Pucker Up

You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. Just how many? In a 2004 ABC Prime Time Live telephone poll, women reported an average of six sex partners in their lifetimes; men, 20. I’m always wary of statistics. To quote another aphorism: Figures lie and liars figure. But I’m willing to believe men are more sexually adventurous than women. Or liars.

The same poll says 57 percent of respondents have had sex out of doors or in a public place. Bonus for all those frisky scenes we talked about a while back as romance readers and writers—I guess they’re somewhat true to life. But a whopping 29 percent have had sex on the first date. Oops. Now that doesn’t usually happen in romance novels. We don’t seem to mind sex before marriage so much, but marriage is always implied.

And what about porn, handled so cutely in many a historical where the innocent heroine finds a naughty volume in the paneled library? Men are three times more likely to look at sexually explicit sites online than women, and 11 percent of them have participated in sex chat rooms. Guys don’t see a problem with this; gals view it as “cheating.”

According to this poll, only three percent of adult Americans are still virgins. We’ve come a long way, baby.

But here’s the big kicker. 75 percent of the men say that always have an orgasm. Only 30 percent of the women can say the same.

So, what do you think? Is sex just perceived differently for men and women? Still okay for the hero to be experienced and not so much for the heroine? What about porn? Is it “cheating?”

March 5-11 is World Folk Tales and Fables Week, so be on the lookout for those frogs. You never know. Someday your prince will come. Maybe you will, too.

Le Chat au Chapeau

As you know, I work in a high school library. Among my duties, I am responsible for book displays and generally adding a note of cheer wherever I can. I do the latter by visiting online sites that list peculiar holidays, and I make mini-posters for the library to “celebrate.” For example, March 5-11 is National Procrastination Week, but I haven’t made the poster yet. I won’t worry about that until Panic Day, which is March 9.

Today, March 2, is Read Across America Day, and also officially marks The Cat in the Hat’s 50th birthday. I am somewhat ashamed to say I found Dr. Seuss books extremely annoying when my kids were little, but I’ve since seen their value. And you must give Theodore Geisel credit, when he said writing is “like being lost with a witch in a tunnel of love.” So, happy birthday, Cat, and happy birthday, Dr. Seuss! I’ll be reading And Then He Kissed Her by Laura Lee Guhrke in their honor. What will you be reading?

Vive la Difference

Chocolate is a perfect food, as wholesome as it is delicious, a beneficent restorer of exhausted power. It is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.
~Baron Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), German chemist

Despite the learned professor’s advice, I confess I prefer vanilla. Maybe that’s why my book isn’t finished yet. As a child living around the corner from a candy store with a soda fountain, I was the one kid with the vanilla sugar cone while my friends ordered chocolate.Does that make me boring? I contend it just makes me different.

Everybody likes chocolate. Even grumpy Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon says, “All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!” As if that would sweeten her up. Some people think chocolate possesses miracle powers. Chocolate is cheaper than therapy and you don’t need an appointment. Sorry, I’ve eaten my fair share and I’m still kind of crazy.

Don’t get me wrong. My Viennese mother taught me to eat fresh fruit with chocolate, alternating bites. Pass the chocolate-covered strawberries and orange peels too, please. I won’t turn away that Valentine’s box of chocolate, either. But I love vanilla ice cream, without the hot fudge sauce. It’s delicious just as it is.

I will not work for chocolate. I don’t think, Forget love — I’d rather fall in chocolate. I don’t begrudge anybody their chocolate fix, but it just doesn’t do it for me.

But what does do it for me is finding a book that is unique and an author who is addictive. So I highly recommend Barbara Metzger’s The Hourglass. She has combined a sprinkle of paranormal, a dollop of gremlin humor, generous helpings of duty, honor and luscious romance and mixed them up into a very satisfying read. Grab yourself a Hershey bar if you must and go read it. The hero is drop-dead gorgeous. 😉

Chocolate or vanilla? What have you read lately that’s deliciously different?

Beach Blanket Bingo

Most of us have a special place we think of when we long to escape the real world. My husband likes any frigid and fishy lake in Maine, a holdover from his Boy Scout days. But I’m a beach baby. And how I wish I could escape this Maine winter right now. Give me some sand in my bathing suit and peanut butter sandwich, the smell of Coppertone and I’ll be a girl again, hanging out with my parents in the dunes.

That’s right. My parents. Bet you thought I’d talk about my old boyfriend the lifeguard. But the fact is, every weekend when I was growing up, I went to Jones Beach with my parents at the crack of dawn. My father was big on “beating the crowd.” Consequently we had the Atlantic Ocean to ourselves, because sensible people were still in bed. My father would mix up a huge jug of grapefruit juice and vodka for breakfast (none for me), set up an umbrella and chair for himself and a chaise lounge in the sun for my mother. He brought binoculars, not to watch the seagulls. When I got a little older I was permitted to move my blanket down toward the water, and he kept an eagle eye on me and my friends so we wouldn’t drown or, worse, get picked up by pimply boys.

