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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sex in the books? Ewwww!

Every now and then someone I'm telling about my Fast Lane books seems enthralled—until I mention the sex. Then I get a sour look and a snide comment, as though I should know that sex kills romance the way cancer kills comedy.

One time I got this question: “Why does there have to be sex?” I assumed, of course, that the asker was referring to the books and not to nature. My answer: People who are in love have sex. Not all of them, maybe. But enough so that no one should be surprised when characters do it in a book.

On the other hand, I ran across an essay in a recent Entertainment Weekly that had me wondering, “What the fuck?”

EW Editor-at-Large Tina Jordan writes in the July 18 issue about how she adored The Mists of Avalon—until she found out that author Marion Zimmer Bradley and her husband allegedly sexually abused their daughter. Bradley “was never accused, charged or convicted, but she was named in a civil suit by one of her husband’s victims,” Jordan says. “(The daughter) claims her mother was far, far worse…cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually.”

The article lists crimes detailed in real-life depositions, which, Jordan says, “raised the question, Should we judge a piece of art by the artist?”

Jordan calls The Mists of Avalon a page-turner set in “the clamoring, knight-filled halls of Camelot” that for twenty-five years swept her into magical realms. Learning of the author’s alleged depravity, though, changed everything. “Passages I’d read hundreds of times before leaped out at me in entirely new ways, freighted with revulsion.”

I understand how knowing about an artist might change your point of view. I, for example, used to despise Adam Sandler, referring to him as the most unfunny person alive. Then I found out—from people who know people who know him—that he’s a decent guy who’s loyal to friends. I still don’t like any of his Saturday Night Live sketches or movies, but I no longer despise him as a person, and even root for him to do well in business.

In Jordan’s case, the passages that now bring revulsion include “brother-and-sister sex, child brides sexually assaulted and beaten by their husbands, a little girl violently raped by an old man during an ancient Druid rite, a maiden ‘fresh and young, not fourteen’ raped after a spring planting and fertility ritual.”

She “felt sick,” she says, and “betrayed by the author I had admired for more than a quarter century.”

I guess all of the things mentioned, not unlike sex between loving couples, do happen in real life. So I won’t judge the book. But “Clay eased Lara back onto the ledge, then eased himself into her with slow, deliberate strokes” is a far cry from “child brides sexually assaulted and beaten by their husbands.”

I’m also not going to say that the latter couldn’t be found in a book that Jordan says she still considers a masterpiece. Still, these acts weren’t “freighted with revulsion” until Jordan discovered that the author may have molested children? Context matters, though, and the idea that an author's view of horrific behavior may be morally opposed to your own could make a huge difference.

Well, I’m a pretty nice guy, and all sex in my books involves adults who participate willingly—even eagerly. That, in my humble opinion, should not elicit scoldings and revulsion, but joy. Icky abounds in this world; we should celebrate the tender stuff.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Kissing...up close and sometimes too personal

Since my last post was about two guys kissing, I wasn’t planning to address the topic again so soon. Then I read this passage in How to Write Sexy Descriptions and Sex Scenes by Val Kovalin:

The ultimate romantic action is kissing. Sometimes males who do not self-identify as gay will interact on every sexual level, including penetration, but draw the line at kissing.

To paraphrase Kovalin, one man sticking a certain part of his body into the body of another man is, to a lot of straight dudes, “Like, whatever.” But two guys’ lips touching? That’s like, “What?”

I had to think about that because, I’ll admit, while I think two dudes should be able to kiss, it’s not something I’m interested in seeing on a daily basis.

But when I saw two-year-old twin dudes running around their yard with sticks in their hands, I put two and two together. The heterosexual male aversion to two men kissing derives from the male desire to explore and conquer the world. We lead with our phallic things—sticks and whatnot—but kissing another person eliminates the comfortable distance that our rods and swords create.

More to the point, kissing involves relinquishing control. Sure, one person might be working the tongue a little harder, but in general, kissing is egalitarian. No one’s in charge. A straight male is cool with that if it offers a pathway to the conquest of a female sexual partner. But surrendering control to another man who in many cases would be seen as a threat to sexual dominance is disturbing. Shaking hands is risky enough—but at least the enemy is still at arm’s length.

