Feminist Romance, it’s a beautiful thing.

I’m not a romance reader. Haven’t been for a long time. But recently a friend of mine got her first book contract, a romance contract. As much as I love this woman, I didn’t plan on reading her books. Supporting her, encouraging her, buying her books for other people who like that genre – absolutely, but reading them? Not my genre, why read something I wouldn’t enjoy and then not know what to say next time I saw her?

But then in April we were at a conference together and I heard her talking about her books and why she wrote them and why she chose the romance genre and I remembered – this is MK f’ing Meredith, and she is BADASS.

mk meredith

MK F’ing Meredith
Badass Romance Writer & Hardcore lover of peanut butter.

So if she’s writing romance, maybe… just maybe, I’m wrong about the genre, at the very least maybe I’m wrong about lumping her books into my preconceived and outdated notions of what the romance genre is – maybe, just maybe, I should get over myself and give them a try.

So, I did. And THANK THE ODDS for being willing to look past former biases and give things a try with an open mind and an open heart because, GOD DAMN I loved this book – and… (Don’t tell MK this) now that I’ve been shown the light, I’m reevaluating my notions of the romance genre entirely and have even (shhhh…) bought a few more novels in the genre to try out.

See, I bought into the lie that the romance genre is all fluff and happily ever after and brain candy – you know, pink frilly girl stuff – a guilty pleasure. (Yes, that’s my female chauvinist pig showing. I’m working on it.) And I needed someone to knock that silly notion out of my head. As MK so eloquently reminds us, THERE IS NO GUILT OR SHAME IN EXPERIENCING PLEASURE.

As soon as I finished MK Meredith’s book, Malibu Betrayals, I wrote to her asking if I could interview her for this blog and share my revelation with all of you.

She was generous enough to let me, so without further ado, let me introduce you to the amazing MK, and her romantic notions.

malibu betrayals cover

Feminist Romance, a beautiful thing.

Her chance to write a whole new ending…

Hollywood screenwriter Samantha Dekker spent the last year picking up the pieces after her husband’s suicide. Along with grief, guilt, and tabloid hell, she’s had to watch helplessly as the film industry slammed its doors in her face. Now Sam has the rarest of Hollywood opportunities – a second chance…working with the one man she swore never to see again.

Hunktastic A-lister Gage Cutler knows that Sam blamed him for his part in her husband’s death. Still, Sam is the one woman he can never forget. All he wants is a second chance of his own – to prove he’s not the player she remembers. And Malibu is the perfect backdrop to make a girl swoon.

Except they’re not alone. Someone is watching Sam and Gage’s steamy off-screen romance with the most dangerous of intentions…

TBT: Did you intend to write a feminist, or female empowering, romance novel when you started out?
MK: My very purposeful intention is to empower women with their sexuality. I want to show that it is healthy and okay to know what we want. Taking charge of our bodies, what works for us and what doesn’t, and being comfortable expressing it is important to our self-worth and self-confidence. Too many women struggle with these issues. And not that men don’t, too, but when it comes to sexuality, they are expected to be sexual beings. Women have to fight for it.

Malibu Betrayals is the journey of a strong women finding her way again, taking back control of her life, including her sexuality. The shower scene is my favorite one! LOL!

(TBT here – Yes, the shower scene… And can I just say how much I LOVE the idea of empowering women with their sexuality, MK nails it, right off the bat.)

TBT: Why did you include condoms in your book? What was your intention? How did you think readers would respond/react? Did you hit any snags trying to work them in naturally and have them present, but not interrupt the flow of the scene?

MK: I put condoms in my book on purpose. It goes back to the self-worth discussion. Man or woman, we need to care enough about our selves to put our safety first. To be honest, I didn’t worry about the reader’s response simply because it is an element that will remain. I imagine my readership will be those who want the protection in the stories or don’t mind it.

I didn’t really have any trouble fitting it in–lol! that’s what she said. Sorry, I couldn’t resist. And there is always at least one scene where they don’t use a condom because I want to keep the story as real as I can. People aren’t perfect, we get caught up in the moment, rush, or forget. So they make their mistakes, too.

(TBT here – I love this, that it was a conscious decision founded on promoting self-worth and respect. And I love that you were conscious of allowing them to be imperfect and human.

Also – writers please take note – My biggun and I were talking the other day and she mentioned how frustrated she is that in most of the YA she reads condoms, STI prevention and birth control are never mentioned. I told her about MK’s book and she was like, “So it can be done, why aren’t more authors doing it?” You have your marching orders – go forth and promote safer sex!)

TBT: Emotional and verbal abuse and their aftermath are big prevalent themes in this book – the self-doubt that creeps in, the loss of confidence, the difficulty in trusting others, etc. as well as how those traits affect future relationships and things that partners of abuse victims/survivors have to deal with/be patient around.
How much research did you do around those topics? Why did you choose that as one of the things Sam has to overcome? How did you balance her being an independent protagonist while also allowing her to be damaged and to need help sometimes?

Gage handles a lot of Sam’s baggage really well, to the point that I wanted this book to be required reading for people in relationships with abuse victims/survivors. How much research went into his character’s responses?
MK: My background is Occupational Therapy. What a lot of people don’t realize is O.T. has a premed element along with a heavy psychology and abnormal psychology focus. I reached back to my education and my own past to address the topics in this story.You know how they say ‘write what you know’? Well, the issues are part of my own past–a very different story than Sam’s, but there all the same. I feel I’ve come a long way, and I wanted to show a woman fighting her way through the self-doubt and the self-worth issues. It doesn’t happen over night, and certain events can trigger responses a person may not be proud of. We falter. Two steps forward, one step back and all that. I know her indecision can be frustrating for some, and it is, but it is also real. I couldn’t let her ‘fix herself’ too easily. These issues run deep. And I think that showing her struggle is what allowed me to show her taking action toward her independence, but still struggling with her right to do so. Part of her growth is that needing help is different than being worthless.

