Adorable, et al. (A Fat Femme’s Guide to Managing Pesky Adjectives)

So, I’m home from yet another amazing Women’s Week. Each time I go, I’m in awe of the community of writers and editors and readers who come together to mingle, have fun, learn, and celebrate lesbian fiction. It fills my cup in more ways than I can count.

This year brought more of the same, but a new layer. Newly out of a relationship, I tried to embrace a flirtier, sassier side of myself. It went well, I’d say. Mostly. A couple of misfires, but that’s to be expected. Especially when wine is part of the equation. But there were surprises, too.

Here’s the thing. I’m a reasonably confident person. I feel pretty comfortable owning that I possess above-average intelligence. I’m funny. I’m a decent writer and a damn good cook. I rock my day job like a boss. When people say nice things about those aspects of my personality, I might get a little bashful, but I can soak it up, be gracious, and say thank you.

But. There’s always a but, isn’t there?

I don’t know if it was my attempt to channel my inner sassy, or maybe the fact that I’ve been feeling better in my body (thanks, barre), or what, but this year I got another slate of adjectives. Ones I’m not used to. Ones I’m not sure what to do with.

Over the course of the week, I got adorable, pretty, and even a gorgeous. Now, adorable is tricky, but that’s another post. The point is that more than one person conveyed to me that I was attractive. Like, physically.

On one hand, declaring this in a blog post feels massively vain, but I hope you’ll bear with me. Because writing blog posts helps me process feelings. More importantly, I’ve come to realize that if I’m wrestling with shit, I’m never the only one. If flinging this out into the ether resonates with one other person, well then, it’s worth it.

So, back to those pesky adjectives. That P one, or the G one. Or, look out, the B one. For me, they’re really, really, like seriously fucking really, hard to believe. My general go-to is the they’re-just-being-nice interpretation. That’s actually an improvement over the they-feel-sorry-for-me interpretation. And maybe comparable to the oh-that’s-nice-they-don’t-hate-fat-girls interpretation.

I know. I’m obnoxious. I can recite the fat-positive playbook. If one of my friends uttered such nonsense, I’d give her a very stern talking to. But what happens in the overactive recesses of my mind generally stays there, to be fretted over a million times, in the comfort of my self-doubt.

Not today. I am putting it out there now, but please don’t feel like you have to give me the talk. I know. (Really.) I’m mostly marveling at the whole thing and trying to sort out how one might go about the believing it and the soaking it in. I’d happily take pointers on that front if you have them.

My current strategy is fake it ’til I make it. Oh, and resist the urge to say something dismissive even if I’m hella uncomfortable because that’s just rude.

I’m also happy, as I said, to fling my discomfort into world in the hopes it helps someone else know they’re not alone. If that’s you–today, this week, your whole life–I feel you. And you’re gorgeous.

xo
Aurora

 

Everything I Need to Know in Life, I Learned from You’ve Got Mail

According to Joe Fox, “The Godfather is the I Ching. The Godfather is the sum of all wisdom. The Godfather is the answer to any question.”

I beg to differ, even if I agree with the sentiment of leaving the gun and taking the cannoli. And while I don’t really think You’ve Got Mail is the sum all wisdom, I’ve gotten a lot more out of it than I ever got out of The Godfather.

For example, fall is the best season, especially in New York. A bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils would win big points with this girl. Also, taking all the caviar garnish is beyond tacky. Oh, and Pride and Prejudice is the best book, for way more than its use of “words like thither and mischance.”

When it comes to insults, I don’t think anything tops, “You are nothing but a suit.” It is, as Joe says, “the perfect blend of poetry and meanness.” It’s such a good insult, I’ve not been able to bring myself to use it, although tempted on more than one occasion.

“It’s not personal, it’s business.” Yeah, total cop-out.

I watched Kathleen and Joe fall in love last night, for perhaps the hundredth time. I laughed, I said a lot of the lines aloud. I sang the violins part at the Shop Around the Corner Christmas party. And because I was three glasses of wine in, I got a little sentimental.

