I LOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVE FAIRBANKS!!!!!! - On the Road #13

rangoli-593790_1280.jpg

Hey y'all,

I Love Fairbanks. I love it, love it, love it!!!!!

Let's color this email happy, baby!

(No color fonts in SquareSpace, unfortunately, hence the colors in the photo.)

Just when it seemed as if I was burrowed in the vat of discouragement, eating bitterness for breakfast, I came to Fairbanks. Never mind the drive up with the fall colors lighting up the tundra - that was beautiful! - but at Fairbanks, I arrived.

Granted my trip was not just sneers, you're-weird-looks, and other unpleasant run-ins - I have met so many wonderful, supportive, and amazing people at every stop...but in Fairbanks - at least from the college side of town to Ester, it wasn't just random individuals here and there, but packs of people in general. We all know that there's safety...and strength in numbers.

And coming here on the tail end of the Alaska Fair was just what my spirit needed to keep going.

I could feel from the first that Fairbanks would be different. At Gulliver's - awesome bookstore! - I ran into an acquaintance I met in Juneau - several of those up here - and was bellyaching about the trip and the difficulties of selling my own work, and myself, etc. when a friend of his sat down and after hearing what I was doing, offered to buy a book.

That night, I was at a dinner party in Ester when Jen, an artist I'd met in Girdwood, suggested that I go by this coffeehouse and if they didn't have anything scheduled, ask to do a storytelling there. Sure enough, one night was open, so I managed to set something up at the last minute. She also challenged me to "creatively visualize" a hundred people waiting in line to buy my book.

"If you do that every day for a month, I promise you, things will happen."

On the same day, I was at Gulliver's again, waiting for my turn for free computer usage when the manager came by and said they'd take five books to start out.

I also sold three more to acquaintances that I ran into and a stranger I'd just met.

The next night, I had a couple of groups, Jen's friends and people that I met at the hostel show up for the storytelling - one man bought five books, a Japanese lady bought two, and yet another bought one. Better yet, Ethan, a high school English teacher bought one and asked permission to photocopy it, so he could teach it.

"I love your book!" said Kliff, a drummer who is a friend of a friend. And apparently, he has raved about it to everybody he knows, because the Ethan the teacher was a friend of his.

At the Pub that night, I sold two more. I also met a radio dj who wants to interview me when I come back to town - because of course I will!!! - and one of the women who bought a book and was at Jen's dinner party - is a natural at marketing and is already cooking up ideas for a dinner party with a story segment in between courses. I had been wanting a venue to do "Ella Bandita" as a combo dinner theatre/tableside storytelling, and here Sarah was just handing it to me.

"Fairbanks is a place where a lot of people are trying to create something," said Jay, a musician who lived in Juneau briefly a few years ago. "So people really try to support each other here."

Jen said her art has just taken off since she moved here. Her friend Heather, who makes hats does quite well at the Farmer's Market.

I don't know what it is about this town, but after weeks of people's walls, boundaries, suspicion, and all other forms of attitude, the feeling of openness, generosity, and support was like the nectar of the gods. I sold twenty books in a few days without even trying and I have a posse in less than a week.

Hope everybody has patience with my bragging rights, but hell, this was long overdue.

Did I mention that I love Fairbanks?

Montgomery

This is from the DIY booktour/roadtrip I took in 2005-2006. This stop was one of my most joyful, and I still have cherished memories from that time. The DJ ended up being a total dud in the long run, fyi.

If you’d like to read the previous On the Road post that strongly contributed to the relief of this journal entry, click here.

A Touch of the Erotic, Maybe It's Even Funny - Novel Excerpt, The Shepherd and the Courtesan

erotica.jpg

At that moment, I thought I heard the sound of a woman’s sigh, even through the high vibrato of the mandolins. I thought it might be my imagination until I recognized the muffled grunts of the Wanderer. My eyes snapped open and I brought my head up.

“Celia is a born slut,” Adrianna said conversationally. “She could enjoy an illustrious Life if she ever learns some self restraint.”

“Surely they are not making love right now!”

       “I think they might be.”

       “With all these people around?”

       Celia’s sighs escalated to moans and cries, and even through the music, I could hear the slap of flesh on flesh. Unable to resist the urge, I turned around. Celia lay backwards on the divan, her coppery hair cascading to the rugs, and her was face flushed from her head hanging over the edge. Her tapering, pearly legs were wrapped around the Wanderer’s waist, and her breasts bounced as the Wanderer thrust in and out of her.

       “It certainly looks like they are.”

       Adrianna sounded delighted as she murmured in my ear. When I turned around, the stewards smirked and the maids smothered their giggles. Even the awkward girls on mandolins couldn’t repress their grins, and Astrid twittered as she continued her massage of my shoulders. It suddenly occurred to me that I was the only one on the back patio who was shocked.

“A little discretion if you please!” Adrianna called out. “Celia, please remember I have two honored guests here, and I want them both to be completely at their leisure.”

Celia giggled and made an effort to muffle her cries by burying her face in the Wanderer’s shoulder. He pulled her up and flipped her on top of him, leaving her free to ride him, her rump rolling back and forth.

       “Shepherd, you have two beautiful women trying to spoil you. So be a darling and grace us with your attention, please.”

       I turned around.

       “We are used to this,” Adrianna continued. “And clearly, you’re not. But it is possible to focus on the pleasures before you, rather than on the pleasure for another.”

       Astrid moved one hand to the middle of my upper back and one hand on my upper chest.

       “Hmmm…” Astrid murmured, pressing deeply.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I can feel your pain, Shepherd. I can feel you holding on to it.”

       I was so dumbfounded I couldn’t speak. It didn’t help when Celia’s sharp cry of ecstasy rang out through the back patio. Next to me, Adrianna laughed out loud.

       “Why must Celia be so cursedly loud when she meets her crisis?”

       Then the Wanderer joined her with a whooping yell, and I could feel the blood rush to my face.

       “And he is no quieter,” she concluded.

       Astrid kept her hold on my back and chest, and moved her hands in slow circles.

       “Breathe,” she whispered. “Let yourself melt, Shepherd. I promise I’m not trying to seduce you.”

       I laughed hard. I simply couldn’t help it. Everything about this scene was unreal and so outside of my reality that in that moment, it all seemed like an elaborate prank. The moment of brevity gave me a welcome release, and I even did as Astrid suggested. However, the ecstatic cries and moans of a coupling between two people who had met not even an hour ago made relaxation and ease impossible. I couldn’t remember any time I had ever been so embarrassed.

       “Your effort to ignore them is valiant,” Adrianna murmured.

For more excerpts from this work in progress, click here and/or here.

Ecstatic Dance and the Writer's Practice

ecstaticdance.jpg

I’m really surprised I’ve never written anything about Ecstatic Dance. I love to write and I love to dance. Dance is good for my writing, so one would think that it would be a natural marriage. In truth, writing about dancing is extremely awkward for me.

I have loved dancing for a long time - all of it, partner dancing, dance orgies in clubs, getting down to live music. There truly is nothing sweeter than getting a groove on with a live band; in and of itself, that is ecstatic. During the time I lived in Juneau, Alaska, I got really lucky with the bands who lived and played there. They really savored the high that comes with a rhythm that got people on the dance floor to shake it. It was communion of sorts - a better, cleaner high than anything found in a bottle. Dance is healing for many reasons, but what really sets it apart for me is that dance creates joy. Ecstatic dance is not the same as dancing in a nightclub or to a band. I’ve also heard it called “Dance Church,” which makes sense to me because movement is a powerful way to worship.

Ecstatic Dance is a practice. The dancers are always barefoot, usually sober, and they are expected to be. The dance sets range from 1-2 hours that follows a wave or a double wave. The two pioneers whose work evolved into Ecstatic Dance are the late Gabrielle Roth and her 5 rhythms (New York), and Vinn Marti and his Soul Motion (Portland, OR). In a 5 rhythms set, the rhythms of Flowing, Staccato, Chaos, Lyrical, and Stillness happen in sequence to make a Wave. In Soul Motion, each dancer moves through 4 relational landscapes – Dance Intimate where we move alone, Dance Communion where we move with a partner, Dance Community where we move with everyone, and Dance Infinity where we move our practice to everyday life.

