Monday, July 27, 2015

Time for Class! Bondage, Business, or Both?

Sorry for the long absence, but I've been all tied up.


Besides the day job and lotsa doctor appointments to deal with the cancer thing (more on that, below), I've been taking workshops and attending events. Bondage and Meditation. Yes, it's a thing.

Thanks to the magical Michael for being my partner this week, to awesome Alexandra the week before,
and to terrific Tim and amazing Aaron the week before that.

And all props to Orpheus and Indigo Black, Nina, and the other workshop facilitators
Yes, the word "loose" instead of "lose" bothered me at first. But it's actually just as appropriate,
because when you are bound physically , you are also loosened, mentally, emotionally.

It has been a sensual, peaceful, wonderful way to connect with my body and spirit in a healthy, joyful way. I highly recommend it.

Also, it can make for terrific foreplay, if you learn the ropes and have a lover who is willing to play that way. [insert happy smile here]

But besides that workshop, I've also been busy preparing to give one of my own, through LARA (Los Angeles Romance Authors).  Here's the deets:

 August 2015:  The Business of Writing 101

Beverly DiehlregisterINSTRUCTOR:  Beverly Diehl
DATES:  August 3 – 19 (2.5 weeks)
COST: $30
LARA member cost: $20
CLASS DESCRIPTION:  Most writers would rather enjoy a root canal than talk about business. And yet, sometimes both are necessary (and with a little laughing gas, both can be made less painful).
In this six-part, two & a half week online workshop, participants will learn the essentials of running their writing business successfully:
  • A Douchebag By Any Other Name (why/how to choose a pen name)
  • To Incorporate or Not to Incorporate (overview of different organization structures & the pros & cons of each)
  • Poindexter, Your New BFF (Accountants – what they do that writers need, how to choose one)
  • Avoiding the Death of a Thousand Paper Cuts (What forms need to be filed)
  • Separate Ways (Basic principles of business record-keeping)
  • It’s Never As Easy As It Looks On TV (How to choose an accounting software package)
  • And more!

I'd love it if your schedule permits you to join the rest of the participants for this workshop. You know me - there will be mancandy.

Another thing starting on August 3 is my first radiation session. Six weeks, five days a week, three minutes of being zapped. I cannot honestly say I am looking forward to starting radiation, except in the sense that the sooner I start it, the sooner I will be done with it.

But six weeks goes fast, I'm as prepared as I can be, I'm very grateful to be one of the lucky people who does not need chemo. I have a generous supply of boob cream to get me through any skin discomfort, plus medicinal marijuana product to get me through any anxiety.

As electrifying career coach Shelley Mazer of Step Into The Possibilities told me and the Los Angeles Romance Authors at a recent presentation, "It's good. It's all good."

Here's hoping it's all good with you as well.

Your thoughts, or questions?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Choosing to Dream with Jennifer Senhaji

I've needed to do a writerly 10-Question interviews in a while. Here now is lab experiment brave volunteer, author Jennifer Senhaji stepping to the screen.

1) You published Sweet Dreams in July 2014, a story in Unwrapping Love in December 2014, the novella Sea Breeze in May 2015, and you have the sequel to Sweet Dreams, Choosing to Dream, coming out this month. You also have a full time job, a husband, and children. Do you sleep? Can you unpack for us how you make it work, writing with all those other major demands competing for your time? 

Honestly, I am constantly sleep deprived. I do sleep, but am hard pressed to get more than six hours a night, and I love sleep. My body really needs at least eight hours. My husband works nights, so I get most of my writing done at night while he’s at work. It’s hard. Time is something that I am always battling. But when you are passionate about something, you have to pick and choose what you want to spend your time doing. I’ve pretty much given up TV. It’s always on in my house, two kids and all, but I usually just catch glimpses of the Food Network or cartoons over the top edge of my laptop while I work. A normal day includes the day job, home at 6:30 pm, homework, dinner, then laptop. I don’t write every day. I work on blog posts, catch up on marketing, edit, and then write.

