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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

As Birthdays Go

I just had another one. They seem to roll around twice as fast as they did when they were something I looked forward to. No matter how hard you try to tell yourself they're just another day, another year, they still have a great deal of significance in our lives. Birthdays, that is. A day ranked in childhood second only to Christmas in terms of anticipation, now wedged between the other days of another busy week and greeted with mild alarm at how high the number has grown.

This was my sixty-third. Not a particularly significant number. Last year was the magic "run to the Social Security Office and start collecting your pittance." Next year I can sing "When I'm Sixty-Four" and remember how impossibly old that seemed when the record came out in 1967, when I was impossibly young. This year is just plain old sixty-three but, as birthdays go, it was surprisingly good.

I've never really considered my birthday anything too important. As a child I had the annual cake and ice cream with family, and a few years there was a small party with friends. The year I turned twelve, my mother went to a great deal of effort and threw a dance party for about twenty school friends. The main thing I remember about that party is the minute the music started, the boys all ran to one corner of the room in a panic, and the girls danced the night away--with each other. Overall, it fell far short of my expectations.

Since my birthday is so close to that most romantic of holidays, St. Valentine's Day, many years the two have been celebrated as one with a single dinner out with my significant other. That works for me and the budget. I've come to associate my birthday with red roses and chocolate, the first of which I can take or leave, the second of which is a staple of my diet. I've always empathized with those born on Christmas Day, one gift often does for both, but folks are less likely to forget your birthday.

This year was typical with one noted exception. No dinner out with the love of my life. He's battling back from an injury just now--limited to three trips a week to PT and church on Sunday--so we passed on going out. There'll be other years for that. Meanwhile, we're enjoying simply being together here at home. That's a gift in itself.

By far, the nicest thing about this birthday was the virtual shower of greetings from family, from old friends, and from new friends I've only "met" through social media. It really is heartwarming to think someone who only "knows" me based on random thoughts I post on FB took the time to wish me a happy day. That's a phenomenon we couldn't have dreamed of back when a few cards in the mailbox constituted a big event. It was really nice, that steady flow of greetings throughout the day, sort of a "drop in" party I didn't have to get dressed up for.

As birthdays go, this one was actually pretty special. If I felt a little older, a little slower than I'd like, I also felt thoroughly uplifted by so many "Happy Birthday!" messages on my timeline. A friend in Tennessee sent me a beautiful bouquet of vibrant cyber balloons while another in Vermont posted a picture of two elegant little girls enjoying an elaborate tea party--the two of us when we were young and gay, don't we wish! One of my "reader" friends sent wishes to one of her "favorite authors," which is one of the nicest things anyone can ever say to me! Best of all was the video message from our great-granddaughter Emma, who is two and may have had just a little technical support from her mommy, our beautiful granddaughter, Meagan. We've never met Emma face to face, but thanks to FB, we've watched her grow from a preemie weighing in at under two pounds to a walking, talking, smiling toddler. To hear her sweet voice echoing her mother's note for note was enough to start my birthday off with a few tears and a very, very warm heart. If I have to keep having birthdays, I'll hope for lots more like this one!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

RomCon Guest Blog

Please check out my post today on RomCon.com to get full the story of how Shannon's Daughter, my historical romance/redhaired stepchild became an audibook. Thanks to RomCon for hosting and all of you for reading and leaving a comment!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Hearts, flowers, violins and love stories!

Light some candles, draw yourself a bubble bath, open a box of chocolates, and indulge in a little romance this weekend. Sweet, sensual, historical or contemporary, no matter how you like your love story, you'll find it here!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What I Should Have Said About 50 Shades, Etc.

First a story, then a confession.

 I'm a writer of love stories. So it's only fitting that I tell one here. It may sound familiar. But I swear it's original. I haven't borrowed the characters or the plot. They're all mine. So here goes.

Once upon a time, there was a man who lived all alone in a nice home in a prestigious neighborhood with a comfortable income from a highly respected profession. In the same city was a single mother living with her two small children in a low-income apartment complex, working full time at a minimum wage job, driving a run-down car, running out of options. Fate brought the two together and the man saw an opportunity to better both their lives. He approached the woman, stating his intention to marry her, take care of her and her children, give her the kind of life she'd never dared dream of. To convince her of his love, for he said he loved her at first sight, he showered her with gifts, practical things like groceries and car repairs, and luxurious things like clothes and lingerie and jewelry. He took her to fine restaurants and the theater, took her shopping for more clothes, and read her children bedtime stories, which was worth more than all the gifts he could ever give her. He also confessed to her how unhappy a man he was before she came along, how mistreated he'd been by his mother and his neurotic first wife and his disloyal children. Her heart went out to this sensitive, generous man and she vowed to make him as happy as was humanly possible, whatever it took. Because she loved him.

