The Importance of Gratitude by Sarah Madison

I’m recycling an old post here today because I think it’s very timely.

I wrote this a few years ago when I was going through a bad patch. I think even though it may be harder than ever to practice in a world that seems to be going down in flames, it may be more important than ever to try this little exercise.

“I’m so glad to have this opportunity to speak about gratitude here today because I’ve been conducting a little exercise lately, and I would very much like to share the results with you.

See, I’m a bit of a Human Eeyore. I have a tendency to see the worst case scenarios. I don’t consider this pessimism—instead it feels more like realism to me. In fact, that’s part of why I like writing romances. I believe in happy endings, even though I think few of us get them. Not only does writing make my day a bit brighter, but if a single story makes it easier for someone to get through a bad day, then I feel like I’ve done my job as a writer. That’s what I call success.

You know that scene in Jupiter Rising? The one where the main character wakes up each morning and recites, “I hate my life.” Yeah, that could be me. I’ve been struggling with depression, job burnout, and caregiver burnout for a while now.

Recently I became inspired by several people I follow who have been posting daily about the things they are grateful for in their lives. This prompted me to attempt to do the same, though to be honest, I found it easier some days than others. Still, I was determined to give it my best shot. Every day for an entire year, I would post three things I was grateful for or three things that made me smile.

I haven’t managed to do it every single day, but I’ve been doing it for nearly two months now, and I’m starting to see some changes in my life. First of all, it is seldom the Big Things that make me feel a sense of gratitude. Big Things don’t come into our lives every day. It’s the little things that make the biggest difference in our lives. Taming the feral cat hanging around the house. Getting mentioned on a “Best of” list. Having someone leave an awesome review for one of my stories. Getting a surprise gift in the mail. Hearing from a friend that I’d lost touch with. Rain on the roof at night. The ghostly vision of a full moon just after dawn. The intensity of the constellations in a winter’s sky.

I found myself waking, not with the thought of how much I hated my life, but wondering what three things I was going to find to post about that day. Even if the morning started off rocky, I’d remind myself I still had to come up with three things—and that very thought changed my entire attitude toward the day. Little by little, my first thoughts turned to what would I find to make me smile that day, and let me tell you, that’s a powerful thing.

I’ve never been a big fan of ‘The Power of Positive Thinking’ because if I don’t believe something, I can’t fake my way into it. But this exercise has taught me that the mindset of gratitude is contagious—and the more you immerse yourself in it, the easier it becomes to see the good things that you have in your life. And when you see your life as one of plenty instead of one of wanting, then good things seem to find their way into your life. Sounds like voodoo, I know, but I challenge you to give it a try. If you can’t commit to an entire year, at least 30 days. Spend 30 days finding just three things each day that make you smile. You’ll be glad you did.”

So. Here’s the thing. That exercise was easier to practice when I was ‘only’ depressed. Before the added burdens of profound anxiety and a feeling of hopelessness that 2017 has wrought. When everything is going to hell in a handbasket, practicing gratitude isn’t the easiest task to give yourself. There are times when we need to be outraged. When we should be upset. When we should march. Raise our voices in protest. Persist. Reclaim our time.

But I saw a valuable piece of advice someone shared on Twitter recently in which they said their therapist told them it was important to practice self-care because we as human beings weren’t designed to handle a constant stream of trauma and anxiety. Sometimes we must disconnect. Recharge. Soothe.

It’s the only way we can stay in the battle long-term.

So with that, consider practicing gratitude in your own fashion on whatever scale you can manage. These days, I try to take a photo of something that makes me happy and post it. I’m also reading—a LOT. Stories that make me happy. Stories that make a crappy day a little bit more bearable. I’ve said all along that was my intent in writing and sharing my own stories, so it only seems right that I find peace in the works of others.

If you enjoy audiobooks, Fool’s Gold is now available on Audible. Fool’s Gold was voted best M/M romance by the 2016 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards, and is narrated by the talented Gary Furlong. Do check it out!

If you’re a reviewer with a website and would like to review Fool’s Gold, feel free to contact me (link below). Until I run out, I have a few codes available to share.

Bio: Sarah Madison is a writer with a big dog, an even bigger horse, too many cats, and a very patient boyfriend. She is a terrible cook, and concedes that her life would be easier if Purina made People Chow. She writes because it is cheaper than therapy.

Sarah Madison was a finalist in the 2013 Rainbow Awards and is the winner of Best M/M Romance in the 2013 PRG Reviewer’s Choice Awards for The Boys of Summer. The Sixth Sense series was awarded 2nd place for Best M/M Mystery Series in the 2014 PRG’s Reviewer’s Choice Awards.

Contact links:
Website
On Amazon
On Facebook (Author page)
On Twitter
On Dreamspinner

Email: akasarahmadison@gmail.com

Grace Duncan: Romance, Erotica and Everything in Between

Over the years since I started writing romance, I have found myself in the distinctly uncomfortable situation of answering the “what do you write?” question inevitably asked in response to the “I’m an author” line.

A huge chunk of my discomfort comes from the fact that the two protagonists in my stories are the same gender (so far, all male). The LGBT community—including (especially) the arts portion of it—still has a long way to go as far as acceptance is concerned.

