Getting Down and Dirty: A confession.


Here’s what I love about my job: I get to fantasize for a living.

It’s pretty rad.

Anything I want to explore, I can. I just need to park myself in front of a blank document and direct that blinking cursor wherever it is I want to go. My mind is the ultimate TARDIS, taking me anywhere throughout time and space, no limitations. I can do anything, be anyone, experience anything.

This is both good and bad, depending on the story. Anyone who has read my work knows that I don’t shy away from things that are painful. Though some might be tempted to write me off as a “romance writer” or some fat chick who writes about sex because she can’t get any dick at home, I’ve tackled important sociological issues in my novels. This is to the point of triggering MYSELF and causing MYSELF angst and trauma, if nothing more than to cut painful shit out at the root. I’ve written about death, stalking, mental illness, racism, sexism, classism, (ALL THE ISMs,) homophobia, sizeism (lots and lots of sizeism,) eating disorders, abuse, rape, bullying, misogyny, violence, religion and politics. I wade in the murky depths on the regular. Not begrudgingly but happily.

It often stems from my endless curiosity why certain “rules” or limitations exist.

Them: You can’t do this.
Me: Why not?
Them: You just can’t.
Me: The more you tell me I can’t, the more I want to.
Them: You shouldn’t.
Me: I kinda think I will.
Them: But you can’t.
Me: Watch me.

Since I was nine years old, I was interested in stories that flipped the script. Pissing someone off was the point, because I don’t understand why certain things are a big deal. One of the first stories I remember crafting was about a young white teenager from the suburbs running away to the city to live with her black boyfriend.

This came to me after I was praised for making friends with a biracial girl because no one else wanted to hang out with her. This made no sense to me. So I worked it out the way I work out everything: through storytelling.

That was 1979, folks. And I was nine. Playing with my Little People toys. Yet I found myself wanting to dig around in the forbidden to figure out exactly why it was forbidden. This should tell you everything you need to know about the storyteller I grew up to be. I cut my teeth on 1980s soap operas. I don’t do soft, quiet or subtle. Bill Conti should score all my stories. I use the line of propriety as a jump rope.

Rules? What rules? I don’t need no stinking rules. The minute you tell me I can’t do something, it’ll be the first thing I want to do.

I’m a loner, Dottie. A rebel.

Several years ago, my bestie asked a question that essentially gave birth to one of the most provocative stories/sagas I’ve written, which is saying a lot. This question challenged the rules by which I operate as a feminist romance writer (yes, there are such things.) It butted up against rules that, for this story at least, simply didn’t apply.

He asked, “If you could hire a male escort, would you?”

First thing you should know about me is that I’m a sex-positive feminist. I don’t care how many partners one has, I care more about WHY and HOW. Are they happy doing it? Then have at it. Are you safe and are you encouraging others to be safe? More power to you. The only problem I ever have is if there is damage being done, particularly to the woman.

While I’m not a huge fan of pornography made for men, I do believe that if a woman chooses a career in that field of her own volition, she has every single right to do so. If she makes more money shaking her moneymaker at a strip club and decides that’s how she’s going to earn her living, I have no problem with it. I understand her motives far more than the guy who goes to the club and spends countless wads of cash on a woman he isn’t supposed to touch. But hey, if it pays for her law degree – ain’t my business.

I also don’t slut-shame women who embrace their sexuality, provided they are empowered doing it. If you’re “playing the game” that allows toxic men to stay in power over you, that’s a problem. Don’t fuck THOSE guys. But if you’re getting your freak on with sexy men who know how to give you what you want… have at it, sister. You do you. I’m on your side.

This doesn’t always fly in the world of romance, which often requires a softer touch. There are some structural rules that are way more conventional, and woe to the person who dares to defy them. For many readers, cheating is a deal-breaker, particularly if the one cheating is a manwhore.

So how, exactly, does one write a *romance* novel STARRING a man who gets paid to have sex, and by every literal definition IS a man whore?

In 2015, I decided to dip my foot in the murky pool of the forbidden in order to find out.

Truthfully, my answer to the bestie’s question wasn’t an automatic no. Just like learning about oral sex when I was fourteen, the idea didn’t immediately repulse me like my more conventional upbringing demands that it should have. It wasn’t an automatic no OR an automatic yes. More like, “Hmmm. Interesting. Let me think about that.”

