All posts by reecroteau

Ree is a pro writer, ghostwriter and content creator by day, erotica and dark fantasy writer by night. She's also a mother to two rocking little kids, loves to read everything she can get her hands on, and does her nails whenever she gets a chance.

“Sex & Cupcakes” by Rachel Kramer Bussel stops by on its blog tour!

I first saw Rachel Kramer Bussel’s work in anthologies of erotica.

I should clarify; I’m choosey when it comes to my literary smut. I’m not one of those people who loves reading descriptions of two people eating in an erotica anthology. It may be absolutely delicious writing, and I love that, but when I pick up an anthology of sexy writing, I want to read about sex. I want to read about people connecting, physically and emotionally and sensually. If that great meal is prelude to some high class (or low class) fucking, then brilliant. But otherwise–it’s just not my preference.

I’ve loved Rachel Kramer Bussel’s anthologies for fulfilling both of these categories–exquisite writing combined with stories that leave me needing some serious personal time with my toys. So when I had the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of Sex & Cupcakes and participate in the blog tour, I leapt at it.

Like many women, I grew up on Cosmo and Seventeen and Sassy, and it’s only been recently that I’ve started to find people my age who look at sex like I do. Who think it’s messy and wonderful, and sometimes way too much to handle. That it’s hysterically funny when sweaty bellies make that farting sound, and that if your partner can’t laugh at that with you, then they are probably going to end up being a really lousy lay.

Sex & Cupcakes

Sex & Cupcakes, like all good sexy writing, engages and challenges me to rethink what is hot. We find out how Kramer straddles the dichotomy of the real-world her, and the one online, the one who, as she puts it, has three names. She holds nothing back, talking about how she got started in this industry, the comments that people make in regards to her boyfriend, who is overweight, her struggles with orgasms being the be-all-end-all of sex, and why she doesn’t need a spreadsheet in the bedroom. She thinks about sex in a way that feels familiar, friendly, and open to me. If Dr. Ruth was a tiny old lady scolding you about sex, Sex & Cupcakes invites you over for coffee, tosses your coat onto a hook, then invites you to flop on the couch and tell it what you really think about the date you had last night.

While I love Kramer Brussel’s anthologies with a passionate that one could probably write erotica about, I hope that this is only the first of many excellent works on modern sex from this exquisite writer.

Sex & Cupcakes is available on Amazon and iTunes. For more stops on the blog tour, look here.

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Reflections on my first convention & blogger blackouts

This past weekend, I took my self-published dark fantasy novel to Vermont ComicCon as a vendor. I’d last been to a con in college, so it was a pretty exciting thing. First signing event, first vendor event, lots and lots of firsts.

I’d love to be one of those people who could construct for you an organized narrative of how things progressed, but unfortunately, that sort of writing only seems to happen in my fiction. So let’s make a list of awesome things that happened at the first VTComicCon:

  • Selling and signing books! After years of going to various events and seeing the authors behind the tables, it was pretty awesome being the one there with my pens at the ready.
  • Seeing all the amazing cosplay. I’m more likely to be found in my geeky T-shirts than rocking a styling X-23, but I have so much admiration for people who have the visual creativity to put together some of the amazing costumes I saw. I tweeted some of my favorites.
  • There was a moment when an author came up to my table-buddy and myself and shook our hands, and said “I’m going to be published in a month, how do I get one of these tables, and what do I need to know?” It blew my mind, being the one who is considered to have the authority to answer those questions. Very very cool.
  • Being in a room with so many people who are passionate about the thing they love. I was very strongly reminded of the great answer Wil Wheaton gave a while back to the question of what’s awesome about being a geek, and that it’s not about what we love, it’s about how we love it. It seems like every time I look at Twitter, there’s authors being jackasses to bloggers, there’s Gamergate, there’s nasty and miserable crap happening everywhere. No good.

