The Cool One

My father stands by his brother’s hospice bed. Up until this point, my uncle has been asleep. His wife, more coherent than anyone could have expected, has caught us up on the past week’s activities. This may be sudden for us, but it isn’t for her.

My uncle has woken up, and is moaning in pain. His wife runs for a nurse, then returns to reassure and calm her husband of more than 40 years. While his brother is still conscious, my father takes his hand, his voice cracking with tears. “I love you, man,” he says.

My uncle Mike will be the first of the three brothers to leave us. I suppose it’s only right as he’s the oldest, but seeing him and my dad together as old men? It broke me.

I came home and immediately put in the movie Goodfellas. Released when I was still in high school, it will always be my sentimental favorite among Scorsese’s films. I know those guys, the personalities if not the actual men.

I’ve always associated the head of the crew, Paulie, with my uncle Mike. He’s quiet, often content to sit in a corner and observe the rest of the room. Despite the deep well of kindness inside him, his face is hard if he’s not smiling. He looks dangerous. When my parents got married, in Texas, one of my dad’s college friends asked about the mysterious looking man off to the side.

“That’s my brother, Mike,” Dad told him.

“What does he do?” the friend asked.

“He’s a truck driver,” Dad answered.

His friend paused, glanced back at the unmoving man, and said, “But what does he really do?”

And thus a legend was born. The family joke for my entire life is that we’re not sure what Uncle Mike does for a living. He really did retire as a truck driver, by the way.

Grandma liked to laud Mike for his generosity and it was true. He had a big heart and, like my dad, would do anything for his family. Her favorite story was that of the time he brought all those shirts home for his brother. She had no idea he’d gotten them cheap off the back of a truck.

My thoughts are admittedly disjoined right now. Alone, curled up on the couch, with a film that feels as comfortable as an old friend, I let the tears and memories flow. For the next several days, I will jump every time my phone buzzes, just in case. That Call is coming.

As we left that hospice room, I could hear my aunt repeating the words, “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.” Ostensibly, she was speaking to the freshly medicated man at her side. But I think we all knew better. She was speaking to herself, and to all of us.

May she truly believe those words.

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The Real Fantasy

You know how I know I write fantasy?

It’s not the chains. It’s not the slavery. It’s not even that my female protagonist inevitably ends up with the hottest partners conceivable. I mean, that’s just expected, right?

No. It’s the fact that I had my leads out a predator in my [second book][]. Afterwards, he is quite vocal about how many speaking gigs he has lost as a result. He’s even forced to leave town.

At the time, I knew of a small band of people who had moved, more than once, to different corners of the country due to what I will politely describe as controversy. Apparently, their story made my little subplot seem plausible.

I cringe at my own naivete now. Because, unfortunately, real life does not work that way.

Instead, the bad apples just keep bobbing to the surface. And given enough time, fewer and fewer people know there was ever any problems at all. Memories are short in this community. With so much turnover, some of us end up telling the same story over and over, while the predator takes advantage of the ignorance.

It’s draining.

But that’s what the predators count on. That we will be too tired to stand up to them. That we will be too scared. That it simply won’t be worth the trouble. That we will give up.

Don’t fucking buy it. We’re not all wide-eyed newbies.

I don’t know what the secret is to avoiding burnout. I’ve been there, and it is a tough place to dig yourself out of. But I do know that we can support each other, validate each other, and stand together. We can also stop supporting groups that harbor ongoing, blatantly predatory behavior.

Step back if you need to. But don’t let them permanently sideline you.

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Until recently, my novels have been written exclusively from the perspective of one person – my protagonist and female lead, Lucy. it’s no secret that she and I have a few things in common too. We’re both a little (sometimes a lot) awkward, we both own a baseball ball gag, and we both have strong, irrepressible sarcastic streaks.

In other words, it’s not a big stretch for me to get into Lucy’s brain.

In the fourth book, Riding It Out, it became necessary to enter my male lead’s head. There were simply too many events that Lucy would necessarily not be around for.

