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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.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Chili reception for V-Day dining suggestion undeserved

A recent Facebook meme showed a photo of a Skyline Chili sign urging lovers to visit on Valentine’s Day for a Three-Way. And you should have seen the comments.

Not the ones making jokes about three-waysThe ones hinting that any man who even considered proposing dinner at the Cincinnati-area chain should not be allowed to perpetuate his genes.

So it goes in our society. People create ideals and expect everyone else to worship them.

Take 9/11. Long before anyone called that day by that name, it was special to the Man Writing a Romance. Special, as in it is my wedding anniversary. But in the Op/Ed section of the local paper every year since 2001, someone proposes making Sept. 11 a national day of mourning. Mail should not be delivered. Restaurants should not be open. TV should not air new episodes of reality shows.

I agree that 9/11 was a terrible day for the whole country. And Mary Jo and I still relive our nineteenth anniversary, which differed so greatly from ones before and since. But it’s still our day, and we’re not about to spend the whole thing in mourning.

Valentine’s Day also took on a different tone in our household with the arrival of our first-born. Feb. 14 thereafter retained some of its traditional meaning for us, but really, are you going to tell a four-year-old that she has no candles to blow out because Mommy and Daddy are bound by convention to indulge in an intimate dinner at a restaurant? And not a Skyline Chili-level eatery with reasonable prices. A fancy joint with cloth napkins and wine poured into receptacles made of glass.

But, why not Skyline Chili? Couldn’t a location in Covington, Kentucky, be the perfect romantic destination for a couple who, say, met there after a college basketball game? Or who lunched at the Vine Street location two times a week when they both worked in downtown Cincinnati during their first year of marriage? Or who have since added three hungry mouths to feed and know that a plateful of spaghetti crowned with cheddar is more to the liking of a three-year-old than the tournedos d’boeuf at Chez Moola-Moola?

What’s ideal to one person might not be so hot to another. For instance, what type of man refuses to buy roses for the love of his life? Perhaps the type whose wife is allergic to pollen. And what kind of bum does a guy have to be not to present his better half with lingerie? The kind, could it be, whose better half has noted that her lingerie drawer is already overflowing?

For the record, a “Three-Way” in Skylinese refers to the number of ingredients that come with your order. With a Four-Way you get onions or beans; onions and beans constitute a Five-Way.

A Three-Way is a stripped-down version, offering just spaghetti topped with “secret recipe” chili and a mound of cheddar cheese. Simple and understated, yet simultaneously delicious and steamy. And made available because some people gotta have their onions.

Best, I think, to leave these matters for couples to decide. A bowl of chili, followed up with a bag of M&Ms and a flute or two of Valpolicella while snuggled under a comforter on the couch and watching reruns of Scrubs, can be as romantic as a night on the town in Paris.

If you want it to be.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What do you call a nice guy who kicks ass? Why, David, of course

A study by something called Siteopia.com suggests that my wife hit the jackpot the day I was born. Because if you want a great husband, the go-to name is David.

“It seems certain names tend to crop up more than others when thinking about the qualities of a good husband or wife,” a Siteopia spokesperson told the U.K. newspaper The Telegraph. ''Every time we hear mention of a name we naturally associate particular values or impressions based on our past experiences."

On the female side, Sophie and Louise hover just below No. 1 Katie. For males, David and Andrew kick serious hiney. Photos of Katie Holmes and David Beckham illustrate the top prizes, but no indication is given of what those qualities might be other than chipmunk cheeks and chiseled pecs.

There is, however, a link to each of the Top Ten names for each gender. Clicking on David takes you to Babynamer.com, where you learn that the name derives from “a Hebrew expression meaning ‘beloved.’ Some believe David originated as a nursery word meaning ‘darling.’ Others think it means ‘hero.’ The story of King David, as recounted in Jewish scripture, supports the second theory.”

