Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Nature vs. Nurture: P. D. Singer's A NEW MAN

Academics, activists, philosophers and others have spilled bottles and bottles of ink debating the the question of whether nature or nurture plays the definitive role how individuals end up expressing their gender and their sexuality. Do genes determine our gender? Or do cultural factors play a larger role? Is the answer different when it comes to our sexual preferences? Baby, were you born that way? Or were you acculturated that way?

It's far more rare to find such issues taken up by a romance novel. But it's precisely what P. D. Singer does in her latest male/male contemporary romance, A New Man. Offering both the emotional pleasures of the typical romance novel and the intellectual pleasures of social and medical science, Singer asks readers to consider what it means to identify as gay or straight, masculine or effeminate, asexual or sexually desiring, and how biology may influence each of these identities. Particularly when one's physical body undergoes unexpected changes.

Chemistry grad student Warren has long been attracted to his current roommate, low-key, slightly pudgy undergrad senior Chad. But Chad's dated girls for as long as Warren's lived with him, and since he and Chad really enjoy each other's company, Warren's been content to stay in Chad's friend zone. But when Chad returns from yet another frustrating date and tries to explain to Warren why his outings with girls always turn into disasters, Warren asks Chad if he's ever considered that his "right one might not be a girl?" (Kindle Loc 133). Chad, future scientist, decides he needs some data, and to Warren's shock, kisses him.

As a teenager, Chad had gotten turned on enough making out with girls, but he also noticed the boys, too, to his own discomfort. Switching from swimming to fencing helped tamp down his interest in guys, but squelching those desires seems to have also squelched the sexual attraction he'd once felt for girls, too. Now, none of his female dates is really happy to be told he's saving himself, instinctively recognizing that his reluctance to engage sexually with them has little to do with morals and everything to do with desire, or its lack. Would sex be different if he did it with a guy? With Warren?

Turns out, the answer is both "yes" and "no." Being with Warren is the best time Chad's ever had, sexually-speaking, but even as he's realizing he just might prefer guys to girls, he's still having trouble maintaining an erection, never mind reaching orgasm. Chad's never talked to a doctor about his sexual difficulties; doctors hadn't been able to do a thing to help his recurrent headaches, so why would he trust them to tackle a far more vulnerable part of his anatomy? To his surprise, Warren doesn't shy away in disgust from Chad's "deficiencies," but instead suggests that they may want to think outside the penis box:

     "You're more than your erection."
     "How am I supposed to have sex without an erection?"
     Abruptly upright, Warren twisted around to glower down at Mr. One-track. "Who said you had to have an erection?" Okay, it was standard equipment, and up until tonight he wouldn't have questioned the question, but.... He'd seen too much pain in Chad's eyes.
     "Um, every girl I've ever disappointed?"
     "If you're gay, disappointing girls in bed is a given." He grinned down at Chad, enjoying the play of unfamiliar thoughts across his face. Some ideas took a while to penetrate.
     "Uh, right." Chad pulled him back against the mattress. "But if gays like dick, you need dick."
     "You have a dick," Warren pointed out. "You also have hands, a mouth, an ass, your whole body, legs. Balls." He draped Chad's arm back over his chest and entwined their fingers against his breastbone. "Arms. I think you have everything. Including a head. Use it."
     "No buts. There's things we can do with two erections, things we can do with one, and things that don't require erections at all that still feel really good." With a little more imagination than usual, they could probably think of a lot of things. (652)

Warren and Chad's relationship develops apace, until it meets an unexpected bump in the form of a medical surprise (discovered in slightly improbable, but cleverly geeky fashion, in the chem lab). A medical surprise than impacts not only Chad's health, but also his hormones. Hormones that influence his behavior, particularly behaviors associated with his expression of gender. Will Chad be a "new man" once his health problems are addressed? Will the nice boy with whom Warren fell in love be replaced by a testosterone-raging alpha-guy? Will Chad still even be gay?

A New Man is a romance novel, so Chad's issues work out in a way that satisfies both the "new man" and his old lover. But not before some tumultuous conflicts between Warren and the suddenly more assertive Chad reach the boiling point. Only by doing what any couple, homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual, needs to do to keep a relationship working—talk openly and honestly about feelings, boundaries, and acceptable and unacceptable behavior—can Chad and Warren begin to incorporate this strange "new man" into their everyday lives.

