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

 

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Seven times the fun!

In honor of Flowers for the Ancients’ “book birthday,” I’m doing another round of free giveaways! This time, through Amazon, admittedly the most convenient retailer around. (Ah, I remember when they were still the underdogs, a little online bookshop tapping on the behemoth of Barnes & Noble and company… how the mighty fall! How the hungry rise!)

Anyway, this time I thought I’d start off with the biggest of the bangs, if you will: A Bride for Seven Brothers. My imaginary adventure into ancient Tibet, and subsequent exploration of a polyandrous family, resulted (somewhat by accident) in a seriously kickass female character. I love this lady — she is the kind of woman on which dynasties are built, communities are founded, and empires rise.

By which I mean, she’s a housewife.

The most underestimated of all careers, and the most important. Who holds the family together? The wife. Who manages the household? The wife. Who keeps the kids and husbands happy? Yeah, you get it. While writing this story, I began to get a feeling for how much responsibility was involved in home-keeping. First of all due to the rugged, isolated, and rural nature of a Tibetan highland farm, but especially if multiple husbands are involved. A housewife who could do all that — and do it well — is pretty much a superwoman.

Want more sexy Tibetan history? Read the original blog post: Ever heard of polyandry? Didn’t think so.

And don’t forget to grab your copy of A Bride for Seven Brothers — free on Amazon January 8-11!

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…

Remembering Tokyo

Several years ago, I had the amazing good fortune to live and work in Japan for a year and a half. There, like so many Anglophones, I taught English (and French, as it turned out) in a public high school. I absolutely loved it. Japan remains one of my favorite places on Earth. (And yes, I have been around a time or two!) The people were incredibly welcoming and kind, eager to share their culture with me, bumbling foreigner that I was. Somehow, the Japanese people have managed to find a balance between a rich and valued history – still very much alive in their customs, manners, and traditions – and the modern world.

When I lived there, I was in a ballroom dancing club, learning to waltz and tango with the delightful middle-aged (and older!) ladies and gentleman of the town where I lived. They had a snack break, and one of the grandmas would produce a jar of homemade picked daikon. She laughed in delight when I exclaimed, in my terrible attempt at Japanese, how good it was. “Oishii!” was all I could really say, but it was enough. “Dai suki desu!”

At the same time, my Japanese tutor (poor woman; I was a terrible student. However, I helped her kids study English, so it hopefully evened out) invited me to her home for a gorgeous traditional meal. Afterwards, she dressed me in one of her kimono – quite a process, I can attest – and guided me through the tea ceremony. (For me, the kimono remains one of the most beautiful of all traditional garments. Crisp and tidy as an origami creation, it covers almost everything and takes many knots, tucks, and folds to put together. However, with a couple tugs of a cord it falls to the ground in a silken heap. Now that’s sexy!)

TokyoAREcoverWhile I didn’t live in Tokyo, I visited the city many times. It struck me as the perfect capital for Japan. Like the culture, it is a blend of old and new, tradition and modernity. I wanted to write a travelogue sort of piece about it, highlighting some of my favorite things. But then I thought, hey, this has to have sex in it! Plus I always had that fantasy of being splayed out high above the city, staring down into the endless lights while a nameless stranger fucks me from behind… Tokyo: A Job With A View is the result. While certainly a work of erotica, it is also a taste of Tokyo. I hope you will visit one day, and discover this wonderful city for yourself.

Elizabeth Bennet Syndrome

So I’ve been reading a lot of romance novels lately – what a surprise! And something struck me. Not for the first time, but for some reason I felt the need to define it, and respond to it. I call it: The Elizabeth Bennet Syndrome.

Here’s what it is (and you’ll surely recognize this plot point right away): that typical – almost expected – part of a romance novel, when the two main characters are just getting to know each other. And instead of hitting it off, they actually start out disliking the other. Sometimes mere annoyance or discomfort due to unfulfilled sexual tension, but often full-on “I can’t stand you” confrontations. Yes, just like Lizzie Bennet and her hate/love relationship with the inimitable Mr. Darcy, of Pride & Prejudice fame.

darcy-and-elizabeth-e1313521962809
The smoldering eyes, the sexual tension, the money… Of course, it takes several dramatic hours before the actually smile at one another!  (And before you speak, there IS no other version than the BBC one. Don’t mention that recent movie they made – not a candle to it!)

When Jane Austen does this, it works beautifully because (as we learn throughout the course of the story), Lizzie and Darcy really are a great match for each other, but this only comes about through communication, gradual understanding, and seeing Darcy in a clingy white shirt after a hot&sexy swim in his (huge, rich) mansion’s pond. However, honestly, even when reading the original Pride & Prejudice, Darcy & Elizabeth’s relationship is not my favorite. No, I’m a fan of Bingley and Jane.

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So good together!

