Wednesday Workshop: Do You Know the Wind…

Do you know the wind?

As it blows across the plains, around the mountains, and through the rustling leaves of the trees do know know the wind by more than just its sound and the feel as it moves by your body? Do you know it by more than just the force it exerts upon you? More than by the clouds which twist and bend to its will as the wisps of white float by overhead?

But, do you know it?

This invisible force which pushes against you at times and makes each step even harder than the last. It could be at your back and move you along in a direction you may choose, or one you may not. You may have to fight it, or it may help you along. Do you see others in the wind, as it direct their lives in ways which bring joy and sorrow every day.

A life lost. A love found. Something created. Something destroyed.

Feelings.

Futures.

A notion the world is upset with itself and heading towards an unknown future, a place which the winds push us towards – but with our every step our body teeters with uncertain balance. Will this be a good place or a bad one? What will happen to me? Where are we being taken?

And we can try to shout into this wind and nothing comes out of our mouths. All we hear is the bluster and power of the wind as it fills our ears with white noise and the pressure of billowing gusts.

At times it seems the wind is made of the voices of millions, and we feel alone with our voice drowned out.

We could scream and no one would hear us.

Because the wind is there, drowning us out and fighting our every move.

Do you feel its power, more than just a simple and easily-explained force of nature? Do you see it, can you picture it in your mind as some sort of twisting, nether-like tangle of lines and swirls, like a Van Gogh painting where the wind is painted on the canvas with serpentine strokes and the brilliant colors of the sky? Do you see the wind for what it is, and how it shapes our lives? Do you see how it wraps around every one of us, twists and plays with our clothes and hair, and connects us together as one? The wind cares not about the color of skin, our political inclinations, or if the person standing against an infinite tide of the sky is a man or a woman.

It can come at us like a hurricane.

And at other times, the force of the wind could barely move a feather, and yet we still see the plumage gently play in the almost non-existent breeze.

Even though we cannot feel it, it is still there. Do you think about the invisible wind when you cannot even sense it? On a day where the air hangs heavy and barely moves at all, do you think about the wind more than wishing for a cool breeze to come to cool your skin? Do you consider the plumes of heat which rise from the land the wind, or just a current of air spiraling up in a giant column which we do not see nor can we even say is there without science to confirm?

Do we know this, the wind, as something more than science and nature? Can we explain its presence without a mathematical model and climate studies? Is it something more than a force of nature?

Does the wind bind us, connect us in a way?

Does it make us one?

Or does it keep us apart? Does it blow between each of us and keep the tiny hairs on our skin from sensing another there? Do we just feel the wind, and not the other person standing next to us? Does it blow between our bodies and keep us from ever truly touching? Do heated and hated words too easily spring forth and power these winds, and they blow like a scorching blow torch across a desert plain, almost stinging to the touch, with grit and sand which stings our eyes and forces us to close them even tighter to the world around us?

Can we never truly see because the wind blows in our eyes?

Does it numb our sense of touch? Does it blow us off course? Does it force us to shield ourselves tighter against its power and keep us from being as one? But if we were one, would that be what we want? There is something to be said for many singular souls standing against the wind, or together in it to enjoy the sensation. If bunch too tightly, if we were too close, we would feel nothing. There is a certain benefit to detachment, as there is a similar benefit in being close to others.

We need others, yet we also need to be able to stand alone.

Or does the wind do all of these things? A force, a power for both good and bad, indifferent in its infliction and benefit, but yet something which could push a sailing ship to a calm and friendly port, or tip the vessel over dooming all aboard. Do we understand this force, both for good and for bad, and what it does to us all?

At times I wonder about such things, if we understand and can feel the forces which both act upon us and can be caused by one and the same. If we somehow are fooled into thinking we are more powerful than the wind, that a lone voice in the tumult really does matter, and then I think back to the times where yes – one voice and one life mattered.

Change blew in, and one person mattered.

And for the good or the bad, the rest of us adapted to this new world, picked up the pieces, and continued to stand in the wind – or against it, depending on your perspective. For some, we have no choice, as in the wind we must stand.

 

The Wedding: The Young Royals 1.5

The strength of three was so much more amazing to her than the strength of one alone. There were things that trio could accomplish when they wanted to that made CEOs of great corporations look like underachievers. David and his sisters could charm, flatter and cajole any number of people into doing any manner of good things – great things. Truly, Caitlin had realized, they were people who used their influence to the utmost benefit of others. She would be part of that. It was heady. And, in the end, it had been enough to make her realize that the joys to be found in marriage to David could far outweigh the challenges.

Caitlin had left the volume up on the television so that she could hear the noise on the streets and the commentary from the national broadcast; so that she could have a sense of this moment in history. For that’s what it was; she knew that now. A grand occasion such as this had its date marked and the day would be celebrated all over the land. She was a part of history now. The thought made her queasy.

The Wedding: The Young Royals 1.5

For a royal wedding, this gets so much right, the meaning of it all, the pomp, the circumstance, and just the entire heady, elevated sense of history and happening. The prince being so proper, handsome, witty, and desirable. The new and untested princess-to-be from America so detached, nervous, and uncertain. The love between them carrying the day.

This is an in-between book covering the happenings between two books, but it is instructive and noteworthy in how much it gets right. Is it erotica? I feel this is clearly romance, but we could learn a little from our sister genre when it is time to put down the nasty words and write with a sense of gravitas and meaningful prose.

And I was reading this with a mind sullied by erotic prose, and when the prince’s two beautiful sisters showed up my mind went to places it shouldn’t. The funny thing is, I felt a little dirty and guilty in those thoughts, which is exactly what great and meaningful writing should do. My mind went places, but the prose made me feel guilty for going there.

How could I think such thoughts?

Scandalous.

It is the mark of writing that sets a high standard and sticks to it. That professes undying love and modesty and reflects a world where things are normal and relationships still have a modicum of decency. That guilt though is a key to what we do, something that unlocks a forbidden door in a reader’s mind. How can we make something feel wrong and dirty without first setting a standard which we should not breach? Even for less-erotic writing, the art of writing dignity and walls of behavior are some of those things I feel are helpful to learn.

How could he fall in love with her?

Why would she do this?

If you can not build a dam, you can not make it break.

If you cannot write restraint, you cannot show it breaking down.

