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Romance in the Time of Black Panther

6 Apr

Okoye and Nakia are done with the benefit of the doubt.

By Alexa Day

I missed you all last month. I’m not going to offer you any excuses. Let’s just say that a lot of things went off the rails at the same time, and that I would much rather have been here with you, and we can leave it at that.

My plan last month was to present you with a post about the phenomenon that is Black Panther. I was going to give you a thumbnail review — short version: IT IS INCREDIBLE — and then I was going to ask some hard questions about why traditional romance publishing can’t be bothered with compelling stories by black creators about black characters. Then, like I said, things went a little crazy and I wasn’t able to get to you last month.

As March went by, I thought I’d have to write a new post. I thought the post I had in mind would certainly be outdated by April.

And I’m wrong. As it happens, the thrust of my post is even more relevant today than it would have been last month.

Let’s begin with the good news.

Black Panther is incredible. Created by black people, featuring a predominantly black cast, and set firmly in the Marvel Universe, it presents an easily accessible story. You don’t need to know anything about superheroes to get into it. The sibling relationships speak to people with siblings. The female characters speak to women who don’t need to be rescued, who have to make a place for their identities in a world that’s constantly changing around them, who have relationships that challenge the traditions they might have grown up with. Things get blown up. Sterling K. Brown will make you cry. No film is perfect, but this one is mighty close.

The New York Times captures the importance of Black Panther’s success — and the essence of my joy surrounding it — in this article. Black Panther is a wildly successful story, featuring black characters, set largely in Africa, that is not about ‘black poverty, black pain, or black suffering,’ the ingredients that typically spell box office billions for movies with predominantly black casts. No slavery. No Jim Crow. No drug abuse. The closest we get to rap music is Klaue, one of the film’s two white characters. I haven’t even said anything about natural hair. Or representation for darker-skinned black women in these powerful, beautiful roles.

When I first wrote this post a month ago, Black Panther was closing in on $800 million dollars in international box office receipts. Today, it’s at $1.3 billion worldwide. It was released about six weeks ago.

People worldwide wanted this story. They loved it. They told their friends and went back for seconds.

At about this time, The Ripped Bodice released the 2017 results of its survey on diversity in romance publishing. This is the romance-only bookstore’s second year asking romance publishers how many of their releases were created by authors of color.

This year’s numbers are worse than last year’s. Last year’s numbers were not good. Here’s a highlight: the imprint with the highest number of romances produced by authors of color in 2017 was Crimson Romance with just over 29%, up from around 12% in 2016. Simon and Schuster shut the imprint down without fanfare within days of the report’s release.

The news gets worse.

In the month since I wrote the first version of this column, Romance Writers of America announced the finalists for the RITA award, which recognizes excellence in romance fiction. RWA noted that there were no black finalists this year. RWA further noted that no black author has ever won the award. The organization recognizes this as a serious problem. I do, too, but I think of it as a symptom of an even larger problem.

I’m damned impressed by the phenomenon that is Black Panther. Don’t get me wrong. But black creators have been producing stories with black characters for decades. Stories that don’t center on poverty, slavery, racism and pain. Stories with loving family relationships and with families facing the same kind of troubles families face all over the world. Stories with heroines who don’t need to be rescued. Women who find love while saving the world or just handling their business or looking the other way.

These stories are everywhere. Sure, some publishers are hiding them (yeah, I said it) in their own separate lines and imprints where readers of other races will have trouble locating them. But they do exist. Indeed, The Ripped Bodice can’t keep some of them on the shelves — some of their best-selling books are romances by black authors.

So if the stories exist, and they are selling, what’s the problem?

Perhaps romance publishing is fully aware of what Black Panther is doing for Hollywood (i.e., stuffing everyone’s pockets full of money) and does not want to risk that happening for them. That seems an odd business model, but hey, I’m just a writer.

Alternately, romance publishing thinks that you, the reader who pays the bills at romance publishing, are too racist to read those books. I do not believe that is true for most of you. I know that describes some people with photographic perfection, but I don’t think that’s most readers.

The obvious answer, of course, is that romance publishing itself is so racist that they will deny access to black authors and will resort to any available excuse to avoid giving black authors access to the marketplace. I will not address this issue further here. I will instead refer you to The Ripped Bodice’s Twitter account. The proprietresses are calling publishers to account for their embarrassing numbers, and I will allow them to speak for themselves.

Not all superheroes wear capes.

Let us proceed with the presumption that you, the non-black reader, want to address the problem black romance authors are facing. What can you do?

Start by finding some books.

So where do you find romances by black authors? A couple of easy answers come to mind. First, find a black author. You already know me, and everyone knows Beverly Jenkins, and this is probably the last time you’ll ever see the two of us in the same sentence because I’m not worthy. But if you’re wondering who else is out there, well, can I introduce you to Google? When I wanted to know where the nearest auto parts store was, I went to Google for answers. When I wanted to know if my cat would eat me if she were large enough to do so, I went to Google for answers. (She would.) Try Google. Just put in ‘black romance authors.’

I don’t want to fall into the very, very popular trap of making Beverly Jenkins the first and last stop in the world of black romance, and you should avoid that trap, too. Go see WOCinRomance.  There are more black romances than you can shake a stick at, and it’s run by a black author, Rebekah Witherspoon. Joyfully Reviewed presents another list of authors of color, complete with Twitter links. So you have a lot of black authors, and an extensive reading list.

Now you have to actually read the books. I wrote about this before. It is not enough for you to spend the money and then pat yourself on the back.

Well … what are the books going to be … about? This is an easy question. I’m glad you brought it to me because I like you all, and I want to make sure you hear this the right way.

