Coming out of the closet

I’ve taken a lot of heat the last couple of months because I dared to say that the bodice ripper romance was a product of its time and thus needed to be considered for the time in which it was written. Is the forced seduction PC? No, and never was. It was a fantasy, a fantasy that, if the contemporary nonfiction literature at the time is to be believed (both anecdotal and academic), was common. Considering the number of those written and sold, I’d say it was a pretty popular one, all dressed up in period clothing and the mores that clothing represented.

Also lately, around the romance blogs, historical and contemporary romance/erotic romance with bodice-ripper elements have been ridiculed, maybe rightly, maybe not. But in a romance reading public that’s taking to male/male romance and BDSM romance, this abhorrence of the longest-running sexual fantasy in romance is bewildering to me. Women have their fantasies. Some of them involve the forced seduction. Is it PC? Absolutely not. Is it valid? Yes.

Genre romance has always thrived on the power imbalance between the male and female, but this has its caveats, and the caveats make up the majority of the fantasy:

1. The heroine is always clearly superior to any male in her milieu except for the hero, who is the only male strong enough to conquer her.

2. The heroine is always isolated from female companionship for many reasons, one of which is that she is superior to all other females and thus, the object of female derision/jealousy. If there is a female, she takes on a mentor/sister/mother/fairy godmother persona.

3. She’s already attracted to him and he gets her off.

4. The “asshole alpha”’s transformation into acceptable mate material depends on whether his eventual groveling is equivalent to his previous assholishness.

5. He better damn well grovel and do it right.

6. At the end of the book, the reader knows that while the heroine can go on and live without the hero, the hero cannot live without the heroine. He always winds up more dependent on the heroine’s love and presence than she is on his, turning the power imbalance 180 degrees.

7. It’s all about the groveling.

Other than the innumerable authors who write the six Harlequin Presents novels every month, I can’t really name any contemporary romance authors who write the “asshole alpha” except, perhaps Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and boy does she write good groveling, viz. Kiss an Angel, which is one of only five romances on my DIK list (and the only contemporary).

Lately, Anna Campbell and others have come back with the bodice ripper, but again, they write historical and I don’t think it does anybody any good to pretend that some of these characters are a century or two more enlightened than the people around them at the time.

The power imbalances in my own book have been pointed out to me with startling clarity, and I’ve been chewing on this for days, not because I disagree in the case of Knox and Justice (an homage to the Harlequin Presents line of books I cut my teeth on and my best crack at writing an anti-hero), but because I do disagree in the cases of Giselle and Bryce, and Sebastian and Eilis. I’m not going to go into why because that entails spoilers.

What ultimately brings me to write this post, though, is because lately, despite my professed ambivalence (possibly distaste) for paranormal romance and urban fantasy, I’ve been reading a few books (that I liked!) that have led me to a conclusion:

The asshole alpha still lives and breathes, as assholish as he ever was. The bodice ripper hasn’t gone away. The forced seduction hasn’t lost its appeal.

It’s morphed.

Into demons, werebeasts, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, goblins, and things that go bump in the night. In many, many cases it’s further disguised as the (overused) “one true mate and nature has given us no choice” device.

Only now, because it’s dressed up in con clothes and otherworldly window decoration, it’s perfectly acceptable. Except … some of us don’t care for the window dressing.

I also made a statement a while back that a lot of Mormon authors write our basic tenets and philosophies and beliefs and religious history in science fiction and fantasy, where it’s almost or fully unrecognizable to non Mormons. I said that I thought it was cowardly. I was told by one author that his first instinct was to write science fiction/fantasy and that the incorporation of our doctrine, traditions, and culture was secondary. I believe that—for that author. I don’t believe it across the board.

Why does this happen? Perhaps because suddenly, one person’s fantasy/message is another person’s call to battle?

I don’t write that way. I can’t wrap the bodice ripper up in paranormal and urban fantasy paper and put a shibari bow on it because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the sex probably will. I can’t put a pretty dress on what is, to many readers, an ugly philosophy/belief system in science fiction and fantasy because that doesn’t appeal to me, although the philosophy will.

