Thursday, April 03, 2008

Flying Balls and Stiff Shafts

by Jo Robertson

Warning: The following material may be inappropriate for some readers.

Last night I crawled into bed beside my husband, Dr. Big. I was finishing up Deanna Raybourne’s Victorian mystery SILENT IN THE SANCTUARY, closing in on the denouement, when I heard muttering to the side of me.

I ignored it. Raybourne’s a fabulous author and I did SO want to find out of Nicholas Brisbane would kiss Lady Julia Grey again, so far the extent of their physical engagement. More muttering to my left, but now the words began to penetrate my consciousness.

What you say? Flying balls and stiff shafts?

There’s not a romance writer in the world who will not identify with my curiosity at the tenor of those words – flying balls and hard shafts? What other meaning could be attached to them but a bit of naughtiness?

“What are you talking about?” I asked, dragging my eyes from the printed form of Nicholas Brisbane.

Dr. Big waved a giant golf magazine in front of me. “My golf game, what else? A golfer’s most important tools are flying balls – gotta get loft and trajectory or the ball will . . .”

At that point my eyes glazed over. “Hmmm,” I murmured noncommitally.

I gave up Nicholas Bane for THIS?

“And of course the shaft of both the woods and the irons,” intoned Dr. Big, “must be hard, stiff, solid, not too flexible. Otherwise the . . . " He slanted a sly look at me. “What did you think I meant?”

Ha! What did he THINK I meant? Am I not a romance writer? Obviously, there’s only one answer to that.

The conversation got me to thinking. Would the mind of a normal person (by that, insert – a non-romance writer) flit precisely to the same place as mine did? That idea led to euphemisms and YES, that’s my topic.

We writers talk about purple prose and unrealistic and ridiculous stand-ins for body parts and functions, but what do we really mean?

Should we call a spade a spade – er, a shaft a shaft?

Before I was a mother, my delightful nephew Bryan had an accident in which his tiny penis had a serious confrontation with the toilet seat. Said toilet seat assaulted the poor boy and, honestly, it’s a wonder the kid ever got potty-trained. Three-year-old Bryan raced, screaming into the living room where his mother and I sat.

“I hurt my wee-wee tickler,” he bawled.

Wee-wee tickler?

Good grief, was my sister (a nurse, by the way) actually going to let her child call his penis a wee-wee tickler? I shuddered.

But I now realize there’s a place for such ridiculous euphemisms. The first time I used the word “penis” in front of my father-in-law, he had an apoplectic fit and stomped out of the room, muttering something about bad language.

Hmm, I’d rather thought the word was simply . . . anatomically correct.

The other day my five-year-old granddaughter flashed me a sad little look. “Grammy Jo,” she said, “my vagina hurts.”

“Oh, really?” I tried very hard not to laugh.

She nodded theatrically. “I didn’t wipe the right way,” she confided. “Now I have an infection.”

Her younger brother has his own troubled story to tell. At the tender age of three, he raided a nightstand drawer where he presumed lay his candy stash. Apparently the little blue pill looks like . . . well, candy.

Now a stiff shaft on a three-year old is not a pretty sight. Poor little guy talked about his penis hurting all day. After the poison-control hotline lady stopping laughing, she assured his mother than the sensation would subside within four to six hours.

I was proud of him. He never once spoke of shafts or wee-wee ticklers. “Mom, my penis is too big. It hurts. A lot.”

Fighting the euphemism-battle is very difficult task for parents. Even when we use the medical terminology for body parts and functions, children are like dirty little sponges. They soak up whatever “potty” word is going around at the moment. It was an uphill and, I suspect, losing battle.

Wee-wee tickler is beginning to sound better all the time.

What about you? Do you shudder when a romance writer uses a silly, demeaning term for a body part or function? Any funny experiences with your own children? Are you sick of that purple prose or do you prefer the euphemism to the harsh glare of reality?

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Friday, February 08, 2008

The World of Romance: A Man’s Perspective
Since February is the traditional month of love – Valentine’s Day and Leap Year – I thought it might be fun to have a male perspective on this whole romance-writing and love business. I sent an invite to Dr. Big – not to be confused with Mr. Big from SATC fame – to get some of his feelings and ideas.