Men. We are such mysterious creatures.

I did hastier and less complete research on this topic than usual, because one Psychology Today article covered everything. The article, “In sexual politics, the kiss is both ambassador and spy,” by Noam Shpancer, Ph.D., confirms what those stick-wielding little dudes taught me.

“The tongue, it is difficult to deny, is a phallic organ,” Shpancer says. “When we kiss someone, we bring that person into our vulnerable personal space. A wet kiss [from a man] may deposit testosterone into the woman's mouth, thereby acting to increase her sexual arousal.”

Furthermore, he cites a Gallup study in which women ranked kissing as important in the short and long term, while men think it’s important initially, but not so much later on. “The study shows that the concept of the kiss as a distinctly sexual act is more common among men,” Shpancer writes. “Women, in general, attribute more meaning to the kiss in the process of choosing a partner and maintaining a relationship. Men tend to use kissing as a potential gateway to intercourse. They are more willing to forego kissing for intercourse, and their interest in kissing their spouses decreases over time.”

In other words (with the standard disclaimer that individual mileage may vary), for women kissing’s a relationship thing; for men, it’s a sex thing. Sex is often described as “conquering,” and no doubt lots of men see having a relationship as being conquered.

It brings us back to Kovalin’s assertion, which she follows with, “To heterosexual males, kissing introduces romance, whereas everything else is just guys seeking to satisfy their high sex drives.”

And I thought it was just the eight-year-boy in me acting up every time I see two people—be they Adam and Eve or Adam and Steve—swallowing each other’s tongues.

Of course, there’s plenty of kissing in my romance novels. In every case, kissing leads to sex and to long-term relationships. Which is fine with my heroes because they don’t see committing to a woman as a defeat. That, I hope, makes everyone happy. Because, as Shpancer says, some research suggests “the kiss functions primarily on the level of psychology, as a way to express and reinforce feelings of trust, closeness and intimacy with another.”

And that is what romance—in books and in life—is about: Letting that one special person into our most vulnerable personal space, making our world a much nicer place.

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's in his kiss (that's where it is, shoop shoop)

A headline on a TV at the gym said, “Michael Sam kiss ignites firestorm.” Michael Sam is a University of Missouri football player, and after the St. Louis Rams drafted him, he kissed his boyfriend.

This should not have surprised anyone, since Sam said several months ago that he’s gay. Apparently, though, some people would have been more comfortable if Sam had kicked back in a hot tub filled with bootylicious silicone-enhanced persons of the female variety instead of hanging out with his boyfriend.

But—wait! Why have Sam in the tub at all? Because if upon hearing the announcement, the bootylicious ones started French kissing, removing each other’s tops and smearing chocolate syrup all over their breasts, that would have been awesome!

Instead, we got a peck on the lips and a hug. Pretty lame.

Admit it: There is not a man among you (and, I know, if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a man, but go with it for second) who doesn’t like to sneak a peek at some girl-on-girl action now and then. It’s only when dudes get physical that things get creepy, as one tweeter quoted by CNN demonstrated: “Any straight person who says Michael Sam/bf kiss pic doesn’t look disgusting can't pass a lie detector test while saying.”

I get that. But I’m not talking about porn here. I’m talking about a college kid who was so excited about hearing his name called that he burst into tears and celebrated the moment with another human being. A person who right now may just be the most important person in his life.

One twitterer CNN quoted called the pic “horrible.” To which I say, “Are you fucking kidding me?”

I immediately recalled a conversation in college with a guy who objected to my owning Elton John records. “He’s a fag,” the guy said as his sole argument for expunging the bespectacled one from my collection. My rationale for doing the opposite was that “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting” and “The Bitch Is Back” kicked ass.

The guy admitted that he had liked those songs, as well as the kind of girly “Your Song”—until he realized that the one who’d made the singer’s life so wonderful just by being in the world might be male instead of female. So offended was this guy that he lined up all his Elton LPs in his driveway and ran them over with his father’s Oldsmobile.

