Death of Civil Discourse

I should write a disclaimer beforehand since this is about a controversial subject. My post has nothing to do with race or religion and I feel that racism is indeed an evil that still prevails and, unfortunately, probably always will to some extent. I also want to point out that I am Lilly white (more of a pasty beige), an immigrant (who has been a US citizen now for a long time) for whom English is a second language (as attested by my misuse of prepositions) and also what people love to call a bleeding heart (I believe in being charitable even with those who probably don’t deserve it and that people can and do change as they get older). Now that is out of the way, let’s talk about the death of tolerance, civil discourse, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. Oh yeah, and also the lack of understanding that words can and do hurt a lot and can indeed destroy lives and relationships.

These past years, besides the mess brought on by politics, has seen a surge of intolerance that bothers me to no end. I am old. I still remember when I was trying to figure out what career to follow and had very few options open to me as a woman. I was sexually harassed and even assaulted many times (not raped thankfully) from the age of thirteen until I left my country as an adult. I was in South Africa during the apartheid. I lived in what was then Zaire and witnessed all kinds of injustices committed by humans against fellow humans of every color, shape or form. When I first moved to the US I was shocked by the almost palpable racial bigotry in the area where I lived back then. But things have changed, they have evolved and, for the most part, gotten a lot better. Are we where we should be yet? Not really, but there has been a lot of progress in the right direction.

Suddenly though we seem to have taken a few steps backwards. Under the guise of being inclusive we, as a society, have began excluding people for all kinds of reasons. I don’t like your ideas so I’m going to call you a few names and unfriend you. Oh wait, I’ll go further and will tweet about how horrible you are because you have different ideas from me. But, hold on, I’ll do even better; I will damage your career and life because I think you are a despicable person who supports a politician I hate and/or because you said or did something twenty years ago that could be construed as racist or biased nowadays.

 

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Come on, people, we are better than this. We are all humans and, as such, imperfect. We all make mistakes and even those of us who think have no prejudices, I have news for you; you do. We all do. You can’t escape it, we learn it unconsciously from those around us or from events in our lives that shaped the way we think. The old proverb, people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, is good advice for all of us because let’s face it, we all live in glass houses. Jesus had the same idea when he said, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

I have witnessed friends and family members cutting themselves off each other’s lives because of different opinions about some issues. I’m not going to lie; I disagree with many things friends and relatives think or do, sometimes enough to make me angry. However, I can’t forget that these are good people, imperfect but basically good. I’ll give you an example that made me very angry at the time. Not angry enough to cut myself off completely from my friend, but enough to put a bit of space between us for a while. My son is gay and this friend of mine, who is a wonderful, loving woman, posted somethings inspired by the teachings in her church that labeled my son and all other queers as sinners who needed to repent and change their ways. I was angry, I was disappointed in her because I respect her and I know she has a heart of gold and is always willing to do whatever it takes to help those in need. So I gave ourselves a little space. No words of anger, no unfriending. After some time, anger faded to a manageable level and I’m so glad I can still call her my friend. I know we will never agree on some things, but that doesn’t make her or me a bad person.

Obviously there are extreme cases. I’m not talking about people who post nothing but hate and indiscriminate bigotry or who incite violence. I decided to write this post because of the upheaval going on right now in the romance world. I don’t have all the facts and I am probably too ignorant of certain legalities to be able to judge things clearly but I can’t help but notice that most parties involved in this mess have let their anger (justified or not) tint their words and actions. In today’s world, words stick around forever thanks to social media (which I love and hate in equal parts) where people seem to think they can say whatever they want with impunity, forgetting all along that they are often hurting others.

I will end my ramblings here. Take this for what it is, a vent from someone who is so tired of the fights and strife brought on by differences of opinions, different perspectives, looking at things so closely and through tinted lenses that you are almost certain to find fault in everything.

Can we hit the pause button for a while and spend some time admiring the world around us, this magical planet we live in and the amazing and diverse creatures that populate it? Can we just agree to disagree on a few things? I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t stand up for your beliefs, I’m just saying let’s do it in a civil, empathetic, courteous way. Anger and meanness does nothing but create more anger.