Most Ecstatic Dance communities combine these two approaches, and the experience is powerful. I have felt everything from irritation to exaltation to ordinariness to exhaustion to euphoria depending on my mood, my openness, and how deeply I connect with the music, with myself, and/or with others during the dance. During a typically good set, I get into a state of bliss and often, a tingling along my skin that is very similar to a full-body orgasm. I’ve almost walked out because I wasn’t feeling it until a song transported me, or I made eye contact with somebody and connected with him/her through dance, and then I could fully arrive to the place and let go.

At my first Ecstatic Dance, a young woman described the feeling of her soul leaving her body during the set. I can’t say I’ve had that happen, but my experiences have been enough to satisfy. Is Ecstatic Dance a hippie-dippie thing to do? Well, yeah. And no. All kinds of people from all walks and all ages come to dance every week.

Regulars include an old man well into his 80’s. His range of motion is very limited, but he moves with what he’s got. Sometimes he’s dancing using a walker. Yet the radiance on his face inspires me every time I see him. Another is a young woman with cerebral palsy, who is confined to a wheelchair. But she dances from her wheelchair, and she has her share of dance partners. One handsome man I’ve seen for years seemed so closed off when he first came, and he’s opened up so much. I don’t know these people by name. These are wordless connections. We meet on the dance floor and that’s how I know them. It’s kind of magical, really.

I heard about Ecstatic Dance from a guy I met at Hippie Hot Springs. We fell into a spontaneous dance on New Year’s. And it struck me how present he was in the dance. I mentioned that to him the next day at breakfast. He nodded and told me he went to Ecstatic Dance every Sunday, and that’s why. He said he started this after his divorce, and made all his new friends through that community. I had just moved to Portland, and he told me where I could find all this marvelous information of ecstatic dances in the area. I got on it and went the following week. I loved it immediately. Then I didn’t go again for 6 months. I don’t really know why. I think the intimacy and intensity of it both intrigued and frightened me. I guess I couldn’t handle so much of that at the time.

So what does any of this have to do with being a writer? Besides an experience that gives me something to write about, very little directly, but indirectly, Ecstatic Dance has a lot of value. Writers need nourishment. We need practices outside of writing to keep us healthy and balanced. Writers are a heady bunch and Ecstatic Dance brings me out of my head and into my body. It also moves energy within and through me, which keeps the channels open for inspiration and creativity. Dance brings me community when I feel lonely, solace when I feel sad and angry, expression when I feel overwhelmed with celebration and joy. On a pragmatic level, I’ve also gotten some gorgeous ideas for stories and blog posts, and solved plot snafus where I was stuck while dancing. Dancing clears the mind, opens the heart, and supports the body. Dance is great therapy, and what doesn’t need that?

So find an ecstatic dance in your area. Google “Ecstatic Dance,” “Dance Church,” “5 Rhythms,” or “Soul Motion.” If your area doesn’t have anything, you can always take your shoes off, play your favorite jams, and dance like an idiot in your living room. Or kitchen. Or bedroom. Location hardly matters.

For writers and readers and dreamers and travelers and even couch potatoes, dance is good for you.

Got Writer's Block? Here, Have Some Writing Prompts!

DialogueWritingPrompt.jpg

Writer’s block is such a bitch. Prevention is worth more than cure here, of course, and one of the best ways to prevent the dreaded writer’s block is to write your story ideas down as they come to tinker with them later.

GoddessWritingPrompt.jpg

But in case you didn’t do that, here are some prompts and story ideas that might get you rolling. One could be used as a journaling piece or memoir.

SeductionWritingPrompt.jpg

What do you think about doing a series of essays on your most embarrassing moments – those times we’d prefer to forget? I think the experience would be both humbling and liberating at the same time. It’s very empowering to embrace our human frailty.

EmbarrassingMomentWritingPrompt.jpg

And here, enjoy a couple of others. Hope this helps!

HitchhikingWritingPrompt.jpg
ScaffoldWritingPrompt.jpg

In case these aren’t enough, there are plenty more prompts to be found here and here.




Why Do We Write?

writingadvice.jpg

Why do we write?

I ask myself this question all the time for all kinds of reasons. I ask myself why did I want to be a writer when I procrastinate for far longer than I actually spend typing, when I’m frozen on a scene, or when I’m overwhelmed by the magnitude of the story nuggets that have yet to be the rough drafts, rewrites, revisions, and edits of gold mines. Writing is so much work with very few tangible, immediate rewards. It is not a “fun job.” It keeps me in my head. It keeps me solitary, sometimes even isolated. There is no way to be a writer without being a watcher. That role of observation keeps me out of the active participation of life far more often than I would like.

A perfect example of this watcher/player dynamic can be found amongst the Beat Generation of writers and poets. “On the Road” was not about Jack Kerouac so much as it was about Neal Cassady, a friend Kerouac found fascinating. Apparently, Neal Cassady also had a talent for writing. A “Joan Anderson letter” written to Kerouac from Cassady featured the stream-of-consciousness writing which inspired Kerouac, and he write “On The Road” in that style, this book that made him famous. What Cassady did not have was the discipline or the drive to become a great writer himself. He was too busy playing on the stage of life, being a muse, an inspiration, the Holy Fool who lived on the edge until he self destructed right before his 42nd birthday. He died alone on a railroad track in Mexico from exposure, after mixing powerful drugs and alcohol.

Kerouac wrote his story down. Allen Ginsburg probably enjoyed a lot of inspiration from Cassady as well. Ken Kesey further immortalized him in the Merry Pranksters as the manic bus driver of “Further.” In the lives of these writers, they were both players and watchers; but ultimately, they had to be watchers to sit down, reflect, and write it all down. It’s hard work. It’s painstaking. Writing needs a lot of patience. And in my case, writing comes slowly.

I had so many dreams. Why did this one stick? It would have been so much more exciting to have a dream of dancing or skydiving or mountaineering or snowboarding. I’ve done a bit of all of these, some more than others. But these were passionate hobbies, not callings. Even being a geologist or biologist would have left some room.

Writing is an exacting taskmaster. So why do we do it?

In my case, I suppose I write because I’m called to. When I don’t, I can’t shake the feeling that something is missing. When I do, I feel at peace.

Writing does help me sort out my thoughts and ideas. Writing can upset me, but it can also bring me clarity. When I write a piece I can feel in my bones is special and just right, sweet gratification follows.

As far as the stage of Life is concerned, I’ve sought out unusual and extreme experiences, knowing that there would be a story in there somewhere. So oddly enough, writing goaded me into being a player on plenty of occasions – even if I watched the entire time.

I must admit I like playing God. Writing stories and novels makes that role inevitable. So when I finally arrive to that sense of finish – knowing I’ve done all I can do for this novel and this world I created without an editor – and write “THE END” on the last line, it feels f*cking great!

The anticipation of that satisfaction keeps me going. What works for you?

Who is the Critical Mass? On the Road #12

OnTheRoad

Hey y'all,

Although it was a stroke of luck to get any space at the Alaska State Fair since I didn't get on it until the very last minute - and I am grateful to Denise of Non Essentials (homemade natural skincare) for giving me that space - I am nonetheless exceedingly relieved that I wasn't at the State Fair every day, much less paid exorbitant rates for a booth there.

There was something about the fair that made me think of the Celestine Prophecy and the Critical Mass, those select individuals awake to the spiritual journey of their lives, and will thus raise the human race to a higher level of existence.   

Even if this is an act of love for all of humanity, one could still argue the concept of a Critical Mass as another form of elitism - sugar-coated and with the new age stamp of approval - but still a statement that some people matter and most people don't.

Although I found the message to be inspiring, hopeful, and way groovy, The Celestine Prophecy is also one of the most badly written books I've ever read, so I couldn't take it completely seriously. Yet, some of the most intelligent people I know have eaten it up, and I don't know what to make of that.   