Problem solved.

Except that there was no problem. Does it matter who Elton John may have been thinking of while he was singing? Do his songs speak to you? Do they rock?

Elton—and his heterosexual lyricist Bernie Taupin—weren’t trying to change the world, just trying to make music people liked. Likewise, Michael Sam wasn’t trying to turn anyone on, make a political statement or convince anyone to “go gay.” He was just being…human.

Another player selected in the NFL draft celebrated by snapping a selfie with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. A big-time athlete who’s really into himself? No firestorm over that. But Michael Sam demonstrates he’s capable of loving another person, and it’s time to set the web aflame.

Not flaming, though. You’d have to drive an Oldsmobile over the entire Internet, and Oldsmobile disappeared years ago. It’s time for hateful tweets about loving homosexuals to do the same.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Think all men cheat? Think again

If you’re like me, you wonder how it could be, as many studies have shown, that 103% of men cheat on their spouses or lovers while less than 0% of women do the same.

It doesn’t add up, of course—partly because I exaggerate, but also because I believe the polls behind these reports are flawed. Some must use the Jimmy Carter definition of “cheat,” which is to say, looking at someone with “lust in your heart.” Since simply looking at women is guaranteed to engender spicy cravings in the mind of the average male, the average male cheats at least 30 times. In the first hour after he wakes up each day.

Plus, no man wants to look like a pussy. Guys who think their penises will fall off if they spend even one second inside a woman other than the one they’ve got at home will therefore tell a pollster—especially if the pollster is another guy—“Hell, yeah. I’ll screw anything that breathes. And besides, women beg me for it. I don’t want to disappoint them.”

Still, it doesn’t seem right that the Internet is home to an infinite number of lists about why men cheat. I had to ask, are there lists of why they don’t?

Lucky for a guy who prefers his research to be hasty and incomplete, my lone Google search rounded up all of two—2!—related hits. And only one of them was a list. A list compiled for laughs by author Joe Queenan. Writing for AARP, for chrissakes.

“Everyone knows why men cheat,” Queenan writes. “Men are pigs.”

But he goes on to say that “statistical evidence suggests that cheating is nowhere near as rampant among ordinary men as it would appear to be among pols and jocks and thespians and high-octane suits and other libidinous creatures.” Finally, a reason to celebrate being ordinary.

According to a recent University of Chicago survey, Queenan says, no more than 22% of men have ever engaged in marital infidelity, and only one man in 20 is unfaithful to his wife on an annual basis. Furthermore, the study indicated that the gap between men and women is only 5%.

Queenan veers from the study to enumerate why 78% of dudes keep their pants on when temptation knocks at the barn door. None of his reasons include “being blissfully happy in their relationships” or “having personal moral codes.” No, Queenan argues that men are too lazy, too cheap and too fearful of getting caught to get over the hump, noting that “romance is labor-intensive”—and that there are too many ways to fuck up a cover-up.

Psychology Today magazine takes a more serious approach in a blog post by University of Pennsylvania researcher Scott Barry Kaufman about new brain studies that suggest men—and women—who don’t stray have better cognitive control over impulses than people who do. In other words, the men who don’t cheat are the ones who think with the brain between their ears.

And it’s not because it’s just too much effort to get off their asses and play the field. It’s because they did well in that game where they show you the word “red” in blue letters and demand that you say the word and not the color. Really. The study, Kaufman says, had 22 heterosexual men play the game, then messed with their minds by having a hot female enter the room for no apparent reason other than to flirt with them. No men found this odd, because every man takes it for granted that all hot women want to flirt with them.

That and, apparently, their brains started shutting down. Still, the frontal cortices of the men with strong control over their impulses—as evidenced by how well they did in the game—functioned adequately enough to make them flirt less than the horndogs who said “blue” when they should have said “red.”

Got that?

Kaufman concludes that cognitive control inhibits acting on impulses that everyone feels. “For many partners,” he says, “having the impulse is OK, but acting on it is not.” So, Jimmy Carter, you can relax. Kaufman says the “moral” of the story is that while all men will—in their fantasies, at least—screw anything that breathes, most men have enough brain power to resist doing it in real life.

