Category Archives: women

New Release: Polar Shift (a lesbian novellette)

Polarshift

After a series of collaborative anthologies (like Anything She Wants, Sweat, A Christmas to Remember, Cougars, Bossy, Forbidden Fruit and Opposites Attract), my latest work for the wonderful ladies at Ladylit Publishing is all my own. A 15.000 word/ 50 page novellette about a woman who discovers her attraction to a very unlikely partner.

Polar Shift is about overcoming prejudice and finding unexpected treasures, it’s about tenderness and gender identity, orientation and all that goodness. And yes, it’s a little bit about bdsm, too.

Blurb:

Kaylah Shaw is everything Megan never wanted: impatient and abrasive, too tall and groomed to an unnatural perfection. One encounter is enough to last the failed photographer a lifetime. When she moves into Megan’s apartment building, however, Kaylah shows up at her door, with her smooth, long legs and a compelling smile, and surprises her with the request for a photoshoot. Finding some undeniable quality at the bottom of her dark eyes, Megan agrees, never expecting that Kaylah would take control of the shoot, with gentle but unerring dominance, and open her up to a world never explored before.

 

Polarshiftsmaller

 

Price: $2.99

Available from
Amazon US
Amazon UK
Amazon CA
Amazon DE
Amazon AUS

[More to come]

Add it to your Goodreads shelf >>

The post New Release: Polar Shift (a lesbian novellette) appeared first on Laila Blake.

Triggers and Tough Truths

quote

 

We talk about triggers a lot, us the women and the queer folk and the people of color, us who would like the world to be a little bit better, a little bit more equal (not just a bit god damnit!) We often mean those little warning labels at the start of possibly inflammatory blog posts or articles.

I still rarely use them. Mostly because there many times when it feels like advertising instead, because we live in a society in which violence is entertainment and sexual violence doubly so. And I can’t even be preachy about it, really, because it works on me too. I also am lucky not to get triggered by blog posts, and when I do end up feeling bad, anxious and lingeringly icky after consuming an article or video, it’s usually because of subtle, strange things nobody would think of warning against.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today.

I want to talk about triggers in my offline life. The life we used to call the “real life,” before I grew up and realized my real life gets to be what I choose it to be.

 

He was sweet, which is unusual for a street flirt. I had an inkling he was about to ask me out when he slowed down as I approached, when he changed the side of the road to match mine when I tried to get out of the situation. I didn’t want him to chat me up, but the sun was shining and I’d had a really nice day at work and so when he did, I wasn’t quite able to shut it down. Being cold and dismissive is something I had to learn, and still have to prepare for, or the good old people please inside me rears its smiling Manic Pixie Dream Girl head.

But he was sweet.

He spoke English better than German, which tends to win me over. He asked me what I do and how I like it, he asked what I enjoy in my spare time and showed an interest. And he a sweet, smiling face that didn’t look threatening.

For the sake of fairness, I should say right now that this is not a story about how I was raped. Nothing quite so dramatic and horrible and important. But it is a story about how we got to talking about the tv shows we liked and why not hang out some time this week and watch one together, get to know each other.

I’m an introvert, a tv-hang-out session is my dream first date. And he said he was one, too. I still don’t know if that was the truth. But he gave me my number. He wasn’t pushy for mine, like most of them are. And so I texted him, and we arranged a date.

 

In hind-sight, maybe I could have been smarter. My alarm bells could have run sooner, like when he acted like I was probably surprised he found me attractive and wanted to go out with me. Or when I finally figured out in one of his texts that he’d followed me out of the train just to talk to me.

He showed up 15 minutes late – which given Cologne’s public transport really isn’t a big deal – but he immediately said, “I bet you’re surprised I actually showed up, aren’t you? I know you’re surprise. I could have texted but I thought I’d like to surprise you.”

I smiled and shook my head. I wasn’t surprised; there’s nothing surprising about a man who finds me attractive and wants to get his hands on me. In fact it is the most annoyingly predictable part of dating in general.

I offered him something to drink. He looked around, at my photos and my books and my DVDs. You know, intimate stuff like that. And he immediately hated my cat. Now, my dad doesn’t like cats either, and it’s not an issue of like-me-like-my-cat, but the way he flinched and aggressively shushed her away was unattractive. And it also put me on the defensive; he had me apologizing five times before we even started to watch something.

That at least started out fine. He took my hand after a while and it was warm and large, and for a second I managed to forget about his hatred for pets and thought that maybe, just maybe, I could be a normal person with a nice date with someone who’s actually interested in me, not just my boobs or my ass, and both of them as fast as possible, please.

 

It’s not that I am shy or prude (even though neither of these things are bad in any way). But I’ve had sex or intimate touching too early before, and it has always felt to me like I was the girl selling tickets at the box office: For a while, we are both in the same place. We interact, maybe exchange a few niceties, which end up designed to make me smile and hand over the ticket. And in that moment, he takes my body into a dark room with him and I am left on the outside, hardly even able to look in, and definitely not part of the experience.

It’s when he does all the pushing. I let him hold my hand, so it’s probably okay if he wants to put his arm around me, if he wants to kiss me before we’re 15 minutes into the show.

At that point, I told him I really just want to hang out together. I have no interest in having sex or anything like that. He plays offended for a second and then reassures me. We get a little more comfortable and the show continues. He starts kissing my neck, licking it, scratching me with his beard.