Jo: While waiting for Dr. Big's response, I’m rather enjoying the golf game on his HD wide-screen telly. Hmmm, men swinging long poles, great back views of said men. Wow, that Tiger Woods is something else!

Welcome, Dr. Big, glad you arrived.

Dr. Big: Wait a minute! You were not supposed to identify me! If any of my golfing buds find out I’m doing this interview, I'm in for a lot of bogies!

Jo: Calm down, Dr. Big. I can assure you, the only male visiting us is P226. Uh, he does like to play with his guns, however. Hmmm, and I heard that George Clooney likes to hang out here occasionally.

Dr. Big: From what I've seen on celebrity info stuff, most of George's female companions are the models for the book covers, not the creators.

Jo: George does like his women.

First question, Dr. Big, I understand you have a fairly definite conception of what the typical romance writer looks like. Please share that with us.

Dr. Big: At first, I thought very attractive women were writing somewhat autobiographical novels. Part of my mistake, as I found out later, was that I mistook the cover pictures as the author and her amore. I also was acquainted with one well-known romance writer who was quite attractive.

Jo: You’re speaking of our good friend author Brenda Novak. Yes, she’s quite beautiful.

[aside] I think Dr. Big has had a crush on BN for many years.

But, do tell, Dr. Big – are you saying you mistook those rather revealing clench covers for the authors? Oh my, how delightful! Were you ever tempted to buy one of those books, just to become better acquainted with said author? And did your perception change?

Dr. Big: My wife is a member of RWA and she invited me to attend a conference. I was quite excited to meet some of the writer. As it turned out, I thought I was at a Weight Watcher's conference. Needless to say, I changed my mind about writers.

Jo: OMG, you're NOT implying that romance writers are overweight housewives are you? assure you that the Romance Bandits are very smart, savvy women: teachers, lawyers, engineers, and nurses, as well as wives and mothers. Are you surprised by that fact?

Dr. Big: I'm sure they have teachers, lawyers, and engineers at any Weight Watcher convention. Sorry – that is kind of a cheap shot. Nine in ten of my golfing buddies are candidates for a tummy tuck!

Jo: [seriously into eye-rolling]

Most of our heroes in romances are what we writers call alpha males. Do you consider yourself an alpha male, Dr. Big?

Dr. Big: Alpha male, huh? Sounds like Greek stuff. I am pretty well endowed on the golf course, except that is not how us golfers refer to a golf stud.

I am still hoping to find a romance novel that has a low handicapper as the hero. Maybe has something going with the cart girls? Although, most of the cart girls aren't much to look at, but they are good with a fast Dr. Pepper.

Jo: [eyes now in danger of flying out of head]

I understand you're married, quite happily married in fact, to a romance writer. Please refrain from revealing your spouse's identity, but tell us – what’s living with a romance writer like? Do you find yourself constantly supplying, uh, research for her books?

Dr. Big: If I were really honest, I believe my wife learned a lot from me about that stuff. I just never thought it would make it into her books!

Jo: [aside – in your dreams, Dr. Big]

Interesting. Do you think she had anything to teach YOU about romance and sensuality?

Dr. Big: She definitely was the catalyst! My wife really was a very attractive and sensual woman.
Jo: [choking over the use of past tense.]

Dr. Big: One day I decided to show my golf buddies a picture of my wife, as I had heard enough about some of their wives. I showed them my favorite picture, but when they were staring at it I realized it was a few years old – like about 15!

Jo: Are you saying you carry a fifteen-year old picture of your wife in your wallet? No, don’t answer that!

Back to the subject, you don't think your wife ever practiced any of her scenes on you? I mean, tried a move on you just to see if it would work? How would you feel about that?

Dr. Big: That is a slant on reality! After reading her first book, I tried to figure out who she was inventing for her more than graphic sex scenes! I know she got her information from research and other writers because little of what I was reading had to do with our reality. Of course, I would never tell, anyway.

Jo: Romance novels always have what we call the HEA, happily ever after. Do you believe in that stuff in your reality?

Dr. Big: I really am at a "happily ever after" place in my life. (Excuse me while I wipe my eyes.) I believe there is a definite place for romantic fiction. It is kind of like condensing a long life into the best parts. Nothing wrong with that!

Jo: Not at all. That's very sweet. In fact, you might redeem yourself yet.

