Sunday, January 29, 2012

An Interview with September Adams

JAR: I am so pleased to welcome my longtime friend and fellow writer September Adams to this blog for a Q&A about romance, writing, and a few of our other favorite things. September is the author of the WIP Jaded, a smart, sexy m/f romance about a woman who swears off men following a bad breakup, and the smoldering construction worker who’s tapped to renovate her house and ends up laying more than new floor tiles. Thank you for being here, September.

SA: There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

Was that an inappropriate plot summary of Jaded?

 No, I find it to be one of the more accurate summaries I’ve read.

At sixteen we tried to register pseudonyms with the USPS so we could publish romance novels. The postal worker looked at us like we were crazy. What would you say to her if you saw her now?

I’d probably say much of the same thing, which was an uncoordinated and sloppy attempt to avoid the fact that I needed the pseudonym in order to publish my romance novel. The only difference would be that these days, I didn’t just receive my driver’s license within the past three months. So I’m really feeling a bit more confident about life in general. I might even offer her a first look at the manuscript.

Maybe also hit her with a snide remark about how the USPS is going bankrupt, and if she’d just registered our damn pennames  we’d have published brilliant romance novels and received enough fan mail to sustain the USPS for years to come. She really shot herself in the foot there.

I’d definitely make her feel the sting of the current economic situation. There’s nothing like pinning the hopes of a floundering organization upon the success of a teenager’s poorly-outlined and barely coherent first-attempt at a romance novel. That’ll teach them.

Let’s jump right into it. What makes a great romance?

There are several important – well, non-negotiable – requirements for a good romance. One is sexual fusion between the main characters. And yeah, I mean fusion in a scientific way. Another requirement is forced proximity. I read that in a romance novel how-to once, so I can’t claim that one for my own. The last requirement is a fair amount of romantic/sexual adjectives. And when I say fair, I actually mean excessive. I saw a great list once in a “How to Write Erotica” book and it’s been the closest thing to a Bible I’ve ever owned.

Can you give an example of one such adjective?


Thank you. You write hetero romances, which – hey, whatever your characters do behind closed doors is your business. I’ll tolerate it. Describe the perfect romantic hero and heroine.

The perfect romantic hero and heroine must exhibit some key traits. For example, the Perfect Hero must be riddled with imperfections -- character flaws that he realizes over the course of the narrative that change him from Gross Guy to Holy Shit Marry Me Man. He must have an ideal ratio of muscle to brains to wit. And he must, in all circumstances, have an abdominal area that can be described multiple times without it ever getting old.

The Ideal Heroine must be beautiful, intelligent, scathing if necessary, and she must have curves that inspire lustful thoughts. She needs to have a job, and she should aggressively pursue her goals outside of love. Ideally she will have a particular weakness for the aforementioned hero’s physical attributes, which will lead her to compromising situations in which she breaks some previously-held belief or promise to herself. She must also have a vagina.

That might be a plot hole in my next book. Or plot lack-of-hole, I guess.  Let’s talk Jaded. What gave you the idea?

My unending thirst for romantic drama, pining hearts, unspoken sentiments, making the bad boy turn into a good boy, and an inevitable happy ending. I love it when guys get their hearts broken and spend their days in agony, just waiting for a chance to see their beloved. I can’t get enough of it. Also I’ve always had a thing for blond beach guys with muscles.

Who would play Isabella in the Jaded movie?

Maybe Sandra Bullock, but only if we time traveled back to 2005. Since time travel is still in the final stages of development, I might suggest Zooey Deschanel or some other up-and-coming toned brunette actress, someone slight and quirky and cute who could be thrown around a little without making it seem abusive.

If you get Zooey, I might finally be okay with that shower scene. She seems tough, under that girl-next-door sweetness.

Yeah, that’s all the rage in heterosexual romance novels these days. Are you going soft, Rock?

Never. I need to talk to my doctor about that. Are you an HEA or HFN girl?

Explain your acronyms and we’ll find out.

I thought they were venereal diseases until I Googled them. “Happily Ever After” and “Happily For Now.” I think you answered this above.

I assumed they were elaborate acronyms like the ones used in the gay personals world. SWM4BHFNNSA. That’s barely a language, but it still means something. I’m a HHEA girl – Hopefully Happily Ever After.

What’s your writing process like? Are you an outliner? A music-listener? A revise-as-you-goer?

