I’m over at Book Riot talking about polyamorous erotic romance

A post about books by Megan Mulry, Kit Rocha, Kelly Jamieson, and Solace Ames.

(Meant to put this up yesterday. Oops)

polyamory8

 

PS. It’s likely I’ll be doing a bit more writing at Book Riot, especially about romance, which is an under represented area on their site compared to its readership. It’s a very different kind of writing than I do here. It’s going to be a challenge, but a fun one I think.

 

Diversifying my Romance Shelves, or how I spent my bday cash

 

Perhaps you’ve seen the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign, a response to the lack of diversity in panels at BookCon that has grown into a campaign to raise awareness of diversity in fiction in general. The dedicated Tumblr site is pretty powerful. Today is:

Day Three, May 3rd, will begin the ongoing Diversify Your Shelves call to action. There’ll be another online chat, once again using the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag, to share out recommendations, raves, and reviews of our favorite diverse books. And then? Why, of course, we should go out there and get them, documenting and sharing out our newly diversified shelves in photographs. 

 

Although I never actually need an excuse to buy books, this turns out to be perfect timing for me because I finished teaching for the semester yesterday. Also it’s my birthday weekend and I have a little money to burn. Right now I am looking at a sweet sweet stretch of about 30 hours where I don’t have to answer to anyone, and I’m planning to read all weekend.

No, a hashtag won’t change the world, but it definitely changed my plans for this weekend.

I spent $49.99 and here’s what I got:

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Violence in Outlander

Outlander 2014

I love audio books, and my favorite genre is romance. As we all know, romance has gotten racier over the years, and people sometimes ask me if it’s difficult to listen to sex scenes on audio. It’s not. What’s difficult for me is violent scenes on audio. Listening to books, even on 1.5 speed, is much slower than reading. A violent scene takes longer to get through. And a good narrator can bring it to the next level.

Whether or not Gabaldon’s Outlander is a romance novel (and debate is heated on this point), it has strong romantic elements that attract many romance readers. When I first read it about seven years ago, like many romance readers, I focused primarily on the relationship between Clare and Jamie. There’s an infamous episode of violence between them which has launched a thousand  forum and blog posts. In Chapter 22. “Reckonings” Jamie takes a leather belt strap to Clare for deserting him and the company, getting captured by the English, imprisoned by Captain Black Jack Randall, and putting all of them in danger. That was the violent scene I recalled, was prepared for, had thought about.

But what I had forgotten was all of the other beatings in the book, and all of the scenes of torture. Now, having re-read it on audio, I think ritualized violence is very important to this novel.

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Links, updates, and what I’ve been reading

Hey folks. Here’s a little random blog post:

1. This week in my classes, I’m teaching a widely anthologized and very famous critique of utilitarianism by Bernard Williams.  The Williams article contains a very famous thought experiment, Jim and the Indians, designed to stimulate criticism of the utilitarian idea that we are responsible for what we fail to do, as well as for what we do.

It so happens that the very first post of a new blog called Moontime Warrior: Fearless Philosophizing and Embodied Resistance  (h/t Feminist Philosophers for the link), discusses what it feels like to be a Native youth exposed to Williams’ stereotypical rendering of Indian experience. In her post, Good Philosophers Don’t Have Anxiety Attacks: on mental health, race and belonging in the classroom, Erica Violet Lee, a Nehiyaw (Plains Cree) student at the University of Saskatchewan, reflects on the effect of the case on her:

After the professor read this aloud, I sat there with every muscle in my body tensed, wishing for the class to be over so I could leave. The worst part, of course, was that no one objected or even questioned the use of this thought experiment – not even me. I didn’t have the patience to explain why it’s messed up to teach an unnecessarily racialized, stereotypical story that deprives Indigenous people of autonomy, in a classroom where you have one Native student, in a discipline that struggles with inclusion of People of Color and women at all levels.

I had become convinced that I was not welcome and that I did not belong in this classroom, maybe not even in philosophy, and “Jim and the Indians” solidified that thought in my mind. I was rendered voiceless. This is a feeling I wish I could share with the professor who told my peers and colleagues that my anxiety was a made-up excuse; who believed that I just wanted it easy.

After reading that post, I couldn’t walk in to my classroom this morning and teach the article the same way I have for twelve years, with a mere disclaimer. I shared Lee’s post and we talked through both Lee’s perspective, and also ways to get at the issue Williams wants to illuminate without resorting to problematic narratives about race and gender. I am very grateful to Lee for sharing her story. I’ll never teach this article the same way again.

