Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Calling the Show Cover Art

Cover Art by April Martinez

Oh, it's beautiful. A thousand thanks to April Martinez for this cover. Lookit my dramatically lit boys!

As July 17 nears, I look forward to sharing some of the fun stuff that was part of the Calling the Show creation/research process. Namely, some awesome hula hoop videos. The next couple of weeks will be a little crazy. I'm in a production of 12th Night this week (coincidentally, the play Aiden's in in By His Rules. Author-character bonding moment.) and next week am taking a trip out west to Arizona and California--maybe even down to Mexico. I'm very excited because I haven't seen much of the west, and I have a WIP set in the desert. Researchcation time! But I will update as time permits. For now, let's just all stare at the boys on this cover. There's no shame in a little drool. It's human.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

That Scene Was Almost Sort of A Little Bit Rape-y-ish

Dubious Consent in Romantic Fiction

A while back, a BDSM website reviewed By His Rules.

The review contained this line:

 "And, to be honest - while the first relationship clearly crosses lines that shouldn't be crossed, Aiden does have to take some of the responsibility. Scott has to take more of it, sure... but Aiden set up a pattern of Scott having to fight him and hurt him to ensure his submission."

The reviewer was referencing the scene where submissive MC Aiden, caught in an abusive relationship with a dom named Scott, is forced to have sex even though he repeatedly says no and finally safe words.

I want to make it clear that I’m not writing this post to fire back at a reviewer. It was a perfectly nice review, and readers of any story certainly have a right to their interpretations and assessments of its characters and events. But I do want to use this quote as a springboard to discuss a larger issue—one that has been on my mind for a long time, and one that I think is definitely worth talking about.

It’s the idea of “dubious consent” in romantic fiction—particularly in BDSM fiction.

I know a lot of other people have already written on this topic more eloquently than I will. And I know it’s my job to write romance novels, not stand on my soapbox and holler. But I do have to throw in my two cents here.

Fiction is a place where we’re free to delve into our fantasies—dark, light, secret, filthy, beautiful, silly, and terrifying. It should always be that place.

Dubious consent is a construct that exists only in fiction. It can be a very potent fantasy to be captured, bound, sold into sexual slavery, etc. To have Lord Musclechest McPirateCaptor tacitly understand that by “No! Please. Stop!” you really mean, “Yes, this is what I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Set me free with your magic touch.” And there is absolutely nothing wrong with having this fantasy (or some way subtler, better articulated version of it). Or with living it vicariously through books, or acting it out in in a safe, sane, and consensual scene.

The publisher's warning on BHR reads "dubious consent." Not "rape." A lot of books featuring acts that in real life would qualify as rape are labeled dub-con. Whether that particular scene in BHR gets called dub-con or rape, the act Scott commits is clearly intended to be violent, not sexy - and Scott is not the story's hero. But there are plenty of dub-con books where the dubious acts take place between the story's MCs and are meant to titillate. Several books I love fall into that category.

In real life, either you have your partner’s enthusiastic consent to participate in a sex act, or you do not—in which case, if you keep going, it’s rape.

No dubious consent. No “gray rape” (thank you very much Cosmopolitan).

What disturbs me - and what I think the line from that review would suggest if it were applied to a real life situation - is that some people think the rules are different in BDSM.

Here’s what’s different about consent in BDSM: Often a safe word replaces “No,” “Stop,” or “Don’t.” In plenty of BDSM scenes and relationships, “No” still means “No.” But for partners who enact fantasies of force and coercion, the safe word exists so that the “forced” party can yell “No,” or “Stop,” within the context of the scene and still have a way to end it if he or she wants to.

For any reason.

Any. Reason.

It doesn’t matter what the reason is. If the dominant partner hears the safe word and doesn’t stop whatever he or she is doing immediately, it’s rape.

Let’s say I have a partner or spouse, and we have sex regularly. One night I say, “Not tonight; I’m not in the mood,” but my partner/spouse has sex with me anyway. It’s rape. I do not bear some of the responsibility because I “set up a pattern” of liking to have sex with my partner, any more than Aiden bears some of the responsibility for his rape by setting up a pattern of liking to be “forced.”