I’m a freeformer, which is just a polite way of saying I have no real method, make it up as I go, and fret endlessly along the way. Statistically speaking, the Plot Crisis occurs about 43% of the way through the novel, which is followed by the Hurried Attempt to Finish the Damn Thing. The process is terminated with a Discouraging Sense of Fruitlessness as I look back on the completed version.

Then the revision process begins. And then things unravel even further from there.  Often, throughout the course of one novel  the Plot Crisis will attack several times, which is a fearsome and awful thing. The Plot Crisis is where I realize my novel actually does not have a plot. Recovering from that is about as hopeless as surviving the Black Plague in Medieval England.

I heard that the people who survived the Black Plague actually had something within their genetic code that made them resistant to the Plague. So in the course of a novel, I hope desperately that my words are laced with the genetic code necessary to withstand multiple Plot Crises. Or else my story will turn into a shriveled hull of flesh and adjectives that will eventually be tossed into the public grave that is my Writing Folder. But sometimes, my words will emerge victorious from the genetic pool, mate with other strong and fit words, and go on to spawn great things like the Renaissance or Modern-Day America.

For someone I happen to know is not particularly skilled at math, I’m impressed by your use of a percentage. And I feel your pain. Nice Plague metaphor, BTW. Few people can pull those off.

Most are scared to try. I fear not the Black Death.

I once gave you feedback on the manuscript for Jaded. Where would you say my strengths lie as an editor?

You have a skill for discerning meaning where the author intended none. And that is a high compliment. You tend to explain my overarching themes and plot lines to me, as though I were merely the reader and not actually the creator of the piece. I thank you for that. Without you, I would find my own work quite bland.

You’re welcome. Have you read By His Rules?


This interview is over.

I thought it was about that time…

Unless you promise to read it in the next two weeks.

Pinky promise.

Titanic: Great romance, or the greatest romance?

Great romance. Can we just say “Jack Dawson” and be done with it? He can sketch me anytime.

I remember the media made a big deal about about Kate Winslet’s nipple. It was a big deal to me, too, but I didn’t understand what those feelings meant until years later when I watched an in-flight documentary about Shakira and my heart suddenly became as compulsively honest as her hips.

As they say, Hips Don’t Lie. Nor do your loins.

So true. I’ve enjoyed sharing Titanic with you ever since we saw it in the theater back when. When I watch it, it’s 98% to see the ship sink. But I also see its appeal as a timeless vanilla hetero romance. Are you aware it’s being re-released in April?

I thought I’d heard that but I wrote it off as hopeless folly. Can we go?

We should go.

Yeah let’s go.

Leo in Titanic, Leo in Inception, or Leo in J. Edgar?

Leo in All of them. He doesn’t stop. He is relentlessly good.

I’m working on my next book. Give me a description of my hero’s upper body.

His nipples looked like shrunken heads taped loosely onto a graying and haggard washboard. Timid and pale, there was often no movement of his chest, even when breathing deeply or coughing. He looked distantly rheumatic – nervous, as though worried about where the next punch to the abdomen would come from.

I am drooling. Is this description copyrighted?

Make me an offer while I shop agents. Then we’ll talk.

Most romantic song of all time. Here are your choices:

1) "Everlasting Love" - Gloria Estefan
2) "Love Gun" - KISS
3) "E-mail My Heart" - Britney Spears
4) The Clay Aiken version of "Bridge Over Troubled Water"

“Love Gun.” Without a doubt. I would like to ask Britney Spears the following question: How can one even send an email to another person’s heart? That is more ludicrous than, say, quarks, or linear time, or the idea of an outline before a novel is written.

I agree. I love “Love Gun.” It has that 80s way of getting right to the point. “I really love you, baby/I love what you’ve got/ Let’s get together/We can get hot.” Thesis statement, claim-support-warrant. I’m sold.

That’s really the lyrics? I’m more of a Rush fan.

I f***in’ hate Rush.

Complete the following to make them potential romance novel titles:

Her Unexpected ___ Bowel Movement____
Rancher’s ____ Delight______
_____Freak ____ in a Cage
A Spanking for ____ Suzanne and her Mother_____
Saving ___My Lover from the Ravenous___Mathews
_____Bound and Gagged and Soldered____ to a Chair
____BDSM, YA’LL____!

I would read any of those. Except 6. Soldering is one of my hard limits.

Limits, schlimits. Whose rules are we playing by, anyway – yours, or His?

Good one. Danielle Steel. Thoughts?

None. Okay, just one – that time I compared you to Danielle Steele. I’ve regretted it ever since. Oh, and that woman has a serious knack for dramatic portraits on the back cover.