There is a lot of appeal to the idea of having someone give you *exactly* what you want in a safe environment you ultimately control. For someone like me, who has been assaulted/victimized, and as such doesn’t always trust a whole lot of men, that holds special appeal. I don’t get off on danger. I prefer the risks I take in this area especially to be mitigated.

Plus, it’s clear cut and precise. That it’s a business transaction ensures a “no muss, no fuss,” approach. You can get your freak on, be as dirty as you dare, and once the “date” is over, he leaves and you go back to your world, fantasies fulfilled, zero complications.

It’s been decades since I tried to hook up with a stranger, but as I recall, hooking up with someone for the night came with a lot of scary variables. Adding any kind of kink in the mix could prove volatile. Hiring someone to be the bad boy, instead of actually taking a chance on getting involved with one, seems a lot less messy.

It’s fantasy fulfillment with low risk and high reward. That doesn’t sound that bad, honestly.

Still, the idea has an inherent ick factor. It can become seedy or clinical, robbing the moment of true fire and desire, because it’s built upon a lie. That person isn’t there because they find you interesting, and they’re not fucking you at the end because they feel the burning need to do so.

It’s a business transaction that really doesn’t do any emotional favors to either party involved. There’s an implied desperation when someone resorts to paying for sex, which is slightly offset by the desperation one must feel to sell their body to total strangers. Not everyone, not all the time, but … very fertile storytelling soil to figure out the How and Why.

Needless to say, I jumped in both feet.

I stopped short of actually hiring a gigolo in my research. It was fully my plan at first, since the legal loophole most of these businesses adhere to is that the time is paid, but the sex is a choice. You pay whatever the fee for X amount of hours of that person’s time. Whether you have sex or not is a personal choice you get to make in the moment, which has nothing whatsoever to do with the money. (Ch’yeah right.)

Still, I figured I could hire a gigolo and spend the entire time picking his brain about who he is, what his clients are like, what he gets out of his job and the complications it brings, etc. I thought it was a completely fair arrangement.

The hubby, however, shut that noise down FAST. I can chase comedians and musicians all over the country, but there was NO WAY I was going to get time alone with a male escort. Fucking is only ever an issue with one of those two scenarios, apparently.

Full disclosure: I wrote this entire series without having hired an escort for myself in any capacity.

This, like the Groupie saga before it, was more an exploration of what COULD happen, given the moral perimeters of our current society. A fairy tale, it ain’t – any more than hooking up with your favorite rock star.

It’s about sex, and if you insert feelings into it, you’re going to have conflict. Delicious, angsty, Kindle-busting conflict.

(SQUEEE.)

Such is the case for the Masters saga. If you’re looking for a traditional romance, this ain’t it. It’s a boiling pot of complicated gumbo where a lot of stuff is tossed in, because life is complicated like that, particularly when money, power and sex is on the line. People are complex. Feelings, even more so.

I crafted the story carefully. I had to answer a lot of whys. The first one is obvious: Why would someone hire an escort? She had to have means, of course. And she had to be lacking something that only someone like a male escort could provide. Thus CC Cabot was born, the sole heiress to a fashion trendsetter, who had the sad misfortune of being too asymmetrical to fit into the narrow brand she was born under.

That’s our word for the day, folks. If symmetry is inherent attractive, those of us who don’t fall into certain categories are SOL. We’re the jagged, little pills ready to choke someone on the way down. Imagine how that must complicate things when your father’s fortune was made by enforcing these narrow beauty standards, and you simply don’t “fit” in.

This allowed me to get some things off of my sizeable chest. Have megaphone, will use it. Not sorry.

If you’ve been watching Dietland at all, you can see that sizeism is deep-seated and insidious, particularly when it comes to how a woman is valued in our culture. Some women count and some women don’t, and that’s just it. And we all sort of buy it, contributing to our own suppression because, sure. It makes sense. Pretty people are more valuable. They are the “complete package.”

When Abercombie and Fitch decided they didn’t want to sell XL+ clothing, they were making it clear that in order to wear their brand you had to “earn” the right… and fat people simply didn’t make the cut. They didn’t want you in their stores. They didn’t want you sporting the brand.

NO OVERPRICED HIPSTER CLOTHES FOR YOU.