For those heartfelt idealists who really want to believe in the potential of all humanity, but feel the pull to...get in touch with their tendencies towards elitism…I suggest you go hang out at the State Fair. Even better, try to pursue your dream at the State Fair, and you'll get in touch real fast with your inner snob. Anybody who has ever spent any time in any customer service job knows just how awful, stupid, and downright annoying people can be.  

And at the Alaska State Fair, as I was commiserating with Denise, the lovely woman who let me set up a table on her "porch" free of charge, about the oblivious rudeness of those who come into her booth, I was struck by all the people. Swarms of people streaming by me with their hair spray-painted in rainbow colors, outlandish designs that will take the better part of the night and next day to wash out, designs painted on their faces, in tight hip-slung jeans in varying stages of fat and thin, with quite a few Mabelline cosmetics covering teenage faces that don't need make-up, and the scruffy teenage boys in their shapeless clothes. Not to mention tourists with their sparkling white, comfortable, "walking shoes" and their name tags. This sea of humanity walking back and forth was striking in their ordinariness, and there were so many of them. It occurred to me how few of these people really seemed interesting or vivid. Denise agreed and remarked that she was shocked that so many young women looked tired to her, and even more haggard than she was in her early fifties. 

"When I was young, I was young," she said. "These girls I know are young, but they already seem old."

On a positive note, a beautiful mother/daughter duo got my attention as they approached Denise's booth. I noticed them immediately because they had the same eyes - large and almond shaped, slightly Asian, and bright green. The mother was in her mid forties with her hair short and her clothes practical; she wasn't trying to impress anybody. Her daughter had her long hair in a ponytail, no make-up. She was about fifteen and absolutely beautiful in an effortless, natural way and her manners matched her looks. They spent quite a bit of time in Denise's shop and made her day, not only because they spent some money, but because they looked over her products with appreciation.  They stopped at my table for a minute. They didn’t buy anything but I didn’t care. They were not only pleasant and respectful, they were very present.

If I had to pick shoo-ins to the Critical Mass of those who are truly alive, I’d definitely choose these two. 

These ladies were a vast improvement over the stout dowager clad in a pink sweat suit with a goofy cartoon character on the front. She announced that she didn't read fiction, only the Bible; and she certainly didn't read fairy tales since she was a Christian.

"But I have many friends who do and I don't hold it against them," she puffed up.  "And I don't hold it against you for writing them."

I'm sure she felt the greatness of her spirit as she told me that and reveled in the righteousness of the narrow world of those who do not think. Perhaps she's an eager participant in book burning parties. 

Shortly after that exchange, I found myself thinking of the Critical Mass and wondering if maybe there wasn't something to it.

I'm sure this lady was certain that she was part of the Critical Mass of those who had been saved by Jesus. She certainly believes she's right and maybe she is...Who am I to say otherwise? Maybe we all are supposed to be mindless dogma junkies who live by a checklist of good behavior and see the Devil in fairy tales. Perhaps they really are the saved. Who knows?

If they are though, I will gladly go to Hell. Who wants to hang out with people like that for all eternity? 

So, who are those who make up the Critical Mass?

Call me selfish, call me vain…but in my world, the Critical Mass are those people who say:  

"Oh!  I would love to buy your book because I believe in supporting local artists."

Peace,

Montgomery

This is from a journal I took of a DIY booktour/roadtrip I did in 2005/2006. You can find the previous entry here.

 

Writer's Block in a Sex Scene

WriterBlock-SexScene

Writer’s block hits in so many different ways. Technically, right now, I’m not “blocked” per the usual meaning, because I’m writing regularly. Even if I’m in a slack phase in my writing, I am making progress on the crucial second draft of “The Shepherd and the Courtesan” (working title only), and I have to keep up on the blog. Since I was blocked in the truest sense of the phrase for years in that I didn’t write at all, what’s holding me up now is not that much of a big deal.

But I do find it interesting.

There’s one scene that’s been holding me up – the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan. This scene does not happen right away in this novel. In fact, it doesn’t happen until the second half, and there are a few sex scenes before we even get to them, which are juicier, more transgressive, and more exciting. Before we get to this, we get the psychological BDSM sex scenes between the Patron’s Daughter and the Brute – neither of them main characters – while the main character, Addie, who will later become the Courtesan acts as voyeur. We get to Addie’s flight to the Capital City, and none of the sex scenes with her as a Courtesan for the sake of pacing. But we do get the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Woman who would become Ella Bandita; and the first sex scene between the Shepherd and the Courtesan is right after that.

But the difference between all the other sex scenes and this is that this one is rooted in tenderness, whereas the others have some element of drama and intrigue. But in the scene between these characters, I’m writing about those who are not the usual players in an erotic scene, mainly because of age and ageism. The Shepherd is 50, and the Courtesan is 60. Both of them are still exceptionally attractive. In an erotic scene, the Courtesan suspends disbelief because she’s been at it for more than 40 years; and any woman who stays sexually active keeps her juice much longer than those who don’t. The Shepherd, however, has been mostly solitary and without a mate for 25 years. There is a lot of vulnerability there. I’m resistant to writing about that, and I wonder why. I wasn’t resistant to writing about the psychological and physical violence between the Brute and the Patron’s Daughter; for the record, that’s not the kind of scene I live through in my personal life, and perhaps that’s why. I’m emotionally detached. So maybe I can’t be emotionally detached at the thought of a character who had embraced his solitude, and was now suddenly confronted with emotional and sexual intimacy, along with the fears that would entail. That hits closer to home.  

Then I arrive at the logistics of impotence. ED is reasonable to expect in a middle-aged man who has not had sex in a quarter century. That likelihood cannot be ignored because it would render the scene ridiculous, even in a “fantasy.” Since Viagra is not an option for a story set in pre-Industrial fairy tale times, I consulted with my Tantra teacher on natural methods to induce a solid hard-on for the good Shepherd. She shared the finger-in-anus-to-massage-the-prostrate technique that she claims would raise an erection in a dead man. (Ok, I exaggerate.) Although that information is very pragmatic, I couldn’t figure out a graceful, poetic way to introduce it in the scene. And the long-celibate Shepherd is more likely to be scared off with a move like that. Maybe I’ll use it later in the story once they get better acquainted, but for their first time, I went with tender loving care, encouragement, tantric breathing, and palpating the perineum. Although there’s no guarantee those gentler methods would be effective in real life, who is to say that’s impossible? It only has to be in the realm of possibility, and that is good enough for me.

Bet y’all didn’t see that coming, huh? I think I’m ready to tackle that sex scene now.

I love my job.

She's a Victim of her own Success

SuccessVictim.jpg

Sometimes I hear these pithy statements, and know immediately I have to use them later. This is tied into the “Give Yourself Something to Write About” theme of my blog. The best way to come up with fresh ideas and new perspectives is to DO STUFF. Do stuff that hurts, that’s difficult, that makes you uncomfortable.  

That’s what I did when I had a conversation that gave me the title of this blog: “She’s a victim of her own success.” I’m currently at a Contact Improv Jam. Contact improv is a form of dance that makes a lot of people uncomfortable because it entails getting into intimate personal space with strangers, rolling around on the ground, sharing weight, being lifted and twisted into all kinds of bizarre shapes.

Anyway, I was deep in conversation with this guy who I know through these jams, about his friend. They live in Seattle, I live in Portland, so these are the only times we connect. Anyway, I asked him about his friend because I hadn’t seen her in a while. She’s a cute blonde who is an excellent Contact dancer, who men love, and who seems to have everything. She did tell me about a pretty gnarly health problem she had, and I mentioned that. He shrugged and said he wonders about the health problem that she’s treated for years, and has his doubts. He said she’s gotten reclusive, never wants to go out, go to contact jams, or do anything.

“She’s a victim of her own success,” he said. “I think that’s all that’s wrong with her.”