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Serpent & Dove – Review

Serpent & Dove (Serpent & Dove, #1)Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was such a great surprise. I am always very skeptic about books that appear everywhere online. Being an author I know how publishers send these beautiful hardcover books to reviewers and bloggers in exchange for a bit of publicity, so I take the hype with a bit of salt. But the blurb was intriguing so I decided to give it a chance. I bought both the hardcover and the audio book and absolutely loved it. Love stories where the lines between good and bad are not that well defined and where the characters are flawed in in need of a change. Both Reid and Lou were such characters, but there were so many other amazing side kicks such as Ansel, Coco, Madame LeBlanc, and even the annoyingly cocky Bo. Another aspect that resonated with me was the mixture of fiction with some things that ring too close to the truth historically. A magical book about the transformative power of love. Highly recommend it.

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A Court of Wings and Ruin- Review

A Court of Wings and Ruin (A Court of Thorns and Roses, #3)A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How come there aren’t more than five stars to rate a book???? I don’t have words to express how much I loved this book. Anyone who makes me cry and cuss out the author in my car while parked before going to work is an extraordinary writer. And Sarah Maas did just that. I was so brokenhearted that morning after reading one of the last and most emotional chapters, that I was in a bad mood all day. Love, love, love. Enough said.

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From The Darkness

 

Three years ago I signed a contract with a new publisher for my second book, Desert Jewel, and what would become The Jewel Chronicles series. Rebel Jewel was just released yesterday marking my eleventh publication in four years. So why am I bringing this up now?

That year I was in a bad place. I had suffered from bouts of mild depression throughout my life but nothing prepared me for what that year would bring down on me. It wasn’t one isolated thing and it didn’t have anything to do with a death in the family or an illness. It was just a combination of many things throughout the space of a few years all rolled into what turned out to be the perfect storm that almost took me under.

I won’t go into details about everything that went wrong in my life during those years but they were both family and work related. By then I had been navigating many downs in my personal and professional life, but what happened that year was the proverbial drop that overflowed my very full cup.

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Photo by Juan Pablo Arenas on Pexels.com

Going to work that year was unbearable. I felt smaller than a bug in an extremely toxic environment. The one thing that anchored me to sanity was my writing. I had been offered a contract for my first book and that small triumph made my life bearable and gave me hope that something better lay ahead. Then I received a rejection letter from my publisher for Desert Jewel, a story I had put all of myself into, one I wanted to share with the world because it spoke of my beliefs, it spoke of the strength that lies inside me, it spoke of many things I normally couldn’t voice. I was crushed. Suddenly my only tether to hope had been severed and I was left adrift.

All the hurts, all the doubts, all the fingers pointed at me in the past came crashing down and before I could do anything about it, I was drowning in darkness. I withdrew from all my friends, all activities, barely talked and was always on the verge of tears. I was never suicidal, but I did think about death a lot. I’d be driving home from work and a thought would pop into my head, “What if a car ran the red light, crashed into mine and killed me?” In my depressive state I thought that it would be a blessing, not only for me but my loved ones. My husband would finally be able to move back to his hometown and marry a wife who made him happier, my sons would not have my pervasive enabling to deal with and could finally be independent and happy, my coworkers would be able to work with someone more efficient than me, and I would have some peace at last. Years of listening to people telling me these things had finally convinced me they were right. I was useless and brought nothing to the world. Even the one thing I thought I was good at, my writing, was now a broken dream.

The scariest part was that no one noticed or realized how depressed I was, even though I barely talked, barely left the house, stopped meeting with friends. Instead, those close to me thought I was just being difficult, that because I was unhappy at work, I was mad at the world and just lashing out. They would often get mad at me, tell me to snap out of it which in turn made me even more depressed. I felt guilty for being such a party pooper, for feeling the way I felt and helpless against it.

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Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

Amid all the murkiness of depression I sent a submission to a new publisher one of my pub sisters had recommended. I was not holding my breath. After all, if my own publisher didn’t want my book why would others?

My husband and I went on a mini-vacation to the mountains that spring and I was miserable. This early riser couldn’t get herself out of bed in the morning and woke up already crying. That morning I dragged myself out of bed and went to hide in the big bathroom, pretending I was getting dressed. I sat on the edge of the hot tub scrolling through my messages and saw an email from the publisher I had sent my manuscript to. I must have sat there for ten minutes before daring to open it. I was sure it was a rejection but as long as I didn’t actually read the words there was always a thread of hope. And I needed hope desperately.

Eventually I did click on it and read the message. I will never forget what I felt reading the words of the woman who is now my publisher. It was not a rejection, far from it. Not only was she offering me a contract, but her words filled me with a joy I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was not just a “yes, we want your book” letter, it was a “loved your manuscript, it’d be an honor to publish it”.

