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Barely Breathing (A Colorado High Country Novel) — The first book in my new Colorado High Country series is now only 99 cents at all ebook retailers! This new contemporary series is set in the small mountain community of Scarlet Springs and focuses on the lives and loves of members of an alpine search and rescue team.


About Me

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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

When it comes to sex, what’s normal?




When it comes to sex, what’s normal? And what is popular culture, including romantic fiction, communicating to young women about what’s expected of them sexually?

Sometimes a topic strikes me and ends up in the newspaper in my opinion column. This one will probably wind up there eventually. For now, the topic is rolling around in that cavernous space known as my “cranium,” knocking aside cobwebs and scaring bats as it goes. While I realize this may be a controversial topic, I’m okay with controversy — provided everyone involved is civil and respectful of others.

When I was growing up, I saw the covers of Playboy magazines (and, yes, more than a few centerfolds, too), as well as Cosmopolitan and other women’s magazines. I even managed to sneak a Playgirl into the house when I was about 15 so that I could satisfy my curiosity about male bodies. What did I learn from this (besides the fact that penises really can be comical)?

Here are some of the lessons I took away. Maybe some of them are familiar to you:
  • Women must be sexy to be worthy of male attention.
  • Being sexy means being pretty, having big breasts and being good in bed.
  • You must be sexy and good in bed — but don’t be a “slut.” It’s up to you to figure out how that balance works.
  • There are tricks you can use to be good in bed. Cosmo has new ones each month. They sound a lot like the old ones from last month. (But what do 15-year-old virgins know anyway?)
  • You must have an orgasm or your lover will think there’s something wrong with you. (If he can’t get it up, there is also something wrong — with you.)
  • Vibrators will help you learn how to have an orgasm, but don’t let your boyfriend know — and don’t become addicted to vibrators because real women have real orgasm with men.
From romance novels, I learned very little about sex other than it must be fantastic. Those were the days when descriptions of sex were mild, and you had to wonder what was happening. It was all about “manroots” and “her center.” What — like her belly button? The books seemed mostly to be about love, and they made my heart beat faster. I loved the passion of the relationship between the hero and the heroine, even if I didn’t have a reference point for what it meant to “move together in an age-old rhythm.”

The messages I got as a teen still float around in popular culture, perhaps with sharper edges than they had back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. There were teenage girls at my sons’ high school who’d already had breast implants. Talk about pressure! Bulimia, anorexia... It’s all symptomatic of a culture that tells young women they must fit a certain standard of beauty in order to be worthwhile. And that’s perhaps the least of it.

Thanks in part to the Internet and the easy availability of even extreme porn, teenagers probably see it all before they do it all. And when they read romance, they can choose books that range from mild to wild, describing acts from hand-holding to double penetration and hardcore BDSM. That’s a huge change from when I first started reading romance.

The question that I found myself pondering is this: What are we normalzing for young women these days?

If I were 17 and hopped onto Redtube.com or some other free porn site, I could watch hentai rape, anal sex, spanking, oral sex, multiple partner sex, and a whole range of bizarrely acrobatic sex and kink that doesn’t even look fun (at least to me).

Some of this is clearly vanilla: vaginal sex, oral sex, mild bondage. Much of the rest of the world is okay with anal sex. But caning? Three or four or five partners at once? Rape machines? Huh?

If I saw these things as a young woman today, would I come away expecting my boyfriend to videotape us? Would I expect myself to consent to being tied up? Spanked? Shared? Would I wonder whether it’s okay to not be a double-stuffed blonde? Would I feel guilty if I didn’t want to have anal sex?

The subculture of leather masks, chains and orange gag balls used to a subculture. I didn’t know about it until I was married and had kids. (I learned about it from the film Pulp Fiction, believe it or not.) But teenagers today see it all.

Though I think the porn industry is the most extreme in what it attempts to depict as normal or desirable sexual behavior, romance novels have certainly stretched to accommodate more, too. I’m fine with that, over all. I’m not standing in judgment of people who like to read or watch hardcore erotic materials. As long as whatever you do in real life is consensual and involves human adults, it’s your business.

All I’m doing here is asking this question: What are we as a society encouraging young women in particular to believe is normal or expected of them when they cross the threshold into sexual activity?

It’s an issue that concerns me because, as a journalist who has built my career around advocating for women, I want to know that young girls are coming into sexual maturity in a healthy way that ultimately leads to happiness and satisfaction. (Note that I haven’t said a thing about abstinence or marriage. It’s not a choice between celibacy until marriage or having sex with 15 guys and a gazelle. There is a happy, healthy balance in there somewhere, I think.)

