How Thick Does An Author’s Skin Need To Be?

    Every now and then, you wake up to what you think will be a good day. For an author, that would probably be a steamy mug of coffee, a quiet space to work in, and a full day in which to lose yourself in your characters and story. There you sit, with your fingers poised over the keyboard of your computer, ready to work on your latest and greatest work in progress. A smile graces your lips and you think, today I know exactly where I am going with this chapter. You’ve spent the night wrestling with twists, turns, and character revelations, and settled upon your course of action. And then (drum roll), and then you decide to peek at your reviews on Goodreads. What a bad idea that can be! You look, you squint, your heart skips a couple of beats, and you feel your stomach sink. There it is, impossible to deny, that dreaded one or two star review. You feel sick, not only from the standpoint of your ego, but because you allow the review to get under your skin. That one or two star review can literally rip your guts out and reduce you into a babbling idiot. You vanish, poof, and all that remains of the confident author are your insecurities and self-doubts. Forget brilliant prose and those dreams of readers clamoring to read your efforts. Even if you simultaneously receive a five star review, it is the one or two star that casts its pall squelching your creativity. You’re back in grade school or high school, and that class bully or bitchy girl has singled you out to bear the brunt of their own frustrations and inadequacies.

   You ask yourself the question that begs for an answer, why is it that the person who hates your efforts is the one that feels the necessity to expound the most? Even, when they might not have finished your book. They take pen, or computer, and rant and rave, until it’s a wonder that they just don’t explode from their hypertensive efforts. It’s almost as if every inequity known to man has somehow been conveyed in the pages of your book. Please, just take a breath, it’s a novel; not everything conforms to your sensibilities. There isn’t always a happy ending, not for you, not for me, and certainly not in a book.

   It’s times like these that an author would do well to grow a really thick skin, perhaps something like that of a rhinoceros, or better yet a porcupine. Something that protects from the barbs, and sharpened teeth of a mad, frothing at the mouth, rabid reader. It’s funny the difference in people. I would never take the time to write a long, laborious scathing review. It would never occur to me. If a book is that bad I just move on, usually without a peep. I don’t hate the author or wish he or she ill will. Besides, my time is far too precious. I’d much prefer writing about the books that have moved me, informed me, opened doors for me, entertained me. Ah, but that’s what differentiates us, that’s the difference between vanilla and chocolate. After all, that is all a review really is, one person’s opinion, and very often that person holds no special degree in literary criticism, do they?

   I am reminded of what Kurt Vonnegut thought about the matter: “As for literary criticism in general; I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel or a play or a poem is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or a banana split.”

   Now that I got that off my chest, it’s back to the book!

There Are Angels Among Us – A Tribute to Robin Williams

I never knew Robin Williams personally, however, from the first moment in 1978 when an adorable alien named Mork arrived in our family room from planet Ork, I fell in love. I was twenty-five years old (oh my, I’m dating myself) and “Na-Nu Na-Nu” was my go-to phrase when I was feeling happy and magnanimous. “Shazbot”, well, that worked when I wasn’t, but it was far better than any other profanity I might consider using.

Robin and I were contemporaries of the same generation. While I was still finding my place in life, he was the funniest man alive. No one could out-funny Robin Williams. For this he was blessed with an illustrious career and awarded countless accolades. Everyone loved him, it was impossible not to. His brilliant spontaneity and ability to ad-lib were just a small part of his immense talent. A chameleon that was capable of morphing into any role, whether it be comedic or dramatic, he produced a brilliant stream of unforgettable characters. Can you imagine anyone else playing Popeye or Patch Adams? How about Adrian Cronauer in Good Morning, Vietnam, for which he won a well deserved Academy Award, or Vladimir Ivanov in Moscow on the Hudson, a man determined to live his dream of freedom? Who else could have filled his shoes? The list goes on and on, it is a filmography that would be hard to replicate, perhaps impossible.

What is most telling is that he went on to capture the love and admiration of my children, the next generation. My kids were as crazy about this otherworldly being that refused to grow up as I was. All told, I must have watched Hook, Jumangi, and Mrs. Doubtfire a thousand times with my kids. You just knew when you watched Robin that you were witnessing authenticity. He was that caring, sensitive, endearing individual who gave more than he got. He existed, so anything was possible.

The loss of such a man is all the more heartbreaking because any of us would have done anything we could to have helped him. He had his demons, his depression, his own personal hell; for 63 years he fought them tooth-and-nail. It is heartbreaking to think that the drugs and the alcohol may have been the only way that Robin could live up to Robin. That they won in the end and stole his light from this world is an unbearable sadness for his family, friends, and his millions of fans the world over.

