Friday, October 12, 2007

Writers and Depression, Part II

I've talked about my struggles with depression in previous posts. A couple of months ago after my grandmother died, I had another severe bout of it. And I found a technique to get out of it I'd like to share.

In my case, depression seems to come paired with extreme anxiety. I'd find myself sitting there bouncing my knees in a frantic attempt to burn off nervous energy. I couldn't sleep. Worse, I had the horrible feeling that my battle was pointless -- that sooner or later, I was doomed to kill myself. There was no point in even trying to fight it any more.

I was so frightened, so out of control, that I went over to my sister's. She's been my dearest friend all my life, and she knows all about the way anxiety has tormented me. So I sat down on her couch, bouncing my knees and trying to put my fear into words. And she looked at me and said "You don't have to do this. You have been through this often enough to know what you can do to regain control. You can choose to do something about it, or you can choose to let it destroy you."

It was like having someone splash cold water in my face.

She reminded me I had already found out that exercising helps the anxiety and depression. She also suggested finding a tanning bed and spending about five or ten minutes in it, being careful not to get a sunburn. And she said I could also get a massage.

These are really simple things that are very effective.

I had also just started back on Lexapro, an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drug that, unlike some, reduces appetite and weight gain instead of causing people to put on more weight. Thing is, I have found that right after I start back on Lexapro, the anxiety and depression actually gets worse for a couple of weeks. Around a month out, it finally kicks in and stabilizes the mood, but you need to be aware of the effect, or you'll think you're getting worse.

I seized on my sister's suggestions with the enthusiasm of raw desperation. The gym is open until 10 p.m., and it was 8, so I drove over there at once and spent the next half-hour on the treadmill and the elliptical machine, working up a sweat and burning off all the agonizing stress I'd built up. That night, I was able to sleep for the first time in days.

The next day, I had an appointment with my personal trainer. I really pumped hard on the weight machines, forcing myself to push despite the pain of my burning muscles. By the end of the hour, my muscles were aching, but the anxiety had burned off again. A sense of well-being filled me.

Unfortunately, I quickly found it didn't last. Whenever the anxiety started clawing at me, I'd head for the gym and the treadmill and the weight machines. Soon the anxiety and depression began to lift, especially after the Lexapro finally kicked in. But I am truly convinced that my workouts stabilized me and got me through the worst of it.

My sister was right. I wasn't helpless. I could fight depression and anxiety. I don't have to let it kill me.

My trainer says exercise is an effective treatment because scientists have found it returns the body to hormonal balance. Someone else wrote in response to an earlier blog that one recent study compared anti-depressants, talk therapy and exercise in depressed patients. Scientists found the ones that exercised did the best. However, I think combining the three would be even more effective.

By the way, I think Lexapro also helps my creativity. I know there is a big difference in my writing when I'm taking Lexapro and when I'm not. Lexapro works by liberating the brain chemical serotonin, which is also affects mood, appetite -- and creativity. (The only bad thing about Lexapro is it tends to decrease desire because it turns testosterone into serotonin. And testosterone is the hormone that is responsible for sexual appetite. I have found I can reduce that affect with a testosterone cream prescribed by my doctor, who had used a blood test to determine that my testosterone levels were too low.)

I know, I know. People are always telling you to diet and exercise -- it's supposed to be a cure for everything from cancer to Alzheimer's. Unfortunately, exercise is also tiring, and it hurts, which is why I was never much interested in doing it. It's much easier to stay at home and eat a box of Godiva's.

But I swear to you, my workouts have made a huge difference in my mood and my stress levels. I really believe that if you're struggling with depression and anxiety, working out will help you. It won't be easy at first, but I think you'll notice positive effects on your mental state very quickly. Then, if you're still having a problem, you can try an antidepressant like Lexapro on top of that. But you need to stay on the antidepressant and keep working out two or three times a week to make sure you don't backslide into depression.

You can survive this disease, but it's like heart disease or diabetes -- you have to treat it. Ignoring it will only allow it to kill you. Exercise is one hell of a good treatment.

There are other benefits too. As of today, I have lost 137 pounds since I had gastric bypass surgery Aug. 29, 2006. I feel 20 years younger, and I'm no longer in constant pain from my knees and joints.

When I started working out, I could only bench press about 15 pounds. Now I'm up to 37, and I've increased all the other weights I use too. Because I work out, I don't have as much loose skin as many other gastric bypass patients who have lost a lot of weight. And at 46, I'm stronger now than I have ever been in my life.

On the other hand, my mother is 67, and is morbidly obese. Being overweight for so many years has destroyed her joints, and she's in constant pain. She's going to have to undergo painful joint replacement surgery. I wish it was possible for her to have gastric bypass surgery, but at her age, it's just not a good option.

I urge you to exercise and try to do something if you have a weight problem. I think you will find it's more than worth the effort, especially if you're dealing with depression, stress and anxiety.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Angela Knight is teaching a new workshop...

