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Thursday, September 18, 2014

Decoding those pesky subtle signals

A 27-year-old dude calling himself “Available in Illinois” recently told Dear Abby he had “no clue on how to read women’s subtle interest cues, if they ever display any.” They apparently have never simply ripped off their shirts to show him their silicone-enhanced breasts, as they do in porn videos, but he nonetheless “would like to believe” they are interested in him because he “puts in at least two days a week at the gym working with weights.”

Geez, he’s got even me foaming at the mouth.

Abby told him that any woman who finds him attractive and wants him to strike up a conversation will—I shit you not—"make eye contact and smile."

Really? I work with weights at a college gym four to six times a week, and the 19-year-old cuties at the check-in counter look at me and smile every time. They also  routinely initiate conversation with suggestive statements like, “Would you like a towel, sir?” or “We close at four today, sir.”

I’m assuming “sir” indicates their hormones are flowing at twice the normal rate due to my middle-aged hotness. I have to assume, because, even though I’m twice as old as A in Ill., I still don’t know when a woman is displaying those cues. It’s really not fair, because you ladies know exactly when a man’s interested…because he’s always fucking interested.

Maybe that’s overstating things. But it’s no exaggeration that men often have a difficult time figuring out women’s minds—and not just when it comes to “interest.”

For example, when I assistant-coached a youth league girls’ softball team, one particularly obnoxious princess showed up to a game and announced that she couldn’t play. I asked the head coach what the deal was, and he said “women’s problems.”

Now, I know what “women’s problems” are. Being acquainted with Midol, I said—to the coach, not the player, in a manner I wrongly assumed to be discreet—“Really? They have things to deal with that.”

After the game, the young lady’s mom accosted me by shouting from the stands, “Who the hell do you think you are, telling 13-year-old girls to go on birth control?” At first, I wondered who the hell she was talking to.

Fortunately, I have women in my life who can translate for me. One of them—my wife—noted that birth control pills can, in fact, be used to reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. OK. The leap to “telling 13-year-old girls to go on birth control” still spanned quite a chasm.

Here’s another example: When I worked at a major metropolitan newspaper, I told another reporter whom I’d never spoken to that I liked her review of books about alien abduction—not to see if she was “interested,” but because I like books about aliens. She said, “I don’t see why anyone would like being butt-fucked by little green men.”

Um…

A few years later, this same reporter told a mutual friend I was “always hitting on the secretaries.” Said secretaries worked at desks between her department and mine, and they sometimes fielded calls that should have been sent to my phone instead of theirs. Our conversations went like this:

Secretary: Dave Thome, we have a call for you.

Dave: Thanks. Send it to extension 211.

Scintillating though these exchanges obviously were, I never expected them to lead to an hour of exchanging bodily fluids in a sleazebag hotel after deadline.

Before I met my wife I had no problem striking up conversations with pretty young things to see if they were “interested.” I also had no problem talking to them if I wasn’t interested in their “interest.” I worked with women and went to school with women—they were other people who happened to be part of my daily life. Even now, when I check out at the grocery store, I smile at the lady—or guy—on the other side of the counter just to start the transaction on a friendly note. I do not assume that anyone smiling back is “sending out signals.” I just think they’re being friendly, too.

I can see how it might be easier for some guys to talk to some gals—and vice versa. I don’t have a problem talking to anyone—well, almost anyone—but I imagine that’s just me.

There are two things I’ve learned about understanding women talk, though. Any man who wants to keep his sloppy reproductive bit intact should think several times before saying anything about what's going on with women's sloppy reproductive bits at “that time of the month.”

And, yeah, it doesn't take any subtle cues to understand that there is, indeed, nothing funny about being butt-fucked by aliens.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The name's the thing--and a happy little quiz!


One of the great pleasures I find in writing fiction is making up character names. Considering the names you see in TV credits and on movie marquees these days, how could that not be fun if you’re writing romance novels set in Hollywood?

To some authors, though, naming the characters—especially the hero and heroine—is serious business.