About the blogging blackout. I support it, both as an author and as a kind-of-blog-reviewer. Book bloggers do not exist to be the PR machine of authors. Book bloggers are book geeks. They do it because they love it, not just reading, but sharing the books they love (or don’t love) with their fellow book geeks. They deserve respect, especially because their love is so useful and important to us. I don’t feel like I’d be doing anything more than lip service by saying I was participating in the blackout, because nothing I’ve reviewed recently, or plan to review in the near future is a new release. I’d be lying if I said I was doing that deliberately.

I may spend the next week focusing on more writing topics rather than reading topics, or talking more about what the con meant to me. I also have an exciting bit of news that I’ll share tomorrow!

Review: The Year We Fell Down by Sarina Bowen

The sport she loves is out of reach. The boy she loves has someone else. What now?

She expected to start Harkness College as a varsity ice hockey player. But a serious accident means that Corey Callahan will start school in a wheelchair instead.

Across the hall, in the other handicapped-accessible dorm room, lives the too-delicious-to-be real Adam Hartley, another would-be hockey star with his leg broken in two places. He’s way out of Corey’s league.

Also, he’s taken.

Nevertheless, an unlikely alliance blooms between Corey and Hartley in the “gimp ghetto” of McHerrin Hall. Over tequila, perilously balanced dining hall trays, and video games, the two cope with disappointments that nobody else understands.

They’re just friends, of course, until one night when things fall apart. Or fall together. All Corey knows is that she’s falling. Hard.

But will Hartley set aside his trophy girl to love someone as broken as Corey? If he won’t, she will need to find the courage to make a life for herself at Harkness — one which does not revolve around the sport she can no longer play, or the brown-eyed boy who’s afraid to love her back.

Year we fell downLike many of the books I’ve read recently, I came to this book in a roundabout sort of way. I read a few stellar reviews of the third book in the series, and added the first book to my sample list on my Kindle. Then, I read Bowen’s post on NA Alley where she questioned whether or not an author could put an m/m title in what was otherwise an m/f series. In that post, she says that she’s gotten at least a few responses to her newest book, The Understatement of the Year, where some people decided to pass on it because it’s a m/m story.

My feelings about this are deeply conflicted. On one hand, no one is obligated to read anything, and if you don’t want to read a story about two men, then that’s fine. On another hand, the fact that most m/m romance is written by women with a target audience of women also kind of weirds me out. Most stories are awesome and amazing, but there are some that I’ve read that are pretty fetishizing and creepy. Of course, some section of EVERY romance genre is kind of fetishizing and creepy, so why pick on m/m romance? On YET ANOTHER hand, I’d like to think that the average reader might be willing to give a m/m romance a try, if they know and enjoy the author, and possibly have a new genre of romance open up to them. On another hand…

You see how it is. This is an octopus issue for me, and I don’t have an easy answer. But, I did have something I could do. I commented on Bowen’s NA post that I would be buying the book to read myself, and “so there mean reader,” or something like that. (I was very tired at the time. I might have had a beer. My husband regularly disregards my requests that he take away my internet when I’ve been drinking, because I entertain him.)

I read The Year We Fell Down hoping to enjoy myself, but I had no idea that I would be so blown away by this book. Corey Callahan is the main character. She is currently using a wheelchair for mobility, and she needs braces and forearm crutches to walk. She is mad about this, mad about what she’s lost, and she’s not apologizing for that, but she’s also not a bitch to all and sundry just because her life has changed. She is actively trying to figure out how to live when her life has taken a sharp left turn.

She is intrigued by Adam Hartley, her cross-the-way neighbor who has broken his leg very badly, and so is also sitting in the “gimp section” as they put it in their gallows humor. Hartley slowly encourages Corey to reconnect, slowly convinces her that it is possible for a man to see her, and not just the chair or the braces. Corey is rapidly falling for him. Only problem? He’s already got a girlfriend, Stacia, who by all accounts brings out the absolute worst in him.