And the book goes through this momentous day with a flair for touching the moments that matter. The pre-wedding getting dressed moments. Her thoughts about her absent family. A wedding breakfast. them together in bed. Just deft touches, painting the parts of the snow-covered trees that are not in white, and leaving the blank canvas to serve as the invisible composition which pulls the picture together. What is not shown forms in our mind.

We do not need to show her sitting on the plane. Waiting at the baggage carousel. Waiting for a taxi. Driving into the palace. While these are all valid moments which I am sure we could fill with meaning pulled from thoughts, they are not our best moments. They are rises and falls between the mountain peaks, and when we write, we strive to ascent those highest places and give the view from there.

Only the best for the reader.

And this books gets it. While there may not be sweaty bodies and desperate kisses shared in the throes of lust and passion, there are all the proper moments in between. In my mind, and possibly the books which surround this interlude, those moments are likely shared. The good parts, you know.

But what is often missed is the pieces around the good parts give those parts that essential goodness. They must be equally good for the throes and primal thrusts of mating to have any meaning at all.

This is what I like to call carousel romance, where we are introduced to a cast of characters – all without love – and one by one, slowly, we see their stories unfold. Here it is a prince and two princesses, proper and lonely in the modern world, and we get to peek in on their lives during private moments and share in their loss and love. In other books, it is ‘seven hunky were-shifter brothers’ and we get to see each of them, different and unique in their own way, find love.

With a common thread tying them together, as they are all riders of the carousel of life and love.

And as the carnival ride’s motors wind down and the spinning slows, we revel in the moments and sights of a world spinning around us – something which we do not normally see.

A royal wedding. Her discomfort. His stepping through the day. Them together.

The moments between matter, but what matters the most are the best of them.

Recommended, and a wonderful reflection of the space between two books that draws me in to the grand peaks which surround this moment.

Wednesday Workshop: Invisible Walls

As a society, we have moved beyond putting people inside walls.

As we have willingly put ourselves inside of them.

Humans seek the safety of castles and fortress walls, and we look upon these creations as symbols of security and stability. We then place people who break the rules behind a smaller set of walls than the ones which we choose for ourselves. One could look at society, in a general sense, and say the rules of society are where we agree to put the walls, and this is how much space (and where this space is) each of us get.

But the walls are there.

And we seek them out.

Rather than have free and complete expression, we choose the walls of a social media platform. We give up what we can say to be “inside” that space. Look at all the people in here! Isn’t it worth it to be “inside” this space with all of the others who value being “in here?” And yet, there are rules on what you can say. There are invisible algorithms controlling how many people see what you say, when they see it, and then you need to pay the lord of the castle for the right to have more people than they ‘allow’ to hear your words. And don’t say anything remotely upsetting or offensive, because into the ‘adult dungeon’ you shall go.

All of a sudden outside the castle seems like a better place.

For those who know about the outside.

The walls which surround us we have become so accustomed to they have become invisible to our eyes.

And there are whole generations of people born within these walls. The danger is they know nothing else.

And this is not just social media, we lock in our choice of entertainment, computer systems, office applications, internet access, phone choice, music systems, cloud backups, news sources, and other ‘invisible walls’ we agree to every day just to ‘be a part of the crowd.’ The contracts for using these systems are so long and obscure we have no idea of what we are agreeing to when we click ‘okay.’ We just want in. Damn the consequences.

I have a music collection of DRM-free files that I own and purchased legally, along with a collection of books in PDF format. I am working on a movie collection of the things which I like, and also these are purchased legally because I value rewarding the creators. This is something I own that cannot be taken away, except maybe by natural disaster or the cloud system is wiped out. I can take these with me wherever I go. If I say ‘to hell with you Windows and Mac’ I can move them over to an Ubuntu laptop and have them work just fine. I am not confined to a castle for my entertainment, and I can walk away from any of these services and still have my freedom.

And yet, I am still guilty of supporting ‘lock in’ and proprietary services that limit choice. There are times when I can’t avoid it, and there are times when I don’t have the time to change it – but I am getting better (I hope). I admit to some hypocrisy here, and the ‘ideal’ me would stand up for these ideals a bit more strongly.

“But,” the lords of the castles say, “it is so much harder out there without us. Look at all the benefits we provide! Look at how we enrich your lives! Look at the value proposition.”

There is a value in choice.

There is a value in freedom.

There is a value in the ability to be able to walk away.

There is a value to being able to pick up, move, and choose to live within another set of walls, if you so choose.

Or live outside of the walls, as much as you can these days, and be a little more self-reliant – even if it means a little less convenience.

We are moving into an age where the walls that matter are not physical ones, and arguments about outdated, physical walls will seem as silly and antiquated as believing in castles as a measure of military might. Nowadays, castles and their fortress walls are museums and tourist attractions, and the walls are just there for show. Something to put on the postcard that mean nothing in terms of access or defense.

The real walls, these days, are virtual.

They are electronic.

They are setup by groups with secret algorithms and computer codes to separate us. They are coded to lock in our music and entertainment choices to one system only. These walls control our speech, who can hear our words, and how many people each day can be exposed to our ideas. They filter our ideas to people who agree with us, and who are more like us than different. We live in a world of unknown and subconscious bias, by our own choice, and filtered through millions of lines of computer code that electronically segregates us by the content of our ideas. Of course, this is all done with our consent, and also by our own hand by the groups we choose to see and put ourselves in.

And I feel the most terrifying walls are the ones we build inside our heads.

I once used a “news app” that let me choose the sources of information my “personalized news” would pull from. Think about that for a moment. I grew up in a time where the ideal of “news” was put up there alongside impartiality. Now, this source leans left, while that one leans right. I need to pick and choose the news sources that align to my political ideals. I can’t even read about a natural disaster without politics being interjected and rubbed in my face.

We setup a system that divides us and paints opinion all over what should be “the facts” we use to make up our minds. What is your flavor of fake news? It is our choice, and at the same time, there is no choice at all.

And of course, we choose to be in these spaces where everyone’s opinions are like our own, and the natural disaster is always the fault of the other side. It gives us an easy out when bad things happen to blame someone else, rather than roll up our sleeves and just solve the damn problem without injecting politics into the entire event. There are times when I feel some would say, “Let the disaster happen, because the ‘optics’ of a destroyed town would be better for our cause. We could use those images as weapons to further support our highly politicized spaces.”

People lived in that unfortunate place, and now their lives have been set adrift on a sea of uncertainty.

We are better than this. I feel we are.

I hope we are.