This is why I like erotica, because, by its very nature and reader expectations, it’s bald. It’s honest. It’s also why I did actually appreciate The Actor and the Housewife for one thing: It put our culture and beliefs and jargon out in the open honestly, naturally, with no apology or preaching.

I want it straight and I write it that way. I call it what it is because that appeals to me, the honesty of it, the setting of human-as-animal in a contemporary world where our baser wants and needs are not only taboo, but ignored as if they don’t exist. And likewise, where our spirituality/religious beliefs offend a whole lot of people, and short shrift is given to the struggle between the natural (human) man and the enlightened (human) one, who attempts to control himself and sometimes simply doesn’t.

I have no issue with control, losing it, struggling with it, conquering the natural man. After all, that’s why we’re here, right? To vanquish the natural man?

But I’m interested in the process.

And the groveling.

I don’t expect a non genre romance reader to get this, so the objections I’ve received have only made me think about the genre, think about why women read romance, the vast subgenres of romance, and why some women despise genre romance altogether.

Whatever universal truths are revealed in fiction, no matter how they’re portrayed, I don’t give a shit about vampires or demons trying to overcome their natures to be moral creatures because vampires and demons don’t exist.

I don’t give a shit about a being (possibly alien) who drives a spaceship for a living (or who has some fantastical adventure) who’s going through some vague spiritual struggle that Mormons can drill down to the most minute nuance, and might kinda look like Mormonism to anybody with a passing familiarity, because I can’t relate to that.

I can relate to asshole people whose feet are planted on earth, who don’t have regular contact with the boogeyman or aliens, who have no magic or fae blood, no superpowers, who strive and fall and fail and lose themselves in their baser natures, who want something better for themselves but may not know how to get it, who make bad choices and know it even while they’re doing it, who depend on other people or a religion or a deity or a philosophy to help “fix” them.

We all need fixed in one way or another, and there is always a power imbalance in a relationship. It shifts and it changes and it morphs and it takes time to level out as much as it’s ever going to. It’s a neverending process, and sometimes it seems like being on a hamster wheel.

How do I know this?

’Cause I’m an asshole and I strive and I fall and I fail and I lose myself in my baser nature, trying, always striving, for enlightenment. And because I need my husband to “fix” me, and I daresay he needs me to “fix” him, too.

And we both have to grovel.

But please, can we stop pretending the forced seduction romance, and the inherent power imbalance the male has over the female is gone? It’s not. It never will be. We like it too much, and, as a fantasy, it’s no less valid than the up-and-coming PC fantasies of male/male romance or BDSM romance in all its incarnations.

It’s just been driven into the closet.

Mormons and vampires


So I’m looking through my stats and come upon the search phrase, “is there a correlation between mormons and vampires.”

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: Just like every other organized religion on the planet. And those who submit and bare their necks to the teeth do so willingly. Or not. Maybe. Kinda sorta.

Sparkly!Faith—any faith, one that takes into account the possibility of a higher being—requires something of you. It asks you to believe in something you can’t see, can’t feel, can’t touch. Then it sets down the philosophies that this faith’s higher being represents. Further, it asks that you take these philosophies upon yourself; whether it asks you to simply believe them or live them or proselytize them is yet another philosophy it asks you to take upon yourself. Then it sets forth boundaries of behavior that you agree to in order to function within that higher being’s philosophical boundaries. And last, it may ask you to present yourself accountable to a human functioning as the higher being’s representative; if not a human, then to the higher being itself at some time in your future.

I know quite a bit about evangelicals. You know, born-again Christians: Southern Baptists. Pentecostals. Those folks. I know quite a bit about Mormons. You know, ’cause I are one. I don’t know much about anybody else.

Christianity generally asks you to believe the following:

1. That a higher being (hereinafter referred to as God) created the world and humankind in 6 days (could be literal, could be metaphorical) with his hands.

2. That he set up a number of rules (also known as the Law of Moses) for the people to follow.

3. That he alternately rained death and destruction down on his chosen people or those who would slay his chosen people, depending on who pissed him off that day.

4. That he asked his chosen people to slay a lamb as sacrifice and atonement for their sins.

5. That he somehow magically impregnated a virgin with his divine baby-making matter so that the son she bore would be half-man, half-god (hereinafter referred to as Jesus) and therefore perfect.