She doesn’t know this—no one does—but that message brought me from the edge of that terrible place I was in. That day I got dressed, I went out, I laughed and talked to my husband. I also decided to get a therapist and go back to yoga. Shortly after that, I got an interview and was able to move to a different school where people treat me with respect to this day.

I was not “cured”. More recently I saw the darkness rising again but I was ready this time. I called my doctor and asked for help before it got too far. Writing is still saving me one day at a time. It’s where I go when I need a break from reality, where I go when I need to control life the way I can’t do in the real world. It’s where I go to rest.

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Photo by Immortal shots on Pexels.com

I was lucky to have someone say just the right thing at the right time to give me enough hope that I could find my way to the surface, but what if that hadn’t happened? Where would I be?

Be aware of your loved ones’ behavior at all times. Don’t assume they are just being difficult and if you notice a difference, talk to them without judgement, without finger-pointing and listen, listen to them. You may be the one thing that keeps them afloat.

**This article offers several depression hotlines that you can use at any time. Don’t wait, talk to someone today.**

 

Being True To Yourself as a Romance Writer

I just recently read a blog that made me reevaluate my writing or at least the way I look at it. Writing from a place of fear versus from a place of love by Chuck Wendig really hit a nerve with me. Like most writers I thrive on self-doubt and am never sure whether I’m writing the right thing; the thing that readers want, what the readers will devour and beg for more, ultimately the one thing that will sell my books.

I have been tempted to write what seems to sell. As a romance writer I am plenty aware of what romance readers in general are reading, the things that make them tick. But as much as I have wanted to write those books, I couldn’t. They were not me. So cue in another wave of self-loathing; why can’t I be more like others, why am I so weird and different from everybody else? Enter days and days of agonizing over a manuscript; is my publisher going to want it? Will it sell? Will reviewers even be interested in reviewing it?writing

I was recently at a book signing event and decided to attend one of the panels they were offering. As quickly as I went in, I turned around and left, not so much horrified and depressed by what was being discussed but by the fact that if that was what the readers wanted, I would never be able to give it to them. No judgement on the authors of such books but they are not me. I can’t write kinky stuff, just can’t. I love writing about everyday Joes who take great pleasure in making love to their mates in simple ways, men and women who don’t need the aid of tools or pain (or the suggestion of such) to reach an orgasm, couples who won’t allow a third wheel in their sexual life and don’t need to be dominated, women who are not sex goddesses who may in fact even be a little shy about it… in short, people who are so in love with each other that they don’t need anything else to turn them on, keep them on, and reach that apex of pleasure most of us look for.

The reverse of the medal is what it’s usually called clean or sweet romance where sex is either only implied or not mentioned at all. I can’t write these either because I enjoy reading about the characters being intimate and loving, their physical reaction to the love they have for each other. So I like to write spicy scenes. My kind of spice, the kind I keep thinking is not what today’s romance reader want.

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And so the cycle of self-doubt goes on, possibly to never stop. But for now I will stick to what feels right to me at the risk of never selling enough books to keep me fed. I will keep writing from a place of love.

Have you ever been tempted or have in fact written from a place of fear? How did it make you feel?

Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

 

My pub sister, Amy K Mcclung recently posted this in her Facebook page and, since I agree with pretty much everything she says, I asked her if I could post it here. What do you think? Is there anything else you’d add to the list?

Twenty Things the Craft of Writing Has Taught Me

by Amy K Mcclung

  1. A good editor is worth everything
  2. Don’t read reviews!
  3. If you do read reviews, learn from them…don’t cry
  4. Write what you love, not what’s the big seller at the moment 
  5. Other Authors can be a great support system, 
  6. There are some authors who will only look out for themselves (true in all aspects of life)
  7. Write what you know or do your research heavily on what you don’t. 
  8. Show, don’t tell. 
  9. When I tell people “I write romance” and they respond with a judgmental, “Oh”, remember there are so many people who love the genre, and who love my books 
  10. Blurbs are hard 
  11. Rejection is part of writing sometimes. Take it and move forward. 
  12. I’m not crazy, the voices in my head are characters 😋
  13. Don’t force a story. It will all fall together when the time is right 
  14. Avoid drama – especially on Goodreads 
  15. Be proud of my books, I wrote an entire novel…that’s not something everyone can do. 
  16. If one person reads/loves my book(s) I’m a success.
  17.  I don’t need a Best Seller tag to prove my worth as a writer 
  18.  Blurbs are hard (yep I said it twice)
  19.  People will judge a book by its cover 
  20.  Family will support you even if they don’t read your books. Word of mouth is a powerful thing. 