At times I wonder if it is not already too late. Invisible walls, but yet impenetrable barriers.

I stopped using that news app, because all it did was provide a view of the world through glasses shaded by the colors of my beliefs. And I found those sources of information strangely patronizing and almost repeating a thought-control like repetition of the same idea and ideology, often conforming to my own, and never there was a dissenting opinion to be heard. When you live in a world where there are a million different opinions and ideas, that is normal. When you live in a world where all you hear is what you believe, you should take a step back, because there is typically someone out there ‘filtering’ difficult facts and not telling you something serious that you may need to hear.

Freedom is hearing, and listening to, the difficult things.

Freedom is stepping out of the safe place in which you find comfort.

It is a strange affliction, I feel, an addiction to the ideal of safety, comfort and being right all the time. A societal opiate where nothing difficult is seen nor has to be dealt with. Where troubling information gets mixed in with unfair attacks, and no one cares. We have to win, right? And if we don’t win, destroy at all costs. I feel it puts our minds in a ‘fake space’ in a way, an alternate reality like Wonderland where the rules are made up on the spot. I don’t choose this source of information, so the news it shows me never happened. Only people that agree with me matter. Only ideas conforming to mine have value. Things that don’t conform must be attacked.

It is better to lie than to lose. And admitting fault and remorse invites destruction instead of forgiveness and understanding.

It is the danger of invisible walls, I feel.

We can see through them, but we can never hear what the other side has to say.

Love Shots #1: Wine Country

It’s not like I don’t mind a little PDA (public display of affection – SS), and flying in a plane is rare enough that there’s always that naughty thrill with a sneaky touch or caress during the flight. But there’s a wicked smile and a caress, and there’s taking the next step to getting your partner off.

Scott was definitely wanting the latter. Eventually I whispered to him, “What do you think you’re doing?” To which he responded, “I thought it would be fun to join the mile-high club.” Honestly, do men ever use their actual brains when it comes to sex?

Love Shots #1: Wine Country

This one is a short recounting of a romantic get-away to wine country and there is something about it that captures my heart. There is this authentic, ‘they really love each other’ thing going on, his impatience, his worship of her, and her respect and love for him that just comes across as so damn sweet and authentic that it warms my heart. Really, when you love someone, this is how you write about them, and it shows through.

Snarky little asides. Him saving the moment for her. Her luxuriating in a bath. The respect they have for each other. His submissive and loving ‘wait for her’ respect for the moment they will share together. The travelogue moments. The two of them respecting the moment their anniversary will bring them and waiting for it.

And then, when we get to the moment, we don’t fade to black. Tenderness. Respect for each others’ bodies and savoring those sensations. Overcoming the naturally awkward moments. Playing little games with a glass of wine with each other. Making due on a squeaky bed, and being inventive when making love.

In fact, as I looked at Scott over breakfast, I was filled with desire all over again. His friendly way with others, his handsome and engaging smile, his hot body – the afterglow made me just want him all over again.

And now I am jealous. That is the mark of a great romance book, does the reader get all hot and bothered and jealous to hell that the guy in the story really deserves ‘me’ than that woman in the story? No, really, she is a tramp and I would love him so much better. He is too good for her. Only really I could give him what he wants, no, what he deserves.

Great job here making this guy so attractive, quirky, and hot that now I wish I had one of those. He is not perfect, which I think makes him even hotter because through those quirks and ‘could have pleasured himself’ moments he still saved himself for her. He, despite all his impatience and odd guy-like issues, loved her enough to respect the moment they would share later.

It is a great character study in how to make a male lead imperfect and impatient yet totally desirable.

And then like a good cup of coffee we bask in the afterglow of the moment and it carries us through the day.

A bit short and not without some editing issues, but a very sweet and relate-able little romp through a special moment in the lives of two people who love each other. And then those guilty afterthoughts hit, maybe he is too good for me. Maybe they really do love each other and I would be the evil and intruding bitch in this relationship. But then again, wouldn’t going after him be fun?

I am betting the sex would be worth it alone.

Never underestimate the power of fantasy.

Wednesday Workshop: Reflection and Projection

What you say reflects what is in your heart.

I feel if you are consumed by anger, then anger is what you shall sew with your words. I sometimes see these posts almost totally consumed by railing against one form of hate or another, but the anti-hate post is often very hateful itself.

Think about that. The hate you hate, to the other side, is exactly the hate they hate.

Where are the Jedi Knights when you need them?

You know, that wise Alec Guinness figure who steps in and says, “Let us not use the tactics of our enemy, for we are better than this.” I dislike using a Star Wars metaphor here, but I feel being the better person is how you begin to convince others your ideas are better for everyone. Of course, the conflicts in Star Wars are almost never solved by compromise and negotiation, so the noble idea of being better than the other side falls apart quickly in a mess of CGI and light sabre battles.

A commendable ideal, but a terrible metaphor.

But let me step back, and focus on this as a tool for writing. Yes, we can learn something about characters and motivations from hateful social media posts, so let us focus our energy there in a positive way. Let me give you a small exercise.

Take a character from one of your books, and take the current social media cause de jour. You know, that topic that you can never seem to clean out of your post feed, something like a hard water buildup that you can never really get rid of, like angry posts about politics or rants about political figures.

If your character had a social media account, would they jump in? What would they say?

Would they say the same exact thing as you?

This is an area I like to be careful around, that ‘character as author’s voice’ thing, since you are more likely than not to find a character in many books who fits that role. They are often very entertaining, that character who seems slightly above it all and comments on all the goings on exactly like what the reader is thinking right now. It is like that character in a movie who breaks the fourth wall for a moment as the superheroes are blowing apart the city and says, “Wow, we are sure making a real mess out of things right now. You think next time we could try talking things over?”

Of course, nothing usually comes of these statements, because I feel they are more for the audience’s consumption than the characters in the story. They will never talk it over. The author’s voice, as a force of reason, can’t be listened to because it will lose its impact the next time something really crazy happens that author’s voice needs to be there in a sarcastic and ‘inside joke’ sort of way to defuse the reader’s natural ‘so what’ reaction.

I feel it is, in a way, a shell game writers play with readers, giving them someone who is supposedly ‘on the reader’s side’ but the character ultimately serves as a tool to further the main narrative and get the reader over massive humps of disbelief with a little sarcasm and humor.

But again, back to the main point.