I’m a journalist, so I’ve never been one to advocate government censorship or hiding nudity from children. When people get all ticked off because a mother breastfed her baby in public, I roll my eyes and call them silly. Breastfeeding is normal and natural. Bodies are normal and natural. Sex, for that matter, is normal and natural.

Is being a double-stuffed blonde — or redhead or brunette — normal and natural? What about being beaten with a belt? Or, as the creators of hentai seem so fascinated by, being raped by mutant multi-tentacled plants from outer space?

The one thing I’ll say about romance novels, is that in most cases the story revolves around love. And that’s perhaps the one thing we as a society don’t emphasize enough — the connection between love and sex. Young women who read romance, even BDSM romance, are going to get the message that love is special. And that’s a good thing.

Okay, so those are my thoughts. I’ll step out of the way now and list to what you have to say.

And I can only imagine the kind of views I’m going to get from people searching the internet for some of those more X-rated terms...
Saturday, June 26, 2010

M.A.N. Project

L to R: My brother Bob, my father (also Bob) and my younger son Benjamin

Today was a momentous day! My father, one of my two brothers and my younger son Benjamin spent the day working on various projects outside that required lots of muscle. They started by cleaning the gutters on my house, then progressed to trimming dead branches off my three big trees.

They stand above, like victorious hunters, with one very large branch. The biggest almost crossed the width of my yard and came from my cottonwood tree (which is looking none too healthy, I must say). My honey locust trees are looking worse for the wear, too, so I need to give them some serious TLC. Growing trees anywhere in Colorado except in the mountains is not easy. Too hot. Too cold. Too dry. Too high. But I digress...

Today’s project is the fruition of something Benjamin put together, called the M.A.N. Project. That stands for Men’s Action Network. Being a single mom, I’m not much of a dad. And between writing and my neck troubles, I can’t do a lot of the harder work that he does outside. So he created M.A.N. and drafted my brothers and my dad.

The idea behind M.A.N. is to get together every other weekend or such and go from house to house doing the kinds of projects that men can more easily do. So the next M.A.N. Project will be at Bob’s house.

So now they’re finishing with the trees in the backyard. Benjy’s enjoying the new chainsaw I sent him to buy yesterday. Men and tools. It’s cute, really.

This is a real boon for us. We save the branches and chop them into firewood, which then I burn in our green-burning fireplace to help heat the house in the winter. With all the smaller branches, it looks like I have a beaver dam on the north side of my house. I probably have close to a half cord of wood out there now.

I have to admit that watching them climb around in the tree in my front yard with a chain saw and other saws made me nervous, especially when the wind kicked up. True, my dad and brother are active mountain and rock climbers with lots of experience on stuff that’s a lot hairier than a tree. But we’ve had a few thunderstorms move through this afternoon, dropping a few sprinkles, blowing the branches around and then moving eastward across the plains. And having my kiddo high in the tree when the wind really kicked up...

Let’s just say mommy went inside for a while.

Surgery news: I saw the neurosurgeon yesterday. He did a basic exam and found what I’ve known forever — that I have profound sensory nerve loss in my legs. That’s a strange thing, given how much they hurt. But it’s all phantom nerve pain. He also discovered that my balance is really compromised. I sincerely hope I’m never pulled over and asked to go through roadside sobriety maneuvers because the police will think for sure I’m drunk.

Then the surgeon showed us the MRI of my neck, and it wasn’t pretty. From C4/C5 to C6/C7, my spine is pinched flat. The surgeon’s word for it was “pancaked.” It goes from being round and looking white (indicating lots of spinal fluid) to being almost flat and black (almost no spinal fluid).

So I am having fusion surgery on my cervical spine. Two of the vertebrae will have to be drilled apart because they’ve grown together. The discs and extra bone growth will be removed entirely. Then the doc will use the bone he’s drilled out to set up some bone grafts to hold my vertebrae apart like they’re supposed to be. All of that will be held in place by several titanium plates.

I don’t have a date yet, but I’m guessing it will be mid- to late July. I’ll miss about eight weeks of work, and then hopefully, I’ll be in good shape again.

The doctor said he’s not sure this will make the pain in my legs go away, because the nerves may be too damaged. Even so, I can’t leave it that way. As he said, regardless of what I'm feeling/not feeling, having my spine smashed flat like that is affecting my body from the neck down.

I truly hope this makes my life better because the past two years have been really rough.

I hope everyone is having a great weekend!
Friday, June 18, 2010

Manatee Monday?!?

These two are hero and heroine in a manatee romance. See how they’re holding hands?

Sorry again to be gone for so long. Life is not slowing down one iota. But I did want to share a quick laugh.