 Seriously. That one where she’s in the convertible on the pier with diamonds in her ears? Stunning.

I was flabbergasted.

You’re a gardener. What’s the best thing you’ve ever pulled from the ground?

A demonic compost plant that actually haunted me in my dreams.

I remember it! Or your description of it. Or you showed me some shriveled version of it you’d put on a pike after killing it.

I had to burn it to rid my plantation of the spirits.

Will you submit Jaded to a publisher? Please say yes. Don’t hang me out to dry like that guy who proposed to his girlfriend on the basketball court at halftime.

Totes McGoats! I gotta finish editing this thing first, okay?  I’m halfway through a Plot Crisis at the moment, but it’s looking like I might actually pull through this bout of metaphorical tuberculosis in my journey through Illnesses as Storyline Complications.

Halftime is what they call it in basketball, right? Or is that just football?

I’m pretty sure all sports have a halftime. Even plays and musicals have a halftime. It’s a safe term to use in any circumstance.

As a theatre geek, I happen to know plays and musicals have intermission, and that’s automatically what I call the breaks in sports games. As in, “Bruce Springsteen will sing at the Superbowl intermission.” My dad doesn’t know where he went wrong.

I think “intermission” is a better term anyway. It’s fancier. Also, isn’t halftime a musical signature? What’s the Superbowl anyway?

A day in February when someone inevitably demands I make guacamole.

I’ve heard brass knuckles are great for mashing unripe avocado. You might try that sometime.

Who in their right mind would use a semi-illegal weapon to make guacamole? (nervous tug on shirt collar). Thank you so much for doing this interview. And thank you again for giving me Build Your Own Stonehenge for my birthday.

I appreciate the chance to participate in your interview, and the chance to thoroughly bamboozle your brain with thoughts of physics and historical impossibilities.

You know, it wasn’t the Stonehenge itself that was hard to set up, it was the cardboard puzzle mat. Which is weird because it’s only nine pieces.

Well, it’s a puzzle. And a puzzle is like math. Enough said.

Definitely, enough has been said.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Get Ready...

It's coming. The interview that will make Barbara Walters's Gadhafi interview look like a chimp's tea party.

This Sunday, January 29th, I sit down with longtime friend and fellow romance writer September Adams to grill her about romance, Leonardo diCaprio, and gardening.

Stop by the blog and check out her responses to my hard-hitting questions.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Flipper, Why?

A friend told me she hates dolphins. “How can you hate dolphins?” I asked.

She explained it was because dolphins rape people. And laugh about it.

“I’m serious,” she said. “Google it.”

So I Googled it.

And learned that dolphin rape is most likely where mermaids come from.

She also told me my dog only loves me because I feed her.

I looked deep into the Professor’s eyes and asked if she loved me. I mean really loved me. Or if I was just a meal ticket. Professor Anne closed her eyes. I grabbed her head and petted it aggressively and said I knew the meal ticket thing wasn’t true because sometimes I forget to feed her* and she still loves me. 

Or is she simply a skilled actress? Should I not mark Michelle Williams on my Predict the Oscars ballot? Is there a write-in candidate I need to consider?

This devolved into something like the Ellen Foley part in “Paradise by the Dashboard Light,” with me demanding to know if she loves me, if she’ll love me forever, if she needs me, if she’ll never leave me, etc.

The Professor promised to sleep on it and give me an answer in the morning.

Now I am suspicious. Of dolphins and of dogs.

And of love in general.

This has made working on my next book difficult.

*Just for a couple of hours. No one call the ASPCA, please.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Just Discovered...

This fabulous essay by Stacey May Fowles from the book Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape (which I just bought!).

Talks about the idea that female submissives must somehow reconcile their identities with the feminist movement(s), and how the porn industry has misappropriated BDSM images.

Check it out!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Not My Tea, You Bitch!

I live in the woods.

Most of the time, this is magical. But there are drawbacks, most of them involving critters. For someone who grew up in a suburb and could afford to be a bleeding heart, all creatures great and small, salad-not-slaughter, tree-humping hippie wannabe, it was an adjustment meeting denizens of nature who have little or no respect for personal boundaries.

Each winter I spend a couple weeks visiting family. During my absence, all creatures great and small treat my cabin as their 24/7 party central.

Last year it was mice. At the time I had two beloved pet rats, and when I finally realized that I had to, in the words of Emperor Palpatine, “Do what must be done,” the conflation of my pets and the very cute, very poopy and probably diseased mice that lived -- and eventually died -- in my closet did some damage to my psyche.