He safe worded. End of story.

Scott’s line “Say it [the safe word] one more time and I’ll stop,” doesn’t make it not rape.

If you're a dom, you don’t ask a submissive to repeat the safe word. You don’t doubt or mock his/her reason for using it.

You just stop.

Any scene that a submissive has no way of ending is not a safe, sane, or consensual scene. Nor is a scene where a sub fears humiliation or retribution for ending it.

But I think the idea seeps into our collective consciousness that there’s a consent-shaped gray area where BDSM is concerned.

How can a submissive be raped if he or she has asked to be pushed past his/her limits? If he or she likes be forced, coerced, degraded, humiliated, beaten, tied up, or used in whatever manner his or her dominant sees fit?

The same way anyone can be raped - through the absence of consent and/or the ability to consent. That submissive better have agreed to the scene beforehand, and he or she darn well better have the option every second that the scene goes on of un-consenting to it.

Regardless of slave contracts.

Regardless of how total a Total Power Exchange is.

I don’t care if you clean your dominant partner’s toilet bowl every day with your tongue and love it. If one day you decide you can’t handle cleaning the toilet bowl with your tongue, you have a right to safe word and go watch a movie instead.

If you’re gagged, you have a safe signal.

Stacey May Fowles wrote an awesome essay about submission and rape. I’ve mentioned it on this blog before, but I can’t link to it enough.

So what about fiction? Readers know dub-con is just a fantasy, right? So get off your soapbox, author, and get back to doing your romance thing.

I read this article recently. It’s about a study that illustrates how we relate to characters in novels. The study found that we react to fictional characters on a much deeper level than we probably realize. We look to them for moral guidance, and we often subconsciously imitate the behavior of characters we identify with.

Am I saying that if we read books where one MC takes the other MC “dubiously,” we’ll suddenly believe nonconsensual sex is acceptable? Of course not. But romance is a genre that usually asks a hero to behave like a hero (Patrick Bateman is the “hero” of American Psycho in the protagonist sense, but hopefully we’re not modeling our values on his). To be loyal, strong, upstanding, trustworthy, etc. We want a romantic hero to have flaws, but not flaws that compromise his/her ability to be a Good Person.

If fiction repeatedly allows characters who play fast and loose with consent to be heroes, and either trivializes or eroticizes rape - or else presents as acceptable the shifting of responsibility onto victims - then we will probably continue to see those attitudes at work in real life. Because art reflects life, and vice versa.

I will always fight for two things:

A world without artistic censorship, where fiction is a mirror and a vessel for our darkest fantasies and no one has to be afraid of the acts and desires he or she lives out in the pages of books.

And a world where rape is never justified. Where no victim ever has to hear that he or she bears some - or all - of the responsibility for what happened.

I don’t think these worlds have to be mutually exclusive.

So what am I advocating?

Not an end to dub-con fiction. Not for those of us with dub-con fantasies to be ashamed of what turns us on.

Not even an end to the term “dubious consent” in fiction.

But an acute understanding of where the lines exist between reality and fantasy. If you swooned over the pirate captain in Romance Novel X who ravished a young captive, just promise that if you ever saw a pirate captain trying that in real life, you’d remind him that the ravishee has to say “yes” loud and clear and of his/her own free will—or else you’re calling the sea police.

Also the understanding that “submissive” does not mean “someone with no agency who has to take whatever a dominant gives.” A submissive does not ask for rape merely by being submissive, or by having consented in the past to rough sex or coercion play. That goes for anyone outside the BDSM lifestyle who enjoys those activities as well.

Because if Tuesday night I wanted to play “Tie-Me-Down-and-Do-Me-While-I-Yell-No,” but Friday night I said, “Eh, no thanks,” Or “[insert safe word here]”—and you “played” anyway? Guess what? It’s rape.

Nothing dubious about it.

Friday, June 8, 2012

And the Award for Infinite Patience Goes To...