Someone like CC Cabot, who had more money than Moses, would not have been able to shop there, and A&F was widely (and correctly) condemned for the practice.

HOWEVER…

A&F isn’t the only culprit of this size-shaming industry. You can’t get more anti-fat than Fashion. Consider all those stores who nod weakly towards their larger clientele with limited options that are only sized a little bigger, and still modeled by the super rail thin. I know immediately how you view me as a consumer when I see this. (Kind of like the sign in the window at the Charlotte Russe shop in the mall, suggesting they have extended sizes *online.* I know that means you don’t want us fat chicks in your store, but you have no problem taking money out of our back pocket when push comes to shove. Capitalism: 1. Inclusivity: 0.)

Back in the 90s, when I was forced to buy clothes via catalog to get reasonably priced items my size that actually fit, I bought often from Roaman’s. Page after glossy page, nothing but those long, flowing, matronly styles on thin or average models who served merely as flesh hangers. I wouldn’t know how it looked on a body like mine until I ordered it and tried it on.

How disappointing that I didn’t look as thin in their designs. :/

(I just checked their website to see if they still do this. There are some fleshier models than what I remember, but they’re still closer to average even though they offer clothes up to a size 9X. Considering all “plus” size models start at size 6 in the fashion world, I suppose they win this point on a technicality.)

How we market clothes is really the first step towards fat-shaming in our society. Let’s take into consideration the term “plus-sized.” The fashion industry, as I stated above, starts their “plus-size” category at a size 6, which is universally around 35.5/27/37.5. But once you get into *actual* “plus-size” clothing, that’s where the real measuring fun begins.

It’s also where the exclusion comes in quite needlessly, thanks to the ever-shifting marketing of what’s “normal.”

Women’s clothes markets sizing in three main categories. You either go by measurement, by group, or by number. (Don’t even get me STARTED.)

In fashion, the numbers and different measurements are grouped under small, medium, large and plus. Logically, there should only be a small, medium and large. Small is on one side of the spectrum. Large is on the other. There IS no need for “plus,” anymore than there needs to be an “extra-small.”

Small is small. Large is large. Saying one is EXTRA large is merely a way of wedging larger bodies into niche categories where – ding ding ding – they can charge you more money. There’s no limit how small one can get with “petite” or how tall someone can get with “tall”. So why does large drop off at… well… medium?

(Ain’t it funny how you can’t get a small ANYTHING in food anymore, but our fashion insists that larger clothes are a niche market?)

Small, medium and large have lost all meaning, particularly in women’s fashion. If we’re looking at women’s sizes as a whole, an “average” woman (sized 16) should be the one in the middle, i.e., “medium,” but that’s not how this works. Vanity sizing was create to make women feel better (or worse) about the sizes they were buying. I may be a size 22 at Macy’s, but I’m a size 2 at Torrid. Yay me!

Who gets my dollar? The one that makes me feel smallest.

And we all seem to agree with these terms.

Talk about your sizeism.

Plus was created to enforce the beauty standard of S/M/L, because bodies on average grew larger than the standard measurements wanted to allow. Consider Marilyn Monroe. One of the popular arguments we make against sizeism is that she was a voluptuous size-16. Elizabeth Hurley earned herself Cunt of the Year when she commented she would “kill herself” if she ever got as fat as the timeless bombshell. Reality Check: MM’s measurements were 36-24-34, which at that time was listed as a size 12.

Today that’s a size 8 (mostly because of her 36D cup breasts,) because we have to get more creative with our sizing to keep up with protecting (or wounding) a woman’s ego. A size-8 sounds good until you remember that the fashion industry still thinks you’re a big, fat sow.

If you think I’m kidding, remember that models start plus-sizing at size-6, which if you check Victoria’s Secret, is listed UNDER SMALL.

DO YOU REALIZE YET HOW FUCKING STUPID THIS IS?

(I’d like to point out that Elizabeth Hurley’s measurements are 38-26-34. Which should tell you EXACTLY how cunty her fat-shaming was.)

“Plus” is that four-letter word that kicks us out of circle. And they do it with GLEE, my friends. GLEE. Like A&F, we’re just not good enough to fit in dare we wear XL or larger. And it’s all bullshit anyway.

