Say What?

Perhaps I’ve been doing this too long, but I recall when people spoke to each other using complete words and sentences, either verbally or written. Remember that? Now, it’s all done in a digital shorthand called acronyms. Once upon a time, we also composed notes and letters using cursive writing. Do they still teach that in school?

An acronym is a pronounceable word formed mostly (but not always) from the initial letters of a descriptive name or title. Its origin is from the Latin words “acro,” meaning “beginning,” and “onym,” meaning “word” or “name.” These are not to be confused with initials or abbreviations.

Acronyms, initials and abbreviations–oh my! From texts to in-person convos (see how I snuck one in there?) to the post-it you leave your roommate to turn off the lights, we all use shorthand. But is your truncated way of expressing a thought an acronym? It depends on how you say it. For example, “you only live once” is shortened to YOLO, which you’d say as “yoh-loh.” This is not to be confused with BOGO, the retail shorthand for “buy one, get one,” or COB, meaning “close of business.” Damn—this is confusing, and we haven’t scratched the surface!

Acronyms have been around for decades, particularly in the government and military. Think AWOL (absent without leave), C-rations (c for canned or condensed), GI (government issue), FUBAR (fouled up beyond all recognition), NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), Navy SEALs (Navy Sea Air Land forces), POTUS, SCOTUS, and SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics). They all entered the lexicon long before the digital age, along with ASAP, SRO and BOLO. It wasn’t until cell carriers began charging customers for their digital usage that acronyms became a necessity. The abomination formerly known as Twitter also shares some of the blame with their message character limits.

There’s been some debate about whether initialisms are acronyms, or if acronyms and initialisms are types of abbreviations. If any of that made sense to you, please raise your hand. An initialism is an abbreviation that uses the first letter of each word in the phrase it’s describing (like an acronym), but you still say each letter individually (unlike an acronym). For example, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is shortened to FBI, but you say it as “eff-bee-eye,” not “fuh-by.” Here are some common examples of acronyms you probably use or encounter.

AFK (away from keyboard); BBL or BBS (be back later or soon); BRB (be right back); DM (direct message) or PM (private message); BTW (by the way); IDK (I don’t know); DFK (don’t f***ing know); IMO/IMHO – (in my opinion/humble opinion); IRL/IRT (in real life/time); LMK (let me know); NOYB (none of your business); OMG (oh my God); SMH (shaking my head); HTS (here to stay); TTYL (talk to you later); WTH (what the hell). There’s also the ever-popular LOL (laughing out loud) and ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing), along with ROFLMAO (rolling on the floor laughing my ass off) and the shorthand version, LMAO.

Everyone has their favorite car, and many people have that car they’d never own again. For the latter, consider these acronyms.

BUICK – Big Ugly Import Car Killer; CHEVY – Cannot Have Expensive Vehicle Yet; DODGE – Drains Or Drops Grease Everywhere/Dead On Day Guarantee Expires; FORD – Fix Or Repair Daily/Found On Road Dead; HONDA – Hang On, Not Done Accelerating; JEEP – Just Expect Every Problem; PORSCHE – Proof Of Rich Spoiled Children Having Everything; TOYOTA – Too Often Yankees Overprice This Auto; VOLVO – Very Odd-Looking Vehicular Object.

(Emits big sigh). All these different forms of language, abbreviations, acronyms, slang and so forth, and we still can’t communicate with each other. It’s getting to where I’m almost afraid to say “I woke up this morning” for fear that it will be misconstrued, since “woke” seems to rile so many people. I heard a new word on a morning talk show recently—“mentation.” It refers to cognitive functioning and being mentally alert. You learn something new every day.

I’d like to propose a compromise. Let’s keep this one (which makes some degree of sense), and ban “conversate” from the lexicon. It drives me crazy when I hear that one, so let’s be clear: you have a conversation, or you converse. Those are your choices. Period. You cannot “conversate” because there is no such word.

Speaking of words that need to be retired (no pun intended), I nominate “elderly.” I know many people who have passed middle age, but they don’t huddle under a blanket in a rocking chair watching soap operas or doing crossword puzzles, they don’t nap three times a day, and they haven’t graduated to textured food. According to a survey by, 57 percent of people older than 65 object to the word. The same poll found that 70 percent also dislike “geezer.” That word is probably sexist, since no one refers to women in that age bracket as a “geezerette.”

IDK if you use acronyms to communicate, but IMHO, it’s HTS. I SMH sometimes when I try to read what someone has texted me, but I’ll have to GWI if I want to stay competitive, I guess. OMG– I’m late for an appt. and will be AFK for a while, but I’ll TTYL. IRL, IDFK WTH I just said!

The Trouble with Tropes

The other day I asked ChatGPT to help me strengthen the blurb for my newest erotic romance. It failed miserably – but that’s a different tale. What’s really interesting to me is what happened before I gave it my blurb.

Me: Can you write me an effective, punchy two sentence summary for the blurb of my romance novel?

[I then hit return, planning to enter the blurb text in the next paragraph. The LLM jumped the gun, creating perhaps the most generic blurb in existence.]


“Passion ignites when an unlikely pair of strangers cross paths, but as secrets unravel and pasts collide, their love story becomes a heart-pounding journey of desire and destiny.”

Pay attention: this is what you get when you give the model no context, other than the genre. Basically, we have a naked list of tropes:

  • Instalove
  • Opposites attract
  • Strangers to lovers
  • Secrets of the past
  • Destined lovers

How many romances do you think would fit this mini-blurb? (Could I ask ChatGPT for a list?) Thousands, I’d imagine. Perhaps tens of thousands. (Just searching Amazon for “romance novels”, I get over 70,000 results.)

Lately, books have started listing the relevant tropes in the title or subtitle. A fellow romance author recently offered me a spot for one of my books in her newsletter. “Send me the cover, a short blurb, buy links and the tropes,” she said.

Hmm. I’ve never thought about the tropes in my stories.

Well, actually I have, occasionally. When I think about tropes, it’s usually because I’m trying to subvert them.

The same thing seems to be happening in the world of erotica. Subtitles have gotten ridiculously explicit, and now blurbs are following suit. A recent ad I saw in the Excite Spice newsletter provided the following list rather than a real blurb:

This story contains:

  • Milk & Ice Play

  • Double Daddies

  • Taboo Age Gap

  • Untouched Brat

  • Rough Men

  • Too Big to Fit

  • Messy Finishes Deep Inside

  • Forced & Stretched

  • Spanking

Of course, in the case of smut, tropes might be called kinks, but the objective is the same: to let readers select stories that are similar to ones they’ve read and enjoyed previously.

So why is this a bad thing? Don’t we want our readers to be satisfied and happy? Given how busy everyone seems to be in this digital age, why not make it easy for people to find what they’re looking for? One search, a couple of clicks, and Bingo! You’ve got a story just like the one you read last week, that you liked.

And next week, you can find another instance with the same themes and plot elements. Satisfaction guaranteed?

Not my satisfaction, certainly. I don’t want my reading to be predictable. I seek originality, not sameness. I don’t want to read the same book over and over again. Sure, I have my own favorite genres and kinks, but I’m happiest when a writer surprises me.