Last call for my month-long October workshop, Putting Teeth in Your Paranormal Romance: Vampires, Werewolves, and the Women Who Love Them. The class is $20. It says the deadline is Sept. 25, but registration is still open if you get it in in the next day or two.

I'm going to spend the first week discussing worldbuilding: how to construct a paranormal universe with plenty of sexy umph. The next week will be devoted to constructing heroes, heroines, villains and minor characters. Mixing the paranormal with ordinary folks can be a little tricky, and I'll talk about the best way to pull that off. In the third week, I'll talk plotting: how to keep your readers eagerly turning pages. Then in the last week, we'll talk romance and love scene construction.

For more information, drop by the Heart of the Carolinas here:

Thanks, gang!


Saturday, June 09, 2007

I've been tagged!!!

Robin Owens tagged me, which means I have to now list eight things you may not know about me.

1.) You probably know I do CGI art. You may not know that I started out doing pastel portraiture back in junior high, and continued doing pastel work for years. Walter Koenig, (AKA Chekhov from Star Trek) once gave me first place in an art contest at Heroes Convention for a portrait of Captain Kirk.

2.) My first crush on an actor/character was Captain Kirk. (I was 12 at the time.) Ahhh, that manly chest... LOL!

3.) When I was five or six, I had an imaginary friend -- Little Joe from Bonanza. (Actually, he's probably my first crush.,) Mom had to set a place at the table for him, and God help you if you sat on him.

4.) I worked in television production for four years, including two directing a religious program. I had just started writing erotic romance for Red Sage; if my boss had known what I was doing, she would have fired me. Then again, her receptionist was a drag queen, and she didn't know that either...

5.) When I was a kid, I had a huge thing for horses. I took riding lessons, and my first attempts at fiction revolved around horses.

6.) I'm a huge comic book geek. I still read comics, and of course, my first published fiction was a comic book mini-series.

7.) I wrote a Doc Savage spin-off for Caliber Press -- a comic about Doc's sister, Pat Savage.

8.) When I was in high school and college, my friends and I made a series of super-eight movies, which I wrote, shot and directed: "Landing Party," a Star Trek thing, "The Intergalactic Bar and Grill," another Star Trek thing; "Raiders of the Lost Props," a spoof of Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indy was menaced by a sock puppet instead of a cobra); Enemies and Friends, a Battlestar Galactica thing; and "Smith and Wesson," a detective flick which almost got us arrested for taking a gun to an airport. Good thing it was 1980 instead of today, or I'd still be in jail.


1. Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.

2. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.

3. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.

4. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

My victims are: Rebecca York,

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Divas Dish, revisited

I wrote this for RT's Diva's Dish panel on Erotica, but I didn't get to go. Mike had to go to the ER. So because I'm loathe to waste a handout, here it is:

1.) The reader should feel the sexual tension start to build between the hero and heroine from their first glance. As many times as I’ve written love scenes, there are times I find it almost impossible to get a couple into bed. That’s usually because I’ve neglected to build sexual attraction because I’m focused on the romantic conflict.

2.) The elements of seduction:
A.) As Linda Howard says in her “12 Steps to Intimacy,” there is a definite pattern to seduction. The guy has to gain the woman’s trust and acceptance before he can make love to her. This is done in a natural set of steps.
I.) First is a quick look – is this person attractive? If so, the couple makes eye contact and smile. Then the guy can come over and start a conversation. You need to show an emotional connection start growing between them as they talk and look at one another. Boy, he’s hot! Wow, she’s sexy!
II.) Then and only then can he move forward with the seduction by touching her hand, then her shoulders, then her waist. These touches may appear to be casual or accidental, but they’re not, and both characters know it.
III.) Next comes the first kiss, which needs to be given a lot of attention. The kiss is a precursor to lovemaking, an indication of what we and the heroine can expect. How skillful is he? How tender? Build the anticipation.
IV.) Now we can start the actual foreplay, but that can’t begin until you lay the groundwork with the early stages of seduction. Think about it: if some guy just came up and grabbed your breasts, you’d slug him, scream, and call a cop. You have to build the attraction first.

3.) Do not treat your love scenes as porn breaks in the middle of the story. This is a problem I see even among mainstream published romance writers. They know their editors expect a love scene somewhere around chapter seven, so they just stick one in. The characters have a mechanical kind of sex that doesn’t really reflect the development of their romance or who they are as people.
A.) Think about what you can show with this scene. What kind of people are they? Is he dominant and aggressive? Is she sensual or unsure of herself? Is there humor – and there really should be, because humor humanizes characters and makes them seem more three-dimensional. What’s the romantic conflict?

4.) Don’t make your characters too stupid to live.
A.) In general, if it’s something you wouldn’t do, don’t have your heroine do it. If you wouldn’t pick a complete stranger up in a bar and have unprotected sex, your heroine shouldn’t do it. If you wouldn’t let a stranger tie you up for sex games, she definitely shouldn’t do that.

