Diversity and the Hidden Value of Ageism: A Weird Theory? Maybe.

Last weekend, I attended the Romance Writers of Australia conference in Melbourne, Australia. To be honest, I didn’t attend this conference with the intention of participating in workshops or sessions that would help me further my career as an author as much as I did to be present at a panel session about Diversity. This session was a long time coming and, frankly, well overdue. The author-panel was made up of a Queer woman, a Black woman, an Asian woman, while the moderator was a white woman who happens to be Chair of the Writers Board of South Australia, as well as an academic currently examining intersections of race and gender in historical romance.

I sat right up front. The panellists were all romance writers, and I was interested in what it was, or is, like for those members of the panel to be, or have been, overlooked as a leads, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

If you follow the ranty Sandra Soapbox Mature Content Stockpile stuff I usually post here, what the panel discussed may sound rather like what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. That’s because being overlooked as a lead, incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible it is exactly what I ranty Sandra Soapbox about. All the time.

Imagine then, how pleased I was when, at the start of the panel, slides popped up to INCLUDE AGE AS AN ISSUE OF DIVERSITY! My research and the Seasoned Romance subgenre got a little shout out. I kinda wanted to jump up and down when I saw the slides. I wanted to jump up and down—while simultaneously hiding under my chair because I’m an introvert and everyone was looking at me. But holy shit, there was a nod to my research (Thank you, Amy), and a slide that mentioned my work on the sexist ageism entrenched in the romance fiction industry, and the quote included that line I keep repeating on this blog, the “no one wants to read granny sex,” comment that shows how the industry overlooks, incorrectly portrays, renders to stereotypes or renders invisible.

I felt so validated, yet at the same time, I admit, if that nod hadn’t happened, despite my introversion, I was quite prepared to stand up on a chair (because I am short) and make sure that the room full of people knew WHY it was important to include age in the discussion of diversity, but I didn’t want to hijack the panel. It was vital to hear Renee Dahlia, Nicole Hurley-Moore and MV Ellis convey their experiences, give their opinions, give a history lesson on whitewashing and yellow face, on being portrayed as victims and villains, of having history erased—and then leave room for questions, to generate discussion from the floor, to open eyes and get RWAus authors to think about how they write whole real, human characters of colour, characters of different ethnicities, LGBTQ+ characters when the author is none of those things.

Some people just don’t quite get it, and an hour-long panel discussion plus a short Q&A isn’t enough to educate or have that lightbulb moment. However, I am not under a time constraint here. I can take more time to explain and offer a theory to those who still don’t get why this is important, to those who believe they can’t empathise or identify with or see their life reflected in a Black, Asian, or Queer hero or heroine. It’s because you are a cis, straight, white woman and have never experienced what it is like to be anything other than what you are since you have never—or rarely—seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see because you have never been excluded from having your story, your truth, your life portrayed. This is what you need to know: One day, perhaps sooner than you think, you are probably going to experience ageism. You are going to experience what it is like to suddenly be seen as “other” and fade into the background or be erased from your own future. If you cannot fathom what it is like to be excluded or erased on the basis of your ethnicity, your skin colour, your gender identity, or your sexual identity, Ageism is there to help you understand.

Wielding my Shield of Smartass

I’m going to make a bold statement and say I have a theory. I believe the key to understanding the need for diversity and inclusion may lie within the framework of ageism—the last acceptable prejudice. Ageism affects everyone. Why? Regardless if you are Black, Asian, White, Queer, Straight, Transgender, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, male, female, transgender, non-binary, ageism is an equal opportunity prejudice. Ageism excludes, renders to stereotypes, and erases. Ageism has a greater, often more obvious impact on women than men; after a certain age, women are more quickly stereotyped, side-lined, devalued as human beings, and rendered invisible. Sound familiar? Do you see the connection?

Ageing is an inescapable fact of life. I am getting older. So are you. You have seldom seen anything other than what you have been conditioned to see. I whole-heartedly believe we need to change what has always been presented as the norm because in reality it IS NOT the norm. Life is not all one colour, ethnicity, or one sex. It never has been. If you don’t think change is necessary, if you don’t want a better reflection of actual humanity, then keep reading your young, cis, het, white leads, the ones you say you can empathise and identify with, and will probably escape back to when you see your older self incorrectly portrayed, rendered to stereotypes or rendered invisible.

Let me know how that works for you.

 

Seriously, A Trilogy?