It occurred to me that angels walk among us, and that Robin Williams was one of them. Perhaps God gifted us Robin, for what ended up being far too short a time. We welcomed him into our hearts, and he touched our lives with magic. He was a panacea, a teaspoon of sugar that made the medicine go down. He made it easier to deal with a difficult, daunting world. The tragedies of life fill us with tears, but Robin gave us laughter, which there is never enough of.

Since the announcement of his passing I’ve had this unshakable image of Robin in heaven doing what he did best: the accents, the witticisms, the perfection of timing and delivery, the humor that never rested, the entertainer that never left the stage. I imagine God, clutching himself in side-splitting laughter, delighted to have the angel Robin returned to his place in heaven.

Go gently into the night Robin, may you find peace among the stars. Thank you for the cherished memories and the treasure trove of characters–the magic that was yours alone. Know that your brilliance will continue to bring us laughter, even if now it will be through a veil of tears. I will miss you “O Captain! My Captain!” “Na-Nu-Na-Nu!”

 

What’s So Bad About Loving Two People at Once?

Choosing the characteristics of a perfect love interest seems like an easy task. Most of us would say gorgeous, smart, rich, devoted, thoughtful and romantic. Okay, I did say perfect, but I suspect most of us would probably settle for a hell of a lot less. In a romantic novel, however, we are free to dream.

In my new erotic romance, suspense series The Only One (The One #1, and The One and More #2, May/June 2014 release) I asked myself what irresistible traits a perfect lover should possess. I concluded that perfection is unattainable, and probably pretty boring. So I tweaked my concept of one perfect lover and decided that two might be more fun than one.

Given the eroticism of these novels each partner’s sexual proclivities and passions are never stagnant, but grow and evolve over time. My heroine begins the series as a sexual novice, but by the end of the series, she has mastered the skills and becomes a formidable partner. She tries to act with emotional clarity, and has a better understanding of what her needs and preferences are. In the end she realizes that she is satisfied in different ways by each of her lovers which leaves her with the impossible choice of which one to make a life partner.

You might think, why choose? In a conventional society we are encouraged to mate with one person at a time. The “proper” way is to find that compatible someone, marry, have children, and support one another as we navigate the rocky haphazard road of life. If, or when, a relationship fails, then, at least in our contemporary world, we are free to divorce and hopefully find another suitable companion and start the process all over again; which has not always been the case throughout history. One has only to look back to the tragic love affair of Frank Lloyd Wright and Mahmah Borthwick Cheney to understand just how unforgiving and destructive stepping outside of society’s norms can be. Married to other people, they made the mistake of falling in love with each other and acting on it. With spouses that refused to grant them divorces, they were vilified, run out of town, and hounded by the press, which nearly destroyed the career of one of the most important architects of all time. All because they dared to live outside of what was acceptable. The very idea of sharing oneself with more than one partner at the same time, even today, remains one of the great taboos of a civil society.

Fifty plus years later Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher would create their own love scandal when Eddie divorced Debbie Reynolds and married Taylor three-and-a-half hours after his divorce became final. For her part in the scandal, Elizabeth would carry the crown of “Homewrecker”. In 1963 when she met Richard Burton on the set of Cleopatra, Taylor garnered a new crown when the Vatican condemned their union, calling it ‘erotic vagrancy’, I love that one. Whereas Mahmah and Wright were scorned by the press, Taylor and Burton were immortalized.

The notion of loving two people at once is nothing new, we do it all of the time. We love our child, or children, and have no trouble distributing our love in, hopefully, equal measures to one or more of them. The same is true of our parents, we love them both, whether or not they live up to our expectations of parenting. This proves that we are capable of loving in many different ways, and many different people. It is only when romantic, sensual love is added to the equation that we are told, at least by society’s mores, that we are incapable of loving two people at once, and we are most certainly discouraged from loving two people sexually at the same time.

Just as we change throughout our lives, our relationships change with us. What might have begun as a heart stopping embrace, will undoubtedly modify over time. The bright inflamed embers of new love have a habit of burning out, or at least burning with a reduced flame. What remains usually between long time lovers (marrieds) are bonds of trust, unwavering support, mutual respect, friendship, and a shared life. United as one, the longtime partners share cherished memories and the knowledge that no matter what comes they face it together. Hopefully, they are still having sex even if it’s not that all encompassing feeling of passionate desire. If a new exciting love interest enters the picture and a love affair begins, it sparks a fire. With a new love every cell in the brain and body is rejuvenated with a memory of what it feels like to be mad and crazy in love. Our pulse quickens, and we feel fully alive. Is one better than the other? Probably not, it’s just new. To be fair, each has moments of shared joy and happiness. Besides, most of us have learned through experience that over time all things become more or less equal. The new love will most certainly lose steam in the passion and the desire department as we settle into a more lasting union. In other words, over time a new love is likely to become much like the old love.