2) In Sweet Dreams, cafe owner Jenna Morris begins a secret romantic friendship with A-list actor and sexiest man alive Jacob Walker. Have you ever had a secret friendship or romance with a celebrity, or know someone who has?

I haven’t. I’ve met a few celebrities in my life though, and I’m always surprised at how normal they seem up close. Totally different than our perceptions. I will let you in on a little secret… Sweet Dreams is actually based on a recurring dream I’ve had for years where I did have a secret friendship with a celebrity.

3) You seem to like the "J" names for your characters: Jordan, Jenna, Jacob, Jerry. Where did "Eric" in Sea Breeze come from, name-wise? You did know there were more "J" names available? 

Ha. Yes, I like using "J" names. Actually, in Angels in Disguise, my holiday anthology story which will end up as the kick-off to a new series, the main characters are Alex and Gabe. Supporting character is Jaime though, so I didn’t escape the "J" name there. Eric is a name I have always loved and come to think of it, I did once know and work with a bartender named Eric. He was not the inspiration for the character though, just a funny coincidence.

4) I notice you used a LOT of songs that wrapped their way into the story of Sweet Dreams. Do you decide on a song list for your novel before you begin writing, and have that inform your story, or does the story itself, as you're writing it, suggest songs that you add to your playlist? Do you put song X on repeat as you are working on that chapter, or...? 

The songs come to me during the scenes. When it feels right, I jot them down and add them to a playlist that is also edited down to the final list once the book is edited and done. When I am writing a particularly juicy scene, like the wedding scene in Italy in Sweet Dreams, I do keep the song on repeat, in this case Anything, Anything by Dramarama. It really amps up the tension for me and puts me smack dab in the middle of the action.

5) Jordan in Sea Breeze mixes a drink quite impressively. Tapping on your own skills, or just great research? 

I have worked in almost every facet of the restaurant business including being a cocktail waitress and a bartender. I certainly know how to mix a cocktail and always loved working a busy bar. There is something about the adrenaline of pouring drinks at a busy bar. I can spin a shaker in my hand, but that’s about it. I’m an impressive klutz, so being a flair bartender was never in the cards for me.

6) Both of us belong to a group of women (and a few men) called Writing Wenches. Can you tell us how support groups, online or in person, help a writer advance her/his career? And is there any downside to social networking among peers? 

Honestly, I’ve made wonderful friends in writing groups. Here’s the thing, I’m a member of a lot of groups, and it’s hard to find the right one. Some are purely marketing based. Some are more friend based. Others are writing based. I have found a perfect medium in the Writing Wenches for me. We support each other because we are friends, not out of obligation. Some groups will have requirements and rules that need to be followed, so make sure to read those carefully before joining a group. The only downside is finding the group that works for you. It can take time and patience, but in the end is absolutely worth it.

7) Complete this sentence, "I know I will have 'made it' as a writer when..." What's your own happily ever after?

When I quit the day job to write full time… But I don’t know if I will ever quit the day job, I love my career. Instead, how about… I will have made it when I can travel and write on location. That is the dream.

8) Moroccan. You bio says that you speak Moroccan (along with Spanish and a little French). For the ignorant among us *raises hand* who did not know that the people of Morocco had their own language, can you educate us a little on the people, the culture, and the language? Will we be seeing any Moroccan or Moroccan-American characters in a Jennifer Senhaji work of fiction anytime in the near future?

Fifteen years ago, I married a man from Morocco who I met while I was traveling in Morocco. I’ve been there several times and love it. The culture, the food, the people. It’s a happy blend of ancient and modern, that you can see in the architecture of the old medina surrounded by new construction. It’s a Muslim country, but extremely tolerant and open-minded with a European feel. The official languages are Arabic and French. However, Moroccan is the local dialect that is spoken in all households. When they write, it’s in French or Arabic. The nightly news is given in Arabic, French, and Moroccan. I learned the language through my husband and his family. My daughter is fairly fluent and my son is learning. The language itself is a combo of Arabic, French, Spanish, in my opinion. All Moroccans can speak to and understand people speaking Arabic and French, but they have their own language as well. A country full of people that speak three languages fluently is pretty impressive. And when you go to northern Morocco, most people also speak Spanish since Spain is only a ferry ride away. I will incorporate Morocco here and there in different books down the road, but eventually I will publish my story, when I’m ready. That is the first book I ever tried to write and had to put it down because it was too close. Someday.