Small/medium/large… these all become meaningless as descriptors. There’s no standard across the board. A small at Roamans is 10/12. The smallest size you can get at specialized stores like Torrid is size-00/0, and it TOO is a 10/12.

If you want to know why we women spend so much time shopping, it’s because we’re forced to do algebra in order to figure out what size we need to try on. Show of hands if you take two sizes with you to the dressing room, simply because you’ve been burned before.

Take, for example, CC’s measurements. Her shorter frame boasts 46/34/44. This puts her at a 16/18, thanks in part to being asymmetrical due to her generous bust size. Like Marilyn Monroe (and Scarlett Johansson, and Selma Hayek, and other top-heavy women,) she would have to to go up a size on top just to fit into the clothes without shirts busting open at the seams. She’d fit in a smaller size, except for a couple of pesky inches in the northern hemisphere, making her asymmetrical.

This puts her on the XL side of things, which for “normal store” clothes, simply means that the styles created for smaller bodies are made a little larger, which allows no give at all for asymmetry. If you’re busty, ain’t no way you’re wearing those smaller button-down shirts. You go up a size for modesty and comfort.

These are the realities women deal with when shopping for clothes. I figured it would be a universal experience that would bond me with my readers, my sisters in this fashion war. Fun fact: a reviewer did not care for my sizing of CC at all. She wondered if I was even a woman, because 46 inches is GINORMOUS for boobs, you guys. Not dainty or ladylike at all… and certainly not believable. What kind of FREAK wears a 46??

sexyheadshot

*Cough.* I wear a size 46, which is down from the 48/50 it used to be. I’ve been at LEAST a 42 ever since I was sixteen years old. So, yeah. Thanks for the size-shaming on that one. For a second I was all secure in my femininity and shit.

(And people wonder why I write what I do. IT’S RESEARCHED AND EDUCATIONAL, FOLKS. I inform AND entertain. Trust.)

I made CC like this for a reason. She has very clear goals and obstacles. Not fitting in with her family fashion stores is the driving motivation for everything that follows, particularly when everyone around her thinks SHE needs to change in order to get what she wants. Since she’s not used to the “rules” working for her, she sidesteps them. As a woman with means, she’s able to do exactly that.

Why WOULDN’T she hire an escort to give her the fantasies of her dreams? And why WOULDN’T that fantasy include being swept off her feet exactly as she is? It is every fat girl fantasy brought to life… for a price.

And it was a lot of fun for a while. Till the time came when there was a higher price to be paid. Cuz isn’t there always?

Needless to say, I cracked a few eggs… including some of my own.

I usually have one rule when writing women of size: they don’t have to lose weight to be happy.

I can’t tell you how much I freaking HATE that trope. HATE. It reinforces all the beauty bullshit that subtly programs us to think only some people deserve happiness and love, and that’s simply not true.

I broke that rule for the Masters saga. Not to make her happy so much as to realize it didn’t make her any *happier,* which is something they circled around on Dietland this week. Plum realized that there’s a price to be paid for being pretty, every much as there is a price to be paid for fitting outside the norm. For some folks, like for instance Clementine from my FFF story, they have no problems keeping the weight and finding their own happiness anyway.  They’re not trying to impress you. Zero fucks given.

For CC, she had to walk this path from both sides to know exactly who she wanted to be and why, because at a sheltered 23, she was a half-baked human as the story begins.

Dietland’s Plum drew some controversy when she commented that losing weight would attract predators, that she would enhance her appeal as prey if she moved forward in her weight loss journey. Aisha Tyler asked her Unapologetic panel what they thought about that, and two of the thin women said they didn’t care for the victimhood that implied. This surprised me at first, because I totally understood what Plum was trying to say. While I won’t go to the extreme that Plum did, I do know there is security in being the kind of woman certain men overlook. In my experience, the men who would overlook me due to my size are men I would not want to attract anyway. I wear a flesh shield, it keeps complications at bay.

But I get what they mean as far as sexual assault doesn’t depend on sexual attractiveness, and we need to keep that in mind whenever we try to get out our messages of awareness. To say one woman draws assault for being pretty, we’re making the issue about sex instead of about power, which is the real motivation behind sexual assault.

However, that flesh shield does deflect a lot of unwanted attention. As CC begins to shed some of that weight, suddenly she has to deal with issues she wouldn’t ordinarily have to. Sex plays a HUGE part in this, to the point it really runs fingernails across a #metoo chalkboard.

