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.

The importance of a varied diet

We all know we need to eat our fruits and vegetables, limit fat and sweets, balance our whole-grain carbohydrates and healthy proteins. The importance of a varied diet is well documented. But the same goes for reading: if we overindulge in our favorite things (and be honest about your sugary favorites!) we end up with rotted teeth and diabetes. Or, in the literary sense, a lazy, mushy mind.

To that end, I encourage everyone — writers especially — to diversify their reading diet. Truly, it keeps your senses sharp, and offers plenty of perspective that can improve your own writing. If you don’t read, you can’t write. Period. (And if you don’t read many different genres and styles, you can’t write well.)

And just so no one can claim I don’t practice what I preach, here is a list of some recent books I have read and enjoyed, more or less in order. Amazon buy links included, as well as genre. With a growing stack on the horizon, I’ll be busily eating my literary vegetables for a long time! (And, you know, indulging in candy bars regularly too…)

Currently reading: The Things They Carried – fiction – The Vietnam War revisited through a series of brief, vivid tales, each a visceral reminder of the horrors of war.

The Cellist of Sarajevo – literary fiction – A gritty, wrenching portrayal of a city under siege, and the struggle to preserve humanity under inhuman circumstances.

Knight of Jerusalem: a biographical novel of Balian d’Ibelin – historical fiction – Well researched and unique, focusing on a little-known character during the medieval Christian occupation of the Holy Land.

The Shipping News – contemporary fiction – Superb characterization, snappy writing, and a darkly humorous look at love, life and struggle in modern-day Newfoundland.

Saga – graphic novel/space opera – One of the best things I have read, ever. Great adventure story, excellent dialogue, and gorgeous artwork. Go get yourself a copy now!

The Sport of Kings – literary fiction – A new take on the dark, gothic Southern family saga. Incest, violence, wealth, and racism intersect in all the worst possible ways.

My Antonia – American fiction – It’s a classic for a reason. People just don’t write like this anymore.

I Won a Basket of Porn – erotica/humor – In case you needed another reason to love author Patient Lee! Hilarious fun poked at small-town politics. Plus sex.

Because Beards – erotica/romance anthology – A fun collection of sexy stories, all with some kind of bearded hero. Some were excellent; all were okay. Plus, it’s for charity!

A Heart’s Promise – romance – On the sweet side, a classic romance novel featuring a horse-loving gal and a hot, modern cowboy.

Little Birds – erotica – Sexy short stories, from back in the day when erotica was all about turning on classy, well-read rich people.

Ancillary Justice – science fiction – An unusual SciFi adventure, featuring a ship that is also, somehow, a person. Totally unique.

All The Light We Cannot See – historical fiction – The kind of book that moves you to tears… and makes you wish you could write like that. Utterly superb.

 

Effortless Diversity : a book review

Some books can justifiably be defined as masterpieces. These are literary works that stand the test of time; The Classics, and all the other fine novels and texts we can read over and over again without tiring. All of us have books like that. I, for one, have always loved losing myself in words, in the geography of my imagination.

My husband, however, is not like that. If he reads a text-heavy book, it is probably nonfiction. However, a true Frenchman, he has long been an admirer of graphic novels. In the American context, these have until recently often been dismissed as (or rather, lumped in) with comic books. Superheroes and stuff. No offense if that’s your thing; too much spandex for my taste.

One book we can both agree on, now, is Saga. This is fast becoming one of my favorite series ever. It is, essentially, a space opera. Think SciFi/Romance. Yet of the deepest, most engaging kind. Yes, sexy aliens are getting naked and busy on a regular basis (That’s fun! And hey, graphic novel, so you get the artsy eye candy to go with…), but there’s so much more to it. Themes of diversity; clash of cultures; discrimination and stereotyping; the meaning of family; even the uniting power of literature; are woven throughout the main story. Adventure can be found aplenty, but for me, Saga is an inspiring example of effortless diversity. (Much like the delightful online cartoon I previously mentioned, Fated.)

15704307With my recent musing on how to address white privilege in writing, reading the recently-released sixth book of Saga was a welcome reminder that there is lots of great literature out there already fighting the good fight. In Saga, aliens come in all shapes, sizes, ages and colors. They live together, fuck together, fight each other, and generally are no better or worse than most “humans;” except way more badass. The blend makes this fantastic world excitingly familiar. Reading Saga, I can totally imagine how an inter-galactic, multi-species society might be. And you know what? All of a sudden, small differences are erased by the bigger picture. That picture happens to be an endless (and pointless) civil war, but hey, conflict has to come from somewhere.