I don’t feel anything. I’m not invested in him enough, not turned on enough, just not in the same room.

“I want to touch your skin,” he says as he pulls up my shirt. I pull it down and so he weasels his hand under it.

“Oh, do you?” I ask. I raise my brows and sigh. No. I didn’t stop him. I didn’t say What about what I want? People pleaser. I hate that girl.

I stopped him when he straddled my lap, pulled up my shirt and started peeling away my bra. I said, “Hey. I’m not into this.”

He grinned, made puppy eyes and went, “Awww come on. Just five minutes.”

That’s when I pushed him off me. Hard. It felt good, for one glorious second it felt good.

And then he got angry. I don’t know if you ever tried to explain to a man who’s never even heard about feminist theory or rape culture, that no, I am not accusing him of trying to rape me. But yes, he’s doing something wrong.

It’s not fun. As you may have expected.

I asked him to leave, which he made me repeat I think a total of 6 or 7 times. Always asking whether I’m sure. His voice got loud and aggressive.

“You were okay with it! I didn’t do anything wrong! I respect women! I like you and I know you like me too, I just don’t need a month to decide whether I like someone! You didn’t say no!”

I did. But not very loud. And I certainly didn’t say yes. I didn’t say it with my mouth or with my body. I turned away, leaned away, squirmed out of his embraces whenever I could.

I guess it’s subtle – if it’s all about what you want, and I’m a means to an end.

 

When he left, I started to cry and I wanted to shower. It took me a while to realize that he reminded me all too starkly of my ex when I was 18. The boy who’d made sex a chore for me, something the man pressured, cajoled, begged, charmed out of me. Never the thing I wanted, desired. There was never enough time to get there.

I never actually said “No” to him, either. I said, “Really, again?” I said, “But we’re watching the movie…” I said, “I’m really tired, can we just cuddle?” I said, “I’m still sore.” I said, “I have to be at work in an hour and I don’t want to shower again.”

I guess all that was really subtle, too.

 

He also knew what he wanted. And when he wanted something the touching and the groping, the relentless pushing, that’s just something that happens. And when I push his hand away, that’s not saying “no” – I guess that’s saying “Try again in 2 Minutes.”

 

So I cried. A lot. And I sat, staring into space, going over everything I said and everything I did. And over the way his voice changed and his eyes weren’t cute anymore; they suddenly were the eyes of a man who could hurt me.

I had trouble falling asleep and when I did, I had nightmares and kept waking up bathed in sweat. In the morning, I was still staring into space, starting to come up with appropriate responses: the things I should have said when he belittled my feelings, when he snorted at the idea someone like me could tell him what to do and what not to do. After all, wasn’t I supposed to be grateful for his attentions?

I ended up forgetting my keys, and I cried in the bathroom at work. The service to open up my door set me back 200€ and there’s a part of me that is still sitting here, staring into space, trying to figure out what I could have done differently – yesterday and when I was 19. I’m still a hair’s breadth away from starting to cry again.

And so I write it down. It’s what I do.

 

The thing that gets me is… I could have wanted him, if he had given me a little more time. If he had talked and laughed and been a person with me, rather than a guy who’s after sex. It’s the least sexy thing in the world, the way their personalities glaze over and I don’t even recognize the fun person they were a few minutes before. And I’m just so, so tired of it sometimes.

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Is it the Times that Change, or is it us?

Gilmore Girls inspired insights into our life and times

I have never been a fan of old movies. Those timeless classics everybody should have watched at least once. It’s different with classic books, but — with a small and notable number of exceptions, like The Breakfast Club – I never seem to get into movies made before I was born.

it-happened-2It took me a while to figure out why. I admit I like color, and a clear picture. I also modern acting, where the old-timey kind often feels surreal and artificial. And most of all, I like the kind of stories it takes guts to tell, and that changes. Something that took guts 50 years ago, in today’s world comes across as somewhat conservative, after all.

It doesn’t seem like that with classic novels. Look at anything from Shakespeare to Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre, to Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary, on to Of Human Bondage, Oscar Wilde, To Kill a Mockingbird1984 and Slaughterhouse Five. All of those are still brave, even if some of them were written centuries ago, they still pack this undeniable punch that’s hard to ignore.

I don’t get that with movies. I have a friend, a cineaste, who tries to change my mind on this constantly. From time to time, I give in and watch whatever he makes me watch. Most recently It Happened One Night (1934), which was supposed to be sweet and romantic and full of understated sexiness… and all I could find was sexism and an icky guy with a mustache. Sounds similar, but it kills every buzz before before I can say “Oh, hi there!”

I’ve always felt vaguely bad for this. Not too terribly, because I get classic novels, and so clearly fill at least one quota of sophistication, but still – it’s a bit hard to admit that you’d rather watch Love Actually, or The Incredibles or, more likely, Parks & Recreation or Community or Game of Thrones for the umpteenth time, than to try out Casablanca or whatever it is. I’m that girl who prefers the 2005 Keira Knightly Pride & Prejudice over the 1995 Colin Firth one. I tell you, they’re not pretty, the looks I get.

