Wednesday, October 30, 2013

PING: A post-paparazzi confessional

If you've been reading along with my Fierce trilogy that concludes in just 20 short days, you know that I take a direct aim at the gossip-mongering paparazzi faux news machine in the media through the fictional group, PING. (Photojournalist International News Group.) Since I write a lot about the nature of celebrities, there was no real way to avoid it, so I often make it work for my stories. It often drives the plot forward as an antagonistic force, which is basically the way that I see these so-called "news" outlets.

In America, "Hollywood" and all its inhabitants (i.e. celebrities) are the shiny, pretty things that draw interest much like royalty in other countries. The only thing we like more than watching them reach the stars is watching them fall back down to earth again, which I'm afraid says much more about what's wrong with us, rather than what's wrong with them.

Celebrity "news," as in who is dating whom, who is pregnant, who said what about whom, and the like are distractions from real problems and progress, as are any snarky "celebrity blogs" written for no other reason than to leech off the famous by tearing them gleefully to shreds. That's why you're likely to stop random Americans on the street and find many have absolutely NO clue who represents their district in Congress, but can name of all the Kardashian clan. More people vote for Reality TV talent shows than for the president of the United Effin States. This dumbing down of our nation is no accident. Hal Sparks and his band Zero 1 covered this succinctly in their hit "Animal."

The only thing you know is what I tell you
The only thing you buy is what I sell you
And you can't hear it if it isn't on my station
The doctor's afraid that you'll no longer be his patient

Make the poison sweet so you can swallow
I'm filling you with food that makes you hollow
And every story turns into a paper dragon
A million words but only one that you can hang on (hang on)

I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow - Animal
I lead you follow

And to tell you how voracious our appetite is for the monster of celebrity, we create "stars" out of fairly unremarkable people in the Reality TV spectrum, who haven't an iota of unique talent. They're generally pretty, provocative and drive our insatiable lust to tear down those who we perceive in stations of life higher than our own, including any unfortunate soul enjoying their 15 minutes of fame.

We have collectively decided in some psychotic way that we are entitled access to celebrities simply because we watched TV, bought a song on the Internet or paid for a movie ticket. (Hint: We aren't.)

But where there's a demand, there will always be a supply... and that's where these gossip-mongering, glorified peeping Toms come in.

In full disclosure, however, I have to confess that I was once part of this media machine. I worked for a "celebrity photographer," which walked a very thin line of "the paparazzi." The distinction came down to this: if you were invited and approved to attend an event where celebrities understood this kind of press was expected, you were part of the "press." If you were stalking and ambushing celebrities when they were just trying to live their lives, you're the paparazzi.

My boss wasn't the kind to hide in the bushes or ambush celebrities in the airport, but her colleagues definitely were. I attended more than one event, shocked and dismayed that these rude fucking assholes (who deserve every iota of that contempt) would hurl insults at celebrities just to get them to turn and face them so they could snap a shot. They didn't care if the pictures they got weren't smiling and happy, because certain publications had a market for EVERY photo you can imagine.

Rag mags who perpetuated celebrity gossip LONG before the age of TMZ would fax their very specific requests. They wanted "fat" pictures of females, or angry, shocked, surprised photos of those going through personal crises. And we would check our catalog to see if we had anything that fit the bill, because a photo placed is money earned. And we could sleep at night because these photos were taken with celebrity consent. If there was a bad photo among them, it was just their tough luck.

In this age of Instagram, most of us have our images scattered far and wide across several media platforms, but generally we can control how these photos are used. Even if your dickhead friends post those embarrassing Facebook photos for shits and giggles, tagging you for a joke, you can simply untag them and move on with your life.

Now imagine having little control past posing (or hiding) from a photo and having ZERO say in how they are used beyond that, even if it includes your small kids, and you'll understand why so many celebs beat the crap out of these guys.

