Sorry, but that’s not sexy


It’s everywhere.  No man seems safe from the accusations, and everyone is being sexually harassed.  Why?  Why now? What the hell is going on?

As a writer of strong female characters, I’m not shocked at all by this.  It’s called equality.  As women gain even more acceptance in our society as true equals (as opposed to being equal enough) certain privileges are being challenged.  What bothers me is that we Romance and Fantasy writers haven’t necessarily caught up.

C’mon, we all know the tropes.  That hot rock star with all the women dropping at his feet who assumes the hottie he wants will do the same – only to pressure her, grope her, or… what’s that?  Yeah, sexually harass her to fall for him.  Or the rich business man, or the hotshot celebrity… there’s almost too many versions to count.  Why do we WOMEN write this crap?  Because it’s what we’ve been taught to think is sexy.  Our kids and our kids’ kids don’t agree.

And good for them!

Sure, back in the day, what these guys were doing was considered normal.  That doesn’t make it right.  History is filled with a lot of horrors that people accepted at the time.  Hello, slavery!  For centuries, women were assumed to be the inferior sex (notice I said sex, not gender) and laws gave control of our lives to men.  The problem is that these men can’t seem to wrap their mind around why we might not approve.  We’re better off than our moms, so isn’t it enough?  They’re giving us GOOD attention, so shouldn’t we like it?

But the problem is the assumption.  Yes, I know, our societal norms encourage men to be the aggressor in a relationship.  We praise the guys who demand what they want – then turn around and punish them – but there’s a difference.  There’s a very big line of consent, and while it may be a little grey, that doesn’t make it invisible.

And all of our popular media limits the power of women.  I mean, when was the last time you saw the heroine succeed without the help of her male counterpart?  How often does she need him to save her, teach her, or lead her in the right direction?  Why do we women write this crap?  Because we unconsciously think that a guy who doesn’t know something can’t be sexy.

Just look at my book FLAWED.  Dez is a fragile broken thing.  Her strength lies in her ability to keep going, even if she is at the end of that rope.  Her power lies in her knowledge of coding.  Her man?  His skills are different, yet complementary.  He owns the company that gives her a second chance, but he’s just as broken, although in different ways.  He can’t succeed without HER help, and she can’t move on without his encouragement and support.  The only thing he offers her is a platform.  He doesn’t teach her how to do her job – she teaches him.  His method of “saving” her is to accept her as she is, broken and fragile, not to change her at all.  Instead, he changes himself.

Or in Challenge Accepted, where Logan is the better gamer, but he never teaches Riley.  She already knows enough to be his equal – or close enough.  What she needs is a little pushing, a bit of taunting, and a reason to face the parts that are uncomfortable.  Sure, Logan uses his skills to help her, but in a networking way instead of a mentor.  Riley finds her own success – and figures out how to give Logan his dream while she’s at it.

It could be argued that my male characters aren’t alphas, but I disagree.  I think both Logan and Chance are very confident alpha males.  They just don’t have to be in control at all times (which in my opinion makes them even stronger).  Oh, yeah… and they’re sexy.

And then there’s consent.  That’s another problem with this whole sexual harassment thing in the news lately.  Women are forced to give consent – but that isn’t true consent.  Being pressured to give in or risk things like a career, income, or the basics of a stable life?  It doesn’t count.  In fact, it’s a whole lot like blackmail.

But consent can be sexy as hell.  In fact, I challenge more writers to make their consent clear and steamy.  Make the guy feel awe at her approval, allow the women to know they don’t have to fall into bed with the guy to get ahead.  I think this is especially important in YA and NA literature.  When we’re talking about kids who are still figuring out how to have realistic relationships, including a few ideas for being sexy while making sure she wants to go that far?  Yep, I think that’s not only awesome – but hot as hell.

I spend a lot of time asking my male friends some really awkward questions.  I’m used to the eye rolls, but the interesting thing is that most of them have already thought about this.  Guys don’t naturally want to be a dick.  They want to find that middle ground between being sweet and being sexy – and it’s a very murky place.  What impresses me the most, though, is how they handle it.  From asking, “Do you want me to strip you down?” to the more hurried, “Are you sure?” it’s all still a form of making sure she wants to go that far.

And having the hottie tell her no because she can’t give consent?  Yep, I’ll be one of the readers swooning!  Girl gets drunk, he takes care of her and fends off her inebriated advances, and I’m gnawing at my nails and fanning my face.  THAT is hot.  A man who can keep his head in the heat of the moment and realize that she might regret this in the morning?  Yep, sign me up.

But how about all those marriages or relationships of convenience?  That sounds like a challenge I’m dying to read.  One where she agrees to be his lover, but he STILL manages to get consent in the bedroom?  I dare someone to write that.  I mean, he’s already using his power (see sexual harassment above) and walking a very narrow line.  To have a hero who either realizes that he’s just been a complete jerk and try to reform or even better, work hard to remove the pressure his power puts on the situation before it reads like something in our current media run – that would be amazing.