Though I’m reluctant to add trigger warnings to my novels, such a warning was necessary for this series. There are parts that are hard for me to read, and I wrote it. There are parts that make my hair stand on end. Danger Will Robinson! Danger!

And there’s one really good reason for that: my hero is fucked up.

Remember earlier, when I was comparing the desperation of hiring someone for sex and the desperation of having sex for money? This is more of the “how and why” thing. Why does he do this for a living? What prompted it? If I want to make him a romantic hero, it has to be more than, “Yeah, I just like fucking lots of women.” I had to give this tarnished white knight some edge. I find MYSELF wanting to both punch his lights out and climb him like a jungle gym. He’s FULL of complexities. He’s also my first Scorpio, so I had to be ready to face my own demons with him. The jealousy, the possessiveness. The controlling nature. The secrecy, my God. The secrecy. I know all of these terrible traits first hand. Devlin Masters is like a caged tiger ready to bite someone’s head off to break free from the circumstances that landed him in his chosen profession. He’s stubborn. He’s prideful. He holds onto any modicum of control with a death grip. There are so many layers to this particular onion, it takes time and tears to pull each one of them back.

I do this without apology. You guys know how I work by now. The first book of a trilogy is act one. The second, Act Two, is where we start to dig deep down and get our hands dirty. If we’re lucky, by book three we’ll burst out of the muck and wrestle a happy ending one way or the other, even if it sometimes doesn’t look like what we think it should.

You’ll get to the end of Book One and want to burn me in effigy once again. I’d apologize, but I’m not sorry.

There’s only one thing more exciting than writing about a fantasy, and that’s writing about what happens if that fantasy ever comes true.

That is this series to a T. It tears all the trappings of false propriety down to reveal its ugly beating heart. My hero/heroine are completely fucked up and they have to fight each other and the world around them to claim their HEA. They make dumb choices, lots of times prompted by the excess that money and power provide – including the liberal and unapologetic use of intoxicants. Drastic, devastating things happen. Quite often.

Everything had a purpose and a reason for being included, including the explicit M/M/F threesome in book three.

(Hell, if you’re going to write about sexual fantasy, you might as well go all the way, right?)

Sometimes you need to get what you THINK you want, to know what you really want.

Despite all of this, I managed to write about the important stuff. It always seems to rise from the ashes, my moral phoenixes. The main through line of the book is about family. It starts and ends on these notes. It also challenges what family means, and how far we’re willing to go to help people in our various tribes.

N’ I’m willing to go all the way, y’all, because I know a thing or two about the family you choose.

There are many things that may put you off of reading this series, and I own up to that. I stop just short of apologizing, because in the end I love the story that it turned out to be. My bestie asked me a question off the cuff, and I created a kaleidoscope of a universe, intricate and beautiful, confusing and impossible to define in the narrow “rules” society accepts.

But if there is one reason to read the series, it’s the introduction to Caz Bixby.

He started out as a minor character. A burr under the saddle, if you will. I would pat myself on the back for the character work I did with him, turning him into a recurring catalyst in every single story since, but the truth is that was all Caz. He popped into my consciousness and would not be denied.

Truth be told, I’ve fallen deeply and hopelessly in love with him. It’s a good damn thing he’s not real because I fear I could not resist him. The hubby would block any contact, and he’d be wise to do that very thing.

To tell you how amazing this guy is, he inspires OTHER book ideas he won’t even be in. I’ve loved every single hero I’ve written, but this guy … he’s a soul mate. I realize it’s an exercise in complete vanity how much I adore my own creation, but Caz is more than just some jumble of letters on the page. He exists, somewhere. Maybe another universe. Another dimension.

In that dimension, it’s likely I DID hire him for a few life-changing hours. I’m 100% certain I wasn’t sorry in the least.

And today… YOU can get him for pennies on the dollar.

All three Masters books are available for under $4 for a limited time only. It is a series likely to test you the way it tested me, but hopefully you’ll find like I did that it was so worth the journey. I go *there,* but I also know the way back. I’ll return you safely back to center, where you’ll bring along some new insight for your trouble – even if it’s accepting you CAN be a woman an have a size 46 bust.

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