My boss justified her participating in this speculation machine by saying these particular magazines didn't print gossip they hadn't somehow researched and knew to be true. So it was manipulated, but not necessarily inaccurate. I'm not completely sold that is true, especially since there are so many "well-known" secrets in the industry that never see the light of day. What drove the celebrity "news" then is what drives the celebrity "news" now: whatever will drive the advertising dollar. It doesn't have to be true, the conjecture and speculation just has to be titillating enough for you to click the link and drive traffic to their website.

I officially broke ties with places like TMZ over the way the "breaking news" of Michael Jackson's death was handled. Everyone wants to break the news first, but gossip-mongers don't need actual "facts" to print the "possibility" of a major news story. So for hours no one knew the truth, keeping everyone who might care about such a thing waiting for confirmation over the rumor - myself included. And the ironic part? It was nobody's goddamn business.

Michael Jackson was an icon with a legion of loyal fans, but NOT ONE OF US were entitled to hear about his death until HIS FAMILY decided it was time to announce it. If that were you or me, we'd have been livid that this "news" broke while we were still trying to process the loss of a loved one.

That was the day I realized I was feeding the monster. We were all ravenous animals chasing after the titillating tidbit of a shocking celebrity death, so much so that we actually legitimized TMZ and their selfish, greedy agenda to feed/feed/feed what we were willing to gobble until we choked on it.

After that, I avoided TMZ like the plague. The whole idea of what they do had become distasteful. I'll never forget that day in my office in 1998, when the news broke that Phil Hartman's wife had murdered him in the same house where their children slept, only to later shoot and kill herself in the family home. It was such a tragic ending or a seemingly decent man, but there was no time for those in the "industry" to mourn. Everyone scrambled to get photographers on the scene so they could get THE shot of the gurney wheeling Hartman's body from the scene.

I feel sick just thinking about it. Had I been in a much stronger emotional place, it would have driven me to find a new job. It was callous and opportunistic and heartless - basically the opposite of what I know as human decency. This wasn't just a photo of someone looking "fat" - this was a major tragedy. And for people in my industry, it was one more opportunity to make money. A LOT of money.

Talk about vultures.

Last year I went to the Dark Shadows premiere so that my son, who had drawn a photo of Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, might get his drawing signed by the person who had inspired him. Sadly I was reminded of the ravenous glut of celebrity hounds thanks to the autograph mongers (don't EVEN get me started,) who are just as rude and entitled as the paparazzi. But this is what happens when you exchange people for profit.

Writing about the secret lives of celebrities (my own, not real folks,) gave me the opportunity to exorcise some of that animosity and disgust. Sadly, it's part and parcel with fame, so much so that not a whole lot of people can empathize with the celebrity who "chose" to be in the limelight.

But just like dangerous stalkers in GROUPIE, the paparazzi driving so much of the conflict in FIERCE are depicted exactly as they should be: completely unnecessary complications people must survive in order to do that which they love. They're the bad guys, the antagonists, who feed into this idea that celebrities are public domain. If you're like my characters, who happen to live and love in that world, this is a GINORMOUS pain in the ass. Having any private life at all usually means you have to play the game to some degree, even if it's not validating their speculation with vehement denials that would only fuel the fire. Letting a rumor run its course until some other story comes along (and it will,) is very often a common line of defense, even when it means millions of people you don't know will judge and hate you as a result, which would jeopardize your very livelihood because you, essentially, are your brand.

If you can imagine living your life this way, and how much it would S U C K, then congratulations. You've grasped the larger idea of celebrity gossip and have elevated to a great mind. You're also ready to read how Jordi Hemphill navigates this tricky terrain when the rest of her world is falling apart.

EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT* of EPIC, the conclusion to my New Adult coming-of-age FIERCE trilogy. (*May contain spoilers for readers new to the series.)

After a shower and some breakfast, I killed time waiting for Maggie to come over for our exercise session by sending a text to Vanni. I needed his input on what to do about my birth mother. He was a fellow orphan like me, so he had been my closest confidante throughout the process I began when I came home from Iowa.

“I’m scared,” I confided in the text.

Though I knew how busy he was juggling the new season of Fierce, he was quick to reply. “You’re fearless,” he corrected.

