Monday, July 15, 2019

Guilty Mom Horror Part 2: Uncanny? Yes, of course. The mom’s tension and the situation. Two overlapping tensional circles. But how, why, and why does it matter?

For one reason, this triangle of tension is uncanny. Obviously, horror film writers are working intentionally to craft situations and circumstances that are eerie, disturbing and frightening, so making things uncanny is good craft. Ernst Jentsch, in his essay, “On the Psychology of the Uncanny,” defines the state as a person’s “doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might be, in fact, animate.” He was quick to note that awareness and understanding of such a state is important to the writer. He says:

In telling a story one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton and to do it in such a way that his attention is not focused directly upon his uncertainty, so that he may not be led to go into the matter and clear it up immediately.

Uncanniness is created when the distinction between real and unreal, human and inhuman, vanishes. This blurry boundary makes a person intellectually and emotionally vulnerable.  In horror some, but not all, of the inhuman creatures are readily apparent. The creature that rises from the sea, a demon that lives in the woods, or a spirit that pulls you to the underworld while you are sleeping—these are obviously not human. Those beings which are ambiguous add tension in ways the former do not. A ‘monster’ who lives in the home, serves breakfast and drives the car, is more uncannily disturbing than the monster that dwells in the swamp. A mother who is teetering on ambivalence or who has transitioned to hostility is uncanny to both the viewer and the child. The viewer is alarmed because such a mother is unimaginable; they can relate to the child who is frightened because such a mother represents a threat as well as the inability to access safety.

Sigmund Freud, in his essay, “The Uncanny” expanded Jentsch’s theory. Freud examined concepts of human development to include maturation as having a significant impact on a person’s perception of what is uncanny. He stated that a person experiences something as uncanny insofar as it reminds the individual of their repressed desires, desires which the individual presumably struggles to control, and feared punishment for deviating from societal norms. The ‘guilty mom’ is at the center of these three tensions: First, her own repressed desires, including that she be accepted by society or community and consequently fully actualized in the form of an entire human rather than only as ‘a mom.’ Second, desires which she presumably struggles to control, in this instance the behavior and interactions of the child. Third, feared punishment for deviating from societal norms, which in this instance would occur as a result of the child acting out in ways that threaten the group or are non-conforming. The punishment can come in a variety of forms: rejection, mocking, or taking away objects or resources are possibilities. The ‘guilty’ mom realizes her struggle with these three conflicting issues, and it is the combination of that recognition and her own desires which create her guilt. She may or may not be aware of her guilt, but it is present and activates her behaviors and emotions. Thus, the guilty mom’s situation is in itself uncanny.

Ready for more? Guilty Mom Horror Part 3: “the Real” issue in the guilty mom horror film? Keep looking, you won’t locate it.

Friday, July 12, 2019

July 27 signing in New York

Every year @Romance Writers of America hosts the “Readers for Life” Literacy Autographing, all proceeds of which are donated to adult literacy organizations. This year they are supporting ProLiteracy, Literacy Partners, and The Literacy Assistance Center. Come see me and hundreds of other authors on July 27 from 3-5 p.m. at the New York Marriott Marquis to help support this important cause. Admission is free! Find a full list of signing authors at www.rwa.org/literacy.

Here's what I'll be signing:


Workaholic accountant Elizabeth Sewell needs a man. According to her well-laid-out life plan, it’s time to find Mr. Right and move on to the next phase of her life. The problem is, she’s been so busy working her way up the career ladder, she wouldn’t spot Mr. Right even if he were carrying a neon sign. So, being an organized businesswoman, she comes up with a strategy. She’ll hire a man to provide her with a variety of experiences. That way, she’ll know what she wants. It’s just that easy, right?

Disillusioned attorney Jack Harley needs an opportunity. He’s just left a high-status firm and is determined to get his life back on track by opening a private practice. His first client, a woman being sexually harassed at work, gives him the chance to take on a case that matters. When a sexy brunette mistakes his new office for a recently relocated escort service and challenges him to help her uncover what turns her on, he thinks he can have it all. But soon he discovers telling Elizabeth the truth of who he is will compromise his case. Protect and seek justice for his client—that’s the promise he’d made himself. Now it’s time to win the case, even if, for him, it means losing what he really wants.

Anxious for adventure and the chance to prove she’s not the spoiled socialite her friends and family believe her to be, Victoria Moore buys The Circle Cat ranch, rolls up her sleeves, and begins the repairs that will turn the ramshackle place into the best dude ranch in Arizona. One thing she didn’t plan on was a dark, down-on-his-luck cowboy smashing into her barn. But when he does, she turns the problem into an opportunity. Armed with limited experience, but a lot of determination, Victoria sets out to get what she wants from the wandering cowboy.

The last thing Lang Thompson wants is to get tangled up with a woman. Especially one who’s used to getting what she wants when she wants it. He knows what rich girls like her expect and he isn’t interested in playing games. But he’s no match for Victoria’s hardworking determination and sexy brand of innocence.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Invitations: Part Two Box Set~~out now

In Washington, D.C. USA, a city of glittering lights and all-night parties filled with beautiful socialites and powerful politicians, women can to go after what—and who—they want.
Waiting for invitations can get in the way, but smart, savvy women create their own opportunities for hot times and hook-ups.