Things I absolutely loved about this book:

  1. It is made clear that Hartley and Stacia have an “arrangement” while she’s in Europe for her semester abroad. Hartley’s flirting and … more with Corey are therefore easier to stomach without making her “the girl he cheated with,” something I hate.
  2. Corey never defines herself in terms of Hartley. She actually recognizes at one point that her reliance on him is keeping her from making other friends, and she tells him that they can’t be friends right now, because she needs to find her own feet.
  3. When Hartley makes up his mind, and realizes that he’s treating Corey like crap, he acts decisively. He doesn’t hem and haw and tell the reader all about how AWFUL this is, he just does the right thing. Bam.
  4. Did I mention that Corey is freaking amazing, and strong, and powerful? She’s neither the angelic girl in a wheelchair who’s going to make everyone appreciate their functioning legs, nor is she the angry, bitter cripple out to ruin everyone’s life. She’s a girl, a girl who has some “shit to shovel,” and she’s going to move that crap as best as she can.

Excellent book, wonderful, brilliant, I love it. I can’t wait to read the rest of the series, and it’s not even just so I can stick my tongue out at some random email person anymore.

Review: The Courtland Chronicles (EC Author, Non EC Book)

When I was twenty years old, I fell in love with a girl. I was both surprised and not at all surprised by this development. After six months of dancing around the subject, which drove our mutual friends utterly insane, we ended up together. Which was when I found out that she hadn’t come out to her parents yet, despite the fact that she’d identified as either bisexual or as a lesbian since she was in junior high, and had multiple girlfriends in high school and college before me.

Maybe this is why I sympathize with Eric more than Nick in the early novels of The Courtland Chronicles by Cat Grant. According to Cat, Eric fans have been few and far between over the years.

CourtlandIn the early days of the EC fuss that has dominated Romland for the past few weeks, Cat Grant went public, asking readers not to buy the series she’d published with EC. I got in touch with her to express my sympathies, saying that I didn’t want the free copies she was offering of the Icon Men series, but that I’d love a recommendation to another, non-EC series that I could purchase, to support her that way. We discussed some of what she had out, and she suggested this, for the sweet MMF that develops in the later books.

I enjoyed the Courtland books, without doubt. I love Eric, in all his brokenness, which tells me something about Grant’s writing ability; I have joked before that I have a fetish for broken boys, but Eric really should have made me madder. In fact, as things went on, it was Nick that I lost patience with. Always hiding from his parents, always expecting Eric to give him a little longer, and be okay with waiting. Maybe it’s because I’ve been there, or because times are just different from when this book was originally published, but I was very cranky with Nick, no matter how gorgeous his equipment might have been.

The later books see Eric and Nick establishing a relationship with their friend Ally, and creating a stable poly relationship, which is delightful and wonderful. The story of discrimination they face is mentioned, but never dwelled on, and the smutty bits are excellently smutty.

I understand Grant is now working on sequels that will focus on the Courtlands’ kids? I’m excited to read them!

Queerness and privilege

A friend recently linked me one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever read. This is from a 2013 article on EverydayFeminism:

Although a queer person may pass as straight if they’re in a heterosexual relationship, straight privilege by definition doesn’t exist for them because a) they’re queer and b) they still have to deal with prejudiced assholes on all sides, and I’m pretty sure that cancels out any ephemeral benefits of temporarily passing.

…I’m sorry, but are you joking?

pansexual transgender

I am a cis-woman who is attracted to a variety of genders. I’m not a huge fan of the term bisexual because I feel that it enforces the concept of gender binary, which I think is misguided, but I also dislike pansexual. It sounds like I should be off cavorting with satyrs. Pan was a jackass in the Greek. So we’re going to go with queer for the purposes of this little rant, if you don’t mind.