As for Gage, I pulled from my education for him as well. It is important that we don’t tell someone how they feel, but empower them to feel. To help them see the strength in the mirror. It is important to think about the intent behind someone’s actions. It makes all the difference in the world to our responses…or should anyway, in my opinion.

(TBT note – emphasis was added, because I really loved these points.)

TBT: There’s a really remarkable scene where Sam reclaims her right to pleasure. (Yes – the shower scene!!) It felt deliciously subversive to me to have her demand and give herself pleasure while sharing it with a guy. How intentional was that scene? How important was the theme of reclaiming female pleasure and ownership to you?

MK:This goes back to question #1. It was completely on purpose. I squealed in delight with your question. “She get’s it!” *fist pump* My husband raised his brow at me as if I’d lost my mind. LOL!

So, my husband was in the Air Force, as a matter of fact he retired this past year. We had seven deployments together. That’s a long time to be apart. Matters need to be taken into one’s own hand, so to speak, when there is that much time and distance in a relationship. I can’t tell you how many conversations I had with military women who would discuss taking charge of their physical needs, but then whisper or shy away in mock horror. It drove me nuts. Not in an angry way toward them, but in a way that I wanted to shake them and yell, ‘You are important, your needs are important, and it is okay.’ I don’t see any reason for it to be embarrassing or hidden or a secret kept at all costs. It is simply human. So it is extremely important to me to portray women who are already there, or are finding their way.

TBT: Gage has some baggage of his own – he’s got serious abandonment issues. What made you decide to give him that as his kryptonite?
MK: Another I pulled from my past. I lost my mother at seven and then my father remarried twenty-eight days later to a woman who was not really interested in some dead woman’s four children. That has an effect. I basically lost both my parents at once. One didn’t want to leave, and the other I feel never looked back. But the residual fallout remained in myself, and in my brothers. What’s more, I think many of these issues really peak in our thirties and forties, when we realize how we should have been treated, or when we have children of our own and they reach a similar age. It is hard not to ache for the child you were–as if they were someone else. I felt that his abandonment issues would be a great foil to Sam’s problems committing.

TBT: A lot of the conflict and tension in this book is internal, it’s quiet and smoldering and just under the surface – in many ways, this felt like an adult coming of age tale, two people rediscovering themselves and remaking themselves in a new image. Where did that theme of reinvention come from?
MK: The original idea for this story all rose from a dream I had where I met Gerard Butler at a bar. It was a very casual conversation, and he couldn’t have been less interested. LOL! It got me thinking to the opposite scenario and then so on and so forth with the blossoming of ideas. When I dug into Gage’s and Sam’s backstory I related to their struggles in one way or another, and I wanted to show that even with living through an adverse past, you can achieve an amazing future. It isn’t easy, but it’s possible. It takes a certain ability to reflect and respond instead of simply reacting.
gerard butler

He’s listening.

TBT:I feel like this book really explored the difference between doing the work to be worthy of another person and changing yourself to be what someone else wants. Where is that line for you?
MK: You know–or maybe you didn’t–I was married before. I am the reason you let your daughters date. I was never allowed to, so the first boy I met once I moved out of my home, I married–5 months later. We had nothing in common, but I was on cloud nine and just KNEW that must mean it was meant to be. I didn’t realize that was how it was when you first started dating. He is a wonderful person, with a big heart and a strong work ethic, but we had NOTHING in common. So after five and a half years together we got divorced.

But picture this…me in Rocky Mountains (a western jean), cut out shirts, and lace ups going to rodeos, and sitting in a duck blind, or pheasant hunting all while listening to country music. There is nothing wrong with any of it, but does that sound like the MK you know? Yeah…me neither. I was so focused on being a woman he’d stay with, that I lost the woman I was and had no idea of the woman I wanted to be. So I left.

And I made myself a promise. I would never lose who I was, never wear clothes I didn’t want to wear or listen to music I didn’t want to listen to in order to make someone like me. I promised that I would stand up for myself…and boy was it a journey, especially the last one. I still struggle with it. But my husband Brian has helped me in tremendous ways.
So the line is: I am who I am. That doesn’t mean I don’t take my loved one’s needs into consideration, but now they aren’t the only consideration. I am, too.

TBT: Last, tell me how your own beliefs about love and partnership helped shape and color this fictional relationship.

(Note – I had to ask this question, because her answer is the reason I picked up her book and read it in the first place – emphasis was added by me.)

MK: I think I’ve been answering this last question all along. I think we have to choose each other every day. It is important to learn what our partners need to be happy, and if we can provide it or help provide it, or support them in finding it, in a way that does not sacrifice ourselves we set the relationship up to win. I think talking and checking in and reevaluating keep relationships from falling into ruts where you wake up not recognizing the person lying next to you. I very much feel my beliefs were involved in Gage’s and Sam’s Happily Ever After. I hope that what my husband and I have figured out will help create very real feeling happy endings.

TBT here – Suffice it to say, MK is simply a phenomenal human being, and she put so much of herself into Malibu Betrayals that it can’t help but be anything other than fantastic.This book really was empowering and super sexy. I can’t wait to re-read it with my husband. I’ve also already ordered extra copies for my niece and a few other young women I know who are heading off to college and who I think could use this reminder that we are worthy of love, and deserving of pleasure.

If you’re looking for a fun book that packs some heat – I really cannot recommend Malibu Betrayals enough.

If you want to dive into MK’s world of love, romance and peanut butter, follow her on her author page.

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Riding Shotgun with The Asphalt Warrior

Hey ya’ll – I’m handing over the blog to my friend Mark Stevens, publisher of the late, great Gary Reilly’s Asphalt Warrior series (as well as Gary’s other phenomenal books.) Pickup at Union Station, Gary’s newest book hits shelves on June 19th and  I invited Mark to drop by and talk a little about the ways Gary’s work has influenced and inspired him.


pickup at union station gary reilly

Rule #1: Never get involved.

Riding Shotgun with the Asphalt Warrior

By Mark Stevens

Murph makes me laugh. Always has—and always will.

From the moment my late pal Gary Reilly handed me one of his “Murph” manuscripts, I knew I was sinking into a different world.