The black author’s romance is going to be a romance novel. It will be about the same things any other romance would be about. My friends-to-lovers romance, Illicit Impulse, is at its core much like any other friends-to-lovers romance. There’s another dude in it, and a sex pill, but the center of it is two people wondering if it would be weird to sleep with each other. (Little plug: If you’re interested in Illicit Impulse, you should click that link today. It will be out of print in a few weeks when its publisher closes its doors.)

The sports romances are sports romances. The paranormals are paranormals. The snozzberries taste like snozzberries.

Honey, you’re not going to catch anything from a black author’s romance novel. Find one you think is interesting and read it. If you cannot find a single book on WOCinRomance that you think is interesting, you may be a bigger part of the problem than you realize.

How did you find the last book you read? Word of mouth? Amazon also-boughts? A trusted, romance-only bookstore’s list of bestsellers? This really is the same process.

I’m not trying to be small.

Look, when I was a girl taking the stagecoach to school, I learned very quickly that if I wanted to read about kids having adventures, rescuing racehorses, traveling into the frontier, exploring space, or living in the world outside my small hometown, that meant reading outside my race. I say “kids” because in the era of the stagecoach, it was hard to find books about girls, let alone black girls like me. So while I’ve been reading outside my race forever, I recognize that this was not a requirement for everyone. Let’s be frank. If you’re white, you may have gotten all your fictional needs met without having to read outside your race. You didn’t have to build that habit as a kid, and all habits are harder to build as an adult.

I know it’s hard. Start building now. Ask questions. If people are perhaps a little sharp with you when they answer, ask someone else. But don’t stop reading. Don’t stop discovering.

Twitter has had a lot to say about race and romance in the last few days. I want to leave you with this tweet from a completely different discussion. It’s from a librarian, about one of her young patrons.

Doesn’t that make you tear up, the thought of a girl learning that there are shelves and shelves of new books to discover?

That magical, hand-on-heart, oh-my-gosh feeling is here for you, too. I promise.

Google. Go to WOCinRomance. Hit Joyfully Reviewed’s Twitter list. Enjoy that moment of joy as all those covers appear in front of you.

Then get to reading.

The world is waiting. Climb inside.

Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

Facebook’s New Teacher: The Porn Industry

4 Dec

By Elizabeth Shore

Love it, hate it, or fall somewhere in between, the impact Facebook has had on the landscape of social media is undeniable. Since Facebook launched back in 2004, the world has become smaller, more accessible, and certainly less private than it ever was before. We can connect with old friends, old classmates, even stay in touch with family without having to actually visit them. It’s great!

Facebook has also been used in ways not so good, and the rise of revenge porn is among the worst. Having intimate images of yourself splattered all over the digital landscape by a pissed off ex can be done in seconds with the click of a mouse. The devastating effects can last a lifetime.

Ever wanting to be the goodguy, last spring Facebook launched a feature that allows users a means for reporting the posting of unauthorized images, and the opportunity to have those images taken down and perhaps even shutting down the  account of the poster.

That’s all well and fine, except that it’s a reactive solution. Before a victim can do anything, the image has to be out there for the world to see. Once she (and yes, it’s primarily women who are the targets of revenge porn) learns that the image has been posted, she can spring into action and fill out a report to Facebook asking them to take the image down. That’s assuming she even becomes aware of it at all.

Seems to me (and millions of others) that it would be a lot better if there were a way to prevent the image from being uploaded in the first place. amiright? Oh, but wait! Facebook thinks it has the answer to that, too, and it’s being test-piloted in Australia. Here’s how it works: let’s say you’ve got a nude picture of yourself that you know you’d shared with your ex back when you and he were an item. Now that you’ve moved to splitsville and he’s madder than Donald Trump getting bad publicity, there’s a good chance your former flame might want to get his jollies off by plastering that nude pic of you on his Facebook feed. What to do? As mentioned above, you can use Facebook’s “report” feature to address the problem. But now – at least for folks in Australia – you can do one better. Instead of waiting for your ex to upload the nude pic, you can upload it yourself – to Facebook!

Sadly, I’m not making this up. Once Facebook receives your photo, one of their “specially trained employees”  – unclear what exactly they’ve been specially trained to do – will review the image. That’s right. Your nude photo is now in the hands of Facebook’s employees. From there this nude-reviewing expert will “hash” the photo, i.e., convert it into a series of digital numbers which can then be blocked on Facebook’s platforms if someone tries uploading that photo.

Soooo….ah, Facebook. I have questions. Why exactly must a “specially trained employee,” (read: real person), review the photo at all? If someone doesn’t want a private image posted, shouldn’t that be all the information you need? Wouldn’t it make more sense for Facebook users to upload the image to some sort of hash program themselves and have the image automatically converted without anyone needing to first see it?

Does the specially trained employee ever decide that a private image shouldn’t be blocked? On what basis would such a determination be made? Do users have no recourse if their request to hash an image is denied? And about that specially trained employee…how do we know for sure that he wouldn’t secretly stockpile the images himself? What if a woman concerned about revenge porn knows that her ex works at Facebook. It could happen. There are over 17,000 of you folks, after all. Lastly, what if you get hacked, Facebook? What happens to that bounty of nude photos?

I’m not faulting Facebook for trying to address the very serious issue of revenge porn. In fact, I applaud them. At least it’s a start. But to truly make headway into providing real solutions for users, Facebook might want to take a lesson from the porn industry.

Revenge porn is all about the lack of consent. Images being uploaded without the victim’s permission. In the adult entertainment industry, every single performer must sign a “model release” before any image or video is distributed. Why couldn’t Facebook do the same? As writer and assistant professor Amy Hasinoff states in her excellent article about this situation, with the giant force of technology experts on its payroll, surely Facebook could come up with a method for us to provide our consent before private images of us are uploaded to the world. Take a lesson from the porn industry, Facebook. Because all you’re giving us now is the ability to report a violation after it occurs. That’s not good enough.