5.) For erotic romance to work, the love scenes need to be fun. You can have angst coming out of your ears everywhere else in the book, but when those characters get into bed, they have a very good time. They may be angry with one another to start out with, but the sex needs to rapidly morph into something lighter. If the sex is too emotionally heavy, it’s not going to be fun, just disturbing.
A.) Avoid characters with serious psychosexual issues, such as frigidity due to rape. The minute the sex becomes a form of therapy, you’ve lost about ninety percent of your heat.

6.) Things to think about when planning a love scene:
A.) Location. Go for someplace that is naturally sensual – a garden, a pool. Probably not a gynecologist’s office...
B.) Who makes the first move? Let them take turns.
C.) Where are these characters in their journey to love? What’s their mood going into the scene? Are they angry? Frightened? Just plain horny? Use that. Express the emotion in the way they touch. Maybe he knows she’s scared, so he’s particularly tender with her. Focus on the feeling, because it’s that emotion that will make your happily ever after believable.

For more, check out Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Angela Knight, ISBN-10: 1596323906 or ISBN-13: 978-1596323902. Angela’s website is

Monday, May 07, 2007

Writers and Depression

One of the posters made a passing reference to depression, which happens to be a hot-button subject with me. That's because you came very close to never getting to read this blog -- or anything else I've written in the past 11 years, because I almost ate my husband's gun.

Eleven years ago, I was working for a religious broadcaster who was, quite frankly, a hypocritical bitch. She was so destructive as a boss, so endlessly critical, that I ended up quitting after two years of busting my backside working for her. I didn't know it at the time, but I also had a nodule on my thyroid that was causing thyroid storms. I plunged into a black depression, complete with delusional thoughts. My marriage began to disintegrate under the pressure. I once whipped my son so badly, I gave him black and blue stripes on his legs -- and I had no idea I'd hit him so hard. (I never spanked him again, btw.) I wasn't able to eat. Even the smell of food made me violently ill.

I struggled with these feelings for the next six months, trying to hold it together and failing. I felt as if I was losing myself. One day I went in the closet and got out Mike's gun. It wasn't because I wanted to die -- it was because I felt I was already dying. Imagine being swallowed by a giant python, feeling yourself being slowly digested. Now imagine you've got a gun. That's what a suicidal depression is like. It's not that you want to die -- you just want to save what's left.

Luckily I had just enough wit to realize Anthony was in the next room. He was 11 at the time, and I knew he'd be the one to find the body. I also knew the children of suicides are more likely to commit suicide. So I put the gun back in the box.

The next thing I knew, it was in my hand and pointed at my chin. I did not remember getting it out again.

It scared the crap out of me. I put the gun away and fled the closet.

When Mike got home, I told him what I'd done. He held me and cried. My big cop cried like a baby. He was a evidence officer at the time, with custody of the evidence from suicides. He said, "Do you want me to show you the photographs? The clothes?"

I had an appointment with the gynecologist the next day, and I told him what had happened. He promptly committed me to a psych hospital. I was terrified, but I knew I needed help. The doctor there told me I was manic depressive. (I wasn't; it was that damn thyroid nodule.)

I can't tell you how crushed I was from that diagnosis. I had always prided myself on my intelligence and wit. Now I could barely string a sentence together, and the same mind I had always prided myself on had turned on me. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to hold a job or live a good life.

But I loved Mike and Anthony and my family, and I held on. It took time -- it was two more years before the thyroid nodule was removed, which greatly helped the depression. But because I did hold on, I was able to rebuild my life. I found I could still create. I got published by Berkley. I've gone on to write more than 20 novels and novellas since my bout of clinical depression, and I'm a best-selling author. I'm living my dreams.

I also got a job with the Spartanburg Herald Journal, during which I carried around a police scanner. Every single day we'd get at least one suicide call, where somebody either attempted suicide or succeeded. It always made my heart ache when I'd hear those calls, because I knew that if the person had gotten help, it could have been avoided.

Once I went to what I thought was a shooting. Turned out it was a suicide. The wife saw me, realized I was a reporter, and begged me not to write a story. I told her newspapers don't cover suicides, and I fled. But the look on her face -- the utter devastation -- is one I will never forget as long as I live. As I drove away I thought, "I don't care what happens, I will never do that to Mike and Anthony."

I'm sharing this painful and humiliating story because I know that some of the people reading it are suffering from clinical depression. Or possibly, one of your family members or your child is suffering from clinical depression. I beg you -- get help. Hold on, even if the symptoms don't lift right away. I struggled for years. Sometimes I still deal with the after-effects. But if I had let the disease take me, I wouldn't have experienced the success and joy I've known since then.

Clinical depression is not the end of the world. It's also not a moral failure or a sign of weakness, anymore than diabetes or heart disease or cancer is. But it can kill you just as quickly as any physical disease. Don't let it. Do something. Go see a doctor. Don't end your future over a temporary problem.