I’m a queer cis-woman in a monogomish marriage with a heterosexual cis-man. Just a few of the examples of how I  absolutely receive straight privilege unless I choose to out myself are:

  1. When people ask after my spouse/husband/partner, and I mention my husband, or say his name, their automatic assumption about the gender of my partner is correct and reinforced. There’s never been a moment since I’ve been with him that people say “Oh!” blink several times, and then start telling me about how all their best friends are gay. That happened a lot when I was with my girlfriend.
  2. When my husband and I decided to get married, we had the support of our families and the church I attended at the time. In fact, my relationship with a certain segment of my family improved, as they decided I was now “fixed,” despite my attempts to explain the concept of orientation fluidity to them. (I will admit I only tried so hard. There was a certain place where it became clear they weren’t listening, and didn’t care.)
  3. When my husband and I had children, there was no hubbub about his name going on the birth certificate. He didn’t have to fill out special paperwork, and we didn’t have to invest money in him adopting our children.

These are just a couple of examples, there are a near infinity more. Of course, one of the things about privilege that seems to confuse so many people is that you don’t just have privilege. It’s not an all-admittance pass. I can easily point to white privilege, able-bodied privilege, and class privilege in my life. When I choose to pass, I also easily gain access to heterosexual privilege and Christian privilege in my life. But that’s the key here. I have to choose to out myself. I have to talk about my girlfriend, or people have no idea. The fact that I don’t have to deal with people’s nonsense in my face every day, that I get included in these higher power groups unless I remove myself, that is a big part of what passing is. Passing is its own kind of hell, I don’t discount that for one minute, but the whole point of it is that you do it because you gain privilege (and remove perceived threats) by doing so. And when I do out myself, sometimes the backlash is…intense. I once blew up an entire parenting message board by asking the question of how someone like myself spoke to her kids about sexuality to avoid reinforcing heteronormativity. That…was an intense week.

I don’t like passing. I did it for a very long time, for a variety of reasons, and my personal experience was that the costs outweighed the benefits. I am loud, now, about my queerness. I stamp my feet when clients or editors demand bi-erasure in stories.

I don’t know if it’s enough, I’ll never know. But it’s what I can do.

What does success mean to you?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what success means to me. After all, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, how will you know when you got there, right?

For me, I think success looks like affecting someone deeply. I don’t need to be famous, or make a ton of money, or have a car that looks like someone should be reclining on the hood. I want to be at a signing some day, and have someone look me in the eyes and tell me that something I wrote made a difference to them, that it was a little easier to get through a dark night because of the words I wrote.

What does success look like for you?

I’ve been too serious.

And there’s only so much seriousness a person can take.

So! Today I’m going to talk about a word that I hate.

By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Mauro Cateb (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Now, I very much subscribe to the George Carlin school of language. “There are no bad words. There are bad thoughts…bad people…and woooooooooooooooooooooords.” I hate the term “bad word.” I tell my kids that certain words aren’t appropriate for a given situation (i.e. don’t repeat any of the things Mama says after she drops her coffee at school or in front of Grandma, thanks), but I don’t chastise them particularly for using words.

But there are words I like more than other words. And there are some words I don’t like.

My least favorite word lately: cum.

Yetch.

Funny one for an erotica writer, I know, but I hate it. I have since my Mulder/Scully fanfiction writing days. I hate it like other people hate moist. I don’t want you to cum in my mouth, I don’t want pre-cum in my hand, and for the love of GOD don’t cum on me. If you shout “I’m cumming,” this reading relationship is over.

Why do I hate cum so much? No clue. I’m not normally one for flowery language. Get out of here with your sword of his manhood and the flower of her lust. But I will talk about the fluid of his arousal, the pearl of wetness on his tip, and I’m constantly going on and on about people coming (although I still have no respect for announcers; if I can’t tell from other signs, you’re doing it wrong). But seriously, I’d rather hear about his jizz, his load, or even (if you can imagine it) his semen than his cum.

What words turn you right off?