Elizabeth Shore writes contemporary and historical erotic romance. She’s the author of Hot Bayou Nights, Desire Rising, The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires and (as Liz Madison) Season of Splendor and With His Promise. Her next release, Hot Bayou Fire, the second in the Bayou series, will be out in 2018. Release date announced as soon as it’s known. 

 

 

 

How I Married the Rock Star

1 Dec

 

By Alexa Day

In 1992, I married a rock star. Did you know?

I’m sure some people thought I was one of his phases. That was a big part of his career, the transition from one part of his identity to another. I’m sure people thought this was like that. Something new for him to try out.

How many times have you heard that one, right? I’ve always wanted to try one.

But this wasn’t like that at all. The man the world knew as a rock star was very different at home. When we were together, we didn’t have to wear the faces we presented to the world outside. We were just … us. Just the two of us, boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife, father and mother. Just us.

Our 25-year relationship might be the most vanilla thing he had ever done. But he made it extraordinary.

Fifteen days ago, I married a millionaire. Did you know?

When we started seeing each other, I didn’t know about Reddit, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t follow tennis. I wasn’t so sure about him at first. We spent a lot of time together, just hanging out. Six hours wandering around Paris. The rest grew out of that.

I wore three dresses at the wedding, starting off with a beautiful ball gown. It came with a cape. The sort of thing girls dream of wearing. Something that would let them be superheroes and princesses at the same time.

He called me a queen. He said his whole life had led him to me.

In the end, we were swept away on carousel horses.

Next spring, I’m going to marry a prince. Did you know?

How do you meet a prince? Through a well-connected friend. The same way lots of women meet princes. The same way they meet us, if they’re lucky.

His family doesn’t do things small. Spectacle might well be a shared middle name. But he and his brother know that all the opulence in the world can’t save a failing marriage, and the two of them know what makes a relationship work. More importantly, they care about what makes a relationship work. We were actually making dinner when he proposed. The prince and I. Making dinner.

The wedding’s going to be enormous. A word can’t capture how enormous it’s going to be.

After that, though, I think we go right back to being a couple living in the public eye, using the attention to do good for others, and enjoying dinners at home.

I remember the first time I heard I wasn’t beautiful.

I remember the first time someone let me know I wasn’t special.

I remember the first time I was told I’d never get married unless I shrank some part of myself and made myself small. I was too much. Too smart. Too talented. Too plain-spoken. Who would want that, after all? Who did I think I was?

I’m not the only one. You have friends — a lot of friends, I promise — who had exactly the same experience. If you’re good friends, she might tell you who let her in on these essential truths. She might tell you who made sure she knew she was so undesirable. She might not tell you. She might not ever tell anyone because she still feels a little silly for thinking she was beautiful and smart and capable and good enough and wonderful, just as she was.

The truth became a pericardium of stone. Protective at first for a little girl, or so everyone says when they realize there isn’t really an excuse for telling a little girl she isn’t beautiful. No one says that the stony wall will stifle a woman’s heart as she grows and the barrier doesn’t. That kind of a warning might lead her to think that the wall is unnecessary, and that really would be a problem. She has to live with the truth of her smallness and inadequacy, the reality that she is not beautiful, in a world wallpapered with cartoons that depict her as a man or an ape wearing a dress, where the only literature about her glorifies her for the depth and nobility of her endless suffering.

We’re not supposed to marry rock stars and millionaires.

We’re not supposed to wear glittering ball gowns with bejeweled capes.

We are certainly not supposed to face all the ways our lives will change when we join a royal family.

We’re supposed to live with the truth. Someone told us so, and they wouldn’t have sealed our hearts up with words like “not beautiful” and “not special” and “who do you think you are” if there were no truth to these words.

So it matters when someone tells any one of us that love is very different from the tomb we are taught it is.

It matters when he makes his way under or around or through the wall, like it doesn’t exist. It matters when he shows us a way under or around or through the wall.

It matters when he says, “Of course you’re beautiful! Who said that foolishness?!”

Or when he says he couldn’t sleep before your first date, like the rock star did.

Or when he says your life together is a fairy tale, like the millionaire did.

Or when he says he knew you were his match immediately upon being introduced, like the prince did.

When something like that happens to one of us, or three of us, or more of us, it happens to all of us, just like it’s happened to me.

So we all married the rock star and the millionaire, and next May, our family trees will reach up from slavery into the British royal family.

Maybe it shouldn’t be amazing, but it is.

So enjoy the spotlight. Revel in the magic.

And don’t forget to bring a little girl with you.

Follow Lady Smut.

Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

 

Whiny, Pathetic Losers Who Can’t Get Laid – And Why You Should Know About Them

13 Nov

By Elizabeth Shore

Remember right around this time last year when many of us were more than ready to kick the hot mess of 2016 to the curb? Don’t blink, but we’re now practically through 2017. While this year has had its share of crap, there’s positive momentum as we’re heading into the home stretch. It’s empowering and showing no signs of slowing down, and I for one am completely pumped. How ’bout you?

Let’s review. After the paralyzing shock of having a misogynistic, narciscisstic man baby elected president had subsided enough for rational thought to emerge, women roared to action. March on Washington 2017 in January saw millions-millions!– participating across the globe. Take that, you disgusting, self-professing, I-grab-women-by-the-p**ssies jerk. It was a good start. And we’re headed toward a strong finish. Women in 2017 decided their crap meter had reached its limit. A few brave souls spoke up, and then more, and then the tsunami wave began. Now it seems like every time we turn around there’s another male celebrity being exposed (as many of these cretins were wont to do toward their victims) as sex offenders. And that’s a very good thing.