In stark contrast to her sister, Jane Bennet falls for Mr. Bingley, the all-around nice guy. (Not as rich as his friend, incidentally, but sufficiently well off for a practical Regency gal). Jane and Bingley are instantly attracted to one another, not merely physically, but also because they have similar, complimentary personalities and worldviews. Basically, they are a perfect match.

So why do we swoon for the Darcy’s of the world, and not the Bingley’s? Why do so many romance novels have characters who dislike each other in the beginning, and then fall in love? Why not fall for the nice guy first?

Part of it, I think, is the idea that the more “tension” you have in your relationship, the more passionate it is. Darcy and Lizzie argue, which leads us to envision bedroom delights of the tie-up-throw-down variety. (You know, the fun kind!) Whereas happy, easygoing Jane & Bingley don’t demonstrate that outward confrontation. Sex is a game and a battle; who’s on top, who’s setting the rhythm; who climaxes first; who yells and who thrashes. It’s all about control and submission, just like an argument, really.

The problem I have is how this translates to expectations, in literature and in the real world. As authors, we are taught that stories must have conflict. So when writing romance, naturally it is tempting to pit the protagonists against one another, only to bring them together in a blaze of exploding hormones later on. I get it; tension is hot, it gets the pulse going, it keeps you turning the pages, wondering how they will end up together. The less they like one another in the beginning, the more dramatic their eventual relationship seems on the page.

But life is not really like that. From personal experience, I can tell you that usually, the guy you don’t like at first is actually a guy you will not like, ever. Probably, he’s a jerk. Maybe controlling, maybe just has personal issues, or someone you don’t click with for whatever reason. That does not make the sex better. (The opposite is often true, in fact; those guys can be selfish in bed, and I don’t care how much erotic tension there is between you, if he’s crap in the sack, he’s not worth your time!) On the other side of the coin, couples who just seem to get along and be cool together can have awesome, passionate, kinky sex lives. True relationships are built on respect and communication. So is great sex. (We don’t read about it, but I bet sweet Mr. Bingley has some unexpected tricks up his perfectly tailored sleeves… lucky Jane!)

We need to see more of that represented in literature and film. Not only because it’s true – and I like to seek truth in fiction – but also because it’s way more interesting than retelling Elizabeth Bennet’s story. That’s been done over and over again. And seriously folks, Jane Austen already did it best.

Going Without : a guide to ditching your bra

Well, I had a great vacation – and so did my books, from the looks of it! I’m just thrilled that so many new readers had a chance to grab some of my work for free. (And hey, if you like it when it’s free, remember it’s just as good when it costs 99 cents! 😉 ) Anyhow, the summer is winding down, and it’s time to get serious. Back to work; back to buying the books you want to read. So the seasons turn.

But not everything has to get all  buttoned-up and serious yet. And I am here to make the hearty recommendation that you consider ditching your bra more often this summer.

Yes, I know, I wrote all about how to find and appreciate a perfect bra, but here’s the deal: it feels even better to go without. Now, I just spent over  a month in France, eating way too much, drinking even more, and spending time with family. Pretty excellent. And most of the time, I did my damndest to spend the whole day without my bra. Oh, the beautiful freedom! While I’m not about to go burning all my brassieres in the backyard – they’re way too pretty for that; plus I’ve got to go to work – it did get me to thinking about why we wear bras at all. It all comes down to culture and clothes.

A recent French scientific study, as seen here in this 2013 article, actually suggests that bras do nothing to help breasts keep their shape and “perkiness.” In fact, the study claims that bras actually make breasts saggier. Now, I am pretty sure this is bogus, because all the women in the study were young and French. Having spent the summer there, surrounded by elegant slim women with pretty, perky little points, I hardly think this is fair. Probably  they weren’t breastfeeding either. Also, women around the world who do not have access to bras – I’m thinking of my years in West Africa, again – certainly develop what we would consider to be “saggy boobs.” (Why that even matters is another argument because, really, it doesn’t.)

Which leads me to believe that we really only wear bras because society expects it. Well, screw what society expects! Your body, your choices. And being braless is amazing, whether out on the street or comfy at home. Do it; love it; and feel superior to all those who, in their sad brainwashed state of mind, are shocked. But how to go about it and still feel great about how you look?

Now those lucky ladies with little breasts can pretty much go braless whenever they want. I shall be eternally jealous of them: their backless dresses, their daring V-necks, their just-barely-a-handful! (Yes, I envy them regularly.) If that’s you, congratulations. You can go without a bra in anything from t-shirt to evening gown, and look just as fabulous as if you were strapped into the most luxurious lingerie around. So enjoy it! Don’t even buy a bra, or if you do, only for purposes of seduction…

Women like me (by which I mean, those endowed with about a basketball-player’s handful) probably won’t love the way they look without a bra in many types of clothes. I know, because I don’t. (For example, I will always wear a bra to work because otherwise my breasts just don’t fit right into a tailored blouse.) However, I still prefer being without a bra in many situations. It makes me feel both comfortable and sensual. (In fact, I am happily braless right now!) What I discovered is that it’s all about the clothes you choose. Here are some that almost always work:

(please note: while I include the buy link in the image of each of these dresses due to professional honesty, I can make no guarantee of the exact model I show here! They’re just great examples. 🙂 )

 

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It worked for Jane Austen, it can work for you!