Here I am, on the cusp of the release for the second book of the In Service series, I mean it’s TWO days away until Forever in Your Service drops, and it only dawned on me, oh, about 5 minutes ago, when I shoved in a mouthful of this really delish cabbage salad, that I am writing the third book of a trilogy when I had no intention of writing a series when I started the first book.

Some cabbage may have fallen out of my mouth and onto my keyboard.

Honest. I had At Your Service and the short story prequel, Your Sterling Service, and I thought that was it. I didn’t know I was going write a second book about the middle-aged butler and the spy who loves her. I swear, I started writing the second book without realising there was going to be a second book. Ms Ainslie Paton, an author friend of mine asked, “Is there another book?” and I sorta looked down and kinda noticed that, yep, I was 2 chapters deep in a series I never knew I was going to write.

And here I am, mouth still full of shredded apple & cabbage salad, writing the THIRD book about a middle-aged butler and the spy who loves her.  My series is a Trilogy–The In Service trilogy.

Look, I’m a slow writer who often gets interrupted by my day job, family, headaches, holidays and ranting about ageism and women over the age of 40, but I aim to have the trilogy completed before the next James Bond movie comes out NEXT YEAR, as in 2020. The third book is titled True To Your Service. I already have a cover for it.

I can’t tell you much about the third book because I don’t plot, but I will say it battles the ageist structures that continue to keep older women from being portrayed as romance heroines, it positions a woman in her early 50s as the romantic lead, has tulips, banter, sexy times, is another genre-crossing romantic suspense cosy spy thriller mystery with older protagonists, and gives a middle-aged spy the happy ending James Bond never gets.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have to clean up spilled cabbage salad.

Five Reasons Why My New Release ‘At Your Service’ Is Important

Here are 5 reasons why my latest release At Your Service is important for women:

1. At Your Service breaks down ageist and sexist barriers that have allowed men to age, be adventurous, foxy, and paired with women 15-20 years younger while dismissing women over 40.

2. Portrays a strong, middle-aged female lead who is not an ageist stereotype or is typecast as a mother, wife, grandma, harpy, or crazy woman who lives in a van.

3. Portrays a middle-aged woman as intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual.

4. Ageism is often overlooked as an issue of diversity. Young women will one day be older women. Positive, realistic representations of intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual women over 40 create positive role models for younger women.

5. Sexism has rendered older women nearly invisible in all forms of media. The women over 40 in At Your Service get noticed.

Okay, so At Your Service is a romantic suspense cosy spy mystery thriller and how realistic is it to have a female butler join up with a British spy… Ah. Yes. You get it. Fiction. Content here creates the culture, the positive role model of a female butler, which is unusual role for a woman, AND the fact she’s middle-aged, intelligent, capable, attractive, sensual, and sexual IS the spin on the content and culture we’re SO used to seeing. Breaking down the barriers of sexism, ageism, stereotypes, and the sidelining of older women we’ve come to accept as the norm is not reality and it’s not fiction either.

The reality is, women over 40 are not invisible, but they have been miscast and have, for far too long, been left off screen and out of fiction. It’s my mission, so to speak, to challenge this, to change this, to give the world a positive portrayal of women over 40 and a role model for younger women AND men, one book at a time.

The F*ckable Silver Fox Romance Heroine And Me

If you have a psyche of a sensitive nature, one that detests off-colour language, you may want to look away now because I’m about to drop some f-bombs.

By now you’ve probably seen it, Amy Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t here’s a link to it.  Go watch it now.

If you don’t want to watch it, in a nutshell, the skit addresses the ageist and oh-so-sexist double standard in Hollywood. You know the ageist double standard I mean, don’t you? It’s that thing when an actress reaches an age grannyand is suddenly put out to pasture, or only offered stereotyped roles like mother, cougar, knitting grandma, and crazy hag cat lady, because they’ve crossed The Line of 40 and are no longer considered ‘fuckable’— or bankable. It’s that thing that doesn’t happen to men in Hollywood.

It also that thing that doesn’t happen to heroes in Romance Fiction.

In Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day, Amy and her pals, Tina Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Patricia Arquette point out a woman’s ‘use by’ or ‘best before’ date in Hollywood, the enduring stereotyped roles available to an actress of a certain age, and how their male counterparts fail to suffer the same fate when they cross The Line of 40. You see, Silver Foxes, like George Clooney, are welcome in Hollywood as much as they are in romance novels. And in romance novels silver fox heroes are a hot and sought after hero.

