Month: February 2013

Just A Physical Thing … For Now

Women everywhere know a man like Tal Crusoe. He’s a part of most women’s pasts, but he’s a nice part. A part of the past you like to visit frequently and in secret.

He’s temptation incarnate, and he seems to know it. That body of his. That voice. The whole package is like an instrument, and he’s a virtuoso. He knows just how to use it to bring you to grateful tears.

He’s very available. You can look and touch as much as you want. And so can the woman next to you.

So here’s what you have to understand.

Nothing the two of you do means that you’re a couple. You will see each other frequently, but you will not go on a date. If you’re hungry, eat first. If you don’t drink his beer, bring your own.

He is not taking pains to remember your birthday. He’ll give you something for Valentine’s Day – in fact, he might give you a few of those things – but you won’t get flowers or candy or jewelry. You are not on his Christmas card list.

You can put whatever pretty name you want on it; most women settle on “just a physical thing.” Just understand that he is very, very serious about that, even if he comes up with a cute nickname for you.

And you’ll tell him you understand that because the alternative is to refuse what he’s offering you. You have any number of reasons for not refusing. You shouldn’t have to refuse. You’re a modern woman. You’re liberated. You don’t have to live by “good girls don’t” anymore.

Besides, when will you get another chance to say yes?

This is where the trouble starts. Because each time he makes it worth your while, you get attached. It has nothing to do with how modern and liberated you are. It’s oxytocin. First there’s all the cuddling and the first time you fall asleep on him. Then there’s your first marathon session, that long night when you forget how many times he makes you come. And you don’t have to use the word “attached,” but it’s important that you get that you are now attached.

Chances are, though, that even with all the help he’s given you to understand your place, you still don’t quite get it. You’re going to get him a present. You’ll say it’s just something that you saw that made you think of him, and it’s not a big deal. His gratitude is lukewarm because he knows you’re not really telling the truth.

It doesn’t last long after that.

But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if oxytocin wasn’t a factor?

What if you never had to say no and never had to be confused and never had to face that awkward moment after you realize you’ve gone too far?

Wouldn’t that change everything?

My novel, ILLICIT IMPULSE, explores a world where oxytocin is no longer in control. Tal and Grace and John are in for a real rollercoaster ride as they figure out what happens when the rules don’t quite apply anymore. Once the trip is over, can they go back to their everyday lives?

Or will they discover that there’s no outsmarting the bonding hormone?

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It’s Complicated, I Hope — Working with Complex Heroines

I love Lifetime movies. I can admit that without shame. I love spending a long Sunday afternoon stretched out on the couch with a nice, cool beverage and a long slate of Lifetime movies. So many different types. Bad Husband. True Crime. Don’t Trust the Babysitter. Prepare to Cry. These are only a few of the subgenres.

This month, presumably for Black History Month, Lifetime is airing three movies that prominently feature black women. (There are four Saturdays in February, but that’s another blog post.) You know I’m a sucker for the interracial romances, so I enjoyed the second one, Twist of Faith (the video at this link starts right up, but it includes a kiss). Then came Pastor Brown. From the promos, it looked like a story about a former stripper who becomes pastor of her church when the existing pastor dies.

And that is basically the story. It’s not the whole story, but that’s it in a very loose nutshell.

I hadn’t gotten very far into it before I noticed I was a little tense. At around the halfway point, I found I was even more tense. Once it was over, I had to ask myself what was so upsetting. I had a little trouble putting my finger on it, but with a little help from the world of adult film, I figured out the problem.

Almost all the women in Pastor Brown are horribly unpleasant. The ex-stripper’s sister is awful. The deacon’s wife is equally nasty. Her boss at the club in New York is nasty. Even her fair-weather friend is a piece of work.

The women who aren’t nasty are saintly. The former stripper is working HARD to atone for her sins (which, in fairness, have more to do with abandoning her son than with stripping). Along the way, we meet a woman escaping an abusive husband; she’s sleeping in the immense church because she has nowhere else to go. The old classmate whose wild past left her with HIV is now impossibly sweet; she sacrifices her chance to see the ailing pastor so that the ex-stripper (the pastor’s daughter) can have it.