Do you know that feeling?

On the first page of a book, that little wave of excitement you feel? You hear a voice. You get—really get—a fully developed attitude.

Herewith the first paragraph of The Asphalt Warrior:

I was first in line at the cab stand outside the Hilton Hotel in downtown Denver when a nervous man in his thirties hopped into the backseat of my taxi. I was immediately annoyed because the man hadn’t come out of the hotel. He was what I call a “pedestrian” and pedestrians rarely want to go to Denver International Airport. I don’t know who they were, but I love the masters of inconvenience who thought up DIA. They placed it twenty-five miles northeast of town.

Easy, chatty, self-deprecating. And how much do we learn about Murph in a few quick strokes?

This is the voice of Murph, a.k.a. Brendan Murphy—The Asphalt Warrior. That paragraph was the beginning, seven books ago.

Here’s the deal, here’s the hook:

Murph will make you think about ….

Practically everything.

Murph notices everything. He thinks about everything. He has a comment on … everything.

Murph slows the world down into micro-moments. He wonders so much about what motivates him to do anything that he has to wonder and ponder about all the others rushing around him tick, too. He understands his needs. In the race of “one-upping” your fellow man, Murph gladly opts for “one-downing” him. He is a master at keeping his life simple. At least, the basics of life—his foundation.

He works hard to minimize his income, to only earn a certain amount of money each day, each week. Just enough. He only seeks to cover basic expenses—rent, food. The laundromat.

Murph relishes free time like nobody you’ve ever met. Of course, he’s supposed to be writing a best-selling novel with his free time, but that only leads us to other warts-and-all True Confessions about that struggle. He’s got a steamer trunk full of unpublished novels and wonders (as Gary did) why others succeed while he fails. “I have read a lot of how-to books trying to find out what the ‘trick’ to writing novels is,” muses Murph. “It took me ten years to learn that the trick is getting paid.”

Murph is the direct opposite of an unreliable narrator. His routine thought process is to-the-bone exposure of how he would prefer his life—and the world—to function.

And he sees that world, quite literally, pass through his back seat. He sees every passenger as his ticket to free time.

Murph is tantalized by free time. Ideally, he has a mini “Spring Break” every week. As long as the money comes in just right and as long as, well, he doesn’t get involved in the lives of his fares.

After all, he’s vowed to never get involved. He knows the risks, understands that getting involved means complications, and if Murph hates anything, it’s complications.

And yet, he has heart.


He goes undercover to a hippie commune to search for a pair of missing girls last seen at Red Rocks. He inadvertently gives a ride to a bank robber—and must deal with the fallout. He reaches out to an odd man with strange stories who appears to be leaving him cryptic notes on five dollar bills. He has played marriage counselor and career counselor. He’s hung on the back end of a south-bound train and he’s been grilled by the cops so many times he knows the detectives by name. At every turn, Murph tries to do the right thing on behalf of his fellow human beings.

Murph knows he’s supposed to keep to himself. Yet Murph knows himself well enough to know that, when the moment comes, he won’t have a choice. He has a true desire to make matters whole. Having tampered with the world’s big course of events, he wants to make amends so he can tiptoe away, unnoticed.

Despite all his snarky feelings about humanity and the crazy organizations where he made it a mission to avoid work (The U.S. Army, his former employer, “Dyna-Plex”), Murph ultimately can’t help but do the right thing.

There are many great novels about being alone—pursuing quests and chasing the dream. Cervantes. Melville. Wharton. Proust. Salinger. On and on. Man vs. Society. Man vs. The Rules. Man Finding Himself (DeFoe).

Murph, in fact, is a bit of Robinson Crusoe—alone in his own world and finding ways to patch things together. (It’s no wonder Murph’s favorite television show is “Gilligan’s Island.”)

The key to Murph, and where the laughs reside, is in his keen self-awareness. He understands his delusions and psychological tics. He embraces his against-the-grain approach to life and he works very hard to keep it intact.

Yet being spotted as a fraud—being noticed at all—drives Murph’s war with identity issues. Cab driving, he claims, is the perfect job for someone who wants to remain anonymous (and being anonymous is his holy grail).

He likes being by himself. He likes doing as little as possible but that doesn’t mean he’s slothful (say, like Oblomov in the Russian novel by Ivan Goncharov). We see Murph take charge over and over again. At crunch time, he’s all action.

I can imagine college term papers analyzing Murph as compared and contrasted to Ignatius Jacque Reilly (“A Confederacy of Dunces”) but again I’d assert that Murph is more action-oriented when the time comes; he’s also not as much of slob as either Oblomov or Ignatius Reilly. Murph may know he’s deluded, but he is upfront about those delusions—and relishes them.

In fact, about the only element of his character that he doesn’t explain is why he feels compelled to break one of his solemn vows, to never get involved in the lives of his passengers.

Over and over, he lets us sneak up right to the dark places inside and then chases us away with a laugh.

“I had lived most of my adult life with the belief that everybody could see right through me. Also my teenage years, as well as my child years. Authority figures had something to do with this. Also my vivid imagination. Case in point: a bathroom mirror with a towel draped over it, but I don’t want to talk about that.”

He may not want to face himself in the mirror, but Murph knows himself very, very well. And in knowing himself, he is able to shed remarkably fresh light on everything around him, making us see our own world in a whole new way.

Gary Reilly’s newest book, Pickup at Union Station arrives June 19th – preorder your copy now!

Hey – this is Bree, just a quick note, I’m currently reading Pickup at Union Station and you can follow along on twitter at #PickupReilly and join the conversation!
I’ll be posting my review as soon as I finish later this week!

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A Matter of Heart

“Death is what happens when your dream ends.”

Who are you? What makes you, you? What is your “one thing,”  the thing that defines you and sets you apart from everyone else? What’s the aspect of you that you absolutely could not live without? What is the thing that gets you out of bed in the morning (I mean, besides hungry children, pets or spouses…) What drives you, motivates you, challenges you and makes you want to push yourself to be better?

What’s the one thing that makes you happy, that sustains you and holds you and keeps you afloat when everything else is falling apart?