I laughed. “You must have me confused with someone else.”

“I know you better than almost anyone,” he reminded. “I see you, Jordi. I always have. And I think you should do it. You’ve spent too long and lost so much to carve out this future for yourself. Don’t let regret stop you now.”

I was still torn with what to do by the time Maggie arrived in her sweats, carrying a towel in one hand and a DVD in the other. When she produced said DVD, I dissolved into hopeless laughter just reading the title. “Belly dancing? Are you serious, Mags?”

She waved away the rest of my giggles. “As a matter of fact, I am. Scoff if you want but there are a lot of health benefits to belly-dancing, and I thought it would be a fun way to strengthen your core, release your stress and relieve your back pain.” I glanced at all the women on the jacket of the DVD, all of whom combined probably didn’t weigh what I weighed. They were slight wisps of femininity, with a fluid grace that made me feel like a thundering hippo in comparison. “And look completely and utterly ridiculous,” I added.

Maggie took the DVD from my hand. “Who’s going to see but me?” she asked with a pointed look.

I shrugged. She was right. We moved the furniture from in front of our big screen TV and started our new workout. The beginning was fairly generic, warming up the body the way I’d become accustomed to warming up before a workout. Some of the moves involved the hips and pelvis more, and I tried not to think of how utterly ridiculous I must have looked. It wasn’t so much a dance, but a serious of exercises. Within a few minutes, I realized that it was, in fact, a low-impact workout which wasn’t too intimidating when slowed down and broken into simple steps. Once the tempo increased, I was able to pull off the movements in a way I never would have expected.

I guessed I had all the numbers on Fierce to thank for that.

Unlike the dance numbers on my reality show, however, the belly-dancing actually felt more organic. When I said as much to Maggie, she said, “It’s designed to work with the body rather than against it.”

After two more routines, we brought the workout to a close. Maggie left the DVD with me before she was off and running back to the studio. Out of curiosity, I cued up some additional workouts on the DVD, just so I could see what I was getting myself into. Since I was still feeling pretty good, I decided to walk through some of the different steps. It wasn’t nearly as intimidating as I might have feared. In fact, it was even kind of fun.

There was a smile on my face as I grabbed a glass of water flavored with cucumber and mint, opened up my computer and checked my social media.

As usual, letting the “real world” invade the sanctity of my hermit hole was my one-way ticket to a bad mood. I found that Eddie Nix was trending, along with Shelby Goddard. Curiosity got the better of me and I clicked on the link, which was a candid shot by PING to announce how chummy Eddie and Shelby were now that he’d moved to Tennessee to go to school. Miles O’ Rourke was also quick to post his opinion on how the cozy couple seemed to be comforting each other through their troubles, being run over by that big ol’ train of celebrity.

@MilesKnowsItAll Sources close to the couple say they’ve been inseparable since Eddie landed in TN.

A pic was posted alongside, showing Eddie escort Shelby toward a restaurant, her head down and his arm up to shield her.

@MilesKnowsItAll Looks like our dear Shelby finally found a true hero. #eddieandshelby

I felt bile rise in my throat as I stared at the photo. She looked dainty and small in his strong arms, much thinner even than the last time I saw her. She looked all of twelve, and it hurt my heart to realize that she had been thrown back into the shark tank that was her family home in Tennessee. Worse, a barracuda like Eddie was determined to hitch his wagon to her broken cart. Despite my common sense screaming at me, I decided to dig a little to find out exactly what was going on. It was even worse than I could have predicted. Eddie was taking political science classes, no doubt to cozy up to Coy Goddard, who had recently thrown his hat in the ring to run for state senate.

He was a lying, no-good, snake in the grass. And poor Shelby was the defenseless mouse about to be ingested. I opened up my desk drawer and withdrew the security DVD that would stop all his lies and his nefarious plan right in his tracks. I could send this to her for no other reason than to protect her from trusting the wrong person – again – but I knew it would come at a great cost. My tapes with Jace would be released far and wide, and I could only imagine how the media would receive that.

