course, to be skilled at a variety of kisses. A broad repertoire keeps things interesting. But more importantly, kissing does not have to lead to anything else, such as the bedroom. Sometimes, I just want to be kissed for pleasure, sometimes I want to be kissed until I destress, other times, I just want to be kissed. Two sets of lips engaged in an erotic dance, tongues exploring, tasting, sharing, can serve a whole lot of purposes!

In high school, they called it “making out.” In college, it was called “PDA” and in adulthood, some call it “foreplay.”  

I have written several stories and poems about kisses. I happen to believe they are the essence of passion, seduction, and romance. In the romance anthology, Pieces of Us, by the NuRomantics, for example, I write about the “forever kiss.” The kiss so filled with love and emotion, that you know that even if you never see your partner again, that kiss will be burned into both of your memories.

Yet, very few of the men I have dated understood the importance of the kiss. Many saw it as a means to an end. There were some, for example, who after engaging in a few kisses, believed it was time to head to the bedroom. And others who believed the sharing of lips and tongues was an invitation to paw at my clothing. And still others who believed kissing was a nuisance—unnecessary when in pursuit of an explosive climax. I will admit to breaking up with men who did not know how to kiss me, and I will also admit to marrying one of the few who did. 

And while I have relegated this discussion to the sharing of lips, I should point out that there are certainly many other types of kisses that can be planted on other body parts that also provide pleasure. Though I suspect a lack of appreciation for a kiss on the lips is reflective of an inability to bring pleasure with the lips elsewhere.

Obviously, I am very picky about how I am kissed. I am not, for example, thrilled when a man bathes my face with his tongue, forcing me to reach for a tissue to remove the residue. Nor do I appreciate it when a man bites down on my tongue or lips, drawing blood. Nips are fine, leaving teeth marks is just gauche. And I have never been a fan of a man who attempts to kiss me while his mouth is filled with foul-smelling food. That’s just gross. However, I have no doubt that what turns me off probably turns others on. Kissing is clearly an individual preference. 

I have dated a number of prominent men in my lifetime, and while my friends and relatives may have seen them as "prime catches," I had to walk away. I could not avoid the truth--no matter how much I liked and respected them, they simply did not know how to kiss me. Maybe that's a bit irrational on my part, but the way I see it, if you're going to be kissing someone for a lifetime, they had better have the skill to keep you interested.

In my opinion, kisses matter. Forget the six-pack, the full head of hair, the fat bank account, the sterling reputation.  A man needs to know how to kiss me!