I may be a curmudgeon, but I believe that tropes make people lazy, not to mention risk-averse. A slavish adherence to tropes (and an over-reliance on them for marketing) also impacts the overall quality of the books that are out there. It’s pretty easy to assemble a story from a list of tropes – not necessarily a good story, but one that will tick the boxes of a reader’s expectations. The story might not be very deep. It might not feel genuine. It might not even totally make sense. But hey, it’s what the reader asked for, right?

Many authors are (rightfully) concerned that the rise of LLMs like ChatGPT will make it even harder for humans to write books that sell. AI can already generate stories that a fairly non-critical reader would deem acceptable.

Tropes make that much, much easier. The more stereotyped the framework of a story, the more likely it is that AI’s predictive capabilities will match the expectations. After all, the models have been trained to find and regurgitate patterns.

Just for the heck of it, I asked ChatGPT to write me a four paragraph romance using the tropes instalove, strangers to lovers and past secrets. This is what it came up with:

In the heart of a bustling city, two souls collided on a fateful afternoon. Amelia had always been a firm believer in love at first sight, and when her eyes locked with Oliver’s from across a crowded coffee shop, she knew that she had just experienced it. He, too, was struck by a magnetic force, as if their connection was destined from the start. As strangers to one another, their hearts embarked on a journey neither of them could have predicted.

Amelia was an open book, her emotions displayed for the world to see. She wore her heart on her sleeve, but Oliver was the complete opposite. Mysterious and reserved, he had a past filled with secrets that he guarded with utmost care. Yet, as they spent more time together, their connection deepened, and Amelia’s curiosity grew. She couldn’t help but wonder about the enigmatic man she had fallen for, wanting to unlock the mysteries that shrouded him.

As days turned into weeks, and weeks into months, Amelia and Oliver’s love blossomed. Their shared experiences and whispered secrets drew them closer, but the weight of Oliver’s hidden past loomed over them. He knew he couldn’t keep his secrets forever, and the time had come to reveal the truth. With trembling hands and a heart heavy with regret, he finally opened up to Amelia about his past, laying bare the secrets that had haunted him for so long. It was a pivotal moment in their relationship, and the way Amelia responded would determine the course of their love story.

Amelia, though taken aback by Oliver’s revelations, held him close, offering forgiveness and understanding. Their love had grown stronger through their journey from strangers to lovers, and now, by confronting the secrets of the past, they had cemented their bond. As the sun set on that unforgettable day, Amelia and Oliver realized that their love had triumphed over the obstacles in its path, and they were ready to face the future together, hand in hand, as a testament to the power of instalove and the strength of love that conquers even the darkest of secrets.

Clichés, anyone?

I think tropes may make writers lazy as well. If readers do not in fact care about novelty or creativity, why should authors bother? Just write yet another secret baby story, yet another hotwife adventure, yet another tale about getting it on with my step-brother, and get it out there to satisfy the public’s appetite for sameness.

I know I probably sound bitter. I can’t change the public, or the market. Over the last few weeks, though, I’ve been browsing through my author’s copies of the annual Best New Erotica series, edited by Maxim Jakubowski. These were published during the first decade or so of the twenty-first century, the golden age of erotica—or so it seems now.

Some of the tales in these volumes are simply marvelous—luminous, arousing, clever, disturbing, uplifting. The thing that strikes me most, though, the diversity—diversity of style, mood and content. Plus the fact that the best stories could never be summarized in the few words of a trope.


Go For It!

“The things you regret are the risks you don’t take.”

I wish I could claim credit for that bit of wisdom but the truth is, I heard it in the movie “Grumpy Old Men.” It was spoken by Ann-Margaret to Jack Lemmon about relationships, and not being afraid to offer your heart to someone. It seemed like good advice but I think it applies to other things in life, too.

As writers, we’re obligated to take chances and push boundaries. Some of us pushed our limits simply by finishing that first book and getting it published. That’s not as easy as some people seem to think. It requires a lot of commitment and hard work, and that’s just the creative part. Once you decide to make writing a career, you really have to push your personal limits with regards to promotion and marketing. Some of us also push the limits of our bank accounts.

Think back to when we were kids, and fearless when it came to trying new things. If you liked someone’s music, what did you do? You rounded up your friends and formed a garage band. Were you obsessed with the latest superhero movie or TV series, like “Batman” or “Star Wars”? Nothing stopped you from making your own costumes and props, then acting out an adventure in the backyard. When you got hooked on reading and decided you wanted to write a story just like your favorite author, did anything get in your way? Our imaginations were fertile and boundless.

What happened to us? We grew up and became aware of a thing called adult responsibilities. Suddenly, things like getting a good job, paying the rent, putting grub on the table and paying attention to family took priority over frivolous adolescent pursuits. Sometimes we need to go back to that childlike naivety and innocence.

It’s important to recall the special excitement you had when you realized your first book, short story or blog was about to be published. That giddy feeling of “Wow, someone likes what I wrote and wants to publish it. How cool is that???” Remember how you felt when you saw your book cover or byline in print for the first time? How about reading the first good review you received? Goosebumps, anyone?

Do you know why you felt that way? Because you ignored the negative internal voices and the people in your life who jealously said that you wouldn’t make it happen. In short, YOU TOOK A CHANCE on something that was important to you, and it paid off. If you’re fortunate, you may experience it more than once in your lifetime. The trick is to keep pushing boundaries to challenge yourself and stay fresh.

I like to try new things with my writing. I become bored easily and if I don’t flex my creative muscles, that malaise will find its way into my stories. I think this is why I switch between mystery/thrillers and romantic comedies. It puts my brain in offense mode, and challenges me to take chances. My dislike of cliches also keeps my mystery readers on their toes. I’m really happy when I come up with a unique “Gotcha!” or last-minute “Aha!” twist that catches people off-guard. One of my regular reader/followers pointed out something to me. In many of the mysteries, I write a sort-of climax three-quarters of the way through, then follow it up with a bigger finish. I wasn’t aware I was doing this, but he pointed it out in online reviews as “the Tim Smith double climax.” I haven’t taken out a patent on that yet.

One of my early books, “The Vendetta Factor” (Nick Seven series), had me going retro by using chapter titles. Since it was an old school pulp fiction-style crime thriller, it seemed like a good fit. The fact that no one had used chapter titles in fiction for thirty-odd years increased my desire to flaunt current trends. My first romantic comedy, “Anywhere the Heart Goes,” took the title thing one step further. I began each chapter with a quote about love and relationships, to set the mood and preview what was coming. Some of the quotes were funny, while others were poignant.

The Vic Fallon retro private eye mystery “Lido Key” pushed my limits with adult content. I made the female lead bisexual, enjoying a relationship with her cute Latina housekeeper, and both of them are attracted to the hero. In looking back at that book, it’s probably the steamiest story concept I ever came up with. Not only is the heroine a switch hitter, she’s a former lap dancer turned rich trophy widow who is being blackmailed because of her past indiscretions. During his investigation, my leading man encounters a crooked strip club owner and a famous tough guy writer with a taste for booze and women. As I said, a sleazy concept with a cast of characters to match. I think Mickey Spillane would’ve been proud.