Except, not everyone thinks so. Enter, the incels.

Incel is a portmanteau of involuntary and celibate. Incels are frustrated dickheads whose interaction with women has been so horrendously unsuccessful that it’s resulted in them never getting laid. Not surprisingly, they don’t like that. It’s made them angry. Very, very angry. Like any really pissed-off group of people, they come together to vent their frustrations. In the case of the incels, to rue the day they ever met a woman. After much gnashing of teeth and spewing of venom, their unified conclusion to deal with the double X chromosomes also known as woman is to encourage violence against them.

These sad sacks used to gather virtually in the subreddit r/Incels, but recently Reddit announced, as part of their policy to ban content that “encourages, glorifies, incites or calls for violence or physical harm against an individual or group of people,” that they were shutting down the incels’ subreddit. Incels can gather there no more. Good on ya, Reddit! Alas, there are plenty of alternate options. Widespread misogyny on the internet is alive and well. But it’s a start.

Odious incels love to cry like babies at how horribly women have treated them, never for one milligram of a second acknowledging that maybe their creepy disgusting behavior has a little something something to do with whatever shunning they’ve received. The thing about incels is that they’re not just a forum of lonely hearts. Oh, no. In the incels’ simplistic world view, their lack of sex has nothing to do with them and everything to do with women. It’s 100%, entirely, wholly those vile women who’ve caused these men to involuntarily have no sex. Because, I guess, if it weren’t for women they’d be having lots of sex…with women? Who they hate? Or…?

A part of me – while not feeling sorry for these creeps – does try to understand where the anger is coming from. Identifying the motivation behind someone’s behavior can be enormously helpful in trying to address the problem, right? So it’s a pretty safe bet that the numerous rejections from women that incels have received eventually pushed them over to the dark side. No guy wants to be emasculated. It’s the rawest form of humility for a man. So rejection from a woman, the “weaker” sex, can strip down their very maleness and turn them into stark raving, violence-promoting, scary wackos. That’s why you should know about them.

One thing the revolting incels seem to have conveniently forgotten is the shit-ass treatment that women have received from men ever since the f**king beginning of time. Rape and bullying and violence and unfair treatment from men toward women for no other reason than because of their sex. Not because women have “done” something that in their twisted minds justifies shitting on them. No no. Men have simply been brutally horrific toward women because they can be.

What do we do? We stand up and fight. We speak up. We create a movement (hello #metoo). And if we’re romance writers, we still in our minds think up beautiful, wonderful stories about the awesome relationships that can be had between the sexes. We conjur up our dream men. Men who are kind and thoughtful and supportive and generous. Oh, and super scorching hot.

So incels, how about a challenge? Why don’t you start your own romance novels? Why don’t you dream up a woman you’d love to be with and write a story about it. A story in which you’re not rejected and in which, after a few bumps along the way (cause it’s not really a very fun story without a conflict to resolve), you work together, as partners, to form a relationship. You have hot amazing sex. You share laughs. You support each other. And you always end up happy at the end.

This whole girl power thing has worked pretty well for us. I dare you to give it a try. If you’re man enough.

Elizabeth Shore writes contemporary and historical erotic romance novels. Find her on Twitter, Facebook or her website. Her next release will be Hot Bayou Fire, the second of her steamy, sultry series after Hot Bayou Nights set in the Louisiana bayou. Look for it in 2018. Release date announced here as soon as it’s known! 

 

 

Don’t Call Me Darlin’

3 Nov

By Alexa Day

Darlin’.

It’s a popular term of endearment in Romancelandia.

I hate it.

The word darlin’ inspires in me the same disgust many people experience upon hearing the word moist. If I had to choose between the two of them (and please don’t make me do that), I might actually choose moist. I hate darlin’ just that much.

I’m not totally against pet names and such. Honey and sweetheart always sound condescending to me; perhaps this new Age of Sarcasm has sucked the sugar out of them. Speaking of which, I could be sold on Sugar, under the right conditions. I’d pick babe instead of baby. I like the idea of the secret nicknames that my special friend(s) and I might choose for each other. Hell, I wrote a short story in which the cowboy hero called the birthday girl Sugar Tits. Perhaps a bit coarse for some people’s tastes, but the heroine didn’t mind it one little bit.

Sugar Tits, coming from the right mouth with the right intent, would sound like music. Hot, sexy music. The kind a woman tells stories about later. Darlin’ lacks that potential.

But why?

Maybe it’s the newish trend of assigning cutesy-boo nicknames to things that once bore more straightforward nomenclature. Ghosting and submarining, for example, refer to specific classes of behavior that we used to call fuckwittage, or simply being an ass, back in my day. (For those unfamiliar, ghosting is when someone disappears in the middle of an established pattern of communication, forming in the early stages of courtship. Submarining is when the ghost suddenly reappears as if he had not been an ass in the first place.) I guess a single girl is more likely to read advice about how to handle submarining than she is to seek insight about what to do when a man is being an ass. No one wants to feel responsible for communicating with an ass. Still, calling it submarining or ghosting or whatever makes this fuckwittage sound like normal, acceptable behavior.

Darlin’ strikes a nearby nerve. It sounds like baby talk to me. Something women think men say. Something a little phony. The kind of thing a man calls a woman when he doesn’t remember her name. My knee-jerk reaction upon reading it is to wonder what led this man to call this woman darlin’. Where did he hear it? Isn’t it straight out of country songs and black-and-white movies?

As I was taking my notes for this part of the post, I thought of my esteemed colleague, award-winning author Kiersten Hallie Krum. In my mind’s eye, I could see her smiling and shaking her head. In my mind’s eye, Kiersten called bullshit.

If Jason Isaacs called you darlin’ just one time, Kiersten said, I bet you would abandon this line of complaints forever.