It made me think about my song and my stupid, silly attempts to belly dance. If that tape got out, I really would be a colossal joke for anyone out there who had an opinion.

And I already knew that just about everyone did.

If you haven't yet read the first two books of this highly-rated New Adult series, the bundle is now on sale at Amazon for only $3.99!!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Autographed books, $0.99 sales and low-price bundles, OH MY!!

So, two big things are happening in the next couple of months. One: I will celebrate another birthday in November, and Two: we're heading into my favorite part of the year: HOLIDAY SEASON. Yes, it's true. I'm a sap who decorates the tree right after Thanksgiving dinner, and will listen to every Christmas carol and watch every holiday movie while I decorate my home like the biggest Ginger elf you ever saw.

In honor of these two things, I've decided to make this completely outstanding year even more EPIC by sharing my favorite things with my favorite people... namely all of YOU. Think Oprah, but without all the free cars and billion-dollar budget. I don't have Oprah's money... few of us do. Which is why I want to make Christmas gift-giving a little merrier (and easier) for the rest of us.

You may not know this but I'm a bit of a thrift shopper who loves a bargain. This was the necessary byproduct of living from paycheck to paycheck as a wage slave most of my adult life. When you've worked an entire hour of manual labor for less than $4, you quickly learn the value of money. This is the main reason I've kept all my prices lower than many mainstream e-books. I know what it takes to live on a budget, while sparing a few dollars to feed some of my favorite obsessions like movies and books. So now, for Holiday Season 2013, I'm gonna pass that all down to all of you!!

I've knocked several titles down to $0.99 for a limited time throughout the shopping season. If you haven't read these before, this is your time to stock up OR gift your favorites to other people.

As you may notice, several genres are included in this sale, including a Middle Grade book (Comic Squad.) If you love what I do, you can pass it along to those who read outside the romance genre at a very reasonable cost!

Don't worry, I didn't leave out your favorites. Over at All Romance Ebooks, I'm holding a sale for the first books of the GROUPIE and FIERCE trilogies for $1.99. Dive into either series for a fraction of the cost!!

This is also the best time to buy bundled e-books. I've dropped the prices on all the best-sellers. I even brought back my three-for: three stand-alone Rubenesque romances in one economic volume!! Why buy one book for $4.99 when you can own three for $3.49?

AND if that isn't enough to spice up your gift list, I will be offering AUTOGRAPHED PAPERBACKS directly to YOU! Can't make it to a book signing? No problem! You can purchase my books directly through my website and I will send you books autographed personally to you! Best of all I'm matching the LOWEST INTERNET PRICE. So get those orders in quickly!

Are YOU ready for the holidays? I know I am!! Join me!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Something is coming. And it's going to be EPIC.

No, really. EPIC is releasing in time for your holiday season!

If you haven't yet read the first two books of this highly-rated New Adult series, the bundle is now on sale at Amazon for only $3.99!!

Though Barnes & Noble have yet to publish Unstoppable, they too are offering the economic bundle of both books so you can get caught up in time for the November release of Epic.

Here's the blurb for all of you who are dying to see what happens next!:

In book three of the Fierce Trilogy, "Epic" brings this Rubenesque coming-of-age series to a close, tying up the final crises keeping our intrepid but beleaguered reality couple, Jace and Jordi, from their fairytale ending.

Plus-sized singing sensation Jordi Hemphill is on the quest of a lifetime. Set adrift in the previous book, "Unstoppable," she must fill new, gaping holes in her family tree. It begins as an escape, but it ends up the ultimate confrontation of the demons that continue to haunt her from her abusive past. Worse, she still struggles through current scandals, splashed on every tabloid for the world to see. As a result, her career stagnates while Jace Riga is on a rocket to super-stardom, tearing the star-crossed lovers even further apart.