Idea Girl

Ten Tips For Rookies- Romance Writers of America Conference

I attended my first ever RWA conference in NYC this year. As a rookie I walked around in a bit of a daze for the duration of the event and missed some things I really wish I hadn’t, but that’s the nature of the beast.

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Picture by veerasak Piyawatanakul (Pexels)

The organizers have a first-timers orientation of sorts which was helpful but some very important points were neglected altogether. For all of you who are planning on going to one of these conferences in the future, here are some nuggets of wisdom that may help you get more of an amazing but slightly overwhelming event.

  1. Wear comfortable clothes and comfy shoes even if you look like a bag lady. Sitting for hours and walking from one workshop to another, often in different levels of the hotel can quickly get to you.
  2. Do bring a nice outfit for the awards ceremony or if you plan on attending any of the parties (I didn’t because I’m a terrible introvert who gets too stressed out in social situations involving lots of people).
  3. Bring a rather large empty suitcase or bag. You’ll need it (you’ll see why further down).
  4. Bring snacks that do not require refrigeration if you can. Snacks at these nice hotels will cost you an arm and a leg.
  5. If you’re an introvert like me, see if you can bring a writer friend. I always feel very lonely at events like this because I am a one-on-one socializer who gets totally lost in groups of people I barely know.
  6. Bring a fan and a sweater. Hotel air-conditioning is insane. One moment it feels like Hades, the next you’re in the South Pole.
  7. Don’t skip the Goody Room. There you can grab some free books and a lot of free swag. I use the swag for ideas to create my own swag and it doesn’t take much space in the suitcase.
  8. Don’t miss any of the signings (reason to follow) even if you have to miss a chunk of an awesome workshop. They record the workshops and you can buy them later for a song (if you don’t buy the whole thing that is).
  9. Take breaks. It is as exhausting as it is exhilarating and inspiring.
  10. The most important tip of all. The so called signings are not like the normal ones where the readers buy books and have them signed by the authors. In these signings you get the books for free AND you get them signed by the author. I was like a kid in a candy store. Refer back to #3 and #8. I missed quite a few of these because I didn’t know what they were. I talked to other rookies who did the same. I still came home with over fifty books. YOU DON”T WANT TO MISS THESE.
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Picture by Natalina Reis

 

Romancing Romance

After spending the last four days among other romance writers, attending the Romance Writers of America annual conference in New York City, I came to the troubling conclusion I really don’t know much about romance.

That’s a pretty alarming thing for an author who calls herself a romance writer. It’s not like I don’t know the actual genre with all its tropes and intricacies, but I am pretty oblivious when it comes to fellow authors, now and in the past.

I began reading romance as a teenager, but even before that, I was reading books that normally had a romantic component to them. In my early twenties and shortly after I moved to the US, I even subscribed to Harlequin. I remember a handful of great romances, another handful of stories I didn’t care for, but I remember no author’s names at all. This is no reflection on the authors themselves, mind you. I’m really bad with names. I often tell people that because I am a teacher and must memorize dozens of kids names each year, my mind promptly forgets other names to make room for more.

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I have quite a few favorite names in YA lit, names that have become so familiar to me I am sure to one-click them on Amazon, no questions asked. There are a few other authors in other genres I consider favorites, some who no longer write (I’m old) and others who I just slowly came to love over the years. Very few of those are romance writers.

Every time someone asks me to name other authors who write similar books to mine, I can’t name them at all. I was really confused by that, until the day I realized that romance is such a wide and rich genre, an umbrella under which so many different other genres hide, that it is hard to find those few authors whom you may compare yourself to.

So imagine my excitement at finding fellow romance authors who write and think along the same lines as I do. I can’t tell you the relief I felt at finding successful authors who don’t stick to one subgenre, authors who are complete pantsers like me, authors for whom writing books is therapy and the one thing that keeps them sane. I’m looking forward to reaching out to these writers in hopes of not feeling so alone in what and how I write.

Have you ever felt alone in what you do or how you think and then one day you discover someone(s) who share your views or your kind of work? How did that make you feel?

Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Austen—A Romance Trope Creator?