Photo/Illustration credits:
GenderBread Person: It's Pronounced Metrosexual
Men talking: New Now Next

A New Man
Dreamspinner Press, 2015

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interviewing Loretta Chase

This coming weekend, I'll be attending the New England Chapter of RWA's annual conference in Burlington, Massachusetts. I'm looking forward to attending some fabulous workshops on topics both traditional and innovative, as well giving a workshop of my own on character and conflict development in romance. But the greatest pleasure conference has in store for me is a conversation session with Loretta Chase, author of the beloved Lord of Scoundrels and myriad other popular and critically acclaimed historical romances. Chase, a long-time member of NECRWA, is not a big fan of pontificating, and rarely gives public talks. But she loves to talk about romance, and kindly agreed to participate in a moderated Q & A session at this year's NECRWA conference.

And guess who gets to be the lucky moderator?

To that end, I've been rereading Chase's novels, and putting together a list of questions that I'm curious to hear her thoughts about. Would you like to contribute?

If you had the chance, what would you ask Loretta Chase?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Love in the House

By an odd chance of reading fate, I happened to read two housekeeper/house owner romances last week, one right after the other: Diane Hernandez's contemporary erotic, The Naked Chef, and Grace Burrowes' historical, Worth: Lord of Reckoning. Workplace romances, particularly when one member of the romantic pair is higher up in the power hierarchy than the other, are particularly difficult to pull off. A writer has to walk a narrow line, creating sexual tension and fizz while avoiding anything that smacks of coercion or harassment. Reading these two books, one of which I found appealing, the other of which I found quite troubling, made me think harder about what works, and doesn't work, in a workplace romance, particularly one in a domestic rather than an office setting.

The first difference that I noticed between Burrowes' historical and Hernandez's contemporary was how each positions her heroine in terms of personal and job power. When we're first introduced to Burrowes' heroine, Jacaranda Wyeth, she has already spent five years in her post as housekeeper on the country estate of solicitor Worth Kettering. She is more than well-regarded there; the butler, cook, groundskeeper, and stablemaster all consult with her, and more often than not are directed by her ideas and wishes. Even though she is the housekeeper, Jacaranada has power at the Kettering estate, especially since its city-dwelling owner hasn't ever visited in all the time she's worked there.

In contrast, we are introduced to chef Reggie Morales at the nadir of her professional life: in the midst of closing down her less-than-prosperous Studio City CA restaurant, what was once a starry dream now an all-too-real failure. Her lawyer, rather than Reggie, has used his contacts to find her a new job, cooking for Tracy Thompson, a high-powered Hollywood agent and his ne'er-do-well famous actor brother Tanner. Oh, and by the way, would she live in their house 24/7 to keep an eye on Tanner? And do the chores the housekeeper he just fired for being an illegal immigrant used to do, Tracy asks? Reggie's a chef—"I really don't want to clean toilets and do laundry. I have a bachelor's in dietetics," she protests (Kindle LOC 150)—but ends up capitulating to Tracy and apologizing for her touchiness: "I can clean and do laundry. It's not a big deal, I'm just overly sensitive today" (164). Unlike Jacaranda, Reggie is positioned in a subservient position, both professionally and personally. That Reggie is Latina, and her employer is white, only complicates the power dynamics of this employee/employer relationship.

Both Worth and Tracy are attracted to their employees, and push their housekeepers to engage in amorous relations with them, even after both women say no. Why, then, did one protagonist's actions seem more palatable than the other's? I think it has to do with the point of view through which each author chooses to tell her story. Hernandez uses the first person, with the entire story told from Reggie's POV, while Burrowes uses the third person, switching back and forth between Jacaranda and Worth, the book's male lead. In Worth, we are allowed inside Worth's head, and are reassured by his thoughts about Jacaranda. He's attracted to her, yes, even wants to make her his mistress. But he expresses no desire to harm her, to force her to succumb to his sexual advances. Nor does he ever consider threatening her job to persuade her to consent. The switching point of view acts as reassurance against the doubts Worth's actions in pursuing Jacaranda, in teasing and flirting even after Jacaranda tells him no, might have raised if we had only seen them through her eyes.

