Blackberry pickin’

When I got home from vacation, it was only to dive right back into work — hence the lack of writing or any kind of online presence. But, I am back! We came home into the height of a hot, dry Seattle summer. Heat is not really my jam… I can’t wait for the rain. But there is one thing about Seattle in late summer — besides its beauty, backyard BBQ’s, forest hikes and sunsets — that is unlike anything else I’ve found anywhere: wild blackberries.

They’re actually an invasive variety, but few people care because they are so delicious. And this summer, for whatever reason, it was the perfect year for blackberries. Truly, there is nothing more delicious that a fat, fresh, ripe blackberry, just off the vine, still warm from the sun… so good. It’s more than that, though. Part of the pleasure is the hunt itself.

Now bear with me, please; I’m crafting a metaphor. It came to me while I was up to my elbows in brambles, reaching for that elusive berry (the perfect ones are always just out of reach, aren’t they?) The most rewarding thing about picking wild blackberries is that you have to fight for them. You have to dare the thorns. You have to look under low-hanging leaves, and find the secret treasures hidden deep. These are not cute, domestic farmed berries. They’re tough, thorny, unkillable thickets whose only goal is survival. (And outgrowing the poor native species.) These berries don’t care about you — their delicious fruits are a prize you have to earn.

Which makes them taste all the sweeter.

Isn’t that the way with a great romance novel? We love reading about lovers who struggle. We want a happy ending, of course — just the way I salivate over a fresh blackberry tart — but we don’t want to just give it to them! Passion comes from the fight; that’s the part we truly love. Conflict and thorns.

As I ease back into my writing routine, I plan to remember that blackberry picking afternoon. How good it felt to reach perilously deep, to snatch that sweet prize and pop it, triumphantly, into my mouth. The burst of warm juice; the earthy grittiness of a wild berry. If I can make my romances feel like that, then we’re all in for a tasty time.

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Getting Inked

Remember that creative slump I mentioned last time? Yeah, I’m still there. It’s a sad, yet comforting place to be. No pressure, just the stories gradually fermenting until they get so bubbly the cork pops off, and I can write again.

In the meantime, good thing I’ve got plenty of finished stories to revisit! Today I’d like to offer my free novel, Major Arcana: Sex, Love, and Tarot, available to read on Inkitt. Remember this one? It was my experimental work from last year: each chapter began by drawing a Tarot card from my own deck, and using that to guide the story. Lots of fun. And I am really pleased with the result. It’s contemporary erotic romance (heavy on the erotic parts, naturally!), set in my lovable hometown of Seattle, and featuring a diverse cast of characters. Oh, did I mention it’s free? Yeah, so go get on Inkitt and read it now!

What’s Inkitt, you say? Well, I heard of it from indie author/publisher/editor extraordinaire, Ms. Eeva Lancaster.It’s like Wattpad in that authors post their work, either in progress or complete, and readers can peruse, glance, or read for free. Unlike Wattpad, Inkitt offers the possibility of a publishing contract. For authors, it can be a great way to preview your work, see how readers respond to it – and maybe even get offered a publisher in the bargain. For readers, it’s a chance to get first looks at new indie stories and novels from all genres (Yes! Erotica is allowed! Hooray for dirty words and graphic sex scenes! No need to curtail your content, as Wattpad requires). So far, I’m enjoying it.

So whether you’re new or an old Inkitt fan, check out my free novel there. The cards lead in mysterious directions… and all of them somehow involve our valiant protagonist in all sorts of sexy-romantic situations.

Major Arcana: sex, love, and Tarot

Rosemary has just been dumped. Again.

Everything in her life seems stuck in a rut: work, family, romance, not to mention her sex life. In desperation, she takes her sister’s advice and begins a journey of self-realization with a deck of Tarot cards. That decision is what changes everything.