Jane Austen

The other day I was looking for one of my favorite TV adaptations of Jane Austen’s Emma (the one where Mr. Knightley is played by Johnny Lee Miller) on Netflix (don’t bother; it’s not available there) and it got me thinking about how Austen basically created some of the most popular romance tropes to this day. Nothing new, I know, but I had never thought about it that way before.

Of course, not everyone is a fan or has read Austen’s books but I love them. She was ahead of her time, writing strong, willful women who fought for (and won) what they wanted and loved. It’s no wonder her popularity has survived for so long.

But less thought of when discussing Austen and her books is the fact that she was the “inventor” of at least three of the most popular tropes in romance literature today. The romance style is largely reviled by the “serious” readers today as crap or smut, but Austen is here to remind us that romance can be, and often is, a weapon against society’s prejudices and preconceived ideas about women (among other things). Not to mention the fact that romance can be well written and worth of as much praise and attention as any other genre of literature.

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Pride and Prejudice, arguably the most famous of her works, is an enemies to lovers romance. Elizabeth Bennet begins as hating and being disliked by the handsome but brooding and often obnoxious Darcy. We all know how that ended.

In Persuasion (possibly my personal favorite) Anne Elliot unwisely shuns Captain Wentworth despite her love for him, but eventually gets her second chance with him. A second chance romance.

Emma is clearly a friends to lovers romance. Emma has a best friend in Mr. Knightley and despite her attempts at matching every single woman in town with the perfect bachelor, totally misses the fact that the one she loves has always been right in front of her.

Mansfield Park is both an example of forbidden romance and love triangle with poor young woman Fanny who is loved by one man but in love with her cousin who is promised in marriage to another woman. In fact, this is also a friends to lovers romance since Fanny was best friends with her cousin with whom she grew up.

Nowadays these tropes are still being written with varying degrees of success. I am personally partial to the friends-to-lovers and second chances tropes and have written a couple books along those lines. Which kind of proves that a good love story never goes out of style if Jane Austen’s vast popularity even today is anything to go by.

Do you read romance? Do you have a favorite trope? I’d love to hear from you.

Love potion

When You Laugh…

Whoever came up with the old adage laughter is the best medicine was on to something in my opinion because when you laugh darkness loses some of its power. I love to laugh and, much like Chandler in the TV series Friends, I’ve used it as a shield against many things throughout my life.

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of my long history of using humor as a protection of sorts is a time when I was about eight or nine years old. I was in fourth grade at the time and living in a tiny African island in the Atlantic called Ilha do Sal (Salt Island). As the name clearly suggests, the island was known for its salt mines and, unfortunately for the inhabitants at the time, for very little else; there were hardly any trees or other vegetation, nothing really grew on the island, it rained maybe once a year if we were lucky, and the only food resources came from the ocean. Not a bad thing for me since I discovered that I, the pickiest eater in the western world, absolutely adored lobster, a food product that abounded in the island.

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My dad worked for the national airline and, sort of like in the military, we moved around a lot. This time we were to spend a little over a year on this island where everyday luxuries were not quite a thing yet. For the first few months we lived in a tiny house without running water and no electricity but rich in giant flying roaches. Yes, that was quite an adventure.

My sense of humor came to my rescue when I became the target of hate in my school. There were two other white girls who hated me because I was not the daughter of a high-ranking officer in the army like they were, and I was hated by the other girls because–well, I was white. The simple act of going to school had become unbearable. I was bullied all the way to the building, during class by the most horrible teacher known to mankind, at recess, and then again on my way back home. All I wanted was to either be invisible or be seen for who I really was; just a girl who hated no one.

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My dad loved a Portuguese comedian called Raul Solnado and had all his records (yes, records. I’m ancient.) which he listened to every time he had a chance. I had grown up listening to those comedy skits and had them pretty well memorized. So one day at recess–not quite sure how or why–I began retelling all the jokes I had learned from listening to this comedian. Suddenly I had them. All the girls who had hated me because of the color of my skin were now my captive audience.

Things haven’t changed much for me when it comes to using humor to protect myself and those I love. Life turned hairy some years ago and if it wasn’t for my talent to find humor in pretty much everything, I’m sure I would have lost my mind a long time ago.

My love for the funny is well reflected in almost all my books, where I balance the sad and the serious with a touch of comedy. I’m sure not everyone thinks that is an actual good thing, but I do hope never to lose the power to see the kernel of the absurd in even the direst of situations.

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