What got me last night was what Kathleen said about her store closing. She says, “People are always telling you change is a good thing. But all they’re really saying is something you didn’t want to happen at all has happened.”

I’ve been there many times. Change can be so hard and, in the moment, it can feel impossible to look beyond how much it sucks. But some of the best parts of my life have come out of those things I really didn’t want to happen. There was being sent away to boarding school, the end of my marriage, closing my bakery. Without those things, my life never could have unfolded the way it has. And while it isn’t perfect by any means, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Raising the Barre

I’ve never been skinny. I’ve made peace with the fact that I never will be. Really, I have.

There have been a few times in my life, however, when I’ve been fit. When I’ve felt strong and limber and good about my ability to move the way I want. The most recent of those involved dance class. Belly. Modern. Ballet.

It was a few years ago now that I was going to three or four dance classes a week. I’ve wanted to go back, but the combination of time and money and the dread of getting back on the wagon have held me back.

This morning that changed. This morning I went to my first barre class. Here’s how it went…

I showed up at the studio twenty minutes early. I was the first one there. The girl who checked me in assured me it was 1) nothing like ballet, 2) really hard, and 3) unlikely I’d be able to do the whole class. Then she sold me $20 grippy socks.

Don’t get me wrong. She wasn’t mean. In fact, I appreciated her saying she couldn’t do the whole class at first either. She pointed out the room and told me to grab a mat and pick my spot.

I entered the room. Funky mirrors hung on the walls; ballet barres lined the room. The instructor promptly asked if I could take off my shoes first. Right. I’d not noticed the cubbies when I’d arrived. (They weren’t pointed out either.)

I took off my sneakers, put on my (cute, hot pink) $20 socks, and tucked my things into a cubby. Another regular arrived and the three of them talked amongst themselves. I hovered awkwardly.

Other women (and one guy!) trickled in. I was definitely the chubbiest in the mix, but there was a range of ages and body types. I felt better. A couple of them told me what to expect and how to situate myself in the room.

Why is it that the older, non-skinny women are the kindest? Do they know what it’s like to feel out of place? Or have they settled into themselves and are actually happier and more confident than the younger, more perfect-bodied ones?

I like to think the latter. After all, there’s hardly a woman alive without some kind of baggage about her body. Even the ones who are much closer to society’s standards of perfect. The patriarchy does a bang up job on that front. Besides, it’s not like anyone was mean. They might be introverted people who are just as nervous about being there as I am.

Class began. Much sweat. Extensive muscle trembling. A couple of things I couldn’t do at all.

But the instructor said encouraging things, corrected my form a couple of times, then complimented it. I made it to the end. I didn’t throw up.  Or cry.

The verdict? An intense workout that taps into my affinity for form, posture, and grace. Not as much actual ballet as I’d like. Intimidating, but not unbearably so. I’m booked for another class on Wednesday.

The I-Have-Mixed-Feelings-About-Resolutions Post

At this point in my life, I mostly shun the idea of New Year’s Resolutions. The timing feels rather arbitrary, the sentiment so often laced with self-loathing. And then there’s the whole bit about being cliché.

That said, I can’t seem to stop myself from being reflective. Dates and milestones of all sorts do that to me. (Yes, I spend way too much time looking at Facebook memories.) There’s nothing wrong with that, really. It can be fascinating/impressive/hilarious to see where one has been. Of course, it can be discouraging/hard/sad as well.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this. Oh, right. Resolutions. I, too, dislike them.

But I am into that whole growth mindset thingy. And I know my life and habits and thoughts could always be more and better than they are. So, what is a girl to do?

I do not resolve to fit in my too-tight pencil skirts. (Although I desperately want to fit in them.)
I do not resolve to sell 10,000 books.
I do not resolve to meditate/eat less cheese/do all those other things that are supposed to make me a better person.

I resolve to move in a way that feels good every day. (Much more kitchen dancing for me.)
I resolve to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can. (Thanks, Roxanne Gay.)
I resolve to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I resolve to listen more.