Speaking of characters, that’s another way I push limits. I like creating personalities that are unique and off-the-wall, thus making them memorable. I pay attention to people and take note of their fashion statements, physical characteristics and speech patterns. I also pay attention to the way an actor played a character and file it away for future use. My realistic caricatures have gotten me into trouble on occasion, when someone I know is convinced that I based a character on them or a mutual friend. This is patently false, because my characters are composites. What people want to think beyond that is up to them.

I really like to see how many fireworks I can set off when I give interviews. I have a lot of fun when I can go for a laugh with my responses. It plays into something I learned a long time ago—any publicity can be good if it gets people talking about you. As proof, search the name Kardashian and see what pops up. It also verifies that I don’t take myself seriously. One blog interview I did nearly cost me an invitation to a family reunion, though, because a relative was embarrassed by my answers to a few of the questions. They dealt with my opinions of certain sexual fetishes, some of which were unconventional, and I felt obliged to give funny off-the-wall responses.

During a live podcast interview, the hostess suggested that the book I was plugging might be good for Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I viewed this as another opportunity to make waves. I stated, live on the air, that I had no desire to be in Oprah’s book club because I didn’t think she or her audience would appreciate my writing. A long silence followed while the hostess pondered the future of her program.

The biggest limit-pusher for me resulted in my becoming a published author in the first place. I had recently reached a crossroad in my life, and was feeling restless. I recalled an idea for a story I had always wanted to tell, and challenged myself to either write the damn thing or stop talking about it. The result was the first entry in my popular Nick Seven spy series, “Memories Die Last,” which continues to sell many years later and has cultivated a nice fan base.

The second-biggest was my decision to use my own name when I began writing contemporary erotic romance. That was 20-plus years ago, and there have been many occasions when I felt I should have ignored Ann-Margaret’s advice, and adopted a pseudonym. Sometimes I think it was one risk I definitely regretted taking.

What dreams may come

Image by Anke Sundermeier from Pixabay

The vast room stretches two stories up to a sky-lit ceiling. The trainers bustle about in white leather miniskirts and heeled boots, their hair pulled back into severe pony tails that shimmer down their trim backs. The slaves are shackled to walls, or more accurately, to jointed cantilever frames that extend out from the walls and support all manner of interesting and embarrassing poses.

I am one of them, a novice, recognized by the minions of the mistress for what I am, enticed here by their veiled promises. I am naked, bound and gagged, unable to move. I am simultaneously aroused and terrified.

My trainer, a stunning brunette with crimson lips, approaches me with an enema bag. “You must be empty,” she says, “so the mistress can fill you.” I nearly come from excitement and terror.

The scene shifts to an outdoor café. My own master and the mistress drink espresso at a wrought iron table. I crouch at my master’s feet underneath, listening to their conversation. “She did well,” the mistress comments. “You’ve done a good job preparing her.” The pride I feel at pleasing her and showing off my master’s skill is almost more intense than my sexual desire.

* * * *

The above is a segment from a real dream. It’s not a fictional vignette concocted by my dirty mind—at least, not my conscious dirty mind. I’ve always had vivid dreams; I recall that my brother and I told each other our dreams when we were just kids. I tend to remember more of my dreams, I believe, than the average person, even though I don’t usually write them down.

I dream recurring landscapes: the cities of my youth morphed and mingled together, full of buses and trains and subways; a mansion with endless halls and stairways that I think derives from the Winchester Mystery House; an ocean-front resort during a storm, threatened by the gigantic waves; the rural town where I lived for more than twenty years. I dream repeating themes. I’ve been given the chance to return to college once again and I’m thrilled to be able to explore all the wonderful topics I had to pass up the first time around. I’m in college again and it’s finals week, and suddenly I realize that I’ve completely skipped attending several of my classes. Evil creatures, aliens or magicians or monsters, surround my house, while I try desperately to find a place to hide. And of course I dream of both my husband and the lovers from my past, as well as new women and men who tempt and torment me.

Sometimes I dream entire stories, with plots and characters who have nothing to do with me. In my dreams these days, I know that I’m a writer. I actually understand, while I’m dreaming, that there’s a narrative playing out on the screen of my mind and I try to remember the details when I wake. Often I do. For the most part, though, I haven’t managed to get these narratives out of my head and onto the page before they fade. Often I’ll remember the premise and the protagonists, but the emotion evaporates all too quickly. Once the excitement slips away, it’s hard to motivate myself to actually write down the dream. It seems stiff and empty.

I did write a poem based on the dream above. That dream was triggered by one of my rare reunions with my master. I’ve also got a hundred word “flasher” based on a dream:

Conversation with the Marquis

I dreamed of de Sade. He smiled gently down at me. “Come to me when you are ready.”

Pretending lightness, I replied, “I never said that I was interested in such things.”

“You need not say. I can see it in your eyes.”

I knew he spoke truly. When I looked at him I saw ropes biting tender flesh, instruments of steel and leather, candles, clamps, searing pain, scalding pleasure.

Suspended in awful desire, I fled. Waking, I found a volume of his tales by my bedside, inscribed with a single word.


I don’t think much of Freud’s views on dreams, but I do believe that they can carry truth. My dreams reveal to me my passions and my fears. They show me who I really am. They also fascinate me with their emotional richness and their sensory detail. John Crowley’s wonderful book Little, Big includes a character who spends as much time as she can sleeping, because she loves to dream. I’m not that extreme, but I’ve been known to wake in the middle of the night, go to the bathroom, then lie down again and resume a dream where I had left off.

I’ve also experienced a handful of dreams that I can only call prescient. In one, I sat by the hospital bed of a gravely ill former lover, trying to comfort him and ease his pain. I learned the next day that his father had committed suicide the night of the dream. In another, I dreamed that a dear female friend whom I hadn’t heard from in months was going to have a baby. Within two days, an email from me informed me that she was in fact pregnant.

Actually, my explanation for these experiences is grounded more in psychic communication over distances than in precognition. I’ve never dreamed a future that didn’t involve someone whom I cared about deeply. I suspect that there’s some sort of emotional vibration—electromagnetic waves of some sort—that can be transmitted between people who have a strong bond.

I do dream quite a lot about sex (surprise surprise). Sometimes very strange sex, involving hermaphrodites and detachable penises and public masturbation, sometimes nothing more than a glorious flirtation which cloaks mutual desire. In the last few years, for the first time (that I remember) I’ve started to have orgasms in my sleep. At least it feels that way. Of course, sometimes it feels like I’m flying, too.

Even though my dreams have been directly responsible for relatively few of my stories so far, I feel as though they nourish my imagination. I use bits and pieces of dream imagery all the time. And I have written a number of dream sequences which borrow the tone of my real night journeys.

I’ve been thinking about this blog post for quite a while. Last week, I woke from a dream that may well have been catalyzed by my pondering the topic.

* * * *

The blond young vampire sits on his motorcycle, his face serious. The air is heavy with erotic tension. “I’ve got to go,” he tells me and my girlfriend. “If I stay, I’ll hurt you.”