6. That he wanted Jesus (aka his son) to take over the whole sacrificial lamb gig so his chosen people wouldn’t have to do it by hand with an actual lamb anymore. And oh, this has the added benefit of saving everyone else who believes in him (Jesus), too. No more raining death and destruction on anyone. Jesus’s atonement for everyone’s sins makes him the savior of mankind.

7. That God, Jesus, and a heretofore unmentioned wraith (hereinafter referred to as the Holy Spirit) form some sort of triad of purpose and/or existence.

Note: Evangelical Christianity (which is really what I’m talking about because that’s all I know outside my own faith) asks you to believe that these 3 entities are 1. Somehow. Like, a trichord in music, or an egg, or well, you know, anything with 3 distinct parts bundled up in 1 package. 3-in-1. This doctrine is hereinafter referred to as Trinitarianism.

8. That God/Jesus/Holy Spirit set forth a new set of rules to follow, the first of which is to believe that Jesus died to atone for everyone’s sins.

Note: Evangelical Christianity is particular on this point, because it doesn’t matter how much other good stuff you do in the world, if you don’t get this first point down, you’re going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity. If you never had the opportunity to hear the gospel of the atonement (hereinafter referred to as the Good News), you’re going to burn in a lake of fire for eternity. Sorry ’bout that. And oh, if you profess belief after a life of absolute assholery, you’re going to heaven, so good on ya!

And what is heaven, by the way? What do you do there? You sing praises to God. You live in a mansion (the one that Jesus prepared for you) that is built on a street of gold. You wear a crown. The jewels in your crown denote HOW good you were. Is there a ghetto in heaven, where people who were assholes live? And wear nickel-plated steel crowns set with cubic zirconia?

And how do you manifest there? Are you the gender you are? (I’m told no; that you become some androgynous person mingling at the Great Cocktail Party in the Sky™). Are you married to your honeybunny there?

9. To prove this measure of faith, you get dunked in some water to baptize you and cleanse you of all your sins. Metaphorically speaking.

10. And also, that God asks you to tithe 10% of your earnings, however you define that.

Carrying on.

Mormonism asks you to believe points 1 through 10

Except for the side notes. We are generally silent on the subject of creation versus evolution. Quite frankly, I don’t know any Mormons who stress about this and I know quite a few (including me) who figure it could have been done any number of ways and in any number of combinations and are kind of scratching our heads over why creation and evolution seem to be mutually exclusive.

PLUS the following:

11. That some specially dispensed Jews were asked of God to build a boat and head west about 2000 years before Columbus did and settle in (but arithmetic isn’t my strong point, so check me on that).

12. That these people survived and thrived for a long long long long long time before being wiped out. But before they were wiped out, they scribed out their history on plates of gold.

13. That somewhere in the early 1800s a kid by the name of Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus (who were, by the way, NOT 2-in-1) and given instructions as to the nature and history of the specially dispensed Jews, instructed to be their spokesperson by translating the golden plates, was visited by the Angel Moroni on a regular basis, received continuing revelation from God, and pretty much spread all this information around.

Note: At the time in history that this was happening, there were a lot of crackpot religious theories going around that people believed and wanted to believe and subscribed to; it was just that this one had a better marketing team.

13a. That polygamy was commanded of God and that the stoppage of polygamy was commanded by God. That blacks weren’t eligible to hold leadership positions in the church because of some holdover Victorian bullshit, but then they were. Yay! But we don’t talk about those, not really, no. It makes us uncomfortable, you see. Move along. Nothing to see here.

14. That we make certain covenants with God (in our temples) that include things like giving your time and your talent and your resources to the building of the kingdom of God on earth, and well, chastity (meaning, if you’re single, don’t do it and if you’re married, only do it with your spouse). Okay. Well, that’s certainly groundbreaking. Welcome to Christianity 101.

15. That when you get married in the temple (or re-married, which term is “sealed”), your marriage is for eternity as long as you obey God’s commandments and don’t break the covenants you made in #14. Also, any children you have are yours for eternity also (but there are THOSE days with the Tax Deductions when that’s not the most attractive thing in the world).