I’m still not sure about “resolve.” Let me consult my favorite thesaurus…

I have a mind to move in a way that feels good every day.
I endeavor to write as well as I can, with as much heart as I can, whenever I can.
I strive to be more honest—with myself and others—about what I need and want.
I intend to listen more.

Much better.

What about you? What intentions are you sending out into the universe for 2018?

Conflict Resolution?

No, this isn’t a post about finding ways to deal with that annoying thing your partner does or the boss who mansplains. It’s your friendly neighborhood conflict-avoidant  writer having a moment.

If you know any published authors, you know the love-hate relationship most of us have with reviews. We know they’re part of the game; we appreciate when people take the time to write them. We feel giddy elation when they’re good. We go through the five stages of grief when they’re terrible.

My latest release, Summer’s Cove, is no different. I check Goodreads and Amazon far too often. I laugh. I do happy dances. I huff and roll my eyes. I do my best not to cry.

Actually, they’ve been more good than bad so far, which is nice. A few people have commented that they see growth in my writing (yay!). One called me her hero (blush, swoon). A couple dislike a character or the way I went about something (point taken).

But here’s the thing. No one has dinged me on my weak/non-existent/uncompelling conflict. No. One.

As a person and a writer who really likes everyone to get along, this is huge for me. (Just ask my editor.) It makes me feel like I really am growing as a writer.  That I’m doing something right. Maybe it’s a conflict resolution after all.

P.S. If you’ve enjoyed a book and want to make an author’s day, leave them a nice review. I promise they’ll appreciate it. And if they’re anything like me, they might even jump up a down a little.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things (Repost)

Another re-post, pulled from the old Bold Strokes blog. It turns out, I’m pretty good at advice. I’m less good, sometimes, at following my own words of wisdom.  This is a perfect example. Whether or not it really counts as simplifying is debatable. But I’ll take the reminder to focus on what matters, what brings me joy. I’ll take that any day of the week.

The Complicated Art of Simplifying Things

BY AURORA REY

built-to-lastI think there’s a switch that gets flipped when we approach middle age. For some people, it’s all about more—more money, more toys, more thrills before youth slips away. For others, the switch flips the other way and there is a burning desire for less—less stuff, fewer demands on our time. I’m definitely in the latter camp and, like many people closer to forty than thirty, I’ve found myself looking for ways to make life simpler.

Whether clearing away excess clutter or ridding my closet of clothes I’ll never wear, part of this desire is tied to having less stuff. Another part is about authenticity, which is partly about stuff, but also about focusing on people and relationships that are meaningful and resonate with who and how I want to be. And, last but not least, it’s about deciding how to spend the most valuable resource of all—time.

Which all sounds a little hokey, I know. But hear me out.

A little over a year ago, my partner and I bought a little farmhouse out in the country. We decided to trade our downtown existence for fifteen acres and no neighbors within a thousand feet. We cancelled our cable; we started talking about chickens and goats. One of us (me), became enamored with the idea of keeping bees. Sure, we’d have to keep our day jobs, but life was going to be simple and we were going to love it.

The irony of moving out the country is that it requires a lot of equipment. You can’t really tend fifteen acres without a tractor. It’s alarmingly easy to spend five hundred dollars on dirt. Canning is fun, but definitely not child’s play. Don’t even get me started on how much attention farm animals require. And while I definitely have fewer tchotchkes than I used to, I now have more power tools.

So, I’m not sure we’ve mastered the art of simplicity, but we are a lot happier. I like the exhaustion of a day tilling the garden. Tomatoes you pick an hour before you eat taste a thousand times better. And I don’t think I’ve ever been more relaxed as I am sitting around a fire, drinking wine and looking up at the stars.

I think the moral of the story is that simplicity isn’t always simple. Sometimes it’s more about mindset that minimalism. It’s about figuring out what’s important and focusing on it. It’s resisting the allure of things that seem shiny but will suck your energy and leave you feeling unsatisfied. It’s understanding those things aren’t the same for everyone and accepting there are a thousand ways to be happy. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s learning that finding the love of your life isn’t about finding someone just like you, but finding someone whose version of simple (or complicated or happy or satisfied) fits with yours.