He had one more interesting conclusion: The more time they had to think about it, the more likely men were to resist. So now I’m wondering what would happen if a 19-year-old cutie wearing a sports bra and skin-tight leggings came up to me in the Marquette University gym and said, “You’re the sweaty, slightly overweight middle-aged guy I’ve always wanted to have sex with, but it’ll have to be quick, because I have an econ quiz in 15 minutes.”

I have a pretty good idea. I’m not great at math, but I do know how to count my blessings.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Going global with romance and panties

The Man Writing a Romance has been writing about sex, love and panties for more than three years, but this the first time I’ve addressed sex, love and panties as part of an international blog tour.

My good friend Pam DuMond invited me, so thank her by following this link and buying one or two downloads of each of her books. Also note that I’ve done no hasty and ridiculously incomplete research for this post. If you doubt any of my answers, Googling won’t help you.

What am I working on?
That would be San Fernando Dreams, the third in the Fast Lane Romance series. This installment continues the stories of Palm Springs Heat heroine Lara Dixon and Malibu Bride heroine Sushma Vishnuveda. It features a love story involving Douglyss Fancher, the acerbic, foul-mouthed ingénue introduced in Malibu Bride. The stories intersect when these three women team up to make a renegade movie.

Douglyss has turned out to be the most complex character I’ve ever written. Because I’m a total pantser—writer lingo for “outline, my ass”— I did not know this would be the case until I started writing. The story line is tricky, too, since it also involves secret twins.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
I could say that it’s that my romances are written by a man, but some readers have said they can’t tell just by reading them. What sets all three books apart is that they question common perceptions. Like, “Is the guy who runs a male-oriented website crammed with photos of hot women a slimebag?” Not once you get to know him. And, “Is the demanding female executive nothing but a hellacious bitch?” Read between the lines. And finally, “Is the starlet with a reputation just a punk-ass slut?” It’s not a spoiler if I tell you the answer is “no.” I mean, what is a “slut,” anyways? Douglyss likes sex. Who doesn’t?

Why do I write what I do?
In addition to the romances, I’ve written twenty screenplays, including four that were optioned or otherwise came close to being made into movies. One theme runs strong throughout this body of work: My heroes and heroines tend to sell themselves short, but find their strength when fighting for justice. I’m not talking Mr. Smith Goes to Washington; I’m talking, for the most part, people who rage against the machine of stereotypes. I have some experience with that. I was the only male teller at a savings and loan for three years, stayed home with a baby for three years, and for the past three years I've been a man who writes romance novels. If you think any of that makes me less of a man, I have three thoughts for you:

  • A guy who works every day with a bunch of sweaty dudes is more manly than one who works with a dozen good-looking young women?

  • My romance heroines are all hot and get laid by rich men.

  • You take care of a baby for three years, and then we’ll talk.

How does your writing process work?
I don’t outline anymore because I would go off track by page two—and the new direction has always been more organic, more informed by character and more satisfying than whatever I’d planned. Action = character, and I enjoy the freedom of letting the stories flow from my characters, for surprising results.

Okay, that almost got kind of serious. What are you gonna do? I pansted this whole post.

Moving on, here’s what you need to know about the two outstanding writers I’ve invited to join this tour on Monday, April 7:

Katherine Lowry Logan, author of time-travel romances The Ruby Brooch and The Last McKlenna. She sells lots of these because they’re really good. Here’s where you can find her on Amazon, and this is her blog. She’s also a goddess of Twitter, and I’m sure she’d be thrilled if you followed her (@KathyLLogan).

Laura Roberts writes funny books with names like 69 Sexy Haiku and The Top 5 Reasons You Can’t Get Laid in Montreal. The titles are self-explanatory, the writing in-your-face. Here’s a link to her Amazon book page, and one to her blog.

PS: To ManWARriors in Turks & Caicos, Azerbaijan and Moldova, as well as the U.S., Germany and Russia—thanks for already having been part of my own personal “international blog tour.”
 