Now – what would you do if that one thing was taken away?

amy fellner dominy matter of heart

Would you die for a chance to live your dream?

A Matter of Heart by Amy Fellner Dominy dives deep into ideas of identity and the things we think define us and make us who we are. It challenges us to look inside ourselves for our One Thing, and then look even deeper to see what’s driving that, and then look deeper still…

Abby is a swimmer. Not in the sense that she likes to swim in the summer and splash around in the pool with her friends – she is a swimmer on her way to Olympic gold. She wakes, eats, breathes, sleeps and lives swimming. It’s who she is as much as what she does. Swimming is her one thing, her only thing. It defines her, drives her, pushes her – it owns her.

“I’m fearless in the pool. I’m strong. It’s the only place that I am.”

Until one day… Just before the qualifying meet that she is sure will see her swim into Olympic history, she learns that she can never race again, her heart cannot survive another sprint down the lap lane. Diagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, she feels like her heart has betrayed her.

“The Abby I was meant to be is dead. And in her place? Who’s left?”

We watch Abby as she cycles through the 5 stages of grief.

Denial – Clearly she has been misdiagnosed, “It only happened the one time because I let myself get dehydrated.” All she needs is a little rest. She’ll be fine. A second opinion will clear everything up. Her heart is fine.

“I’m Abby Lipman. I’m special… I’ve got talent and drive and heart. I don’t know how to be broken.”

Anger – This is bullshit. It has to be. Nothing is going to take away her dream. And… What about her boyfriend, they were a perfect match, the fittest, blessed by Darwin Himself… “How can we belong to anyone else? No one is fast enough to keep up.” But now that Abby isn’t fast enough to keep up either, will Connor leave her behind? Is she really going to lose EVERYTHING because of her stupid, traitor heart?
“My heart has screwed up everything else. It’s not going to screw this up too.”

Bargaining – It’s okay. She’ll quit taking the medicine that keeps her heart beating steady and strong – but not nearly fast enough to win a race, and she’ll go back to training. All she has to do is win this one race, just this one and she’ll be able to prove to everyone that she’s not really sick.

“I’m not big on praying, but God and I talk sometimes. It never made sense that I should ask God for something that I could work to get on my own. Even now, I’m not asking him for favors so much as explaining how it’s going to be.

Depression – As Abby waits to get the all important second opinion, her depression and anxiety grow. She can’t swim, not fast, not like she wants to, until the doctors clear her. She knows they will, but in the meantime…

“I lay a hand over my heart. It’s beating quiet and regular and slow. Beta-blockers. They’re saving me and killing me at the same time.”

She used to wake up in order to swim, eat so she could swim, keep her grades up so she could swim, lived the straight and narrow so she could swim, went to bed early so she could swim. Everything she did, she did so she could swim. And now… What’s the point of any of it?

“It’s not that I’m losing hope. It’s that I’m losing myself.”

Acceptance – Abby finally comes to terms with her condition, but not in the way you might think. I don’t want to spoil anything here, so I’ll just leave this little tease, “I’m not going to lie to myself. Yes, it’s a risk. Life is full of risk.”

A Matter of Heart explores a lot of topics – not just the idea of identity and what makes us special – and what we do, how we continue if that thing is threatened or taken from us – how do we redefine ourselves when we lose our very core, our center?

It also examines romance and love and relationships, from dating to friends to family and how far we’ll go to get and keep love. How twisted we all sometimes get in trying to live up to other people’s expectations of us, and how deeply we internalize those expectations, making them our own. It explores the topics of first love and fate and destiny and how big it all feels the first time we really, truly fall for someone – and what happens when you go to lean on that love and discover it’s not strong enough to hold you up in your moment of need.

This book also explores second chances and new beginnings. “Why can’t dreams be like people? Why can’t you get a second chance at those, too?” and the ways our dreams carry us through our toughest times and push us to keep going, to survive, even after we think we’ve lost everything that makes life worth living, even after we’ve lost the dream itself.

Just a friendly warning – I finished reading this book while sitting in a public place, bawling my eyes out, desperately searching for a tissue. No one offered me one, they all just scooted a little further away from me on the bench. It’s okay though, I eventually found one in my bag.

This book took me through such a roller coaster of feelings. I really felt connected to Abby. I remember those struggles with identity, and while I never had mine so directly challenged, I think it’s something we can all identify with. We’ve all had our dreams tested, some of us are still being challenged to rise above the obstacles we think are standing in the way of our happiness, our One Thing.

Abby shows us that while death might be what happens when our dreams end, rebirth is waiting if we can only be brave enough to dream again.

A Matter of Heart is available now at all your favorite book sellers. I highly recommend getting your copy now!





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Symptoms of Success, Welcome to the Club

Trigger Warning – Gendered violence, sexual assault, rape, threats, harassment.


I’ve only ever gotten one death threat because of this blog.

For the most part, even on those few posts that have gone viral and have traveled around the world and picked up a few of you on the way, people have generally been civil here. Or at least non-threatening. I rarely have to take out The Mallet.

And that is a HUGE relief.

This threat happened a long time ago, I barely even remember what it was about – just that I annoyed someone and they felt that threatening me with death was an acceptable response.

I remember the first fellow blogger I told said something like, “Welcome to the club. You must be getting an audience.” Then she told me her stories.

That is the most common response when I talk to other women who are active online. Nearly every one of them has a story of violent threats, many of them have stories of people actually attempting to carry out those threats.

Almost every woman I know who is successful online must accept not just daily, but hourly, minutely, near constant threats of violence including rape threats, death threats and threats against their families depending on her level of success.

“Welcome to the club.”

This creates a reality where almost every woman I know who is present and successful online must pay a very specific price for that – the price of peace of mind. It is a reality that silences many voices, some of them before they even dare to speak.

Many successful women I know have gone so far as to hire someone to read their mentions and the comments on their posts and delete, report and block violent messages. It is a full-time job. One that if the woman herself were to do it would take away all the time she had to produce new work, not to mention the emotional and psychological toll it would take.