2. I finished reading Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, my Big Fat Book for March. The narration is excellent, and I switched back and forth between audio and digital.  I just love her writing. I love being in the worlds she creates. Here’s a reflection by the main protagonist and narrator on the loss of his beloved mother at age thirteen:

But sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illumined in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 93). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Here’s the main character describing his father:

Maybe he wasn’t drinking any more, but all the old late afternoon wanting-a-drink edge was still there, scratchy as sandpaper. [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 186). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Here’s a character describing her Swiss boarding school:

“And the view is like the mountain on the Caran d’Ache box. Snowcaps and flower meadow and all that. Otherwise it’s like one of those dull Euro horror movies where nothing much happens.” [Tartt, Donna (2013-10-22). The Goldfinch (p. 387). Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.]

Loved it. I’m a little mixed on the ending. I might write about it.

3. Outlander, on audio. Ok, someone has to explain the character transplant Jamie undergoes when he finally returns to Lallybroch and berates his sister for getting raped. So far in the book, some 25 chapters or so, Jamie has been calm, rational, and very mature for his twenty-three years. His uncle basically prostitutes him for his scars, to drum up support for Scotland,  and he bears it with equanimity. Same for his forced marriage. He has a wisdom beyond his years. But he returns home, sees his sister pregnant, and assumes the worst, that she copulated with the evil Captain Jack Randall of the British Army:

“Aye, so ye chose to sell yourself rather than beg! I’d sooner have died in my blood and seen Father and the lands in hell along with me, and well ye know it!”

“Aye, I know it! You’re a ninny, Jamie, and always have been!” his sister returned in exasperation.

“Fine thing for you to say! You’re not content wi’ ruining your good name and my own, ye must go on with the scandal, and flaunt your shame to the whole neighborhood!”

Gabaldon, Diana (2004-10-26). Outlander: with Bonus Content (pp. 374-375). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

The thing is, he’s not a ninny. So far in the book, Jamie has been masterful at reading signs, deciphering facial expressions, interpreting the way people hold their bodies, even the way horses move, and yet, he can’t figure out he’s all wrong about his own sister? I felt this scene was very out of character.

4. I’m not sure how I found this, and yes, it’s on Reddit, but it’s a really fantastic motivational article. This may be all the self-help advice anyone will ever need:

tldr; 1. Nonzero days as much as you can. 2. The three you’s, gratitude and favours. 3. Forgiveness 4. Exercise and books (which is a sneaky way of saying self improvement, both physical, emotional and mental)

5. Soccer season. In full swing. DS14’s team is outplaying expectations, and the expectations were high to begin with. We all have this feeling there is no stopping them. (Check back in with me mid season!) I was standing on the sidelines somewhere in fucking Massachusetts, at least four hours from home, on a Sunday night, and freezing my ass off, when a fellow soccer mom imparted some wisdom to me. I was remarking that there is so much pressure now, college coaches, showcases, national rankings. And the boys are bigger and the knocks are harder, and I’m so fearful of injury I can hardly stand to watch. She said — maybe the fact that her husband has just had a life saving major organ transplant had something to do with her attitude — that she’s just so grateful her son can run and kick and play and do something that he loves with a team he cares about and coaches he respects. When he gets off the field, she only ever says one thing: “I just love to watch you play.” She said she found the phrase in another mom’s post online, and it made a huge impression on her. It made a huge impression on me too.

6. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it, but I’ll be at the Popular Culture Association conference in Chicago in April. I’m presenting in the Medical Humanities area, on Harlequin medical romance, but I expect I’ll be spending most of my time in the romance area. I’m super excited that one of my all time favorite writers, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, will be there, and also for so many of the romance papers I can hardly fit them all into my schedule. I plan to blog about it as much as possible.

7. I’m reading Sarah Mayberry’s Satisfaction ($2.99 for Kindle), which just came out and everyone is reviewing. But then I read Brie’s post about the penis-in-vagina syndrome it succumbs to and I had to put it aside. And that reminded me of another great post, by Pamela at Badass Romance, on Some (More) Scattered thoughts about Romancelandia, Overthinking and Balance:

If I do want to have fun with what I read, and immerse myself in an emotional journey along with the characters, is “overthinking” and writing a critical response part of the fun, or does it spoil the fun? Our fun, or other people’s fun, if one asks too many questions in the wrong space? What about the pleasure of reading as a social practice, which many bloggers have noted can deepen the reading experience?