Sometimes a woman who breaks the rules to go after what she wants can get in over her head, but if she's with the right man, the more rules broken, the better it gets.


Bold Moves

Orderly and predictable describes Eva Marie’s life, until she accepts the dare of a Brazilian soccer player with wicked moves and a notorious reputation.The last thing Eva Marie needs right now, just as her event planning business is getting off the ground, is a man. Especially a sought after bachelor with a reputation for no-strings-attached, serial dating.

Famous Brazilian soccer player Davi Ferreira likes his games and women fast and flashy. Handsome and fit, he’s never met a woman he couldn’t quickly and easily charm into his bed. Until Eva Marie. When the opportunity to participate in her event, ‘The Ultimate Bachelor’ promises to give him one final chance to escape the friend zone, he eagerly accepts.

Thanks to a popular DC blog, people in Washington are watching the live stream featuring Eva Marie’s event. Cameras cover everything, including Eva and Davi’s ultra-sexy kiss. The steamy exchange sparks a firestorm of tweets that force Eva and Davi to settle a question posed by web viewers—was the sizzling kiss a promotional stunt or the real thing?

Ambushing the Boss

A video camera, a too-short-to-ignore skirt and a come-get-me attitude—Jake Reed doesn’t stand a chance against Sabrina Weller.

Sabrina Weller has just moved to Washington DC and is ready to make the most of city life. When her cousin, Eva Marie, holds a welcome event, Sabrina meets Jake Reed. He’s awkward and abrupt but something about him makes her hot. The next time she sees him, he’s pretending to be Jay Allen, entry level new hire at Steelsmart, the same company she’s recently started working for.

Jake Reed, the socially inept new president of Steelsmart Corporation, has two problems on his hands. One, his newly acquired company has morale problems. Two, he wants to bed one of his employees. When his vice president arranges for the entire company to go on a retreat on a secluded island, Jake can’t avoid crossing paths with the sweet-talking, fast-living temp who continually teases and tempts him. He’s in over his head and she isn’t about to give up until she gets what she wants.

Risk It

Come to the Triple B Ranch and find your bliss! Gwen Baker has just been invited to participate in a new reality show, the Get Tied Down Challenge.

Couture dress-maker Gwen Baker says yes to spending a weekend at exclusive, singles-only The Triple B Ranch courtesy of the reality show, the Real DC. Recently dumped by a guy who insisted she wasn’t exciting or spontaneous, she’s eager for the chance to practice her man-hunting skills and take advantage of the live stream event to show off her custom cocktail dresses—even if the setting is a little bit rustic. Not one to be discouraged by setbacks like trying to look sexy in silk while roasting marshmallows over a campfire, Gwen arrives at the ranch ready to play along and pick one of the contestants. But the three guys from the city do nothing for her while the cook makes her ache for some serious sizzle.

As the head cook at the singles-only dude ranch, Connor Tate thinks he’s immune to the charms and temptations of the female guests. Long legs, curvy or cute…he can ignore them all. He doesn’t want any drama. He’s only at the ranch to earn cash for grad school. So when the cast and crew of the Get Tied Down Challenge arrive at the camp, he’s sure he’ll be able to keep to himself and avoid the raven haired-hottie roaming the trails. But an impromptu kiss with Gwen turns into a contest of domination that soon comes a test of wills—a test he’s glad to fail. He gives in to the sweet temptation she offers but he’s a long way from being satisfied.

Get your copy on Amazon and other ebook retailers.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Guilty Mom Horror Part 1: Dysfunctional? Yes, or she wouldn’t matter as character. But bad or guilty? That’s what matters.

MamaRosemary’s BabyThe Others—the maternal plotlines of these films make them stand out. Well-crafted horror film mothers are more than characters; they are women who drive the plot. Jeanine Basinger’s definition of the woman’s film as “a movie that places at the center of its universe a female who is trying to deal with emotional, social, and psychological problems that are specifically connected to the fact that she is a woman.” (59) applies to the consistently popular horror films featuring monstrous moms.  Mothers in these films are often given the generic label of dysfunctional, but this broad term is not sufficient. We can assume if a mother is a main character, she is flawed and conflicted. If her role of mother is highlighted by the storyline, it is necessary that the conflict be connected to that aspect of her character. A mother character who is not conflicted by her parenting responsibilities would not be conflict worthy. This is to say, if she were fully functioning, her impact on the story’s narrative tension would be quite different. She herself would not be a source of conflict and tension, she would be a reactant to conflict and tension. Wendy Torrance from The Shining, is an example of a ‘good’ horror movie mom. In her role as mother, Wendy Torrance is not inept or conflicted. She accepts the responsibility of protecting her son and takes steps to do so. She doesn’t reject the child’s needs for help or attempt to silence the child. As a character, she reacts to story tension rather than creating it.

