Nudge: A Moment with Sandra Moran

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Nudge

I’m not going to lie. When given carte blanche to write about anything I wanted for this guest blog I found myself overwhelmed with the possibilities. For those of you who know me, I’ve got a lot going on – my love of neon, my constant power struggle with Spencer (the cat), and making pie charts that summarize my take on the quirkiness of life. But honestly, those really don’t have a lot to do with lesbian fiction – well, I mean, aside from the fact that I’m a lesbian and that I write fiction.

So, I thought about it … and I thought about it … and I went for a run and I thought about it some more. And then it came to me! I should write about what I know (aside from neon, Spencer and pie charts) which is the study of culture, the impact that has on who we are as a society, how it influences our lives and how I incorporate that into my writing.

As many of you know, I teach anthropology. And I love it because it’s a social science that delves into the reasons why we are the way we are. To fully understand why a culture (and society) is the way it is, you have to really examine it holistically. You have to look at the interplay of all of the parts:  the politics, economics, belief systems, marriage rules and gender roles. And the interesting thing about all of these cultural universals, is that they’re human-designed constructs – constructs that change over time.

Taking the long view – looking at change over time – fascinates me. And it’s something I focus on in my novels. You see it in “NUDGE” where faith and belief is examined in a way that shows that religion – ALL religions – are at their core, the same.

As background, “NUDGE” is the story of a New York advertising executive and life-long atheist named Sarah Sheppard, who, is visited by a mysterious client who offers her a job to write and market a comprehensive addition to the world’s religious texts.  She, of course, thinks it’s an elaborate joke and turns him down. But a series of events transpire that result in her having no choice but to take the assignment. She is quickly relocated to a remote estate in upstate New York where her job is to work with a group of scholars and theologians to compile The Addendum. As work on the document progresses, Sarah has to decide whether to deny her natural skepticism or buy into the idea that she really is working for a universal God.

 

As I approached the research and writing of “NUDGE,” I tried to remain objective. In anthropology, we don’t look at or judge if a religion is right or wrong. (Seriously, who are we to judge anyone else?) What we look at are the commonalities present in all beliefs so we can compare them. We focus on the idea that religion (again, all religions) do three main things:

  • Religion allows people, who are essentially powerless, feel like they have some modicum of control in their future. (If I just pray hard enough … make this sacrifice … do this “activity” then God/the universe/Mother Earth/etc., will give me what I want or need.)
  • Religion provides a moral compass. (This is good behavior and this is not. If I do what I’m supposed to, good things will happen. If I don’t, then … uh oh.)
  • Religion provides group solidarity and shared experiences with people who believe the same thing. Humans are social creatures. We are not meant to live alone and shared belief systems allow for that interaction.

With “NUDGE,” I tried to incorporate those similarities to show that all belief systems are really very similar. At their core, they provide structure and agency.

In addition to belief and faith, I’m also fascinated with gender roles, how they vary from culture to culture, and how they have changed through time. It’s an underlying theme in my novel, “Letters Never Sent” in that the characters of Kate, Annie and Claire struggle against the prescribed gender roles of the early 20th Century, just as Joan, Kate’s daughter, struggles equally hard in 1997.

As background, the novel opens when Joan travels to Lawrence, Kansas, to clean out her recently deceased mother’s home and prepare it for sale. As she’s cleaning, she finds an old suitcase containing a wooden box full of objects that include a spent bullet casing, a key ring, and a packet of sealed love letters – which she reads. And it’s through these unsent letters that Joan begins to understand that her mother’s unhappiness was, in part, because of the prescribed roles of wife and mother expected of her by society. She also comes to realize that despite the fact that her mother was functioning within the paradigms of the 1930s and Joan was working in the 1990s, their lives were in many ways, paralleled.

That last sentence might seem strange given that more than 50 years of “advancement” in regard to women’s rights had occurred between Kate’s experiences and those of her daughter, Joan. And change had occurred. But despite those political changes, in many ways, the underlying expectations of “what it was to be a woman” remained the same.

Despite all the cultural change of The Progressive Era, the passage of the 19th Amendment, the relative freedom of the flappers in the 1920s, and women going to work in traditionally masculine jobs during World War II, the underlying perception of women’s roles remained (and I would argue continues to remain) subtly the same:  cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. Even today, 50 years after President Kennedy signed legislation calling for equal pay for men and women, women still make 77 cents to every dollar made by a man.

Long story short, we are products of our culture. Every day we work within its parameters and its rules. Again, there is no right or wrong – there just is. And it’s that “is” that I like exploring as a writer. And at the end of the day, if I’ve done my homework, what we find is that perhaps we’re (and by this I mean ALL people) really much more alike than we realize.