Reggie's first-person narration offers us no such reassurance. In a scene where Reggie returns from her high-school reunion with her escort, Tanner, older brother Tracy expresses his jealousy through actions, actions that we see only through Reggie's eyes: "He forced me into the casita and shut the door" (1059); "I tried to push him away, but he wouldn't budge"(1069); "he captured my head in his hands and pushed me up against the door" (1069); "he found it effortless to remove my clothes" (1069). Where is the line here between forceful seduction and assault? Ultimately, Reggie welcomes Tracy's advances in this scene, but in its opening moments, without knowing Tracy's thoughts or intentions, it was difficult for me to feel entirely comfortable that Tracy understands the line between sexy forcefulness and just plain force.

Both Jacaranda and Reggie say "no" at different times to the seductions of their would-be partners. Even though he wants to have sex with her, Worth reassures Jacaranda on several occasions that he respects a woman's right to choose the degree of sexual intimacy with which she is comfortable: "I do not paw women, not any women, ever," he tells her when she upbraids (mistakenly) him for consorting with opera dancers" (page 86). Later, even though they are sleeping in the same bed (but without having sex), Worth reassures her: "I will never cross the lines you draw for us.... I'll push, I'll tease, I'll negotiate, and I'll dare, but you hold the reins, Jacaranda. You will always hold the reins" (220). Jacaranda knows this not only because of his words, but because of his actions: "He had the knack of asking permission with his mouth, of inviting with his tongue, and assuring with his big body" (91). Worth and Jacaranda discuss consent, not just once but at different points over the course of their relationship. And consent must be given by both partners in order for the taint of harassment or coercion to be avoided.

Consent is never a topic of discussion between Reggie and Tracy, only a demand. "I'm waiting, Reggie. Tell me what I need to hear," Tracy demands before the first time they have sex. But "I didn't have the strength to say no to the beautiful man. But I couldn't look at him, either" (1079). Tracy takes Reggie's sexual arousal as permission to forge further down the sexual path; only on the verge of penis entering vagina does Reggie finally grant overt consent: "I want to be inside you," says Tracy; "Yes, inside," Reggie answers (1088). Later, their sexual relationship edges in to BDSM territory, but without any talk of safe words or boundaries that we've grown accustomed to seeing in many erotic romances that include BDSM. Tracy spanks Reggie as punishment for being too bodily close to Tanner, not as part of a consensual game of pain. Reggie finds this a sexual turn-on, but it seems clear that Tracy was not doing it for that reason: "he groaned, surprised by my arousal," Reggie notes, after the slapping stops (1523).

How each writer constructs the relationship block—what keeps the lovers apart—also influenced my responses to each book. In Worth, Jacaranda is in some ways only masquerading as a housekeeper, and fears her lies of omission about her true family background make her unworthy (even as the reader realizes that it makes her only too worthy). Jacaranda thus has more social capital than her initial position as employee would suggest. Jacaranda's other reason for refusing Worth's offer to become his mistress, and later, to become his wife, is a gendered one—she feels a duty to that family she left behind. When her brothers, left in the lurch by a stepmother who has remarried, come and demand she return to the family abode, Jacaranda agrees. And again, Worth acknowledges that it is her decision, not his, to make. Luckily, though, with her competent managing ways, she has her birth family back in order in less than a chapter. Feminine duty to family is not to be shrugged off, the novel insists, but neither should it come second to a woman's happiness: "it is time I put my own house in order," Jacaranda informs her eldest brother when she's confident that all is on an even keel (349).

Reggie and Tracy's contretemps also stems from a family difficulty. When he hired her, Tracy had asked Reggie to try and find out why his brother Tanner was acting out. Reggie discovers Tanner's secret, but at Tanner's request, promises to keep the truth from Tracy. Eventually, Tanner's secret is outed, leaving Tracy more than a little enraged at both his brother and his lover (you have to read the book to find out why). In some of the most vile, sexist breakup language it's ever been my displeasure to read, Tracy reams Reggie out and then dumps her. That Tracy eventually repents, grovels, sneaks behind her back to contact her family members, and ultimately convinces Reggie to get back together seems less cause for celebration than for dismay, at least to this reader.

A heroine's degree of power; a narrative that gives a hero's POV, not just a heroine's; discussions between protagonists about consent; and a relationship block that can be resolved through mutual understanding rather than through manipulation and melodramatic plotting—these are the elements that made the troubling aspects of domestic workplace romance palatable in Burrowes' book, but deeply problematic in Hernandez's.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Love and Grieving: Emery Lord's THE START OF ME AND YOU

A few years after we graduated from college, the younger brother of a friend of mine died unexpectedly. I don't recall the precise cause—some sort of undetected heart condition, I think—but I do remember my friend talking about how awkward it was to have to share the funeral and other grieving rituals with his brother's girlfriend. She and his brother had only been dating for a few months, hardly enough time to look beyond the initial rosy glow of infatuation to discover anything of meaning about the young man. Certainly, she had none of the memories that my friend and his family shared, and mourned. Having this stranger in the midst of their mourning added a second, double burden to the grief they were just now starting to feel.