Jennifer Crusie, whose books are seriously entertaining, recently wrote on her Argh Inkblog that she prefers names like Tilda, Agnes and Andie because they’re different, and therefore memorable. She says she went through four names before hitting Andie “and then reverse engineered that to Andromeda, because of her mother.”

What kind of people the character’s parents were is important, she adds, because it explains how a name came to be and how it shaped the character. I was especially glad to read that because Kitty Fancher casts a long shadow over her daughter Douglyss in San Fernando Dreams.

Kate Nagy, editor-at-large of Geek Speak Magazine writes at Heroes and Heartbreakers.com, that “while it’s true that a rose would smell as sweet no matter what it was called, in a romance novel, character names do matter in a very big way.” Heroines named Fancy and Senneth are cool, but Nagy says it’s no surprise when readers turn a cold shoulder to books in which leading men are saddled with names like Walter, Horace, Seymour or Bob. And Richard—poor Richard—is “indisputably a rake’s name…in books, at least 75% of the time Richard = TROUBLE. I have no idea why this is, but it’s absolutely true.”

A hero, Nagy says, “needs a name that suggests youth, masculinity, and usually wealth—a name that we readers can envision ourselves screaming in the heat of passion.”

Romance author Jennifer Shirk writes in Samhaim Publishing’s blog that “something struck me as I picked up yet another romance novel that had Jack as the hero’s name. 1) It’s a GREAT name for a hero and 2) Romance writers don’t really like to mess with what is already deemed a good, strong hero’s name.”

Authors love to give their heroines exotic names like Wanda, Sierra, Prudence and Tandy, she says, but when it comes to guys, they “tend to stick with old standbys like Jake, Sam, Keith, Mike, Matt and even Nate." Why? "Because a name carries an image. And we all want our hero to have the image of being strong and masculine.”

Shirk calls monikers like Bruce, Clark, Dean, Dennis, Don, Grant, Glenn, Lance, Neil, Jay, Todd, Vince and Walt “in-between names that go beyond Jake but don’t quite reach the Roark, Tyler, or even Brent, level.”

Brent? How ’bout Channing and Shia?

Meanwhile, more and more names that used to be men’s are being claimed by women: Cassidy, Emery, Reese, Alexis, Aubrey, Dana, Kendall, Madison and Monroe, to call out just a few listed at Nameberry.com as having “morphed from blue to pink.”

My Fast Lane couples are Lara and Clay, Sushma and Holt, and Douglyss and…well, I can’t say who goes with Douglyss without a major spoiler, so I won’t. Lara and Clay I picked for Palm Springs Heat partly because both names have L.A. in them. Sushma means “beautiful woman” in Sanskrit, and her Malibu Bride beau, Holt…well, Holt speaks for itself. Why would anyone settle for a plain ol’ Jake when there’s a Holt around? The name Douglyss bubbled up from the dark corners of my mind. The male form, Douglas, means “dark river,” and that certainly describes the star of San Fernando Dreams.

Should I have named my characters Vignette and Jack? Solari and Sam? Eh. In another series, maybe. For the Fast Lane books, I took my cues from real Hollywood—a place where real people with fake names play fake people with real names.  And to illustrate just how far out I could have gone, I compiled the following quiz using actual names of currently working Hollywood actors.

Good luck.

1. Who’s not real?
a)      Charisma Carpenter
b)      Nazanin Boniodi
c)      Chartres
d)     Jorja Fox
e)      Daveigh Chase

2. Who’s a guy?
a)      Addison Timlin
b)      Leven Ramblin
c)      Jensen Ackles
d)     Carlson Young
e)      Sprague Graydon

3. Who’s not real?
a)      Branagh McManus
b)      Harry Treadaway
c)      Hamish Linklater
d)     Halston Sage
e)      Chord Overstreet

4. Who’s a guy?
a)      Leighton Meester
b)      Ren Clark
c)      Saxon Sharbino
d)     Blaze Berdahl
e)      Lake Bell

5. Who in question 3 is not a guy?









Answers: 1-c, 2-c, 3-a, 4-b; 5-d.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Meet the new girl, Douglyss Fancher

Fast Lane Romance #3: San Fernando Dreams is now available from Amazon.com. Please help spread the word.