She’s not wrong. Two weeks ago, I did a giddy little dance while throwing six dollars plus a generous tip at my television. (That’ll make more sense if you click here.)

There’s also a rumor that looking directly into Jason’s eyes renders one susceptible to suggestion. So I suppose that if we were looking right at each other, I would not be inclined to make much fuss over darlin’. I’d prefer Sugar Tits, but it should be noted that no one has asked about my preferences in that regard, least of all Jason himself.

This is an exceptional case, though. It matters, but it doesn’t alter the general rule.

Don’t call me darlin’. Or Sugar Tits, just to be safe. Maybe avoid honey and sweetheart. The sound of my own name, on a familiar tongue, is endearing enough.

For now.

Follow Lady Smut.

Curious about that Sugar Tits story? Well, signing up for my newsletter is the only way to learn how a woman goes looking for a mechanical bull and ends up finding a hot cowboy. Click here for that win-win story and the fast track to news about my new releases, free reads, and other exclusive content. See you there, darlin’.

Beta Me, Baby

26 Jun

by Kiersten Hallie Krum

By now, pretty much everyone on the planet with the slightest connection to me knows of my mad love for Wonder Woman the movie and Wonder Woman in general. Loud and proud, baby. Loud and proud.

 

The film has stuck with me for weeks. I saw it a second time with a friend for whom it was a first-time viewing, and found even more to love about it. Those Amazons. Strewth.

 

I’m currently caught on the marvel (heh) that is Steve Trevor, the beta male. Amongst all the awesome female kick-assedness of the film, Steve Trevor is not so quietly being equally awesome. I touched on this a bit in my blog about the movie.

Because Steve respects her and he is absolutely not at any moment ever made to feel less of a man by her or because of her. He also doesn’t hesitate to follow her, to have her back while acknowledging her leadership. Nor does he think she’s less due to her gender. He doesn’t have to make her little to feel big. There’s no proving to be done by either one of them. She has her part and he has his and they both go to do them, no matter the personal cost. They are fully partners. When Steve fights with the Amazons on the beach, he doesn’t try to protect them or underestimate them. He immediately assesses their skill and fights side by side with them. More, he learns from them and proves this later in the movie when he copies an Amazon move in order to help Diana during another battle, sure she’ll instantly know what he means because he’s aware of her skill and training and more, confident she can carry it out to fruition. And he loves her, fast and sure as happens in such movies, but he doesn’t love her expecting her to change or become someone else or to set aside what she believes in or must do because of that love. He loves her for who she is, and makes him better, makes him want to be better.

Any cursory scan of my blogging history shows my affinity for the alpha male, at least in print and TV/films. In real-life, I can put up with that bossy, tough guy BS for about half a second before the guy has to show me something more. A guy can be masculine and manly and not be a jackhole about it, alpha or no. And this, I’m begging to believe, is the core of the beta hero, of which Steve Trevor may be the perfect example.

You lead, I’ll follow

I texted with my best friend about Steve Trevor this week.

Her: I dig the beta hero, so I’m biased.

Me: A lot of women do and if they were all like Steve Trevor, I’d definitely go there. I think he’s a mix of  both [alpha and beta]. Goes to show that beta doesn’t automatically mean weak or not a leader of men.

Her: He’s absolutely both and definitely a good example of someone willing to share the load. Smart enough to take the reigns and give them back as the situation changes. He doesn’t constantly have to prove himself. And I think the beta part comes through in that he doesn’t try to change everyone’s opinions of [Diana]. He tries to keep her somewhat within the social boundaries so they can be effective (not because he feels those boundaries are good) but lets her prove her own worth to others. So, not take-charge in that way, but sexy because he knows it’s unnecessary.

My bestie is one super smart lady.

With Steve Trevor on the brain, I paid more attention to Mon-el in the TV show Supergirl.

Chris Wood as Mike/Mon-El and Melissa Benoist as Kara/Supergirl Photo: Robert Falconer/The CW 2017 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

I’m not a fan of Supergirl, or, more accurately, I don’t want to be a fan of Supergirl. I really don’t want to like this show for Reasons. Yet I find myself absently watching it, usually reruns and usually around 7 AM on weekdays when I’m doing my FitBit and lifting free weights and need the distraction. But Supergirl is girlie and feminist, empowering and a little campy. And in season two, it introduce a perfect beta male.

Mon-el starts out as a self-serving boy toy who isn’t so much interested in using his powers for good as is for using his powers to score. But as the season progresses (I’m guessing here a bit; I haven’t seen most of the season, only the first three and the back nine episodes. Don’t want to like it, remember?). Anyway, as the season progresses, and he and Kara, aka Supergirl, fall in love, he becomes less a dude bro and more the perfect beta male and partner for his super-powered woman.

Ah. Young, superpowered love.

Mon-el is not left with no role to play. His powers are different than Kara’s and so how he can help in their missions differs too. But he’s learning from her all the time, much like Steve Trevor learns from Diana and the Amazons. At the end of the season, again like Steve Trevor, Mon-el sacrifices himself and his and Kara’s happiness in order to save the world. Literally. He does this because he’s learned this kind of sacrificial service from Kara. And, again like Steve Trevor, he knows in making that sacrifice that he’s leaving the more powerful person behind to carry on.

I’m not of the belief that only beta males can be this layered and complex, this manly and yet not the primary in all things. Dyson of the Lost Girl series is unabashedly (and literally) an alpha wolf (and, admittedly, occasionally a bit of an emotional dumb ass). As he falls for the succubus Bo and as, episode by episode, they become partners in crime solving, he defers to her when the situation warrants it, none of which makes him any less alpha be it wolf or man. They save each other, time and again, not because one or the other is weak or incapable, but because they each have their own strengths and often, Bo’s is the greater one in the situation. (At least in season one. I’m still trying to ignore most of season two, all of season three, when the man-hating began in earnest, and the majority of seasons five and six.)