Today was dedicated to helping my younger son, Benjamin, find a car to buy. It did not go well. Used car salesmen can be scumbags. Fortunately, Benjamin did a lot of research into how to buy a car and did not get taken. But the process of standing up for himself brought out one guy’s inner jerk (not so deeply hidden, it turns out). And so that wasn't fun.

But we turned it into an evening with my folks, who moved from a town 360 miles away on the other side of the mountains to a little town about 35 minutes away.

In the course of the evening, I told my parents how this past Man-Titty Monday several of you thought my dad's ritual of calling my mom from the summit of the mountains he climbed (and he has climbed all but two of the 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado as well as big peaks in other states) was touching. We talked about this for a few minutes, and then my mom wanted to know why I called my blog entry “Mantee Monday.”

I just about died laughing.

Manatee Monday?!?!?

I had to pull out my laptop and show her and my father what I meant. Meanwhile, Benjamin was still howling with laughter.

Not Manatee Monday, though Manatees are wonderful (and I hope they won't be hurt by BP’s terrible spill). It’s MAN-TITTY Monday.

A bit of a difference there.

Our quest to find a car failed. Sadness! Tomorrow I must spend the day writing, so we won’t be searching again this weekend.

Have a lovely weekend everyone! I hope to have photos of my garden soon! It's amazing! My King Arthur delphinium is as tall as I am. (Oh, and since most of you haven't met me in person, I’ll just say that I'm 5-foot-10.)
Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Urban homesteading



So how many of you are urban homesteaders?

I’m not sure how strong the movement is elsewhere, but here in Colorado, the idea of growing as much of your own organic food as possible and even raising your own chickens in your backyard is very popular — and not just with hippies.

Last summer, I decided to see how much food Benjamin and I could get out of re-opening one of our veggie garden beds. We have a very big yard, and the south side of the house, which gets full sun all day, was once entirely devoted to growing veggies. But that was back when my kids were little. Trying to handle a huge flower garden, two kids, a full-time job and the veggie garden was too much for me. I paid someone to put down weed cloth and bark the damned thing.

But Benjamin is all grown up now. So last summer, we ripped up the weed cloth from one of the beds and planted the things we like to eat most. Sadly, we did it sort of late in the planting season, so Benjy didn't really get to enjoy any of the results of his hard work. But I did. I didn't buy vegetables from about the beginning of August through October until the first hard frost.

I got a lot of broccoli, green beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, zucchini and cucumbers out of last year's "experimental" garden, so we're going all out this year. We worried for a while that my surgery would make it all too difficult for Benjy, because there will be a time when he will have to handle it himself. But it will be probably a month before I have surgery, and that's a lot of the growing season. We decided to go for it anyway with a hopeful attitude.

We opened all three beds, and I spent March-May nursing seedlings on my kitchen floor. (It made walking around a bit awkward, but that was okay.)




So this year our garden will include: arugula, broccoli, romaine lettuce, spinach, swiss chard, mixed spring greens, green peppers, Anaheim peppers, Navajo corn (what else???), radishes, carrots, tomatoes, acorn squash, zucchini, summer squash, cabbage, sweet potatoes, cantaloupe.... And I think that's all.

It will easily fit into the space we have — which we hope to learn to utilize better so that we can fit even more next year. And the stuff we grow is not only 100-percent organic, it's so natural that you might even call it “neglected.”

I want to plant some fruit trees to get our fruit needs met. Trees are tricky in Colorado. There were none on the plains, apart from cottonwoods near creeks and springs. And the mountains? Mostly evergreens. But there are some kinds of fruit trees that will grow on the Front Range with lots of TLC. I’m not an apple fan, so I won’t plant an apple tree. Boring. Right now I want sweet cherries, pears and plums. We’ll see how that works out.

And I want laying hens for the backyard, as well as a couple of beehives for honey. Fresh eggs every day? Our own honey? Sounds like paradise to me.

Yes, it's a lot of work, but when you grow it yourself you don't have to wonder what's on it or in it. And then you have a real reason to compost, which we already do. You can form your own happy little ecosystem.

There's a big "re-skilling" movement in our town. If you don't know how to can veggies or freeze food or quilt or sew or darn socks or whatever, you can take classes to learn to do these things yourself. It's kind of strange because my grandmothers could do all those things. My grandfather grew most of the food for his wife and six kids out of their backyard. But my generation — I'm a Gen-Xer — comes from parents that didn't do any of that. Have we lost these skills so quickly?

Urban homesteading feels so very Little House on the Prairie (except in the city), and I love it because I like thinking that we can be more self-sustaining. I don't like to shop much, and I do like good food. So it works out well.

I'd love to hear garden stories from any of you who have them.