I take his hand and place it on my breast. He caresses me through my clothing. Desperate lust overwhelms me. I know that he feels it too, that it takes every shred of self-discipline he can muster to hold himself back. “Maybe you could hurt us a little,” I say, trying to tempt him, unable or unwilling to let go of this intoxicating desire.

I wake, wet and trembling, before he can answer.

Where Did the Time Go?

Over the summer, I attended my (GASP!) 50th high school reunion. I’ve adjusted to the shock of how many years have passed since graduation, and it was fun trying to identify old classmates that I hadn’t seen in years. After we got past the great lie that starts with “Gee, you look good!” some of us talked about what used to be. The passage of time might make you remember things as being simpler then, and perhaps they were because we didn’t have grown-up responsibilities, but I realized that some things in the world haven’t really changed.

In 1973, we had a Republican President (Richard Nixon), who authorized a break-in of the Democratic national headquarters to ensure his re-election in ’72. Hmm, a President tampering with an election to win a second term…what a dreadful notion! Following a Congressional investigation, Nixon resigned the following year rather than face impeachment and possible jail time. At least he knew how to take a hint.

Many of us who grew up in the late 60s/early 70s took an interest in ecology and the effects of air and water pollution on the environment. I attended school in the Cleveland area, and it was during this era that the Cuyahoga River caught on fire after years of pollutants being dumped into it. Environmentalists also began using the term Greenhouse Effect in reference to the deteriorating ozone layer and global warming. Fifty years later, we’re still paying the price and fighting the same battles regarding the climate.

Speaking of paying the price, the average cost of gasoline was 38.5 cents a gallon, up from $.34 the previous year. By the Spring of ’74 it had increased to $.55, due to the Middle East oil embargo. Remember gas rationing, something that hadn’t been done since WWII? Shortages of crude oil and fluctuating gas prices still remain a fact of life. I recall some economist predicting in the late ‘70s that gas would stabilize once it reached $1.00 a gallon. Riiiiiight!

On the lighter side, we got our music fix from AM radio, vinyl records (albums and 45s), and cassettes. FM radio was still the refuge of easy listening, classical music, opera, and NPR talk shows. That year, a bouncy little folk tune called “Tie a Yellow Ribbon ‘Round the Ole Oak Tree,” by Tony Orlando and Dawn, captured the Billboard number 1 spot.

Further down the chart, Jim Croce warned us to beware of a cat named “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” while Roberta Flack moaned about her man “Killing Me Softly with His Song.” She might have been referring to Marvin Gaye when he sang “Let’s Get It On,” Kris Kristoferson asking “Why Me,” or Paul McCartney and Wings performing the slow dance favorite “My Love.” Diana Ross extended an invitation to “Touch Me in the Morning,” while Carly Simon chastised someone with “You’re So Vain.” Rumor has it that she wrote that song about her one-time lover Warren Beatty. Listen to the lyrics and judge for yourself. For contrast, Elton John coaxed us to get down with “Crocodile Rock,” Billy Preston asked “Will It Go ‘Round in Circles,” and Vicki Lawrence told us about “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.” This was also the year that Bette Midler broke out with her update of an Andrews Sisters hit from the ‘40s, “Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy.”

Broadcast TV via rooftop antennas was the primary form of home-based entertainment, since we were a few years away from cable and home video. We still delighted in hearing Archie Bunker yell “Stifle!” on the number 1 show, “All in the Family,” while Redd Foxx did a Black version of the character on “Sanford and Son.” All things being equal, Bea Arthur’s “Maude” put a feminist spin on topical events. The other top shows that year were “The Waltons,” “M*A*S*H,” “Kojak,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Sonny and Cher,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “Cannon.” Compare those to what we’ve been watching over the past few decades and see how our tastes have changed.

The too-hip-to-be-square comedy show “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in” finally ran out of jokes after six years. Does anyone remember presidential candidate Nixon’s appearance in ’68, when he posed the question “Sock it to me?” ‘73 was also the first year for the soap opera “The Young and the Restless,” still churning out angst and sexual hijinks after 50 years.

One thing that has remained constant is our appetite for movies, and we had some great ones to choose from. The American box office was dominated by “The Exorcist” (the #1 movie), and “The Sting,” a reteaming of Paul Newman and Robert Redford that also renewed interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime music. “American Graffiti” (#3 on the list) struck a chord with many of us, thanks to its plot about high school grads enjoying their last night at home before leaving for college and the real world. Love the soundtrack album.

The rest of the top ten consisted of “Papillon” with Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman, Redford and Barbra Streisand in “The Way We Were,” Clint Eastwood reprising Dirty Harry in “Magnum Force,” the Depression-era comedy “Paper Moon” (starring Ryan O’Neal and his daughter Tatum), and Roger Moore’s debut as James Bond in “Live and Let Die.” The list also included two unlikely films, both rated X—the controversial “Last Tango in Paris,” which nearly tanked Marlon Brando’s reputation, and “The Devil in Miss Jones,” a holdover from the porno chic era.

Some of the other flicks that brought us to theaters and drive-ins were “Walking Tall,” “Serpico,” “The World’s Greatest Athlete,” “Enter the Dragon” (Bruce Lee’s big screen debut), “High Plains Drifter” (Eastwood on horseback this time), “Dillinger,” “Save the Tiger,” “The Seven-ups” (a sequel to “The French Connection”), “Shamus” (Burt Reynolds trying to revive the private eye genre), Woody Allen’s “Sleeper,” and one that achieved cult status, “Soylent Green.” Bet you can’t remember the last line of that movie, screamed by Charlton Heston.

The Oscar ceremony that year was noteworthy for the stunt pulled by Marlon Brando. He was the favorite to win the best actor prize for “The Godfather.” Brando decided to boycott the ceremony as a protest against Hollywood’s portrayal of Native Americans, and to draw attention to the standoff at Wounded Knee. Rather than communicate this by sending a letter, Brando asked a little-known actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to appear on his behalf, and explain his reasons for declining the award. Her speech was not well-received.

Did you know that year marked the debut of Spenser, Robert B. Parker’s fictional private eye? His first caper was the novel “The Godwulf Manuscript.” Mickey Spillane continued his comeback with a bestselling action thriller, “The Erection Set” (yes, that’s the real title). We also read “Breakfast of Champions” (Kurt Vonnegut), “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” (Richard Bach), “Once is Not Enough” (Jacqueline Susann), and a little thing called “The Princess Bride” by William Goldman.

Speaking of debuts, although it sure didn’t look mobile, the first cell phone was invented by Motorola. The introduction of the Xerox 1200 Computer Printing System is significant as being the first commercial Xerographic printer used to create computer output. Never mind that it took up roughly a third of a standard office. The ‘73 Chevrolet Monte Carlo was crowned Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, thanks in large part to its “Euro-style ride and handling.” With nearly a quarter-million cars sold that year, the model set a new sales record for Chevrolet.

The World Trade Center opened that year, FedEx began operations, and the United States Drug Enforcement Agency was founded. In what was termed “The Battle of the Sexes,” Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in a televised tennis match attended by 30,942, the largest live audience to watch a tennis match in U.S. history. It was also seen by several million TV viewers around the globe.

