Archive for September, 2011

The Tough Questions

I try to keep this blog focused, as best I can, on writing and related topics. Today I need to go off-topic because, well, I have kids. Specifically I have a smart, curious, seven-year-old boy who’s probably too bright for his own good. He certainly seems too smart for mine or my husband’s.

So I’m at the food court with the 7yo and his 3yo sister, and we’re about to enjoy some milkshakes (and in his case, chicken strips). And what does he ask me? I wish I could quote, but it was roughly: Can you tell me about the Twin Towers? My immediate response was the favorite of parents everywhere, the stalling question. “Who told you about that, kiddo?”

But I knew I’d have to answer, and I’ve known I would since he was born, pretty much. I worried about that a little more this year, with the tenth anniversary of the Sept 11 attacks, yet that date came and went with no questions on his part. Now, Sept 11 was of course a Saturday this year; I’m sure if he’d been in school, it would have come up and he would have asked sooner.

And there I am with a strawberry milkshake trying to pick out the simple, salient facts about that day. A day I well remember, as I was working in Arlington, VA, at the time and saw the debris from the Pentagon crash float down past the windows of my fourteenth story office. I tried. I told him that bad men had taken over the airplanes and crashed them into the Towers, and then more questions led to me explaining the Pentagon, and the crash of Flight 93 in Shanksville, PA.

It was weird, as he kept asking me questions that made me kind of back up. Why did they do it? What happened? Did people die? Did the hijackers die?

One thing you tend to forget is that kids can take a lot and they don’t internalize it or dwell on it the way adults do. Thank God, because otherwise we’d never read them fairy tales (seriously, if you’re an adult, go read a fairy tale — they’re freaking scary!). So I was as honest as I could be with a 7yo — I said yes, 3000 people died in NYC, and the hijackers did it because they were mad at the US, and they thought this would get them into heaven. I told him that yes, a plane crashed into the Pentagon, but killed fewer people for different reasons, including the construction of the building.

Ultimately, he seemed to take this more as a sort of adventure story, and I’m happy to leave it that way until he’s older and can take more information. There’s no need for him to know all the geo-political and foreign policy reasons and implications with all this. Hell, most adults still don’t understand all of that.

He followed this up today with questions about the French Revolution. And that was because we were playing a card game called “Guillotine.” I admit the game is a little morbid, but the drawings on the cards look very Disney, and damn if the 7yo doesn’t beat me more than half the time. Now the problem here is I don’t know much about the French Revolution, and so my answer was suitably vague but I hope not too wrong. “King Louis XVI kept taxing the people and spent too much money, and they got tired of it.” Something lke that.

And then, because he’s a kid, I guess, tonight I’m helping him floss his teeth. Let’s talk about something, he says. So I say okay, once there was this bakery and some of the bread got burned. No, he says, tell me something non-fiction. Like, about cancer (his grandfather was recently diagnosed with lung cancer).

No, no, I said, and told him about the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics and the “Miracle on Ice.” I also told him about the movie, “Miracle.”

Now, I think this is a great movie, so I figure I’d watch it and vet it to see if it’s appropriate for him. And you know, it probably is. There’s minimal profanity (a hell, a damn), no sex, and hey, it’s about hockey. So I set it going and watch the opening credits over a time line montage.

If he watches this, I may be on the hook to explain: Vietnam, Watergate, Nixon, Carter, the oil crisis, the Soviet Union and the Iranian Hostage Crisis.

As I sit here writing, the credits roll on “Miracle,” and I think I have the answer: Ask your dad. 😉

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New Story from Gemma Parkes

Just had to put out word that Gemma Parkes has a new story out, Submit to Me, at Yellow Silk Dreams.

Submit to Me!   

by Gemma Parkes

     David is about to discover how to please his demanding partner, Joseph takes pain with pleasure from a harsh Mistress, and Becky finds a kindred spirit with a lust for kinky Medieval sex…
Indulgent, erotic and very sexy,
Submit to Me! is a trio of delicious stories of exotic sex from the pen and deliciously naughty imagination of Gemma Parkes.

You can check out Gemma’s blog here, and happy reading!

Unsolicited advice

Okay, I can’t help it. I read advice columns — Carolyn Hax, Dear Margo, Dear Prudence at Slate.com, and others at Creators.com‘s advice page. I’m not crazy over Amy Alkon at Creators, nor Cary Tennis’ “Since You Asked” column at Salon.com, but I read them anyway. Dan Savage (warning: NSFW) is good for those who need straight answers to graphic questions.

But by a long shot, the advice column that makes me do a double take is S&M at Philly.com. The column is a weekly two-person effort by Steve & Mia, a 50-something guy and a 20-something woman. Click here for their latest column.

Now, I used to work for a news publishing company, so I’m well aware that things are tight in the newspaper biz, and that column inches are precious, etc. So I am not complaining specifically about the length of the replies. However, I am complaining about the know-nothing, flip answers that are given. I’m used to the sarcasm and snark that passes for hip humor in a lot of these columns, but I do think S&M go a bit beyond the pale. Often their columns make me think they must have gone, “Oh, damn! I have a deadline!”