Seth could easily, if simplistically, be described as the strong, silent type. He doesn’t always have a lot to say. Nevertheless, I fully enjoyed finding his voice. He embodies confidence though he is rarely cocky. When problem arise, he faces them head on and wonders why you ever doubted that a solution could be found.

I took that man and made him vulnerable. Repeatedly. Suddenly, the solutions weren’t so simple, his foundations weren’t so secure

I don’t know if this counts as a spoiler alert, but I loved Seth’s perspective so much, I decided to use it for the entirety of book five. And you know what? When writing as Seth, I found myself walking with a bit more swagger, a little extra strut in my step.

Eventually, I realized that *that* was why I enjoyed writing him so much.

I finished a draft of book five – it only has a tentative title so far – in February. My process always includes a cooling off period between drafts. I call it letting the book marinate. I need time to forget what I’ve written so I can go back with fresh, objective eyes.

In the meantime, I wrote a first draft of the sixth book. I doubt it’s very good, but I made myself finish it before going back to edit the fifth book. For book six, I decided to take on another character named Celine. If you’ve read the series so far, you’ll recognize the name. So far, however, she hasn’t had too large of a part. That’s over.

I’d long thought of Seth and Celine as extremely similar. At the very least, they are two sides of the same coin. Which makes complete sense. After all, they were both inspired by the same real-life person. And while Seth broke from this person somewhere in the first book, Celine is a much closer match.

Celine is a lesbian, a psychic, and a pure sadist. She’s had to prove herself, in one way or another, for one reason or another, her entire life. She doesn’t quite have a chip on her shoulder, but if you challenge her, she will not hesitate to push back. She has a zero tolerance policy for straight, cis-male bullshit.

While Seth’s priority is control, Celine’s is pain. She doesn’t need to be in charge or enforce rules, she has little interest in power exchanges, but she will push you to the edge of pain. And you will thank her for it.

You love her already, right? Me too.

Writing as Celine really helped to highlight the differences between her and Seth. Even if book six ended up being nothing more than a writing exercise, it helped me to better understand her. And that makes it worth writing.

Celine’s voice took me some time to find though. I didn’t slip into her brain anywhere near as easily as I did Lucy or even Seth. But once again, I found her perspective colored the way I looked at the rest of the world. Any fucks I did have, disappeared.

There is one scene in book six where I switched back to Lucy’s voice. It had been a while, but the re-entry was pretty smooth. Her awkward side was on full display and, wouldn’t you know it, that side of me came out in full force too.

It was fascinating. And probably something I should have picked up on some time ago. Certainly I had in real life, but this was an object lesson of the best kind.

Changing your perspective changes the way you look at the world. How you approach the world. We should all try it more often. It’s all part of listening to what those who are different than us are saying. It’s part of believing them.

Look. Look through their eyes and See.


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Saying Goodbye

There is a theory that, in the olden days, we called people who heard voices insane and put them in institutions. Now, we simply call them writers.


And yet, there is a certain amount of truth to that. When writing, the background noise in my brain is my characters chattering away. I can turn it off, and often do for hours at a time, but thoughts of the current or next scene are never far from my consciousness.

I’ve always said that I have kept writing because my characters kept talking, whether to me or to each other. They’ve been doing it for years. Just when I thought I was done, I wasn’t. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, I didn’t. They’ve surprised me time and time again.

And now they’ve stopped.

Monday night, I finished a first draft of what will be book six in my timeline. And for the first time, it truly feels like the end. I don’t have a story in mind for after this. I don’t see a reason to continue or anything else productive that I can do with these characters. Everything seems to have led to this point.

I assumed this day would come as a relief. Finally, they wouldn’t bother me when I was working, or wake me up in the middle of the night with the next big, important conversation. This was supposed to be a good thing.

Guess I should have been more care with what I wished for.

Because now I’m just at odds and ends. I don’t know what to do without their chattering. All day, I have felt like someone I have talked to every day for the past four years has suddenly disappeared. There’s nobody to text, no one to call, no way to contact them on social media.