 Letters Cover

Interview:

  1. How did you get started writing lesbian fiction/romance?

I started writing lesbian fiction several years ago. My undergraduate degree is in newspaper journalism and I had worked as a magazine writer, as a political speech writer and also as a staff writer for an educational publishing company. I knew I wanted to write novels, but I really didn’t feel like I had “lived” enough to have much of anything to say. So, I waited and waited until one I day, about three years ago, I realized I was ready – I actually had something to say. I wrote a couple of manuscripts, but it really all came together when I wrote Letters Never Sent.

 

  1. I write because…

I write because … I can’t not write. Stories are everywhere and I find myself fascinated with why people do the things they do. Heck, I’m fascinated by why I do the things I do.

 

  1. Heels or flats?

Flats … unless I’m wearing a suit or a dress and then heels.

 

  1. What kind of characters do you most like to write about and why?

I like to write about real, flawed, complicated characters. In Letters Never Sent, for example, all of the characters (Kate, Annie, Joan, Claire) were flawed and sometimes, not very likeable. In my new book, NUDGE, all of the characters have something about them that makes you not want to trust them – makes you question their motivations. I like exploring the darker side of what makes these people tick and what ultimately drives them to do the things they do.

 

  1. Tell us a little about your new release…

NUDGE is very different than Letters Never Sent. In short, it’s the story of a New York advertising executive and life-long atheist named Sarah Sheppard, who, is visited by a mysterious client who offers her a job to write and market a comprehensive addition to the world’s religious texts.  She, of course, thinks it’s an elaborate joke and turns him down. But a series of events transpire that result in her having no choice but to take the assignment.

She is quickly relocated to a remote estate in upstate New York where her job is to work with a group of scholars and theologians to compile The Addendum. Within days of taking on the assignment, she discovers that nothing and no one are what they appear to be. And, as more questions than answers mount up, Sarah has to decide whether to deny her natural skepticism or buy into the idea that she really is working for God.

 

  1. Name three things on your desk right now.

Stacks of textbooks and readings I need to review for next week’s classes, a Eucalyptus-Spearmint candle from Bath and Body Works (that has googly eyes pasted onto the side), and a green letter opener from the 1933 World’s Fair.

 

7. What are some of your favorite lesbian fiction/romance/erotic authors?

I love the work of so many that it would take forever to list them.

 

8. Favorite dessert?

Hot-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies or Snickerdoodles. Or peanut butter cookies. Or sugar cookies. Or almond macaroons. So … yeah … cookies.

 

  1. Plotter or pantster?

MAJOR plotter with maps, post-it notes and taped-together timelines.

10. What are you working on now?

I am currently writing a novel titled All That We Lack. It starts with a bus crash between New York and Boston and then works backward a day, six months, a year and two years, to show the interconnections of a funeral director from Seymour, Indiana, an insurance risk analyst from Chicago, a 10-year-old boy from Philadelphia, and a paramedic from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

11.Tell us one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I once took a job as a hand model for a Walmart advertisement. My hands were photographed holding a notepad with a grocery list and a pencil (or it may have been a pen). I was “discovered” while working as a server because, according the photographer, I had (and I quote) “every shopper’s hands.”

sdm

BIOGRAPHY

Sandra Moran is an author and assistant adjunct professor of anthropology at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

A native Kansan, she has worked professionally as a newspaper journalist, a political speech writer, and an archaeological tour manager. In her novels, she strives to create flawed characters struggling to find themselves within the cultural constructs of gender, religion and sexuality.

She is the author of “Letters Never Sent” and “Nudge.”

 

Find out more about her at: http://www.sandramoran.com

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Switching Gears: An Interview with Rhavensfyre

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switching gears book cover 001Micah Connolly had spent most of her life trying to please others, starting with her family, and ending with Olivia Holden. When she found out that her beloved grandmother had passed away, she was bereft and sought solace with the only person she thought might offer her comfort. Olivia Holden was full of mixed messages, none of them clear, but most of them leaning towards a keen interest in Micah. Their first kiss was a disaster. Overwrought with emotion, she had meant to tell Olivia she had to go home and get her grandmother’s affairs in order, but instead, the night ended in a volatile exchange of words that sent Micah running.

Well over a year had passed since that fateful night, and Olivia still regretted her strict adherence to a set of rules that made her lose the one woman she felt she could love. Chance and fate changes everything when she recognizes Micah weaving her bike wildly through the busy streets of New York.