But what I want to see the most is a woman who will stand up and say, “No, you don’t have the right to pressure me just because you’ve grown up with a dick.  That’s not how this works anymore.  Now be sexy in a different way.”

To quote Emmet Fox: “Do it trembling if you must, but do it!”  Wouldn’t that be the perfect mantra for the quiet, bookish girl that’s all too popular in modern literature?  Just imagine the readers whooping out loud with excitement when the shy girl figures out how to grow a (trembling) spine.

Yeah, I want to read that book.


The sound of color


The turn of phrase.  An eloquent description.  Sarcasm, puns, and rhetoric.  Words are the color of our communication.  They’re what we notice first when talking, allowing body language and situational awareness to seep easily into our subconscious.  They’re picked apart, debated, and slung like weapons.

In other words, they’re powerful.

As an author, I’ve become much more aware of my word choice over time.  I’m amused at the difference between how I “speak” in text as compared to when I actually use my vocal chords.  Chatting online or on social media has a completely different language than the prose in a novel.  I’m not saying it should, I’m saying it does.  I cringe at the idea of posting on facebook using the same phraseology I’d use to start a chapter.

There’s a time and a place for words, a proper setting, and even a feeling.  The things we don’t say are just as important as those we do.  As a Gen Xer, I can remember a time before texting, before social media, and even before the internet.  My formative years were made talking to people across the world using the written word.  As typed communication became more and more common, a phrase became popular.  It goes something like this: “It’s hard to tell tone with text.”

Back in the ’90s, we used that as an excuse to explain away a written miscommunication, but I don’t agree with it.  Long before we had the ability to smack haphazardly at a keyboard to rant in 140 characters, well before we could just pick up the phone or drive over, people relied upon the written word to communicate.  Every time I see an example of old-timey love notes or handwritten diatribes, I fall in love with language all over again.

Sure, the prose was a little “purple” (too flowery) for today’s audience, but the meaning was always clear.  Those writers went overboard to make sure their meaning was understood, painting it with bright colors and bold strokes while using nothing but words.  Today, we have politicians and celebrities falling back to the “you didn’t get it” idea as a way to explain away mistakes, blaming the character limit or inability to hear emotion from the written word.

It makes me irate every time.  My job is to fill words with emotion.  To make it clear to my reader how someone feels, even if their words don’t match.  I create worlds, destroy them, and do it all with 26 simple letters.  I can’t fall back on body language, scents, and sounds to add intrigue – without using words to create them.  And to make it even harder, my goal is for my readers to never notice the words at all.

With nothing but those letters, I get to bring an image to life, allowing it to suffuse the reader’s mind so they can lose themselves.  The words I chose must incite, entwine, and contain just the right emotions.  Each and every one must be heavy with meaning, chosen for the subtle connotation – or lack of it – and sewn together seamlessly without any jarring stops or starts.  I must bleed feeling from each and every one.

So when people try to explain something away as just being a problem with text, I can’t help but roll my eyes.  So many people aren’t aware of those little things that show what the other is really thinking.  Things like avoiding contractions when they’re angry or selecting single syllable words for emphasis.  The power of a word doesn’t come from its definition, it comes from its use: why someone chose it over another with a similar meaning.  We’ve all heard the example of cheap vs. inexpensive, but other things matter just as much, like sentence structure and repetition of words.

I often get annoyed.  I see paragraphs that have the same problem.  I notice all the sentences feel the same.  It pulls me right out of the flow.  The rhythm is too jarring.  (See what I did there?)

Noun, verb, ending.  Noun, verb, ending.  No introductory phrases to smooth the flow.  No complex verbs or compound sentences to pull the ideas together.  In the end, the language feels elementary and stilted.  It comes across as hesitant or grumpy rather than easily shifting from the page to the mind as something bigger.

When we start writing our first novel, we read how every word must matter, how adverbs and adjectives should be avoided to keep it clean, and how we must show and not tell.  I’ve never seen anyone advocate adding a few extra words to build voice or maintain flow – but I’m going to.  Yes, I agree with much of the advice, but rules are meant to be broken.  Sometimes, putting in that extraneous little sentence leader (like “Sometimes”) can soften the blow, ease the transition into the idea, or just keep the thoughts feeling smooth.

For me, when I’m writing a book, I imagine the character telling the story to someone else.  I think of how they’d talk years after the events of the novel, and then I let my imaginary friend just go.  Different points of view get different language styles.  The characters end up with verbal ticks that easily identify them.  The descriptions come alive because of the power they have in my (admittedly warped) mind.

The goal isn’t just to share, but to paint with these words.  To chose the right ones to make the images tangible in the reader’s mind.  To breathe in life and add color.  I am an artist, and words are my paint, made up of nothing more than 26 different pigments.  My goal is to one day master my media.