Spinning my wheels

I do love a good fairy tale. But they’ve cleaned most of them up to get rid of all the really good parts, in order to make them acceptable to parents of today’s much more sheltered children. (Pretty sure the old medieval storytellers had fewer qualms… of course, when you only live to be 25, childhood is forcibly much shorter anyway!)

For this erotic fairy tale, I took something fundamentally unsexy — a brutish king obsessed with gold, a pitiful girl doomed to die, and a tricky dwarf who only helps her in return for promises of increasing value — and plopped in right into the middle of pre-Colonial India. So there! Fixed it! Have I mentioned that I think saris are the most physically flattering traditional clothes? Something about the modesty of a veil, with the flash of midriff, and an elegant pleated skirt, just really spells seduction. I enjoyed using that beautiful garment to great effect in Little Big Man & The Rani.

Honestly, this one was purely for the fun of it. And you’ll have fun, too, if you grab it on pre-order today! It will be delivered to you, freshly e-printed, on June 30th. Just in time for summer reading season!

rani cover

Foam on the Sea

I’m on a fairy tale kick lately. It has long been my goal to reimagine some of my favorite old stories in new (and sexier) ways, and to that end I’ve got lots of ideas scribbled down. Two of those ideas actually evolved into complete stories — available for pre-order now, to be released on June 30th.

The first one I want to share is a blending of Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ (yes, the depressing version, where after her deal with the witch the poor mermaid’s every step feels like a thousand knives, the prince dumps her, and her dead body disintegrates into foam on the sea… Scandinavians aren’t known for their happy endings!) and the Celtic legend of selkies, or seal-people.

I really got sucked into this story. It was a fun challenge to imagine this kind of magical creature, all woman on the outside, but somehow animal within. Selkies had the reputation of being excellent wives and mothers, but they always long for the sea. If they find the hiding place of their stolen sealskin, the selkie will not hesitate to snatch it back and return to the waves from whence she came. It’s such a sad and beautiful legend… the perfect match for our Little Mermaid of sea-foam fame.

If you’re curious, pre-order today! I think you won’t regret it. ūüôā

selkie cover DONE

Summer is Coming!

Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, it stays light out until 9 o’clock… yes, summer is almost here! And as usual, I’ll be doing some big giveaways to celebrate my vacation. (Hope you get a summertime break, too!)

Also, for the first time, I’ve decided to release three short stories at the same time. Another first for me is making them available for pre-order. I know, so many firsts, it’s crazy! All three stories will be released on June 30th. But you know you want to be the first to read them, right? So pre-order right now!

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The first story I want to highlight is an intensely personal one. I’ve mentioned this only briefly, but I lived in Senegal, West Africa for two years in the mid-2000’s. I was a Peace Corps Volunteer stationed in a very small village with all the usual amenities: a mud hut, a grass roof, a well, and a dirt road. And peanuts. Lots of peanuts. It was an incredible (and incredibly challenging) experience. This story is loosely based, not on actual Peace Corps service, but on something I observed during a short – but very informative – trip to the beach.

Senegal has a long Atlantic coastline – no surprise the national dish is fish stew over rice! It has charming coastal villages, brightly painted pirogues, and broad, white-sand beaches. Basically a tourist’s dream… especially if said tourists are also interested in sex. I am hardly an expert, but I saw with my own eyes that it’s the thing to do: both women and men engaging in casual vacation sex with gorgeous beachside companions.

As a young observer, I was disturbed by this. Especially given my background knowledge of poverty in Senegal, and the many dreams of foreign wealth I heard about daily. ¬†Of course I understood and sympathized with the young Senegalese – they were taking advantage of a rare opportunity to make some money. What I did not understand was the many¬†European tourists who came down, not just for the sun, but for the sex. It disturbed me for the simple reason that those White tourists, by the simple fact that their currency is worth more, had huge economic power. Yet they carelessly reinforced a backward kind of modern colonialism. Taking what they wanted from an ‘exotic’ country, and not bothering to truly understand it. Money flying everywhere, all to create the version of Senegal that suited them – a version that includes beautiful, available, anonymous, and cheap (currency exchange, again!) sexual partners.

I’m all for sex work. Legalize everything! But only if sex workers are truly treated fairly, as equals providing a service to other equals. Sex tourism – at least as I observed it – is based fundamentally on the economic superiority of one person, and relative vulnerability of the other. Sad stuff, guys.

And not sexy. Yet, I wanted to explore it, shed some light on it. And also, you know, write a good story. What I accomplished, I think, is some of my best work yet. It sheds some light on this small sliver of Senegal, while also (I hope!) crafting what turned out to be a heartfelt, and sexy, love story.