When Micah and Olivia finally meet again, it isn’t your standard happy reunion. Micah had changed, a lot. She was now darker, edgier, and carried a secret blacker than the leathers she prefers to wear. This new Micah also wasn’t the sort who would accept Olivia taking charge of their budding relationship. Micah had come to terms with a part of herself she had kept hidden, including some things that she wasn’t so sure the high-powered attorney would be game for.

A subtle and erotic game of power play ensues, one that both surprises and delights Micah, but also leaves her with a difficult choice. The past still haunts her, a past requiring an explanation that could tear down all of her carefully constructed walls. Every risk has its own rewards, but what Micah is risking could destroy her.

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Switching-Gears-Rhavensfyre-ebook/dp/B00GZ0BY04/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393826090&sr=8-1&keywords=switching+gears

switching gears book cover 001

1. Tell us a little about Switching Gears.

Switching Gears is about two women who almost made a connection a year ago, but circumstances make them miss their chance. Olivia Holden finds she regrets her decision to keep Micah Connolly at a distance due to self-imposed rules, so when a second chance to bring Micah back into her life happens— she jumps on it in a heartbeat. The problem is, Micah is no longer the same woman she was a year ago, she is harder, tougher, and has a lot of emotional armor protecting her and the secrets she is keeping. What happens to Micah after she leaves is something that is eventually revealed to Olivia, over time and through a great deal of patience. Micah has a lot of demons to deal with and she isn’t ready to reveal things to the one woman who could unravel her carefully crafted armor.

Micah had learned the hard way that when bad things happen to you, you can let it destroy you or you can decide to step back and take a really good look at yourself. When she realizes that she isn’t living the life she wanted, Micah remakes herself. When Olivia enters her life again, Micah is at a point where she is becoming more comfortable with who she has become. Now, it is up to Olivia to decide if she can be the woman that Micah needs as well.

This story isn’t your simple lesbian romance, the characters tell it like it is, bringing with them all their fractured pasts. It is about two women who love each other and have to find their common ground to make it work, discovering aspects about themselves they didn’t know along the way.

Switching Gears is a story about discovery, acceptance and yes, a bit of healing as they explore the sexual aspects of their relationship. It is also a story about balance, where two dominant women have to learn how to give and take a bit, carving out a relationship that works for them. We wanted the characters to be surprised at what they learn about themselves along the way.

We like to think that there is one person in the world that you know is your one, but that perfect love comes with the risk of losing it all. You can’t hide parts of yourself from them, and you have to learn to trust and take that leap of faith with them.

2. How did you get started writing les fic?

We started writing together not long after we met, but never considered it something more than telling our story. Then, we got an idea for a couple of books that we started writing in our free time, only to give up after a catastrophic loss. We lost a lot of our documents to a bad virus that infected everything, including the backups, and we set it aside for a while. When we took up writing again several years later, it was just for fun on fan fiction sites—just to get our feet wet again. We were able to find some of our old work from email’s we had been sending back and forth to each other, and we decided to consider publishing after we managed to reconstruct a good chunk of our original manuscript.

3. Favorite movie?

Ok, so no one favorite movie. The Labyrinth with David Bowie can be agreed upon by both…I mean, it’s David Bowie!

4. Are you a plotter or pantster?

A mix of both, I think. We have an idea for a good story, and we know where the characters are supposed to go but sometimes things don’t always go as planned and they lead us somewhere wonderful and strange. So, closer to a pantster.

5. Do you have a pet? What?

Oh, gosh. Where to start? We have horses, a whole farm full along with two dogs and various cats.

6. When you write, do you listen to music?

Yes, the right music can really change the flavor of a scene. In fact, we have a list of music that Micah listened to in our first book, Switching Gears. Music is a big part of the creative process for us, especially for KL. For her, a character isn’t just about looks or attitude or behaviors, it is also about what kind of music they listen to, what sports they play, and even what they chose to do in their spare time. She will listen to “their” music while she types and it helps to get into the characters head. One lyric can blossom into an entire chapter if it sparks something inside.

7. Open your book to any page and give us a window into your character’s lives.

Sipping her coffee, Micah had nothing else to do but wait, so she pulled out her laptop. Maybe she could write something, since her art seemed to be suffering again. Pulling up a blank document, she tapped her fingers lightly against the keys, her thoughts wandering around in her head, trying to find something to write about. Unfortunately, her thoughts kept circling back to last night.

Taking another swallow of the tepid coffee, Micah tried an old trick of hers when she was suffering from writer’s block. As an artist, Micah had used this concept many times, letting the graphite or pencil travel across the paper unimpeded by thought or vision. Clearing her mind, she let her eyes lose focus, turning her thoughts inward. Her fingers travelled along the keyboard, typing without thinking.