That was the year the BIC lighter was first sold. The company boasted that it could be lit up to 3,000 times before wearing out. I don’t know if anyone actually counted. Television commercials told potential consumers to “flick your BIC,” something that is still heard today. The sexually charged slogan was an attempt to compete with the leading lighter manufacturer at the time, Gillette.

And that’s the way it was. On to the next 50 years!

Through whose eyes?

Image by Irina Gromovataya from Pixabay

Of all the craft issues that bedevil new writers, point of view may well be the most mysterious. Novices frequently receive critiques that accuse them of the dreaded sin of “head hopping”, without really explaining what this is or more importantly, why it can be a problem. Blog articles about point of view natter on about “deep first person” and “third person omniscient”, confusing things further.

Even experienced authors sometimes mess up, producing slips in point of view. For example:

Horrified by her faux pas, Maria stumbled through an apology, her cheeks reddening and her lips curving into an embarrassed smile.

What’s wrong with this sentence, you might ask?

The problem here is that Maria, who is the focus character – the character whose point of view we’ve adopted – would not be able to see herself blushing or smiling in an embarrassed manner. Only an outsider, another character, could perceive these details. The point of view has momentarily slipped away from Maria. I could have said that Maria felt her cheeks getting hot, without violating point of view. But as soon as the narrative steps outside Maria’s head, the POV has shifted.

Why is this undesirable? We’ll discuss that shortly.

You’ll find many technical discussions of point of view on the Internet. These may be helpful, but in fact the whole issue can be distilled into a single question:

Through whose eyes are we looking as the story unfolds?

Characters provide the emotional energy in a story. In romance, especially, we authors want our readers to understand and to identify with the protagonists. A common way to heighten this sense of identification is to show readers the world as the character experiences it, that is, to tell the story from the character’s point of view. Strong and consistent point of view can bring the reader into the character’s world, enhancing the sense of sympathy and connection.

Clean and controlled use of POV also supports plot development. Plots often turn on various sorts of secrets. If a POV character doesn’t know about a secret, neither does your reader. When events conspire to reveal the hidden information, your reader vicariously feels the same sense of surprise or dismay as the character.

Does this mean you should have only a single POV character? Not necessarily. Decisions about POV characters should be based on the story you are trying to tell and the reactions you are trying to evoke. A common strategy in romance is to alternate the POV between the hero and heroine (or between two heroes or two heroines – the different members of the romantic unit). This makes it possible to show how each character’s feelings are developing. It also helps reveal misunderstandings or differences in expectations, upon which the plot often depends.

In contrast, a story with a single POV character focuses the reader’s attention exclusively on that individual’s inner life. Other characters act as external forces. Their behavior and their motivations can only be understood based on the main character’s observations, assumptions and judgments.

If you do decide to alternate point of view characters, you should generally avoid switching the POV too frequently. This is what we mean by “head hopping” – when POV shifts from one character to another on the same page, or (heaven forbid!) in the same paragraph.

An extreme case of head hopping can introduce serious confusion. The reader loses track of what each character is perceiving and feeling. I’ve read books with such chaotic POV management that I truly couldn’t tell what was going on.

Even if the story flow remains more or less clear, head hopping usually has a negative effect on reader engagement. As noted above, we want our reader to identify with the POV character, to feel what the character is feeling. Frequent POV swings yank the reader from one character’s perspective to another, interfering with the development of empathy and understanding. This diminishes the depth and intensity of the reader’s experience – usually not something we want.

A rule of thumb is that if you want to switch to a new POV character, you should introduce a section or chapter break to signal this. Rules are never absolute, of course. If you have a good reason to violate this heuristic, then go ahead. However, it’s important to consider your intentions and goals when you make this sort of decision.

What about the question of first person versus third person narrative? Authors sometimes mix up this grammatical issue with the topic of point of view, but in fact the two considerations are mostly orthogonal. Just to clarify, a first person narrative uses the pronouns “I” and “me” (or occasionally, “we” and “us”). A third person narrative uses character names as well as pronouns “he”, “she”, “him”, “her”, “xe”, “hir” or whatever. The selection of first versus third person definitely affects the feeling of a story and possibly the level of reader identification, but you can have either single or multiple POV characters using either.

As an illustration, here is short passage from my erotic romance The Gazillionaire and the Virgin, in its original first person mode, then revised as third person. This novel is told in the first person with POV alternating between the hero and the heroine on a chapter by chapter basis.

First Person Excerpt (Rachel)

I decide to drive myself, and choose the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at my red Lamborghini, I suspect, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, I pull into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. My pulse, I’m annoyed to notice, is elevated, and my cheeks feel hot. Do I look as flustered as I feel?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassures me. My understated make-up enlarges my eyes and shrinks my rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs sweep my unruly curls away from my temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangle from my earlobes almost to my bare shoulders. My strapless gown of teal satin hugs my bust and hips like it was made for me—which of course it was. I practice a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes tick by, but there’s no sign of him. Should I climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Does he realize I’ve arrived? Is he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

I get more annoyed by the second. I am considering honking the horn, which I know will embarrass him, when he appears on the second floor landing. I recognize him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he’s transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he’s distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers cling to what are obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlights his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moves with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looks like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heighten the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

Third Person Revision

Rachel decided to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspected, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulled into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she was annoyed to notice, was elevated, and her cheeks felt hot. Did she look as flustered as she felt?

A quick check in the rear-view mirror reassured her. Her understated make-up enlarged her eyes and shrank her rather prominent nose. Gold-plated combs swept her unruly curls away from her temples into a semi-elegant cascade. Matching gold earrings dangled from her earlobes almost to her bare shoulders. Her strapless gown of teal satin hugged her bust and hips like it was made for her—which of course it was. She practiced a confident but non-threatening smile. Good evening, Theo. I’m so glad you decided to come.

The minutes ticked by, but there was no sign of him. Should she climb up to his door and ring? Or wait for him to work up the courage to come out by himself? Did he realize she’d arrived? Was he watching out his window? Or cowering in his room?

She got more annoyed by the second. She was considering honking the horn, which she knew would embarrass him, when he appeared on the second floor landing. She recognized him by his height and bulk. Otherwise, he was transformed.

In the custom tailored tuxedo, he looked distinguished and elegant. The sleek black trousers clung to what were obviously powerful, muscular legs. The jacket highlighted his broad shoulders and trim waist. Not fat, oh no! He moved with unexpected grace, as if the formal clothing bestowed a sort of gravitas to subdue his usual gawkiness. With his dark hair slicked back from his forehead, he looked like some international man of mystery. The spectacles just heightened the impression of intelligence and sophistication.

As you see, I can describe exactly the same scene in either first or third person. In both cases, Rachel, my heroine, is the point of view character. Everything described is through her eyes. In particular, when she’s evaluating her own appearance, she can do so only while looking in a mirror.

Note also the way she describes Theo, the hero. She has theories about his feelings and the reason for his lateness – but they’re just that, theories. When he does appear, she doesn’t have much insight into his inner state – that can be revealed only when we switch to Theo’s perspective. On the other hand, she can explain how he looks and communicate her own feelings in response – an obvious attraction.