Perhaps that's why my initial reaction to Emery Lord's new YA novel, The Start of Me and You, was tepid at best. Its first-person narrator, Paige Hancock, is in a similar position to that of my friend's brother's girlfriend: on the cusp of her junior year of high school, Paige is hoping to break free of her identity as the "Girl Whose Boyfriend Drowned." But this is an understated book, a book with an emotional impact that sneaks up on you gradually, catching you unaware, as it explores myriad types of grief. Grieving for a young man's life yes, but also grieving for what-ifs that can never be realized; for time lost to illness; for friendships that change and die; for parents who aren't a part of your life; for grandparents who lose the vitality they once had.

Living in small-town Illinois, everyone knows Paige as the girl who was dating Aaron when he accidentally drowned during a summer Boy Scout retreat. Even a year after Aaron's death, Paige still gets "That Look"—"full of pity... eyebrows and mouth downturned, head tilted like a curious bird"—from people she barely knows. Paige feels both beleaguered and like a fraud; she herself only dated Aaron for two months, after all. "Compared to his parents and friends, I barely knew him" (4).

To push herself past "post-mourning purgatory," Paige decides to make a plan, a proactive plan to make the coming year better than the last one (5). Her best friend Tessa suggests that Paige is doing a kind of yoga thing, something she calls "beginner's mind": "trying to approach new experiences with no preexisting judgments.... That way, you're open to anything that happens" (11).

Paige's plan consists of five goals for the future. The first three—attending a few parties and/or social events, events which she actively avoided during sophomore year; joining an extracurricular school group, or rejoining one of the groups in which she had been involved during her first year of high school; and going on a date—are ones which she aims to accomplish this year. The fourth—to travel—is inspired by her grandmother, whose stories and photographs of her trip to Paris have filled Paige with a sense of anticipation. It's the last one, though, that may be the toughest—to swim. For ever since Aaron's death, Paige has had reoccurring nightmares of herself, not Aaron, drowning.

Paige's supportive group of girlfriends help her navigate her first social events, and Paige herself has honed in on a potential boy to date: Ryan Chase, the hunk upon whom she's been crushing since middle school. Ryan's suddenly at loose ends, now that his long-time girlfriend, as well as her popular crowd, as dumped him. Paige catalogues each small interaction with Ryan with minute attention: Ryan spoke to me today; Ryan bought me a hot dog at the football game; Ryan picked me up so we could hang out with our mutual friends. Paige knows Ryan's a good guy, from watching the way he interacted with his older sister when she had cancer. Why, then, can't the two of them ever seem to say more than a few stilted sentences to each other?

To Paige's surprise, it's not Ryan, but Ryan's cousin Max, who becomes the friend of the opposite sex with whom she can talk. Rather than rejoining chorus or Key Club, Paige joins up for Quiz Bowl, and since Max is the team's captain, Paige ends up spending a lot of time with the airplane-loving, book-reading, babysitting Max. From their first extended conversation (in which Paige and Max argue about the relative appeal of Elizabeth vs. Jane Bennet: "Jane is deeply underappreciated," declares Max) to their sharing of secrets they've never told anyone else, Paige and Max spark each other's intellects. But geeky Max isn't the kind of guy Paige is attracted to—or is he?

There are several subtle feminist messages scattered throughout the subplots of Lord's story: Paige's ardent feminist friend Morgan, who upbraids their history teacher for slut-shaming Anne Boleyn; Paige's friend Kayleigh, who learns to see beyond the stars and rainbows of first love to understand that it's how a guy treats you and your friends that really matters. And Paige's path, too, to moving beyond grief takes some clearly feminist turns, especially in how she works to achieve the final two goals on her bucket list. Lord does not suggest that falling in love is a cure-all for grief, but her story does set forth the hope that good friends, as well as caring romantic partners, can provide an extra paddle as one navigates its turbulent waters.