And if you need someone to talk to, you can e-mail me at I'm not a therapist, obviously, but I know what it's like.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Trolls, Snarks and Critics: A Writer's Bestiary

A good writer is a strip-tease artist. In the process of telling her story, she reveals a great deal about herself: what makes her laugh, what makes her cry, what turns her on. That's why the toughest skill for writers to learn is the ruthless objectivity of the craftsman: does this do what I want it to do? Does this have the effect I intend? After all, I'm revealing so much of myself. If it doesn't work, does that mean I myself am flawed?

Well, no. It just means you missed. Not even the best marksman hits the target every time. At the same time, though, if you can't force yourself to look at the target objectively, you won't know if you hit it or not.

Sometimes other people are a better judge of whether you hit your objective. They don't have as much invested in the effort, after all. It's probably taken you a good six months to write this particular book -- days of spilling your guts on the page, of laying it all out with every detail you can imagine as you struggle to create the emotional effect you want. No wonder being objective is so difficult.

That's why online criticism can be either invaluable or incredibly damaging to the artist. If it's truly objective, it can be a golden opportunity to see your work as another sees it and determine if it had the effect you intended.

The trouble is, online criticism is often far from objective, even when it pretends to be. The author of online criticism is frequently grinding an ax of one kind or another. Writers must decide if the criticism is legitimate and should be heeded, or is the product of some kind of agenda. A writer who listens to the wrong criticism can cripple herself with self-doubt and depression. At the same time, though, the writer who automatically rejects all criticism deprives herself of the chance to make her work better.


In one sense, trolls are the easiest creature in the writer's bestiary to spot, but that doesn't make them any easier to take. Like the troll under the bridge in the fairy tale, this kind of online critic springs out at unsuspecting artists with vicious attacks. Often it's because the artist has unintentionally written something that hits the troll's hot buttons.

For example, erotic romance writers tend to attract a species of troll who simply don't like highly sexual content. The romances the troll could once count on for a certain safe content are becoming increasingly sexual, and she finds this threatening. "Smut!" the troll shrieks. "Page after page of smut! Why can't you write like (insert author name here.)”

Because this kind of troll tends to sound just like your maiden aunt, she can trigger all kinds of guilt and anger in the writer. She’s telling you sex is bad, and you’re a slut for writing it. Since erotic romance authors tend to struggle with these feelings anyway, it’s very hard not to explode at the troll.

That’s when it’s time to walk away from the computer. Do not feed the troll. You’re not going to convince her that your books don’t contain too much sex or that you’re not a slut, so don’t even try. In fact, responding to her at all simply validates her opinion by telling her that you care what she thinks. You’ll find yourself in a flame war quicker than you can say “Billy Goat Gruff.”

And you won’t win. Don’t answer her e-mails, don’t respond to her posts. The less time spent on her, the less damage she gets to do to your productivity as an artist. Don’t give her what she wants – which is you, feeling like the slut she’s branded you.


Snarks are those online critics who pride themselves on using humor to puncture artists and writers. Mrs. Giggles is a good example.

Snarks are in many ways more troubling than trolls for a number of reasons. For one thing, they may actually have a legitimate artistic point, whereas a troll is simply irrational and shrill. What’s more, because they use humor to poke fun at the book, they tend to bring out a writer’s inner twelve-year-old, who remembers getting laughed at for wearing something goofy-looking to school.

Anytime a point is made in a biting, clever way, it gains power.

But that still doesn’t mean it’s right. Sometimes Snarks go for an obvious joke just because it’s funny, not because the book really doesn’t work. The Snark’s objective is to attract web-traffic to her site, and humor is an effective way to do that. What’s more, if an oversensitive writer shows up to rail at her, she’s got the opportunity of a lifetime. The writer’s fans will also make an appearance, along with various enemies looking to see the writer get her comeuppance. All of which means lots and lots of glorious hits.

Which is exactly why writers should never, ever show up at a Snark site to bitch about a review. One, you’re handing her hits, and two, you’re giving her another opportunity to humiliate you. Which she’s going to do. Even if you feel you’re more than up to out-Snarking her, you’re validating her by admitting her dig hurt. Don’t do that.

On the other hand, sometimes a Snark is also a legitimate critic, and that’s when you need to take her a little more seriously.


As I've said, no writer hits the mark every single time with every single scene. Writers must handle a vast number of difficult tasks in writing a book: beautiful description, gripping conflict, pacing that flows, characterization that makes readers believe absolutely in imaginary people. It’s tough. Sometimes, scenes or lines or perhaps even entire books miss the mark. Our objective as writers is to identify the point at which a book misses and figure out how to avoid that mistake on the next one.

You want people to say of you, “She gets better with every book she writes.”

So when a critique points out a flaw in a book in a rational, objective way – and I’m not talking about, “This book sux!” – you need to pay attention. Think about the comment, even if it stings. Does it resonate internally? I’ve had Amazon reviewers dismiss my books as boring, which is one criticism I’ve never taken seriously. On the other hand, I’ve had others who say my weird universe incorporates everything but the kitchen sink, which makes it hard to take seriously. I admit, I think about remarks like that, wondering if I should simplify just a bit in the next universe I create.