The observant among you may have noticed that there’s another difference between the original passage and the revision – verb tense. The original is in the present tense. We are in Rachel’s head, and she is describing her observations and emotions in real time. The revision is in past tense, which is a more traditional choice.

I personally like first person present for erotic romance and erotica, because I find it imparts a sense of vividness and immediacy. It’s tricky to write, though, and some readers object to stories told this way.

I switched to past for the revision because third person present stories are rare and generally sound – well, weird. If I’d retained the first person, the excerpt would have started as follows:

Rachel decides to drive herself, choosing the BMW for its aura of unobtrusive luxury. One look at her red Lamborghini, she suspects, and Theo Moore would run away screaming. Cruising up to his attractive but unremarkable building at exactly six, she pulls into one of the parking spots labeled “Visitors”. Her pulse, she’s annoyed to notice, is elevated, and her cheeks feel hot. Does she look as flustered as she feels?

I don’t think this would be an effective way to tell a story, but I hope this demonstrates that not only is point of view independent of the first versus third person dimension, but it’s also independent of time.

Next time you’re worrying about point of view, simply take a deep breath and ask yourself: through whose eyes do I want the reader to be looking? Let the answer guide you.

Cult Classic Confessions

People tend to get attached to certain films, books, TV shows and music to the point of obsession. We find something we like and just can’t get enough of it. Facebook groups, fan conventions and online clubs sprout up over just about anything. For proof, look at things like “Game of Thrones,” “Star Trek,” the Marvel superhero films and the James Bond flicks, to name a few. Many of these fall into the category of cult classics.

A cult classic is defined as something that is obscure or unpopular with mainstream audiences, but develops a dedicated fanbase through repeated exposure and word of mouth. After failing at the cinema, some cult films have become regular fixtures on cable television or profitable sellers on home video. The term cult film was first used in the 1970s to describe the culture that surrounded underground films and midnight movies. With the increase in cable TV channels in the ‘80s, and the need for inexpensive programming to fill air time, many of these films got another shot. Some movies that fit into this category are “The Night of the Hunter,” “Toxic Avenger,” “I Spit on your Grave,” “Mad Max,” the 1940s noir crime films “Detour” and “D.O.A.” and the Bond film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.” It may surprise you to know that “It’s a Wonderful Life” was once considered a cult classic. It bombed at the box office and didn’t become popular until the copyright expired and TV stations could show it free every year at Christmas.

Sometimes, a film will develop such a following because, in the words of critic Michael Medved, “It’s so bad it’s good.” Many of them were made on a minus-zero budget which made cheap special effects necessary, with wooden acting to match. “Night of the Living Dead” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” are prime examples, but a better one is “Plan 9 from Outer Space” (1959). It was made by Ed Wood, probably the worst filmmaker ever. He was responsible for the forgettable gems “Bride of the Gorilla” and the cross-dressing melodrama “Glen or Glenda.” Wood began “Plan 9” with a home movie of his idol, Bela Lugosi, made shortly before his death. He listed him as the star to increase box office appeal, even though his screen time was less than two minutes. Wood then doubled the actor with a guy who was taller, thinner and younger than Lugosi. He also used hubcaps suspended from thread to mimic flying saucers. You have to see this one to believe it.

I found a DVD collection of films from the 1970s, called “Drive-in Cult Classics.” These were ultra-cheap flicks that were shown as the third feature at the drive-in, or at college midnight movie fests. The casts are comprised of C-list actors, the kind that popped up as supporting players on TV shows or in commercial crowd scenes. These were what we used to call sexploitation movies, the ones that took advantage of the recently-abolished censorship code, giving moviemakers free reign to put out just about anything.

The plots are confusing, most of the acting isn’t good enough for community theater, and some of the sex scenes produce more laughs than heat. One featured a bedroom encounter between a husband and wife, but the guy never took off his pants or shoes while wriggling atop his naked spouse. How realistic is that? Gratuitous nudity also abounds. In another film, an actress walked across the screen topless for no reason. That scene came at a place where the story bogged down, and the director probably couldn’t think of anything else to do.

And those titles! “Pick-up,” “The Sister-in-law,” “The Teacher,” “The Stepmother,” “Trip with the Teacher,” and “Malibu High Hookers,” to name a few. Check out these poster teaser lines:

“She destroyed her husband’s brother by the most immoral act imaginable!”

“She corrupted the youthful morality of an entire school.”

“She forced her husband’s son to commit the ultimate sin!”

“This high school senior worked her way through the faculty lounge.”

A prime example of a cult classic is “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975). A local theater used to hold midnight screenings of this one every year as part of their summer classic film series. I’d seen people showing up in costume and reciting dialogue along with the actors, so it wasn’t surprising. What did surprise me was when I attended a Sunday afternoon showing of “The Wizard of Oz.” I didn’t expect to see so many kids dressed in calico dresses, ruby red slippers and pigtails, accompanied by their mothers decked out as the Wicked Witch of the West, complete with brooms. I felt like I had entered an alternate universe.

I guess a cult classic can be anything you’re passionate about. What’s yours?

How to AI-Proof Your Writing

Artificial IntelligenceImage by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I recently finished the novel Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen. It was entertaining (as usual), though hardly deep, a typical over-the-top Carl Hiaasen story with a clever, contrarian, down-on-his-luck hero, a smart, sexy and amoral heroine, an array of truly nasty and disgusting criminals (professional and amateur), and some bizarre wildlife – in this case, giant Gambian pouch rats.

I’ve probably read at least half a dozen of Hiassen’s books. They’re not exactly predictable, but they share a basic framework, a set of common elements. Each story is different in detail, but the setting (Florida, often the Keys), the characters, the style, the pace and the plot devices do not vary much from one novel to the next.

It occurred to me that wouldn’t take much to create a fake Carl Hiasssen book. With that in mind, I logged into ChatGPT and asked:

Write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Carl Hiaasen.

Here is what the AI came up with.

In the sticky heat of Florida’s muggy embrace, where the line between civilization and madness blurs like the horizon at sunset, the days begin with a peculiar rhythm. Palm fronds rustle their tales of scandal, while alligators lurk beneath murky waters, guardians of twisted secrets. It was within this swampy theater of absurdity that Chester “Chet” Monroe found himself, a small-time private investigator with a penchant for trouble and a nose for the scent of danger. Today, as the sun clawed its way above the horizon, Chet’s day began not with the usual banalities, but with the promise of a bizarre case that would plunge him deep into the murky abyss of Florida’s most bewildering mysteries.

I was impressed. The prose is a bit more flowery than Hiassen’s usual, but this passage hits all the salient elements, except there’s no trace yet of the girl. It even has the wildlife!

Stepping out into the danger zone, I then asked:

Now write me the first paragraph of a novel in the style of Lisabet Sarai, author of Raw Silk.