Photo credits:
Grief: Hellagraff

The Start of Me and You
Bloomsbury, 2015

Friday, April 10, 2015

Romancing PMS

I'm among the lucky 3-8% of women who have won the PMS bonus sweepstakes: full-blown PMDD, or Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder. Tiredness, irritability, inability to concentrate (what I like to call "stupid-head"), and cravings for salty chips and sweet carbs—oh, yeah, must be that time of the month. And as I've edged closer to perimenopause, my symptoms have only gotten worse. Trying to write during this five to ten-day period is like trying to swim through sludge.

PMS and PMDD aren't life-threatening, and are experienced only by women, so comparatively little medical research has been done in this area ("The causes of PMS are not clear, but several factors may be involved," the web site for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's Office of Women's Health helpfully notes). I've talked about my PMS problems with my primary care doctor, my psychiatrist, a specialist on women's mental health, a specialist in menopause; I've tried myriad remedies to alleviate symptoms Vitamin B? Vitamin D? Calcium with Vitamin D? SAM-E? DHEA? Birth control pills? Amphetamine Salts? I've tried them all, never mind my daily dose of antidepressant. Some alleviate some symptoms, while adding fun new side effects; some do little to nothing at all, at least that I can see.

Can you tell I'm feeling cranky right now?

When science lets you down, sometimes art is the only solace. I've been watching the clip from the film "No Strings Attached," the scene in which Adam (Ashton Kutcher) brings cupcakes and a mix CD to his friend-with-benefits Emma (Natalie Portman). Emma and two of her female roommates are all on the same cycle, suffering from PMS. I can't help but laugh when Portman and her friends start reading the song titles off the mix CD, made especially for a woman having her period: "Even Flow," "Red, Red Wine," "I've Got the World on a String." Here's the clip, for your viewing pleasure:

The only similar PMS scene that I can recall from romance novels is from Loretta Chase's effervescent historical Mr. Impossible. Its "great dumb ox" hero, Rupert Carsington, is in a panic when he hears that Daphne Pembroke, the whip-smart lady who is supplying the brains to his brawn on a Egyptian desert exploration, has fallen ill. Barging into her room, he insists that she tell him what is wrong, and how he can help. When she finally gives in and admits "All I need is time. It's my monthly courses," and tells him there's nothing he can do, he responds "For such a clever woman, you are woefully ignorant. There's a great deal one can do," even though he himself has no idea to do. And in he wades:

He didn't go away. He mixed the laudeanum with honey and water and watched her drink it. He wet the cloths and wrung them out and laid them on her forehead. He rubbed her back. He distracted her with humorous family anecdotes. He did not leave until she fell asleep. (233)

Ah, what I wouldn't give for an Adam or a Rupert right about now...

Given that menstruation, and the trials that often accompany it, is a monthly occurrence in the lives of most adult women, I wonder at the lack of mention of the subject in romance. Can you think of other romance novels in which the crimson tide is used to help develop the romantic relationship between the protagonists?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Complicated Identities: Sara Farizan's TELL ME AGAIN HOW A CRUSH SHOULD FEEL

Sara Farizan's debut novel, If You Could Be Mine, was set in modern-day Iran. Her sophomore effort, Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel, shifts to contemporary New England, but continues to explore the difficulties and triumphs of adolescence, especially when that adolescence includes figuring out a nontraditional sexual identity.

Everyone tells high school junior Leila Azadi that she should feel flattered by, and pretty because of, the crush her best friend Greg harbors for her. But Leila only feels "not yet assembled" (12). Last summer, at a Global Young Leaders of the Futures camp, Leila met Anastasia, who both lectured here about class privilege and kissed her silly. Though Anastasia quickly moved on, crushing on a fellow camper named Nick, Leila's experience has her realizing that she's different, and not just because her parents emigrated from Iran. Leila not only doesn't want to make out with Greg; she doesn't want to make out with any guy.

Not yet ready to "announce my lady-loving inclinations as yet," Leila can't help but feel slightly estranged from her small, private WASP schoolmates (3). At least, until transfer student Saskia arrives. Sophisticated, well-traveled Saskia, with one Dutch parent and one Brazilian one, gets the race thing: unlike Leila's friends Greg (who is African-American) and Tess (who is white): "people see basic white or black when they look at them. It's the ambiguity that throws people; they want to know which box to put you in" (41). She also loves the work of Persian poet Rumi, appreciates Leila's humor, and is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Most mind-blowing for Leila, Saskia seems to like holding Leila's hand. Could Leila's love life be taking a unexpected turn toward the amazing?