When they raise their voices about this they are often told to grow a thicker skin. Or they are told to ignore the trolls. Or they are told they are overreacting – it’s just the internet. No one is really going to hurt them… Or they are told that by talking about it they are “feeding the trolls” and encouraging more abuse.

Even after they are doxxed (Which means someone posts all of their personal information including home and work addresses, real names, phone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, passwords, etc.) and laid bare, even after someone is caught driving to their house with weapons and a stated intent to kill them – they are told to calm down, relax, it’s just the internet – grow a thicker skin. Even after the threats escalate enough to get the FBI and other law enforcement agencies involved. “Stop whining. You’re blowing it out of proportion. It’s just twitter…”

There is no winning.

There is no escape.

There is no acceptable, allowable response other than to ignore it and move on – or just quit. It’s amazing how often women are told to quit what they love if they can’t take the abuse.

As if violence is the price we must all pay for the freedom to work, to socialize, to succeed…

“Calm down, it happens to everyone.”

But it doesn’t happen to everyone. It happens to very specific types of people – vocal women – especially vocal women of color, gay people, trans* people, in other words, it happens primarily to people who are not male and cisgendered and straight and white.

I haven’t waded into this for many reasons, but today I realized that there is a commonality between this and something I experienced as a teenager and young woman beginning to make my way in the world. Something super fucked up and totally not okay.

It’s the acceptance of the idea that violence is the price women (and gay people and trans* people who don’t want to live in closets) must pay for success, for inclusion, for the right to exist. Worse, there is an idea that perhaps beyond being a price to be paid violence might actually be a symbol of success, a sign that you have made it to the next level.

“Welcome to the club.”

I remember the first time I was sexually assaulted. I was in a foreign country as an exchange student and an older man who was supposed to be taking care of me while my host parent was on vacation groped me and kissed me – while his wife was one room away! He knew I was alone and isolated and had no one to call and he took advantage of that. Eventually his actions combined with other circumstances forced me to return home early. It screwed me up pretty bad, and set the stage for how I would deal with future assaults.

I remember telling my sister about what happened. I remember her hugging me and saying something along the lines of, “Welcome to the club. It sucks, but it happens to all of us.” Then she told me her story.

This was my introduction to being a teenager, this was how I crossed the line from kid to teen, from “innocent” to “worldly” and “experienced.”

I was no longer a little girl. I was part of a new group. This act of violence somehow made me mature in a way that having boyfriends, traveling to foreign countries, having a job and taking other steps toward adulthood had not.

At the same time, this new maturity came with its own code of silence. I was assured by everyone I spoke to in those first few days back that no one wanted to hear about what had happened, no one wanted to know the real reason I was home early, no one wanted to validate my feeling that I had been punished for this man’s crime – it made them uncomfortable, they couldn’t help, they couldn’t change it, so why not just focus on the good stuff that had happened – no matter that for me, focusing on the good things meant focusing on what I had lost, what this man had taken from me – the opportunity to live in a foreign country and build my independence and confidence – the chance to grow my new friendships and finish the new courses I was taking. The chance to pursue a dream.

What I heard time and time again was, “Welcome to the club, it happens, move on. Don’t talk about it, if you talk about it, then it defines you. If you acknowledge it, you are weak.”

And so I moved on – but I moved on thinking that this type of violence was normal, and while not exactly acceptable, it was to be expected and that there was nothing I or anyone else could, or would, do about it because it made people uncomfortable.

“Welcome to the club.”

When I type it out that way, it becomes somehow much less surprising that I was raped on my 18th birthday.

Not because I asked for it, or deserved it, or should have seen it coming, or because I wasn’t strong enough – though I have been told all of those things, and told myself all of those things a bajillion times – but because like so many women I had learned to accept a certain level of violence as the price I must pay for existing.

There were warning signs – those warning signs were the reason I went to break up with my boyfriend that night. I saw the violence in him and had experienced enough of it to know that it was escalating. To know that it was reaching a dangerous plateau, one that I did not want to reach. Unfortunately I hadn’t read the literature yet that discusses time and time and time again that THE MOST DANGEROUS moment in an abusive relationship is when the victim tries to leave.

A couple of years after I was raped, I wrote a poem about it, trying to process what had happened, and why I still hadn’t been able to get all the way over it. In the poem there’s a stanza,

I’ll never forget
the night I became an adult
was the night you made me a woman.

Think about that for a minute.

That was how I processed my rape – that that act of violence, of having my basic humanity denied and taken from me – THAT was what made me a woman!

“Welcome to the club.”

It wasn’t a badge of honor in any way. It was a badge of shame. But at the same time, it was a rite of passage – a common one, and I eventually came to accept it as such. (Looking back now as an adult and as a mother – there are simply no words for how fucked up that is. I cannot imagine my daughters accepting rape as the price of admission to womanhood – but we have a hard fight ahead of us if we’re going to change this culture in time for them.)

I remember telling my college roommate about it one night, after another terrifying phone call from my rapist turned stalker left me shaking.

“Welcome to the club,” she said, “at least it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me.” And then she told me her story.

Nearly every woman I have ever opened up to about any of my experiences has come back with one of her own.

“Welcome to the club.”

And while we all know that this violence isn’t acceptable, isn’t okay, isn’t deserved or asked for… We have also all on various levels come to terms with its existence. We have all in some way come to accept that it is inevitable, that there is nothing we can do about it but pick up the pieces and move on. We have learned to see it as some sort of sick rite of passage that takes us to the next level of womanhood.

And that is truly distressing, because there are new generations of girls and boys being brought up into the culture we are creating – and we must, all of us, work to create a culture where violence is not the price anyone must pay for simply existing, where sexual violence and gendered violence aren’t the ways we “level up.”

And yet…

This same mentality, that violence is the cost of, perhaps even the measure of, success if you are female has taken over the internet. Being harassed and threatened until you feel so unsafe that you leave your home, or quit your job  (or are fired from your job because your harassers are causing a disturbance to the company), or go dark, or… This is the new rite of passage.