It would seem that Seth has well and truly gone off the grid.

I’ve been assured this is normal, that I will make new fictional friends. Perhaps I will. But I also like to think that, as I edit, my old friends will come back. I have a lot of editing to do, plenty of time for them to show up and let me know where I went wrong (spoiler alert: it’s pretty often).

So today, I am feeling this. I watched a favorite funny movie, ate some ice cream, and allowed myself to mourn. That may sound like I’m overstating things, but I promise that I am not. Make no mistake, this is a loss. Given how much of a distraction these people have been, both from work and from world events, it is a significant loss at that.

Thanks, guys. It’s a been a real fun ride.

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Levelling Up

I had a scene to write.

I knew exactly how it would play out too, had in fact been thinking about it for days, and finally had a chance to sit down and get it out of my head. To get in the proper mindset of my characters, I began to reread what I had already written.

“That was a good line,” I heard a voice say.

I looked up in the direction of one of the chairs across from me. There was no one there, no ghostly apparition, nothing. But there was a presence nonetheless. And that voice, deep and commanding, somewhere between Jon Hamm and Liev Schreiber, was unmistakable.

“I’m glad you approve,” I shot back, my sarcasm in full force.

He levelled his gaze at me. Just because I couldn’t see it didn’t mean I couldn’t feel it. “I think we’re all happier when I approve, don’t you?” he asked.

If I had been standing, my knees would have buckled. Instead, I simply and humbly agreed, then went back to work.

A few days later, I texted a fellow author. “It’s normal to have conversations with your characters, right?” I asked. They agreed that it was not only normal, it was practically expected. “I’m used to them talking to each other, not talking to me,” I said.

“You just levelled up,” they replied.

I felt an odd and unexpected sort of pride, a validation I hadn’t realized I’d been seeking.

Ever since, my male lead has shown up regularly. Sometimes, it’s so I can show him the real life inspirations for him as well as some of my other characters. Other times, it’s to help me work through a new scene. Today, it was to chastise me for being upset because other authors had been mean to their characters. “As if you haven’t done the same,” I could hear him say.

He’s not wrong. The fourth book is a tough one. It was tough to write and it will be tough for others to read. But it had to be done. And I know I’m in good company.


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That’s Just How They Are

How many times have you heard someone excuse someone else’s actions by saying, “that’s just their personality”? Or “that’s just how they are. They don’t mean anything by it.”

How many times have you done it?

How many times have I?

And when it comes to personal preferences – whether to wash dishes immediately or wait until morning, which way to hang the toilet paper, etc – I have no problem with it. But when we start using these phrases on people who are hurting or assaulting other people, it has to stop.

An example of the former – my grandmother had met my best friend a couple of times. My best friend is a light skinned black woman. For years afterward, grandma would occasionally ask after that “nice colored girl.” I would sigh, tell her my friend was fine, and call my friend on the way home so we could laugh about it.

My grandmother was born in 1915. In her day, “colored” was the nice word for people of color. She hurt no one by saying this – not me, not my friend, nobody – and absolutely thought she was being considerate. And at her age, nobody was going to change her. I didn’t even try.

A couple of weekends ago, I was out of state for a wedding and heard my girlfriend’s sister relay stories of a man who used to live in their neighborhood who would walk up and down their streets verbally and physically assaulting women. When the police were called, their response was, “That’s just how he is.”

They did nothing.

And because he knew nobody was going to do anything about it, he continued. He felt safe to act with immunity. And why wouldn’t he?

I’ve seen the same thing repeatedly. Mostly in kink communities, but it’s no less prevalent among geeks or pagan communities.

Unfortunately, there really are people who are just awkward, don’t know any better, and simply need to be talked to. Taking the steps to educate them, keeping an eye on them to make sure they understand proper etiquette, is not the same as ignoring the problem.

