Last week, I became exceedingly angry at one of my favorite talk show hosts, to the point where I phoned in and lifted my voice to the nice young woman who answered. I seldom call radio programs, but I was, as they say, about to bust a gusset. The reason? He kept referring to members of committees as “committeemen.” He did it over and over until I couldn’t contain myself.
Those of you who aren’t gray-haired old uppity women like me don’t remember the days before the female more-than-half of the species decided we ought to get the same respect and pay that men did. Back then, we had “doctors” and “lady doctors,” the second being a kind of oddity and not to be taken as seriously as the real thing. You may not have experienced the natural state of “man” back then, where virtually everything significant and remunerative was done by males. At that time, everyone on any important committee would have been male and the term “committeeman” would have been accurate. In short, you’ve never faced a world where women served as the Ladies’ Auxiliary of the human race. I have, and I have no intention of going back there. Ever.
So, why then did I describe my latest short from Changeling Press to my Romance Writers of America chapter with such glee as: A hard driving businesswoman meets a gladiator from another planet who has a problem with women in positions of authority? Shouldn’t a story about that set my hair on fire?
Well, yes and no. Yes if the hard driving businesswoman crumbles at his feet as though she were made of meringue. But, honestly, no one would want to read a story like that, anyway. We want to feel passion and fire…conflict, the engine that drives every good story. Still, in reality, wouldn’t such a woman tell him to take his attitude to someone who’d appreciate it and leave her the hell alone?
This leads us to the no part of the answer. A story where a powerful woman succumbs to the seduction of a more powerful man can provide a nice fantasy for a reader who would never allow a man to boss her around in real life. The story’s not real, and when you get right down to it, many of the things we enjoy in fiction would horrify us in real life.
As an author of erotic romance, I’ve written sexual interactions that I’d never consider performing, and I go back to the days of free love and “if it feels good, do it.” I’ve done threesomes, foursomes, exhibitionism, and bondage. I write a character Wonderslut, Avenger of the Non-Orgasmic. I had another character who hooked up with two perfect strangers to make love in their train compartment in complete darkness as the train traveled through a long tunnel. Delicious on the page but horrifying if not outright dangerous in real life.
The reason fiction works this way, I think — and it’s the same for television and movies — is that stories allow us to experience intense emotions in doses we can handle. Imagine finding a dead body among your roses and having the police suspect you while a real killer lurks somewhere in your village. Or try spending the night in a haunted mansion from which only one person has ever come out alive, and he’s become psychotic as a result. Picture yourself on the range, caught up in a blizzard so thick you can’t see your hand in front of your face, and you have to protect the cattle. What if you found yourself on the run from the KGB and the CIA. No one would willingly enter into situations like those, but put them in fiction and readers keep turning the pages.
The great writing teacher, Dwight Swain, used to say that the job of the writer was to create emotion in the reader. I’d add that the emotion should be at a level that simulates and excites but doesn’t overwhelm. The reader can experience situations and relationships in reading she would never seek out in real life, and everyone’s happy.
Of course, when all else fails, I turn to the wisdom of Mystery Science Theatre:
If you wonder what they eat and drink
And other science facts,
Just remember, it’s a story.
You should really just relax.
Here follow a blurb and excerpt from my latest Changeling release: Mirror, Mirror: Gladiator.
Salome Jones has been sent on a forced vacation by her overworked staff. Canticus has been exiled because he won’t play nice with the women administrators who oversee the games on his planet. When the two of them end up stuck in the same hotel suite, sparks fly. So do clothes and limbs. Can the two arrive at a solution that will allow them to continue their sexual explorations?
Tavoro Sands Resort: “A Feast for the Senses.”
“The senses” must mean sore muscles from struggling with luggage. You’d think a place that advertised luxury would have someone to take your bags up to your room.
After years of international business trips, Salome Jones had learned how to travel light, but this time, her staff had packed for her and presented her with the suitcases, the airline tickets, and an ultimatum… “Go on a vacation, or we all quit.” Who knew what they’d put in the bags? It all weighed a ton, and she’d had to drag it across the lobby and stuff it into the elevator on her own.