Talk about a mic drop and a head swivel! That statement is rich with meaning and hidden meaning, the kind of statement that stops us in our tracks and makes us think.

We really do have it so good, and have for so many generations. But to think of being so blessed, of having so many advantages that one could possibly implode on oneself boggles the mind. Another way of looking at it is that having such a sweet deal in life may be so boring that one creates problem to have a challenge or some strife to get through.

I’m sure there are many other ways to look at that. But who knows what may become of that chance remark. Perhaps it will only be this blog. Perhaps this kind of woman will be a character in a story. Maybe she already is in a variety of novels, TV shows, movies, and plays.

Either way, that was a fantastic statement and I wouldn’t have found that nugget of inspiration if I hadn’t been DOING STUFF.

So get out of your head and into the world and do stuff that gives you something to write about.

Novel Excerpt Again - The Shepherd and the Courtesan

Fantasy - Shepherd and Courtesan

This is a novel excerpt from my work-in-progress, “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” The title may be changed and maybe this scene deleted, because this is between one of the protagonists and a minor character, a courtesan protegee. But I liked the dialogue and I think this scene shows the world the Shepherd has found himself in very well, as well as shed some light on the other protagonist. If you’d like to read another excerpt from this work, click here.

I shook my head.

“You don’t mind?” Astrid persisted. “Or you prefer I leave you be?”

“No. I don’t mind.”

“Good,” Astrid smiled. “Because I wanted to ask you some questions about that scene this morning in the town square.”

“You were there?”

“Of course I was. Everybody was there, even the scrubbers from the dirtiest whorehouse in the Capital were there.”

“What do you want to ask me about?”

“What possessed you and the Wanderer to give the bounty on Ella Bandita to the children of the orphanage?”

“Why do you want to know about that?”

“Because it’s too marvelous! Who would give a fortune for a private education fit for highborn children to a bunch of penniless, nameless forgotten little bastards? Not to mention a modest legacy to start life once they left the orphanage?”

I tensed up. I had not expected this at all. The Wanderer and I had agreed it was the best possible use for what was essentially blood money, but we also believed that such a gesture would silence any questions.

“It seemed like the right thing to do.”

“I’m not saying it wasn’t. But you could have lived as patrons for the rest of your lives!”

“That means nothing to me.”

Astrid’s hazel eyes were wide in her pale face.

“But everybody wants to be rich.”

I relaxed a little. Nothing in Astrid’s expression indicated suspicion or cunning. She merely seemed amazed and curious.

“I can’t explain how or why. But I’ve never coveted wealth and I’ve always had what I need.”

 Astrid nodded slowly, and her white cheeks flushed a pale pink.

“I can’t claim to understand you, Shepherd. I simply wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing that.”

“I appreciate your kind words. But why are you thanking me?”

“Because I’m one of those forgotten little bastards. Most of us here at the Casa came from the orphanage.”

 “Like who?”

 “Celia and I grew up together there.”

 Astrid nodded to the trio of mandolin players, whose ethereal music filled the air.

“They’re younger than we are, but I remember them from the orphanage. Almost all the servants came from there too.”

 “Are the musicians also protégées?”

Astrid shook her head.

“Not everybody can be for the Life. Originally, they came here as little girls to train to be maids. But Mi’Lady always tests the children, and discovered these girls had a natural talent for music, so she mentored them in their learning. Now they get to be musicians. Not only do they entertain us, but they are often hired to perform at various salons around the City.”

“Do they live here?”

Astrid nodded.

“There are two dormitories at the back of this yard. One is for servants and servants-in-training. The other is for the protégées, as well as the artistic girls.”

“Really? That is extraordinary.”

I stared at Astrid, who smiled at me in appreciation.

“What you and the Wanderer have done is truly wonderful. You saved this generation of boys from a criminal life and eventual hanging, and all of the girls from the drudgery of servitude and prostitution in the brothels. The orphans who had any kind of lucky star on their side end up at the Casa, and the Casa is full. Except for a truly gifted and beautiful girl here and there, Mi’Lady doesn’t have much room to add to her household for at least twenty more years.”

I was speechless. Astrid paused for a moment, then continued.

“There isn’t an orphan, harlot, or servant who wouldn’t sell their soul to be here.”

“There isn’t an orphan, harlot, or servant who wouldn’t sell their soul to be here.

When the Rhinos F*ck the Cows

pobitorarhinocattle.jpg

An acquaintance of mine from Portland shared an article her husband wrote about finding one’s voice as a writer. Since he’s published and I’m not, and he is a very nice man, I read it and a line in there reminded me of the most extremely short-lived job I ever held in my illustrious career of job-collecting.

Since this was commission-based, I made no money at this. Promotions in Motion was the worst of the worst sales jobs. We went door to door at various businesses, ignoring “no soliciting” signs to interrupt people at their work to sell them something they don’t need. The vast majority of the time, we were told no anyway. Fortunately, most people were pleasant about it but it was still embarrassing.

I don’t even remember what we were selling, but I vaguely recall a promotion for an obscure comedy club. I trained for two days and decided to bail. My first trainer had been a stripper before this job. She was pretty cool and I had fun while I trained with her. The next trainer was nice enough, but he had a lot to say about our POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world.” He spent the entire drive back to the office trying to convince me to stick it out with a psychological head-trip of “It’s not easy being a leader.” But I’d already figured out that such a job would have been a daily exercise of humiliation where my dignity chipped away to nothing. Later, I met somebody who worked for them for about a year. He said he “made money,” but he also said he worked well beyond the 9-5 time slot, and often went to homes and businesses until 9 at night to make about $1500 a month. (This was in the 90’s btw.)

They didn’t tell me that when they were selling this job to me. 

So how does this have anything to do with the title of the blog or the article my friend’s husband, Johnny Shaw, wrote about finding your writer’s voice? Patience, please, because I’m getting there.

On my first day of training, the former stripper told us about their morning meetings where they get pumped up with a Rhinos vs. Cows cheer. We were the “Rhinos,” of course, and everybody else working a regular job with guaranteed pay and some benefits were the “Cows.”

“Rhinos fuck shit up,” she said. “Cows just graze.”

On my second day of training, I got to experience this for myself. All the door-to-door sales associates were there and the POC supervisor who was making it “in a white man’s world” started the cheer.  

“WHO ARE WE?” he roared.

Everybody made the “hang loose” sign - aka “shaka” in Hawaii - with one hand. Then they defiled this expression of mellowness and peace by putting thumb to nose so their fist and pinky finger made a facsimile of a rhino horn.

“WE’RE THE RHINOS!!” they called back.

“WHAT DO WE DO?”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!”

“SAY IT AGAIN!!”

“FUCK THE COWS!!!”

“GREAT! NOW GET OUT THERE AND MAKE SOME MONEY!!”

Yeah. It would have been the wiser choice to bail right then and there, but I’m a firm believer in stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to find inspiration. This was one of those moments. Experiencing the sheer lunacy of people was priceless.

Johnny Shaw’s article made a reference to fucking a cow too, but that was for the sake of artistic merit. If you would like to know how his article triggered this memory when I was young and clueless, check it out here. I don’t know if this experience helped me find my writer’s voice, but perhaps Johnny’s professor would have been gratified to know that such a story was out there.

Tiny Victories and Tremendous Satisfaction

Storytelling

I’ve always used storytelling as a vehicle to get my work out there, but it is also an art form that I love in and of itself. So, since January of 2017, I’ve done these events called Tea & Tales where I tell a story out of Ella Bandita as well as fables, myths, and folk tales from all over the world. We lounge on pillows, drink herbal tea, chill out, and the audience listens while I talk. Sometimes I sell a novel out of this, but for the most part, donations are the only payment I get out of it. The first year, I quickly figured out that Tea & Tales 2x/month-year-round is not realistic. So Tea & Tales has since become a monthly event that happens seasonally from the fall until mid-Spring when the days are noticeably longer.