Friday, August 15, 2014

A funny thing about fun bags and brain function

You know the joke: A man’s intelligence goes down as the size of a woman’s breasts goes up.

It is to laugh.

But it is also something to test, which TV’s Mythbusters did recently. Buster Kari Byron has breasts that have struck men dumb for a dozen years and didn’t object to having them alternately squashed and enhanced and stuffed into a tight shirt. In the name of science, of course.

Byron manned the counter at a coffee shop, waiting on customers male and female while secret cameras rolled. She worked one shift at her natural C cup size, had her schmeebs squeezed down to a B for another, then bounced back with triple-D double-dingers. Sure enough, the bigger Byron’s bangles became, the more coins collected in the can. The tip can, that is.

Men are such boobs.

Except that the can was rigged to separate the men's tips from the girls’. And while men awarded the faux barista 30% more for the pulchritude of her peaches, women surmised that mammoth mogambos were worth 40% more.

Whose brain is shrinking now, huh?

And, more curiously, why?

My usual hasty and ridiculously incomplete research turned up…nothing.

PsychologyToday reported on a study that did not separate men’s tips from women’s. “One might expect that the ‘breast effect’ might enhance tips for male patrons whereas female patrons might ‘punish’ shapely waitresses (intra-sexual rivalry),” writes evolutionary behavioral scientist Gad Saad. He adds that while researchers expected that breasts that were “too small” or “too big” would result in lower tips than ones that were "just right," the data “suggest that bigger is always better...at least when it comes to tipping behavior!”

A Cornell University study of nearly 500 waitresses found that tips increased with attractiveness, not breast size. On the other hand, the subjects judged their own hotness—and their scores “increased with their breast size and decreased with their age, waist-to-hip ratio, and body size.”

And then there’s this: Archeologists have found no fertility goddess figurines that look like Eva Longoria, but I haven’t yet met a man who doesn’t worship Eva Longoria like a goddess. It’s relevant to note that in ancient societies, it wasn’t men who carried around statuettes with ginormous gazongas.

So maybe the “breast effect” doesn’t lead women to punish “hotter” babes, but to acknowledge a kind of evolutionary envy: “I want those.” Which, come to think of it, may be the exact same thing going through lots of men’s heads when they drop two bucks instead of one into gratuity jugs.

In any event, why women give bigger tips for bigger tits remains a mystery. What does not remain a mystery, though, is that shallow responses to factors that would seem to be irrelevant to long-term happiness in a relationship are not gender-specific. In the Mythbusters’ exploration, for example, women crinkled their noses and rated as physically unworthy dudes who were described as baristas and nursing home attendants, then raved over what hot foxes the same dudes were when introduced as lawyers and brain surgeons. Which makes you wonder about the many women on Facebook who have fixations on pool boys.

Human beings are complex creatures. It’s difficult to figure out what we want and why. I’m guessing that a woman with a good man in her life might still find it titillating to dream about an afternoon of wild abandon with a set of rock-hard abs. Likewise, paying attention to a robust rack hardly absconds with a man’s intelligence. He’s just, you know, momentarily distracted. Besides, a real man knows when he’s found his soul mate and doesn’t care if she could share a bikini top with Cameron Diaz.

So what do I do? First, I’m more into your Eva Longorias than your Jennifer Love Hewitts. Don’t know why. Just am. And my heroines—Lara, Sushma and Douglyss—aren’t particularly busty, but nonetheless beautiful.

And, finally, when it comes to tips, I’m a big fan of bigguns. I don’t care if the waitress is tall, short, fat, skinny, young, old, stacked, flat—or anything else. If the service is good, the waitress has earned it. And since she’s also likely to be horrendously underpaid, I assume she could use the money.

And I don’t think that makes me stupid.

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.