I understand that you read a lot of professional journals. Do you realize that women readers corner the book market? What do you think about that?

Dr. Big: My take on the gender issue is that men are very visual and reality based, while women seem to be into fantasy, written and non-reality. (That should really stir up the ladies!)

Jo: Come on, Dr. Big, ‘fess up. Have you ever read a romance novel?
Dr. Big: Other than my wife’s writing, the only time I was tempted was when she brought a bunch of erotica back from a conference. Now that really held my interest!

Jo: What’s the best part of being married to a romance writer?

Dr. Big: The travel! I took her to Scotland so I could fulfill my dream of playing at St. Andrew's Golf course where golf began. She took notes for a forthcoming book. Seriously, I greatly admire creativity. The ability to create a story from the imagination is admirable to say the least. I expect that writers of romance have to be very interesting people. I know my wife is.

Jo: Awwww. Valentine’s Day is coming up next week. What do you plan for YOUR sweetheart, Dr. Big?

Dr. Big: First, let’s drop the sweetheart reference. We made a deal when we got married not to refer to each other with generic terms like that. We also agreed that our romantic relationship cannot be improved upon by copping out to the Hallmark hype. Our love for each other is such that no frivolous gift could improve upon it.

Jo: [aside – I take it said romance writer is NOT getting a Valentine’s Day surprise this year.]

What’s the best gift you ever gave your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day?

Dr. Big: There you go again, trying to invade our wonderful love affair with the suggestion of a trinket of some kind. My best gift is my sincere affection and admiration for the person who completes my life. Our affection has brought to life seven children, fourteen grandchildren, and a partner I stand in awe of today. I know you would prefer my offer of sex, but I will not take the bait. It would be like trying to shoot pool with a rope. Let’s say, I prefer to be the model for your male studs in your fantasy stories and believe the fantasy myself and let reality be our secret life.

Jo: There you have it in a nutshell, readers, why most men don't write or read romance novels. They're too damned literal!

So, readers, do you think men are so different from women when it comes to romantic gestures? Do you like your man/woman to surprise you romantically? Or you more a plan-ahead type? Do you agree with Dr. Big -- that women are more into fantasy and men are more reality-oriented?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


by Jo Robertson

We often use the terms “gender” and “sex” synonomously, but sociologists tell us that “sex” refers to male and female and is related to genetics, that is, the presence or absence of the male chromosome. Gender is a term that has nothing to do with biology and everything to do with environment and socialization.

As I made the rounds this Christmas, seeing what Santa had brought all of my grandchildren, I noticed something interesting. Toys are no longer gender specific.

Now, this isn’t a new trend, but there’s an increasing attitude among young parents that children should get the toys they WANT rather than what society believes they should HAVE.

When I was a girl, boys got baseballs and bats, bikes and projectile implements (we can no longer call them guns). Girls got dolls, easy bake ovens, and crafts.

But what if the boy wants to be a chef or a tailor? Or the daughter wants to be a professional basketball player, a lumberjack, or Spiderman?

Steve and Megan have a six-year old daughter named Sydney. We call her monkey girl. She’s been extraordinarily alert to her surroundings since infancy and began demonstrating amazing kinesthetic skills as a toddler. She’s fearless and the best player on her soccer team. She learned to ride a two-wheeler after one try, and at four, wouldn’t give up until she could jump rope.

They also have a four-year old boy named Jake. He’s more cautious and examines any situation for possible danger before plunging in. He likes Barbie dolls.

Jake loves to help his mom with the vacuuming, but her machine is too heavy for his little strength.

Their gifts this Christmas? Sydney got a catcher’s mitt and a skate board; Jake got a play vacuum cleaner. It’s no longer politically correct to say that toys are gender specific. There are no “boy” toys and “girl” toys, specifically. Personally, I think it’s cool that children aren’t stereotyped into the kinds of toys appropriate for their sex.

I got lots of dolls growing up, but what I really wanted was my brother’s Be Be gun and scout machete!

On the other hand, studies have been done where boys whose parents had never exposed them to guns as toys in any way, were given Barbies to play with. They used them as weapons. Along with carrots and celery sticks.

Girls, also with little conditioning and given the same dolls, pet them, combed their hair, and engaged them in tea parties.

Whereas the boys just butted the doll heads together.