Now, Netflix finally came to Germany a few weeks ago (hello beautiful addiction), and now my queue is full of old Gilmore Girls episodes. Now, you have to understand… I LOVED Gilmore Girls when I was a teenager. Loved it. Everything about it. It was my #1 addiction show. Not Buffy (that came later, I still blame the German dubbing), not Charmed (close second lol), always Gilmore Girls. I even had all the seasons on DVD, and then left them at my Ex’s place before we broke up and never saw them again (lesson learned)! So naturally, this whole Gilmore Girls coming to Netflix this October business left me very, very excited.

Then I started watching.

And suddenly, Gilmore Girls is an old movie to me. Or well on its way, anyway, and it made me realize what it is about the media of the past that aggravates me so much. I had the same problem trying to watch That 70′s Show a while ago, but I thought it just wasn’t my thing (with the constant cutsiefiction of sexual harassment as a thing sweet, adorable lonely guys do).

Gilmore Girls is supposed to be about free spirits and dorky outsiders, girl-power and emancipation, liberal girls who don’t give a damn about tradition and do their own thing, and do it well: in short an extremely awesome, feminist show. At least, that’s what it felt like to me when I was that age. Yes, I still love their quippy play-by-play, but now I wish it had more substance.

And now I don’t know whether I changed, or whether we just grew as a society. I just feel like a series trying for the same idea today would be so different (see the early cancelled Bunheads, for example, a more recent product of Amy Sherman-Palladino with a lot of the same cast). Or maybe a show I would like today would have to be. Maybe more like Lauren Graham and Mae Whitman’s mother-daughter relationship in NBC’s Parenthood.

The point is… movies and TV series are informed by the times in which they were made, and I suppose I just discovered I have zero nostalgia for the past. I LIKE diversity in my series (and I mean more than one Korean best friend and using the word “gay” as a joke/punch-line/insult). I LIKE honesty in the stories we tell, rather than glossing over the hard bits, and tv series are the perfect outlet for that. Much better than movies, with their fixed and limited time-span, can be.

In the end, I think today, Gilmore Girls feels conservative, chaste and weak in its message. It’s disappointing and not nearly as much fun to watch as I thought it would be.

I am keeping this running tally of disappointing moments, like when Lorelai uses gay as an insult, or Rory is disgusted at the idea of nursing a baby in public, or the constant slut shaming and fat phobia (especially galling considering they eat exactly like people like them imagine fat people eat). Or the crazy stereotypical sexist representation of Rory’s friends in Chilton (the ultra competitive bitchy one — and I know Paris ends up more fleshed out but it takes almost two whole seasons to get there, the boy-crazy “slutty” one and the dumb, nice one). But what gets me most are those overarching themes.

The basic premise that Lorelai’s parents have a right to be disappointed she didn’t turn out their carbon copy is never actually questioned. Lorelai apologizes, she even says she’s some kind of special freak, but the idea that parents get to be this actively disappointed for 15 long years because their child chose a different path is taken for granted. No mention that children have a sense of autonomy, that they are individuals, or that parents shouldn’t even try to brainwash them into becoming just like them.

And then there is Lorelai’s insistence not to get any help from her parents. And it makes sense with her character, but in today’s world where a single income is rarely enough to support a family, it sets an impossible standard for single-parent mothers. And the whole self-made person, never-ask-for-help-from-anyone bit could have come right out of some conservative politician’s mouth (who also was born to wealthy parents, giving them an extra boost in the world not just in money, but in the expectation that it’s possible to be that self-starter, and having room to fail). What is so wrong in helping each other? Why is that such a terrible thing?

And don’t get me started on the men and boys in their lives.

Dean is presented as the “good guy” compared to Jess, but Dean has crazy anger management issues. He may not get into fights, but he threatens violence, he yells, and treats Rory like a possession no other man is allowed to look at (see Tristan, Jess). There are several points in the story where Rory looks actively afraid of him, and with good reason. He’s clingy and manipulative and abusive, but no, he’s the golden boy. The nice one, and Rory is the bad girl for falling for someone less crazy, someone who intellectually challenges her and actually makes her laugh.

Can we also talk about the fact that through the whole of the first season, it’s sooo scandalous and worrisome that a 16-year-old girl has a boyfriend? And everybody makes claims about how boys that age only think of one thing, and can’t be trusted and omg the drama. And then in the show, Rory actually doesn’t have sex until she goes to college (and even then it’s one big drama), even though she was practically never without a boyfriend all through high school, perpetuating this idea that girls are supposed to virtuous and not want it anyway or that sex isn’t a good, happy thing between two people who love each other? Aren’t we as a society ready now for women and girls who have desires and fun, and don’t have to choose between being smart/intellectual and enjoying sex?

And then there’s Lorelai. I never got the much-hyped “chemistry” between her and Luke. I always loved Max, and I still do. But I see what everybody means now. It’s exactly that “chemistry” that leads so many women who’ve read too many romance novels or see n too many romantic comedies to believe that when a guy is grumpy and quiet, that makes him mysterious or someone to save and she ends up miserable, when she could have been with a good, caring man who knows how to communicate and use his words, who actually shares her interest and matches her intellect so she doesn’t have to play dumb, or alter herself to flirt with him.

But the writers were very insistent to write out any man who actually fits with Lorelai: Max went suddenly marriage crazy, and we didn’t even get a resolution are any kind of goodbye. Christopher, who I then rooted for, gets a phone call that his ex is pregnant… and so there’s always grumpy old Luke to turn to. That’s not fate, or chemistry, that’s cruel writers ;) . And I get that, I’m a writer: torturing your characters is part of the deal, I just don’t buy the overarching love story she and Luke are supposed to have.