Friday, March 21, 2014

Up in the air about a sticky issue

Writing sex scenes isn’t necessarily rocket science, but it can have something in common with rocket science. Such as when the male participant goes all Cape Canaveral. Because, you know what they say: “What comes up, must go down.”

Or something like that.

Anyway, after writing one particular scene where the guy’s payload goes airborne, I remembered something important: Women read these books. And I wondered if the typical woman experiencing this outcome would think, “Houston, we have a problem,” or “Fly me to the moon.”

I turned to the web for my usual hasty and ridiculously incomplete research—which made for one fascinating afternoon. The Internet abounds with everything from thoughtful articles like “He Wants to Jizz on Your Face, But Not Why You’d Think” on Jezebel.com to polls with titles like The TFP.com's “Women, Where Do You Like Your Man to Cum?”

The poll results were revelatory. “On my tits,” with 12 votes, out-tallied "on my ass" and the far-ranging “on my lower back/feet/neck” category, each of which drew nine votes. Both beat out “on my face” which came in last place with six votes—but maybe not for the reason you think. “In my mouth” finished third with 26 votes, giving legitimacy to penile nicknames like “love gun” and suggesting that women prefer men with good aim—which, by the way, requires practice.

With 49 votes, the most popular destination was “on (not in) my pussy," indicating that sometimes a woman prefers a man whose aim is a little off. “Anywhere and everywhere” finished second, which means more ladies gave a thumbs-up to feet than it seems at first glance.

It's not surprising that the so-called facial got such low marks. The Jezebel.com article cites sex experts who say it's an act of humiliation. Not that it’s intrinsically demeaning, though—feelings vary widely from one woman to another. What was surprising was that Megan Andelloux, founder of  the Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, said, “Many people struggle to believe that receiving a facial is something a woman could enjoy.” So much so, that a female student who said in class that she experienced her first orgasm when her boyfriend came on her face endured the wrath of other women,  "as if by admitting a liking for facials, she was committing an act of violence against other women."

Interesting, but not germane to my question. Since my San Fernando Dreams sex scene involves no body parts with cheeks, I determined it should play okay with the target demo. Still, I felt I could do more research on the actual target.

Fortunately, the Internet contains ample information on the desirability of the bosom as landing pad, including a Yahoo Answers.com thread called, “Do women like men to ejaculate on them?” Tabitha wrote, “That's super gross. I don't know any girl that likes this,” while SwtMelons said, “I find it very disgusting.” Which is kind of ironic.

On the other hand, Batski’s comment on that TFP.com poll was, “When my lover wanks over my tits, it’s very horny, and I love to see how excited he gets, and watch his come shoot over my tits, and I know it really turns him on when I rub all his spunk in like body lotion. That’s erotic and hot.”

So we know that at least one woman in the U.K is into this. There’s no wanking in my scene, but Cosmo addressed my question head-on in a December 2013 blog post, Sex Talk Realness: Breast Sex (or, as normal human beings call it, "tittyfucking").

The post is written as a conversation between a man and a woman who both said they’d participated in such a thing. The woman copped to twice in her life, while the man stressed that he’d never done it “within the, like, first three times of having sex with a person,” adding, “This is not a terrible sixth date activity, like going to an outlet mall.”

The woman asked why men seem to like it so much. He said, “Maybe because boobs are awesome?” ’Nuff said—except that he added, “It’s a mini-compliment—‘Hey, your boobs are great, I'm clearly into it and they're big enough so we can pull this off, you and I together.’”

And, he said, “big enough” doesn’t even have to be all that big! Really—boobs…penises…they go together like chocolate and peanut butter.

This finally gets to the heart of the matter. In my scene, Douglyss (that’s the woman), is the one who chooses this particular activity, surmising that her lover will enjoy it. She has smallish breasts and isn’t all that happy about it. The guy, though, not only doesn’t care that her breasts are smallish, but actually is turned on because they are.

In romance, unlike porn, the thoughts, feelings and pleasure of the woman must take center stage. Some romance even co-opts the tropes of male-oriented porn, but puts women in control. In that Jezebel.com article, sex educator Charlie Glickman says showing men ejaculating on women in porn emerged as a way for “the viewer to see two things at once: evidence of male pleasure and the equally important sign that a woman's reaction to that pleasure mattered.”