There’s no middle ground. Everyone’s either terrible or on a pedestal. But that’s not the whole problem.

My problem, I realized, was that I worried that someone would see this and think it was the real world. The whole world of black women, divided neatly into nasty, abusive women and whores-turned-Madonnas. It reminded me a bit of Cindy Gallop’s Make Love Not Porn project. Cindy has no trouble with the porn industry in and of itself – her worry is that so many people believe that’s what sex is actually supposed to be like, because they’ve never been taught any differently. Sinnamon Love has a very thought-provoking article in Guernica on a similar subject. Black women are featured in adult film, she writes, but only in certain stereotypical capacities. She wants to see a wider spectrum of roles available to black women.

That was what I wanted from Pastor Brown. It’s what I hope to achieve in my own writing. My heroines are women first and foremost. They’re women like any other women. They have hopes and fears and desires. They’re not saints. They’re not nasty, judgmental harpies. They’re women, just like any other women.

If I’m doing my job, right, they’re just like us.

I’d like to say I made Grace Foley, the heroine of Illicit Impulse, just like us, but I can’t take the credit for that. After all, Grace came to me, not the other way around. (I know. It’s a writer thing. Work with me.) With a tough breakup in her recent past, she’s found a convenient place to land in Tal Crusoe’s bed. She’s deeply attracted to her best friend John (last week’s hot geek), but she’s afraid he’ll reject her. He won’t want a party girl like her. He won’t want to ruin their friendship.

He won’t want her.

And so she settles for what she has, which isn’t all that bad. Tal is any woman’s fantasy. John might not want her, but his friendship is too valuable to lose – especially now that he’s introduced her to Impulse. If only she didn’t want more.

Who among us hasn’t struggled with that? Not the trouble of having it all – the question of whether we should even want it?

That’s one of the forces driving Illicit Impulse, and it’s one of the things that made it such a challenge to write. I’m hoping that makes for good reading! Have a look at the excerpt up on Ellora’s Cave (click this, and then click the magnifying glass on the cover) and feel free to leave me a comment right here.

Blinded with Science: The Enduring Appeal of the Hot Geek

My love affair with the intellectual started early. I was in middle school, struggling with the choice between Dracula and Edward Rochester, when I fell in with Sherlock Holmes. He was absolutely brilliant, and he could not have been less interested in women. Sure, he was a bit of a bad boy. He smoked, and let’s face it, the man had a drug problem. Still. It was riveting to watch him think, and I loved that he wouldn’t engage in all sorts of foolishness to impress women.

(I’m still all about Holmes, but just the one from the Conan Doyle books. No other Holmes holds a candle to the original.)

The modern geek is something of a phenomenon these days. He’s a little different now. For one thing, he’s a lot more likely to be successful with the opposite sex. But his appeal is still based on the same few classic characteristics.

He seems unaware of his masculine wiles. His laser-beam focus is generally trained on something other than the pursuit of women, which paradoxically gives women the chance to observe him without interruption. He’ll frown at his notes, the cute little furrow appearing between his brows. He’ll rub his poor tired eyes. He’ll spend hours and hours in single-minded pursuit of his obsession, whatever it might be. He’s on fire with passion for something, whether it’s the secrets of space flight or a cure for disease, and what woman doesn’t want a man who can be passionate about his life’s work?

He has no game. At all. When he’s into you, it’s not just to make you another conquest. He’s not trying to get away with something. Honestly, he was probably paying attention to something else when you entered his world. Once he’s committed, though, he’ll choose to pursue you with his whole mind, even if he doesn’t really know what to do once he has your attention. It’s WYSIWYG at its finest.

And then there’s the physical. The little dorky touches like his bowtie, or his comic book t-shirts. The way his glasses draw attention to his eyes. The frustrated little twist that takes his mouth by the corner when he’s figuring something out. The long fingers on a keyboard or wrapped around a pencil. He’s hot, in a very specific way.