I was burned out at the end of this season. I was more than ready for the last Tea & Tales on April 7th to come and go because the light was increasing along with my restlessness, and I was more than ready to be done for the rest of spring and summer. I’m proud of what I’ve done with Tea & Tales, that I’ve stuck with it for 3 seasons, and have slowly built up a network of regulars that I can count on somebody showing up.

For the first 2 seasons, I had only 1 regular who I could count on, and Simran is fabulous. He kept me going, showing up when nobody else did. And so long as he was there, I told my stories and got some practice. He even participated as a guest storyteller a couple of times, and he painted my Tea & Tales sandwich board sign on both sides. Isn’t it fabulous?

During the 2nd season, I promoted and emailed and pushed and had larger audiences as a result, but I did not gain new regulars. I tend to find my regulars through the things I like to do. For example, I love espresso and my favorite barista came to a few of the Tea & Tales this season. A friend of mine has been coming, and a couple of potential new ones came who I met through a women’s group that I recently joined. Marc started coming in the 2nd season, and he invited me to do a skit with him through Open Heart Mic after I did a storytelling there.

And on this last Tea & Tales, a young woman showed up who had seen me last year at Open Heart Mic. This was the first she had seen of my Tea & Tales on Facebook, and she jumped right in. The fact that she came a YEAR after she had seen me perform at Open Heart Mic left me elated.

If that’s not the highest compliment to what I do, I don’t know what is. These are the small victories that keep us going. I may have to promote more next season, but I also need to get out there at other events. That was a gorgeous eye opener, and a warm glow that will last me until the fall when I do it all over again.

Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? - On the Road #11

New.Orleans.Katrina

I was on the road in Anchorage when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. That catastrophe hit me hard because I had lived in New Orleans for two brief stints before moving to Alaska. Even though I was so immersed in my DIY booktour road trip, all I could think about was my time in New Orleans, so I couldn’t help but write to my friends about it, even though that wasn’t a part of my road trip. Many of my friends found this piece to be one of their favorites from the trip. For previous journal entries from On the Road blogs, go here and here.

Ah, the decline of the city of debauchery!  That spit in the face of nature, a major port city built with a swamp as the foundation, a place that has suffered through being changed to the rule of differing countries like a spoiled brat being tossed back and forth between reluctant parents who never should have had kids to begin with.  That inconvenient city that has been neglected, corrupted, bought and sold, taken over, all the while home to murder, slavery, the birth of the "free people of color." The latter were the offspring between slaves and white plantation owners who became so widespread, they became their own segment of New Orleans society. The free people of color even had slaves to serve them. They threw octoroon balls, so the beautiful daughters of the free people of color could meet privileged Creole gentlemen, and be set up as their long-term mistresses. Not to mention the recurring presence of the plague brought on by the innocuous mosquito wiping out populations making the Nile Virus look like the common cold. Not to mention voodoo, everybody in New Orleans takes voodoo seriously, thanks to the 19th century mulatto free woman of color, Marie Laveau. She made two fortunes before and  after the Civil War, when everybody there lost everything. Then the arrival of Yankee Irish carpetbaggers who came to scavenge Louisiana and other parts of the south, showed up on her doorstep due to her reputation as a powerful sorceress.

It's hard to believe that so much richness and wretched beauty existed in such a thoroughly whacked-out place, and you have no idea how much it hurts my heart to see the pictures and read the reports of the destruction of that city. 

Although it had been pimped out to common tourism (we in Juneau know nothing about that, now don't we?), New Orleans never lost its mysticism or its magic. I could write a book about the short time that I spent there, and it's impossible for photos, news reports, or writing to do that city justice. New Orleans to me was one of those places that really made an impact on my psyche, even if I didn't spend years of my life there. My parents went to college at Tulane where they met. They even married there. Without New Orleans, I wouldn't exist, so there's always been that connection.  Then, of course, there was the writing of Anne Rice and Truman Capote...

Mysterious, fascinating, decadent, violent, New Orleans never should have existed except for the megalomaniacal vision and ambition of man; from the day le Sieur de la Salle saw that space in the swamp, and the access of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico, and was consumed with trading glory for France. De la Salle never found that spot again; he got lost in Texas and was murdered by his crew before they ever found it, so Bienville and Iberville were the brothers given credit for founding this city built on a swamp. 

"So what's your story?" 

This is the usual go-to when meeting new people. And the superbly fucked up story of La Nouvelle Orleans was unstable from the word go. It’s part of its charm and mystique, and nobody can do dysfunctional with the same expertise and panache of those who were born and raised there. New Orleanians revel in their dramas, and always welcome newcomers, so they can perform their story for a fresh audience. The one thing I remember about that city is that lots of people helped me stay, but it was like extricating myself out of molasses when it was time to go.  Let's face it, anyplace built in a swamp is going to encourage stagnation, not growth.

But there's no place like it on earth. The vibe of that town is mysterious with its decadent homes where 11 foot ceilings are considered stunted, with wrought iron gates, magnolia and jasmine trees scenting the night, and the hanging oaks insuring the privacy of the doings inside the houses. It's a city of sin and secrets, masquerade and carnival, even if Mardi Gras has been degraded from nudity and body paint, fucking strangers while in mask to a frat boy street party where "Show your tits!" and fresh-faced twenty-something teeny boppers pull up their shirts is the pinnacle of thrill.  

There's nothing quite like being drunk in New Orleans. It is literally a different kind of high, all the ju-ju, mojo, and mysticism must get in the air and permeate the alcohol. A town where seeing people smoking joints in the street is not an uncommon sight and of course, taking your drink with you when you leave the bar to go to the next, whether in the French Quarter or any other part of town, is legal. 

Lawless.

"No human being should be in New Orleans during the months of August and September."  So said Laura, my lunatic roommate in the neighborhood known as "Uptown," when we were discussing the humidity of New Orleans.  

The heat and humidity still live in my memory. I was raised in Florida, no slouch in tropical weather humidity, but in New Orleans, it's worse. But from the first weekend visit before I moved there a month later, the beauty and the vibe of that town knocked me out, and I absolutely loved it.  I found a job and my first place to live within a week.

"Five fifty?!  For a beer?!" (This was in 1996. Nowadays, $5.50 is normal.)

I worked as a bartender on Bourbon Street during my first run there; and well, it was a vivid experience. I've never worked so hard or so long in that profession as I did at that particular job, the only bartending job where I worked fifty to seventy hours a week during busy times - Superbowl, Mardi Gras, and Jazz Festival - for a very colorful family. I didn't make the “bank” that one would expect, due to appallingly over priced drinks, but I had to stay. I worked for the "Jewish Mafia" as one of my co-workers put it, the last of the old families that ruled the French Quarter from the old days before corporate companies brought Californication to the Big Easy and put the smiley-face, homogeneous smear on the place. The kind of people who "bought" the employees they wanted, instead of "stealing" them. The Karno family was a hold-out from a different time; they were gleefully corrupt, unapologetically greedy, and cheerily abusive. I was definitely out of place there. Being the cog in the machine, I got yelled at every day for three months until I adapted to my surroundings and became a part of the "There's us, and then there's them" mentality they had towards outsiders.

"Larry, is your name motherfucker?" Gail, the manager, shouted to one of the cocktail waiters at a meeting geared towards building teamwork in time for the Superbowl/Mardi Gras season.

It was not a warm and fuzzy environment, being that I was working amongst a bunch of self-admitted hustlers, and stress ran high. Squabbling, fighting, cursing each other out were daily occurrences. And as I said, I would have made a lot more money in half the time spent if I had worked at any of the other bars on the street. Most of my friends and family thought I was crazy working there, but I had to stay. 

The Karno’s owned these bars, worked their employees like plantation slaves, and played the nastiest head games with us because they could.  They were the last of their kind and I knew I would never meet anybody like them again. Face it: they would have been sued out of business anyplace else but New Orleans. Their psychology was shaped by the absolute power of the good old days, when the bosses of the French Quarter could have people black-balled, and one really didn't want to piss them off if one wanted to continue to make money there. Their core employees were still a part of that mentality, and it kept them frozen in time.