Empire waist. With a band that fits right beneath the bust, empire waist dressed and shirts are perfect without a bra! Especially ones that fit tight across the chest, and offer some support. One of my favorite sundresses is like this, and it is delightful to just throw it on and go.

 

plus-size-peasant-tops-63
Pretty & flowy.

Peasant blouse or tunic. By this I mean something that is loose and draped over the chest, usually caught at the waist or hips by a belt or sash. The flowy, drapey design looks fantastic without a bra. And nothing is more comfortable!

  • 3516565-p-multiview
    Fitted bodice all the way around.

 

 

 

Fitted bodice. This is kind of obvious, since dresses and shirts of this kind are designed to support the breasts without a bra. But still, they count!

 

  • womens-sexy-sleeveless-blue-jean-font-b-denim-b-font-blouse-vintage-font-b-halter-b
    Remember – the cut of a halter top REALLY matters!

    Halter neck. I hesitated to put this one on at first, because it really depends on the cut of the shirt. This can be totally great, or a disaster, depending on how the halter works. But if you look around, you can find some beautiful, flattering clothes of this style.

  • de901440_cindy_m_15-12-15_hm_30589_a
    When it’s braless + V neck, the deeper the better!

    Deep V neck. Oooh, this is a fun one, and also daring! If the tip of the V ends up right between your breasts, you can wear it really low… and that’s hot. No crazy cleavage, since you’re braless, remember; but the natural movement of your breasts is sexier anyway.

 

Are you tempted? I do hope so! Make the most of these last days of summer by enjoying life without a bra! Ah, sweet freedom… also, my husband likes it. 😉

Glasses – never forget them in the morning, so why do I forget them in my writing?

My morning routine is usually the same: wake up, hit snooze, pretend to sleep for ten more minutes. Finally accept the morning, get out of bed, sigh & grumble, stretch. Wash my face, brush my hair, get dressed. Then put on my glasses. Because, you know, being able to see is rather valuable in my line of work. Without my glasses, the world is a fuzzy compilation of shapes and colors. Not to mention my depth perception is totally shot.

I never forget my glasses in the morning. So why do I forget them in my writing?

When imagining my characters, I always begin with their face. I envision the color and texture of their hair, the shape of their mouth, their eyes, nose, cheekbones, and neck. By then I’ve usually figured out what body type they have and their personality is solidifying. Once I understand what kind of person they are, I can dress them – and undress them – in my writing. But up until now, I realize I have yet to write a character with glasses.

This frustrates me, because I never noticed it was happening. What is my deal? How can I wear glasses myself, yet totally ignore them when designing a character? Especially when I am proud of my bespectacled beauty. Glasses are part of my wardrobe, and an essential part of how I present myself to the world. Tons of hot girls wear glasses (especially in Portland. Haven’t seen this hilarious video? Oh, well you should!). And guys with glasses are definitely a turn-on for me… just one more thing to enjoy taking off.

So, definitely I am a fan of glasses. That doesn’t explain why I keep forgetting them. Here’s my working theory: despite the Hipster big-frame fad, we are essentially an anti-glasses society. When actors wear glasses in Hollywood movies, they are rarely the main heartthrob. And remember those 90’s makeover movies, where the cool boy at school transforms an ugly girl into a bombshell? What’s the first thing they do? Oh yeah – get rid of her glasses. Despite all evidence to the contrary, glasses just aren’t considered sexy.

Well now that I am aware, I shall strive to change it! Not going to bother with my current work in progress. After all, it would be a bummer for my poor character to lose her 20/20 vision halfway through the story. 🙂 (Ha, 20/20 vision. I don’t even have that in my dreams!) But next time, yes, next time, there shall be glasses!

Just have to remember to write them in… and make sure someone slips them sexily off.

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

Welcome to my first “sexy history” post in the Ancients series! This week I will be exploring the tradition of foot binding in ancient China, particularly its erotic aspects for that culture.

(Sources are listed at the end. Click on any image to link to its source page.)