I have this feeling people project their feelings – especially negative ones. If you have a character who is a thief, the chances are this character will be the first one to accuse someone else of theft. I feel people tend to project negative qualities onto others. If you have someone consumed by hate, they will often be the one who shames others for being hateful. A character who is lonely may act in ways to worsen that loneliness rather than resolve it. Someone who is miserable tries to make everyone else miserable. Someone with something to hide accusing everyone else of hiding something.

These are dark and almost anti-social behaviors, but I see them time and time again in the world in which we live. I go through social media and read so much anger, but I often do not even hear their message – I am wondering about the person who wrote this. I need to be honest, I do see an occasional rare post of something innocuous, entertaining, or joyful – but the ones projecting something inside the person posting it fascinate me.

I sometimes see these thousand-word essays and wonder if the person had a bundle of thoughts and emotions all balled up inside that were not easy to express. I have typed out some of those myself and deleted them, just because I feel less is more and the diatribe is not worth the effort. I am not any better than anyone else, not by a long shot. But that huge wall of text and spilling of emotions, to me as a writer, is an interesting thing in itself. It is one of those moments where you can pick through a confused ball of tangled yarn and really see the person behind the post.

I feel if you reflect back those feelings, you get a better understanding of the person.

Perfect characters are boring. It is a good thing we live in a world where nobody is like that, so we have a lot to study.

I see anger, and I wonder what caused this. I often wonder if people project the misery they have going on in their lives onto other people and subjects. If I am out of work, bills are piling up, my neighborhood sucks, and my life generally stinks – would I project that misery onto others? Would I blame a hated political figure for all of my woes, even subconsciously? At time I feel us humans do that, we are great at blame shifting and we will gladly pile all our faults and problem onto others so we don’t have to admit them or even deal with them.

If I don’t have a job, it’s because someone else came here and took it from me, right?

I hate saying things like that, but you see those things said time and time again. While there may be some truth to that statement, what usually comes after is the blame shift.

So I won’t try.

It’s not my fault.

And I hate that other person or group of people for this situation.

I was raised to get out there and fix it. To roll up my sleeves and clean up that bathroom covered by feces, without anyone asking me to. To never blame my shortcomings and failures on other people. I still have my failings and weaknesses, and I am by no means perfect. I fuck things up sometimes. I fail. I cast blame. I have my opinions, and they aren’t always right. But I try to be a good person. And I believe what I do matters.

That is just me. And I am but a character in this story of the world.

Back to the main point.

Characters blame shift too. Your characters aren’t perfect. They can project negative qualities onto others, even unfairly. They can do so knowingly or subconsciously. What a character says about someone else can be true for that character too – and they will do their damnedest to never admit it. If character A turns character B’s feelings around and points out hypocrisy, you may have a really pissed off character B to deal with. And character B may be the one completely in the wrong and never wants to admit it.

It is hard to separate feelings from words. We get wrapped up in the moment. We mix in what we feel with what we know.

But as a writer, we study the human condition. It is helpful to take that step back and think about why something was said. Warning, you never want to get reflective on someone in one of these posts and say, “You are just projecting some other anger in your life on to this situation…”

No.

No.

Don’t do that.

Reason typically does not work, as these are feelings you are dealing with. Logic is scissors while feelings are rock, and you are going to be sitting there after days of going back and forth arguing logic with them and all you will end up with is a broken pair of scissors.

Be like paper and be the better person.

And then use that paper and write down everything you observe.

I’m Gay For My Living Billionaire Jet Plane

It’s rare for our relationships to turn out how we expect them to. As we go through our lives, people come in and out seemingly at random, changing and shaping us as we travel together in this crazy, mixed up world. Your best friend one day can, somehow, become your mortal enemy the next. Lovers drop off the map and fade into the past, co-workers show up years later and suddenly you find yourself married with two kids and a white picket fence.

The same goes for objects. There are plenty of things that I’ve dropped a lot of money on that, no more than a few months later, become worthless to me.

But what if there was an object that caused your interest to change in the opposite way? Instead of becoming old and boring, it became more valuable to you as time went on, until one day you found yourself falling deeply and uncontrollably in love.

It sounds crazy, I know.

I’m Gay For My Living Billionaire Jet Plane

I don’t make love with enough inanimate objects, I know.

Let me get this straight. Sex, with a plane? I could only imagine the security checkpoints one would have to go through to get the chance to shag an airliner. I would probably have to sit on the convener belt and get my coochie x-rayed before being allowed to spread my wings for him on the tarmac.

Still, having sex with a plane sounds like something that would make sense. A plane is big, incredibly expensive, shiny, modern, and an attention-grabbing status symbol of a boyfriend. Seriously, would you rather show up at a party and say the pilot is your boyfriend or the plane is?

I would go for the one with the open bar and and earning frequent flier miles in bed any day.

I love these sorts of books, because if sex is this silly, random, makes no sense act of human interaction then books that do not take themselves or the act all that seriously strike a warm, loving, and happy chord in my heart.

What makes this book fun is it is written well, and the sex is very good – if you imagine the plane to be one of those transforming robots out of a 1980’s cartoon, but sexually active, hot for humans, and also gay. I could seriously get it on with one of those robot-car men, you know, drive around in a short skirt sans panties and put my knee up on the hood so his headlight gets a good look.

And of course, plenty of motor oil to eliminate friction.

But seriously, this book surprised me. Without the silly pairing, it hits the right notes, and it also has a sense of comedic timing that does not overstay its welcome with the concept. The sex is fast, dirty, and twists things enough to remain familiar while delivering a smile.

I was a bit taken aback by the strange sense of scale here, one moment, the plane is the size of a man, while in the other, he could fill up a runway. I guess in love we also have those strange and distorted senses of scale, one moment, a lover could be a friend, while another the lover is our world.

You get that when you read the crazy stuff, these strange thoughts and metaphors that only come to mind when your brain is being challenged by the totally absurd. Do I like that metaphor? Yes, I do, and it means a lot to me not that I mention it. Would I have thought of that sweet and now-cherished thought had I read something completely ordinary today?

Probably not.

This is why we need to get outside of our boxes every once and a while. This is why we need to experience the absurd and nonsensical. This is why laughter, an open mind, and silliness is so important. When we limit our experiences to what we like, our brains die a little. We become like this rusty hinge that only moves one way. Sure, what we like is what we choose, but a hinge only goes back or forth. It is limited in its form and function. It serves to only let things in or out of two defined spaces.