Two things in particular stuck out for me when reading Tell Me Again. First, while Leila's ethnicity is not the focus of the story, Farizan does not simply stick a Persian face on an otherwise white character. Leila is a second-generation immigrant, surrounded by parents and adult family friends who are invested in the culture and values of their homeland, a connection to which Leila often has difficulty relating. Whether making fun of her dad's singing of Persian songs from the 80's, wryly observing how the tradition of tarof  (offering something to someone even if you don't mean it) can backfire when used with American kids, or expressing frustration with her surgeon father's high expectations and narrow views ("I mean, do you want to be an actor? That's not a real job. Only drug addicts and gays are actors. you don't want to hang out with those people, do you?" [77]), Leila is embedded within a specific culture, a culture which both constructs and influences the choices she can envision making.

Leila is particularly worried about her sexual identity, given the conservative views of her Iranian father, and the way another boy in their ex-pat community was banished, both from his home and from the community itself, after he announced his attraction to boys. But Papa Azadi's views are not the only ones to which Leila is exposed. Nor is Leila the only gay character in Farizan's story, the second thing which I appreciated while reading. We have out-of-the-closet schoolmate Tomas, who conforms in many ways to gay male stereotypes while simultaneously pointing to the limits of such stereotypes:

You girls have it way easier.... Two hot girls in high school? No problem, definitely encouraged by my straight male counterparts. However a gay guy—even one as handsome as myself? Not as cool. Double standards. High school breeds them. God, I can't wait until college. (148-49)

And we have the three girls who work backstage on the school's production of Shakespeare's gender-bending play Twelfth Night, who are "for sure gay"—"They are all vegan, they all listen to feminist folk music by the likes of Erin McKeown, and they all work on tech stuff" (51). Leila tells us "I have to give them credit—they're very much themselves, and that's not always easy. But I look at them and I just don't know if we'd get along. And shouldn't we as part of the lesbian tribe?" (51). How much of being a lesbian is being part of a "tribe," a group with similar values and traditions? Is sexual identity the same as ethnic identity?

Despite being a lesbian, Leila doesn't feel much of a connection to the tech girls (perhaps, because the three turn out to be not so attracted to other women as rumor, or stereotype, would have it?). She's far more drawn to the gorgeous but cagey Saskia, who kisses Leila one day, but then starts dating Greg the next.

Is Saskia gay? Bi? Just a tease? Greg can't help her figure it out, nor can Tess, who, despite sharing Leila's disinterest in the things teenaged girls are supposed to be interested in," is woefully lacking when it comes to gaydar (21). Leila discovers that help can come from surprising, expected directions, and that she's not the only one with multiple, sometimes conflicting, identities.

Tell Me Again How a
Crush Should Feel
Algonquin, 2014

Friday, April 3, 2015

On the Ethics of Pseudonyms and Multiple Identities

I take a few days away from the Internet to drive my adolescent on a tour of potential colleges, and I come back to find a major shit storm in the romance-reading community. Where is the line between reviewers and writers? What are the ethnics involved when someone wants to claim an identity in both camps?

I've mentioned a few times on previous blogs that in addition to reading and reviewing romance novels on RNFF, and writing scholarship on children's literature, both of which I do under my legal name, I've also been experimenting with writing historical romance fiction. As of this writing, none of that fiction has been published. But I've been thinking hard about the benefits and the pitfalls of self-publishing for a while now, and, since last fall, I've been putting together business plans and budgets and marketing ideas with an eye towards releasing my own novels, without the help of a traditional print publisher. 

I am planning to publish my fiction using a pseudonym.

I am not planning to keep it a secret, though, that Jackie Horne and Bliss Bennet, the pen name I've chosen for my historical writer persona, are the same person. On my new author web site, I've included my photograph, along with a mention of my alter blogger ego. And I'm announcing it here, too, so that authors and readers of this blog will know that I wear multiple hats.

For the record, I do not think it was ethical of Jane Litte of Dear Author to not reveal her dual identities from online author communities who knew her only as Jen Frederick, romance author. And while keeping her author persona secret from Dear Author's readers does not seem quite as ethically fraught, I do think it betrayed the trust of her colleagues and coworkers on the blog to keep them in the dark.

But I do think it is possible for an author to also be a book reviewer, and do it in an ethical manner.

And I'm going to try to do so.

I hope you'll tell me if you think I'm doing it wrong, and/or offer suggestions about how to do it right.