Jesse and Simeck, stars of my upcoming novel, Calling the Show.They got their contract a while back, but I asked if they’d mind being brutally ignored on this blog until after Wacky Wednesday had been released.

“All right,” they said. “You suck. But all right.”

Calling the Show is part of Loose Id’s July Pick Your Pleasure series, and it will be released July 17th.

It’s a book that’s very close to my heart, because the plot combines three of my favorite things: Theater, BDSM, and…hula hooping.

They go together like two horses and a carriage.


The story goes a little something like this:

Senior stage manager Jesse Ferelit and sophomore light board operator Simon Whedon meet while crewing a college theater production. Jesse hates everything about Sim, from his lack of theater experience, to his obsession with LGBTQ politics, to his infatuation with, of all things, Hula hoops. Well, he doesn't hate everything. He doesn't mind Sim's eyes, or hair, or his surprising ability to be cool in a crisis. But Jesse is graduating in just a few months, and if there's one thing he does not have time for, it's a relationship. 

Sim knows exactly what he likes: civil rights, the circus, and sex. And he knows what he likes about Jesse. In the control booth, Jesse is exactly Sim's type—a natural leader, collected and confident. But outside the booth, he seems reclusive, acerbic and uptight—hardly Sim's type at all. Is a relationship with Jesse a real possibility, just a fantasy, or a hopelessly lost cause? 

When Sim offers to teach Jesse how to hula hoop as a way to relax and loosen up, the lessons ease the two men into an unexpected shared world of sex, kink, friendship, and eventually love.

Mmm….enemies to lovers. This was my first venture into that territory, and it was fun.

A little about the unholy trinity in this book.

Theater: Live theater, to me, is pure magic, and perhaps human society’s greatest gift to shy people. On stage, I can say and do the things I’d never dare in real life. Writing works that way for me too—I can live vicariously through my characters—but in theater, I actually physically get to sword fight and yell at people and wear awesome costumes. Building Calling the Show’s world was such a treat, because I got to merge my two greatest loves.

Jesse is a stage manager, which means he’s in charge of scheduling, communication, and keeping track of, well, everything, during the rehearsal process. Once a show is in performance, he calls it—meaning he sits in the control booth and feeds the light and sound board operators their cues. I stage managed a children’s theater production once when I was eighteen. The experience was so terrifying I’ve blocked most of it from memory. I don’t envy stage managers one bit, but I do admire them incredibly.

With my own experience still too raw a wound to probe, I have to thank stage manager K.B. for letting me ask her a few billion questions and sit in on a stage management class she teaches. A lot of what I learned from K.B. went into Calling the Show. And it was some of the most fun research I’ve ever done as a writer. Much better than Googling stuff.

Hula Hooping: Like Jesse, I thought the idea of learning to hoop was silly when it was presented to me last year. A bunch of my friends were teaching themselves, and I scoffed, thinking they were, you know, eight. But once I gave it a go, I found that it really is amazing stress relief, and requires a good deal of athleticism, grace, and balance—things I want more of. I've been doing it ever since. Though I'm still not particularly good. Sim is the kick-ass hooper I wish I was.

And since working on Calling the Show was, at times, quite stressful, it was awesome to be able to get up, go out into my yard with my hoops, and do some active research.

BDSM: This book is BDSM lite—the characters are ages 20 and 22; they don’t know anything about the actual lifestyle per say. They just know they like a little spanking and bondage with their sex. Eventually they recognize that they may want to delve a little further into the lifestyle at some point. Quite fun to have both characters getting their first taste of kink. I’ve written experienced partner/uninitiated partner, but never two clueless college students armed with wooden rulers and electrical tape.

Okay, not clueless. But pretty close.

So that’s Calling the Show in a nutshell. There’s also a rat named Craybill, a kinky competition to determine who really “calls the show” in Jesse and Sim's relationship, and a terrifying trio of dance majors working to recover a stolen photo of Martha Graham.

I’ll be posting more updates throughout the month.

Jesse and Sim, thank you for your patience.

Quick Wacky Wednesday P.S. - WW is now available on Amazon and ARe. Links on the left sidebar. New review from Jessewave, too.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012