I hope you enjoy! And remember to pre-order, y’all!

senegal beach cover

Sources for further reading about sex tourism in Senegal:

https://www.pri.org/stories/2010-04-29/senegal-draws-tourists-sun-sea-and-sex

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maya-lau/senegalese-sex-tourism_b_952640.html

http://www.nswp.org/timeline/event/sex-work-legalised-senegal

 

The Sad and Shocking Truth…

… is that, although I write romance and erotica, I honestly don’t read a lot of either.

Because so much of it is bad.

I know! That’s a terrible thing to say! (Especially for someone in my business.) But here’s how it came about. I was down in Portland (Oregon, not Maine) last weekend, and made the inevitable pilgrimage to Powell’s City of Books. (Don’t know it? You haven’t LIVED until you’ve been there! Hope remains for independent bookstores, yet!) Anyway, as anyone who’s ever been to Powell’s knows, it’s organized by genre. Eagerly I perused the aisles of historical fiction, contemporary fiction, graphic novels, classics brought to the forefront again, even the latest-and-greatest nonfiction on display. At last, my arms full of books, I ventured into the back corner, behind the cafe, where they stash all the romance and erotica.

From the moment I entered, I felt turned off. What met my eyes was shelf upon shelf of waxed, muscular, glowering male torsos (in various states of undress, to indicate their respective settings), swooning maidens, and cringe-worthy titles. (“His Christmas Bride,” anyone?) I did my best to give a couple covers a chance, but the blurbs had me running back. Back, back into the relative safety and dignity – indeed, the superior sexiness – of the other fiction aisles.

So what gives? Why is so much romance and erotica so god-awful bad? Honestly, it bums me out, because a story without sex is like bread without butter for me. (Hence my lackluster appreciation of YA… but that’s for another post.) Also, I know for a fact that there are many excellent erotica and romance writers out there, who do far more with their work than deliver the necessary bump and grind. And yet, romance remains a genre I am hesitant to read – despite my interest and appreciation of its content – because the vast majority is, sadly, unpalatable. (Even more appalling… might I be lumped in with authors of such books? Worse, is my writing just as – gulp – bad?!)

What is a person like me to do? I love sexy books, but I also love GOOD books. They have to be one and the same! And that, alas, is the pickle. Until we readers demand smart, literary erotica that stimulates our minds as well as our tingly bits, Powell’s is going to have to keep that section hidden in the far corner of the cafe. Where few people venture anyway, and with good reason.

Vive la difference?

Everyone knows that opposites attract. Right? That’s like, the oldest rule of coupling up, or creating fictional couples that belong together. Every romance writer knows, the heroine invariably detests the hero right off the bat — usually for his aggravating confidence and disarming seduction skills — but as the story wears on, she discovers he’s actually a total catch, does a 180, and bam! Opposites come together in a burst of fireworks. (Personally, I blame Jane Austen for all this.)

Of course, in real life things don’t usually happen that way. If you can’t stand a guy when you meet him, chances are you’ll never like him that much. Probably you’re right, and he really IS a jerk. Moreover, when you are attracted to someone in the first place, it’s usually for an entirely different reason: because you have things in common.

I still remember a college Biology class teaching us that some animals actually are attracted to difference. The more different the better! Orange bird gets the hots for blue bird of same species, for example. Then the professor asked us, “And what about humans? Are we attracted to differences, or to similarities?” Of course, we all parroted ‘opposites attract!’ And then she showed us a bunch of engagement photos. Like these:

(All courtesy of Google image search; click to go to source site)
View More: http://angelicacriscuolophotography.pass.us/marlonleslywashington-dc-lesbian-engagement-session-lgbt-37

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First of all, I’d like to say that I wish all of these lovely couples the very best! Long life, happy marriage, and all the good things that go with both. Anyway, as you can see — and as I saw all those years ago in Biology class — most couples are together because, well, they look alike. Because they ARE alike. They have a lot in common. That’s why they’re getting married!

And before you say anything like ‘But what about multiracial couples?’ I will counter by saying that, at least to me, ‘looking alike’ has less to do with the shape of your face, your height, size or shape, or color of your skin, than it does with your expression, the way you carry yourself, and how your personality shows. Kind of like how people grow to look like their dogs, right? And vice versa? Same thing for couples. (My mother-in-law took a look at our wedding photos and proclaimed that my husband and I both had the same smile; they could cut and paste them on our mouths and you wouldn’t know the difference! Doesn’t say much for my shade of lipstick… too discreet, maybe.) So whatever combination you happen to have made, I would bet you and your honey, set side by side, would ‘look like a couple.’ Am I right? Right. Let’s move on.