This year I took precautions and returned from my winter break delighted to find zero mouse poop, no chewed clothes, and no evidence of any life beyond an annoying number of little flying bugs, which Professor Anne chomped out of the air video-game style. I kept hoping to see point values appear then fade above her snout.

On my second day back, I was rummaging through my pantry cupboard for some vinegar when I saw a maggot. I squished it. Squishing bugs used to gross me out, until I moved to the south and met cockroaches and quickly learned I must show no mercy, for I would be shown none. 

Went back to rummaging. Stopped when I saw another maggot.

So that’s where the flying bugs were coming from.

Long story short, there was more than one maggot in the cupboard. Somewhere between “several” and “many,” if I had to throw a dart. I emptied the entire cupboard and drenched the shelves in Lysol. It pains me to waste, and I stood with an open, nearly-full box of cornstarch in my hand, one foot on the trash pedal, and said, “But I don’t actually see any maggots in this cornstarch…Maybe it’s okay.” Then I decided “maybe maggots didn’t throw a rave in my box of cornstarch” was a hell of a gamble to lose. 

I threw the cornstarch away. And the sugar. Not the paprika. I couldn’t throw away the paprika, even though the lid was open on the pour setting.
I Lysoled maggots off my vinegar bottles. Off the box of onion soup mix. I was calm about it. The maggots were disgusting, as maggots are wont to be, but I bore them no ill will.

Until I opened my box of tea. There were four in there, squirming around on my tea bags like they were test driving mattresses at Bedz-z-z Express.

You know the moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows, during the Battle of Hogwarts, when Mrs. Weasley sees Bellatrix Lestrange try to kill Ginny and screams “NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!” and starts dueling the shit out of Bellatrix? 

If you’re a maggot, go ahead and crawl in my cornstarch. Slither on my vinegar bottles. Dangle from the cupboard ceiling.

But do not get on my tea.

The tea bags did not survive the battle that ensued. But neither did any of the maggots.

I impaled the maggots on tiny toothpick pikes, anchored in Lysol-sodden tea bags, to serve as a warning to future maggots.

Okay, maybe not.

But I did issue a stern verbal warning to potential descendants of these Original Sinners.

And really it’s okay, because now with my new tea steeping tumbler with attached infuser, tea bags are so last week.

It’s all loose leaf from here.

Addendum: The internet informs me that the maggots may have been the larvae of pantry moths, which ride home with you from the grocery store. Apparently harmless and easily deterred by open bowls of vinegar.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Hot or Not?

By His Rules follows a fairly conventional romance formula – the two main characters, Aiden and Keaton, meet briefly, are kept apart a while, are forced into proximity, fall for each other, enjoy a few weeks in paradise, face conflict, resolve conflict, lived HEA.

The sexual content is graphic, but perhaps a little unusual in that it’s not all necessarily intended to be "hot."

Aiden’s early sex scenes with antagonist Scott happen in the context of an abusive relationship. While Aiden derives some pleasure from the pain Scott inflicts and from his misguided belief that Scott is giving him what he’s always wanted, their sex illustrates a negative and unhealthy power dynamic.

What keeps Aiden and Keaton from getting down and dirty once they’re living together is Aiden’s lingering trauma from his time with Scott. So when they do overcome this hurdle and start doing it, the sex has to help Aiden heal. Perhaps more psychological than spicy.

The DD component of their relationship is, as Keaton tells Aiden, not intended to be arousing. It’s a support system for Aiden that shapes his life way outside the bedroom. The spankings Keaton gives are disciplinary rather than erotic. There’s an enema scene in which an enema is administered, not as a kink or punishment, but for its intended purpose. An intimate scene, but again, hot? Maybe not so much.

So is there anything steamy about BhR? Depends on your definition of steamy. Aiden is turned on by pain, and he and Keaton find ways to indulge in erotic spankings while making a distinction between those and disciplinary spankings. Aiden and Keaton also enjoy a couple of romps in the sack/at the kitchen table just for pleasure’s sake.

Discouraged anyone from reading yet? If you’re looking for sultry, oh-gosh-my-towel-fell-off-in-this-tropical-cabana-revealing-my-enormous-manhood, waves crashing, salt spray on faces, moonlit, hanky-spanky spice-itude, this might not be your bag. But if you’re fine with your knight in shining armor being more like a patient guy in a nice sweater who spanks you because it helps you treat yourself better, not because it gets you off…

Then hey. Maybe you’ll find something alt-sexy about By His Rules.