Saga is the real deal. If you want some seriously good science fiction – and enjoy beautiful art, snappy dialogue, an un-put-downable story, thoughtful sexiness, and effortless diversity to boot – then you need to buy a copy right now. I’ll just be counting the months until the next book comes out…

Why I don’t write children’s books

I recently did a spotlight interview on the ASPA blog on children’s literature. It was wonderful to hear about authors’ various experiences with writing and reading children’s books. This is an admirable genre, and a source of some of the finest stories in history. (Was ever a story of friendship more moving, or more real, than Charlotte’s Web?) Now, I myself am an admirer of kids’ books. I read them every day at work, in fact. Books for children deal with real issues, big questions, and tough history, and they do it with incredible grace and skill.

(Take a look at: Spotlight on Children’s Literature)

However, I will never write children’s books.

The reason is that, for many years now, I have been hyper-aware of my sexuality. Sex is everywhere I look; always just a thought away, and my brain keeps picking up on those signals – intentional or not – that scatter the world. No longer can I look at my environment with the innocent eyes of a child. My dirty mind is too busy figuring out what’s sexiest about it.

For example, if looking at a dining room table, my first thought might be: “Oh, I like the wood of this!” and my next thought, right at its heels, would add, “And it’s just the right height to bend over on top of… or sit on, and he’d have the perfect angle.” (By the way, never purchase a table unless it is the perfect height for standing sex! You’ll thank me later 🙂 )

Walking around, I cannot help checking out guys I pass. Doesn’t matter how good looking they are, really (although, I admit, I avert my eyes from absolute toads). I’ll do the quick eye-sweep — you know the one — and make sure I get a good (yet discreet!) glance at his package. Just let myself wonder what he might be like in bed, if he’d be dominating or lazy, how he would kiss. Sure makes a trip to the grocery store more interesting if I get to check out the cute ass of the guy in front of me.

Same thing for women: if she has a striking figure, or some other standout feature, she will always catch my eye. I notice the curve of a hip or jiggle of a breast, and think about how erotic that is, how sensual a woman’s body can be. Great fodder for my stories, to say the least.

In short, you won’t see me writing books for children anytime soon. However much I may admire them, I can no longer separate my sexual being from my storytelling, or my worldview.

Sexing up some Little Free Libraries

Among its many charms, Seattle boasts a proud literary distinction: the city with perhaps the most Little Free Libraries in the country. And as an erotica writer, I have taken the liberty of sexing them up.

Little Free Libraries are a delightful version of the take-a-book, leave-a-book idea. (It’s a full-on nonprofit organisation – take a look at their website here!) Homeowners build their own small book boxes, usually with a glass door to protect from the elements while allowing passersby to glance in at the offerings. Most Little Free Libraries are on the corner of a yard, or sometimes hanging from a retaining wall, faced invitingly towards the sidewalk. And according to this article by MyNorthwest.com, other cities just can’t keep up with Seattle.

SeattleLFL
A Little Free Library in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of Kipp Robertson/MyNorthwest)

There are several in my neighborhood alone, and Little Free Libraries are a common sight when strolling through the neighborhoods. (I asked my husband for one for my birthday, but that all depends on how handy he’s feeling, so I’ll not hold my breath!) It’s so charming to see them there, full of books, just free for anyone to take. I also use them to pass along books I enjoyed, but don’t necessarily wish to keep forever – all my three-and-four-star reads find their way into a library box, ready to be discovered by another lucky reader.

So what am I doing? Well, quite simply, I’m leaving print versions of my work all around Seattle. Print copies are inexpensive and lovely to have, so I order them in bulk whenever I do a giveaway or print promotion. Whatever I don’t list, I send off into the world via Little Free Libraries. And, being the person I am, I do admit to peeking inside later, just to see if my work has gone… as of now, all of them have found a home. Temporary or permanent, no matter; so long as they bring enjoyment to someone in need of a scintillating erotic read. What fun!

If you’re a fellow Seattleite, keep your eyes peeled when passing by. I just set loose a fresh print copy of An Amazon’s Equal in a Little Free Library nearby. If you find it, please leave a review! (And, you know, leave a book. That’s what makes the whole wonderful process work! I love it.)

Speaking of which… have you entered the Goodreads giveaway for a free print copy of An Amazon’s Equal? No? Then head on over here and enter now! Who knows – you might get lucky… 🙂

That New Book Smell

My husband and I popped into a local bookstore today – he to buy art supplies, I to spend my woefully insufficient $25 gift card from last year. The place was a paradise. If the world ever ends, I plan to hole up in a huge public library or, if those are all overrun with demon spawn, the bookshop. I could easily have spent hours browsing, but right away three books jumped out at me. I greedily gathered them up, breathing in that special smell of new paper and ink, feeling them crease as I bent the hardback covers to read the inside flap. There is an illicit pleasure in being the first to deflower a new book. Used books have soul, but new ones have that crisp allure of the untouched.