The jasmine-scented breeze whispered through the latticed windows, teasing the delicate silk curtains into a seductive dance. In the opulent chambers of an ancient Rajasthani haveli, secrets and desires mingled like forbidden lovers, waiting to be unmasked. Rani Devika, the enigmatic mistress of this clandestine sanctuary, reveled in the power she held over those who sought refuge within her sensual embrace. Her eyes, dark as the midnight sky, shimmered with a forbidden knowledge, promising both ecstasy and peril to those brave enough to succumb to her allure. Tonight, as the moon cast its ethereal glow upon her domain, Rani Devika prepared to embark on a journey that would unravel the very fabric of pleasure and pain, leaving nothing but raw silk in its wake.

I don’t know if you’ll agree with me, but I think this is pretty awful. It barely makes sense. At the same time, it does include a variety of references that make it clear the AI knows something about my books: the reference to Rajasthan, the allusions to eroticism and power exchange, the repeated use of “silk”. The purple prose, on the other hand, is truly cringe-worthy. Perhaps I am flattering myself, but I don’t think anyone who’s familiar with my work would ever mistake this for something I’d written.

Carl Hiaassen is far more famous that I am. It’s likely the AI has ingested a good deal more of his oeuvre than mine. (That does make one wonder whether ChatGPT has actually been trained on the full text of our books – and if it has, did OpenAI buy them, or was the training done on pirate copies? I decided I just don’t have sufficient energy to pursue this disturbing question.) All things being equal, though, I suspect it would be much more difficult for an AI to generate convincing Lisabet Sarai fakes. The main reason for this is that, unlike Hiaasen, I think it’s far more difficult to predict what you’ll find in one of my books, given another.

I write in many different genres and a variety of styles, from raunchy to lyrical. Most of my titles are stand-alones as opposed to series. Sex is the one common element that appears in almost all of my work, but the treatment of erotic content swings wildly from story to story, from spiritual to romantic to thoroughly depraved.

Just to illustrate, I’ll share the first few sentences from some of my books.

Only when faced with the stout oaken door to Randerley Hall did Gillian Smith’s considerable resolve fail her.

In the dead of night she had fled her Aunt Martha’s London townhouse, mere hours before her diabolical guardian planned to denounce her as a deviant and a thief. She had endured the seven-hour rail journey to Tavistock crammed into a reeking third class carriage, struggling to remain awake in order to guard her meagre possessions. (The Pornographer’s Apprentice)

“Holy hell, woman! You’re insatiable.”

Lauren suckled Elliot’s unresponsive dick for another thirty seconds before giving up with a sigh. “I thought you might enjoy another round, baby. That last one went by a bit fast. I only came once.” (The Slut Strikes Back)

I’m used to getting what I want. It’s not because I’m smarter than most people, or richer. (Although I am. These are documented facts, not boasts.) No, I usually succeed because I don’t give up. I’m tenacious—or just plain stubborn, if you listen to my mother. (The Gazillionaire and the Virgin)

It would have been much faster to fly.

Alas, Cecily Harrowsmith—special agent for Her Majesty the Queen, expert in the martial arts of three continents, past mistress of princes, potentates and the occasional prime minister—was afraid of flying. She despised herself for this weakness, but not enough to board one of the Empire’s sleek, viridium-powered airships, strap herself into her seat and hope for the best. (Rajasthani Moon)

“So, Michael. Have you been a good little boy?” Neil loomed over me, one hand against the wall on either side of my head. “Do you deserve the goodies that Santa’s brought for you?” Leaning forward, he trailed a wet tongue up my neck, from my open collar to just below my earlobe. When I squirmed in response, he flattened his pelvis against the lump growing in my jeans and fastened his mouth on mine. The fake beard got in the way. He ripped it off and resumed kissing me, while his hands slipped around me to cup my ass. (A Kinky Christmas Carol)

Hours past midnight, the village slept, dappled in silver moonlight and inky shadow. Bess kept watch at her bedroom window, lost in a waking dream. The breeze freshened as dawn grew closer. Occasional gusts sent clouds scudding across the sky like sheep before an impatient shepherd. The full moon sailed high above the moors, sometimes revealed, sometimes obscured by a veil of wind-tossed mist. (By Moonlight)

If you happened upon these separate passages, would you know they were all penned by the same author?

Would ChatGPT?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m seriously concerned about the impact of generative AI on the business of writing. It takes me six to eight months, minimum, to write a novel. In that time, how many dozens of books could an AI spew out? Some of you may remember the scams that hit Amazon when they first introduced Kindle Unlimited and started paying based on pages read. Huge gobs of nonsense text assembled automatically from public sources flooded the store and depressed the income of legitimate authors.

Today’s AI can do much better at creating plausible-sounding books. And tomorrow’s? I shudder to think about the implications for the market, especially since there are plenty of unscrupulous humans who won’t hesitate to pass off AI-produced prose as their own work.

So I’m not optimistic, in general, about shielding authors and other artists from the impacts of AI. I do believe, though, that by writing diverse, unpredictable, original stories, we can reduce the chances of being specifically copied or impersonated by an AI system.

For me, as a reader as well as a writer, originality is the Holy Grail. I know that some people love to read familiar plots, traditional tropes and favorite kinks. Not me. Quality prose matters a lot, but I’ll forgive some awkward sentences or grammar errors in a book that surprises and delights me with its creativity. I strive to deliver that same sense of unexpected excitement and wonder to my readers. I really don’t want to write the same book twice.

From a marketing perspective, this is a problem. I have no “brand”. I’ll never be a best selling author, because I refuse to deliver the predictability that many readers crave.

But diversity is one way to protect your writing from AI’s “stochastic parrots” – at least for now.


Well, Excuse Me!

I read a post on a reviewer’s website that made me rethink online courtesy. This woman went on a rant about authors who aren’t considerate enough to say “thank you” when she reviews their books, often at their request. She held the opinion that after she spent “hours reading and reviewing” a book, the least the author could do was “take a few minutes” to send a follow-up e-mail, especially if it was a good write-up.

Wow – I thought we were all on the same page! I used to write book reviews for a romance site and I didn’t expect flowers when I favorably critiqued someone’s book. That isn’t why I did it and I can count on one hand the times an author reached out to thank me or question my parentage. If they did drop a line, I appreciated it, but it wasn’t what I lived for. I know a lot of authors who don’t communicate with reviewers because they don’t want it to look like they’re sucking up or influencing the outcome. If I hold a contest and offer a book as a prize, I always ask the winner to let me know what they thought of it. I don’t ask them to post a review, but just share their opinion so I’ll know if I’m reaching my audience. This is something else I don’t count on because people say they will, but usually don’t. It’s all part of the game and no, I don’t take it personally.

I make it a point to follow up with bloggers who have interviewed me or featured my books, because it’s common courtesy, and often results in a return invitation. I was raised by a generation that believed in sending “thank you” notes, and it’s a habit. The one time I received a terrible review on a blog, I actually left a comment for the reviewer, thanking them for their honest opinion. I didn’t like what they said about me or my book, but I chose to take the high road and show them that I wasn’t bothered by their negative comments. In other words, “Screw you and your ill-informed opinion!”

A friend once asked me to review one of his books when I was contributing to that online review site. We had appeared at the same author events, and supported each other’s literary endeavors. The problem? I wasn’t into the genre he writes and I didn’t think I’d appreciate his story. I tried to explain this but before I knew it, a package arrived in the mail containing his book. Autographed, of course.

