Friday, September 15, 2017

The story behind The Garage Dweller!

I recently wrote a guest blog for author Lisabet Sarai about how my novella, The Garage Dweller, was born. If you'd like to take a peek, click on the link below!

Friday, September 8, 2017

9/11: Remembering all who have been harmed by terrorism

Among the featured characters in my books are international law attorneys Sheikh Harun Ali and Marianne (Mari) Benson Ali. They fight for the victims of terrorism around the world, seeking compensation from terrorists, terrorist organizations, and those countries who shield or fund them.

As the story progresses through the Kinky Briefs series, Harun and Mari become targets.  A failed kidnap in the Hague against Mari and an assassination attempt on Harun in Dubai brings them back together in the United States.  Unfortunately, even in this country, the wrath of terrorists is far-reaching.  As we leave them in Kinky Briefs, Thrice, another apparent attempt on their lives has been made, this time very close to their home in Wisconsin.

Why have I included a story about terrorism and violence in a collection of short stories about love?  Because love should stop for no one, even terrorists. And if we deny ourselves the chance at love and instead live in fear, the terrorists win.

 As Americans, on September 11, 2001, our lives changed forever. We watched in horror as two planes struck and destroyed the Twin Towers, and as another crashed into the Pentagon. We later learned that as passengers struggled with terrorists, another plane went down and exploded in a Pennsylvania field.

On that day, thousands of Americans died because others despised our way of life.  And we vowed, “Never again.”  At a time when our country faces an increasing threat from rogue nations and terrorists around the world, those words are even more meaningful.

North Korea, Iran, Pakistan and unknown other rogue nations are racing to build nuclear weapons.  Some plan to use those weapons, others plan to use those weapons as a defensive threat, and still others will probably sell them to the highest bidder—terrorists.  Unfortunately, despite an initial aggressive attack on terrorism, in America, in recent years, we became lax and now we are paying for it. Terrorists are regrouping and seem to be gathering strength, as witnessed by an increasing number of attacks around the world. The cancer has spread and become ingrained in almost every country as terrorists recruit the misguided and the disaffected.

Clearly, it is up to all nations to remain vigilant. In America, that begins and ends with keeping  the memory of the Sept. 11 victims, and the memory of those who have died defending our freedoms, alive.  We must fight terrorism at every opportunity to ensure that “never again” has real meaning.

God Bless America, and God Bless every nation and every person who has been touched by terrorism.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Finding Normal: PTSD in Romance Fiction

One of the many joys of writing fiction is that I am permitted to craft characters and plots that point to what I see as societal problems.

For example, I am a big supporter of veteran’s rights. When someone in the U.S. enlists in the military they enter into a formal contract. The soldier agrees to serve this country to the best of their ability and the government, in turn, promises them certain benefits. Though some may disagree, I believe our government has failed keep its end of the bargain. One needs to look no further than the troubled veteran’s health system.

War is hell, and those who engage in combat often do not escape unscathed—physically or mentally. For example, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a common problem, one that often goes untreated because returning soldiers are either undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, offered improper treatment, or denied access to treatment. As a result, there are significant incidents of suicide, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and criminal behavior. The U.S. Department for Veterans Affairs says the incidence of PTSD varies among “service era,” but offers the following statistics:

  • Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Between 11 and 20 out of every 100 veterans (11-20 percent) have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Gulf War (Desert Storm). Approximately 12 out of every 100 veterans or 12 percent have PTSD in a given year.
  • The Vietnam War. An estimated 15 out of every 100 veterans (15 percent) have been diagnosed with PTSD and 30 out of every 100 have had PTSD in their lifetime.

When a soldier returns to civilian life, he or she needs to find a new normal. I believe it is part of our contract to help them find it. This is America’s shame and way too many people want to bury it under a bushel.

That’s why I wrote, “Finding Normal,” the third chapter in Kinky Briefs, Thrice. In the story, U.S. Army veteran Alex Thomas struggles with finding his new normal after returning home from Afghanistan. He has faced the ravages of war and escaped the treacherous grip of death, yet he is scarred by what he has seen and experienced. Enter Judge Clarissa West, the owner of a Hippotherapy ranch and a St. Louis criminal court judge. She needs a ranch manager--“a cowboy with an M.B.A.”--to help her manage her legacy. As Clarissa helps Alex deal with his PTSD, he helps her save her ranch. Not surprisingly, what began as compassion leads to love.

By now, a few of you may be saying, “What a downer. You have no business putting that in romantic fiction.” I beg to disagree. Love is never perfect, and true love is about more than simple companionship and possibly, sexual heat. True love is about embracing each other’s differences, as well as faults and problems, and finding a constructive way to address or adjust to them. It begins with acceptance and it ends with commitment. And quite simply, trusting that someone else has your back.

In the end, I believe in the healing power of love. I believe that with love, most can find their new normal.

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!