In or out.

Things in our world or not in them.

Loved things versus hated things.

This is why I believe the current creations of social media are like drugs we can become addicted to. We limit our inputs to views closely matching our own. We tend to see the interests we choose. While the concept of filtering helps us deal with infinite information and enhances our experience with these flows of data, it also has the dangerous side of limiting our world and what we see.

Digital blinders which limit our experiences – by our own choices. A selfish censorship, perhaps.

Again, thoughts which would have not came to me had I stayed within my comfortable world.

I enjoyed this silly, strange, nonsensical romp between a man and a machine a lot. It made little sense, which is why I liked it, and also why it opened a couple doors in my mind as well. It sailed along at a brisk rate, understood timing and delivery well, and also carried a package of fun that I enjoyed.

I will be flying this airline again.

Wednesday Workshop: To Communicate …Clearly

What we do is communicate.

There are things which make this more difficult, and things which make this easier.

Grammar are the rules in which we operate, and their purpose is not to be used as a “gotcha” or way to prove our superiority over each other by finding faults in others – grammar are the ‘rules of the road’ in which we use to be able to communicate clearly. Their sole use is to help us better understand each other.

To understand.

That last sentence breaks the rules, but you get it. Artists will typically tell you, “you learn the rules first, and then you can break them.” If an artist twists the rules of perspective to create an effect, chances are the artist knew those rules and knowingly broke them to create that effect. Happy accidents happen, but greatness is hard to sustain purely through happiness and accidents.

And no, not many of us will ever master every obscure grammatical rule, but we can work at them and get better every time, so do not feel bad.

You only fail when you quit.

So grammar is in that “helpful” category in our communication toolbox, but is there anything else? First off, I don’t want to call these rules, which I almost did, but I deleted that sentence and mentioned this fact to make a point. These are not rules per se, but “things we can do to communicate better.” Tools in our communication toolbox, let’s call them.

You ever listen to someone and they say ten repetitive and useless words for every meaningful word they say? With ‘word count’ being the sole measure of our value as writers (and I am being sarcastic here), this one cuts to the bone because who doesn’t want more? Supersize our paragraphs please! If something is worth saying, it is worth saying thrice! If someone loves my writing, they must love every word which pours out of every orifice of mine, no matter how trite or how repetitive.

Even that last paragraph went overboard, and you can see what I mean.

Part of communicating clearly is using only the words we need, and knowing when we are being boorish, wordy, and overbearing. You will find a lot of the great writing tools come from speaking, and while they are two distinct arts the same general guidelines apply. You don’t want to bore your audience. You should be wary of repetition and dragging things out. There is an important to delivery, beats, tone, and even cadence.

There is even an importance to the pause.

The spacing of words.

The flow of thought being replicated on the page. Giving people time to think, to process, and digest. To avoid delivering everything in huge, difficult to read paragraphs. To understand when your writing is too dispersed, and when a large, robust and supportive paragraph is needed. Sometimes complexity is called for, and your words will have more impact when you build a great construction with purpose, relation, and meaning. Constructing a great paragraph is an art, as it is like constructing a great and complicated idea with all sorts of support, answers for questions, and a flow of ideas which support each other from start to finish.

Ideas which would mean less sitting out here all alone, like this sentence.

While there are times when you want to let a line sit on the page all by itself, there are other times when that line only means something when it has good company. Like a fine wine without a great dish, some ideas mean less all by themselves. Some thoughts need to be near others. Some thoughts exist to support others, or need to be in a place where they answer the question of a skeptical reader.

“So what?”

So what. Those two words define our existence. They lie at the heart of fame and obscurity. They sit at the foot of our works, are painted across the covers of our books as people browse by them, and are a question we constantly asked and also ask ourselves.

My life. Her life. His life. This book. That idea. This character. That emotion.

So what?

Our job as a writer is to answer that question. Or not, but in doing so we are making that decision not to answer the question – not by omission or forgetfulness, but by choice and design.

You will find that ‘I choose not to do this’ thought process helpful. Creation is not just a process of putting things in, it is also a choice of what you leave out.

And sometimes, leaving things out is a good idea, especially for repetitive and supporting material. If we bog our answer down in excess words we will lose people. If we repeat ourselves we will lose people. If we present unclear ideas our ability to communicate is reduced.

There is this tendency to think every word we deliver is gold. We have this hubris as writers that ‘more of us is better.’ More words. Longer chapters. Twice the dialog. But more of us is not always the best of us. The best of who we are is not our us in our entirety. It is just the best parts, boiled down to the absolute minimum. All of our wit in one statement, not three saying the same thing.

Brevity. An economy of words. A succinctness and adherence to saying the least while delivering the most those words can. It is why vocabulary matters. It is also why simple words matter. Because being able to communicate an idea cleanly and without excess baggage helps us get the idea across.

So think about your favorite speakers and communicators and watch what they do – not just what they say. Take a step back and observe how someone who is a really skilled orator presents an argument or point. How they lay things out. How they answer the “so what?” question.

Now apply that to your writing. How would your favorite speaker present a character to a crowd? If you were writing, you may say something like this:

She was a blond, thirty-ish office manager with shapely curves and a pleasant smile. She had a lot of troubles in her life…

Your favorite speaker, standing in front of an audience, may say something like this:

She is the type of woman you see working in an office you would think is too pretty to have the job. She had a perky smile only a blond could have.

See? I feel the former has this stale, trite, writer-ly air to it and is something we have saw many times before. The latter has this snap to it, a freshness, and something that would make your ears perk up if someone said it on a stage in front of an easily distracted and cell-phone obsessed audience. You may hear some laughs or groans after that line because it connects to people, for good or for bad – but it connects.

Your job is not to bore or to simply ‘be a writer’ of words, it is to communicate and connect. And by connect, I don’t mean, “get people to like you.” A connection implies contact in a positive or negative way. Connection does not mean ‘winning a popularity contest.’

There are people I agree with, and then there are people who make a connection with me – people I like or people I loathe – but I am connected with them. The things they say make me pay attention. They stop me in my tracks. I listen and have feelings about the things which they say.

Connection is rarely a neutral and indifferent experience.

If someone read your book out loud, how would the audience react? Be the book that gets the gasps, makes people laugh, and yes – makes some leave the room. Be proud of the people you piss off, because at least you are getting a reaction.

In indifference and silence the writer finds stagnation and creative death.