But there are others. Others who have been talked to, know exactly what they’re doing, and simply don’t care. They’re the kinksters who have been around for years, but interrupt scenes or make lewd jokes to people they don’t know and have no relationship with. They’re the ones at geek cons leering and hitting on those wearing skimpy cosplay, or hitting on the vendors because the vendor has no way to easily escape.

It’s everywhere, and we excuse it. Every day.

Stop it. These people need confronted. If you’re not willing to help rid your community of them, at least warn others. Rob them of the pool they swim in.

Because we can’t plead ignorance. And we need to stop making excuses for the wrong people.

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Give Kink A Chance

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about how kink is not a competition. You don’t have to live up to what other people consider extreme, and it’s okay to pass on play partners whose interests aren’t compatible with yours.

In other words, play to your edge, not someone else’s.

Unfortunately, the example I used was of a man I saw play once. He was playing in a way that didn’t interest me, and I walked away.

Since that writing, I’ve had more than one person caution against such an approach. People can have more than one play style, I was informed, be skilled in many types of play. If you get to know them, you might find you’re compatible after all.

It’s an equally important point and one that I learned over time. From the beginning, my m.o. was to get to know people, watch them play a few times, and then decide whether I wanted to play with them. Which is why I made the snap judgment on someone I only saw once. Maybe if we had gotten to know each other, we could have found common ground.

Maybe not. I’m not really interested in arguing hypotheticals.

Further, interests evolve over time. What’s a limit today may not be a limit a year from now. Which is not to say that you should be pressured to do something you don’t want to do. Some limits don’t change, and that’s okay too. I for one will never want to play with electricity. Other people love it and that’s great for them. But it’s not something I’m ever going to consent to.

Having said that, there are types of play I never could have imaging wanting to participate in when I first started. Hell, all I was sure of was that I wanted to be tied up. Had I stopped there, and decided that was all I wanted to do, I would have missed out on the joys of fire, knives, and impact play.

Few people are static in their approach to kink. I dare say that’s the way it should be. There are so many possibilities, I would encourage everyone to explore as many as you can. With as many people as you like.

You never know what you might learn.

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Dirty Little Secret

Or, how I came to understand LGBT people through my kink.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be tied up. Before it was sexual, before I even knew it was weird, I knew the restriction felt good and that I wanted more of it. I watched television and movies and figured out early why some ties were problematic. I mean, it’s no fun if you can just squirm out of it, right? And that gag in Indiana Jones? Pfft. Way too easy to talk or scream through.


When I was caught tying myself up outside – god only knows what my mother thought of me that day – I retreated to my bedroom and did it in secret. Mom might not have said much about my activities, but it was clear that what I was doing was a Bad Thing.

I didn’t speak of it again for years.

In the meantime, I would often see gay people on television defending themselves by saying things like, “I was born like this – I didn’t choose to be gay.” It was the era of the emerging AIDS crisis so there were plenty of people attempting to dispel the myth that being gay was a sin.

That didn’t go over so well in our Regular Baptist household.

But in the deepest recesses of my mind, I knew I understood. I couldn’t tell anyone. Admitting to such thoughts would be tantamount to coming out about my own desires and I couldn’t do that. I couldn’t even put proper words to the connection. “It’s like those things that I want,” I told myself.

Those things. Those very vague things.

At least being gay was something you got to talk about on television, I reasoned. No one got on the news to defend being kinky. The things I wanted were more likely to be associated with heinous crimes like murder, kidnapping, and sexual violation.

Nope. Best to keep such very vague things to myself.

And yet, I grew up understanding what it was like to have a desire you had no control over. I understood not having a choice in what I wanted or what turned me on. I understood not being able to change it no matter how hard I tried.

Disclaimer – I know now that not every gay person goes through this period of self loathing. The lucky ones are able to embrace it early and I think that’s wonderful. Same with kinky people – I greatly admire people who come into the community in their 20s who have fully come to terms with themselves. I wish I had.