It’s not a badge of honor, it is not a status anyone covets – but at the same time… There is this idea that you must be making progress, you must be doing something right, you must be successful – or they wouldn’t try so hard to push you back down.

I see this mentality taking its toll – there are voices going dark, there are women disappearing from public life, there are people being chased out of their homes and jobs and careers and leaving their passions because daily, hourly, minutely threats of violence are simply more than they can carry – and quite frankly, that is more than we should be asking anyone to carry in order to do their job or exist in public spaces.

Violence, or the threat of violence is not an acceptable rite of passage. Not here, not anywhere.

And if you think that online threats are small potatoes, or there are bigger problems we should be dealing with first, or that this is a first world problem – let me be the one to tell you, you are wrong.

Violence does not exist in isolation, it exists on a continuum. If you wonder why so many women take online threats more seriously than many men think we should – it’s because most of us have been on the receiving end of actual violence, we have already lived through that, we know how it feels to have those threats carried out – and we’d like to not have to go through it again.

We’d like to not have to remember and relive and reprocess that violence every day.

These threats that people see as jokes, or banter, or a rebuttal to an opinion (really, a threat of rape is an acceptable rebuttal to, “that shirt is tacky.” Are you sure?) exist in a context of routine, physical violence against women. Street harassment that so many people see as “a compliment” exists inside the context of routine, physical assaults against women.

We cannot separate the words from the potential reality because all too many of us have LIVED the reality of violence. We do not have a sense of humor about this because we are still healing from the last physical assault. We are still recovering from the last threat that became reality in a flash too fast for us to run from.

We have to treat all threats as real threats – because enough of them have been.

You might know you’re just joking – we do not, and we cannot take that chance with our safety. No one should be asking us to.

I am so very appreciative of the many women right now who are taking a stand, from the victims of Gamer Gate to Ashley Judd and saying, enough, this is NOT acceptable, this is not okay, this is not a fair price to pay for being female with an opinion and the “audacity” to express it in public.

I am even more appreciative of the men who have come out to say, “Enough, this is not acceptable.” because the violence is largely coming from men, and it will take the courage of other men standing up and saying “enough” to make them listen.

Men who threaten and carry out violence against women tend not to be the type who listen when women ask them to stop! They tend to be the type of men who defer only to other men, which is why we need more men willing to take this seriously, willing to stand up and say, this is not what masculinity looks like, this is not what manhood looks like, violence is not an acceptable way to get what you want.

We must, all of us with the power to do so, move forward together on this. We must stop welcoming people to the club and start helping each other burn this club to the ground. It’s a terrible club and I don’t want the next generation to have to join us here. I don’t want the next generation to grow up believing violence is normal or to be expected – because once we learn to expect it, we come to accept it.

And violence is not an acceptable price to pay for existing.

If women must take responsibility for what they say and do in public, then shouldn’t people who attack them also be asked to take responsibility for those attacks?

Not everyone who is threatened with violence has the voice and the resources and the power to call it out, fight back and bring it to the attention of people with the power to shut it down. But for those of us who do – we should. We should be standing up for all of the victims of violence who are powerless against their abusers. We should not be tolerating threats online, or in person. We should not be tolerating violence directed toward ourselves or others.

We should not be brushing off violent threats as jokes, or banter or rebuttals. Threats of violence exist to silence opposition, not to brighten anyone’s day. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from dissent, but it shouldn’t mean that we have to accept violence in order to be heard.

I am taking my inspiration from the women and men who are using their voice and their power to say, “No more.” and joining them.

“Welcome to the club.”

And in one of those fortuitous moments of synchronicity, just as I was about to hit publish on this post, this video from Anita Sarkeesian popped up in my feed.


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Filed under Naive idealism, Of Course I'm a Feminist

A Crisis of Confidence

Hey ya’ll it’s been a while.

Some of that was a conscious choice, and some of it came from a bout of deep ennui, and then that became a weird, sticky inertia.

I got stuck, in other words.

It’s been a busy year and looking back I’m totally laughing at myself and asking all of you, everyone who cares about me, to please check in with me over the winter holidays because I clearly need help that time of year.

Two years ago, over the winter holidays, I decided it would be a really good idea to start a new business. So, I did. Right after the holiday madness passed I started Kitchen Bravada, a personal chef service wherein I go to other people’s homes and cook amazing food for them.

It was awesome! I loved it. I still do. But… I haven’t had the time to invest in it that it deserves because I not only did not close down Think Banned Thoughts editing services (Why would I? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that business and my clients and that job!), but this past year over the winter holidays I decided it would be a really good idea for me to get a j-o-b, you know one of those things where you go work for someone else and they pay you and you maybe have some regular hours, or at least some semi-regular contact with other people and you get out of the house to work and so people take you more seriously or something… Yeah, I got one of those. Right in the middle of the holidays. Because clearly, sanity is not my super power.

I took a part-time job as a Chef Instructor at Sur La Table in Boulder – and it was great, and fun. And then, about 2 months into the job I got a promotion to Culinary Lead, which is just a nice way of saying that along with being a part-time chef instructor, I am also a part-time office wench.

It’s great, I love it. I love the teaching side of it, bringing people into the kitchen and showing them how much fun it is to make good food, and helping them get over any fears they have about different cooking techniques or spices or flavors or whatever. And I totally dig the office stuff too. I like managing the numbers and taking care of staff and making sure we have the supplies and tools we need to succeed.

Meanwhile, I am still trying to run two businesses, raise my family and find quality time to spend with my hubby. (Hi hubby! *waves & blows kisses*)

Something had to give, and that thing became blogging – and reading for pleasure – and taking hikes and bike rides – and…

And then yesterday I had a day off, my first full, real day off in a while it seems. And… It was TERRIBLE!

I had a to-do list 7 miles long and this LOUD nagging voice in the back of my head telling me to just shut up, relax and enjoy my one freaking day.

The responsible me kept arguing that if I just checked a few things off The List, I’d feel better and be able to relax, and the side of me that knew how much I needed a day off kept getting frustrated and yelling things like, “RELAX GODDAMNIT! ENJOY THE FUCKING MOMENT. OR ELSE!!” Which was significantly less helpful than you might think.