9) Choosing to Dream releases this month. What will we love about Jen and Jake in this book? Do we need to read Sweet Dreams first, or does each book work as a stand-alone? 

The angst is definitely amped up in this book. It’s all about long distance relationships, which is something I know a little about since my husband and I dated long distance for almost two years before we got married. You do not have to read Sweet Dreams before this book. However, the story of Jake and Jenna coming together is so awesome, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to.

10) What question have you never been asked, but always wanted to answer? And what's the answer?

Hmmm, this is hard. But I’ve often wondered why no one has asked me about my logo “Your Sweet and Spicy Romance Author,” and whether or not it applies to my regular life and not just my writing. The answer is yes, and I am fairly certain my husband will agree.

Jennifer Senhaji was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. About herself, she says: Music is an addiction. I can often be found in the car, singing at the top of my lungs with whatever is playing. I work full time, and I split my spare time between family, reading, blogging, and writing. I’m a habitual quoter. Lines from films and TV shows constantly pop into my head—my kids are the only ones that really get it. I’m an only child, and so of course I married a man who is one of ten children. Other than English, I speak Spanish, Moroccan, and a little French. I love to travel, but don’t do enough of it. Reading has been a passion for most of my life, and I now love writing. I’m a klutz, and in my own mind, I’m hilarious.

Questions? Comments?
If you've read Jennifer's work, what did you like about it?

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

50 Shades of Rape #rapeculture

The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction .
The Rape Of The Sabines: The Abduction . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I avoided the #AskELJames Twitter party/skewering, because generally, I don't "do" Twitter, FaceBook events, and the like, but found myself in some interesting group discussions about it, and her work, anyway.

Some female writers I know, along with EL James herself, vigorously deny the reality that, as depicted in Fifty Shades of Grey, Christian rapes Ana.

[Trigger warning: If you couldn't tell from the title, this post will explore rape and controversy, and explicit language will sometimes be used.]

As a writer, this is an interesting journey. I am a rape sur-thriver (I have not only survived rape, but gone on to thrive), and have had to examine and unpack not only the second time I was raped - the one that everyone would agree was rape, by a masked stranger at knifepoint - but the first, which for a long time I myself did not recognize or understand as rape.

I explored that date rape experience, and the role that my romance reading played in making me not "get" that it was rape, in this post a few years ago.

In more than one scene in FSOG, consent is missing. Sex without consent = RAPE.

Many people don't fully understand consent. "But she could've used her safe word, and she didn't!" or "But she had orgasms!" Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse feel a great deal of shame and that they were partly responsible for their abuse, because 1) they did feel feel pleasure or have orgasms, and 2) their abusers told them that meant they wanted it, too.

Many people in BDSM situations, especially newbies, are too stressed and confused to remember their "safe" words, and responsible Doms will never override a "No," "Stop," or "Don't," without checking in to make absolutely certain the sub wants play to continue.

From UC - Irvine:
Consent is positive cooperation involving an act of free will, absent of coercion, intimidation, force, or the threat of force.  A person cannot give effective consent if he/she is unable to appreciate the nature of the sexual act - as with a person who has a disability that would impair understanding of the act or if a person is impaired by the influence of drugs or alcohol.

There must always be active consent on both sides. Consent to one thing does not imply another. If limits are made clear and consent is not given, pressuring someone into changing their mind is not consent. → If you are unwilling to accept a "no", then "yes" has no meaning. 
  •  Consent is based on choice. 
  •  It is active, not passive.  Silence and passivity do not equal consent. 
  •  Consent is possible only when there is equal power. 
  •  Giving in because of fear is NOT consent.  
  •  Giving in or going along with someone to gain approval or to avoid being hurt is NOT consent. 
  •  Consent means two people (or more) deciding together to do the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, with each other.