Even then, I knew it couldn't last. Modern times were catching up with that swamp city of decay and decadence. I had a feeling my employers would eventually lose everything, but I never imagined anything like this.

"Yeah, one good hurricane coming up the Mississippi would wipe us out, we'd be living underwater," joked Sammy Karno. "It hasn't happened in over two hundred and fifty years."

This isn't the first time a hurricane has wiped out New Orleans, the only difference was that the first buildings were last minute shanties.  It wasn't the architectural marvel and fantasy it's been ever since.

"What keeps it up? Technology, or dumb-ass luck?"

"So far," said Sammy, "it's been dumb-ass luck."

It just hit me in the last day or two that many people that I knew and cared about are going through this misery of Hurricane Katrina. The folks I worked with were under-educated, ignorant (some had no idea the corridor between New Orleans and Baton Rouge was known as "Cancer Alley" due to the pollution of the Mississippi and looked shocked when I told them. I was equally shocked at their shock, I mean what do you say?), and living from paycheck to paycheck or tip day to tip day.  If you wait tables in Louisiana, your base pay is about $2 an hour. Apparently you can pay bartenders as low, but since Miss Billie, my boss, was paranoid about stealing and the bartenders had access to cash, she paid us minimum wage - I think I made $5/hr when I worked for here nine years ago (1996-97).

"Hang in there, baby," said Gail and Dawn, my managers.  "The Karnos will take care of you." 

I didn’t stick around to find out, and left after less than a year to continue my happy trails of the vagabond bartender phase of my life. But many musicians, entertainers, cocktail servers, and other bartenders did not evacuate before Katrina hit.  There's no way. They can't afford to go and leave everything behind. 

Both times I left New Orleans, I was so thoroughly exhausted - physically, emotionally, mentally and psychically. It was a place that I loved, but it was impossible for me to be healthy there. Also, I can't stand limbo and being stagnant was unbearable. My friends and community there were shaped by decadence, drama, and various forms of abuse. I loved them, but they were draining. They loved me and they didn't want to let go...

In New Orleans, lots of people will help you stay, but nobody will help you go. You gotta pull yourself out of the swamp. 

The second time I left, I cut all ties and never looked back.

But I can't stop thinking about them lately.  

Peace,

Montgomery

 

Genre Matters, But I Hate It!

GenreBooks

One of the most frustrating questions asked of me as a writer is “What genre do you write in?”

As much as I hate it, genre matters. Genre matters a lot. This is true when it comes to looking for an agent, an editor, a publishing house, and even self-publishing is not free from the tyrannical clutch of “genre.” Writing contests and awards are one way to stand out from the sea of horribly-written, self-published fiction. And guess how are those writing contests classified and divided? 

There’s no escape from genre.

Technically, mine is fantasy but I don’t get so wrapped up in the magical elements or alternate world building that is considered usual in the genre. For me, magic is a tool I use to make my point and carry the story in ways that I would not be able to do in a setting of the “real world,” but magic is not the focus of the story. I consider my foundation to be in fairy tales, fables, and mythology, and forget urban fantasy or sci fi because I’m not into technology in my life and I don’t want to get bogged down in that in fiction. I also want to be commercially successful, but well written. So well written, that my commercial fairy tale fantasy would be considered literary. 

Then there are the sex scenes, which reach the explicit standard of erotica. But I treat sex with a lot of reverence. So in those scenes, I do my damnedest to write them beautifully in as poetic and lyrical fashion as I can, in the hopes that one would consider this literary erotica. But if the main genre is “fantasy,” some readers may not see that coming and…

For erotica to be literary, this must center on a love story. But it doesn’t fit the romance genre because romance requires the happily-ever-after ending, and my love stories don’t end that way. Oddly enough, the second novel I’m working on right now in a series of 4, is far more of a love story with a lot of erotica more than fantasy. It even has a HEA ending, but the two love stories within that end in abandonment and heartache. There is some magic there, with a Sorcerer who turned an angry, ugly peasant named Addie into Adrianna the Beautiful, a courtesan who only gets better with time. But other than that and a couple of other scenes, magic plays very little in this fantasy novel that is much more about love, sex, intrigue, and rivalry than a fantasy world of magic.

The question of genre irritates me because it is so confining. As a writer who blends styles, who prefers to do some of this, a little of that, a bit of this here, and touches of that there, why can’t there be a space to write outside of the limitations of genre? Isn’t that what creativity is supposed to do? Isn’t that how we grow and evolve what is art and literature?

Changing a Novel That's Already Out There

HeartofLoneWolf-Fantasy

So I wrote and self-published a novel almost five years ago. At that time, I wrote, rewrote, and rewrote again, then edited and polished; my goal was getting an agent, an editor, and a publishing house. So I knocked myself out to meet all their nitpicking details, like a modest word count. What ended up happening was an over-rewritten novel that had lost a precious measure of juice and the lingering annoyance that something’s just not right 

There wasn’t adequate backstory needed to make the central character more sympathetic, instead of one who readers couldn’t connect with – except those who had suffered enough loss in their personal lives to read between the lines and understand her. I took out at least 75 pages of that backstory, as well as a chapter that had won 3rd place in the Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror category of the Southwest Writers Contest. That 75 pages held a lot of information about the relationship, or non-relationship between the unnamed Patron’s daughter who would become Ella Bandita and her father. It also told the story of her crush, the Horse Trainer who had Come as A Vagabond from his point of view.

Ella Bandita and the Wanderer was my 1st finished novel. First novels are seldom, if ever, an author’s best work. In the novel, “The World According to Garp,” by John Irving, the main character, Garp, was also a novelist; and his editor praised his first novel as a fine story, with the caveat that it was still “just a first novel.” So, got that. But it still doesn’t feel good to read the more critical reviews and know that they’re right. My partner put it simply: “Something’s missing. 

So I’m putting most of those cut out parts back in to complete the story, even though it will be such a pain in the ass to redesign and reformat the novel. I’ll have to update the copyright as well, and the novel needs a new title. In other words, this is a hassle and I’m not too sure that the novel will be that much improved for adding some missing pieces. It will still be a first novel. But I hope the series will be better for it.

I realize that much of what I wrote in my journal of the writer’s process makes no sense to anybody but me, and perhaps the SEO gods will frown upon me. But what the hell - it’s my blog and sometimes one must do whatever one wants.

Writing Prompts for Fiction and Inspiration for Journaling!

WritingInspiration

It’s been a long time since we’ve put out some writing prompts. Here are a few tidbits of inspiration for those who love to write stories, and those who love to journal. Cole did an outstanding job on these, and I’ve been remiss in getting them out there.

Eventually, I’ll get some writing prompts of my own out there, but in the meantime, here are the last ones that NC Saul did for me. For anybody who’s new, some previous writing prompts can be found here and here. Some memes I had fun making, and that could also serve as inspiration for journaling or fiction can be found here.

Enjoy!

WritingInspiration2-Cole.jpeg
Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

Sounds like a nugget for an exciting fantasy adventure!

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

This is a nice prompt for either journaling or a literary novel.

And another fantasy adventure!

And another fantasy adventure!

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Breathtaking, isn’t it? The beauty and mystery of the world is an eternal supply from the Muses.

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

Can you weave a tapestry of words about your life?

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!

I love me a good travel adventure, and always come up with some amazing stories when I’m following some happy trails!


Picking Up Strays - On the Road # 10

IndieAuthor

Hey y’all,

Again, this is a letter written 14 years after the DIYBTRT in Alaska, the summer and fall of 2005. So Joe and I decided to go to Valdez first before heading to McCarthy for the Blackburn Festival. We were curious to follow the pipeline all the way to Valdez. But Joe slept on that drive, which I couldn’t believe. Maybe he has since experienced the incredible beauty I did. But the drive between the Wrangell/St Elias range and the Chugach range is known for a low cloud cover ALL THE TIME. On that day, the cloud cover lifted and what I saw was all kinds of jaw-dropping-stunning-gorgeous! The jagged peaks, glaciers that stretched almost to the road (or so it seemed) and the deep, rich, emerald green that was both vivid and surreal, I felt like I was driving through a mythical land. Where I lived was plenty beautiful, but this was the most exquisite part of Alaska that I ever saw. And that was only from the road. That was not the backcountry.