To a lot of us, David was a sweet little shepherd boy, a la Linus in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” a cherub who slayed the slovenly Philistine with naught but a slingshot. Never mind that, in the hands of a well-trained warrior, the slingshot in question fired a projectile that could pierce armor and be aimed with 21st-century laser-guided precision. Charles M. Schultz surely knew what he was doing when Linus, who blasts a soda can from the top of a fence with a snowball using his security blanket as a sling, is cast as a shepherd in the gang’s Christmas play.

Here’s what Dr. Joel M. Hoffman says in his book, And God Said: How Translations Conceal the Bible’s Original Meaning: “Shepherds were mighty. They were regal. They were powerful. Crushing a shepherd was a sign of great strength. The job of a shepherd was to provide sustenance, care and defense.”

And, shepherds “were romantic.”

So romantic, in fact, that David the rock-flinging shepherd would grow up to be David the watching-the-hot-woman-next-door-bathe-and-deciding-he-had-to-make-whoopee-with-her king of Israel. So we’re definitely talking alpha male. But while I’m sure plenty of women like the idea of a man who would kill for them, murdering their husbands to make it acceptable to date them probably is a tad too alpha for most.

David the king was also a poet and a musician, making him a rock star of the second millennium B.C.E. What woman born since 1940 has not dreamed of waking up next to a rock star?

And yet, I have the impression that David is not the name of the typical romantic hero. It’s the Danes, Derricks and Dirks who flash their abs to win over the women. David? He’s the sweet guy who whips up a tureen of homemade chicken soup when the heroine has the flu, but ends up being left out in the cold. Ditto any character named Andrew. Hell, even I have a hard time accepting Andrew as a hero’s name, mostly due to that doe-eyed Andrew McCarthy, who played wimpy losers in almost every romantic movie made during the 1980s.

But David’s not badass enough to walk away with the lady?

David is, in fact, the ultimate mushy/badass first name. What other name is associated with a guy who’ll slay giants during the day, then make you chicken soup—or strum you a lullaby—when you’re flat on your back?

Of course, you really shouldn’t be picking a guy because of his name. The study’s spokesperson agrees: “While men like David and Andrew seem to be top of the pile, they've still got to uphold that reputation day to day.”

If you end up with more of a David Thome than a David Beckham, that might not be such a bad thing. I totally forgive you if the latter is more likely to appear in your fantasies, but not having been blessed with that guy’s physical attributes, the former does his damnedest to uphold the name of all Davids everywhere.

I think I’ll keep my name, no matter how people interpret it. I mean, it’s better than, say, Dick, right? Then again, I suppose that would depend on the guy—and the woman—involved.

Monday, January 27, 2014

I have good news...and good news

Everyone loves good news, and the judge who critiqued Malibu Bride as part of the Writers Digest Self-Published Book Awards contest gave me plenty. The news is so good that I’ve decided to print most of that critique here in its entirety:

This is a well-crafted, entertaining story that offers a reading experience akin to a bon-bon on a rainy (or snowy) afternoon. The author captures the essence of Los Angeles and the movie industry by incorporating quirky characters, lavish lifestyles, luxury brands, and just enough name-dropping when it comes to restaurants, wines, movies, and fashion that are part of that la-la lifestyle. (He did his research!) Even his choice of names is so LA and part of his ingenious humor.

The central women in the story are strong heroines, and their love interests captivating. It’s a modern romance, with a hint of erotica and tongue-in-cheek humor, offered at the speed of light.

The writer is obviously seasoned, highly skilled professional and the story is breezy and fun to read. The names of the supporting characters are hysterical, the dialogue snappy and fun.
I didn’t become a seasoned, highly skilled professional overnight—or alone. I’ve been writing professionally since age 19, and every step of the way there were people who forced me to improve. I mean, I couldn’t turn in crappy copy to my editor at the Racine Journal Times when fellow reporter Lori Bergstrom’s stories were going to appear in the same section of the newspaper.