The first letter is from a young woman who discovered in a previous relationship that she enjoys bondage, but doesn’t know how to approach this with her conservative fiance. Read the replies. Go on, I’ll wait. Okay, back? Can you believe that? Mia says just spring it on the guy out of nowhere and have some stockings handy; Steve says lay out a jump rope.

Come on, people, really?

I assume people writing into this column know what they’re getting into. But let’s assume they want a serious response. I’m absolutely no expert, but let’s try some common sense. So for Letter Writer (LW) #1, how about you try talking about this is a non-pressure, non-bedroom situation. S&M do the LW and her fiance a great disservice by seeming to ignore the description of him as “conservative and more religious” than the LW. I’ll extrapolate and assume that since a) they are engaged and b) they’re having sex, she has some idea of what the guy considers okay and what he considers not-quite-so-okay.

I’d suggest sitting down one evening, or afternoon, when you have nothing going on (or can delay anything that is) and bringing it up as non-confrontationally as possible. Don’t swamp him with websites and articles, although it might be good to have some ready to go when he’s up to it. There are a lot of potential obstacles here — religion aside, the fiance may be uncomfortable with the idea of bondage, and so just tossing down some scarves won’t cut it. I’d also say to the LW that she deserves — they deserve — to have this discussion because if not, their sex life will continue to be “not exciting” and that will not be a good thing for the marriage.

This is a pretty big issue, and one that a lot of people have trouble talking about and it deserved a better answer.

The second letter is from a woman who’s re-entering the dating scene and asks a simple question: How can she avoid the players?

Steve’s answer is useless; Mia’s is better, noting that there’s always the risk of meeting someone like that, but that LW2 has shown she can get out of a bad relationship. If necessary, she can get out of another. It won’t be fun, true, but it’s par for the course, no matter what age you are in the dating pool.

I’d go a little further, though, and remind LW2 that Match.com, and such other sites, are not the only way to meet people. There are friends, co-workers, volunteer efforts, etc. Or just running into someone and apologizing for spilling their coffee. I’d also warn that going into any situation where you’re meeting new people will go better if you can have a positive attitude, even if you have to fake it at first. And of course, the basic — be happy with who are and what you’re doing, because well, you’ve always got you.

The point, I suppose, is that it’s difficult enough to navigate relationships, and the sexual side of them, even with your spouse. Tell me you haven’t sat there wondering how to bring up something with your partner, even something simple like you wish they’d empty the trash when it gets full. Discussing sex is a lot harder, and people looking for help talking about it deserve better than these answers.

 

Hockey and romance

Tamara Clarke and I have found a funny little niche with writing romances that involve hockey. Most involve a hockey player as the male protagonist, although my first story, Ghosts of the Forum, did not. People enjoy them, and for that we’re glad. In fact, I’ve thought Gary Bettman, the NHL Commissioner, should give us some sort of ambassadorial bonus. We have had lots of people tell us how they now love hockey, or that they used to like it and now do again, or that they never thought they would. I have to admit some of my favorite comments are from readers in the UK, or Australia, who say they have only the vaguest idea of what ice hockey is and how it’s played, but they love it in the stories.

So how did it all start, one might ask?

Tamara Clarke, AKA MugsyB, wrote a story called The Ice, the Game, the Touch, and challenged readers to “identify” the hockey player that had inspired it. It took me a minute, but I got it, and emailed her, and we’ve been fast e-friends ever since. 🙂 Being a Caps’  fan, I said next she needed to do a story about her main character’s rival, and not too long after that, she obliged with The Ice in Russia. Then, she said, it was my turn.

As you may recall, a bit of competitive spirit is what got me writing in the first place, so naturally I had to try my hand. My first effort was Nothing Gets Through, in which I made a quick reference to one of Mugsy’s characters (can you find it?). That launched a fun little game of “tag” within our stories, tapping characters for reference until I suppose I took it to new heights in Numbers Game, when I borrowed many of Mugsy’s characters to fill out the friendship circle for my own.

Most comments have been very positive (and appreciated for it). A few have said, what is it with the hockey players? Well, here it is, for me.

Of all the major sports, I “know” hockey the best. I understand the rules, and I read the most about it, so I’m more familiar with what might happen off ice. And of course, last years’ 24/7 on HBO showed everyone a lot more than they’d see during a game broadcast. Many people have asked both Tamara and myself if we’d every write about other athletes; after some consideration, I decided if I did, it’d have to be baseball, but that’s another story.

Way back in 1986, my younger brother had the opportunity via Fox Sports to meet John LeClair, who at the time played for the Philadelphia Flyers. This was a big deal — I took off work in Virginia and drove up to New Jersey, and my Dad took off as well. We couldn’t have had a better time, and although we didn’t get to meet the players, my brother did, and they were all terrific when we later saw the footage. My dad asked the Flyers’ staff member who was taking care of us — who also worked for the 76ers — which group was easier to deal with, basketball players or hockey players. The staffer said hockey players, hands down; they were far more amenable to spur-of-the-moment requests for interviews, for example, and just all around easier to work with. (Sean Avery is a BIG exception. Bleah.)