You should also take a criticism more seriously if you hear the same thing from a number of people. I’ve had Amazon reviewers complain about Jane’s Warlord because I didn’t make clear that Jane’s father murdered her mother. I didn’t really tie up that particular loose end, a problem I’m going to keep an eye on in the future.

On the other hand, just because a legitimate reviewer makes a comment about a book, that doesn’t mean she’s right. It could be that she simply doesn’t like that particular kind of book, or even that she’d had a really rotten day when she sat down to write the review.

But whether you’re dealing with legitimate critics, Snarks or Trolls, never let anyone’s words keep you from writing or make you feel inadequate. Writing is a learning process. Remember: you may write the book, but you are not the book. The book is a piece of craft, no different from a coffee table. If the legs are a little crooked this time, make them straighter the next. Learn from your mistakes, and incorporate what you’ve learned in the next one.

That’s what truly separates a professional writer from a wannabe.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Notes on writing Vampire romances from Romantic Times conference

I participated in several panels at Romantic Times, and wrote handouts for them. Since the conference is over, I thought I'd share them here. Here's my notes on “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" That was a panel dealing with the question of whether there's a vampire fiction glut. Hope you find it interesting!

By the way, my book PASSIONATE INK, A GUIDE TO WRITING EROTIC ROMANCE is available from Amazon. Check it out.

1.) There are an awful lot of vampires novels out on the shelves, and you’re right to be concerned about the question of whether there’s a glut. Remember it’s going to take at least six months to write your book, and then more months to get it into the hands of an editor who may buy it. Then another year after that for the book to hit the stores. The craze may have passed by then.
A.) However, editors are still acquiring vampire and paranormal romance, so there’s still a window of opportunity. The question is, how do you make your book stand out?

2.) First, make sure you really want to write a vampire romance. Never mind whether it’s hot or not, since it may not be hot by the time you get it published. Do you absolutely love vampires and vampire romances? If not, find something else to write about, something you DO love. A passion for the idea is the key to making a book memorable.

3.) Think about how you can make your vampire novel different.
A.) What is the one thing about vampires that is key to the concept? It’s not coffins or a fear of crosses, because you can get rid of those things and still have a perfectly good vampire novel.
i). A vampire must feed on something another person has in order to sustain his life. It doesn’t have to be blood. It could be psychic energy or sex or chi or dreams. But he feeds on something, and that’s the one thing about vampires you have to keep. The rest you can change – and should change, if you want to make the book fresh and different.
B.) Think through how this idea works. Why does the hero need to do this? How did he become a vampire? Maybe he’s not 400 years old – maybe he’s only been a vampire a week, and he’s got to figure out how to survive.
C.) What is his weakness? The more powerful the character is, the more he needs a weakness. Classical vampires have a lot of weaknesses – garlic, crosses, mirrors, running water, etc. You must come up with a paranormal weakness that puts your guy in danger. Otherwise the reader is not going to worry about his safety, and if she’s not worried, she’s going to get bored.

4.) Think about your mortal character, whether hero or heroine. What does he or she want? Why would he or she have anything to do with your vampire? What is it about your vampire that he or she can fall in love with?
A.) Your mortal must be more than a match for your vampire on some level – while looking as if he or she is vulnerable. If all the power is with your vampire, you don’t have a good conflict, and without a good conflict, you’ve got no story.

5.) In a vampire romance as in every other kind, you need an internal conflict, an external conflict, and a romantic conflict.
A) The internal conflict is the thing inside the character that he or she is struggling with. In the TV show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel the vampire struggled with guilt over the crimes he committed as the demonic Angelus.
B.) The external conflict is what’s going on outside the character that is threatening him physically – usually caused by the villain who wants to kill him.
C.) The romantic conflict is the thing that is keeping the hero and heroine from their happy ending. It must be powerful enough that the reader has no idea how you’re going to resolve it.
D. All these conflicts intensify as the book goes on, growing worse and worse to make the reader more fearful for your hero and heroine. Keep complicating things!

6.) Remember than in a romance, love makes your characters’ lives more difficult, not less. It’s only in the climax that love enables the hero and heroine to overcome their internal and romantic conflicts. Whatever they learn in the process allows them to overcome the external conflict with the villain – and get to that all important Happily Ever After.

For more, check out Passionate Ink: A Guide to Writing Erotic Romance by Angela Knight, ISBN-10: 1596323906 or ISBN-13: 978-1596323902. Angela’s website is

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Where Have All the Balls Gone?

Having bored you with endless nattering about my weight loss long enough, I'm going to now talk about erotic romance again.

My current fangirl crush is JR Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood. I love those damn books. I've read all four of them three times, and I scarf them like chocolate every time one of them shows up in the store. I think I've figured out what it is about them that just fascinates me -- and by implication, what's wrong with mainstream romance, and why paranormal has suddenly become so hot.