Like in Hollywood the silver fox romance hero is usually paired with a younger woman. Like in Hollywood the silver fox moniker applies only to men. There are those of us who are tired of this ageist and sexist double standard. There are those of us tired of being told, ‘Sorry, you’re over 40 and no one wants to fuck you onscreen or in the pages of a romance novel.‘ To that I say, bullshit, there ARE people who want to see thosCGAHe movies and read those books. There are those of us who have money we would spend to see those movies and read those books because there are those of us who think that, who know that, being over 40 doesn’t mean you’re done with love or sex or romance.  There are those of us (in spite of how much we love Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade) who’d like to see the silver foxy hero paired with a woman his own age. There are those of us who want to change things, who want silver fox to apply to women who have crossed The Line of 40.

Yes, I’m one of those who wants to change this because, goddamn it, I’m over 40 and I’m a silver fox, not a dumpy middle-aged hausfrau who’s dead from the waist down, and I’m tired of seeing women like me left out of movies and books. I’m so over seeing Daniel Craig’s late 40s SPECTRE James Bond get paired up with the then 20-something Lea Seydoux instead of 50-something Monica Bellucci.

Pardon my momentary rant. I still haven’t recovered from the missed opportunity of Bond getting the RIGHT GIRL.

I write romance fiction with silver foxy men AND silver foxy women. Yeah, no, I’m not going to call her a silver vixen because cougar is already pejorative enough and there isn’t a male equivalent besides ‘dirty old man,’ which is something more perverted than a screen hero paired with a woman half his age—which keeps getting rammed down society’s throat Antonelli coveras normal.

Sorry…sorry, ranting again. Bond should have been with Bellucci.

There are those of us who believe we need a new normal, those of us who believe that if we saw silver foxy women on a regular basis, in advertising, on the big screen, on TV, in print that the double standard that keeps women over 40 trapped by stereotypes of age might change. That’s what I am doing, changing what I see by presenting real women in romance fiction who are not trapped by a stereotype of age, who are not cougars, grannies, or crazy cat ladies. In fact, I’m going against the Hollywood image completely.NextToYou_V1_FINAL Round3-Harlequin1920_1920x3022

My books, all of them, feature pairs of silver foxes in romance fiction, something we are lead to believe is a younger woman’s tale, which we know in real life is bullshit.

My latest release, Next to You, features a pair of silver foxes. It’s about a Bubblegum pop loving albino man named William Murphy and his new neighbor, Caroline, a woman who’s trying to grab life by the balls.  Next to You  comes on on Monday.

Cookies + Coffee = 44 Days of Holiday Cookies Day 27: Free Cookies. Gluten Free That Is

As a vegetarian, I am aware there are other out there who have different dietary requirements, be it for religious purposes, a choice of conscience, or allergies. I want to be inclusive, I want to share in the Holiday cookie joy and let the coffee flow. This here recipe is for my dear friend Swell. gluten_free Gluten Free Molasses Cookies Oven 350F/175C.

  •  1 cup packed brown sugar                  2 2/3 Gluten Free Rice Flour Blend
  • 3/4 cup shortening                              1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 cup molasses                                 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 egg                                                    1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves                          1/2 tsp xanthan gum
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp granulated sugar

Mix brown sugar, shortening, molasses and egg. Stir in remaining ingredients except the 3 Tbsp sugar. Shape dough by rounded teaspoonful into 1-inch balls. Roll in sugar. Bake 8 – 10 minutes.

Serve with dark roasted coffee, freshly ground and brewed. Nominomness: I can’t rate these as I have not tried them I am hoping Swell will test the recipe and let me know how the cookies turn out.

Cookies = 44 Days of Holiday Cookies Day 20: SUPERFAST Mocha Shortbread

pressBecause WordPress is being all temperamental today and I am pressed for time and, more importantly,  nearly out of coffee, today’s recipe is for those of us who find themselves very short on time.

And holy, crap, do you see the ironing pun over there?

SUPERFAST Mexican-ish Mocha Shortbread (a clipping from the Santa Fe New Mexican, I think)

    •  1 ¼ flour                              ½ cup confectioner’s (icing) sugar
    • 2 tsp instant coffee                   1 cup softened butter
    • ½ tsp vanilla                          ¼ tsp cinnamon(the bit that makes them Mexican)
    • 1 ½ tsp cocoa powder

Cream butter sugar and beat until light and creamy. Mix flour, sugar cocoa and coffee.  Blend into butter mixture. Mix well. Press dough into an ungreased 9 inch square pan; prick dough with a fork.Bake 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Cut shortbread into squares. Cool 30 minutes before removing. Eat with an entire pot of freshly brewed Christmas blend while standing over the sink because you are in such a hurry.