Said elevator continued its climb to the twenty-sixth floor. At least she’d have a good view of the ocean as she contemplated her navel. The gang had informed her, as well, that no business calls or e-mails would receive an answer. The company would putter along without her, and the rest of the staff would get something done for a change.
An insurrection. That’s what it was. With a huge IPO for the latest social media site next week, European sunshine futures on the line, and a time bomb on the Yen about to go off, her people had pulled the rug out from under her. She’d note the insubordination in all their performance appraisals the minute she got back. She’d do it now if they hadn’t taken her company cell phone away.
She crossed her arms and tapped her foot, but the elevator didn’t climb any faster. Instead, she only got an image of herself in the mirrored walls. That, in itself, was pretty weird. With all the sides catching reflections of all the other sides, she seemed caught in a kaleidoscope of herself. An impatient, red-headed woman with the beginnings of wrinkles at a too-young age. A bit on the thin side but tall enough to intimidate most women and a lot of men. Still dressed in the business suit she’d put on probably twenty-four hours before.
The climb to twenty-six slowed — slowed! — and then came to a complete stop. She went to push the buttons, but somehow, they’d disappeared. They’d been there before, and now nothing.
“Hello,” she shouted. “Can someone hear me?”
No answer. She was probably trapped between floors, but who could tell? She might as well be in a mirrored coffin.
“Hello!” She pounded her palms against the wall. “Help. I’m trapped.”
Well, damn. Some vacation. She’d take this out of Jeanne’s hide, and when she’d finished with her, she’d chew on Ted for a while. She’d kick Charlie into next Sunday. They worked for her, damn it. She never should have let them talk her into this fucking trip. “Hellooooooooo!”
One wall vanished — whoosh — showing the living room of a hotel suite. For a second, she jumped back at the shock, but she recovered quickly and reached out her hand to where the mirror had been. Her fingers met glass. There was still a barrier, just a transparent one. Maybe she could smash through it.
She bent to open one of her bags, searching for something to use as a battering ram. She didn’t find anything more lethal than a shoe, but she grabbed that and straightened. She jumped and dropped it at the new sight in the glass.
The image had changed again… the same living room, but now, a man stood just on the other side, staring at her as if she’d surprised him as much as he had her.
Huge and muscular and dressed in the costume of a Roman gladiator. Not exactly that, maybe, but a “skirt” of leather panels exposed his calves, knees, and firm, firm thighs. For armor, he wore a breastplate engraved with some royal crest, but his arms were bare except for golden bracelets that circled his biceps. Those seemed as firm as his legs, and marred here and there with scars. He’d taken some hits with swords or spears, but that did little to diminish his beauty. Gorgeous. A splendid male specimen.
When she finally got around to looking at his face, she found that as wild and appealing as the rest of him. A piercing blue gaze stared back at her with as much interest as she had in him. He wanted her, and her heart sped up at the knowledge. They had a connection that leaped through the glass barrier.
All the months of working twelve-hour days, seven days a week, took their effect. She hadn’t had sex since when? Maybe December when she’d allowed a stranger to take her in the file room during the company holiday party. Mindless and faceless, and hardly satisfying. Sex with this man wouldn’t be like that. Once loved by an animal like him, and you’d stay loved.
He seemed to sniff the air around him, like a huge cat, smelling his mate. Tawny, ragged hair nearly to his shoulders made him resemble a lion. He might start roaring any minute. If he did, she’d answer.
Somehow, he reached for her. The glass seemed to melt around his fingers as his hands went through. He grabbed her by the shoulders and pulled her back into the suite with him. The passage should have hurt, or at least, she should have felt something. Instead, she made an effortless transition from what had been an elevator and then a sort of cell.
Now fully in the room, she went directly into his embrace. Not that she’d had any choice in the matter as he tugged her roughly against him.
“Female,” he growled.
E-mail Alice: firstname.lastname@example.org