First, JR has giant brass balls. Really. Who else would create a misogynist hero who hates his own penis, like Zsadist, or a hero with a crush on another guy, like Vishous's stealthy love for Butch? Now, this is the kind of thing that could easily make a reader throw a book across the room, but Ward pulls it off. All her guys are so damned sexy, tortured and generally fascinating, you love them BECAUSE they're weird. And part of the appeal is "What the HELL will she do next?" I have no idea, but I desperately want to find out.

Speaking as somebody who's been reading romance since she was 17, it's damned difficult for me to find a writer who consistently surprises me. That's because so few of us romance writers have any balls. And I'm including myself in that category.

In these politically correct times, I think writers feel heroes have to be so damned NICE. They can be sexy, yeah, but they can't be really nasty anymore. Otherwise, God forbid, you might offend somebody.

It wasn't always that way. When I was reading romance during the bad old days of the 1980s, we had all those bodice ripper bastard heroes. I loved those books. I remember reading one, STORMFIRE, over and over again, and crying. Now, that guy was a real bastard. He broke the heroine's ribs, raped her, and left her in a dungeon until she was half-starved. In retrospect, I have no idea why I found him so hypnotic. Probably because he might have been a prick, but at least he was interesting. You didn't know what he was going to do next. There was nothing heroic about him whatsoever, but he was fascinating.

Now, before somebody rips me a new one, I absolutely do NOT think there is anything at all heroic about rape. Heroes should not rape heroines, any more than they should murder people or rob banks. But there's a BIG difference between committing felonies and being a six-foot-three poodle. And there are entirely too many poodle men in mainstream romance.

I tried reading a historical the other day by an author who is an auto-buy for me. Oh, God. I got through about twenty pages and realized I didn't give a rat's ass. The hero was just too frickin' GOOD. He was honest and upright and straightlaced. And borrrrrring.

The problem with poodles is they're predictable. You know they're not going to do anything really nasty, because they're Good Guys. Which, okay. But really, they shouldn't be so damned good they never say anything sexist or rude or just plain MALE. Some of these guys talk and act just like women in Hessians. No wonder I don't find them sexually attractive.

And they're not historically accurate, either. Part of the appeal of historicals is that those guys hadn't been Dr. Phill'd to death. If you so much as open your mouth and say ANYTHING stupid now, you must be publicly pilloried, then methodically spend a month flogging yourself on camera. No, I don't like racists or sexists or bigots in general, but I'm really fond of free speech. And I think people have a right to occasionally put a foot in their mouths without being proclaimed Asshole for the Ages.

Be honest, now. Haven't you ever said anything you KNEW was stupid, insensitive or just plain ignorant? I have. I'm a Southerner, after all. We've built an entire culture out of being assholes. I work really hard against my asshole tendencies, but I sometimes I miss. After all, I'm human, and being politically correct is hard work.

That's why I love JR. She's not afraid to let her heroes be assholes. And really, there's not a man alive who hasn't been an ass at one time or other. That's part of why we love them. They're annoying, they're infuriating, they make you want to smack them, but they're GUYS, and that's what guys do. And every woman knows it.

I think that's why readers have fallen in love with paranormals. Vampires and werewolves, after all, are not expected to be politically correct. They get to bite people, grow hair, and run wild in the woods. They don't have to wear bows, paint their toenails pink and sit in your lap gazing at you adoringly. You have to chase them -- or maybe run from them -- and that makes them a lot more interesting to be around.

So I think for my next novella, I'm going to try writing a bastard.

It should be fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

For the curious...

Here's my BEFORE picture.

The Big 100!!!!

I'm definitely doing the dance of joy now, folks. Today I've officially lost 100 pounds since Aug. 29. When I got out of the hospital, I weighed 316 pounds. Today I weigh 216. I feel about twenty years younger, and I'm told I look it too.

I'm thinking back on what I've learned the last eight months since I started this journey.

I remember how scared out of my mind I was the weekend before the surgery. I basically melted down as I imagined every possible nightmare scenario. I was afraid I'd have complications -- perhaps even die. I was afraid my writing would suffer. (My editor says she thinks I'm actually better now than I was before the surgery.)

I was afraid the depression I've struggled with at various points of my life would be made worse by my new diet. I was afraid it wouldn't work -- that I'd pay out this huge sum of money only to end up regaining the weight.

I was afraid, period.

In retrospect, it was very similar to when my son was born. I was afraid of the pain, but I was more afraid of the way my life would change in ways I couldn't anticipate. But like the birth of my child, I now believe everything I went through was worth it.

I had reason to be afraid. Gastric bypass surgery is dangerous, especially if you don't do what your surgeon tells you to do, or if you don't choose the right doctor. I'm happy to say I did choose the right man -- Dr. Paul Ross, who had performed more than 300 gastric bypass procedures. If you're contemplating gastric bypass, I must stress how crucial it is to get a surgeon who's done at least 100 Gastric Bypass surgeries. Studies have shown that's the point when the complications go way down.