8. I started Beeminding a once a week blog post. That’s the only reason I wrote this. Yes, I’m pathetic. But at least I know how to turn my patheticness to advantage!

Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 8.12.55 PM

 

Hope you are having a good week.

Review: Two Erotic Romance Shorts by Jackie Barbosa

The Riever

 

Note: This review was written in 2011, but I’m participating in an effort to promote Jackie Barbosa’s books while she is unable to do so herself.  If you would like to help Jackie in a difficult time, please consider contributing to her son’s memorial fund.

 

The Reiver is a short story (about 35 pages) that was originally published in The Mammoth Book of Scottish Romance (2011). I purchased the digital standalone for .99 from Circe Press via Amazon.com.  Update: It is now FREE. Reivers were raiders on the borderlands between England and Scotland in the middle ages. This story is set in 1595, when Duncan, laird of Lochmorton Castle, captures a boy reiver and discovers he’s a she. He can’t let her go — it would look bad — but won’t kill her, either. He decides to allow her to live in the castle, hoping he can get some information from her. But she refuses to tell him anything, even her name:

“Let’s begin again, shall we? I am Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle, and you are…?” Silence. He tried another tack. “I’m sure your family is very concerned for your safety. Would you not like to get word to them that you’re well and in no danger?” More silence. She had the fortitude of a stone, he had to give her that. But then something happened which betrayed her. A long, low gurgle issued from the region of her belly. “Your first name, then, in exchange for your breakfast.” At that, he could almost see her salivate. She was terribly hungry, almost starved. Duncan wished he didn’t have to use her privation against her, but this was no time for an attack of conscience. Especially when she was the thief, and he was not responsible for her condition. She raised her head and thrust her chin out. “You already have my name, Duncan Maxwell, laird of Lochmorton Castle.” His brow furrowed. He most surely did not know her name. “You said it when you first came in,” she clarified. Duncan thought back. What had he said when he’d entered the cell? Well, reiver, what have you to say for yourself? Cheeky, that’s what she was. “Reiver is not your name, and we both know it.” “Aye, well, it’s the only one you’re going to get,” she said with a shrug. The gesture drew attention to the thin, pitiful shoulders beneath the oversized linen shirt she wore. He found his gaze drawn lower, involuntarily seeking the outline of her breasts. She must have bound them, he decided. Either that or she was exceptionally small-bosomed. For some peculiar reason, the image of breasts so tiny he could encompass their entirety in his mouth flashed through his brain, bringing with it an immediate flare of lust.*

*I titled the post “erotic shorts”, but actually, I would describe the sexual content of The Reiver as “moderate”. Duncan attempts to cajole her into providing information. In the process, he falls for her. For her part, the reiver notices how happy everyone in the castle is, how handsome Duncan is, and begins to fall in love with him. Eventually they make love, and Duncan proposes marriage. But the reiver knows that she hails from a clan Duncan has sworn to hate. I liked the premise of this short story. It’s not easy, though, to write a convincing journey from mortal enemy to true love in 35 pages, and the author had to rely on a number of short cuts, such as abrupt lapses of time, and some telling rather than showing (as when the heroine realizes what a good man Duncan is by describing what she has witnessed in the castle over two months), to get through the plot. It’s best to read The Reiver as a fairy tale, hitting the dramatic notes of the journey. Lending to the fairy tale feeling is the refusal of the heroine to tell the hero her name. He asks her every day, she refuses, and he makes one up for her. It has that kind of repetition familiar from the Brothers Grimm. Readers who don’t like “Scottish romance brogue” are advised to stay away, as there are a fair amount of “kens” and “aye, lass’s.” I did enjoy setup and the straightforwardness of the hero’s feelings — no macho games playing with this guy — but ultimately, felt the time allowed was too brief for their love to be convincing.