 

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Foot binding endured in China for over a thousand years. China has always been a remarkably homogeneous country, with the Han being the majority ethnic-cultural group. Therefore, whatever the Han were doing became the norm. And for reasons not completely understood – though there are legends, of which I will speak later – for a millennium the Han Chinese decided that in order for a woman to be marriageable, she must have tiny bound feet. The ideal was a three-inch long, bulb-shaped foot that reflected the size and form of a lotus bud. Hence the rare and precious goal: the three-inch golden lotus foot.

bound-feet lying down
A young Chinese woman with bound feet. (www.cvltnation.com/lotus-feet-foot-binding-photos/)

My goal here is not to go into detail about how bound feet were achieved; there are many other excellent resources on that subject, and wonderful historical fiction with Chinese protagonists for those who wish to delve into it further. Suffice it to say that the process began in early childhood, usually when the girl was between three and six years old. Her feet were wrapped in silk, folded, bent, and broken, with subsequent bindings to form the desired shape. It took several years for the bones to set, and for her whole life the woman had to keep her feet tightly wrapped in order to maintain them.

bound feet woman
A beautiful girl with perfectly bound feet. (www.pintrest.com/pin/253538653993736848/)

Why put little girls through such agony? The answer is simple: a mother’s love. Mothers who loved their daughters wanted them to marry well – the only acceptable lifestyle for a woman of the time – and in order to get a good match, a girl must have tiny feet. So although this process sounds gruesome and cruel (it certainly seems that way to me!), it should not be looked at as simple torture. Rather, it was the expression of a family’s concern for their daughter’s future. A desperate act of love.

It is a myth that bound-footed women could not walk at all. They could; in fact, the binding produced a particular rolling gait that was considered to be highly erotic. People also thought this special walk tightened the muscles of the vagina, thus leading to heightened pleasure for men. Bound feet were an erotic body part in and of themselves, too. Entire books were written on the many ways a man could pleasure himself with a woman’s golden lotuses. A woman never willingly revealed her naked feet. They were always bound in silk and covered in beautiful embroidered slippers (Every good seductress knows that covering up – even just one small body part – heightens arousal to the boiling point. Try it sometime and you’ll see what I mean!) Even covered, people knew what bound feet looked like. The deep cleft between the heel and toes was thought to suggest the cleft between a woman’s legs…

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A pair of tiny slippers for lotus feet. (reneeriley.wordpress.com)

Of course there were societal benefits to binding women’s feet, too. Tiny-footed women were more or less home-bound, unable to run around or do hard work outside the house. Thus bound feet were a symbol of social status. Also, they insured that women would stay put, engaged only in appropriate feminine tasks (that is to say, those that took place only in the home). And bound feet made it very difficult for a woman to go anywhere, keeping her safely behind walls… and away from other men. Bound feet assured a woman’s chastity.

another erotic painting
There were manuals describing the ways a man might best enjoy a woman’s bound feet. (www.pagodared.com)
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Bound feet were considered highly erotic. As you can see, they are never uncovered – the woman still wears her red slippers. (www.redpagoda.com)

It was for these reasons: family & cultural pressure, societal expectations, and eroticism, that foot binding endured so long. When it ended, it was in sudden dramatic fashion – causing much pain and heartbreak in the process – and was finally crushed by the Cultural Revolution.

Of course, none of that answers the most interesting questions. Why did foot-binding start in the first place? How did it even come about? Who came up with this bizarre and painful tradition?

The short answer is, nobody really knows. I had real difficulty finding scholarly articles on the topic; academics tend to stay away from the baffling and explainable. However Wikipedia, everyone’s favorite quasi-reputable resource, lists several ideas. These include:

1. A favored empress (or concubine), possibly Daji, with naturally deformed feet, called clubfoot. She  jealously ordered all other girls to deform their feet similarly. Which is an unlovely thought indeed…

or:

2. A court dancer named Yao Niang who performed on tiptoe while standing on a golden lotus pavilion. The emperor was so transfixed, and Yao Niang’s dance so graceful, that others wanted to imitate her. Which eventually led to the binding of their feet.

We may never know the true origins of foot binding. But naturally, I chose the option that allows for some beauty and seduction, that of Yao Niang the court dancer. My story blends the possibilities by giving my character, Yao Niang, the club feet. The ancient world was not kind to those with physical disabilities. (Nor, for that matter, is the modern one.)

How would she have lived? What might she have done to survive? For that matter, what would she not have done? These are the questions I explore in How The Lotus Blossoms. (Of course, because it’s me, I took the liberty of sexing it up. Yao Niang’s disability may indeed become a source of triumph, or despair… either way, she’ll stop at nothing to enrapture the emperor, in bed and on the stage.)

taosex
The ancient Chinese kindly provided plenty of inspiration for erotic literature… (www.pintrest.com/pin/118289927688849278/)
LotusSources:
http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/nationality/
http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-footbinding-persisted-china-millennium-180953971/
http://www.theatlantic.com/china/archive/2013/09/the-peculiar-history-of-foot-binding-in-china/279718/
http://www.damninteresting.com/bound-by-tradition/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_binding#Origins