Review: A Case of Possession by K J Charles

Earlier this year, a friend lent me The Magpie Lord, a great historical paranormal by London author K. J. Charles. I loved everything about the book, but for some reason, it took me until now to pick up A Case of Possession. There will be spoilers for the first book below, but they should be minor.

a-case-of-possession

Lord Crane has never had a lover quite as elusive as Stephen Day. True, Stephen’s job as justiciar requires secrecy, but the magician’s disappearing act bothers Crane more than it should. When a blackmailer threatens to expose their illicit relationship, Crane knows a smart man would hop the first ship bound for China. But something unexpectedly stops him. His heart.

Stephen has problems of his own. As he investigates a plague of giant rats sweeping London, his sudden increase in power, boosted by his blood-and-sex bond with Crane, is rousing suspicion that he’s turned warlock. With all eyes watching him, the threat of exposure grows. Stephen could lose his friends, his job and his liberty over his relationship with Crane. He’s not sure if he can take that risk much longer. And Crane isn’t sure if he can ask him to.

The rats are closing in, and something has to give…

There are so many things to love about Charles’ Charm of Magpies series. The effortless capture of the British class society. The way Lucien is given an actual reason to not care about it. The rocking women. Esther Gold, introduced here as Stephen’s justiciar partner, is fantastic. The way Lucien and Stephen’s romance continues to develop, without taking the focus off the actual paranormal storyline. The smutty, delicious sex. Oh, the sex. Ahem.

Writing a story with romantic elements that isn’t actually a romance (I define the difference as which plotline is given the most “screentime” or importance in the story, other definitions might vary) is trickier than your average writing student might think. Too many authors focus too heavily on one or the other, leaving the more minor storyline to feel as tacked on as it usually in. Charles keeps them in perfect balance throughout the book. It matters that Stephen and Lucien are lovers, their dynamic matters, and both drives the action and is driven by it.

I adored this book, and as soon as I’d finished it, I pre-ordered the third book, Flight of Magpies, due out October 28th. I can’t wait.

On the importance of romance novels

Something I’ve heard a lot from various authors who write “genre” fiction is the idea that they aren’t doing anything important. That their books don’t change the world. I’ll tell you the truth, when my favorite authors make the switch to writing fiction that’s “important,” I tend not to follow them. I read stories. And I find stories to be incredibly important.

In our current culture, the Madonna/Whore dichotomy continues to thrive. Walking this morning, I heard a man blasting music from his truck. I heard a lyric about “She’s not Cinderella as she gets undressed / cuz she rocks it like a naughty Wicked Witch of the West,” and wondered (not for the first time) why she couldn’t be both. Every actress who has thrived on Disney, from Annette to Miley, has taken control of her world by claiming her sexuality publicly, causing criticism about “what happened to that sweet little girl,” because of course sweet little girls don’t twerk.

Or for the most nefarious example that’s hit close to home recently, my friend Stacy was walking home after a theater performance a few nights ago. It was late, it was dark, but we live in a fairly sleepy little town. She was on the phone with her boyfriend as she walked, and a car pulled up beside her. The man inside began trying to talk to her, keeping pace with her as she tried to speed up. He began to shout. She began to run. Thankfully, there was an open store on the corner, and she booked it inside. She is one of the strongest women I know, an advocate for feminism and female equality, the kind of amazing person who can make me laugh until I snort milk out my nose, but also call me on my privilege and my bullshit in a way that makes me rethink what I’m doing instead of just getting defensive. And yet, when the clerk at the store offered to call the police, she thought to herself what good will it do, he hasn’t done anything illegal. She thought, did I do something to make this happen? She thought was this my fault in some way?

The beauty of romance novels is that they are read. They are read by scores of men and women, and they, I truly believe, have the power of offering an alternative to the porn-star poses found in magazines and certain movies. Romance writers write about heroines who are not perfect, either physically or emotionally, but still deserve to be treated properly, and be loved. Romance writers write about enthusiastic consent being incredibly sexy and hot. Romance writers include safe sex in a normalizing way.