Eventually I decided to take the dogs for a hike because that felt like checking something off the list AND relaxing goddamnit all at the same time.

Up to the mountains we went.

Where there was still 4 feet of snow waiting to greet us.

I don’t have snow shoes. Or cross-country skis (I had a bad experience). And cold has never been a thing that relaxes me.

Back down the mountain we went.

The dogs got sad. And car sick. It was anti-epic.

But… I did have nearly two hours of quiet (minus the dog whining) forced “relaxation.”

I came home, checked a couple more things off the list and finally, with half an hour left on the Day Off Clock before kids came home and I had to put on my Mom cape and make dinner and finish The List, I went downstairs, snuggled under a blanket with my fluffiest cat and read my book.

And now, today, in the grim, grey light of a spring storm, I finally realize what’s really been going on.

I mean, aside from me trying to ride four horses with one ass…

I’m having a wee crisis of confidence. I have allowed doubt to creep in and slowly wheedle itself into my brain stem. The voices of, “It doesn’t matter.” and “You can’t change anything anyway, so why try?” and “No one is listening.” and “You’re a fake and a phony and a fraud.” (Yes, I know that’s all redundant, but that’s how these voices work…) I’ve allowed them to stop not just my fingers from moving across the keyboard, but also allowed them to stop the thoughts from fully forming in my brain.

There are so very many things that are going on that not only deserve, but require comment – and not just from me, but from all of us – and I haven’t been doing my part. I put the torch down, and I walked away.

I told myself I was just taking a little time off for some self-care – and that’s valid. We all need to do that from time to time, but the truth that smacked me in the face yesterday is that I wasn’t taking care of myself at all, I was avoiding myself. I was avoiding the world. I was allowing this:

to be the end of the conversation.

Sure, every single time I look up, read the news, or check in on social media right now, this is how I feel – it all seems… horrible. And hopeless. And ugly.

BUT… Remember what happens next? The avengers all work together to finish destroying the city, I mean, the enemy and they save the freaking day.

They don’t just hang up their hats and go grab the last shawarma before the city falls to ruin and the world gets taken over by weird aliens – no, they stand their ground and fight. And then shawarma after.

I’m not saying I’m a super hero. I’m just a random woman with a blog, but sometimes that’s all it takes to create a spark that catches fire and inspires change. But I let my spark go dark.

I listened to the mustn’ts, I listened to the don’ts. I listened to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles and won’ts. I listened to the never haves, the not good enoughs and the nos. But I should have listened to Shel Silverstein, because anything can happen. Anything can be.

As Mark Stevens‘ wise character, Colin says, “Possible covers a lot of ground.”

I’ve got 45 minutes on the clock every morning. It’s my time and I’ve been squandering it, just like I squandered my day off worrying about doing things for other people when what I needed was to get out of my own way and work for myself.

So, today, I’m back on track. I’m clearing some room. And I’m reminding myself that all the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.

I am that candle.

You are that candle.

Together… We can light up the world and keep the darkness at bay.

be the light.

Be the light you wish to have in the world.


Filed under Naive idealism

Trapline – Caught in the Net

Some books need to sink in a little before you can fully appreciate them.

I finished Mark Steven’s new book Trapline about a month ago and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since, but time kept getting away from me. I’m kind of glad it did, because this a book that ages well. It’s a book with enough twists and turns and subtle nuances that letting it breathe in the back of your mind for a while helps you see the deeper brilliance of it.

trapline by mark stevens

Guaranteed to snare you.

Many books in the mystery genre, at least for me, are fun, quick, entertaining reads that I enjoy and then put down and rarely think of again. But Trapline is different. Trapline has staying power. And the author, Mark Stevens, is the reason.

On the surface, Trapline is a perfect genre book, combining mystery with the New West and bringing them both up to date.

Trapline is the third book in Mark’s Allison Coil mystery series. In case you’re new here or somehow skipped over my gushing review of Marks’ 2nd book, Buried by the Roan, let me introduce you to Allison Coil, “this intriguing woman from the wilderness, who might have been bred from some magical concoction of tree bark and horse sweat.” She’s a backwoods hunting guide, offering her services to hunters of all shapes and sizes, even those who, “looked like they expected to hunt and hike or camp grit-free.” She’s very no-nonsense, get the job done type of gal. She embodies that old west sense of right and wrong, good and bad – there is very little room for grey in her life.

Trapline opens with a half-corpse found by Allison Coil’s first no-grit hunting party of the season. It looks like a mountain lion kill, though, “Tact suggested that you didn’t utter the deduction out loud unless you were prone to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.”

The more Allison ponders the scene, the less it feels right to her, though she can’t put her finger on why. Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking, because a mountain lion with a taste for humans would shut down hunting season faster than a city slicker tourist could yell yee-haw.

Meanwhile, down in town someone attempts to assassinate a U.S. Senate candidate after his big pro-immigration reform speech, partially delivered in perfect Spanish.

Allison is called in to consult and try to figure out where the shot could have come from, and who might have done it.

The two scenes don’t seem to have anything in common, but before long there’s no escaping that something darker is happening in Allison’s beloved Flat Tops.

Part of Mark Steven’s brilliance rests in his ability to hook us within those first few pages. He sticks his readers at the top of the roller coaster with just enough of a view to see that it’s going to be a fast-paced, twisty, turny ride – but we also know he’s not showing us the full scope.

As Allison ponders the first murder scene she asks her hunting companion and lover, Colin, “So you think it’s possible?”

He replies, “Hungry lions happen, stray hikers happen, and possible covers a lot of ground.”

It does indeed. This is the first real hint that there is more at play than meets the eye.

As Mark takes us deeper into the world of Glenwood Springs and the Flat Tops, we begin to see and feel the tensions pulling at this small town. Immigrants are coming in and getting jobs. For the business owners hiring them, they’re a godsend, accepting jobs that no one else was applying for and doing them well. To others in the area, they are criminals – thieves, takers, moochers, pouring through the “tortilla curtain” in a “brown tide” of drugs and crime, stealing jobs from hardworking Americans and living on government handouts.