The dysfunctional mom is one who is unable or unwilling to function in her normative social role. She may or may not be trying to function, and it is precisely here where our attention should be fixed. For simplicity sake, and discussion purposes, the so-called dysfunctional horror movie mom can be divided into two categories: bad, unable or callously unwilling to fulfill her role, and guilty, inconsistently able or begrudgingly willing.

The ‘bad’ mother is either uninterested in performing her role as mother or so flawed in her approach that she is toxic. She may be reacting to toxic shame, unresolved trauma from her own childhood, or may be inherently ‘evil’, but in all cases her own needs, explicit or repressed, are her primary motivators. Within the context of the story, she misjudges or disregards the needs of her child and either feels little or no judgment by society or she doesn’t care about the judgement. Typically, this mother is not a sympathetic character; viewers don’t identify with her and thus experience her as a source of external tension. She creates tension that an alternate character, typically her child, is responding to and attempting to resolve. Margaret White, Carrie’s mother in the film Carrie is an example of a ‘bad’ horror movie mom.

By comparison, the guilty mom is for the most part reasonably attuned to the needs of her child and does want to meet them. Or at least she understands that she should want to meet them. Her guilt comes from her understanding that she is not sufficiently assisting the child, from the resentment she feels toward the child whose behavior or existence is a source of judgment, or a combination of both factors. Her guilt is a response to the self-awareness that acts she has or hasn’t done have negatively impacted her child. She also understands and cares about the judgments of her community or society in general. This exclusion from belonging or judgment by the larger group is an additional source of guilt and contributes to the story tension.

As the child’s needs escalate, and the mother is excluded, judged, rejected or punished by the larger group, her sense of guilt escalates as she begins to resent the child or the child’s needs. Her inability to access the needed resources of the larger group confound her guilt, recrafting it into resentment. This in turn forces her to repress her own needs and struggle with the community’s rejection and society’s judgment. As the situation of horror intensifies, she doesn’t accept that the child’s needs are genuine or that the child is truly in danger, thus resenting the responsibility for resolving the issue. All this occurs while she is continually isolated, shunned, mocked or punished. The larger group pressures her to keep her troubled kid quiet and away from them, and she in turn wishes the troubled kid would be quiet. It is her wish to silence her own child that escalates her guilt. The viewer experiences the mother’s isolation and guilt and the child’s isolation and silencing, but why is any of this scary? 

Ready for Part 2? Guilty Mom Horror Part 2: Uncanny? Yes, of course. The mom’s tension and the situation. Two overlapping tensional circles. But how, why, and why does it matter?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Author’s Quick Guide to Decoding Social Media ‘Silence’

Authors dream of social media pages filled with comments and interaction. Likes are lovely, but writers long to stir up the chatter with their clever posts. They want noise, but often experience virtual silence. Interpreting that silence for audience disinterest is a mistake. Romance readers who consistently comment are more rare than might be expected.

Social media is about you—it isn’t actually you.

As an author, you want your social media to promote a representation of you and your work. This fragmented version isn’t your true self, but an intentional, crafted version of yourself. You aren’t self-promoting, you’re presenting and interacting in a public space in a consistent and participatory way.

You’re providing people with an understanding of who you are, what you do, and what you stand for, but you are also bringing others together. Its your party; you’re the host, so the event is bigger than you and again, its not about you. It’s about the common interests of those present. Just like a party it’s your task to bring people together and if its been a good time, they will talk about you and your work behind your back. 

That’s a good thing. Talking to you and talking about you (and your work) are different things.

Look Whose (not) Talking

Characteristics of non-commenters:
  • Roughly 40% of all online users fall into the silent category.
  • Are more likely to be introverts.
  • Are more likely to be women.
Characteristics of commenters:
  • Roughly 60% of social media users fall into this category.
  • 24 % of commenters prefer to debate issues. 
  • 21% prefer chatting.
  • Spend on average 1 hour a day commenting.
  • Are more likely to express ‘dark’ personality traits.
  • Are more likely to be a troll than non-commenters.
Commenting is a slower, reflective, more cognitive process than liking, which is intuitive and reflexive. Additionally, commenting patterns will be influenced by the presence of other comments as well as the types of other comments. Therefore, commenting requires a decoding of the post but also a decoding of the contextual (other) comments. If your followers are too busy to read the comments of others, they are less likely to comment themselves.

Characteristics of all social media users:
  • Extraversion and openness to new situations are the most common of the personality traits among users.
  • People who are emotionally stable use social media less frequently.
It’s significant to note that visible online interactions are performed by a specific group of people who express a specific set of personality traits. Thus, much of what occurs visibly is limited to and dominated by a specific group. For example, emotionally stable, introverted women are less likely to comment than extroverted men. And so, many of the people who are out there, reading and engaging with your brand, you won’t hear from and many of those you do hear from come from a probably smaller, specific group.

Keep in mind, your social media isn’t about you personally. It’s about the community you are creating. Your approach should be fun, sustainable and incorporate all your work or areas of interest. Do what you like, what seems right, not what people tell you. In fact, I’d say if someone tells you not to do it—do it. And if your virtual ‘people’ are on the quiet side, it probably means you’re being followed by hard-working, introverted women who are interested in what you’re about but don’t feel the need to debate things—probably because they’re busy reading a romance.