One of my favorite moments in my freelance erotica career was when I was writing a scene where the very Alpha male ended up asking for consent from the woman he was with. The client objected to his asking, and told me that the man should just, you know, take what he wanted, and the woman would just submit.

I spent about an hour boiling over with rage, and then wrote back and politely informed my client that I did not write non-consentual encounters (negotiated non-con is a different beast, but we’ll leave that for now), and perhaps i had misunderstood him? And if I had not misunderstood him, well then we could talk about whether he wanted to give me a partial payment for what I’d already done and find another freelancer, or just call it done.

He backtracked quickly. I did rewrite the scene to make the Alpha more Alpha-y, but he asked for and got his yes before he laid a finger on the woman in question. Thank you *very* much.

Another of my friends likes to say that I’m saving the world through porn by writing what I do. I write about broken people who manage to tape themselves back together again, and get their happily ever after, even if it doesn’t look like they thought it would. I write about poly families establishing long-term couples that are happily ever after for everyone. I write about women who are strong, and make their own choices. And, maybe even more importantly, I write about partners who love how independent their women are, who don’t view it as a challenge to be conquered, but as an asset in their joint battle against the forces of the world.

My friend Stacy did end up letting the clerk call the police. The police were very respectful. They never once asked what she was doing out so late, on her own, or asked if she thought she should be out by herself. They didn’t blame her, or accuse her, though she still found herself explaining why she was out alone. The guy who shouted at her was, of course, long gone by then, but she got home safe. She gave me permission to tell the story here and use her name, because, as she said to me this morning, “What good is freedom and autonomy if using it puts you in mortal danger?”

To every romance writer out there: don’t believe for a second that what you write isn’t important. What you write is read, and it matters. It helps women see that there is hope, that we can demand more from the people around us. That’s crucial, if we’re ever going to change this world, and make it better for our daughters and our sons.

Keep going.

Review: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne (EC Author’s NON EC book)

scwynne_damagedheart_1Just twenty years-old, Cory Johnson fled Bayville after his father’s suicide to escape his abusive mother. He made a life for himself in Los Angeles, as different from Bayville as a place could possibly be. While his successful legal career is rewarding, Cory can’t connect with the people in his life. He’s terribly alone. When his mother dies, he must–reluctantly–return home to handle her estate, which he knows will only make those feelings worse.

Rhys Tucker owns the construction company that will renovate Cory’s childhood home. He’s harbored a crush on Cory since high school, so he seizes the unexpected opportunity to get close to Cory. Or at least try to. Their physical chemistry is immediate and undeniable, but Cory’s so closed-off, Rhys worries he’ll never penetrate that guarded, damaged heart.

Cory wants Rhys. He does. But can someone as scarred and broken as he is ever really come home?

Let me be clear: Damaged Heart by S. C. Wynne won me over as soon as Cory described himself as “twitterpatted” in Rhys’ presence. After that, it really couldn’t go wrong for me.

This gorgeous, lovely, steamy book really lays itself out there in the premise. Cory is broken. He grew up in an incredibly abusive home to parents who seemed to notice him only to verbally and emotionally abuse him. He is drawn to Rhys in ways that shock and frighten him, and he is paralyzed.

Too many books in this genre try to completely “heal” the hero in their few short pages. It doesn’t work that way. People don’t “get over” years of abuse and emotional horror. But they can, slowly but surely, and with the proper encouragement, begin to make a change.

This book is a short, sexy read, and it keeps its focus narrow and tight. I could wish that Wynne had shown more of Cory and Rhys’ interactions; given that I was inside his head, I knew that he was worth waiting for, but I wondered why Rhys was willing to put up with it all. Still, these were some of the more smoldering m/m scenes I’ve read recently, and I will be eagerly seeking out more of Wynne’s work.