They were married, but not before the man revealed a quick temper. He even confessed that he'd hit his first wife a few times, but only to prevent an argument from escalating when she became hysterical. He was so sincere, this woman he was about to marry sympathized with his shame at resorting to such barbaric behavior. And married him anyway. Because he loved her now, and she loved him.

As soon as they were married, he began a course of instruction in everything she should do to be the perfect wife. How to dress, how to eat, how to keep house, how to discipline her children, how to satisfy his sexual needs. The right books to read, the kind of music to listen to, what to believe in. He showed her how foolish it was to waste time with her old friends, how her family resented him for giving her the things they hadn't, what she needed to do to prove her loyalty to him. If he sometimes became impatient with her progress, she understood the demands of his profession along with a new family were enough to try any man's patience and she worked harder to keep him happy. He loved her. He only wanted the best for her. He told her that so often, how could she doubt it? To prove how sorry he was for his little outbursts, there were always presents and lots of loving gestures. Life was good, until the next outburst.

People who saw them together remarked on how loving they were. It was sweet to see a couple show so much affection, to see two people so in tune with one another, who had the same tastes and shared the same opinions. Two halves of a whole. A real, modern-day romance in action.

Had those same people seen them at home, heard his tone of voice and seen her scurry to anticipate his needs, seen the children retreat to their rooms, felt the ever-present tension in the air, they might have thought differently. Or they might have said that no matter his demands or her submission, regardless of those ugly moments, never mind her isolation, theirs was a love story. They might have forgiven him, as she did, because of his sad past, and applauded her for adapting to meet the needs of a man she loved. They might have excused him for striking out at those closest to him, while putting such a good face on his professional persona, because a man had to let off a little steam somewhere.

As time passed he stopped trying to control his temper, declaring that was his personality and she should accept it, and she continued to believe if she worked harder, he'd be happier, or at least not so unhappy. Her love for him allowed her to live in denial, to make excuses, and defend his behavior. His love allowed him to tighten the control, increase the isolation, and escalate the violence of his outbursts. He'd go to any lengths to keep her. She was the light of his life, in fact his reason for living. Without her, he wouldn't be able to go on. She stayed, because she loved him, and she was terrified of what might happen to both of them if she tried to leave.

Gradually she came to the realization that a man who loves a woman doesn't control her, or change her, or criticize her, or demean her to prove his love. And a woman who loves a man shouldn't have to pretend he's never wrong, or defend his violent behavior, or choose between her husband and her family. Slowly, over a period of months, her eyes were opened to the possibility that life had more to offer than fear, and her self-respect began to return. She'd done her best. Loving him hadn't made his life better, while it had all but destroyed hers. Loving him was never going to sooth his anger or heal his old wounds. Loving him was going to kill her over time, if he didn't do it sooner. Leaving was a risk she was willing to take, once she understood the risk she took with every day she stayed.         The end.

 A powerful, wealthy, dominating man and a naive, submissive, loving woman. Sound familiar?It should. It's the plot for tens of thousands of popular novels. The phrase "I own you" has become interchangeable with "I love you" and a man who takes charge of  a woman's life, whether she asks him to or not, has become a romantic ideal. The dark, damaged hero and the woman who'll give up everything to "heal" him works well with everything from billionaires to English lords to vampires. But in reality there's a risk to these tales. We can easily go too far under the guise of a love story, permitting dominance and abuse to be portrayed as loving. I'm not talking about BDSM, which I have no real knowledge of. I'm talking about one partner seizing power over the other in the name of love. Having lived that relationship, I can testify to just how unromantic it very quickly becomes.

 Now it's confession time--As recently as last week, when I mentioned that Grey movie in a post here, I was still deluding myself about certain books and the frightening way they reflect our culture and our attitudes toward domestic abuse. Thanks to a number of articles, blog posts, and reviews I've seen since, not to mention the social  media discussions making the rounds, I'm now off the fence. My indifference, my take or leave it, that's your opinion and I respect it, what harm can it do, it's just a movie I won't see based on a book I haven't read, no need to comment attitude is gone. What changed my mind? I finally recognized the striking similarities between that story and my own.

I would refer you to the post here titled "Why I Stayed" for more on my personal journey. For now, let me say I'm shocked and embarrassed that I failed to see sooner how closely my experience fits the genre of so many novels currently riding the wave of success E.L James achieved with her books. I did not read Fifty Shades of Grey, but I have read others with the same plot and fallen for the same premise I've heard stated by others--it's a love story. Yes, it is. But it's the kind of love story that, in real life, rarely if ever ends happily. Rarely does the woman change the man by staying, by surviving the manipulation, the disrespect, the domination and isolation. And rarely does the abusive behavior end because the man sees the error of his ways when faced with losing the woman he loves.