Joe decided to stay on in Valdez in the hopes of getting another fishing job. He didn’t and joined me at Blackburn, where we stayed in my half collapsed tent. Shannon, the friend from the peanut oil bus, saw Joe entering my tent and was about to deck him, when I showed up and reassured her that he was a friend of mine. The Festival happened, and the blogs about it are here and here for anybody who’d like to read about it.

Another friend joked that I picked up strays along the way and took them for a ride of a brief spell in my road trip, and that was true after this Girdwood party in Kennicott. I don’t remember how this happened, but after the Festival was over, there were a handful of us who stayed in the parking lot for another night. A photographer from Girdwood who had a passing resemblance to one of the Bee Gees in their prime, he had long hair and a beard, and a similar mindset to somebody who came of age in the Disco era – and no he was not of that age. I think Girdwood’s random lesbian, a cute girl with a pixie blonde haircut and large heart shaped sunglasses, a responsible looking woman and her husband, and me and Joe. Anyway, the Bee Gees photographer dude caught a ride with me and my Beast filled with books, and Joe in the backseat. The drive was several hours to Anchorage and then around Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. The photographer lectured Joe about his attitude about something or other, which pissed Joe off to no end. We still had a place to crash, and Bee Gees Photographer Dude showed us the pictures he had taken of all the belly dancers gyrating near the rusting ruins of a defunct copper mine – because of course, he took a lot pictures of the belly dancers. He didn’t get ANY shots of the magical moment when they danced spontaneously. I doubt the essence of that dance could have been captured in a snapshot though.

Anyway, that catches up the gaps in that particular squeeze of time that I neglected to write home about.

Peace,

Montgomery

Love Story vs. Romance

passion.jpg

So what distinguishes a love story from the romance genre?

Although I’ve gained a new respect for romance novels – which you can read about here - I’m more than a little frustrated that my former assistant put “romance” all over my META data and keywords.

I don’t write romance, and to put that in my META data to increase SEO is false advertising. Anybody who stumbles across my work and mistakenly buys it is going to be really pissed off when they encounter a predatory seductress who’d rather eat the hearts of her conquests than accept a happily-ever-after ending.

So what are the differences between them? These are broad generalizations, but I’ve come up with a few reasons why love stories command respect and romance tends to inspire derision.

If written well, a love story can be considered literary fiction. If we’re going into the classics, a couple of examples are Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” is a love story, as is “Wuthering Heights” by Emily Bronte. For film, “A Star is Born” is definitely a love story, and so beloved it has been remade over and over again and still makes an impact.

Romance follows a formula and that makes it commercial, even if it is beautifully written. Since I don’t read romance novels, I don’t know who the latest prolific romance novelist is after Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts, but I do know both of those women made a fortune off their genres. There are too many rom-coms to list.

A love story often has a slower pace without too many plot twists. Romance is all about the drama of obstacles to these star-crossed lovers. A love story can be set within an ordinary life, or an extraordinary circumstance in an ordinary life; whereas romance tends to be set in exotic times and places. But to me the greatest distinction between a love story and a romance is in the ending.

Romance novels, by their very nature of romantic escapism, have a formula and that formula must have a happy ending. Romance always ends with the man and woman are together against all odds. Since love stories are closer to life, sometimes they end happily – as was the case for Jane and Elizabeth Bennet in “Pride and Prejudice,” but not always. It could be argued that “Pride and Prejudice” was an early romance novel because the happily-ever-after ending was not true to life of what the writer, Jane Austen, actually experienced. Marrying within your social class and with an attention to money was a very insurmountable obstacle in Regency England and Jane Austen did not get the guy because her family, although respectable, was not moneyed. Perhaps that aura of loss and disappointment lent itself to the happy endings of her novels, and made them love stories, not romances. On the other hand, “Northanger Abbey” was silly enough to be a romance.

In “Wuthering Heights,” Catherine Earnshaw married somebody stable and died young. They don’t necessarily have that happily-ever-after. IN
“Bridges of Madison County,” Francesca stayed with her husband rather than leaving for a sexy photographer.

Love stories can end happily, but they don’t have to. This is probably why they command respect that romance doesn’t. Here’s another blog on the differences between love story and romance here.

One of my early reviews on Amazon about Ella Bandita and the Wanderer declared that theirs was a love story. Not a happily ever after love story, but a love story nonetheless. That is why I’m kind of pissed about romance being in my META data.

My Ideal Reader Profile

ReaderProfile

Reader profile? Most promotional emails for writers are bulls**t, but I just received one from a publicist who specializes in indie authors about creating a reader profile to increase book sales and find my audience – or my “true fans.” She referred to specifics that go beyond the basics, that go beyond “women who have hopes and dreams.’

That got my attention. In the mistakes I’ve made in the last 4 ½ years (this does not include the mistakes I made in the decade before that), some things became crystal clear – especially who my audience was NOT.

I discovered my audience was not who I thought they would be. My audience does not comprise upper-middle class women between the ages of 18-40 who have enjoyed the privilege of fairly stable lives with occasional bumps, wobbles, and unexpected twists in the road. That’s not to say that people in that group did not or could not enjoy my work because many of them have; I’m merely saying they didn’t connect deeply with it.

Technically, my genre is fantasy. But that is not the deciding factor in who is likely to love my work.

Loss has been the defining characteristic of my audience. I was surprised to learn that. Over time, I have found the readers who understood the character of Ella Bandita and who resonated with the stories about her were people who had suffered a lot. Gender, age, education, those didn’t matter so much. I’m not talking about mourning over the death of beloved family members of friends, but the kind of pain that involves the loss of self, parts of yourself, or who you thought you always were.

Have your illusions been destroyed?

Have your dreams been lost or even stolen?

Have you had no choice but to reinvent yourself?

In a nutshell, has Life kicked your ass?

Anybody who has answered yes to any of these questions – and likes to read – is a likely member of my natural audience. Given that Ella Bandita was born from the dark side of my soul, who else would make up my “true fans” but those who were also intimately acquainted with their shadows? My natural audience is made up of individuals who have had to work hard to find their place in this world. They are those who have gone through the hell and come out intact.

This is not to say that somebody who has enjoyed a steady, stable life without trauma wouldn’t like or love my work. Grief comes to us through all kinds of paths. There are many ways to be broken open, and the most avid lovers of books are those who need to escape the unhappiness of their own lives. 

I don’t know if there’s a Reddit thread for this or a Facebook group, but I’d be curious how a publicist would handle a reader profile like this one. I doubt that is what this publicist had in mind. Maybe she could tackle it.

 

 

Novel Excerpt - The Shepherd and the Courtesan

ShepherdandCourtesan.Fantasy

This is an excerpt from the novel that I’m currently working on, working title “The Shepherd and the Courtesan.” It’s the 2nd novel in The Ella Bandita stories. Although the photo above is not of the characters, I liked it because they are doing a dance with each other. To see the other excerpt I’ve put in already, click here.

“So what do you think of my Vanity Gallery, darling Shepherd?”

The creamy voice of my hostess caught me off guard. But I liked how she sounded. The Courtesan retained the sweet tones of a younger woman.

She stood above me, halfway down the stairs. The candles and crystals from the chandelier cast a warm glow over her lovely features, and her golden eyes sparkled in the incandescent light. The Courtesan was even more breathtaking in person than she was in her portraits.

She smiled and leaned her head to one side when I hesitated to answer.

“May I ask what you’re thinking?” she said. “I adore the way you’re looking at me just now. But your expression is rather singular.”

“I’m wondering how the devil I ended up here, if you must know.”

She chuckled softly.

“The devil may well have had a hand in this. My home is far and away from the natural wilderness where you usually roam.”