Grace Under Fire Grace Under Fire

 

This is a Spice Brief published just this month. Set in 1795 London, it’s the story of Lady Grace Hannington, a clumsy laughingstock, and perpetual wallflower, burdened by looks no one appreciates (tall, thin, and red haired, she’d probably make a terrific Ford model today), who is targeted as the perfect wife by two men, Atticus Stilwell and Viscount Colin Fitzgerald, who like to share their women. Never having so much as made her aquaintance, Atticus and Colin manuever Grace into a bathroom at a ball and propose to her while giving her oral sex.  The reader is told that the men just can tell she’d be amenable to their proposal, but it’s not clear why.  For many women of Grace’s social status, being an “old maid” would be preferable to marriage to a man whom society shuns for his unusual sexual proclivities. Excerpt:

Balancing the cup carefully in one hand, she stepped away from the table and toward the ever-growing throng of people lining the walls. Upon seeing her and noting the full glass clutched precariously between her fingers, the sensible folks parted like the Red Sea in the face of Moses. A few, however, watched without stepping aside, among them two gentleman Grace felt certain she had never seen before. If she had seen them, she surely would have remembered, for each was uniquely arresting. They stood side by side, and from a distance, one might have imagined them nearly identical in appearance. Both were tall and fit, dark-haired and strikingly handsome. But where one man had gentle brown eyes, the other had piercing blue ones. And the differences didn’t end there. Grace found her gaze drawn first to the brown-eyed man. The crease in his left cheek made him appear jolly and good-natured, a man who might be prone to easy laughter. And yet, there was an edge of danger to him, evident in the strong set of his square jaw and the slight, hawkish hook at the end of his nose. Her hand trembled as she realized his eyes were caressing her, lingering appreciatively at her lips, the curve of her neck, the swell of her breasts. A peculiar heat washed over her—not the embarrassed sort, with which she was intimately familiar, but an exciting, pleasurable, and utterly foreign sensation that settled, most outrageously, between her thighs.

But this is pure sexual fantasy, so, of course, Grace, rather than being terrified, is pretty keen on the idea. Despite having no sexual experience, she gamely receives oral sex at a ball, all kinds of foreplay (including giving oral sex) in a stranger’s formal sitting room, and double penetration on their wedding night in Gretna Green. As erotic fantasy, it is well-written, hot, and fun. Unfortunately, the word “love” gets thrown around. While, as a reader of erotic romance, I can overlook the improbable reactions a woman of no sexual experience has to very unorthodox sexual practices, it’s very hard to believe that any feelings of deeper significance would have had time to bloom. I thought both of these shorts presented interesting setups. I would like to see what this author does with more time to develop romantic relationships.

Rereading Outlander: On Claire’s Marriage to Frank

I first read Outlander quite early in my discovery of romance, which would be around 2007. I absolutely loved it. Never a very faithful reader of book series, I eventually finished books 2 and 3 of the saga (book 8 is due this month), but it’s Outlander that has stayed with me. Now that Starz is producing a big budget adaptation (Summer 2014), I thought I’d return to the saga of Claire and Jamie. Audible helpfully put the 33 hour unabridged version (read by the wonderful Davina Porter) on sale for $3.99 and I was off and running.(I know there’s some debate about whether listening to books is really “reading” them, although not on my part. I professed my strong audiobook support back in 2008, in a post called “Audiobooks: Reading or cheating?”)

My recollection of Outlander was all Jamie and Claire, Claire and Jamie. I even put a scene with the two of them in one of my first and most viewed posts, the 9 most romantic love scenes in romance. This time around, the slower pace of the audio made me experience Claire and Frank’s relationship with renewed appreciation. It wasn’t just a page or two of prologue, as my faulty Jamie-centric memory had led me to believe, but two whole chapters of laughing, love-making, and the anxieties of any mature romantic relationship.

Sunita had recently written a post wondering why so many romance readers, who can be a judgey lot when it comes to infidelity (my words, not Sunita’s), embrace a book in which the heroine falls in love with and marries someone while still married to her first husband. I had that question in mind as I listened to Outlander (I’m still only halfway through). Specifically, I was thinking about how Frank was characterized. Romance writers often signal, sometimes in quite unsubtle ways, which male character is the True Love, and which ones are mere pretenders, or threats.  I used to be clueless until halfway through a romance, but now I figure out who the hero is after a few telling adjectives (he’s typically the tallest, highest ranked, richest, or most bored). And Jamie… Jamie is not just the hero of Outlander, but a romance hero par excellence, tops on so many readers’ lists (like this one, or this one or this one).  (And bottoms on others). So, yes, we all know about Jamie, the character who launched a zillion fan arts.

But how was Frank portrayed? In the romance novels I’ve read, a former spouse is usually either a monster or an angel. More recently, some contemporary romance writers have written exes in more complex ways, but they are almost never a true threat to the HEA. The only book I’ve read in which a former spouse is a true threat to the HEA of the new couple is A Hint of Wicked by Jennifer Haymore (although tweeps tell me LaVyrle Spencer’s Twice Loved and Mary Balogh’s Tangled have somewhat similar plots, and I’m sure there are some others).