The reason I’m blogging about this today is because I’m thinking about what it all means for romance writers. Opposites attract, yes, but similarities are what bring staying power to a relationship. Therefore, when developing your characters, keep in mind that they must have more in common than not, if they are to be believable. ¬†Maybe they are the same height,¬†either much taller or shorter than ‘average.’ Perhaps they have a similar interest that ties them together, and affects the way they dress or behave. In lots of couples, both partners wear glasses. Something as simple as that, and yet it can make all the difference.

So let those hot opposites sparkle, crash, and burn, and vive les similaires!

An Evening in Pearls

Those of you who are my avid blog readers know that my husband and I did something fun for Christmas: a sexy advent calendar. Needless to say, it made the December countdown much hotter! Among the goodies to be found in those little numbered boxes was a pearl thong.

pearl-thong-9
Mine is very much like this little number, only en noir!

There are many variations of this sexy little item. Mine happens to be black stretch lace, with small, faceted jet beads going all the way up and down, front to back. Naturally, I was curious to try it! So I arranged a night out with my husband, slipped into my beaded lingerie, and took copious mental notes. Here’s my hour-by-minute review:

 

6:00 – I put it on. It’s comfortable; the beads are snug, but not too tight. The string rubs pleasantly against my clitoris. I’m thinking this should be a fun night out…

6:20 – In the car. It feels fantastic to walk in the thong — the beads roll and glide, turning me on with every step. My underwear is pretty much taking care of the foreplay element.

6:30 – Getting out of the car, I realize that things have gotten stuck up in my undercarriage. Uncomfortable stuck. It takes a discreet pull and wriggle to pull the beaded string out of where it shouldn’t have been!

0e871e916753852281a973e497454197
Perhaps larger pearls are the way to go?

6:50 – We sit down in the restaurant booth, and I can feel those beads wedged up in there again. I readjust when the waiter turns around after taking drink orders. Damn, those beads can pinch! (Luckily my husband is a typical man, and is completely oblivious to my underwear interventions.)

 

7:00-7:50 – So long as I don’t move, everything feels okay. No longer exciting, but not painful either, except for the occasional poke when I shift in my seat. (The food was delicious, by the way.)

8:00 – Walking back to the car, I can hardly stand it. The string is driving me nuts! Beads are all up in my business, and it hurts! (Yeah, not in a good way.) I have to stop and pull the lace down, in an attempt to get the string loose. My husband finally notices. He thinks it’s hilarious.

8:20 – We get home and the first thing I do is run upstairs and get out of that damn thong. It pinches my skin in several places, where the beads rolled close to one another and trapped my between. It looks so innocent, now that it’s off! I toss it aside, disgusted.

braclidouble-4t
I wonder if a double strand of pearls would be better, or worse…

9:00 – Having recovered, I wonder if perhaps I wasn’t too harsh in my assessment. It did feel good at the beginning, right? And the package suggested it could be worn during sex…

 

9:10 – I slip it back on. Once again, my clit ignites upon contact with the beads. Foreplay re-initiated! Feeling sexy again, I saunter down to get my husband.

9:20 – The pearl thong feels great when he has his hand over it, stroking and rubbing. At this point, I’m a believer again. The hard, smooth texture of the beads is a delicious contrast to my husband’s warm skin. However, I’m not sure I’m brave enough to keep it on the whole time…

So we don’t. Once we get down to business, that thong is back on the floor where it belongs!

 

pearlthong
Next time, I might go for the best of both worlds: a sexy thong, with just enough beading to excite, but not enough to agonize! 

In summary: For me, the pearl thong was great for foreplay and adding a little excitement, but NOT for wearing out on the town! I’ve rarely been to wretchedly uncomfortable. In retrospect, I should have ditched it in the ladies’ room before the appetizer course. However, was it fun to wear? Sure! And it looked great. I say add one to your lingerie collection, but don’t plan to wear it for more than half an hour at a time! (And if your man is anything like mine, most items of clothing don’t stay on that long, anyway.)

 

 

 

My Secret Favorite…

I know authors aren’t supposed to have favorite stories. Each new book should be better than the last, and therefore should surpass earlier works, in both quality and the writer’s fondness.