Guided by the Tarot, she soon finds herself making decisions she’d never considered before. With two attractive men vying for her attentions – and her body – Rosemary is forced to reconsider what she truly wants, and how far she’ll to go to get it.

Set in the artsy, quirky scene of Seattle, Major Arcana offers a glimpse into the power of the self, the diversity of erotic experience, and the joys, agonies, and risks of love.

Addressing White Privilege in Writing

As a relatively aware White person — that is to say, an individual who was raised in a dominant White culture and socioeconomic group, who both presents as White on the outside and identifies as White on the inside — I am on a personal mission to challenge myself in this world where, through no merit of my own, I have been handed privilege on a silver plate. Whatever your feelings on issues of race relations, or the social construct thereof; the heavy weight of history, the state of politics, or globalization, the simple fact remains: White Privilege is real. (Still not convinced? Take a look at the classic Invisible Knapsack checklist, by Peggy McIntosh.)

While there is plenty to be said about how White Privilege manifests in the larger world, my focus today is bringing it down to the arena in which writers and artists can make a difference: noticing, identifying, and addressing White Privilege in writing. And, oh, it’s there in a big way!

Remember when The Hunger Games movie came out? And there was all this racist sputtering from people who expressed surprise and annoyance that the character Rue was Black? If they’d actually read the book, they might have figured it out on their own… but maybe not. The author Suzanne Collins included information that a thoughtful reader could use to visualize Rue as the young, dark-shinned girl she was intended to be, but because this was not explicitly stated, people were able to form their own ideas. And those ideas populated the story entirely with White teenagers, because that’s what people expect. Hollywood reinforces this with their whitewashed casts of characters, and if we are not careful, book characters can easily suffer the same fate. Poor Rue.

White Privilege is precisely that: a normalization of white-looking people; the assumption that they are “normal” and everyone else, therefore, is “different”; the classic exotic Other. (By the way, this goes for Ablism too… when was the last time you visualized a character in a wheelchair? Or with leg braces? Or an amputated limb? Yeah, you didn’t, because disabled folks are also relegated to the “other” category.) The challenge for a reader is to remove themselves from the story. However tempting it is, we cannot imagine ourselves as the protagonist in every tale, because in some cases, the main character is vastly different from us. Then, the challenge becomes one of molding yourself into another person’s body, trying to live and learn from their experiences.

This especially irks me in historical fiction. I firmly believe — and research supports — that history has always been far more diverse than typically portrayed in mainstream media. When we think about cowboys, why do we always imagine them as tall, fit, white and blue-eyed, when a large proportion of them were, in fact, Black, Latino, or mixed-race? (The answer? Hollywood. And the general, ongoing white-washing of history.) People of all shapes, sizes, and colors have shaped this world, and continue to do so. Historical fiction should reflect that.

So what can writers do? Well, the first step, I think, is to combat the assumption that characters, unless otherwise described, are de facto white people. Take the time to describe your character in a rich, illuminating way: everything from the shape of their body, the texture and style of their hair, their features, their skin color, and everything else that makes them stand out. Each person is an individual, and as a character, should be presented as such. Next, push the boundaries of what kinds of characters you’re writing. Historical fiction can be a great avenue for this, since you can research and create authentic characters of various backgrounds, without necessarily digging into the can of worms that is modern-day racism and society. (Need some ideas? Check out my blog post on writing characters of color – for white writers.) Story by story, character by character, little by little, we can change people’s expectations and views. Push White Privilege to the background by putting diverse characters first. Right where they belong.

Flowers working cover.jpgI’m trying to do my part through writing. Some recent examples include my Flowers for the Ancients collection, which features women from ancient societies in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. In writing this, I was able to develop characters from diverse cultures and backgrounds, all set in fascinating periods of history.

major arcana coverAlso, I am currently working on a Tarot-inspired erotic romance set right here in my hometown of Seattle. Free to read on Wattpad, Major Arcana features a cast of characters I am rapidly coming to love. I had fun thinking about the diversity of my city and how that could be reflecting in writing, from the free-love Hippie momma (inspired by a friend’s mom… I’ll never reveal her name!), to the blended family and sibling relationships (there’s one in every family, right?), to the sexy, sensitive hero, a UW student from Yakima who also happens to be in a wheelchair. I had fun researching sex for paraplegic men, oh yes indeed! (Porn as education. Enough said.)