By the time I understood how my marriage must end, with me walking away and not looking back, I also understood that "I love you" is a relative phrase. At its purest, it expresses caring, support, respect and admiration. At its worst, it expresses ownership, denying the "beloved" the right to be themselves. That is not love, my friends. That is abuse. Whether it be physical or psychological, the end result is destruction of another human being through dominance. Romanticizing manipulation, pretending it represents the desire to nurture and protect, is sending a message to our sons that love means taking not giving, and our daughters that to be loved requires self-denial and submission. That message has taken generations to discredit. How can we justify promoting it under the guise of romance now?

I would never presume to tell anyone what they can write or what they can read. And I certainly have nothing to say to the choices consenting adults make in their most private lives. But please, for the love of women and men, don't ignore the converse reality of these beguiling fantasies. On paper, even on film, they may have a certain appeal, an innocent means to escape the daily grind. In reality, down the street or across the office from you right this minute, there's a woman who's suffered at the hand of a man she loves. Statistics tell us three in five women will meet with abuse from a man she knows. That's you, me and one other woman out of five in a room. I dare say most thought at some point they loved and were loved by that man. Until our eyes are opened, along with our minds, those numbers will remain unchanged. How can we be outraged by the sight of a man striking a woman in an elevator, and become aroused by a man inflicting pain on a woman in a "playroom?" That may sound harsh, but so is being on the receiving end of "punishment," wherever it takes place. 

My apologies to anyone with whom I've discussed this subject if I failed to state my position. I missed an chance to express the need for a united voice against domestic abuse of every kind. As a woman, a writer, and a survivor, I know my position and my responsibility. Read what you like, see the film, engage in the fantasies. But please don't be deluded into believing  these fictional relationships translate into real life love stories. Love does not control or punish. Love never manipulates or demands submission. Remember that except in the rarest of cases such as these, only fictional love will overcome the odds to reach that happily ever after.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

50 Shades and Other Gray Areas

I have this annoying backlog of thoughts and impressions telling me they'd like to become a post. Now seems as good a time as any, what with the film version of that Grey movie about to hit the screens, to inject a bit of color here--sorry, but pun definitely intended.

Now before you get the wrong impression and either click off or find yourself disappointed, let me assure you of something. I'm not a prude. I can appreciate a shirtless male as much as the next woman who's lived six decades and seen her fair share in every shape, size and condition. I admire a handsome masculine face and form, a bit of swagger and attitude, whether it be dressed as Mr. Darcy, Thor or--well, not at all. Like many women of too many generations to count now, Michelangelo's David set the standard for me and nothing has topped it so far. All that said, there's a risk in too much of any good thing.

As a writer, I feel compelled to keep a close watch on the market, which if your genre is romance, involves cover art featuring a vast array of scantily clad individuals. A few decades back, the bodice-ripper Fabio-inspired cover was all the rage, so a hoard of buxom females and brawny males, their clothing in suggestive disarray, dominated the shelves of every bookstore. These days couples are still popular--couples embracing, couples in anatomically impossible positions unless they happen to be trained contortionists, couples caught in the act of disrobing, or just caught in the act. But when it comes to exposed flesh, the males lead the pack. There's nothing wrong, I repeat, with a nicely honed male torso, but it seems unfortunate that this has lead to a heck of a lot of covers featuring--not to put too fine a point on it--nipples.

Just browse for books in any romance sub-genre, and whether they be Highland warriors, Cowboys, Billionaires, any species of shape-shifter, even Regency era aristocrats, the prevailing image includes a nicely developed set of pectorals. Some covered in hair, some sporting tattoos, others dripping with what is presumably sweat but might indicate a recently interrupted shower or a brisk walk in the pouring rain. We don't get much clue as to the plot, other than the assurance that one of the male characters at some point in the story removes his shirt. Since in many cases we don't even get a glimpse of his face, we have to assume from what we can see that he might also have a nice smile or a piercing glance. Apparently all the publisher thinks we care about is how much time he spends in the gym.

My concern is this. How many gorgeous male bodies can we look at before we start reaching for enough shirts to cover at least a few of them? Given the current number of semi-naked cover models, we may be headed for a serious backlash. Already, thanks to Mr. Grey, we've been reprogrammed to recognize a starched shirt, custom-tailored suit and, of course, a necktie, as the supreme image of masculine eroticism. A successful businessman shooting his cuffs likewise implies his story will leave the reader panting for more. It seems fans of romance novels want it all exposed, or all covered up, but nothing in between.

Surely there are gray areas here, room for a bit of originality. Put a period-appropriate shirt on that Highland warrior, but allow him to show a bit of thigh. A form hugging T-shirt, maybe even one with a strategic tear ala Stanley Kowalski, or a classy, clinging  cashmere sweater would suggest the wealth beneath without giving away too much. And in my humble opinion, there's nothing more intriguing than the view provided by an open shirtfront.

I confess that I don't expect this exploitation of male beauty to end any time soon. My real point here is simple. Everything in moderation, please. A little more suggestion, a bit of teasing temptation, a bit less exposure and a bit more left to the imagination. And never fear, every woman who believes in romance has a vivid imagination. It comes with the territory.