Nominomness: Coffee cup&mug clipart

Drama in Real (and Fictional) Life!

ImageIt’s not hard to tell that I love Los Alamos. The little town is not simply the birthplace of the atomic bomb, home to a national nuclear research laboratory, and the prettiest place I have ever set eyes upon (see how lovely it is?), but curious, hungry bears also adore the place. I mean they REALLY love the town, and they’re not shy about showing it.A Basic Renovation_Final

Take this moment from A Basic Renovation:

“Current lore is the Guaje monster perished in the Cerro Grande Fire.” Dominic had one more bite of pie before his eye caught the movement. For a second, with all the talk of mythical creatures, he thought his imagination was pulling a fast one.
    But what he saw didn’t look anything like an incarnation of the Chupacapra, Guaje Monster or Sasquatch. “Lesley,” he half-choked on pie filling stuck at the back of his mouth, “get in the truck.”
    She started laughing. “Geeze, do you know what try hard means?”
    Dominic dropped the pie, grabbed the back of her shirt, hauled her up, and dragged her towards the old Chevy.
    “Hey! You’re pulling my hair!” she squealed. Then she caught sight of the dark lumbering hulk moving towards the blanket. “Holy—”
    Luckily, she’d left the passenger side wide open. He shoved her up into the cab, leaping in after, slamming the door, and finished her exclamation, “Shit!”
    Lesley’s heart was doing a great impression of a locomotive. Out of breath, she stared through the windshield and settled behind the wheel, pulling the light switch on the dash. Dual spotlights appeared on the star of the show. She snickered. “You know that old question about a bear in the woods? I guess they like cemeteries too.” 

Trust me here. From the forest, to downtown, to the ‘suburbs’,  Bears dig Los Alamos. The cemetery scene in A Basic Renovation sprang from my imagination because of the time my mother looked out the window and found a bear sitting under the apricot tree in the back yard, gorging himself on ripe fruit. That moment went like this: My mother looked at the bear anImaged the bear looked at my mother — and went on chowing down on apricots and spitting out the pits.  A little while later, after Mr Bear (all bears are boys and hence the Mr) ate all the choice, ripe apricots, the bear went over a stone wall and into the neighbour’s back yard to have a swim in their goldfish pond.

Then yesterday, this happened: Bear Enters Home on Barranca Mesa.

Mr Bear came out out of Barrancas Canyon and ripped the screen off the open window of a pretty brick house. Then Mr Bear made his way into the kitchen and proceeded to check out what he could have for lunch. Oops, I forgot to mention the homeowner was in the house when the bear dropped by for lunch. It’s possible she never would have known she had an unexpected guest, but Ms Homeowner had the same idea about checking out what she could make for lunch and she found the bear “hunched over the kitchen island.” Of course, Ms Homeowner went one way and Mr Bear went the other — just like Dominic and Lesley did when they headed for the ‘safety’ of Dom’s old pickup truck.

When Mr Bear Comes For Lunch was all over, New Mexico Fish and Game Official, Blake Swanson, advised Ms Homeowner to lock all her windows and doors because, it seems, bears can pry open partially open windows and doors with ease, which was something Dominic and Lesley were rather worried about once they were inside the truck and the Mr Bear came a-knockin’.

cops LAWhat I love best about this Bear and his Lunch story is that wonderful Los Alamos Police Officers responded to the ‘Bear Call.’  That cop there on the fat left, in the blue striped shirt, could be John Tilbook from  my 0913 Eyes Only_Final[1] newest Los Alamos love story, For Your Eyes Only — and can I just say, hubba hubba Officer Blue Stripes. The coolest thing about the fine police officers is that, although you see them with scary-looking weapons, they arrived on the scene with the intention of scaring off the bear with a paintball gun. However, by the the time they got there, Mr Bear had made his way out of the house to dine on the fine garbage he found in the bins he knocked over further down the street, which I suppose was a better choice on fattening up for his long winter’s nap.

The stolen classified information in For Your Eyes Only was based on actual events in Los Alamos. And this after Mr Bear Comes For Lunch drama, I’m quite happy to know that the bear in A Basic Renovation isn’t such far fetched fiction.

The photos here are by Greg Kendall/ladailypost.com and Hari Viswanathan. Thanks for the awesome pics!