Anyway, I hope I am on the right track toward addressing and correcting White Priviledge in writing. (And in my everyday life, though that, as they say, is another story.) I would greatly appreciate any feedback and advice on how to do it better. We’re all works in progress, just trying to make this world better for everyone in whatever ways we can.

City of Trees

There is a ravine near my house, so deep and steep even the most bloodthirsty developers shied away. In the early 1900’s it was gifted to the city and has been a park ever since. Walking there is like stepping back in time. Though no longer an old-growth forest, filled with mossy megaliths of interminable age, as it once was, the park still has the feeling of primeval nature. Towering sworn ferns compete with ancient horsetails, fighting for dominance in the swampy creek bed between the trees. Salmonberry canes sprout up here and there, as well as skunk cabbage, dandelions, weeds. The street roars above on a sculpted metal bridge, but in the ravine it is nearly silent. Nature quietly asserting her eternal dominance.

In the center of the ravine a tiny creek flows. Free to the sky for only for a little while before spilling once more into the underground pipes beneath the city, yet it burbles quick and clear, full of life, in the same track carved by its ancestral waters generations ago. Here and there wooden plank bridges cross it, so people and their dogs can walk across instead of dirtying their shoes in the viscous mud along the banks. It is rich mud, fragrant mud, the mud of life.

Once, my husband and I saw an owl, just sitting there on a branch above the creek. So amazing, to see such a wild bird in the heart of the city.

Hiking back up the ravine, I strode on the carcasses of trees dead so many years ago, their great-grandchildren have long since become lumber. Life and death mingle in every aspect of the forest, as seedlings rise from fallen trunks, mushrooms nibble away at stumps, and rain beats it all into a mush. It is beautiful, and ancient, and pure. It could be any time and any moment.

In the forest, I would not be surprised to find a herd of Diplodocus dinosaurs just around the bend. Likewise, it would not amaze me to come upon a futuristic city in the treetops.

If ever there was a portal to another world, it would be there.

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… 🙂

The Rites of Spring

Springtime is beautiful in Seattle. First come the crocus, early in February, their colorful heads poking up from the bare ground. Shortly after them the cherry trees come into bloom, their blossoms like pink-and-white clouds against the gray sky. Mobs of people stroll in the Arboretum, or on the UW campus, to enjoy the sakura’s transient beauty.

Pike-Place-Flowers-2
Fresh bouquets for sale in the Pike Place Market.

Then the riot of tulips: fields and fields of them, tulips of all shapes, types, and colors, so many we have festivals dedicated to them, and every bouquet in the Pike Place Market is brimming with colorful tulip flowers. Roses are on their way, already; if it stays cool they will linger through the summer. All of that, plus other blooms and flowers of every description. Yes, it’s gorgeous, a reminder of the Earth’s renewal, the cyclical nature of our lives.

Mostly, though, it’s all about sex.

Flowers, really, are just a plant’s hermaphroditic sex organs. It’s no coincidence that a rose’s curling petals so closely resemble a woman’s inner labia. Nor that those pollen-coated stamens rise proudly erect, just like an eager man’s cock. Nature, that naughty minx, is always throwing sex in everybody’s face. If plants had legs, they’d be spread wide right now, an open invitation to all the other randy Plantae. Humans, meanwhile, are burying their faces in these sweet-smelling sexual organs, just enjoying the flowers.

So keep that in mind next time you’re cutting a bouquet. Those flowers aren’t as innocent as they seem. They’re just out to get laid – exactly like you and me!