Which brings me to Olivia and Joss, the protagonists of Built to Last. Over the course of the novel, the characters embark on a similar journey. Olivia buys a farmhouse in an effort to break away from the artifice of her upbringing and family, but quickly realizes she got a lot more than she bargained for. She navigates the world of DIY with relative ease, taking pride in her work and doing things her way. In the end, though, she has to learn that making a home is about a lot more than paint chips and finding the perfect stove.

Joss, on the other hand, believes she’s mastered the art of simple goals and straightforward priorities—family and work, in that order. She’s convinced she has it all figured out, until Olivia shows up and drives her to distraction. She has to confront her own notions of what it means to be family, and whether happily ever after counts if it comes in a package you don’t expect.

You’ll Never Know Unless You Try (Repost)

A few months ago, Bold Strokes did an amazing upgrade to their website. (Seriously, it’s awesome. You should buy all your books there.) Part of that included a new host for the BSB Author’s blog. Since that means the old blog is going away, I decided to snag my old posts for posterity. And since reading them made me smile, I thought I’d share them again here on my page.

A lot has changed since November 2015. The next Cape End Romance, Summer’s Cove, is due out in October. Oh, and I totally had just the right combination of encouragement, backup singers, and alcohol to try karaoke. You really don’t ever know unless you try.

“You’ll Never Know Unless You Try”

BY AURORA REY

A few years ago, I spent my free time baking instead of writing. I’d gotten a small, modestly profitable cake business off the ground and fantasized about fame, fortune, and Food Network. I even passed an initial screening and had the opportunity to submit an audition video to Cupcake Wars. While freaking out about the potential rejection, as well as the chaos that would ensue if I was chosen, my therapist at the time had some words of wisdom: you risk nothing by trying.

She’s a very smart woman, so I took her advice. Unable to fathom doing it in front of anyone, I set up a tripod in my basement bakery, filmed it, learned iMovie, edited it, and put it out there for the world to see (all over the course of a weekend.) I didn’t make it onto the show, but making the video was a blast. To this day, it’s a great conversation starter and my go-to random interesting fact. Sure, I’m a little bitter every time Cupcake Wars comes on, but I’m still glad I tried.

My first stab at NaNoWriMo was similar. A friend who’d done it the year before inspired me to take on the epic challenge of writing 50,000 words in thirty days. At the end of November, I had 50,279 words of novel that wasn’t terrible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all that good, either.

Undeterred, I set it aside and gave myself permission to start from scratch. I also gave myself permission to write a book I’d love to read (a romance) and to set it in one of my favorite places (Provincetown). And, well, it worked. The result is my first complete novel and my first work with Bold Strokes Books.

Winters HarborWinter’s Harbor features Lia, science writer, and Alex, a pastry chef. Lia arrives in Provincetown after her ten-year relationship tanks. She’s on her own for the first time since college and is pretty sure a girlfriend is the last thing she needs. Alex lives and works in Provincetown. As far as she’s concerned, Lia might be the perfect distraction for the cold and quiet months of winter.

Like many writers, I wrote a ton of witty dialog and self-indulgent scenes and was pretty happy with myself. My editor, on the other hand, pointed out that I’d neglected to create truly meaningful conflict. I huffed. I put my hands on my hips. I whined. How dare some hot shot editor pick apart my perfect story? After about an hour of this, I admitted she was right.

My premise was that getting involved throws both women out of their comfort zones. They enjoy spending time together (spoiler: there’s a lot of cooking and baking), but neither of them is eager to put her heart on the line. It was only when I started to pick apart what that meant, however, that I got anywhere. When I thought about how much our deeply held insecurities drive us to avoid taking the kinds of chances that make life worthwhile.

Ultimately, that’s what it came down to. Lia and Alex had to grapple with the same little voices we all have. The ones that can make us feel content, but that can also keep us stuck. Clever banter and baked goods notwithstanding, Lia and Alex had to be willing to take a chance—on themselves and each other.