Though she has filed for divorce, she is still regrettably tied to Eddie, her weaselly husband in name only. He gleefully proceeds with his plan to woo and ultimately con Jordi's estranged friend, Shelby Goddard, to tap into her family's wealth. He moves to Tennessee to cozy up to her domineering father, Coy, who has just announced his run for the Senate. Together he and Eddie get closer and closer to a seat of power, while Shelby continues to languish in ill health and depression. Jordi debates on whether she can make the sacrifice needed to save her friend, but it could pound the final hammer into her career and end her own dreams of super-stardom for good.

It doesn't help that a fellow musician, Griffin Slade, drives her insecurities even further down the tubes. This unapologetic ladies man feeds into all of Jordi's insecurities as they are thrust together in project after project. His aloof demeanor only underscores all the rest of her esteem issues, all of which threaten to drive her back to her one true comfort: food.

Jace remains stubbornly steadfast, trying to save Jordi from her self-destructive behavior. But this final lesson Jordi has to learn alone. She can no longer depend on Jace, her family, or the world giving her the validation she has been denied for so long. She must dig deep, work hard, and let go - or else she'll lose everything she's fought so hard to achieve.

In the end, only Jordi can save Jordi. This is her journey of self-discovery, and at long last, self-acceptance.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A fun lil Q&A

Saw this on another blog and thought it'd be a fun little "get-to-know-you" exercise. Plus I've always wanted to do the Inside the Actor's Studio questions... without, you know... being an actor or anything.


What is your favorite word? Yes.

What is your least favorite word? No.

What turns you on? Power. A man who understands the "GRRR" factor is worth his weight in gold. If he has long hair and knows how to rock guyliner, even better.

What turns you off? Mean, ignorant people. And whiners.

What sound or noise do you love? The sound of a baby laughing.

Plus I think Steve Perry's voice is about the most perfect sound in the universe.

What sound or noise do you hate? Malicious laughter. People turn a great, joyful sound into a weapon to make someone else feel bad. Anyone who has ever gone to school has heard this at one point in their lives. It sucks. Plus the sound of anyone rubbing a balloon. **shudder**

What is your favorite curse word? Fuck. It's so multifunctional. What other word do you know of that can be used in any scenario and still pack a punch?

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Movie producer.

What profession would you not like to do? Mortician.

What are you reading right now? I don't read books while I'm ovaries deep in a WIP because I don't want to internalize anyone else's story/voice and risk it bleeding into my story. However, given I'm always ovaries deep in a WIP these days, I figured I have to loosen this rule to exclude books outside my genre. So I started Ready Player One.

What book(s) do you urge readers to read? The Blessing Stone by Barbara Wood. It's epic and beautiful. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, but only if you haven't been ruined by the movie. It was a good movie, but the book is better, especially if you don't know what's coming. I loved early Danielle Steel, particularly Full Circle and Family Album, because of the strong heroines and their blend of history and social commentary. Plus there's this new writer named Ginger Voight. Don't know if you've heard of her. I mean, I don't want to brag but I've read ALL of her books. We're quite close.

What inspires you? Everything. The world constantly amazes me.

What is your favorite indulgence? I have to pick one? Chocolate. No wait.. champagne. No, wait... sushi. Oh hell... we'll go with hugs. Lots and lots of hugs.

What is your favorite movie? I have to pick one? I'll give you my top 8:

What is your favorite piece of clothing? Underwear. Wouldn't leave home without it.

What is your favorite ice cream flavor? Butter or Praline pecan. Or Banana nut. Again... only one??

What is something you like to collect? Paychecks. And shot glasses.

What item must you have with you at all times? Any device that can get me to the Internet. It's my right arm.

What city could you get lost in for hours to explore? If reincarnation is a real thing, I could easily believe that I lived in NYC in the 1940s. It's just such a strong sense that I get, so much so I cried when I saw the skyline for the first time. One day I hope to live there. I hear if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

What is one thing about you that would surprise us? I'm allergic to lavender. Which sucks, because as a lover of purple I invariably get lavender gifts. :/ But the smell makes me nauseated. Contact with it makes me itch and the one time I had a drink infused with it nearly sent me to the hospital after one sip. So ... no lavender.