But today, what I want to talk about is the other part of my response: the romance part.

I recently submitted a request for a vendor table at a local anime convention for myself and a couple of other authors. Now, I am lucky to a point because as a volunteer manager for the con, I have some options general vendors don’t. When I did not get the response I wanted (instead, they gave me something vague about variety of merchandise), I requested more information. When I didn’t get a response to my request for clarification, unlike general vendors, I could go higher. Which I did.

The answer I finally got back shocked and angered me. Okay, “anger” is probably a bit mild. Furious? Livid? That’s closer.

The shock ended up a good thing because it kept me from replying immediately with some not-so-polite phrasing, including where they could put their IT department (the department I manage). Their response was fairly short, explaining that since they checked into it “finding only erotica,” it didn’t fit their “family friendly event.”

I don’t know how they came to the conclusion that the books in question are “only erotica.” Not knowing how that came about, I can only speculate one of two things. One, the books are all about gay men and, thus, automatically considered erotica because of that. Or two, they are romance and simply by virtue of the fact that some romance contains sex scenes, it is thus considered “erotica.” I have seen both of these from the non-romance (and non-LGBT) reading groups. As I was not sure if it was the LGBT aspect—since I wasn’t sure how I could reasonably focus on that—I focused instead on discussing the difference between romance and erotica.

I’d read tons on this in different places, but I thought the best pace to start was my own primary publisher. Since I knew Dreamspinner Press does not publish pure erotica, I went straight to their website. From their submission guidelines:

“Dreamspinner Press seeks gay male romance stories in all genres. While works do not need to be graphic, they must contain a primary or strong secondary romance plotline and focus on the interaction between two or more male characters.” (https://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/submissions)

Now, I am well aware there are plenty of LGBT and romance publishers that do publish erotica, so I thought I’d dig a bit further. One of the unfortunate problems with trying to define this is that there seem to be no set publishing industry definitions of “romance” and “erotica.” The best I could find was some background on the differences, per a couple of other romance authors and other industry members.

Sylvia Day said, “Erotica: stories written about the sexual journey of the characters and how this impacts them as individuals. Emotion and character growth are important facets of a true erotic story. However, erotica is NOT designed to show the development of a romantic relationship…”

Versus romance:

“Sexy Romance: stories written about the development of a romantic relationship that just happen to have more explicit sex. The sex is not an inherent part of the story, character growth, or relationship development, and could easily be removed or “toned down” without damaging the storyline.” (http://www.sylviaday.com/extras/erotic-romance/)

I further found an article on RT Book reviews (and referencing Publisher’s Weekly) that distilled it even more and said erotica is: “when sex is the basis of the conflict.” (https://www.rtbookreviews.com/rt-daily-blog/what-exactly-difference-between-steamy-romance-and-erotica)

(Please note: I firmly believe that any sex included in a book should be there because it does something for the story, either character development or plot movement. That said, in romance, the story still should not fall apart completely if you don’t show the couple’s whole sexual progression. There are levels, including erotic romance—like my Golden Collar series—where this doesn’t apply in the same way, but it still passes the litmus test I found.)

What I came to, in the end, was that the single distinctive difference was a simple question:

“What drives the story?”

In my research, I found in a number of places where erotica isn’t expected to have an HEA. The Romance Writers of America says for a story to be considered a romance, it should have “a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending.” They go on to define that optimistic end as having “emotional justice and unconditional love.” (https://www.rwa.org/Romance)

Beyond the happy ending—or lack thereof—many types of erotica may not even include a primary relationship, and instead is more about one person’s sexual journey. One prime example of this is the Beauty series by Anne Rice (under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure). While there is a happy ending at the end of the series, the story is about Beauty—and her sexual journey—not a specific relationship she is in.

I have been a firm believer that there is a wide variety of heat in romance novels. Everyone has their taste. Some want to read the sex, others want to skim. I’ve been in the mood for lighter stories (with less sex) and some that are essentially one sex scene after another. Both have their place. I don’t believe a romance requires sex, but what I found in my research also says that having it certainly doesn’t automatically make it erotica, either.

In the end, it still comes down to what drives the story. Is it the sex? Or is it the relationship?

If it’s the latter, then it’s romance.

Hope (a Forbes Mates tale for the One Pulse Anthology), By Grace R. Duncan – Out Today!!


Part of the One Pulse Anthology, benefitting the victims and familes of the Orlando, Florida shooting

Published by Dreamspinner Press

Release date: September 19, 2016

574 pages (total for Anthology)

Cover artist: Paul Richmond

 

Blurb:

Miguel Garcia and Luis Rodriguez have been best friends all their lives. For the last year, they’ve been hiding the fact that they’re also destined mates. When Luis’s family finds out, they kick him out. Miguel’s family would keep them…except their alpha has been known to be downright violent against gay wolves.

With the help of Miguel’s mother, they set out to find a pack that will accept them. They run into more that a few obstacles before they end up in Denver, at the national wolf headquarters, meeting the alpha prime. They’re stunned to find, not only offers to join more than one pack, but that their struggle can shine light on a bigger problem–and make things better for LGBT wolves across the country.

 

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