This is all starting to feel like a recurring theme in my life, and a lesson it’s taken me a long time to learn. I’ve still never been brave (or drunk) enough to sing karaoke, but I embrace the belief that the risks pay off. And even if I don’t always get what I want, I learn a lot and mostly manage to enjoy the ride. I think that’s what life is all about.

P.S. If you want to see the gem that didn’t win over the Cupcake Wars people, it’s still on YouTube. I’m still impressed with my editing skills. My fierce competitor face? Not so much.

 

 

It’s Gonna Be May

I said going in that April was the cruelest month. I didn’t want to, really, because April is my birthday and brings the first true tastes of spring. It also, however, brings a crescendo of admissions events, awards ceremonies, honor society inductions, and course registration. Oh, and crises. The students-who-haven’t-gone-to-class-since-spring-break variety.

I’m talking about my day job here. I still have one of those. I like it mostly, but there are a few times of the year that it takes far more out of me that I want to give.

Despite knowing this going in, I scheduled myself to finish the first draft of Spring’s Wake by May 1. This would give me a couple of weeks to do a read-through before sending it off to beta readers. I’d hit my weekly word targets every week since the start of 2017. I wasn’t about to fail.

Only I did.

I was mildly on track for the first half of the month, despite all-weekend admission events. It went downhill from there. Not all bad, mind you, but out of control. A couple of days of fun plus my ex’s wedding (notably non-traumatic) took up lots of time. Having a weak middle and a pacing problem in the manuscript made those last 15,000 words or so beyond painful.

In short, April made me her bitch.

It got so bad that I spent the better part of a Saturday morning in a crying, sniffling heap. Andie pet my head and reminded me that April sucked.

Right.

So, the manuscript still isn’t done, but I think I can whip it into shape. The end of the semester is in sight. I discovered the amazing *NSYNC play on May and giggled. A lot.

may

I’ve decided that, for next year, I’m going to do whatever it takes to have essentially no writing obligations in April. That way, anything I accomplish is bonus. For now, I’m just glad the worst is over. And May? You’re going to be my bitch.

The Glory of Love, Loser’s Edition

I promise this is not a post about Peter Cetera. Or The Karate Kid Part II. It is a little bit about love, though. And glory. And why I write.

I’ve reflected before about why I write romance novels. Of my delight in having readers. Fans, even. I’ve touched on how nice the money is and how much it has meant to me–as a writer and a person–to have found a home in the lesfic community.

But today I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I’m also in it for the glory.

Perhaps glory is the wrong word. Esteem might be better, with a layer of recognition. But glory is definitely part of it. And I’d already committed to the Peter Cetera reference, so here we are.

Today, the last batch of finalists for the Golden Crown Literary Society Awards (the Goldies) were announced. Built to Last was not on the list. Nor was it on the short list for the Lammys that was posted a month or so ago.

I knew the list was coming, so I pulled up the page on my phone the minute my alarm went off. Names I knew. A few I didn’t. Not mine.

I was disappointed, but I got out of bed and took a shower. I told Andie and she said sweet things to make me feel better. I did my morning writing and came to work. I congratulated my colleagues, I commiserated with friends. I moped a bit, but not too much.

It’s funny because I’m an introvert at heart and don’t actually like being the center of attention. But there’s something about awards, recognition of a job well done. I wasn’t raised to be competitive, but man do I love a pat on the head and a “job well done.” Literary awards are the pinnacle of that–positive reinforcement and an ego boost all rolled into one.

Not getting that recognition can be so…deflating.

I’m an optimist, though, and do my best to shoo away negativity before it gets too comfortable. So here goes…

I get notes from readers–unexpected bursts of joy that make me happy for days. I get royalty checks–quarterly reminders that people are willing to spend their hard-earned money on my stories. I get Facebook likes and retweets and mentions in reading groups. I get more good reviews than bad.

In short, I get plenty of glory. On top of that, it’s the kind of glory I care most about. And I love every minute of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I still aspire to a Goldie and a Lammy and, yes, even a RITA. But, at the end of the day, that’s not what it’s all about. It’s about the stories and the characters and the readers. It’s about love.