Tonight I spent the better part of an hour harvesting arugula, swiss chard, spinach, romaine and mixed greens that I planted back when it was still snowing. Then I had to wash them leaf by bloody leaf. It took forever! And the funny thing is that, although we've been eating out of our garden almost every night, there's so much that it never looks like I harvested anything.

Of course, the pride and joy of this household is the rose garden, and it's about to go into high bloom. I can't wait to see it and smell it and share the photos with you all again. The winter was hard on the roses, and most died back to the ground. So the bushes are pretty tiny compared to some years. That's life in the Rockies.

I'm still on Chapter 7 of Breaking Point, but it will move forward quickly on Friday. Tomorrow marks the end of my workweek, and then back to fiction.

Have a good Thursday, everyone!
Friday, June 04, 2010

Product placement in books


OK, I’ll admit it. I lurk on Amazon. When I have time, I scroll through posts on the message boards to see what readers are talking about. Usually, it’s not me. D’oh!

But there are lots of really interesting topics that pop up on the Amazon discussion boards, and one of them was product placement in romance novels.

Product placement is the deliberate mention of a type of product in the story in exchange for money. It’s a sneaky form of advertising. The question on Amazon was whether authors get paid for using brand name products in their stories. A reader had noticed an author referring to a particular soft drink over and over and wondered if the author were getting paid for mentioning them.

I find this interesting because I loathe advertising. I absolute cannot stand the fact that there are ads everywhere I look — on Facebook, on the back of bathroom stall doors in public restrooms, even on the back of my grocery store receipts. Life is so commercialized that I don’t think we're even aware of the ways in which we are bombarded.

I wonder whether someone truly believes I’m going to be more likely to take yoga classes at their school when I learn about them while sitting on the toilet in a bathroom at a bar. Probably not...

In my books, I mention specific products in order to make the story feel real. To say that the heroine “drank a soda” falls flat for me. I want the taste of that soda on my tongue. Was it Pepsi? Coke? Mexican Coke (very popular here where I live)? Seven-up? Creme Soda? Zuberfizz Root Beer? Sprite? Mountain Dew?

Being specific brings color to writing. It helps the reader to see and feel the story.

When I have someone driving a car, I need to know what kind of car he or she is driving. Julian drives an unmarked Chevy Impala while on assignment in Naked Edge. Gabe just thinks of his truck as his “service vehicle” because he thinks in government employee jargon. I had Kara driving a Nissan Sentra because she was a single mother journalist and so was I and that’s what I drove.

I think mentioning specific brands when it feeds the senses makes sense in fiction. But I’ve never gotten paid for it. Except... Hmmm....

I mentioned South Side Cafe in Naked Edge, and I guess the owner, who's been feeding me almost daily for years, gave me a meal for that. But she writes off my breakfasts and lunches every so often anyway because she likes the work I do as a journalist. (FYI, South Side, as we call it, is directly across the street from the paper.) It’s more of a personal thing. I didn’t ask to be fed for free, and she didn’t ask me to put her restaurant in the book.

Okay, so apart from that, I’ve never had any form of remuneration for any product, person, place or thing that’s in one of my novels. Would I object if another author were paid? Probably not unless the product placement were so painfully obvious that it interfered with the story.

Sorry to have been gone so long again. I found out shortly after posting my last blog that much of the pain in my legs/back is due to a specific cause. I got MRI results back, and the doctor found “significant” spinal impingement in my cervical spine, i.e., my neck, both above and below the vertebra that was broken so long ago. The vertebra is in bad shape and the discs above and below it have slid into my spine.

The good news is that there may be hope. The bad news is this means major surgery. They cut through your throat... I'll stop there.

I might not be making it to RomCon after all, and I’m probably going to spend 12 weeks recuperating at home on unpaid medical leave. Because, really, who needs an income?

So I’ve been reeling from that and not feeling particularly chatty. I just hope that when they do the surgery it goes well and that it hasn’t been this way for so long that the nerve damage is permanent. I need to feel better.

I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get lots and lots and lots of writing done during my medical leave, because I don’t want another long wait between books.

I'm on Chapter 7 of Breaking Point, by the way, and moving at the speed of a glacier. Speaking of which, I need to get back to writing.

Have a great weekend!

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"I am an artist. I am here to live out loud."
—Emile Zola

"I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today. I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day."
—James Joyce

"Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery."
—Jane Austen

"Writers are those for whom writing is more difficult that it is for others."
—Ernest Hemingway

"When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth."
—Kurt Vonnegut

"The ability of writers to imagine what is not the self, to familiarize the strange and mystify the familiar is the test of their power."
—Toni Morrison

"No tears in the author, no tears in the reader."
—Robert Frost.

"I'm a writer. I give the truth scope."
—the character of Chaucer in
A Knight's Tale