What do you think, readers? Is it the end of the world if your baby daughter hates dolls? Or if your baby boy wants a Cabbage Patch doll or ab easy-bake oven? Do you secretly want your little girl to be, well, girly? And your boy to be manly?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ducks and Other Noisy Distractions by Jo Robertson

I was looking at some pictures of my granddaughter the other day. Her family took a trip to Apple Hill, a beautiful place in the fall, where there’s a small fishing pond for children to play. Ducks surround the water and shore area.

Initially the ducks fascinate Annie. She has no frame of reference to fear them. They look harmless enough. Pretty, too, with their white feathers and long noses. Mommy whispers those noses are called beaks.

Annie reaches for one. It quacks or makes whatever frightening sound ducks make, startling her. She backs away, crying. But, an hour later, with a little coaxing, and having become accustomed to them, their peculiar sound and smell, she inches forward. By the end of the day Annie’s decides ducks are pretty cool.

Myself, I’m not the adventurous sort. I never cut class in high school. Really. I never sneaked out of the house at night. I never drove my dad’s car without permission. I never tried drugs in college even though it was the height of the hippie era. I avoided the deep end of the pool. Like the words of that Carrie Underwood song – I didn’t stray too far from the sidewalk.

There’s something wise and smart and cautious about not taking risks. Risk-takers often end up getting hurt. Or hurting other people.
I wanted to be a professional singer. After I was graduated from high school at seventeen, I worked for the U.S. Government for eighteen months before college, lived at home, had a little extra money, and wanted so, so badly to take voice lessons from a professional instructor.
But I was chicken. I wouldn’t take the chance. I was afraid to risk embarrassment. As a result I didn’t sing my first solo until I was thirty-two in a small church in Jerusalem. The song was something about lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness and very muscle in my body quaked like an aftershock, but not my voice. My voice was clear and smooth. But you see, I could have done that at age seventeen instead of thirty-two.

I know a lot of writers who never submit their work. Ironic, huh? That’s like a singer who won’t sing in the shower or a dancer who doesn’t tap his foot to the beat of the drum. But it’s true. Their convoluted logic is that if they don’t submit their work, they won’t face rejection.

There’s a concept that the more we do something, the easier it becomes to do. The task doesn’t become easier, just our ability to accomplish it.

The question today is: What have you learned to do that got easier with the doing of it? Come on, share those stories, folks. We writers get our inspiration and our perseverance from them!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Ghosts and Goblins and Ghouls, Oh My!

by Jo Robertson

Psychologists theorize about why people enjoy being scared half to death in the name of fun. Rides at amusement parks, scary movies, and recklessly fast driving all apparently give risk-takers some sort of vicarious thrill.

But what’s so fun about being frightened?

Those same doctors suggest that scary movies and books, fast thrills, and watching others engage in risk-taking behavior provide a release for our natural inclination for daring excitement in a safe environment.

In a movie we can watch the heroine get the mysterious phone call, hear a strange noise, and YEP go into the basement to check it out. "Don’t go downstairs!" we yell from our safe seats in the movie theatre. By the way, why does she always go down there anyway? If we authors wrote such action for our protagonists, we'd say they’re TSTL (too stupid to live) and kill them off in a hurry.

But I LOVE those movies!!! I watched SAW One, Two and One Hundred even as I knew how stupid, violent, and silly the whole thing was. I love being scared, sitting in my house, safe and warm, reading a book or watching a movie, knowing I am secure while the heroine, idiot woman that she is, gets chased by the monster.

Those same doctors insist we like watching scary movies and reading scary books because they remind us that essentially we’re protected. They provide us the thrills we crave from a safe distance.

When my husband and I were engaged, and poor as church mice, we spent every Friday night watching the Friday Night Spook Movies on TV and eating homemade popcorn. I loved the old Bella Lugosi and Vincent Price movies, the scariness of the black and white screen, and the vicarious thrill.

When I was a young mother, I read a book whose name I've forgotten, about a possessed house, a sort of poltergeist (before those movies), an evil historical entity that threatened the whole family, a la Amityville. My husband was gone on an overnight conference and I was so frightened that I woke up my new-born baby and one-year old, just to have company. And I kept the lights on ALL night.

My favorite scary movie? It's "Night of the Living Dead," the 1954 movie that gives me the creeps to this day.