The hot geek isn’t rare, really. He’s just elusive. Since he has no game and has no idea that he’s attractive, he’s not out on the town looking for women. He’s got other things to occupy his time. When you find one in the wild, buy him a drink. It’ll make him blush and fidget in the cutest way.

My book, ILLICIT IMPULSE, features a hot geek, John March. His passion is women, actually; he studies the things that bring women and men together and the things they’ll do when they get there. So why can’t he figure out how to escape Grace Foley’s friend zone? Is he overcomplicating matters, or are things really not as they seem?

John’s going to discover the answers – the ones he asked for and some extras – in ILLICIT IMPULSE, which is available March 1 from Ellora’s Cave.

Diversity’s Never Looked Quite Like This

I’ve always written interracial romances featuring a black heroine. I’m like a lot of romance writers, in that I wanted to read and write about a heroine I could identify with. For years, I avoided reading romance altogether because I didn’t feel represented there. I might have stayed away from romance if it hadn’t been for law school. One of Mom’s friends sent me a couple of romances in a care package. I was so desperate to read about human beings and just enjoy the story, without the pressure of facing The Paper Chase the next day. I finished the first one very quickly and had to slow down and savor the others.

I still didn’t feel represented. But I was interested in what romance had to offer.

When I started reading romance, it looked like black women appeared in only two capacities – as the Sassy Black Friend, helping the heroine get the guy, or as the “exotic Creole” character. I was never clear on whether the Creole character was actually black. She always had dark hair and dark skin, but I always wondered why the author didn’t just say she was black, if she was in fact black.

I wanted to see – and, okay, maybe to be – a black heroine at center stage of her own romance novel. It wasn’t enough to help someone else get the guy and then be relegated to the end of a series (if she was lucky) with the only other black character in the books. I didn’t want to have to guess whether the heroine was black.

And that’s when I started thinking about writing romances. I had always written stories and I’d always wanted to write for publication. I just didn’t think I’d do it with romance. After all, I didn’t see anyone else publishing interracial romances, although I know now that there were a handful of them out there, scarce as hens’ teeth.

Then Sandra Kitt changed everything. The Color of Love is the romance novel I needed to see. The heroine is definitely black – she’s not olive-skinned or Creole – and she is definitely center stage. She and the hero, who is white, overcome the obstacles separating them (race-related and otherwise) to arrive at the end of the book with a declaration of love and a marriage proposal. I’d never read anything quite like it.

The Color of Love came out in 1995, so it was around when I got to law school. I just didn’t know about it. Once I found it, though, the game changed again. If she’d been published with an interracial romance (and Sandra Kitt has more than one such story out there), then I could do it, if I worked at it hard enough.

When my first novel, Illicit Impulse, comes out in three weeks, it will enter a very different world. I never thought I’d see a world with so many interracial relationships in books, television and movies. Interracial romances have long since made a place for themselves in electronic publishing, but TV and movies seem to be seeing the light, too. Finally.

I was the nut who stood up and cheered when Uhura kissed Spock in Star Trek. (Go easy on me. I’d been waiting YEARS for that.) I’m happy to see James Bond continuing a 40-year tradition of getting his swirl on. I was almost delirious with joy when ABC had two (three if we consider Grey’s Anatomy) well-established interracial relationships in prime time scripted television, although I miss 666 Park Avenue dearly now. Better still, television executives aren’t playing up the fact that their characters are falling in love across racial lines. These are just characters with their own needs and wants and dreams and problems. They just happen to be of different colors, and that’s the sort of romance I love the most.

I couldn’t be more excited to enter this field now, when the market exposure is growing. I’m part of a steadily growing audience, composed of people seeing these relationships for the first time and people who are saying “about damn time.” The sky is the limit now. I already know there are more interracial relationships on TV than I can keep track of. I claim the next book as my excuse, but I hope I can keep up with developments.

In the meantime, I need to make plans to see Skyfall.