I’ve digressed; my apologies. But I think you might be able to see how a hockey player translates into a reasonable romantic hero. A guy who is in good physical shape by necessity (no need make sure you mention gym visits), hence probably good-looking, and most likely not too full of himself (hockey is still a second-tier sport in the U.S., let’s be honest). Personalities can range from outgoing, to introverted, to whatever any other person is like. And as for the sex — did I mention the good physical shape?

Although I have no experience with it myself, I figure that the frequent travel schedule for any athlete has to make pursuing and maintaining a relationship difficult, so that’s fodder for a good romance. Or even just a good story; every story needs conflict. Not to mention other team duties/demands such as charitable events, autograph signings, etc. Athletes may “play a game” for a living, but that game is a lot of work, on and off the ice or field.

The hockey stories are fun, and I intend to keep writing them when ideas present themselves, so I hope you enjoy them. As long as Ms. Clarke is game (haha), I’ll keep playing tag. I have one in progress right now, in fact. And soon — real hockey! Season starts Oct 6!

Thieves of hearts

So, I was reading this book the other day, called “Eye of the God,” on my Kindle. It’s reasonably well-written and is about an attempt to steal the Hope Diamond from the Natural History Museum of the Smithsonian. It opens with an art theft in Rio de Janeiro, and then later our heroine, Abby, is targeted as a key of getting to the Hope Diamond by one of the thieves from Rio. I haven’t read it in a bit, but for now, I’m going to assume that the thief, Alex — who is posing as a National Geographic reporter — is going to fall for Abby and begin regretting his part in the heist. I could be wrong, and it would be an interesting change if I was, but for now that’s where I think it’s going.

And whether it is or not, it made me wonder, why are thieves presented as “heroes” in romantic/erotic fiction?

These are not your usual thieves, of course. These are thieves who (usually) steal jewels, and they do it for the thrill, or because they’ve decided that the people they’re stealing from won’t be hurt. The victims are rich and the jewels are insured, and everything is done, of course, to minimize anyone being hurt, let alone killed.

I’ve decided that this is stupid. They are thieves. They steal things that do not belong to them, because they think it’s fun.

I’m as big a Robin Hood fan as anyone else, although my preference is Erroll Flynn with Olivia de Havilland. I could in fact get behind someone like Jean Valjean, someone who has done everything they can and are forced into stealing because they have no choice. Robin Hood engaged in a somewhat extreme form of civil disobedience, depending on how you like the legend — the king was taxing his people into the ground, for no good reason, and Robin fought back. This kind of thievery has mitigating circumstances.

However, these jewel thieves that one sees so often as romantic heroes have nothing mitigating about them. They may have been poor and refused to be again (play me that violin, Miss O’Hara), or it may have been the family business, or perhaps they tried it once and got addicted to the thrill or the chase or what have you. Whatever, to them it is as valid a career choice as bookkeeping. What gets me is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen the heroine (usually not a thief) say anything like, “Hey, what you’re doing is wrong!”

What? This is a tough call?

I admit, one has less sympathy for Rich Man losing a diamond necklace than they do for Middle-Class Man losing his possessions. Because, basically, Rich Man can afford it, at least to our way of thinking and the little we know about his circumstances. However, stealing is stealing and it’s wrong, even if the victim can “afford” it. It’s not about who can afford what, it’s about the fact that taking things that belong to someone else is wrong, and is recognized by most societies and religion as such.

I know that “bad boys” and “bad girls” are a staple of romantic and erotic fiction, and that’s fine. We all like the guy in the leather jacket who rides the motorcycle and flips society the bird. And we like the woman who tosses her hair back and does the same. But there are bad guys, and there are bad guys.

A related tangent: A year or so ago, on Literotica, there was a story called Seven Days by Soular that was quite popular. A young black woman approaches the son of a mob boss in an effort to get some relief for her father, who owes them money. She refuses to back down and finally Mob Guy says okay, you spend seven days with me to do whatever I want and we’ll call it off; any “problems” result in an additional week. To start this off, he humiliates her by having her strip in front of a couple of his associates. Naturally by the end of the story, they are in love. If I recall, these characters were also voted sexiest male and female in the site’s annual awards.

In the current awards, a candidate for sexiest male is a Satan-worshipping lawyer involved in a BDSM relationship … with his sister.

WTF?

I’m all for fantasy in fiction (hey, I write about people who turn into tigers and wolves), and I’m perfectly willing to suspend some disbelief. But what is this about?

Does it have to do with the idea that women think they’ll be the one to change that guy, no matter how bad he is? Is it the vicarious thrill, knowing that most of us will never be in that situation?

I’m not saying that the lawyer is not good-looking, or a well-developed character (although I haven’t read the story), or anything like that. I am saying — what about this is sexy? What is sexy about a guy who makes a woman strip down just for laughs and to assert his control in the situation?

Give me a mild-mannered hockey player any day.

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