Above all, these “beta’ males are not de-fanged of their masculinity because of a powerful woman. Powerful in their own rights, be it as a super-powered alien from another planet or as a superior leader of men, a truly heroic person, who is as human as the guy next to him, or an outright alpha male who isn’t a bully or a jackhole, when partnered with a woman vastly more powerful than they are in physical capabilities, they are not made lesser–they do not feel lesser–which is super sexy.

We need more of these complex, empowered, layered, kinds of men in fiction today, because there are, I’m convinced, far many of them in real-life than media would lead us to believe. In which case, beta me, baby. Beta me.

Do you have a favorite book or TV beta boyfriend? Give him a shout out in the comments.

Now available exclusively from Kindle. Click image to buy!

Follow Lady Smut and sign up for our newsletter so you never miss the sexy. Alpha, beta, or gamma–we take all comers.

Writer, singer, editor, traveler, tequila drinker, and cat herder, Kiersten Hallie Krum avoids pen names since keeping her multiple personalities straight is hard enough work. She writes smart, sharp, and sexy romantic suspense. Her debut romantic suspense novel, WILD ON THE ROCKS, is a finalist for InD’Tale Magazine’s prestigious RONE award! Visit her website at www.kierstenkrum.com and find her regularly over sharing on various social media via @kierstenkrum.

 

For Love and Money: On Paying for Companionship

20 Jun

It’s not always about the Benjamins.

By Alexa Day

Making the rounds in my corner of social media is the story of Heidy Pandora, a 24-year-old who says she is a full-time traveler. After her first trip to Mexico, she discovered she loved seeing different parts of the world. But travel is expensive. In fact, the hefty price tags kept Heidy from exploring the world as much as she wanted to.

Then she found MissTravel.com, a website for travel dating. In other words, Miss Travel connects people interested in journeying to a specific destination. Women can participate on MissTravel for free. Members propose a trip, connect with someone else interested in visiting the chosen locale, and then arrange to travel together or meet up at the destination.

Heidy says up front that she has sex with some but not all of her travel companions, and that some of them are married. She says she prefers the married guys because they’re less likely to become emotionally attached. She’s about getting stamps in her passport, not a ring on her finger.

She’s also serious about not paying to travel with the guys she meets online. MissTravel requires members to upload a photo (something all dating sites should do, in my opinion), and it allows members to state a preference not to pay for trips.

It bears mentioning that site founder Brandon Wade is also the founder and CEO of SeekingArrangement.com. SeekingArrangement, geared toward sugar babies and the folks who support them, touts something called Mutually Beneficial Arrangements. The fact that they’ve trademarked the phrase basically sums up the nature of the site.

The headline for Heidy’s story calls her a sugar baby. I’m not sure that’s a fair characterization. Heidy is meeting up with people who will pay to travel with her, with the possibility of sex along the way. For her, the travel is the point. For the sugar baby, it’s all about the money. Money flows directly to the sugar baby, and so far as I can tell, the sugar baby’s relationship is far more likely to be sexual.

The concept of sex as currency makes a lot of people uncomfortable, but women have been exchanging sex for things of value as long as there have been women and things of value. If we want to be cynical about it (and I do, thanks for asking), we might describe much of the history of marriage as the exchange of sex for things of value. I think it’s just uncomfortable for people to be confronted by it. We might all be happier if the sugar babies and paid travel companions were plying their trade quietly, where we can’t see it, instead of in social media. At the same time, there’s a reason — perhaps an ugly reason — that billionaire romances were doing so well until the events of last winter.

I’d tell you to hop on the Maestra bandwagon, but no way these folks use a bandwagon. Click to buy.

Heidy’s story reminds me of Maestra, a novel Elizabeth Shore recommended not long ago. Heroine Judith Rashleigh enters a world of paid companionship and finds herself very much at home, even when she’s on the run, among wealthy people who sweep her up into their world. Judith just has to know her place and do as she’s told, and off she goes from one exotic locale to the next, gathering cash along the way. But Judith is capable of much more than her comrades know. The inner play of her emotions and her motivations, sometimes quite at odds with her outward appearance, makes for fascinating reading.

(By the way, two of us at Lady Smut have now granted their imprimatur to Maestra. If you grab it now, you’ll be ready for the sequel, Domina, when it comes out next month.)

But what to make of the paid companion and her somewhat seedier sister, the sugar baby? I had a difficult time coming to my usual position, to let a girl do what she wants as long as she’s chosen to do it and isn’t hurting anyone. Heidy’s been to 20 countries in three years. A high percentage of sugar babies are leaving college debt free, a thought that makes this attorney whimper wistfully. And even we call this prostitution, as some sugar babies do, the feminist in me says that if a woman owns her body, she should be free to sell it.

Still, something about this makes me uncomfortable.

For the right woman, clearly, arrangements work.

But how does the wrong woman discover that’s she’s not cut out for the world of pay for play?

Follow Lady Smut. We’ll keep it casual.

Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

 

Loving, Fiercely: Fifty Short Years

13 Jun

I bow to the Loving Project, both for this image and for their spectacular coverage of Loving Day 50.

By Alexa Day

Yesterday, June 12, 2017, was the fiftieth anniversary of the United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia, which made interracial marriage legal across the country. Loads of adorable interracial couples took to the Internet yesterday to thank Richard and Mildred Loving for their determination to defend their marriage against long-standing state law. This super-cute gallery is from last year, but couples turn up every year to smooch and be thankful.

Every year, someone asks me the same question.

“Alexa, are people still opposed to interracial marriage? After all this time, is that still a thing?”