The tensions run deep and the fault lines are beginning to show. A candidate for U.S. Senate is just one casualty, but is the corpse from the woods another?

While Allison explores the woods looking for clues and trying to get prepared for the onset of hunting season, a reporter continues to investigate the assassination attempt in town. The dual investigations begin to collide as Allison’s friend is threatened for hiring immigrants, and one of her employees disappears only to turn up with a story almost too incredible to believe, if the evidence wasn’t right there in front of them.

Immigration isn’t the only factor at work. The private prison complex is always hungry for new bodies to fill the beds and meet the quotas. Someone has to find bodies to lock up. And some bodies are easier to disappear than others.

By showing us how the issue of immigration is aggravated and complicated by the existence of private prisons, and the lengths people will go to to keep those prisons full, Mark invites us to re-examine everything we thought we knew about the battle over immigration and immigrant rights.

The book takes a darker turn as Allison’s backwoods investigation stumbles on a group of men who aren’t hunting immigrants for the private prison bounty, they’re hunting them for sport.

Within the pages of this fast paced mystery, Mark Stevens manages to show us just how few steps it takes for humanity to be stripped from “others” and how the very act of “othering” is the first slippery step down that very dangerous slope.

When Buried by the Roan came out, reviewers hailed Mark Stevens as the Carl Hiaasen of the west, and while that same environmental love runs through Trapline, I think this is the book that pulls Mark out of Hiaasen’s shadow and allows us to see Mark as so much more than just another enviro-thriller writer.

Mark is a writer whose deep love of humanity comes through on every page, in every character description, in every interaction and choice made on the page. He’s a writer not afraid to show us our ugly sides, if only so we can see for ourselves that we can do better.

If you want to dive deeper into the world of Allison Coil, you can follow her on Facebook or stalk Mark on twitter. In the meantime, get Trapline, it’s guaranteed to snare you!

Also – Keep your eyes open for Mark’s new book, Lake of Fire, hitting shelves this September!!

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Filed under Books

Good, good, good

This post is for my grandfather, Ervin Ott, who just turned 86 and who reminds me, every time we talk that life is, at its core, Good, good, good…

Happy belated birthday, grandpa. I hope you get your wish.

grandpa and his girls

Grandpa Ott getting ready to raise a little hell with his great granddaughters


My grandfather was never a man of many words. He was a man made of long silences and gentle stillness. He spoke when he needed to, but he never went on. It was as if the Great Depression had trained him to ration his words the way his family had once rationed food and cloth, as though if he used too many words, he might one day run out.

And then, one day, he did.

It was a cold, winter night. Snow covered everything for miles around my grandparent’s cabin. My grandfather went out to get more wood for the fire. No one noticed that it was taking longer than usual. He was prone to going walk-about or simply sitting out on the porch to silently gaze at the stars and trees and animals that wandered by.

Eventually my grandmother heard the scratching at the door, scratching that wouldn’t stop.

When she opened it, she saw my grandfather, lying on the ground, near frozen.

When the paramedics came, they told her that he had suffered a major stroke. The only thing that had saved him was the extreme cold, it had slowed the process down and, with luck, he would not lose all of his functionality.

My grandfather, never a man of many words, returned to us with what we thought was only one.

“Good.” Usually said in a long string, “Good, good, good…”

good life with a great grandgirl

How can this be anything but good?

It was how he answered questions, how he expressed his mood, how he asked for more, or less…

“Good, good, good…”

grandpa and his great grandgirl

Not sure who has who, but either way, it’s all good.

When I called and told him how his great granddaughters were doing in school or with their new hobbies, I could hear the smile shining through his “good, good, good…”

When I told him about struggles or challenges, his tone would change and I would know that, “Good, good, good…” really meant, “Enough, enough, enough…” not to me, but to the world, “Enough, leave my granddaughter be…”

And then, after months of “Good, good, good” we learned that he had saved a few more words, a few choice words. Someone hurt his wife and he was there in a flash, “Shit, piss, goddamn it all!” he roared.

Once things were back to normal, and his wife was okay, everything was “Good, good, good…” again.

He still keeps those other words, for the rare moments when everything is wrong, but most days, everything is, “Good, good, good…”

When he heard his daughter was returning to the USA after more than a decade away it was, “Good, good, good…”

When he got another great granddaughter, she was, “Good, good, good…”

When his wife passed, without him there to hold her hand, he still said it was “Good, good, good…” with tears streaming down his face.

grandma great granddaughter

Grandma and her great grandgirlgoyel

Marriages, funerals, births, illnesses, business successes and failures, political shenanigans, it’s all, “Good, good, good…”

My grandfather, never a man of many words, held on to just a few. And now he sits, like a wise laughing Buddha and reminds us that most days, most things, even when they seem challenging and hard and ugly, deep down, are actually “Good, good, good…”

I think about the words I use, the words I choose and I think about my grandfather, never a man of many words, and how in that moment when his world began to go black, the word he grabbed, the word he held onto, the word he chose to be his life raft was, “Good.”

It reminds me to take a moment to see the world through his eyes, to focus not on the suffering he experienced, or the hardships he faced, but on all the good that came from it. Sure there’s still the occasional Shit, Piss, Goddamn moment, but day after day, month after month, the Good, good, goods far outweigh the shit and the piss.

In the end, joy wins.

In the end, St. Francis of Assisi was right, “All the darkness in the world cannot put out the light of one small candle.”

In the end, it isn’t the shit and the piss that matter, but the good, good, good that we make from it.

looking for good in all the right places

Ready to experience all the good!

(This post was inspired by my mom, who reminded me how remarkable it was that “Good” was the one word my grandfather chose to describe his world. And by my friend, the insanely talented artist, Bryce Widom who has begun claiming 15 minutes a day to free-sketch without agenda. This post is the result of my Bryce inspired 15 minutes of free-writing this morning.)


Filed under Naive idealism, Things that work