My heart ached when she said that. In that moment, I yearned for open space. People and society made life difficult, painful even. I longed for the solitude, for the peace of having only my flock for company. Even though it was snowing hard, I would have given anything to be outside, the cold air stinging my cheeks as I searched for a thick copse of trees near water, listening closely for the soft babbling of a creek that ran beneath the snow. That would have soothed my weary spirit after a day like this.

“Shepherd, you seem distressed. Is there anything you need?”

“Not at all. You’ve been very attentive to our comfort, Madame.”

“Please call me Adrianna,” she replied. “Madame is so priggish. I only allow my Butler to address me as such.”

“I don’t know you to address you by your Christian name.”

The Courtesan smirked, and cocked her right brow.

“There’s nothing Christian about any part of my name. Would you be more at ease with ‘Mi’Lady’ like the other servants? Those are your only choices.”

I paused, knowing how foolish that would be. I was a guest in her Casa, and I had no doubt the Wanderer wouldn’t hesitate at the informal address of her first name.

“As you wish, Adrianna.”

Her smirk broadened to a smile.

“Before I forget to mention it, I ran into your friend. The Wanderer said he would catch up with you in a few minutes. He also said to tell you he didn’t want to interrupt your reverie of my portraits.”

Adrianna smiled impishly, while the heat rose to my face. The Courtesan glided smoothly down the stairs, evoking a sense of leisure with each step until she came beside me. It was a shock that she only stood to my shoulder. I know I’m very tall, and her average height would make her appear diminutive next to me. But with her startling presence, I expected such a woman to be rather tall herself.

Apparently our differences in height didn’t intimidate her, while Adrianna unnerved me immediately. She took my hands and turned me to face her. The gesture was personal, if not intimate. Then Adrianna held my arms to my sides and, with no attempt at discretion, she looked me up and down.

“What are you doing?”

“My dear Shepherd, you’ve had the advantage of seeing me naked at every age, and from every angle for the better part of an hour. I would simply like the pleasure to really look at you.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“I want to take in your form for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.”

“I mind very much. You openly display your portraits and I believe posing nude was your choice.”

She glanced at me and winked, her golden eyes mischievous as she squeezed my hands.

“Please,” she murmured. “Be a darling and humor me, Shepherd.”

She had me so off balance I didn’t have the presence of mind to continue to protest. I nodded reluctantly, and that was all the permission Adrianna needed. There was nothing lascivious in the way she looked at me. She simply examined me as she would for the quality of a gown, the elegance of a piece of furniture, or the beauty of a work of art. Even though I had clothes on, I was exposed, even more naked than Adrianna had been in her portraits.

“How I adore tall men,” she purred. “Especially those who have such lovely, long limbs.”

She ran her hands along my shoulders and down my arms. The intimacy unsettled me - especially from a woman I had only met that afternoon. Yet there was nothing quite like the thrill of a woman’s touch. It had been a long time since I had last enjoyed that. The tingles along my skin made me shiver. Adrianna smiled slightly, her gaze sharp as she continued her appraisal in a buttery voice.

“You’re lean with a strength that is felt rather than seen. Tanned skin may not be the fashion of the Capital, but I love rugged men who weather well.”

She even took my chin in hand. Her grip was gentle, but I flinched. She stopped her assessment, the haze gone from her eyes when she saw into me.

“How uncomfortable does this make you, Shepherd?”

Adrianna still held my chin as she asked.

“Thoroughly uneasy.”

“That sounds unpleasant. Do you want me to stop?”

“I do. But go ahead and finish what you started.”

Her eyes glazed over again as she returned to her examination, turning my face each way.

“Salt and pepper hair becomes you nicely, and I like your brow, Shepherd. You have what I call an intelligent brow, the brow of a man who loves to think and reflect. Do you?”

“Maybe a little.”

“High cheekbones,” she continued. “Beneath your beard, I can see a strong jaw. Straight nose. How fine and chiseled your features are.”

The Courtesan then looked at me, her gaze open and penetrating at the same time. She smiled slowly.

“And your eyes,” she said in a singsong tone. “Clear green and piercing, as if you could see inside my soul. Can you, Shepherd? See to my deepest thoughts and feelings so you can know my secrets?”

“Not at all. But I suspect you can see into mine.”

Adrianna let go of my chin. She threw her head back and roared with laughter. The sudden shift in mood startled me. Her manner of laughing was surprisingly masculine from a woman with an excess of feminine wile. But the mannerism was also familiar. She stopped laughing with same abrupt manner that she started.

“Time has been extremely kind to you,” Adrianna concluded. “You are the most handsome man I’ve seen in a long time.”

Then she brought a palm to my face and stroked my cheek. Her expression shifted to that of wonder, even wistfulness.

“You must have been so beautiful when you were young, Shepherd.”

The sudden tenderness touched something buried deep inside. I struggled to breathe and froze. I couldn’t do anything but gaze into those large, feral eyes.

“I can’t say I’ve ever thought much about it.”

I was relieved when words finally came out of my mouth. Adrianna also seemed relieved, but I couldn’t be sure when she smiled.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” she replied. “Isn’t that part of your charm?”

“Are you always so personal with men you just met?”

Adrianna paused for a moment, her hand still resting against my cheek.

“No,” she whispered. “Never.”

Wanna Get Excited About Writing? Talk About It!

ExcitedAboutWriting

A fairly common piece of writing advice is to not talk about your novel while you’re writing it. I think that holds true when I’m in rough draft, because the unsolicited feedback that often comes when somebody feels they can improve upon your ideas can really psych writers out, or distract us into going in the wrong direction, which ultimately creates more work to correct, if we don’t give up out of frustration.  

But that’s only in the beginning. After a point, it’s incredible how talking about your work can create more excitement for it. Yesterday, I was working out with my friend, and Laura asked the usual question: “What have you been doing since I saw you last.” My answer: “Writing.” That is most of what I’m doing right now.

2nd draft is a slower process because I focus on keeping the details straight, so there is a novel that is done at the end of this. A novel that needs a developmental edit, some rewrites, and polish, but still a finished novel - whereas the rough draft is a mess. Anyway, she asked me what the story was about, and I told her it’s a triad of love stories involving seduction, fascination, and rivalry. The Shepherd and the Courtesan are together to tell their stories of Ella Bandita, the predatory seductress who had abandoned both of them. The Shepherd has never gotten over her, and neither has the Courtesan. The Courtesan’s goal is to know for certain that Ella Bandita is dead. To entice the Shepherd to stay and swap stories with her, she tells him of her transformation from an ugly, embittered, hard-labor peasant named Addie to the glamorous and irresistible Courtesan known as Adrianna the Beautiful.

This is the 2nd novel in a series of 4. Ella Bandita is the central character, however she is not the main character in this particular novel, nor will she be in the 4th. In this one, Ella Bandita is a secondary character in the background, present only through dreams and memories in the stories the protagonists share with each other. Through sharing their stories and the time they spend together, the Shepherd and the Courtesan find a chance for redemption and healing, but only if they are willing to let go.

The appeal of this novel is discovering the labyrinth of life experiences that make a human being who they are. The Shepherd’s character is complex, but his solitary life is simple. His relationship with the Woman who would become known as Ella Bandita, Thief of Hearts, is the only unusual circumstance of his life. The Courtesan character is complex with an incredible life story, and at least half the pages in the novel are spent on who she is and how she came to be that way. I suppose this is excessive “backstory,” but I don’t care. Because it is that juicy and that good. It propels the story forward between the Shepherd and the Courtesan, so it’s staying.

As I told Laura more, especially because there will be plenty of sex scenes, Laura got excited and said she wanted to read it. Of course, her enthusiasm made me want to keep writing the book.

I needed that. This draft is excruciating became it tests me in an area where I’m weak – patience. So although I would have been unwise to talk about this in the early stages, I found the sweet spot of talking about my work at a moment when I needed some juice to keep writing.

Laura got me excited about a story that I was starting to feel jaded about. That would not have happened if I had not talked to her about it.

So yeah, you writers out there, give it a try so long as you’re not in rough draft.