So forgive me, friends, if I’m not online much for the next several days. I’ll be reading!

An Enduring Love of Paper

I finally did it. This may shock many people, considering how behind the times it seems. Those who know me in “real life” understand that, actually, I can be irrationally old-fashioned. (Hey, it’s charming!) However, being an author and e-publisher, I really should have got with the program by now, if only in solidarity. Yet it took me years and years before I finally gave in to the inevitable.

Yesterday, at long last, I gave in. I bought a Kindle.

At this point you are thinking one of two things: a) It’s about time! What the hell was wrong with you, that it took you this long to get an essential piece of reading technology?! or b) So what?

I bought it for the same reason many people have, for convenience. It will be so lovely to just have my Kindle, stocked with all the stories I could want, long and short. I’ll just be able to curl up somewhere and read them in any order I like, or take them traveling with me, or at the bus stop. I’m especially glad to have it for short stories, because those are so inconvenient in printed form, and the computer, after a while, does hurt my eyes. No doubt, the Kindle will transform my reading life and make it both more diverse and more agreeable.

And yet.

Way back in the nineties, when Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came out, I was one of those girls who gasped with delight (along with Beauty) when the castle library was revealed. Shelves and shelves, all the way to the ceiling, stacked with books of every color, size, and type. How I longed to be there, surrounded by all those beautiful tomes! That was the moment, really, that Beauty began to fall in love with the Beast…as did all the rest of us wistful readers.

The public library has always been a place of wonder and magic. So have used bookstores. I love holding books in my hands, feeling the texture of the paper, enjoying the freedom of browsing. When I took books home, I amused myself by imagining all the other hands that might have held it, and dreaming of how other people may have felt when reading the very same book. That textural history, the fact that these treasures had come into my hands from someone else’s – who knows how many! – and that somewhere, I was sharing the experience of reading it with a stranger, was fascinating to me. I still love those places, and imagining the people who loved the books before me.

When I lived abroad, books were my consolation and my addiction. The house we shared had an enormous library (not quite as fancy as Beauty’s, but pretty damn nice), with books of all varieties. I read voraciously. I filled my arms with books, carried them heavily as I walked, and took them to my lonely apartment. There, I devoured them, turning pages in near-desperation as my mind swirled in imaginary worlds. I kept a stack of them on my dresser, promises and hopes to keep me going for another couple weeks, before returning to the library to restock. It was not easy to transport so much heavy paper back and forth, but for me it was worth it. Nothing felt so satisfying at the time as a backpack loaded with fresh books. I welcomed the ache and the weight of it on my shoulders; I felt I earned the joy of reading them, through my commitment to them. At the time, I needed this. And only books gave it to me.

I will never be so young and lonely again (if only because – thank goodness – I’m no longer 21), but I will always have memories of that time, and the books that were my companions. There is more to it than that, though.

My love of paper goes even beyond my own personal memories. In Paris, I ended up in a shop specializing in rare antique books. Because of a family connection with the owner, he sat me down and showed me some of his treasures. Into my hands he placed a small, leather-bound volume. A book of prayers. A woman’s signature was scrawled on the front page.
It had belonged to Mary Stuart, the Queen of Scots, who for a short time had also been dauphine of France. I held that book in my hands, reflecting that in 1500-something Mary herself had held it, had run her fingers over the pages. Overwhelmed by history, and the suddenly physical link I had with that doomed queen of long ago, I regarded that book as something close to magical.

Books aren’t magic, of course. But like all objects of personal importance, books retain some of the essence of their past lovers. (As do we all…) Paper can be touched and folded, smeared and creased, written on, stored, revived, and passed on. Paper has a long past, and a future. For a sensual person, there is no substitute. For a person who treasures connections with the past, and hopes to provide such for future readers, it is essential. Paper books have souls and histories unique to each. Paper books can fill library shelves, tumble down, lean against one another. They are a feast.

And so, although I am looking forward to receiving my Kindle and buying books for it, I will never give up my enduring love of paper. If I read a book and love it, I will always buy a printed copy, and tuck it into my ever-growing library like the masterpiece it is. Paper books are the physical manifestation of my passion. No matter how many e-books I read, or how much I type on my computer, I will never give them up. There is no true replacement for the joy, the feeling, the scent and weight and mystery, of holding a true book in your hands.