Be vocal.

Communicate.

But most importantly, connect.

Passion Undiminished (Volume 1)

This is the first dom-sub book that really makes me question the human condition.

“Okay, so you’re saying that you would do whatever the woman you’ve submitted to wants, and treat her like a Goddess? Like foot rubs, and breakfast in bed? Why would you think I might not like that? I’m not really seeing a downside here.” Lisa laughed.

I smiled. “You know, I’ve talked with several women who are in these type relationships, and there are some downsides. Most submissive guys aren’t really the type to sweep you off your feet. While we might be romantic, we probably aren’t going to just grab our woman and ravish her. Some of these women miss that.

Passion Undiminished (Volume 1)

My first feeling after reading that, and I shall probably take some criticism but I am being honest here, is revulsion. Hear me out, because this is leading to some larger psychological issues that have relevance with the review.

Equals.

Is equality important in a relationship? For me, it is. Do I think it is kinky and desirable for a woman to have a submissive slave-man at her beck and call? A part of me says yes, that is a fantasy of mine.

But another part says no.

There are times when I want to be swept off my feet. The book acknowledges this, and wins major points with me in exploring the same exact feelings I have about dom-sub relationships. Do I want to get into a relationship with a guy who has a “needy man syndrome?” I know that sounds like a terrible way to describe a submissive, but if you think about how a dom-sub relationship can break down – that exact and quite stinging description hits one of those “stress points” I would feel breaks up relationships in a dom-sub world.

A woman gets sick of being the dominant side, and walks away.

The book hits on that feeling, and again scores major points with me again. I have never seen dom-sub so wonderfully crafted with these sort of normal and human hang-ups before, and I was floored.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I may be totally missing the point, but my reviews are more “these are my feelings and then make up your own mind” than a letter grade system or “X out of 10.” For a book to break down my ‘understanding’ of dom-sub is an eye-opening and wonderful thing, and right now, I love the fact I am in this Twilight Zone of uncertainty with these characters. In fact, that is where you often want a reader to be, because you can then take readers on that journey of rebuilding their understanding as your characters work their way back to a point of resolution.

You may think, “She is having everything done for her at her beck and call! How could she get sick of it?”

Being a “dom” is a lot of work, because you are now responsible for pleasing a submissive with all sorts of various demands. You screw that up, you say, “You know, let’s just drop this game for a while and just be equals,” and you are throwing a monkey-wrench into the entire relationship. I can see how someone would get tired of it, because the “dom” is actually the “sub” when it comes to playing these games.

Great dom-sub books get this role reversal and the “dom tax” on the person’s soul and emotions. I have read this in one or two great dom-sub books before, that the dom is actually the sub because of the care and control needed over the submissive’s personality – and being a slave to the submissive’s needs.

Hence, yes, if you wanted to criticize the dom-sub relationship you would call the submissive’s role a “needy man/woman syndrome.” But it does more than criticize I feel, it highlights the stress points in such a relationship and helps us understand why these things fail – therefore we can deal with these emotions and stresses better as people.

“I want to hit you Tom. I want to hurt you. I don’t understand it, but I feel it so strongly. I’ve never felt anything like this before. I want to take the paddle and mark you, bruise you; I want to make you cry.”

Tears began to roll down her cheeks. “Somehow I think that it’s important. I think it will prove to us both that you are mine, and I am yours.

“God! This doesn’t fucking make any sense, and I know it. I just need to beat you Tom, but I need you to want it as well. I don’t want it if you are only doing it for me; I need you to want it for yourself. You have to be honest with me. Please if you truly love me don’t lie. Do you want to suffer for me?”

Our eyes were locked together, my heart overflowing with love, I understood her.

I was both shocked and delighted to see this exchange, and this was right before a spanking scene that really wasn’t all that horrible as this played it up to be – but in this relationship, this was the first time so it was wonderful to see them wrestle with these feelings. Spanking. Punishment. Submission. A cost of deviating from the master’s or mistress’ will.

Not for the dom’s pleasure – please note this – but this punishment feels like it is for the sub’s benefit.

That is such an important point I will let it sit out there all by its lonesome. Now, reverse roles and play the role of the “dom” here. You have to punish someone because that someone needs it for their own good. You have to spank someone, and you may be completely against spanking, because that person needs it to have a functioning and pleasurable role in a dom-sub relationship. How have to inflict pain on others, even if it is against your moral code, because that person’s emotional needs demand you do so.

Now, who is the dom and who is the sub?

And the book scores more major points from me for hitting on this point, and then having a relationship break down because of these types of feelings. Wow. I am simply floored.

There is a secondary thought floating around in my mind that goes like this. Humans have an innate desire to be in a submissive role for certain parts of our lives. Once religion is removed from a societal structure, we find other ways of submitting to “higher powers” such as political correctness, environmentalism, conservatism, liberalism, the media de-jour of our choice, or even the role of government in our lives. We may be “doms” in certain parts of our lives (personal freedoms and choice), but in others we are “subs” and actually crave (and need) the punishment and control of higher powers or outside groups.

Think about that. You may not agree, but I read a book like this and I wonder about the human condition. For a book to bring up such thoughts in me is a magnificent thing.

Thank you for pushing me into my deep thought zone.

We arrived at the harbor a few minutes before seven. Once parked, I hurried around and opened Lisa’s door. Locking the car, I offered her my arm, and led her along the pier.

It was cooling off, the air smelled wet and briny. Far to the West beyond the bay, a bank of fog was visible, a line of gray between the blues of ocean and sky. Terns and seagulls were wheeling about overhead, a brown pelican stood placidly atop a piling not more than an arm’s reach away as we walked past.

The book takes place in San Diego, and that city holds a special place in my heart since I did a writer’s retreat there to finish my erotic thriller Bowlarama. There is a magic in that city that transcends to this book, and it gets a lot of the ‘great points’ right. The alternating cold and warm days, the fog, the sea air, the changing weather, the beach, the random jumbled and laid back nature of the city – the book captures those moments and lets us savor on them like fine food delivered in a small bay-side restaurant that we love. Those moments become a part of us, and us a part of them.

Part of that place is in me, and it is in this book, which I feel brings an authenticity and sweetness books written from reference instead of experience lack. The setting here is just as much a character as the two leads are, and that is a wonderful thing to behold.