I read it, found it to be better than I expected and wrote a four-star review. Actually, that was generous because he had self-published and there were numerous problems, which I didn’t mention in the write-up. I sent him a separate email summarizing my observations in a constructive way. Apparently, he expected a rave review because he didn’t communicate with me for a year after I posted it. I looked up some of his reviews on Goodreads and discovered that many were less flattering than what I wrote. In fact, a couple of them were downright nasty. Beats me why he wasn’t happy with four stars.

One of my Lodge brothers liked my books and asked if I would critique a few draft chapters of his first endeavor. He was a retired Fire Department Chief and wrote a fictionalized story based on his career. It sounded like an interesting concept, but had we not been friends, I would’ve told him I was too busy. As it turns out, I should have. My comments were constructive and designed to help him produce a better manuscript, but he didn’t see it that way. When I suggested that he might want to “dumb down” some of the technical jargon and insider references because readers might not understand them, he took an attitude with me, claiming “Everyone knows what those are!”

Apparently not everyone, because I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Ever since then, I’ve been “too busy”—unless someone hires me to edit their work.

The remarks I mentioned earlier gave me cause for pause. The person referenced “hours spent reading and reviewing” books, but I wonder if she has any idea how much time and effort an author invests in getting that book ready for her to read. We agonize over every word, comma, revision and rewrite. We worry that the cover might not convey what the story is about. We sweat out a release date then become sleep deprived from promotional activity once it’s released. We anxiously await feedback and when we get it…we’re chastised because we didn’t say “thank you”?

As I said, it’s all part of the game and there is no right or wrong approach. Some people express themselves beautifully through the mouths of their characters but fumble when it comes to speaking from the heart. I fall into that trap myself at times. I suppose that’s why we choose to write, to express our feelings and opinions, and that’s a great skill.

For what it’s worth, I don’t expect a “thank you” note for this post, either. Just buy one of my books. And a nice review wouldn’t hurt!

Friends and Lovers

Image by Khusen Rustamov from Pixabay

I was primed to want him long before I met him. Was this a deliberate ploy on my husband’s part? Or just the consequence of my hyperactive sexual imagination?

“James is a really good friend,” K told me. He’d known James for years before I appeared on the scene, during his tumultuous period living in San Francisco. “He’s a physicist. Does research at UCSF hospital.” My ears perked up. I’ve always found intelligence to be an aphrodisiac. “Oh, and you should see his paintings and sculpture. He’s really talented.” Oh my! An artist too! Was I wet already?

We were on our way cross country and planned to stop in the City by the Bay before heading south to Los Angeles. Having spent the last few years in grad school on the East Coast, K hadn’t seen James in a while, but he assured me that we’d get a warm welcome.

“And did I tell you about his time in Japan?” K executed a neat maneuver to pass a battered, dusty pickup, then pointed the Subaru straight across the sere plains of eastern Colorado. The Rockies were blue-gray shadows hugging the horizon.

I squeezed my husband’s thigh. “No, I don’t think so. What was he doing in Japan?”

“Working in a sex show.” He gave me a quick glance, as if to gauge my reaction, before returning his gaze to the empty, monotonous highway.

A tingle swept through me. “You’re kidding, right?” At that point I hadn’t yet visited Japan, but everyone had heard bizarre stories about the Japanese sexual underground.

“No, not at all. For three months James and his partner performed live in some club in Tokyo. Fucking on stage six nights a week.”

I sat silent, staring into the distance and pondering this thrilling and disturbing concept. I considered myself a free spirit, a bit of a sexual outlaw, but public sex, for money? What sort of person would engage in such behavior?

“Why?” I asked finally, expecting some wild tale of extortion or human slavery.

“He was curious to see what it would be like,” K responded with a chuckle.

I was quiet for a long time after that, contemplating with excitement and trepidation the prospect of meeting this “friend”. I had no idea what he looked like, but I was already half in lust.

James turned out to be lean and loose-limbed, a good half a head taller than K, with unruly hair, a soft voice and an easy laugh. As K had promised, he offered us the spare room in his Mission District flat. We shared take-out Chinese, red wine from a gallon jug and lots of pot. We talked about art, science, philosophy, politics. Well, K and James talked, mostly, catching up after years apart, reestablishing the bonds of their friendship. I listened, uncharacteristically mute, watching James’ long, expressive fingers trace patterns in the air as he explained some nuance of electromagnetic theory, wondering how those fingers would feel feathering across my nipples.

K asked about James’ partner – ex-partner as it turned out – but the one subject we didn’t discuss was sex. Still, the entire evening buzzed with erotic tension. When James looked at me, I felt the heat simmering in his lanky body. What had K told him about me?

I honestly don’t recall how we ended up in bed together. All I remember is how easy it was, how light and relaxed – how friendly. I didn’t worry about jealousy; that seemed a non-issue as I mounted K and James slid his cock (long and thin like his fingers) into my rear hole. My first double penetration – only the second or third time I’d ever experienced anal sex, actually. I can hardly believe, looking back, how little resistance James found. At the time, I was too turned on to even think about the question. I was neither surprised nor shocked. It was obviously the natural thing to be doing. We all agreed about that.

Sandwiched between a man I loved and my new lover, I felt not only acute pleasure but a delicious sense of connection. I was cherished and desired, giving and receiving. The brazenness of our actions thrilled me. The three-way intimacy kindled a new kind of joy.

I remember the details of the next day more clearly now than I do that incandescent night. The three of us went to see a matinee of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. We strolled down the San Francisco sidewalk, arm in arm in arm, with me in the middle once again. I wore a flouncy white cotton dress I’d bought in Tijuana, with nothing underneath. I felt like a dirty angel, high on residual arousal, perversely proud we’d been brave enough to push friendship to its next obvious level.

Even after K and I moved back East, we remained close with James. We attended his wedding. Later, after their son was born, we visited him and Priscilla in their redwood-encircled cabin in the Santa Cruz mountains. We never had sex together again, but our mutual erotic history gave the relationship a special poignancy. I knew James remembered, as I did.

Four decades later, we’ve mostly lost touch. James’ struggles with addiction and psychiatric problems have weakened the connection. I regret that deeply. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate more fully how remarkable that episode really was – despite the fact that it felt inevitable at the time.

Enumerating a list of my long-time friends, I’m a bit embarrassed to realize how many of them were once my lovers. One might point to this as evidence of my unbridled promiscuity during my twenties and thirties. I interpret this fact differently, though. I’ve always been sexually attracted to people I like and admire, both women and men. Although I’ve had close friendships that were completely platonic, without the smallest shred of desire on my part, that’s not the norm for me. The intellectual and emotional buzz from meeting someone special transmutes into sexual desire.

In most cases, I’ve refrained from acting on my lusts, especially in recent years. Instead, they spill over into my dreams. Even people I haven’t met in person – people I’ve come to know and love remotely, in the guise of Lisabet Sarai – have found their way into my night visions. That’s one reason why I am reluctant to get closer to some of you in the real world. Friends are always welcome. At this stage in my life, though, I probably don’t need more lovers.

Hot Chilli Erotica

Hot Chilli Erotica


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