So, what about you? What's your favorite scary movie or book?

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Honey Bucket and Hey You!

by Jo Robertson

I’m not particular what name people call me. As my dad was fond of saying, “You can call me anything as long as you call me for supper.”

By the time I went to college, however, I was pretty fed up with having to spell out my first name to everyone – B-E-N-I-T-A, and I immediately adopted my middle name of Jo and have used it ever since. Hey, if Roy Scherer, aka Rock Hudson, could do it, so could I!

That experience got me to thinking about the pet names we give one another, whether friends, children (think babies and the gosh-awful, cutesy names we use), or lovers.

My daughters use the strangest words for their children. Preston became “Wheezer.” I have no idea why. Annalise was first “Annalise the Beast” and later became “Lou-Lou”; where DO they get these strange appellations? Siblings Gabe and Ezra are both called “Bubba,” but so are their father and mother. Go figure.

I had a cousin named Bubba, a result of some in-breeding, I’m sure, but that name was short for brother.

The names we give our husbands and lovers have to rival everything. When I was a young woman, a man in our church referred to his wife as My Bride. Now, to some wives this might seem deferential, sweet, perhaps even respectful. To me the reference merely conjured up images of a woman on a pedestal, thrust down into a pit. Not a pretty thing. On the way home from church, with steel in my voice and fire in my eyes, I said to my husband, “If you ever call me Your Bride, I will kill you.”
As you might suspect, that name lasted about a year.

What’s acceptable?

Sweetheart (which is what I call my husband, but also how I address my daughters, shortening it to Sweetie)? Funny thing, when we were dating, my husband once wrote me a letter, calling me Sweatheart. Uh, not the same thing.

Honey? Darling? Baby? Remember Dirty Dancing and Patrick Swayze’s line, “No one backs Baby into a corner”? What kind people name their baby . . . well, Baby?

Hot Pants? Hootchie Mama? Is there a P.C. term that I’ve missed somehow?
So, gentle reader, the question today is – what terms of endearment do YOU use with your boyfriends, husbands, or lovers? What names used in novels make you cringe? Which ones do you love to hear? Oh, and don’t forget the WHY, the most interesting part.


Saturday, September 29, 2007

My Granddaughter Has Two Mommies

by Jo Robertson

Okay, now that I’ve gotten your attention, let me explain what I mean. My baby daughter has been tending my oldest daughter’s children for eight years while Mommy #1 works. Both mommies parent in very similar ways, and the children obey both as if that person were the “real” mommy.

But there are differences.

Mommy #1 is the woman who carried Annie for nine months, suffering a bad back, gas, heartburn, unbelievable pain as Annie squatted on the sciatica for nearly nine months, and untold other pregnancy ailments. Mommy #1 gave birth. She is the disciplinarian, the one who puts Annie to bed at night, who takes her to the doctor (sometimes) and teaches her manners (always).

Mommy #2 is the fun mommy. She romps and rolls on the floor, she plays games, and she teases. Ironically, she is a disciplinarian also, being more germaphobic than Mommy #1. Annie calls Mommy #2 May-May and Mommy #1 Maw-Maw. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference and neither, I suspect, can Annie.

Sometimes when Annie wakes up in the night, cutting teeth or experiencing a tummy ache, she’ll look around her mother’s arms and ask plaintively, “Where May-May?”

I’m sure eighteen-month old Annie knows which Mommy is her birth mommy and which her surrogate mommy, but she also knows how to play the game. When we’re all in a public place and baby is feeling particularly diva-ish, she will only go to May-May, peeking from underneath amazingly thick lashes as if to let everyone know who’s in charge.

Annie’s pretty lucky, I think, to have two mommies. We should all be so fortunate.

I think most of us women also have another person in our lives besides our mothers, another BFF to whom we tell secrets, fears, disappointments, perhaps ones we don’t even tell our significant others.

Undoubtedly, there’s something to that male bonding thing. But I don’t think I could manage without my female friends, three of whom just happen to be my daughters.

As writers, we rely on that other friend. We call her a critique partner. She’s unflinchingly honest and unfailingly kind. She’s the cheerleader, coach, and critic.

So my question to you is: Who is that BFF you couldn’t live without? An aunt, a sister, a neighbor, a friend, or maybe your critique partner if you’re a writer. Why?