The book I feel has some misses. ALL CAPS text. A flashback section told entirely in italics. A “she told me later this happened” scene where I felt we saw too much, and I wanted that detached perspective so we could worry along with him more. A character description in the mirror scene. They are there and I feel they distract from the experience. They don’t take away from the greatness of the book, but I feel they are artificial storytelling constructs that attempt to communicate a feeling, information, or emotion through mechanical (rather than natural) means. Witness:

“I’M COMING!” I screamed.

versus:

I screamed. “I’m coming!”

I felt my body spasm and every nerve in my body became aware of the secrets of the universe.

I came so hard I pulled the bed-sheet’s corners off and left fingernail scratches on his back.

I prefer expressing these thoughts and feelings through the experiences and emotions that directly connect with someone else’s soul. To me, I feel ALL CAPS is a mechanical construct where we are trying to communicate the power of a moment through holding down the shift key. I would rather search for a moment and action to describe that feeling rather than rely on typography to communicate my ideas.

Bet this relationship and its challenges haunts me. It challenges me. It forces a woman into a dom role and we see her break down a little. We see the stress a “sub” puts on his beloved “dom” and life breaks down. Love fights against these destructive forces, and we wonder if this is all going to work out. I sit here t the end wondering if these two would be happier together without the whole dom-sub thing going on, they have wonderful chemistry and a connection deeper than what feels like a role artificially imposed by the man in this relationship.

I sit here wondering, what’s in it for her?

I sit here wondering, why is he putting her through this?

Isn’t love enough?

I can’t help thinking the sub is being extremely selfish with her, and I may be 100% wrong here, but I have not had that feeling in a long time. Wow, I am floored you brought these feelings out of my subconscious. Thank you, and this is a special book for doing so.

Highly recommended, and a book that is going to stay in my thoughts for a while.

An amazing work.

Wednesday Workshop: You are What You Read

It is worth your time to read.

Not just self-help books, but books in general – especially fiction. I am in a unique category of reader, since I review, and I have done more than 700 books in my time here. I do find the time to just read for fun, and I can say it helps me become a better writer, reviewer, and editor of words.

You spot things you like in books, such as turns of phrase or techniques of keeping the reader on edge and full of anticipation. you spot things you don’t like as a reader, such as a writer ‘giving it all away’ too early and ruining the suspense. You find yourself saying “I wish this was done better” and that feeling you may have enjoyed the book for “if only…”

You need to note those feelings and the reasons why, and keep a journal if that helps. You think you can keep a million reasons why in your head, but those often fade and I find it helpful to have a list of things, likes and dislikes, here and there I can browse back over to reflect on and refresh my memories from.

Distraction is what you fight, and writing your feelings down keep you from forgetting them when the phone rings or life comes along and gives you something that will take days to clean up, or weeks, or years depending on the things life throws at you from time to time.

You also need to keep your books close, and you also need to keep changing things up – move that shelf, take three random books out and put them on a table, and keep shuffling your life around so you create moments of opportunity for reading and learning. As humans, we tend to set things in their place and forget about them, that box of books in the closet, that neat arrangement of books on a shelf, and the place everything is supposed to be.

Well, I’m telling you a little chaos and disorder helps the mind create. What good are books on shelves if they are just decorations? What good is an e-reader if it is never used? What good is a tablet if you just let it sit on a shelf all the time?

You need to do more of that doing more.

You need to read more of those things which you have.

You need to shuffle things up, rearrange the shelves, dust, clean, reorder, redecorate, move the furniture around, and make your tired old work-space fresh again. You need to freshen up that dust-filled mind of yours. You need to get out and experience things, even if it is only through the pages of a book. You need to take the things you love and make them real again, unique to you, and start breaking through the fog and haze so you can open yourself up to the world waiting for you.

Reading is a start, and it is a good one.

For me, sometimes I dismiss reading when I am in a lazy mood. It is like exercise in a way, once out of it for a while it becomes harder to get back into it.

But when you are back into it, it is hard to stop. Reading becomes something you crave. It is exercise for the mind, and once you hit your stride it becomes something which makes you…you. it sharpens the mind, it excites the passions and kindles the soul. If you can both read and exercise, you get the best of both worlds, and nothing can stop you.

The energy you can harness for projects and creativity becomes endless, and you find the minutes you spend in reading and working out make every minute you spend creating that much more productive.

One feeds off the other in this sense.

Keeping your body fit helps keep your mind fit.

Keeping your mind fit helps keep your body fit.

And then, your fire is lit. Your mind is sharp, and your energy boundless. You can write that much more during a session Your words come more easily. Your creativity flows much more naturally. Tasks which seemed like mountains become gentle inclines, easily conquered.

And once you are up them you are ready for the next.

It is so easy to ‘check out’ nowadays. To sift through the garbage on social media and just end up angry and depressed. To watch the talking heads of the news tell you why you should be angry all the time. To waste time getting upset about really trivial, stupid crap that is just a distraction. In the end, who cares?

Think of it this way, the entire world tells you what you should feel and how you should live your life. I saw this ‘news story’ on social media today which was just pure fantasy fulfillment, trading on the hate of a well-known public figure, and it was really just the next in line of click-bait, trolling for attention diatribes meant to earn a website operator clicks and cash. Feel either way about this person and it doesn’t matter, the predictable pro and con posts were out in force, the article was being linked through every time, and I could just hear the cha-ching of the royalties for every click being cashed in on by the group that posted the article.

Don’t be used like this.

You could fall into that trap, click on the article, post something in support or against, get into a fight with someone, and then likely feel totally depressed when ‘things don’t go your way.’ You are then being setup for the next, even more fantasy-revenge and hate-trading article for next week, and the cha-ching of the website operator’s money machine will keep ringing in with every click, and with every angry post it only gets better from there.

Don’t be used like this.

There’s nothing in it for you.

And they don’t care about solutions, only outrage – because that is where the money is.

I went off track there, but the above is what I find robs me of reading time. I could be reading the things in which I choose and which bring me enjoyment, or I can fall into the trap of click-bait website operators and their social-media feeding pig-troughs. If I lose myself in social-media crap I will get upset, angry, and at that point I will say ‘screw reading’ for today. I will lose out on that chance to enrich myself, and to work out my mind as much as I like to work my body.

You are what goes into your mind and body.

Limiting consumption of garbage, junk food or junk media, helps you live a healthier lifestyle. It is a tough thing to do, because we all like to ‘be informed’ and we all think we ‘have control.’ I find it is too easy to get sucked in, and maybe this is just me, but I have to will myself and forbid myself from even opening the link.