However, I’ve always had trouble living by the rules, and I’m breaking one today by saying that, of all the Ancients stories, The Girl With The Golden Eye¬†(free on Amazon Jan.29-Feb.1) remains my favorite. Why, I cannot say exactly. Something about Khorshid’s character, her loneliness, her resilience, the inner hidden workings of her heart, draw me in. Of all of them, she resonates most in my soul — as does Ardeshir, the man who, finally, comes to find her.

Perhaps it has to do with where I was in life when I began writing it. I read the article about an ancient woman with a golden eye way back in college. I was probably 19 or so. The story bloomed in my mind — still as a budding writer, of course, not yet confident enough to put my work out into the world — and I just sat down, and wrote it. Naturally, it was crap. Which is why, ten years later, I took the time to revise it and bring it into its own. The time and care that demanded made me intimate with the setting and characters. They came from within me, perhaps more than the others. When I read it again, I am reminded of all I’ve done so far in my life, and the many possibilities that remain.

So please enjoy the last of the free “Ancients” stories: The Girl With The Golden Eye.

Read all about my inspiration here: A mystery from the grave

History as Fantasy

Historical fiction is always an exercise in fantastical thinking. However much research is done, artifacts unearthed, or primary sources studied, the past remains ever mysterious. When reading about people in the distant past — or present, if their culture is vastly different from your own — it’s important to let yourself be carried away by their reality, instead of attempting to compare it with yours.

This was the challenge I put to myself when writing my short story about the origins of foot binding in ancient China. (How The Lotus Blossoms — free on Amazon Jan. 26 – 29!) Sure, I can imagine how life might have been for a young woman with deformed feet, in the time before medical care. I can ponder how it might have felt to be torn from her family, sold away in the face of famine. I can channel her triumph and desperation, as she pours herself into one night of passionate seduction.

But can I ever truly understand her? No. At some level, Yao Niang’s character remains a mystery. Even though I created her, there are some things she never shared with me. And maybe that’s appropriate; like the past, we can only ever know so much. The rest is mere wonder, and imagination.

Grab your copy of How The Lotus Blossoms free today!

And Read the original article: Three-inch Golden Lotus: the erotic history and legend of bound feet in ancient China

Lotus cover SMASH.jpg

Somewhere in the Sahel…

The two years I spent in West Africa remain forever imprinted on my mind. Nothing in my life to date can compare to the intensity of my experience there. Though I’ve had many adventures since then (and no doubt will continue to!), nothing, perhaps, will ever equal it.

Whether that had to do with my age (a tender 22), my naivete, my cultural isolation, or any combination thereof, the Sahel has marked me. That strip of arid land, tenuously holding back the Sahara desert, is a place where people understand the value of water. More than anywhere else, perhaps, they rely on the vagaries of Nature to provide. This is especially true in the small, rural village where I lived. No road; no electricity; no plumbing. Most people there are subsistence farmers, and farming is only possible during the rainy season, a mere three months of the year. The rest of the time, water comes from one place only: the village well.

And who’s in charge of getting water? The women.

How many times I went to the well with them, worked the pulleys, filled our buckets? How many times did I carry home the full bucket on my head, cushioned by a roll of old scrap fabric? How many hours were spent collecting water, storing water, using water, conserving it? (And I was only one person – most women were in charge of getting water for their whole family.) In short, village life revolved around the well. Water is life.

Which led me to think about Timbuktu. Legend has it, that great city began as merely a well in the desert. A place of refreshment; a woman’s place. How could I resist a story about that? Get it for free on Amazon¬†(January 16-19): Buktu’s Well.

And read more about this fascinating city: The Legendary Origins of Timbuktu

Beauty Never Dies

For my second “Ancients” collection giveaway, I’m going to go ahead and offer what is perhaps the best story in the entire collection: Queen of Beauty. It’s the best, I think, because of the situation and Nefertiti’s character – an older woman, uncertain in her role, battling midlife worries everyone faces. At the same time, her husband is dying, the kingdom is being torn apart from within, and if that weren’t enough, she’s falling in love!

Falling in love is the worst thing that could possibly happen to you. Also, potentially, the best. What I tried to explore with Nefertiti’s story is the many ways love can manifest, especially as we mature and grow into ourselves. (Which begs the questions: is teenage love the “real thing?” Is love ageless, or does it deepen with time? Is romantic love possible without physical attraction? At what point does friendship give way to love?)

Sink deep into love’s many incarnations (and the meaning of beauty, too) with this free story. It’s a visit to a fascinating¬†moment in Egypt’s history, too, during the reign of¬†the first known monotheist king.

History fans: read the original post here: Nefertiti On My Mind

And every kind of fan, be sure you grab your free copy of Queen of Beauty!