So for all you finalists out there, I send you heartfelt congratulations. For my fellow “also ran” friends, I’m with you. It’s okay to mope a little. For the writers still working to get published, don’t give up. And most importantly, for all you readers, thank you. You make it all worthwhile.

We’ll live forever
Knowing together
That we did it all for the glory of love

And just in case it’s not already in your head:

You’re welcome.

Reading (and Writing) Romance in the Time of Trump

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve taken the leap to pitching blogs to HuffPo and some other mainstream outlets. I mitigate the sting of rejection by repurposing that unclaimed content here. Please pardon any redundant thoughts or things that might seem totally obvious to anyone who already knows or follows me.

(Disclaimer: No bodices were ripped and no pussies were grabbed in the writing of this post.)

Romance novels get a bad rap. We know this. They’re dismissed as trashy, fantastical, formulaic. Romance is a joke, not something to be taken seriously. That’s the argument against anything by/for/about women, right?

But now more than ever, women are standing up and refusing to be quiet. We resist. We persist. And now more than ever, romance should, too.

My grandmother gave me my first romance novel in 1993, when I was in eleventh grade at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in south Louisiana. The sex was barely PG, but she gave me a warning anyway. “It’s a good story,” she said. “Just skip the dirty parts.” I tucked myself in my room and read it instead of doing my homework on the Sacraments. It was the closest I’d come to being a bad girl. I was hooked.

By the time I got to college, romance was my preferred guilty pleasure. I hoarded Harlequins to read between studying for organic chemistry and genetics. And after changing my major to English, I savored Nora Roberts in secret, far from the judgmental gaze of my literature professors and creative writing seminar classmates.

In grad school, I discovered Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance and learned the language of dismantling hegemonic patriarchal structures. But even as I wrote papers and pounded my fist about the importance of women-centered stories, romance remained something I sheepishly admitted to reading. Usually while blushing and saying something about how I alternated romance with “real” books.

That changed a few years ago when I finally gave myself permission to write the genre I loved. Suddenly, halting attempts and half-finished chapters gave way to a finished manuscript and a publishing contract. I met a community of readers and writers who not only love romance, but take it seriously. I got my first fan mail.

Now, I’m a college administrator by day who reads and writes lesbian romance novels by night (and early morning and weekend and the occasional sick day). I might still blush when people ask me what I write, but I’m much savvier in what I have to say.

Romance is hopeful, I say, and that’s a pretty radical thing. Name another genre where love conquers all and female protagonists—surgeons and Supreme Court justices and bounty hunters and CEOs—are front and center.

I make the business case. Did you know, for example, that romance makes up a 13% share of the adult fiction market? Then there’s the feminist angle. The romance industry is one of the few in the U.S. that is and has always been predominantly by women, for women. It’s also been quicker than other industries to embrace a host of diverse stories and characters—people of color and LGBTQ characters in particular.

But that’s my usual shtick. These days, there’s more to the story. Just like everything in the era of Trump, the rules have changed.

Romance isn’t just legitimate; it’s relevant. I’d go so far as to say it’s essential. In these days of alternative facts and grossly unqualified cabinet picks, romance keeps me centered. It keeps me sane.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Take La La Land. Whether or not you’re smitten with the romantic musical comedy, it’s hard to argue with its record-tying fourteen Oscar nods. You’d be hard pressed to find another time when the drama-loving Academy picked an upbeat romance as its darling.

We’re living in a world where #lovetrumpshate is part of the vernacular. For every three articles or calls to action on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, there’s one about self-care. Resistance is exhausting, after all. Making the time to recharge is critical for the long game. I don’t know about you, but I’m in it to win it.

So I’m saying loudly and proudly: Romance is part of my resistance strategy. Because when women are repeatedly silenced and publicly reprimanded, romance amplifies women’s voices. When women are grabbed—literally and figuratively—by the pussy, romance empowers women’s agency, sexuality, and desire.

Romance is escapism, sure. But it’s also rebellion. I’d go so far as to say it’s a nutrient. Like vitamin D. And much like my pale, pale self in the throes of winter in upstate New York, I need all the help I can get.