I likewise have to bring my A game if I’m going to get author Donna McDonald to give me the thumbs up sign and say, as she did after reading Malibu Bride, “I want a Judas martini. And a Holt. Don't tell my husband. But Holt. . .what can I say?” Or McKlenna Family Series author Katherine Lowry Logan to write, “A fun, fun book. Strong women, great descriptions. Very well-written,” as she did about Palm Springs Heat.

Before I earn comments like those, I have to perform for a demanding crowd, starting with Judy Cornfield, a member of my writers group who’s working on a brilliant YA novel with romantic elements set during the early days of Prohibition. Judy thinks she learns more from me than I do from her, but she’s wrong.

Then I have to get past my editor, who is also my wife Mary Jo. When she sits down to one of my manuscripts, she doesn’t just grab a pencil, she also sets up the electric sharpener so it’s handy every time the lead gets dull. And then there’s my proofreader Dulcie, who puts a few more pencils—and the manuscript—through the mill.

I know you’re not supposed to write to gain the approval of others but, damn, the approval of others sure feels swell. Especially when the approval comes from people who know what they’re doing.

The Writers Digest contest didn’t net me the grand prize, but I have no qualms about the word “ingenious” appearing in a sentence about something I wrote. And I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of reading the line about Malibu Bride being “a reading experience akin to a bon-bon on a rainy (or snowy) afternoon.” Bon-bons exist only to put a smile on your face.

Writing romance novels has broadened the scope of my work and my life experience. It’s  also led me to meet some amazing people. And that alone makes me a winner.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

I think we have a mixunderstanding

Here in the Midwest, we get weather known as “a wintry mix.” The sky spits down every manner of evil: snow and rain, freezing pellets and sleet, ice and fog—all at the same time. They don’t mix very well, and the result is chaos.

The world of relationships has its own kind of frustrating mix—the mixed message. Society spits every manner of contradictory exhortation upon us: Sex is good and sex is bad. Alpha males are gents and alpha males are jerks. Dress to impress and don’t judge people by appearances.

I saw a classic mixed message when I turned on my computer one recent morning. On the left side of the screen was an article from Match.com telling me that my date may be girlfriendworthy if she laughs at my jokes, challenges me to do the right thing, lets me follow my passion, puts up with my bad habits and doesn’t mind staying in for an evening.

On the right side? Photos of attractive women and men with links I could click to “see more like her (or him).”

In other words, I was simultaneously being told that personality, morals and life philosophies are the real glue that holds couples together—but I should choose my date based on looks. All I had to do to see someone like perky blonde HeyJude2222 or striking brunette Sugarfresh16 was click on the blue line.

Mixed message—>brain freeze—>chaos.

Here’s another example, from the venerable Dear Abby, who printed a letter from “Love, But No Sex” in New Jersey, whose boyfriend goes on and on about how smitten he is, but won’t prove it with a good old-fashioned roll in the hay. “It makes me feel,” the lovelorn lady wrote, “insecure and unwanted.”

Now, I don’t read Abby every day, but I have read her on enough days to know that it’s more usual for a woman to complain that her boyfriend demands she put out, lest he move on to hornier pastures—and that the answer is usually “Get a new boyfriend.”

Times have changed. Abby suggested “No Sex” get a room, and if sparks fly—and the fly comes undone—the Jersey girl and her hesitant beau just might have a future.

Hey, I’m no prude. In Palm Springs Heat, Lara and Clay frolic in the shower long before anyone mentions marching down the aisle. I just like my rain to be wet—and to stay that way when it hits the sidewalk. Which is to say, when it comes to relationships, I think we need to agree that HeyJude and Sugarfresh aren’t necessarily “like” each other because they both have tiny turned-up noses. And we need guidelines for modern couples that say the software—things like morals and ambitions—should be compatible.

But when it comes to trying out the hardware to see if the cable connectors plug smoothly into their designated slots, it doesn’t matter if Joe or Jolene is the one pushing for the dry run. Their disagreement alone might indicate that their long-term togetherness forecast may not be as bright as they’d like it to be.