But that wasn’t my experience. So when I met really real gay people in really real life, especially those who had taken some time to discover their real selves, I found myself empathizing more easily than I might have otherwise. I heard my own feelings echoed in their words.

I’m not sure what the point is here. Maybe it’s that you can’t run from who you are. Maybe it’s that who you are is okay. Maybe it’s that you aren’t alone, no matter how much you may feel like you are. Maybe it’s about the importance of speaking our truths because you never know whose life you will touch.

Maybe it’s all of these things.

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I’m Still Listening

My first reaction when hearing any anecdotal evidence of inequality and prejudice, whether it’s based on race, gender, or anything else, is to be incredulous. Not, “But I would never do such a thing,” or “Not all white people.” Pure and simple shock.

If it’s particularly egregious, I completely lose the ability to form words. What were they thinking? How on earth could they think that was okay? What do you mean you adopted children of color and refer to them as brownies? How does that even occur to you?

Yes, that happened.

Other times, I am simply stunned that such acts still occur. Maybe I wonder if the person telling the story misinterpreted what happened because surely, no one actually still holds those attitudes. Right?

And this is how I learned to listen. Because every person of color I know has these stories. They can’t all be making them up.

Two people in particular have been key for me in this process. One is a woman I have met maybe twice. She is something of a Big Name is certain circles and we are friends on social media more because of her status than anything else.

She posts a lot about her experience and does not mince words. In the past, I have thought of her as militant. I’m no longer sure that’s fair – I think she’s a human seeking to be treated as such.

For a long time, many of her anecdotes sounded like overreactions to me. I had the same reaction many do – are you sure that was really about race? Maybe that other person didn’t mean it the way you took it.

But I couldn’t say anything. I’m not going to start that fight with someone I barely know, on their page, or invalidate their experiences that way. Fine, I decided. If she wants to rant, let her. I don’t have to agree with all of it.

As if it were up to me to interpret her experiences. Me. A white woman who has no clue what it’s like to be black and poor. Because that makes perfect sense.
So I listened instead. And I noted the patterns. I came to see things from her perspective and trust that what she said was real. This should not have been as long a process as it was. And yet.

I met the second person who has been instrumental to me through my best friend. Ze is a queer, gender nonconforming person of color who I happen to be in awe of. Ze has related plenty of similar experiences to the person above, only from a place of academia.
Without fail, and whatever the topic, ze shows me another perspective every time we’re together. It is endlessly illuminating and thought provoking.

And now ze is moving across the country. We were able to get together this past weekend for some laughs and hanging out time, and, as usual, I came away seeing things in a different way than I did before.

Sure, there’s social media. I will continue to follow them on the sites we share and even have a renewed purpose for being on them more often.
But ze won’t be two hours away anymore.

And I hate goodbyes. I suck at them.

One person suggested that it is not goodbye so much as a see you later. But it feels like goodbye. Watching the people who gathered over the weekend, I know it felt like goodbye to them too.

But I will continue to listen. To seek out those voices that do not sound like mine. And to try to pass on what I have learned. It’s the least I can do.

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What I Mean When I Say Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Your Kink Is Okay

It doesn’t mean that I condone acts against those who are underage. Or those who do not, or are unable to consent to what is happening to them. Don’t try to mask the wrongness of these acts by covering it in kink.

I mean that you consent to activities I might not. Maybe you like watersports. Maybe you’re a furry or a little.

It probably means that I’m curious though. I want to know why those things work for you. But I’m also aware that the reasons behind what we do aren’t always easy. Sometimes, it’s just what feels good. And that’s okay.

I can’t explain why I like pain. Or rope. What I can do is describe the catharsis that comes from a heavy pain scene. Or how rope gives me something physical to fight against instead of depression, anxiety, or other frustrations.

And I can empathize. Because who am I to say that the things that work for me are the things that should work for everyone?

I don’t have to like your kink – I legit don’t understand the fascination some people have with feet, for example. But how can I judge while I’m sitting over here hoping you don’t judge me for liking fire play or knife play?

All I’m interested in is consent.

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