Sorry for the rant, I suppose I needed to get that off my chest.  And really, it’s not all bad, it’s still just as sweet and witty as it always was. It’s just not that crazy happy perfect show anymore that it was when I was young.
What I’m trying to say, though, is that no matter how bad it seems sometimes… I really like the times we live in.

We may have sexist assholes stealing naked pictures of famous women and spreading them over the internet, but we also have Jennifer Lawrence, who refuses to apologize for having made the pictures in the first place – who refuses to apologise, in short, for being a full human being with emotions and sexuality, and calls this “leak” by what it is: a sex-crime.

We may have internet trolls harassing, threatening and virtually beating up women who dare to speak out on women’s issues – but at least we’re talking about them.

And I’m not saying that all tv shows are better now, that no sexist or racist or homophobic stuff happens in movies. But I think it’s easier to find shows who go a different way, and not only am I grateful for that as a viewer, I also think it says something about us as a society. Namely, that it doesn’t always get worse at all.

Thoughts too long for Twitter: Street Harassment

Because apparently, I can’t sit down an concentrate on anything before getting this off my chest, here’s what happened on the bus today. It’s not unusual, it’s not new, it happens all the time to me and all the other women around. And I’m still gonna write about it.

I get into the bus, and a guy gestures me to go first on the ticket machine. Afterwards, he goes:

Man: *mumbles so that I have to lean in*
Me: (in German) Excuse me?
Man: *still mumbling* Do you speak English?
Me: Yeah. Yes, I do. Do you need help with anything?

He points to the ticket machine and we have a conversation about the different rates and distances and where he has to go, until I tell him which ticket to get. After this, I walk away to find a less busy place to stand. So far so good.
He follows me and starts asking me questions.

- What’s your name?
- Do you live around here?
- Where are you going?
- Do you take this bus a lot?
- Do you have children?
- Do you have a boyfriend?

At this point, I lie and say I do, already figuring he isn’t the type to just respect my lack of desire to date him. My answers grow more and more taciturn and at the next station a few people get off the bus so I walk away again to find a place to sit.
He follows me again, standing way too close so that my face is at the height of his stomach/crotch.

Man: Hey, give me your number.
Me: No, thank you.
Man: Come on, give me your number. Your boyfriend doesn’t have to know. It’s just as friends. Just as friends, come on. It’s just a phone number. It’s totally normal.
Me: *shaking my head throughout his speech.* No thank you. Very flattering, but no.
Man: It’s just a phone number. Come on, just as friends. Everybody can use friends, right? It’s no big deal, just give me your number, come on.
Me: *Shakes head and turns away*
Man: Come on, you’re not scared of me, are you?
Me: No, I’m not scared of you. *turns away again*
Man: Here, why don’t you come sit with me. There’s plenty of room here.
Me: *ignores him*
Man: Hey, you don’t have to be scared of me. Just sit with me.
Me: I’m good here, thanks.
Man: Yeah I knew it. You’re scared of me, this is so typical…

Now, at this point I was pretty mad. Not just because I actually do have an anxiety disorder and when it gets bad it is exactly situations like that which make it really scary for me to use the bus or even leave my house. But also because he was African, and I suddenly felt like he was calling me racist for that old cliche of having to be afraid of black men. And again, I wasn’t afraid of him at all, I was just pissed off.

Me: Okay, seriously? I helped you, I was nice. I don’t want to go out with you or give you my number. Leave me alone.
Man: *stares* It’s just a damn number…

At this point I just resolutely stared out of the window until my stop came. Of course at this point, he still had the gall to ask me where his stop was and how many more stops to go. And I got off feeling like crap.

Why do these people do this? Like… I just don’t get it.

Let’s talk about love. Insta-love.

Almost all my characters suffer from what I understand is a fatal flaw in romance novels.

Almost all my characters have a tragic slant towards insta-love.

Now, I don’t actually write romance, as far as I would define it, although Driftwood Deeds
comes pretty close. I think, I write novels with love stories in their side or main plots, usually some kind of genre cross-over, because that’s what makes me happy. But there is still that romantic connection, the nod to everybody who does like to read about love. Like me, like you – like almost everybody it seems, considering that even very male-oriented staples usually feature some kind of love story, love interest or love-related motivation. And why wouldn’t it?
medium_2834306912After (and often enough before) the basic necessities for survival are satisfied, love seems to be one of the forces in our lives that creates the most change, the most flux, drama, happiness, anxiety and contentment, all at once. It’s a literary gold mine. What would 1984 be without the strange, crooked love story between Winston and Juliet? Or even Fight Club, without Marla Singer? It surprised me at the time when I read that Chuck Palahniuk categorized his novel as a love story. It made a crazy amount of sense, when I read it again.

So this insta-love business. I understand why it’s a somewhat hated trope. It smacks a little bit of neglect, of giving your characters something good too easily. And maybe that’s true. Sometimes. But avoiding insta-love completely, would also remove my personal experience of love from my writing. And I don’t want to do that. I want my writing to be real, and honest. Not so personal that you can read some of my stories and feel like I just put my life’s story on your shoulders, but personal enough to transport truth.
For me, love was always quick. And it takes a while to understand that my personal experience is not everybody else’s. So for a long time, the idea of insta-love baffled me. Do we really need reasons for falling in love? Do we need conflict and emotional back and forth? It’s never been that way for me – the reasons and the drama came later.