I like my characters to be as confused as I am about what’s hot, what’s healthy, what sex is or isn’t supposed to be…and then learn in the end that what’s hot is simply a matter of what works for them. What brings them joy.

And Keaton does have really nice pecs under those sweaters. Just sayin’.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

What's on your Adobe PDF downloadable nightstand?

Just finished Equilibrium by Loose Id author Katey Hawthorne. A smart, funny, and very hot tale of superhero love that made me yearn for an electric lover of my own. I am still picking splinters out of my imagination.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Kink Closet

Three years ago I sat my mother down and asked if she knew what BDSM was. She thought I was trying to tell her I had Body Dysmorphic Syndrome. She'd asked me at least once a year since I was sixteen if I had an eating disorder, convinced bulimia was something all of today's girls did, like learning guitar or having sex in the back of a Suburban after prom.

Now at last her nightmare had come true.

Unaware she’d confused the abbreviations, I took one look at her face and thought I’d finally managed to devastate a mother I considered undevastatable. I wanted to turn around, walk right back into the kink closet, and shut the door, but it felt too late for that.

We straightened things out pretty quickly. My mother was so relieved I didn’t have an eating disorder that my sex perversion barely fazed her. We talked for the next hour about BDSM. She asked a lot of questions; I tried my best to answer them. Then we went to Ruby Tuesday, and she joked about the use I might make of the rope decorations on the wall.

I told myself that coming out to my family meant I was now confident enough in my orientation not to think of it as a perversion (as it is commonly portrayed in mainstream culture), or as a joke (perhaps an even more common portrayal). I tossed my bisexuality in with the BDSM confession, thinking it was best to come out of all my closets at once, and my family's completely-cool-with-all-of-it reaction encouraged my hope that I could live an outish and proudish life.

I recently watched the 1995 documentary The Celluloid Closet, about the depiction of LGBTQ characters in movies. Susie Bright made an appearance, and said something I'll butcher if I try to quote, but the gist of it was no matter how many signs we hold up declaring we’re out and proud, it’s nearly impossible for people who identify as LGBTQ to fully divorce ourselves from the shame we’re taught to feel.

I think that’s probably true of many people who are BDSM-oriented as well. We know from experience that BDSM is a beautiful, fun, hilarious, wacky, intense, dark, sexy, delicious psychological adventure. We know that while our desires and urges are not a choice, we do have the choice to embrace these desires as part of a lifestyle – and a community -- with its own culture, code, literature, art, subcultures, and of course, fashion.

But it’s hard to be completely unashamed. To shut out the voices that call BDSM an illness, a joke, or a means of glorifying and perpetuating violence. The world of BDSM is different from the vanilla world -- though probably not as different as some might imagine. Its activities, equipment, and protocols are frequently amusing. They can also seem, to an observer, dark, violent, and dangerous. BDSM is as multifaceted as its participants -- though most of these facets are all but invisible in mainstream society.

Growing up, I didn’t have access to novels about kink romances. I never saw a BDSM relationship portrayed in movies or on television until Secretary in 2002. (I'd seen the Law & Order episode “Stocks & Bondage,” and chains/leather/whips bits in various comedies. Handcuffs = easy laugh. But a story about two -- or three, or more -- kinky people experience the challenges and rewards of loving one another? Nope.) When I got my hands on a copy of Mr. Benson in college, I wrote two pages of notes in my journal on it, thrilled by the novelty of having an actual book, with a cover and pages and everything, that dealt with a BDSM relationship.

The internet helped. Though there are as many false, unflattering, and porno-fied depictions of BDSM online as there are honest and thorough portrayals, the amount and variety of information available means a kinkster looking in the right places no longer has to feel alone, confused, or hidden. With the rise of the ebook, more and more literature is available to those of us seeking fictional heroes of all genders and orientations who love butt plugs, floggings, enemas, pony play, hot wax, restraints, and more -- almost as much as they love each other.

Next week, Loose Id releases my first BDSM romance novel, By His Rules. Undeterred by my  increasingly desperate warnings about the book’s graphic and maybe-kinda-out-of-your-comfort-zone-Mom-and-Dad (god I hope) sexual content, my family has sworn they’ll read it. I’m not sure whether to be delighted or wildly embarrassed, but I’m leaning toward delighted.

The best way I’ve found to combat shame is to celebrate. And the best way I can think to celebrate is to write the heroes I never had -- and share them.

Thank you for visiting, and happy reading.

J.A. Rock