It is an unfortunate truth that people are destined to repeat the same patterns in their life over and over again, unless something happens to wake you up, makes you open your eyes to new possibilities. It is also true that it is easier to see these patterns in others, while remaining blind to your own.

Focusing on the computer screen, Micah read her paragraph.

            Holy crap. Where did that come from?

            Micah had read dozen of stories that involved characters so involved in themselves; it took something major in their lives to shake them up, to make them re-evaluate their past choices, forcing them to make a conscious decision to change. It was almost embarrassing that she had fallen into the same trap. She was hurting Olivia, and in doing so, she was hurting herself and their relationship. It was ironic. As much as Olivia kept pushing her, at least it was because she was trying to get closer. Every time Olivia got closer, Micah had pushed back, caught up in her own issues. If they continued the way they were going, there would be no relationship to worry about. Micah shook her head. It was a difficult pill to swallow, discovering that you have been your own worst enemy. 

8. What type of character really resonates with you?

We try to write strong female characters. They may be damaged. They might have a past that make them less than perfect and sometimes difficult, but they have an inner strength that will/can lead them where they need to go physically/mentally and emotionally. No one saves them, but love is often the catalyst to bring their inner strength to bear on the important things in life.

9. If I were your favorite cookie what kind would I be? Would you dunk me in anything?

Oh, my! Other than saying that is not allowed, I will play along and say Ladyfingers. They are decadently rich, fun to eat, and you get to lick the powdered sugar off your fingers when you are done. No dunking.

(lol-Erzabet laughs)

10. What are you working on next?

Well, we just put out a self-published Novella called Life Is Not a Country Song, which is a sweet love story with a western flair. Who doesn’t love sexy cowboi’s, horses and dogs? In addition to that we have a new Novel coming out through Sapphire Book Publishing called Ladysmith. It is a fantasy novel with a twist and I think people will really enjoy the storyline. It is, of course, also a romance. It is in edits now and should be out in May!

gt4

Rhavensfyre is the collaborative pen name used by two east coast writers, Roxanne and KL, who have been partners since 2000 and were finally legally married in Washington, D.C. in 2012. They have a small farm in North Carolina where they raise and breed horses with their two dogs and several cats in tow. In their spare time, they try to keep an organic garden and enjoy the fact that their farm is also home to several owls, a mated pair of hawks, one annoying woodpecker and the occasional bald eagle. In addition to the living creatures, KL and Roxanne enjoy cycling various East Coast trails as well as hiking the Appalachian Trail. Both ladies enjoy photography and love to share images from their frequent trips through the scenic countryside.

Roxanne, known to her friends as “Roxy,” is an Oklahoma native who lived in various states before graduating from a Los Angeles area high school. An avid artist, she spent ten years in the military–both Army and Navy–before embarking upon her second career. While serving as a patriot missile operator in the Army, she landed a coveted position as post artist, allowing her to pursue her creative passion on a full-time basis. After transferring to the Navy, she served as a hospital corpsman, deployed twice to the Middle East while assigned to a USN warship. She also worked in security during her last year of active duty before leaving the military for a career in healthcare. Roxy holds two bachelor’s degrees: one in criminal justice and a second in healthcare. Her personal interests include mythology, ancient history, and psychology, and she cites walking through the ancient city of Petra, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, as one of the most amazing experiences she had while serving in the United States Navy.

KL was born in Norfolk, Virginia and lived most of her life in the South. She was professionally educated as a horse trainer and riding instructor, and she had innumerable wins in the Western Pleasure circuits until a traumatic back injury in 1999 prevented her from riding for many years. Today, she still pleasure rides, as well as breeds American Quarter Horses. KL is an avid cyclist, but her love of cycling doesn’t end with the local trails. She enjoys collecting and restoring antique bikes as well as tinkering with her own ride, doing all of the work herself. She is also accomplished in metalwork–from her work as a farrier to unique knife designs and artwork with steel and iron. Music is a big part of her life, and in her free time she enjoys strumming any of her three guitars or joining the owls by playing haunting notes on her didgeridoo.

Switching Gears is their first book. 

If you want to hear the Switching Gears playlist go to:

http://youtu.be/uG6UUZHD-Y8

Amazon link to Switching Gears:

http://www.amazon.com/Switching-Gears-Rhavensfyre-ebook/dp/B00GZ0BY04/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393826090&sr=8-1&keywords=switching+gears

Don’t forget to check out Rhavensfyre’s new story:

life is not a country song

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Life-Not-Country-Song-Rhavensfyre-ebook/dp/B00IEJ8GSC/ref=la_B00H7XQ5NO_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393826241&sr=1-2