I’ve read a lot about introverts and emphatic and sensitive people recently, ostensibly in order to put a nicer spin on a lot of my character traits, redefining them for myself as assets. But I came across something interesting, which was that highly sensitive people often report falling in love really fast and head-over-heels intensely. Maybe because there is something about our nervous systems that is easy overwhelmed in general (loud parties, a problem, that news report about the suffering after an earthquake) and of course love can be the most overwhelming of all.

Maybe it’s the romance novel expectation: when the plot is the love story, why throw the prize away a few pages after they meet? I understand that rationally, but in every other way I find that hugely problematic.
For one thing, why is that the prize? Surely the prize is actually being with that person, and realizing you can actually make it work.

It also bothers me, when (usually) the girl doesn’t like him at first, thinks he’s a bit brutish or arrogant or stupid or whatever, and then we spend a novel reading about how she was wrong and he got her anyway. Why do we insist on telling women not to trust their instincts? Instincts are good! We should foster them, try to divide them from our prejudices, hone them and allow them to influence our decisions.
Another way love is oven deferred in books, is due to pride. And again, I understand about not giving away the prize and all, but I actually like reading about people who are open and generous about their feelings. Who don’t hold onto them like little old misers with their pennies. Who are open to falling in love, even if it hurts; who laugh, even at slightly stupid jokes; who cry when something is sad rather than refusing to feel. Why do we so often look down on people who feel.

So you fall for someone and the worst thing that can happen is that it doesn’t work out, you get rejected, you find out he isn’t really that great… yeah, that stuff hurts. And we can learn to deal with that. Especially when we are open about that pain, too.

BTLOTM -- color240x360In By the Light of the Moon, Moira and Owain, once they find a connection, fall in love hard and fast. And I never considered that this might be insta-love. Especially because she is a 19-year-old who’s never been in love before. Isn’t that how we fall in love for the first time? Hard and fast, without reason or pride, absolutely at the mercy of this avalanche of hormones and joy and panic that spreads through our bodies at the sight of his smile, at the feel of his first touch?

I still fall in love like that.

I’m a grown-up now, so I know not to say it. I know that I can only say I am in love with someone when I am ready to make a commitment and, better yet, when they have said it first so I know they are ready for a commitment – but all that is just my head talking, my cultural programming, the knowledge of acceptable word usage. So I use different words, but the feeling is still there.
The truth is there isn’t one way to love, or one definition. Love can be all sort of things, and go through all sorts of phases – but that first flutter, the overwhelming feeling that this person could be someone incredible, why is that so underrated anymore?

Of course it’s not as stable, it’s not a promise, it’s not a guarantee, but isn’t that beauty in it? Isn’t that something that can grow? And isn’t the growth an interesting story, too?
I love Pride & Prejudice, but I still want to shake Lizzie and Darcy because they are wasting so much precious time, so many moments together. They even manage to almost destroy the sweet insta-love between Jane and Bingly with their pride and rationality. And I want to shake them for that, too.

And yeah, I hate insta-love too when it’s about superficial stuff. When love comes from the way someone wears their hair, or the cocky smile on his face. But that’s not all we perceive. I think after even evening together, we can see so much in a person. In their opinions, their jokes, their reactions, the little nuances in their voice, especially in their voice.
I think we should pat ourselves and our characters on the back and trust a little more, give some weight to first impressions and instincts, to sudden rushes of feeling.

Sure, they’ll lead us astray sometimes. But that’s no reason to stop feeling.

photo credit: Brandon Christopher Warren and mohammadali via photopin cc

Misogyny kills. Again. Be shocked.

This is hard.

You all know I blog about feminism. This is important to me. And then something like the Elliot Rodger massacre happens and I want nothing to do with it. It feels like only last week that this other guy killed the girl who refused to go to prom with him, like I was only just getting over that one.

I could deal with it when I read the news. Sort of. I couldn’t watch his videos or read parts of his manifesto. And when the next day social media kicked in and my dashboard erupted in twitter screenshots of people who congratulated him, thanked him, drank to him… I think I stopped and left the computer and in a way, I’m still avoiding this issue.

It’s too much sometimes. And I get so, so tired. Do you guys feel that way sometimes? Like you try to talk about misogyny and how dangerous it is, and what we can do and nobody really listens? And then something horrible happens again and invariable it’s pushed away as the acts of a “lonely virgin” suffering from mental illness, and that’s it.

It hurts. I’m not personally affected, no, but it hurts. And I could have been. You could have been. Man or woman, straight or gay, whatever color your skin is. You could have been. Misogyny kills. And I’m so tired of it all, of all the things people will say to protect themselves from having to actually think about this, from having to actually make some changes in their lives.

These are some of those things:

 “Oh in case feminists didn’t carefully pay attention to the news, you know who killed 4 MEN and 2 WOMEN. Which gender suffered more? That’s right.” (actual tumblr quote)

1. This is not a suffering competition. We don’t tally score. This is not a women against men crusade.

2. Misogyny kills men and women. It always has. It’s not a women’s issue, however much it is always portrayed that way. Men have many privileges over women, yes all men. Not just some. All of you. Read Charlie Glickman’s post if you want to learn more about that.