Rape is evil... but I like it

Another part of my journey has been to understand the contradictions in my own thought process. I hate rape. If I had a magic wand I could wave to prevent rape from being perpetrated on another man, woman or child on the planet, I would wave that shit till my arm fell off, then switch arms. I do not look back at any of my own rapes as being enjoyable or fun, and would not ever want to repeat them.

And yet... being totally honest with myself, I have read rape scenes in books, or watched them in movies, and become deeply aroused.  This is a part of myself about which I felt greatly ashamed, and wanted to deny.

Because how can I be anti-rape, and yet, be erotically aroused by rape?

Many "decent" women, and probably men, have rape fantasies

I haven't studied the male angle much, but I'm guessing some of them fantasize about being the object of rape, or raping a woman, man, or child, or both.

But I have found that I am not the only woman who feels this way. Many women, who would never want to experience a rape or gang-bang IRL (in real life), either fantasize about being raped or gang-banged, or actually go to a swing club or other safe place and arrange to experience a simulated rape or gang-bang, under very controlled circumstances.

Controlled circumstances being the key. I have talked to other women and read of experiences where the rape scenario is played out, generally as tightly choreographed as kibuki theatre. Some rape surthrivers say re-enacting their rapes were tremendously empowering, and it is something I may consider for myself someday. (Note: my therapist thinks it's a very bad idea.)

English: "Rape of Europa"
English: "Rape of Europa" (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I've worked at digging deeper to try to find out what, exactly, I find arousing about rape (when I do find it arousing - I don't, always). I think it has to do with being freed from guilt/sexual shame. Because if somebody makes me have sex, then I am not dirty/slutty. I still have much more digging to do, but I have accepted this kink as a part of my own personal being, at least at this time.

There are lots of sexual fantasies out there that might fuel masturbation, but will never come to fruition IRL, because people can't actually have sex with vampires or werewolves or dinosaurs. Yes, dino porn is a thing. There are other fantasies that are possible, like bestiality, that most people will never act upon.

I no longer believe that having dark fantasies, or role-playing rape, are a bad thing, even if they are not something we want to bring up while passing the cookies at a PTA meeting.

If it's not bad to fantasize about, it can't be bad to write about

I actually know lovely people who write dino porn, and rape scenes. I have many issues with Fifty Shades, but that it includes rape and an emotionally abusive relationship isn't any of them.

Where my biggest problem lies is with the denial by EL James and others that Christian rapes and emotionally abuses Ana. And her portrayal of the rape and abuse as romantic, a viewpoint I internalized as a teen from the many rape-y romances of the 1970's. Maybe because I have worked so hard to unpack my own issues, and am still working on them, I have little patience with people in denial about their own writing and actions.

I own my own shit. I expect others to be grown-ups and own their own shit, too.

I am a rape sur-thriver AND I am sometimes aroused by rape fantasies,
and this is okay.

I think it is perfectly acceptable to write rape scenes, and bestiality scenes, and group sex scenes, and whatever our dirty little imaginations can conjure up. But when we do, we must accept the reality that not everyone will love our work.

Some people will have a strong negative reaction, and if they do, the adult response is not to try to redefine consent, rape, or negate the reader's experience. It's to put trigger warnings on our work. It's to tell the readers who express distress, "I'm so very sorry someone raped or abused you. This work is not for everyone."

As a writer, I believe it's very bad form to tell the readers that "they read it wrong," rather than accept the possibility that we may have conveyed the message poorly. As a human being, I think it's callous to ignore the legitimate distress our actions may be causing other people.

I do not agree with the dogpiling of personal abuse directed at Ms. James, but criticism of her work, and even criticizing her attitude toward that criticism, is totally legitimate, in my opinion.

What's yours?
Do you have dark erotic fantasies that made you feel ashamed?
What do you think is an author's responsibility to her readers?