In fairness, I have not heard that question yet this year. Maybe current events are answering the dubious for me. Nothing like hearing that some specimen left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture to convince a person that yes, Virginia, people do still have an issue with racial equality.

But I’m going to approach this question squarely and honestly, by asking all of you to approach this question squarely and honestly. Take an objective look at the world around you.

Consider that 33 years after the Loving decision, Alabama finally got around to taking their anti-miscegenation law off the books. Consider that somewhere out there, someone’s first thought was that if the law was invalid anyway, why shouldn’t it hang out on the books for 33 years?

Consider that in 2009, there was a justice of the peace who would take the time to determine if a couple was interracial before refusing to marry them. In 2009. You might recall that the President of the United States at that time was the product of an interracial marriage.

And consider the many, many people who still endure hostile stares, snide remarks, ignorant questions, longstanding arguments with their families, and the occasional bold stranger who demands to know why they’ve chosen to marry outside their race. This will seem odd in a world where Richonne and a black Bachelorette and the golden days of Scandal are fresh in people’s minds. But in the real world, out there on the sidewalk with you, someone’s mom is being mistaken for the nanny. This happens all over the world, every day. Hip hop artist Eve, athletic goddess Serena Williams, and Prince Harry’s honey Meghan Markle have all had to take questions about the intersection of their racial identities and their love lives, and I promise that if it is happening to the three of them in the public eye, someone you know is having to deal with nastier questions.

So how do we fight this?

How a man looks at his wife is one thing. How he looks at the camera is quite another.

Take a lesson from Richard Loving. This is my favorite photo of him, with his arm around his wife. Mildred is smiling at someone off to our right, perhaps in the middle of a cheerful conversation about something other than being at the center of this court case.

Richard is looking right at us. His is the face of a man who knows his job is to keep his wife smiling, who takes his job very seriously, and who dares a nation of lookie-loos to make something of it.

Tell the Court I love my wife.

Or, if you’ll let me put frank language into his mouth: Fuck you. We’re happy.

How do we beat bigotry?

Choose happiness. Do it consistently, especially when people seem determined to make trouble. I can tell you from experience that this is harder than it sounds. One can only hear ignorant questions about what the sex is like or what everyone’s parents think so many times before wanting to flip out.

But today, we are much closer to a world where no one takes issue with marriage equality because of two ordinary people who wouldn’t back down. The least we can do is follow their example.

Love fiercely, my friends. And follow Lady Smut.

Speaking of loving fiercely, esteemed colleague Elizabeth SaFleur has a new release this week. Lucky is about a different sort of opposites attracted to each other, but my guess is that you can count on more BDSM in Lucky than in the average Supreme Court opinion. Click to score your copy of this super hot book about two people accustomed to getting what they want.

Click and go get it!

Billionaire, entertainment investor and resolute bachelor Derek Damon Wright and dance studio owner Samantha Rose are unprepared for their mutual attraction to one another. She desperately wants to have a baby, and family doesn’t match Derek’s sophisticated life of private jets, vacations in the Caribbean and his BDSM activities. Yet a magnetic passion draws them closer—at least until their past mistakes arise and threaten all hope of a real future.

All of the Above: Can Romance Play the Field?

6 Jun

What’s wrong with this picture? Not a damned thing.

By Alexa Day

I’m reading a book right now in which the heroine enjoys the abundant sexual charms of three partners. My guess is that she’ll eventually choose one of them — the cover for the next book in the series features two guys instead of three. But right now, she’s making no move to settle down.

The book is Taking Turns by J.A. Huss, and the heroine has an agreement with the three men. There are a number of stipulations, but once I heard that their arrangement basically entailed their putting her up in a nice apartment to take turns sleeping with her, I knew this was a story I needed to have.

It is romance’s most binding promise: the heroine will win, every time.

We can be sure that at the end of the story, she will be in a good place in her relationship, whatever that might look like. Maybe she’s getting ready to settle down with one guy. Maybe she’s establishing a relationship with a couple of guys (or more) in a relationship unit. I don’t object to that. Not really.

But this week, a troubling question tugged at my imagination.

Is the heroine winning big enough?

Put another way, why choose? Whatever happened to D: all of the above?

The modern romance heroine is a smart, successful, attractive woman. In the 21st century, a woman like that could — and honestly, ought to — have her choice of men. Indeed, more than one man would certainly be interested in her. But the modern romance heroine has less reason to settle down than ever. She’s at the top of her game, and she probably knows it. Why should she ever limit herself?

Even if she ultimately decides to choose one partner, why shouldn’t she take full advantage of what men have to offer first?

Chella is LIVING THE DREAM. Click to get some of that good stuff for yourself.

It’s important to note that this is neither menage nor polyamory. Both menage and polyamory involve multiple partners, yes. But in both situations, the men are aware of each other and have consented to share. They’re in a unit. Choosing menage or polyamory is settling down.

I’m talking about playing the field, in all its springtime glory, for as long as men will permit it. I’ve written it before. The heroine of Illicit Impulse has a bestie with benefits and an object of her more chaste desire. And in “Three, After Midnight,” the heroine enjoys a night of bliss with the spirit of her deceased husband, who’s borrowing the body of a hottie she seduced for that purpose.

Where’s the fun in limiting a fabulous heroine to one man, right? Why not let her have as much as she wants for as long as she wants to have it and her partners are willing to supply it?

I think there’s a group of romance readers who want, need and long for a heroine who is desired by many men, and who is determined to enjoy her status for as long as possible. I think romance readers need to know that in our abundant world, their heroine is free to lick as many men as will permit it. Their heroine doesn’t live in a world of masculine scarcity, and neither do they.