But the truth is that women aren’t the only victims of a patriarchical system. When men abuse women in the home, young boys suffer, just as much as girls. Boys suffer when they are told Boys don’t cry, or called sissies, pussies or any other term for “female” when they show emotion.

Teens are further disconnected from their emotions and compassion, through the media, their friends, their fathers, and yes, women as well, be it their mothers or anyone else.

Their sexuality is warped away from intimacy and tenderness and towards crude entitlement, to using women’s bodies as masturbatory tools, to seeing them as things for their pleasure without a clue as to what pleasure actually is.

And yeah, sometimes misogyny kills men, too. Like it happened in this massacre. But that doesn’t make it any less of a misogynist crime.

So yeah, men are victims, too. What else can we expect from living in a society with such seriously screwed up ideas of gender and what it should be?

He was just mentally ill. It has nothing to do with women. If he hadn’t felt entitled to them, it would have been over something else.

First of all: are you a psychiatrist? No. Then you’re talking out of your ass to cover this little uncomfortable feeling inside of you makes you avoid the actual issue here.

Yeah, it looks like he was suffering from a mental illness. That’s an important discussion (sad that it only ever comes up when white straight young men shoot people, but okay). To be fair, he was from an extremely privileged background, so getting help for that should have been about 100 times easier than for 99% of the population. I have a mental illness, I know lots of people with mental illness. It’s not card blanche. You go get help. You work on yourself. And that’s really hard.

Elliot Rodger may have felt this intense level of entitlement due to a mental illness. But he didn’t feel entitled to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and shot up their head offices, or to be on some football team.

No. He felt entitled to something that a vast mass cultural narrative taught him to feel entitled to: sex from hot women. Not love, not intimacy, not a happy relationship or the meeting of minds – no: blonde sorority chicks he never actually met, just “desired” for their looks.

This is not a coincidence. And it’s not all down to mental illness. Mental illness may have provided the trigger but misogyny is the soil, the plan, the gun. And every time someone denies this, we give it more power.

 

So can we just repeat together: women don’t owe men sex. Women are not free prostitutes who service men for a drink, a sleazy compliment or pick-up-line or anything else men have come up with to “get laid”. We are human beings. As much as you have preferences (as in, if you wouldn’t date a “fat chick”, or a “crazy one” or a “clingy one” or etc.) they do, too. They don’t owe you anything. Never. There’s no such thing as a “friendzone”. There is rejection, and it sucks, and both men and women experience it all the time. Learn to deal with that. And move on.

How are we still talking about this?

 

New Release: By the Light of the Moon (Lakeside #1) + Giveaway

Less than two months ago, we celebrated the release of After Life Lessons on April 8th 2014. It was a coincidence, the desire to hold fast to the traditional book release Tuesday, and a conscious disassociation with April Fools Day a week previous. It was, however, the one-year-anniversary of my very first book release.

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On April 8th 2013, Crimson Romance released By the Light of the Moon, and started something really important to me. We have since gone our separate ways, but I will never not be grateful for the opportunity they gave me – in particular the then editor Jennifer Lawler, who believed in me. It was difficult time for me, maybe the lowest of my life yet, and the fact that someone did – someone thought I was good enough to publish meant the world for me and shaped the way I’ve approached writing ever since.

The imprint changed over time, as everything does, and even before I submitted Book 2 in the Lakeside series, I had a feeling my writing didn’t fit in there anymore. In the end, we decided to part ways over creative differences regarding this series – which I wished to take away from a mostly romance trilogy and towards a more general fantasy story with a strong romance side-plot. I decided I was better off doing it myself, but my gratitude remains with Crimson Romance and the wonderful authors I met there.

The Revisions

From the first, even before the original publications, there were things I wanted to change. But the imprint was on a schedule, and I had been stupid enough to start submitting before I was 100% sold on my own manuscript. I was impatient and silly and never would have thought anyone would actually pick it up; I just wanted to be part of the game, you know?

But once it was published, unsurprisingly, it was exactly those issues that kept readers from enjoying the book to the extend they, and I wanted to: the beginning was too complicated, too slow. I’ve spent the last half year, on and off, over and over again, finding ways of unraveling the complications and speeding it up. I created artwork, edited out a host of errors and wrote a few new scenes.
Some of it was painful – like loosing the beautiful lesbian prologue between a Fae and her servant spy. But I think in the end, the book is much better for it.

The Content

By the Light of the Moon is the first book in a romantic paranormal fantasy trilogy, set in alternate history medieval times. It follows the life of a young noblewoman suffering from mental illness and ptsd, her forbidden love story with her shape-shifter guard and the sinister forces around her. It’s a story about magic and love and deception, and I can’t wait to finally promote it the way I always wanted to, to bring the trilogy to it’s conclusion.

Withdrawn and with a reputation for her strange, eccentric ways, young Lady Moira Rochmond is old to be unwed. Rumors say, she has been seen barefoot in the orchard, is awake all night in moon-struck rambles and sleeps all day. Some will even claim her ghostly pallor and aloof manner are signs of illness, of a curse or insanity.

The hopes of the peaceful succession to her father’s fief lie in an advantageous marriage. When a suitor does show interest, her family pushes for a decision.
Almost resigned to the fact that she has no choice but to play the part she has been given in life, Moira is faced with Owain.  A member of the mysterious Blaidyn creatures and a new guard in her father’s castle, he is specifically tasked to keep her safe. He is different from other people she knows and when one night under the full moon, she makes the acquaintance of the wolf who shares Owain’s soul, her life starts to change and to unravel.