There is something about the pull of the waves. Who can forget the infamous sex-on-the-beach scene in Inflammation From Here to Eternity with Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster? I’ve used the sea scenario myself in a novella that might be a novel someday. My characters, Neil McInnis and Abigail Anthony, are swimming in Scotland somewhere around 1850.

“Race you,” she said, looking behind her and laughing.

“You’re a cheater, Miss Anthony. You know what happens to cheaters.” Neil was catching up, but she plunged into the surf first. Every inch of her smooth skin contracted into gooseflesh. She dove under the dull green water and came up sputtering, her black hair a midnight curtain of silk.

“Water witch” said Neil softly. “Selkie.”

Abby grinned, wondering if her lips were as blue as the sky above. “It’s odd you should say that,” she said, wiping the sea’s tears from her lashes before their sting made them hers. “My two older sisters, very proper, perfect, teased me all the time. They called me Little Witch, and I would cry my eyes out. I vowed to cast a spell on them.”

“You’ve certainly cast a spell on me.”

Abby stopped bobbing in the water and became very still.

Neil reached for her, drew her close, his chest pleasantly abraded by the coarse wool of her bathing costume. He combed his fingers through her hair, tracing it as it fell to the small of her back.

She could feel his hardness. Everywhere. Something loosened within her as she sought his mouth.

Just a small kiss.

She closed her eyes and felt his arms encircle her more tightly in the choppy waves.

There was nothing small about any of it. He kissed her deeply, his tongue probing and teasing until her weightless body wrapped around him. His lips moved down her throat to feel her pulse racing, taste the salt and her sweetness.

This was madness.

Questions and Culture:

So, where’s your special place to escape the madness? I’ll be at the shore—with plenty of sunblock.

When you write, do you put your lovers in a feather bed, or are they apt to be found on the library floor?

Reveal a favorite love scene that you’ve read that isn’t all under the covers.

Wild nights! Wild nights!
Were I with thee,
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

Futile the winds
To a heart in port,—
Done with the compass,
Done with the chart.

Rowing in Eden!
Ah! the sea!
Might I but moor
To-night in thee!
– Emily Dickinson

The painting is Psamathe by Lord Frederick Leighton, c. 1880. My lucky daughter did an internship at the Leighton House Museum in London in the summer of 2004.

Domestic Disturbances

Pas devant les domestiques (not in front of the servants),” said Lord Louche, so that Lady Louche wouldn’t confront him with his numerous indiscretions at the dinner table. I bet the staff could translate that particular phrase, and knew exactly what their lord had done, too.

Books are filled with loyal retainers. Scarlett has Mammy. Bertie has Jeeves. Bruce Wayne has Alfred. We won’t talk about devious Mrs. Danvers because she’s an aberration, although she was loyal to Rebecca. In historicals the footman is always underfoot accompanying the ladies while they shop and the maid is always lacing maniacally. The butlers are all-knowing, cooks always kind and bosomy, unless they are temperamental French chefs written for comic relief.

Alas, I, like most modern women, get my knowledge of such domestic arrangements from Upstairs, Downstairs, The Remains of the Day, Gosford Park and other period pieces, all rather bittersweet if not downright sour. On occasion, I have had cleaning women, but they terrified me so totally I cleaned up before they came.

It’s impossible to write a historical romance without a nod to the servant class. While Lord and Lady Louche had certain responsibilities in running their household and estate, their hands rarely got dirty. From the 1837 diary of a footman, William Taylor, comes this eloquent passage:

The life of a gentleman’s servant is something that of a bird shut up in a cage. The bird is well housed and well fed but is deprived of liberty, and liberty is the dearest and sweetest object of all Englishmen. Therefore I would rather be like a sparrow or a lark, have less housing and feeding and rather more liberty. A servant is shut up like a bird in a cage, deprived of the benefit of the air to the very great injury of the constitution.

And it took a great many shut-up birds to keep a household running smoothly. Consequently, Lord and Lady Louche were rarely alone. Perhaps their cage was gilded and had more amenities, but they were prisoners of society nevertheless. No wonder Lord Louche left to frolic with an opera dancer and Lady Louche dipped into the laudanum with far too much frequency. But I’ll save infidelity and drug addiction for another post.

So, how about it? Would you like to travel back in time so you could fill your empty days embroidering, playing the pianoforte, reading gothick novels, gossiping and waiting around for Lord Right? And you’d have to change your outfit up to six times a day, too. If so, who would you be, in fact or fiction?

Or do you think you’d wind up as the housemaid, cleaning the grate and lighting the fire for your mistress each morning, with never a moment of your own? I feel a little like Cinderella myself.