Consider Scandal in its golden days. For a long while, Olivia Pope thoroughly enjoyed the attentions of the President of the United States and the enigmatic Jake Ballard. When they had the audacity to suggest she choose one of them, she laughed and said she chose herself instead. She went right on sleeping with the both of them for as long as they permitted it — until Jake decided he wasn’t getting what he needed from the arrangement and bowed out.

And I’m reminded of a formative experience.

Look at those eyes, pleading, “Pick me! Pick me!”

I saw Tequila Sunrise in the theater in 1988, when I was quite young and impressionable. In the film, restaurant owner Michelle Pfeiffer must choose between reformed drug dealer Mel Gibson and police lieutenant Kurt Russell. That might not be a tough call today, knowing what we know, but in 1988, that was not an easy decision to make at all. I’m proud to say that Michelle spent the entire movie trying to make up her mind, and when it was all over, I left wondering how I could become a restaurant owner.

If Tequila Sunrise has a moral, it was to tell this child of the 80s that she could, in fact, have it all.

There should probably be limitations. The requirement that each men know about the others is not just about informed consent; I think it actually keeps everyone at their sharpest and most competitive. And of course, everyone would be free to stop playing as soon as things stopped working for them. Even in “Three, After Midnight,” the wrestling coach who found himself possessed by an eager spirit exercised his option to back out.

But with that in mind, why shouldn’t a heroine explore as many men — and as many relationships — as she wants?

Is there room in romance for a heroine to find more than one happily ever after, with more than one man, in more than one relationship?

Is it time for D: all of the above?

Follow Lady Smut. We won’t make you pick a lane.

Alexa Day is the USA Today bestselling author of erotica and erotic romance with heroines who are anything but innocent. In her fictional worlds, strong, smart women discover excitement, adventure, and exceptional sex. A former bartender, one-time newspaper reporter, and licensed attorney, she likes her stories with just a touch of the inappropriate, and her literary mission is to stimulate the intellect and libido of her readers.

 

“Exploited” Bikini Babes Serving Coffee?

22 Mar

By Elizabeth Shore

If you ever find yourself in Kent, Washington and are hankering for a cuppa joe, you could head over to the local Starbucks or Peet’s Coffee. They’re as tried and true as the day is long. Coffee and a pastry and you’re good to go. But what if the same ol same ol isn’t your style? What if, for example, you like cleavage with your coffee? Some pasties with your pastries? Well, fear not, friends. There’s a place for that, too. Introducing Bikini Beans Espresso. As their logo states, “Coffee’s never been this HOT!”

Bikini Beans, as you’ll see from their Instagram page, is far from a normal coffee shop. To start, even the name is a bit of a misnomer. Bikinis? Not entirely. Pasties are the preferred form of “on top” adornment for the servers, with bikinis strictly relegated to the nether lands. Male baristas? Fuhgeddaboudit! Babes only, please. And those babes include owner, Carlie Jo, who isn’t shy about splashing pics of herself all over social media.

In addition to promoting the shop, Carlie Jo stated in an article in The Sun that being a Bikini Beans barista is empowering. “We have the right to work with grace, confidence and dignity,” she states, “regardless if it’s in a business suit, scrubs, or a bikini.” Right on, Carlie Jo. Not everyone, however, shares her views. A councilman in Spokane, Washington has been trying to push forward legislation around limits at bikini coffee stands popping up around the state. Just what exactly those “limits” are isn’t clear, but one can surmise they’re related to puttin’ on some more clothes. Some moms in the area, as shown in this ABC news report, share the councilman’s views.

The councilman states that his proposed legislation is “for the children,” as well as trying to curb the exploitation of women. However, a female barista at Bare Beans Espresso, another bikini coffee stand in the Spokane area, states emphatically that she feels neither demeaned nor exploited. In a YouTube video about the controversy surrounding these risqué coffee stands, store manager and barista Allison seems to share Carlie Jo’s views in feeling “empowered” by working in little more than pasties and a string bikini bottom. And she adds, “No one is forcing me to work here. I choose to.”

That, perhaps, is the rub. By definition, exploitation occurs when someone uses or takes advantage of another person without regard for that person’s interests. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it this way: “to use someone unfairly for your own advantage.” In that vein, can it accurately be said that women working at the bikini coffee shops are victims of exploitation? How about waitresses at Hooters? Beautiful women on magazine covers? The unifying feature is that they’re willing participants. Making the argument that someone is being exploited becomes problematic when the person wants and chooses to do what he or she is doing.

The other primary concern around the coffee bikini shops is from some who feel it’s inappropriate for kids to see scantily dressed baristas. Yet I wonder if those same concerned parents keep their kids safely hidden from the beach? The community pool? Lots of skin in those places. Is this protecting kids, or is it reinforcing the same tired message that the human body is shameful and best covered up.

For the record, there was a male-staffed bikini coffee stand in Washington called Banana Hammock. Hot beefcake dudes either shirtless or clad only in suspenders were serving up hot brews and awesome views to what appeared to be a primarily female clientele. Did the male baristas feel exploited? Demeaned? Apparently, we’ll never know. Yelp is reporting that the Banana Hammock went bust. Same with another place called Hot Cup of Joe. Women went there, according to the posted reviews, but not enough of them. Hot Cup of Joe has been rebranded Whip It A-Latte and is now staffed with…you guessed it…bikini-clad female baristas.

So prevalent are the bikini barista coffee shops in Washington and surrounding area that there’s even an online guide so you know where to go for sizzle with your steamed milk. But if cleavage and coffee isn’t your thing, there’s always Starbucks.

Elizabeth Shore writes both contemporary and historical erotic romance. Her newest book is an erotic historical novella, Desire Rising, from The Wild Rose Press. Other releases include Hot Bayou Nights and The Lady Smut Book of Dark Desires

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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