Sometimes, though, life presents circumstances in which a relationship with deep feelings and great sex is somehow blown apart beyond the control of the two lovers and the relationship is brought to an end. The two that were one must now build new lives without ever really resolving the situation. They are still attracted to and in love with each other, but no longer bound to one another. They meet and see new people; one of them might even fall in love with a new person. Now we’re talking about being in love with two people, even if  sex is only happening with just the one. But, what if the one partner that hasn’t fallen in love with anyone else, and has never relinquished their love decides that no matter what the cost, they will do whatever it takes to regain the love that was lost to them. That is exactly the dilemma that faces my heroine Adelia Lindstrom. Although she is still in love with her former husband, Miles, she knows that the relationship is over. Life goes on and she falls in love with someone else. When  Miles inserts himself back into her life, she finds herself incapable of denying him access. Hence, she is in love with two men at the same time and enjoying the different pleasures that both deliver. What’s wrong with that, you might ask? The problem is, she eventually has to make a choice. Multiple lovers are a complication that can get ugly. Then there is that ticking bomb of what other’s think, not to mention human nature’s propensity for jealousy.

Ah, life, the beauty of it is that the one thing you can count on with certainty, is that it will undoubtedly present you with obstacles and choices. Writers count on it, for without difficulties and challenges, there would be nothing to write about. What is the solution for my heroine? We’ll just have to wait and see. However, it will be fun exploring the possibilities of sustaining two separate love interests. Damn, if that doesn’t sound like the next book.

Sex, And Why Not Write About It?

The first book in my romantic/erotic/thriller series entitled The One is nearly ready for publication. Part of me wants to woohoo with joy. For the heck of it, I looked up the word ‘woohoo’, and discovered that it is also a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Who knew? Considering that my book has plenty of steamy, romantic intercourse in it, oh, and sex too, I guess woohooing is the perfect reaction to completing the first in this series.

What I discovered by exploring and writing about the behind closed doors side of people’s lives is that it is a hell of a lot of fun to write, and even more fun to read. How many times have you read a book, and just when the hero and heroine are about to finally get some serious physical interaction in you find that all you get is an innuendo of what is to come, and then…the chapter ends? You’re left on edge, wondering, what happened when the lights went out, and why you were left feeling gypped and unsatisfied. For instance when Scarlett woke up with that titillating grin and stretched languidly with pleasure as she recalled the night before when Rhett swept her up in his arms and carried her upstairs to bed. Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on the wall during that earth shattering consummation of passion? I’m pretty sure Mitchell’s heroine wasn’t having a “fiddle dee dee!” moment with the macho Rhett Butler.

Real life doesn’t stop, why should a novel? If sex is written well it can only enhance the story and reveal nuances of the characters and their lives that otherwise would be missing. The film and television industries have figured it out, and as for the visual arts, painters have been obsessed for centuries with the object of desire and fulfillment.  So, what’s different about the written word? If sex is an integral part of the narrative then by all means let the reader experience it.

The negation of that argument is, yes, the world has changed and the reading public is far more adventurous than in the past, but aren’t you degrading the art of literature, and more importantly can one dare to even call it literature? The answer is, of course one can? If there is an exciting plot, a worthy theme, compelling characters, stylized writing, and a clear voice, there should be no deterrent to enjoyment.  After all, a good read is a good read.

How you may ask did I come to write in this genre? First, after hearing all of the fuss about Fifty Shades of Grey I was intrigued just like everyone else. I read the first two in the trilogy, and even though I pooh-poohed the quality of the writing, I found I couldn’t put it down. Fifty Shades led to my reading a few others in the genre. Some were better than others just like in any genre. I did find that the novels I read that were romantic and erotic also tended to be a quick read, absorbing, and oft time’s funny. When an idea came to me for a new novel that had a subplot of crime and murder, I thought why not. Why not enhance the erotic, obsessive angle of the story. After all, so much of the story I had in mind was about passion gone wrong. Why wouldn’t that passion be realized within the pages of the book? Without the development of the sexual relationship between the main characters the driving force of passion would be missing and the story would never ring true.  It seemed a worthy challenge, and one that deserved to be attempted. What I didn’t know is how difficult it is to make sex scenes feel fresh and new. That, however, will need to be addressed in a future blog, perhaps entitled ‘Reinventing Sex’.

The fact is, even with my own convincing argument fresh on the paper before me, I still find it necessary to use a penname. Why you may ask? Are you ashamed? No not ashamed, but cautious. I have an award winning novel that I wouldn’t want to tarnish in any way. He who reads one genre doesn’t necessarily read another genre. Why muddy the waters. Then there is the question whether family and friends might find themselves in an uncomfortable situation because of my public persona. Children, grandchildren, wow this really could get ugly. It all added up to my decision to free myself from the fetters of convention and take on a second persona, and so Belle Ami was born. After all who wouldn’t want to be Belle Ami?

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