Gabaldon didn’t have to write Frank in a sympathetic way to generate conflict within Claire. I think even a single woman — handsome Jamie notwithstanding — would have reason to want to return to the present, or at the very least would have felt conflicted about staying in the 18th century. But having a loving spouse back home certainly gave Claire’s predicament a poignancy it would have otherwise lacked.  And in rereading Outlander it has really struck me how almost unbelievably competent Claire is at fitting in in the 18th century. Giving Claire an orphan childhood traipsing the globe with an archaeologist uncle, a nursing background and wartime experience certainly go a long way to explaining her resilience, practical nature, and unflappability. But without the pull of Frank — not to mention the dastardly wrinkles his implausibly twin-like ancestor, Black Jack Randall, gives to the plot —  Claire would almost have fit too seamlessly into this alien world, “Sassenach” be damned.

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A few links and updates

Our_Lady_of_Fatima_Veiled_for_Ash_Wednesday_-_Washington_DC

Happy Ash Wednesday

A few things I’ve read online recently that are worth sharing:

The Impatient Reader, by David Wilk, of Federator Books, a new digital press. Wilk connects the rise in digital publishing to the faster pace of readers’ lives. He argues that:

Consumers of all kinds of media are impatient. When we find a story, a show, a character we love, we want to experience more of them, and we don’t want to wait for more. Romance publishers and authors have learned their readers will consume new books like candy. Some romance readers read over 300 books a year! That is a reflection of a great deal of commitment to story.

***

In a high speed interconnected culture, we don’t think slow to market publishing works very well anymore, even for print publishers, and as e-publishers, we want to be able to fill reader demand as quickly as we possibly can.

I’m sure Wilk’s argument has been made before, but I’ve personally never seen it put so explicitly. Is it true that readers demand books come to market faster these days? Personally, while I agree that digital and audio have allowed me to read in more places than in the past, my reading speed hasn’t changed. Nor am I personally less able to wait for sequels. And I worry, as do so many of us, of the sacrifices in quality that may be necessary to publish with greater speed.

Janet Webb has been doing some great blogging over at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Her post, on the latest installment of  Jo Beverly’s Rogues, exemplifies the virtues of reader patience:

Remember that feeling of anticipation and delight that you felt for the holidays when you were a child? That’s how I feel about finally getting to read the April 1st release of A Shocking Delight, David Kerslake’s own story from Jo Beverley‘s Rogues series—and I’ve been waiting for it for much longer than twelve months.

David Kerslake was first introduced inThe Dragon’s Bride, and also plays an important role in Skylark, as well as popping up in other Rogue stories (Jo Beverley’s website, by the way, is immensely helpful in sorting out just who are all these Rogues and who are they to one another).

A Shocking Delight is the fourteenth book set in the Regency world of the Rogues. The last book of the series, Lady Beware, was published in 2007, so it’s been seven long years since readers have spent time with Nicholas and Lucien and Con and all the other Rogues.

Beverley’s books are terrific on audio, by the way, read by some of the really good narrators like Jenny Sterlin, Simon Prebble, and Jill Tanner.

I wanted to drum up a little signal for an important commentary on the very popular and influential book The Immortal Life of Henriette Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. We don’t have a lot of moral exemplars in bioethics, but I have a short list and Vanessa Gamble is on it. An accomplished scholar and historian of medicine, she led the committee that, in 1997, secured a presidential apology for the treatment of Africa American patients in the Tuskegee Syphilis “experiments” debacle. She’s just written an apt and important reflection on Skloot’s work:

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DNF Reflection: Melody Anne’s Surrender

Last weekend, I was in that familiar situation of book bloggers everywhere: 500 titles on my Kindle, and nothing to read. I decided to have a gander at the list of authors attending the Romantic Times convention this year, and pick a book by a new-to-me author. Being methodical, I decided to start with “A” authors, and, after being sorely tempted by a “groomsman by day/earl’s daughter by night” ploy, bought instead Melody Anne’s Surrender for free. I had never heard of the book or the author, but she’s a NY Times and USA today bestselling self-published writer … and not much else. Seriously, it’s the oddest author website I’ve come across. There is no “bio” or “about” page. There’s no picture. Nothing.

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