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The Giveaway

As always, what fun would it be if I didn’t let you all enter to win something? a Rafflecopter giveaway

 Get your copy today and make a girl really really happy :)

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Reading Women Writers

What an awkward subject. I find myself feeling foolish for bringing it up – “reading women writers” – because, in 2014, shouldn’t this be a non-issue? I’m a woman, many of my friends are women, many of the writers I know personally are women. Given we make up roughly half the population, we should make up half of the books on the shelves, right?

I always forget how poor I am at math.

On average, women make up less than half of the published and promoted authors today – some arenas, even less than a quarter. Even looking through my own library recently, I was surprised (and ashamed) to discover that I own far more books by men than I do by women. 

I like to think I’m an enlightened person. My parents raised me to be a thinking, inquisitive member of the world. I like to read a variety of books, on a variety of subjects. I lean towards what’s generally known as lit fic, or upmarket fiction – stories about people being people and learning about other people. I’m a feminist and have been since before I understood there was such a thing – I was the kid who couldn’t believe anyone’s ability was defined by their sex. I support women’s rights, equality, and an elevated thought process for all.

How is it, then, that when I’m asked who my favorite writers are, they’re invariably men? When I think of my favorite books, they’re written by men. I realized, today, outside the teenage girl standby of loving Sylvia Plath (and those shameful Babysitters Club books of yore), I didn’t read another book by a woman until I was in high school and was given Pride and Prejudice.

In college, I was exposed to Margaret Atwood and Sandra Cisneros. I read books about the craft of writing, by Anne Lamott, Annie Dillard, and Natalie Goldberg. I had great inspiration in my favorite writing instructor, and the fantastic Catherine O’Neill Thorn, who mentored me for years. 

Yet, ask me books I’ve read, authors I’ve admired, and they’re all men.

I’m bothered by this on a fundamental level. I am not against men as writers, and I don’t think anyone would accuse me of that. Indeed, I love reading what others have crafted, and generally care very little about the person behind the work – I want something good, something interesting, something compelling. I may be rare in that I honestly think very little of the writer of books: outside reading more of a person’s writing, I never bother to find out their politics, their beliefs, their opinions. Hell, sometimes I barely remember names. 

What’s the issue then, you might ask. If all people are equally as interesting, then why does it matter who wrote the book?

The issue is this: if women aren’t read, then we’re only characters in someone else’s story. We’re not writing the words, we’re not telling the tales. Our lives, then, are lived out through the eyes of another person, a person who, as a male, cannot understand the actuality of living as a woman.

Does this mean men can’t write women (or the opposite)? Of course not. Some of my favorite books, about women, have been written by men, in a moving manner. However, only reading books by men is like only seeing half of a movie: you’re missing out on the other part of the story, the rest of it.

Publishing traditionally favors men. This is not the fault of modern male writers, obviously: this is inborn, and perpetuated in a scope that is rather hard to grasp. Equality still isn’t a full thing – women are still underpaid, and lacking in basic rights on a lot of levels. Our media still tends to heavily favor men. This means more books that are accepted for publishing are written by men, and more authors that are promoted are men. This, quite naturally, leads people to believe that men are the thought-makers, the story-tellers, the ones with something to say and greater talent with which to say it. It’s a vicious cycle, one that is self-perpetuating: publish a man, promote a man, think only men are capable, lather, rinse, repeat. Men sell more because there are more books by men to sell!

Women have a voice. Women have talents and thoughts, beliefs and interests, and we’re doing ourselves a disservice not to explore these, experience these, and make them a part of our own considerations as well.
Why, then, are women not published? See above: we’ve created a market that favors men. Do none of these men deserve this? Of course not: the great majority of published male authors earn their acclaim, through both talent of works, and sheer effort put into producing interesting reading.

It comes down to money. There is still a pervasive sexism that causes men’s works to sell more. I’ve met more than one man – often, thinking, thoughtful, intelligent men – who have said, point-blank, they don’t read books by women, and usually on purpose. Our media is slow moving: we’re still surprised when a woman can write a crime mystery – who wasn’t shocked to find out it was JK Rowling behind Robert Galbraith? Often, books penned by women are labeled “chick lit” or “women’s fiction,” pushing them out of the realm of “legitimate fiction” which is almost entirely populated by the likes of men.

There is nothing wrong with “chick lit” or “women’s fiction,” or the traditionally female-dominated genre of romance. However, that men get the simple, straight-forward, main genre of “fiction” and women, when allowed, are relegated to a second tier, a set-apart realm that, often, is meant to indicate lesser writing, is upsetting.
How do we go about changing this? Read women. It’s really oddly simple: read more women. The numbers are what drive change, so buy more books by women. Seek out stories penned by female authors.

I almost feel like I should add an apology here, or a reassurance: you can still read your favorite authors! Men are okay! But this is not about men, or padding the feelings of such. The majority does not need our assistance. The balance is gained by assisting the minority.

Read more women. It will do us all good.


Strong Female Leads don’t Cry… or something.

Writing for women is tricky. I don’t want to take away from writing for men or writing for all genders, but in the perfidiousness of patriarchy, we  women seem locked eternally in the act of policing each other and that does add an extra component.