However, I will say that for all people talk about how dangerous it is to have gastric bypass surgery, it's far more dangerous to weigh 316 pounds. And a hell of a lot more miserable, too. I remember what it was like hauling my bulk out of a car, or getting on an airplane and having to ask for seatbelt extenders, or being afraid I was going to have a heart attack when I had to run catch a plane. I remember how my knees hurt when I'd have to get off the toilet. I remember the constant humiliation of being morbidly obese. One time I was riding with my girlfriend in her car, and her seatbelt wouldn't fit. I panicked. I hate riding without a seatbelt, but I was too freaking fat.

Another time I had been assigned to do a story about riding in a 60-year-old B-17 Bomber. They showed me to a seat in the plane's nose -- a rickety thing with a tiny seatbelt made for an 18 year old boy. I almost didn't get the belt to fit, and I was so humiliated. I was afraid I'd have to get off the plane.

And I knew good and damned well I was going to die young. I was headed for diabetes and the possibility of blindness -- and how would I work as I writer then? Sudden death from a heart attack was another real risk.

So I truly believe having the surgery, paying out all that money -- because my insurance didn't pick up a dime of it -- was worth it. It has probably added 10 or 15 years to my life. It's definitely made my life more worth living. And studies of those who've had the surgery confirm that.

But I won't kid you -- there have been times it wasn't fun. The first three months right after the surgery seemed endless. I was so damned weak there were times that just walking across the floor almost laid me out. My voice quavered as if I were eighty. I'd almost faint in the grocery store or the mall.

And adjusting to the tiny quantities of food was really hard at first. Here I was, used to eating anything and everything I wanted, whenever I wanted. That first couple of weeks, just watching TV was torture because of all the food commercials.

We coined a new phrase for the Food Network programs we used to love. I call them Food Porn, because you're watching all this decadent activity you can't do.

It's true what they said -- food is an addiction. And not being able to get your fix can be unbelievably frustrating. There were times I'd sit down and cry because I felt so weak and sick. Recently I went to a meeting of my gastric bypass group, and there was this poor girl there who kept crying. "When will I be able to eat?" She kept throwing up all the time. We assured her it would get better. And it has.

Right after the surgery, I couldn't eat salads or raw vegetables, beef, pork, or fruit, or anything with seeds. Rice was out. Sugar was off the menu, and still is. I had to give up caffeine. The only thing I could eat was scrambled eggs, soup, sugar-free Jello and sugar-free popsicles. If I even thought about transgressing, my body made me pay. I'd end up bent over a toilet, yarking.

I spent a lot of time that first four months yarking. When I ended up with a stricture -- scar tissue around the opening from my stomach to my intestines -- every time I ate for about a week, I'd throw up. But worse was the horrible pain as I waited and prayed to throw up. Once I did, the pain and sickness would abate. I finally had a minor procedure to open the scar tissue, and that problem went away. It was the only real complication I've had.

Since then, my stomach has healed, and my diet is a lot more varied. I can eat just about anything now -- salads, vegetables, beef, fruit, even the chicken that for a while there made me sick as a dog.

You may be thinking, Man, I'd love to lose the weight, but aren't you hungry? No, oddly enough, I'm not. I can remember diets pre-surgery that drove me nuts with hunger -- with little to show for it -- but hunger isn't a big problem anymore. Cravings sometimes are, especially at certain times of the month or when stress is especially great. I sometimes sneak a tiny piece of chocolate or a bite of brownie, which I can get away with without dumping syndrome. But if I try to eat anymore than that, I get pretty sick. That's good, because sweets have always been my downfall.

I've learned my willpower is a hell of a lot better than I always thought it was. If there are real, immediate consequences to doing something stupid, you don't do the stupid thing. Before the surgery, and a waiter asked, "Would you like the creme brulee?" I'd think -- "I really shouldn't -- I'm already the size of a horse...Oh, what the hell." Now I grimace and say, "No." 'Cause the momentary pleasure is not worth ninety minutes of being sick as a dog.

The weight loss has been phenomenal. I remember one week post-op, when I lost 20 pounds. Good God. Even after that, there were days when I'd lose a pound a day. I'm not kidding.

Now, recently, there was a month where I didn't lose a single pound. My grandmother was in the hospital, and I was having to stay with her to spell my poor mom every day for three weeks. My grandma has severe Alzheimer's, and half the time she doesn't know who I am. That's bad enough, but she'd shattered her arm -- for the third time since October -- and she kept trying to take off the bandages and get out of bed. The woman is 89, and if she fell, which was likely because of the drugs, she'd break a hip. So I spent hours at the hospital trying to keep her in the bed and in her cast. Not to mention trying to get her to eat, because she looked like the victim of a Nazi concentration camp.