Don’t take the bait.

I am finding the more I am conscious of what I read and what I see, and the more selective I am, the better my life is. Less is more, especially if I get to choose what ‘less’ I see.

Guilty Pleasures: Book 7 of ‘The Succubus’

“You’re not,” she insisted. “You love. You feel. Our pain is your pain. Our joy is your joy. Would a creature like Kincaid stay here with us, protect us, when he could just as easily leave? If you are so like them, why are we still alive when you could have abandoned us and left us to stand or fall on our own?

“It’s because of you, Althea. You say you are beautiful. I won’t deny that. But the beauty of your body is as nothing compared to the beauty of your soul.”

Guilty Pleasures: Book 7 of ‘The Succubus’

Ah, the twisted and strange series of a group of friends and family and their live-in succubi comes near to an end with book seven of eight. We approach the final hour, the tolling of the bell, and see relationships that both should and should not be twist feelings and the bonds between.

Yet, I get this sense of post-forbidden fruit taste, a languishing haze of ‘now what’ between them that sits in the room like the scent of a cigar burned days ago in a room yet the presence still lingers. I feel we get far too much moralizing here in a sense, the mantra of ‘if it feels good, do it” should be reason enough once the rules are broken forever.

You enter this lifestyle and it comes with the good and the bad.

“Ownership” of one another is challenged here, and you get this almost subversive notion where love and belonging is not as important as membership in the shared-passion collective. I find that the most interesting aspect of this series, the sticky aftertaste of the ‘what happens after’ moment, and we are treated to the moralizing of feelings which should be more ‘for each and all equal and shared’ than they are ‘if this is allowed it strengthens the bonds between us.’

The book takes the latter approach, and I see this more like the former. I also see their moralizing as an attempt at coming to grips with what has happened, the powerful spell cast upon them, and I take a more darker, sinister view of events despite their proclamations.

We as writers can try to explain it all away, but we cannot and should not control what is going through the readers’ minds – that is where all the fun happens.

Jeremy closed his eyes as he finally attained what he had never even dared to dream about. When he had seen her, wandering in the back yard, looking lost and alone, he had invited her to help with the  garden not out of  some misplaced notion that she would find him sexually irresistible, but out of simple compassion. However, he had not counted on Althea’s hair-trigger volatility. It seemed that even a casual, quiet hour spent seeding a garden could serve as a goad for her passion.

I feel the pairings here have less heat as we are going through the motions, but they still tell that post-sweat and hazy tale of ‘the what after’ in a way that I find strangely appetizing. There is that moralization, but it is done in a lost and self-justifying sense I feel, as if those on a raft in the sea see clouds and other strange omens portending rescue but in reality meaning nothing.

It is often like my games of a hacked Sims 3 where my group of pixelated adult housemates do not care nor adhere to any moral rules of decent behavior, because a depraved goddess controls them and bends their wills to her twisted desires.

The tiny avatars on my screen can moralize this all they want, but only I know the truth.

But when I stare into that mirror, do I, really?

It is that reflection upon my own acts that makes me wonder. Perhaps I am the succubi. Would I if I had all powers and could? The next time I load up the game and witness my capricious destruction and selfish avarice, do I feel remorse? Or do I push the avatars further? Where does that take me? What does that say about me?

The demons within.

It is the writer’s curse, yet it is also our control. Those thoughts, those freedoms, and the ability to take something in fiction to a place it shouldn’t be is both our responsibility to explore and our malediction to present to the reader.

As Althea’s tale ended, the building grew quiet.

How many times? Yasna wondered.

How many times had she fought a battle against evil, only to look forward to doing the same thing again and again, over and over until she was slain? How could any woman keep the capacity for love when her whole life had been a war that could not be won, only endured? One where each momentary victory only bore the bitter reminders of her ultimate defeat?

I would go mad, if it was me, she decided.

Mad and raving like some of those poor lunatics you see downtown, off their meds and unable to cope with reality. And she has been doing this for centuries.

No, even longer. Millennia. No wonder Rachel says she has walled herself off from love.

I love the characters here, they feel connected and real. Their motivations may be a little less removed from normalcy, but still, I enjoy their banter and attempts to relate and understand what is happening to each other very much. There are times when I feel they could be neighbors or friends, and they have this very wonderful palatable streak of down-homeness to them. They feel real. I could drink sangria or a beer with them.

And then when I get home wonder why my neighbors seem like such freaky sex nuts.

And then blink once and wonder, am I not good enough to be included on the fun?

And then blink twice and ask myself, do I want to?

And so this twisted tale of a tail inherited and a demoness awoken reaches its end. It has been a ride which I have enjoyed, and also one with opportunities and places I felt more could have been explored. But yet, there are those ‘wanting more’ feelings which I feel when something is just enough and it is my own greedy inner self speaking. One always walks out of a movie that we like wanting more. It is our nature.

And now, the final act is promised, and I await the last chapter of this tale.

What more could have been done? I feel, in a way, a real and tangible loss is needed. I cannot imagine this series ending in a happily ever after, it would almost feel saccharine if it did. I am looking for that bittersweet moment, that feeling despite this group has given in to the spell put upon them, that was it worth it? Maybe each of them would answer that in a different way, and maybe some would break free of the spell and feel actual disgust and regret.

The sacrifice may not have been worth the price.

But that is a real feeling, and one in which if my adult avatars in the life-simulation games I play could speak to me, would express. That maybe my wishes for them were not what they desired, and they would give their heartless mistress one last look through the screen at my soul, pack up their things, and walk off the screen with no amount of my mad clicking and attempts to control their life and put them back in the household would make a difference at all.

I would not control them any more.

And then like that, they would be gone.

And maybe some of the others would live in my artificially passion soaked world in that sanguine haze. And I would be the succubi, the mistress in control of this tiny artificial world in a game I play with artificial lives.

Maybe I would invite in another poor, wretched soul to take their place.

But I would know one avatar would be out there in the sea of bytes and ones and zeroes, free of my malice and control.

A free will, perhaps? Or the seeds of freedom?

And then, what does this say about me?

That feeling is what I seek, and that feeling is also teased here. I should hope in a small way it is realized before this series ends. Until then, I have the final book on my desktop, but I shall not open it just yet.

I savor these feelings and questions too much to seek an answer just yet.