Running To Stand Still

When my kids were little and we would go to the park I was constantly stopping them from taking time to stand on the edge of the pond and watch the ducks, or climbing on rocks. I wanted to keep moving on our walk and get home where, ironically, we really had nothing pressing to do. I was on self-imposed White Rabbit time, always late, always busy to get to … what? The end the walk? The end of my day? The end of my life?

I’ve been reading “The Skinny, Sexy Mind: The Ultimate French Secret” in preparation for the next novel series I plan to write. The book’s title really doesn’t describe the content well. I’m almost finished and still not sure what a skinny mind is. The part that has made sense, and made this a book definitely worth reading, is the American author’s analysis of how two years living in France helped her to overcome a long history of eating disorders. It has a lot to do with the rushing, racing to nowhere mentality that is so common in the United States and that I describe above. 

What she discovered in France (and I am rediscovering through her book) is an attitude of joie de vivre or joy of life. Americans think they get the concept, but what we really get is something like french fries, we think it’s what they have in France when it’s actually an Americanized version. Joie de vivre done our way is streamlined and fast and as copious as possible. Which is absolutely silly when you know the true meaning. 

The true meaning has to do with pleasure and guilt. The author, Trish Blackwell, learned to give herself lots of the first with none of the second. Generally, French women don’t do guilt, because most of them really don’t give a damn what you think about them. Their focus is on living their own life and getting as much pleasure and joy from it as possible. It’s summed up in one of the many quotes I highlighted, “When the focus of your life is more directed towards impressing or competing with others, you have sacrificed your ability to live your own life.”

Trish Blackwell’s eating disorders were the result of her competing, in her mind, with every other female around her. No matter how hard she tried the woman she saw in the mirror was in some way physically inferior to some other woman. She was literally running as fast as she could to a finish line that she was moving closer and closer with her actions, her own death.

It takes guts to for an American woman to declare that she is living for pleasure and has sworn off guilt. It flies in the face of our puritan work ethic and ultra competitiveness. Other women will be the first to pin scarlet letters to your chest: bad mother, selfish, indulgent, lazy. At a party recently I admitted that I have no interest in a mega cardio workout because I happen to like my curves and really don’t want them to disappear (plus is sounded like a horrid form of torture). Most struggled for a response to that announcement. 

And joie de vivre is about so much more than food and weight. It’s about slowing down and saying no to stuff that adds nothing to your life. Today the morning news show was one guilt ridden statement after another about not finishing Christmas shopping or decorating on time. Guilt is the national conversation and obsession but does it really add anything to your life? Would anyone on your gift list think less of you or reject a gift because it showed up late? (I know I accept gifts anytime someone wants to give them–day late, year late, it’s all good.) 

I celebrated the solstice yesterday, slowly, quietly, with no agenda but my own. It was fantastic, a true slice of joie de vivre. It’s an overcast day today but my little dehydrated orange slices look sunny and sweet hanging in my window. I love them because they are a reminder to slow down or even stop–all my competing and obsessing–all my running to stand still.

Celebrating Light and Warmth and Peace and Quiet

One of my favorite days is coming up this Sunday, the winter solstice. I’ve never formally celebrated the shortest day of the year, but I’ve always done a little happy dance in my mind that, little by little, the days will now start getting longer. 

I’m not exactly a fan of winter. Around our house I am known as the human popsicle. When the temp hovers anywhere near freezing my hands and feet turn to ice and I feel a chill all the way to my bones. I can lay under a huge pile of blankets and still have icy hands and feet. 

I am a huge fan of sunlight and warmth and spring. Longer, warmer days mean more time to go to my favorite park and walk. Spring means flowering trees. The early ones are the best. I’m thrilled every time I spot a burst of color in all the brown of a just-budding forest.  

So this Sunday I am planning, for the first time, to celebrate the day that marks the turning point back toward light and warmth. I feel a little crazy taking this on. Christmas obligations are barreling down and threatening to run over me already. The news this morning was one frantic reminder after another how many days I have left before I must skid to the red and green finish line, sweating and breathing hard, holding the appropriate number of gifts and cards and dressed in the my ugly sweater, bearing huge trays of homemade cookies and party food, ready to produce a feast for my family. 

Christmas craziness is actually another reason I want to celebrate the solstice–I’m going to declare a one day moratorium from the frenzy and chaos and noise. I’m creating a little celebration where anyone is welcome, but no one is obliged to join me. I’m going to string a few little twinkle lights across a window because they always make me smile. I’m going to add a few springs of pine because the smell will remind me of how great it smells outside. My one project for the day will be to thinly slice and dry and orange in the oven. When finished the house will smell like sunny citrus and when hung in the window the slices look like sunny stained glass–well worth the effort.

Then, the best part–quiet. When everyone else is asleep I’ll plug in my twinkle lights and lay down and watch them. Around midnight, when we turn the corner toward spring I’ll do that happy dance in my mind and I’ll think about the year ahead and all the things I am looking forward to. If it’s a clear night I’ll find a few wishing stars to pin my hopes on them for good things for my friends and family and me.

Whether you decide celebrate or not I wish all of my readers a calm, peaceful longest night and many warm, sunny days to come.

Is Sex in Romance Novels Necessary?