All that was bad enough, but there was a while there she kept trying to attack the nursing staff and my mother and father. One time a nurse was trying to get a blood sample, and I saw my grandmother cranking up her foot trying to kick the woman in the back of the head. Good grief! I had to pounce on her to keep her from doing it, too.

This is the kind of high stress situation that drives morbidly obese people to eat like little pigs. I came about as close as it's possible for a gastric bypass patient to get. I even hit KFC one day, despite the fact that the thought of fried chicken makes me sick. And yes, I ended up nauseated and guilt-ridden. I won't be doing that again. It's just not worth it.

But Grandma is back in her nursing home recovering now. I've finished my latest novella, and made friends with Lean Cuisine. Those little 250 cal Lean Cuisines are now about the perfect size for me. Back in the day, I'd have to eat two of them.

I've lost four pounds in the last week. People compliment me all the time. My husband is beside himself with joy. He loves playing with my newly thin fingers and my collar bones and the shoulders he hasn't seen in years.

I've still got 66 pounds to lose, but I know I can do it. I also know the real challenge will come when the weight is finally off, and I have to adjust to maintaining. But I've learned important lessons, and I'm better equipped to deal with my eating addiction.

Gastric bypass is not magic. You still have to have to learn the self-control not to do stupid stuff, and sometimes it's not easy. But I've learned that every time I say no to something self-destructive, I get a little stronger. And that's not a bad lesson to learn.

Monday, February 12, 2007


It's been TOO long since my last blog, so I decided I should update you folks on what's going on.

I'm delighted to say I've finally adjusted to my new lifestyle. That's not to say it hasn't had its challenges. I've nicknamed myself the Duchess of Yerk, because every once in a while, my stomach stages a palace revolt.

One of those was around Christmas. My husband is a cop, and he took me to his department's annual Christmas party a couple of months ago. We sat with a bunch of Mike's friends from the bomb squad, who, being cops, were proving their skill with sick humor. (This poor, dumb 17-year-old kid had built three pipe bombs just for the hell of it, and one of them went off before he could get clear. Luckily, he survived, but his thumb didn't. One of the bomb squad found it in a light fixture. Since the kid was missing a chunk of his hand, there was nothing to reattach it to. The way cops deal with horror is by making sick jokes, so these guys got into a pun contest. "Hey, he gave me the FINGER!" I was laughing so hard, I forgot to watch how I ate. I ate too much, too fast, and realized I'd obstructed. So Mike and I had to leave.

On the way home, we had to pull over so I could yerk. There's something about standing in a ditch beside a patrol car tossing your salad that really puts things in perspective. I guess it serves me right for laughing at those horrible jokes.

So anyway, I am now down 81 pounds at this point, six months after my surgery. This weekend, I was invited to Philadelphia to speak to the Valley Forge chapter of Romance Writers of America. Now, flying in the past has always been a huge source of humiliation and pain, because regular seat-belts didn't fit. Last year, I had to ask the flight attendant on each plane for seat belt extenders. But this time, no extenders were needed. I felt comfortable on a plane for the first time in years! Oh, it was wonderful! And I was able to scramble up and down the ladders and walk through the airport without feeling as if I was going to pass out or have a heart attack.

There are some problems, of course. I have a really bad cold at the moment, but gastric bypass patients can't swallow pills, and anything asprin related is out. So finding a cold medication is a challenge. But I found I could swall Dayquil Liquid Gel pills without obstructing, so I was able to get through the flight. (Though for a while, I was worried I would yerk up the pills. My stomach is REALLY picky about large, hard things.)

Anyway, I can honestly say I'm glad I had the surgery. Yes, there are times I think longingly of the chocolate I can't eat, or the desserts everyone else is enjoying, or the drinks I can't have. But wearing a size 20 instead of a size 28 is a very nice consolation, and so is feeling so much more healthy.

I still have 60 or 70 pounds to go, and I'm not sure how long it's going to take to reach my goal. My weight loss has been slowing down. Ironically, as my body has gotten smaller, it hasn't needed as many calories, so it's not burning fat as fast. But I'm losing at a good, healthy pace -- about two or three pounds a week (There were days early on when I'd lose a pound a day). Hunger isn't a problem (though cravings do hit, and you have to control them. Luckily, because sugar gives me dumping syndrome, it's much easier to stay out of the cookies and candy than it once was.)

If you're morbidly obese, and there is a GOOD, experienced surgeon in your area who does gastric bypass surgery, you should give the surgery some thought. (I'm not talking about some quack who does them every once in a while. You need a guy who has done at least 100 Gastric Bypass surgeries and has a low rate of complications and mortality. Any time you operate on someone who is more than 100 pounds overweight, there are very serious risks.) God knows it's not cheap, though, and you may have to jump through hoops to get your insurance to pay for it, but I think it's worth the effort.

Oh, by the way, the Valley Forge chapter was GREAT to me! I had a ball talking to them. They're a fine group of ladies, and they're very friendly and welcoming.

Angela Knight