Douglyss decides; everybody wins. Unless, of course, you side more with SwtMelons than Batski.

Anyway, on that Yahoo Answers thread, Jem wrote, “Don't trust people who speak for large groups of people. There are billions of women out there—are all of them gonna have the same tastes? In our society, if you admit you like raunchy stuff as a woman, you're called a slut, a whore, etc. I'll be honest, I love it. Ejaculation is a man's orgasm, so why shouldn't I enjoy the result of pleasing him, of having made him come? I like everything about it... the smell, the taste, the warmth. Sex is messy... I don't mind. I like it everywhere on me. I find it damn hot.”

In short: If you think something’s hot, it’s hot. And if not, it’s not. No need for rocket science.

Oh, and somebody, please find Jem and let her know San Fernando Dreams is on the way.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Hey, guys: Jennifer Lawrence is not as dumb as she makes you look

Yahoo News recently offered this flash: Jennifer Lawrence is sexy. That was information I had to pass along via social media, and soon the post had several likes—and one comment that made me scratch my head.

“But she is still stupid.”

The guy who said this is smart, accomplished and a student of pop culture, but my subsequent hasty and incomplete search of the Internet turned up no evidence whatsoever in support of his statement. In fact, if winning an Oscar and starring in three movies that gross more than half a billion dollars in one year, making you the “top money-making star,” is an indication of stupidity, I wish she’d start spreading her lack of understanding through webinars.

The search also directed me to several interviews in which Lawrence came off as rather bright, including one in which she admitted to having once felt dumb.

“When I entered high school, the light went out,” she told Before It’s News.com. “I had friends, but I did not feel smart because I was not a good enough student.”

A psychiatrist told her she suffered from social anxiety, but the remedy wasn’t Adderall or Ativan. It was acting. “I begged my parents to take me to a casting in New York,” she said. “Just on stage, my mother saw the change that was taking place in me. She saw my anxieties disappear.”

Again, how stupid does a person have to be to figure out how to cure a condition that medical doctors cannot?

Still pondering the mysteries of the response to my initial post, I experienced the serendipity of watching an episode of the TV show Mind Games, in which a team of professional brainwashers need to convince a frumpy middle-aged guy to apply to be CEO of his company. They decide to send in a hot young woman posing as a corporate headhunter.

How is that supposed to work, you ask? According to the human behavioral scientist played by Steve Zahn, the poor guy’s endocrine system will overload his brain with he-man hormones, stripping him of his ability to reason and replacing it with a need to impress the woman by taking foolish risks.

You know the axiom: “A man’s intelligence decreases in relation to the size of the breasts of the women he’s talking to.” I’m here to tell you that breast size alone isn’t the issue. Hell, the mere proximity of a woman can strike a man dumb; whether she wears a Maidenform DD underwire bra or fits comfortably into a Bali B-cup is not an issue.

This, ManWARriors, is scientific fact. “Movies and television shows are full of scenes where a man tries unsuccessfully to interact with a pretty woman,” begins an article from Scientific American magazine. “In many cases, the potential suitor acts foolishly despite his best attempts to impress. It seems like his brain isn’t working quite properly, and according to new findings, it may not be.” The study found that just telling men a woman they could not see would observe them via webcam tanked their scores on cognitive tests.

“Simply anticipating the opposite sex interaction,” the study concludes, “was enough to interfere with men’s cognitive functioning.”

The study also found that men did worse only when they thought women were watching, while women did the same no matter who looked over their shoulders. You may think this makes men sound stupid—but consider this: If women weren’t impressed by men acting like idiots, the trait would have been culled from our gene pool eons ago.

On the other hand, a picture of a gorgeous woman accompanied the Scientific American article, forcing me to read the damn thing two or three times to figure out what it was saying. I’m still not sure I got it a hundred percent right.

But one thing I do know for sure is that Jennifer Lawrence is not stupid. And if you’re a guy who says she is, that that's your endocrine system doing the talking.