For both of my current novels and most likely all of my future novels I include a disclaimer letting readers know that my writing is intended for readers age 17 and older. I believe in using realistic language in dialogue and I believe that sex is necessary for my romance novels.

Not all romance writing contains sex scenes. There are stories featuring couples who are too young and stories that focus on all the other aspects of a relationship. Some readers consider sex to be a private act, even for fictional couples–something not discussed or described in polite company. I get that. Despite my writing, I am not known for kissing and telling on myself. I’m not one to sit around and dish on my sex life with my friends. But I see sex when writing about a couple’s relationship as vital to me telling their story.

Sex is the physical representation of their relationship. So many things left unsaid can be demonstrated through a couple’s sexual contact. Most of the men I know are not particularly verbal when it comes to their emotions, they prefer physical demonstrations. Women’s communications are replete with subtext and subtly that can be more easily expressed through sex. Good sex scenes are not only fun to read (and can bring on rounds of real sex), but they also give an author a huge toolbox of ways to demonstrate the dynamics of a relationship.

Bad sex scenes don’t do this. Bad sex scenes are like most porn–one dimensional, sophomoric, repetitious. Face it, there are only so many ways you can have a couple of undeveloped characters insert tab A into slot B and have it be interesting. Bad erotic romance writing (and there is good out there) relies on lots of descriptions of how “hot” the man and woman look, their physical perfections, and how much they get off on looking at each other. It also relies on contortionist positions or exotic locations (although a billionaire’s desk/penthouse/plane have become a required cliche).  Sex is a physical language that bad erotica reduces to a twenty-word vocabulary.

Used to further demonstrate a couple’s love (or lack thereof), sex is so much more than the legal definition. In my first novel, Burnouts, Geeks & Jesus Freaks, the female character has experienced all-too-common bad teenage sex. She doesn’t understand why others are so excited about this frankly dull act with a selfish man. The male lead, Ben, is a conflicted virgin. He respects his first girlfriend’s choice not to have sex before marriage, but he realizes he is years from being willing to make that kind of commitment and full of the natural urges of a teenager. The relationship that develops between these two is sexual and that is one of the key elements to their connection. The couple they become would be incomplete without it. Through their sex life Ben shows Carrie what affection is like from an unselfish man and Carrie allows Ben to discover the sexual side of himself without feeling like a pervert.

Bad sex is a fantastic way to allow characters to show unvented feelings–a kiss ended too soon, lack of eye contact, repetition or speed are all ways to give readers another piece of the puzzle.

Then there are all the social norms that surround sex. (That could be several more posts.) I am currently reading Fear of Flying, Erica Jong’s 1973 runaway best seller that sold millions of copies with the promise of her catch phrase “a zipless f*ck”. Compared to current erotic romances, it’s tame. But it is an insight into the sexual revolution of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Freed from the fear of pregnancy by the pill for the first time in the history of mankind, women struggled (and still do) to redefine the role and rules of sex. If you read it for a cheap thrill, you’ll be disappointed. If you read it as one story of the tentative steps women were making into a very brave new world, it’s fascinating.

And that’s what characters allow us to do. They allow us to go where me might not go ourselves. They allow us to play out scenarios and stories of “what if”, which can be exciting and empowering and comforting and deeply emotional when those stories shine some light and insight into the taboo subject of sex.

Strong Women

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a woman strong. I’m in the planning stages of my next series which, at this time, will be eight books featuring a central character, Vivianne. She is my reason for wanting to write the series and she will have to be a very strong character to carry the story line for that long.

In assembling the elements that will make her an interesting, engaging character I’ve studied stereotypes, role models, heroines, and trend setters. I went to see “Mockingjay Part 1” and was impressed with Katniss. She possesses not only physical skills, but also fierce loyalty, fight, and undying hope. 

I am in love with all the women on the HBO series “The Newsroom”. Aaron Sorkin created females who are intelligent, clever, self-effacing, and unapologetically female and sexual. These women don’t dumb down or diminish any part of themselves to please others and they inspire me.

Then I discovered Nimue and I knew I had found the final piece of this character. Although a minor character in the King Arthur legend, she fascinated me. She is the female everyone overlooks and underestimates, but she knows her own power. She hides in plain site and lets everyone believe she isn’t a threat and in doing so befriends, counsels and influences kings, queens and magicians. Her power is her quiet and sweetness, comfort and understanding–beautiful irony. 

I saw women who I had once written off as just plain weird in a whole new light. I may not agree with everything Madonna or Angeline Jolie have done, and each has made some very public blunders, but both are definitely strong. They have a unique perspective that they are not afraid to live. They are living life on their own terms. That became my definition of a strong woman. 

The beauty in that statement is that it holds true and can encompass all women. Your own terms may include being a full-time mom or choosing not to have children. Your terms may include no marriage, a single marriage or many. You might choose to focus on your career or to dedicate your time to charity work. And actually, these are not either/or scenarios. Strong women don’t allow others or society to tell them that they cannot be or have exactly what they want even if it may seem contradictory. They can be a deeply religious gay woman or a CEO/mommy in fifty shades of pink. 

Strong women write their own unique story.

I’ve been inspired by Vivianne and her story is still in the beginning stages. I want her to be exciting and interesting. I want her to make readers laugh and think. But I don’t want her to be a morality tale or a how-to guide. She will live her life her way and hopefully inspire women (and men) to have the strength to do the same.