We do this constantly, almost without realizing it. We police ourselves – our bodies, our eating habits, our emotional expression, our sexual experience; and then we do it to the women around us. We write blogs that call for J.K. Rowling to stop writing, stop clogging up the market — while we leave the men and their bulky bibliographies alone. We say this one is too fat, and that one looks too anorexic; this one seeks too much attention and that one just shuts herself in – how can she ever hope to find a man?; this one is a prude and that one’s a slut. Of course all it means, is that the woman polices herself differently than we police ourselves, she has sex differently, cares for her body differently, engages with men or other women differently than we would (or can) – than we have internalized as the right way to behave. And we forget how many strings bind us, how deeply we have permitted ourselves to be locked in the simple struggle of being ourselves.

IMG_6989smallI don’t think men do that. Not like this, not many of them, anyway. Lily Myers in her poem “Shrinking Woman” said something that stuck with me. To her brother, she says “We come from difference, Jonas, you learned to grow out, and I learned to grow in.” We filter, we listen, we modify ourselves and analyze because we were taught to do so from birth. Even my mother – a liberal, a hippie, a stout feminist who struggled all her life because she raised us as a single parent – admitted to me once, after I pressed that she treated us differently. That while she made my brother coffee when he was sleepy, and cut him up vegetables so he’d have something healthy with his pizza, while she left him alone to study (because it’s more important and he was busy), I was expected to eschew pizza altogether (and received sighs and looks when I didn’t), to cook healthy, to be part of the household, to do the dishes and mind her feelings. All of those are good things – but there was no proportion: my brother got so little of these admonitions and I got all the rest. And I don’t blame my mother for this. She only learned from my grandmother, who still does the same to every woman around her. I listen to her talk, and every single one has something wrong with her – from her sister, to my mother, to me, to her neighbor – of my brother she only speaks kindly, tolerantly. And how could she not? My brother is wonderful, he’s the best man I know (and he took all these pictures of me) — but she doesn’t know him at all.

Every single friend of mine has a mother who policed her food, her weight, her sexual identity, the volume of her voice – or any of a million things that we now police in ourselves, the women around us, probably our daughters one day and definitely, definitely the fictional women we read about. And here we are at the reason why writing for women is tricky.

Fictional women have to be just flawed enough not to strike us as too unrealistic, as so much better than us that it becomes uncomfortable – but they also can’t be too flawed or our teachings kick in. She has to be “strong” but not arrogant; she has to be able to accommodate our own ego without leaving us behind.

In what I’ve read and what seems to be well received – this leaves us with two basic archetypes. One is the “least offensive woman possible”. She’s the girl with very little character of her own and  who every reader can project herself into – the Bella Swans, basically. As far as I can tell – and have seen expressed in this way a lot – she is just necessary to play out the fantasy of the perfect guy, but she should be almost negligible in her effect. It’s all about him, the less the reader has to think about her, be confronted with her the better. She can be seen, but not heard, basically.

IMG_7112smallThe other archetype is the “strong female lead”, the fighter chick, the one who won’t cry a tear over some idiot, who knows how to play with her sexuality to get what she wants or eschews it altogether. These girls are tough, confident, sometimes even brash and they yeah, they kick ass.

I like a girl who can kick ass!

But we also ended up, yet again, in a strange position where we constantly pit these two against each other, and that ended us up at a very strange idea of what strength looks like in women, and reversely what weakness is.

In an author group I attend, someone recently proudly reported that she realized how much her character cried in the novel and promptly fixed it all as to not make her look so weak. Another large sheet comparing all the recent YA heroines with each other, marked almost all of them as having “poor self-esteem”.  Talking about feelings, having feelings and expressing those is becoming whiny and annoying and that makes me uncomfortable.

We live in a world in which guys are under this strain all their lives. To show emotion, they learn this from their fathers (and if they have better fathers than that, they learn it hard at school), is to be a girl, a sissy, a momma’s boy. And so they shut it down. We are faced with a generation of men who have no idea what they are feeling, because they were bullied into shutting it down. Men who can rape unconscious girls not because they are cruel, but because they have been taught that compassion and pity and kindness and sweetness is an unacceptable trait in their social circle.

And I don’t want that for women, and I certainly don’t want it for female leads.

That’s not what strength is.

 

I think I’m a pretty strong woman. I have ambitions and I work for them. I stared at a razor IMG_7125smallblade and stepped off the ledge and got help instead because of the people I love. I do things that scare me every day, I am loyal to my friends. I have convictions and I stand up for them.

But I also cry all the time – from a public service announcement about equality, to a movie, to just because I got a bad review or because I’m scared of the future. I have panic attacks and anxiety; I overanalyze everything I do and everything anyone says to me. I secretly think I am terribly ugly and nobody could ever love me.

And I am still not weak. I can be strong and cry. I can be strong and be afraid. I can be strong and quaver at the thought of my crush seeing me naked for the first time. Strength is not the denial of negative, hurtful or worrying emotions. Strength is to go on in spite of them, accepting them and limiting their power.

Strength is to stick up for friends even if that scares you, even if you could never do that for yourself. Strength is to have convictions and to stick to them — but strength is also to alter them when you grow older and learn new things. Strength is to say you were wrong and that you’re sorry, more sorry than you could ever say. And strength is to love and to trust and to be alive and open and vulnerable every day. Strength is to let people in and to show yourself to them, for who you really are.

That’s the kind of characters I want to read about.  Strong women who cry.