16. That it is possible to become a god, with your own world(s).

Yeah, we’re not encouraged to talk about that in public, either, but hell, everybody BUT US talks about it and to me, this is THE selling point of the whole deal. Criminy! Can you imagine being imbued with all that knowledge and skill—and having a workshop big enough to create worlds and creatures? I’m so jumping through whatever hoops for the possibility of that kind of an eternity.

Mormons didn’t come up with this idea by a long shot; we simply actively, quietly really believe it. But really, I’m going to believe this is a possibility whether hoops are involved or not—because it suits my nature to believe this.

17. That God has asked you to obey certain rules as a token of your faith.

18. More rules.

19. More rules.

20. More rules.

Technically, we believe in salvation by grace. In practice… Not so much. The party line is: You are saved by grace after all you can do. But the “all you better do or else” starts adding up really fast.

The “or else” isn’t couched in terms of punishment because the concept of “hell” (the burning lake of fire kind) is a non-starter for us. It’s always couched in terms of rewards you will not have earned.

21. That “every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the prophet” is actually God’s words and not the prophet’s because heaven forbid a prophet remain fallible after he becomes the prophet. See 13a.

To summarize:

Sparklier!Christianity in general asks you to believe a lot of weird shit.

Evangelical Christianity asks you to swallow the idea that there’s some kind of 3-in-1 thing going on with God; it also asks you to swallow that people who’ve never heard its doctrine are going to hell by default.

Mormonism (a Christian denomination, as noted by the words “Jesus Christ” in our official church name) asks you to swallow a whole boatload of other weirdness beyond what Christianity in general asks you to believe.

But the thing is, if you can swallow mere Christianity, if you buy into any belief system with a higher being who demands something of you, you’ve already tendered your neck to the fangs of religion. Religion is a vampire.

Which vampire bit you is kind of irrelevant once you’ve decided to submit.

But ours sparkle.

Genre, let me show u it

I am bored with the below discussion (but don’t let me rain on your parade, so carry on). However, I do need to use it as the springboard for what’s on my ADHD mind today: What, precisely, defines a genre?

We’re very specific in romance. Got an email yesterday from my newest BFF (kidding! but the offer’s open!) who said, “I know you don’t write romance…” Well, yeah, I do. It’s just got so much other STUFF in it that it can’t be classified, which is why I’m publishing it myself. In fact, it’s got THREE (count ’em, 1, 2, 3) full-length romances going on at the same time all woven together (which is why it’s going to top 700 pages and who-knows-how-many megabytes). And they have sex and there is no fade-to-black and they say the f-word and the c-word. They live a certain political philosophy (some more than others) that will probably be uncomfortable for other types of readers. The story takes place over the course of 5 years and oh, by the way, they’re all in their late 30s and early 40s and wow is that so not part of genre romance.

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Mormon-Vampire tale blows up intrawebs

This post is for the non-Mormon readers of this blog who come from (most likely) the genre romance corner of the net.

Backstory: LDS fiction
(aka Mormon fiction)
is analogous to, say,
what Steeple Hill puts
out or any other run-
of-the-mill Christian/
evangelical inspira-
tional romance. No
swearing, no sex, very
clean. No taking the Lord’s name in vain,
no smoking, no drink-
ing, no allusions to any of these things. For all intents and purposes, the term “LDS fiction” has come to be defined informally in the same milieu as inspirational romance category fiction.

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Book Review: Angel Falling Softly

Angel Falling Softly
by Eugene Woodbury
published by Zarahemla Books

Perhaps I should admit upfront that I consider myself an undemanding reader. I’ll happily go wherever the author wants to take me as long as it’s logical, consistent, and interesting. Let me add that I don’t even particularly care whether a story is plot-driven or character-driven; give me something to chaw on intellectually and I’m good to go. Make me laugh and I’ll forgive almost anything.

This is one reason why, when I read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, I was highly annoyed. I like vampires. I’ve studied vampire myths since I fell in love with Vlad the Impaler somewhere in the early ’90s, so her inconsistent worldbuilding, her habit of telling rather than showing, and her mostly flat characterizations grated.

By contrast, Eugene Woodbury’s take is haunting. Poignant, even.

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