Taylor Swift Is More

As some of you know, before I started writing and editing full time, I spent 20 years as a music publicist. Over that time, I had the chance to work with hundreds of (usually) amazing artists, from newcomers to living legends to contemporary superstars. Often, people ask me which artist was my favorite to work with, and I never hesitate to tell them that it was Taylor Swift. The next question is usually a variation of, “Is she really as wonderful as she seems?” The answer is, “More.” I’ve had the good fortune to work with Taylor numerous times over the last decade, and I’d like to share two stories that illustrate her grace, class, empathy and intelligence.

On one occasion, Taylor was doing an interview with Matt Lauer in the gallery at a popular Nashville museum. Behind a stanchioned-off area, a large group of lucky museum visitors had gathered to watch. I knew from past experiences that Taylor usually spent time with fans at such events. However, on this date, she was on a very tight schedule and due to fly to London immediately after the interview. When Taylor finished with Matt, several members of her team hurried her to the elevator and out of the gallery, bypassing the fans. I remained with Matt and his crew, and remarked that I was surprised her companions  were able to get her to leave without a visit to those fans. No sooner had I uttered those words–a total of perhaps 60 seconds since Taylor’s departure–than the elevator doors opened again and Taylor stepped out. She immediately went over to the fans and spent time with them, tirelessly hugging and posing for selfies, before she departed. This tells you two things about Taylor: 1) While she may have a great management staff working with her, she makes the decisions; and 2) She never turns down a chance to make people happy, to make their day brighter. Honestly, I felt ebullient myself just watching how much joy she brought to those lucky museum visitors.

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Taylor performs at Bridgestone Arena on Sept. 25, 2015. (Photo: Tina Wright)

On another occasion, Taylor was again at the museum, this time for an interview with ABC. While the crew was setting up, I had the chance to hang out with her one-on-one. We mostly shared girl talk–comparing notes on fashion, among other things. She was extremely complimentary about my style and what I wore–this from someone who is one of the world’s best-dressed women. She complimented my PR work, hugged me, and laughed and chatted with me as though I were a member of her #squad instead of just a casual colleague. Though there were other industry and media folks around, not once did she look over my shoulder. When we were talking, she was wholly PRESENT, and made me feel like there was no place she’d rather be than with me. This is the gift of people who are truly charismatic: They don’t drone on and on about themselves, no matter how accomplished they are. Rather, they make everyone with whom they come into contact feel special. Taylor has this ability in spades.

In two decades in the music industry, I have had hundreds–maybe even thousands–of unforgettable experiences. But none of them mean more than the times I was able to work with Taylor, talk to Taylor, watch her perform or interact with her fans. She has a quick mind and an amazing array of talents, but it is her generous nature that I love most. So yes, she really is as wonderful as she seems. More.

One Pill, Two Pill, Red Pill, Blue Pill

While having lunch with a friend recently, the red pill phenomenon came up. My friend was not aware of this movement, which made me wonder how many others out there–men and women–are unaware of its existence. For those of you who have not heard of the red pill, here is its definition in a nutshell, courtesy of doctornerdlove.com: “The Red Pill is, for all intents and purposes, what happens when the pick-up community decides that it hates women. The name derives from the scene in The Matrix where Morpheus offers Neo the choice: he can take the red pill and wake up from the Matrix and live in the real world, or he can take the blue pill and forget ever knowing that the Matrix is an illusion.”

Dr. Nerdlove goes on to say, “Where the Wachowskis intended the scene to be a metaphor for the Buddha receiving enlightenment and no longer being bound by worldly concerns, to the Red Pill philosophy, it means ‘the recognition and awareness of the way that feminism, feminists and their white-knight enablers affect society.’ It’s a neat rhetorical trick–trying to claim both the identity of a persecuted minority (cisgendered, hetero men) while also proclaiming themselves inherently superior to the ‘blue-pillers’, white knights and ‘betas’ because they see the truth: that they’re supposed to treat women like shit.”

Aside from the obvious, what intrigues me about Red Pill followers is their goal of being alpha males, which is partially defined by them as men who have their pick of the hottest, youngest women as sexual partners, and obtain and keep them through a variety of (often emotionally abusive) means, including aloofness, preying on a woman’s insecurities, flirting openly with others, and much more. Red pill does throw a bone to self-improvement–men are encouraged to eat better, exercise, etc.–but at its heart, it’s a fear-based belief system, one that appeals to men who feel powerless or sexually disenfranchised because it appears to offer them a way to take control of their lives.

Now, as any regular romance reader knows, alpha males are a staple of the genre. And on the surface, the romance novel alpha hero shares some similarities with the red pill alpha: Both are sexually dominant and often controlling. However, at heart, the romance novel alpha is the antithesis of the red pill alpha: The romance novel alpha’s actions are ultimately selfless, and born of a desire to make his partner feel loved, protected and secure. The red piller’s motivations are just the opposite; he is guided by self-interest. I’ve read numerous red pill opinions that point to Fifty Shades of Grey (and its astronomical sales) as proof that women are irrational and want to be dominated and manipulated. Unfortunately, they are missing the point of the trilogy. The book’s BDSM elements may have been titillating and, along with the story’s Twilight origins, been an entry point for readers, but the reason its popularity has endured is because it is a love story. We readers may enjoy the fantasy of Christian’s penthouse and helicopter, but his money, dominance and bad-boy ways are not the main reasons why so many women fell in love with him. We fell in love with Christian because he loves Ana as we want to be loved; he wants to protect her and nurture her, and he allows her to do the same in return. My favorite scene in the trilogy is (spoiler alert) in Darker, when Christian submits to Ana. He makes himself vulnerable, and in so doing lets her in…lets her really see him and know him. That is what women want, and that is a true alpha male–someone who knows that the ability to be vulnerable, to love and be loved, is a strength, not a weakness.

There is a ton of info on the Internet about the red pill movement. Two great places to start if you want to learn more are the red pill blog therationalmale.com and the anti-misogyny blog wehuntedthemammoth.com.

It’s not my intent with this entry to bash red pillers; the movement has gained traction because so many men are frustrated and unhappy, and the red pill offers them a battle cry and an action plan (albeit a misguided one). I would just say that, yes, most women want equality. But we do not want to dominate or subsume men. The end result of this discord can only be that neither side will find the fulfillment it seeks.

 

 

I Am What I Read…And What I Read Is Me

We all know that ultimately a novel is a collaboration between author and reader. An author (usually) writes the book that he/she would want to read, and then each reader synthesizes the words, absorbing them through the filter of his or her own experiences, tastes, background and mores, with the end result being a unique reading experience. No two readers will ever experience a story in exactly the same way. Because of that, it always intrigues me to read negative reviews of a book I have loved, or vice versa. This was especially true today, when I read some of the low-rated reviews of Beth Kery’s Because You Are Mine, an erotic romance that I just finished and loved. Foremost among the criticisms was that it is in many ways a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. There are similarities…we have Ian, the dominant alpha billionaire hero with a troubled past and an affinity for BDSM who needs to punish and control Francesca, the beautiful, naturally submissive heroine. Ian, like Christian Grey, professes that he can offer sexual pleasure but not love or romance. Furthermore, a few of the scenes, set-ups and secondary characters in Because You Are Mine are deeply evocative of Fifty. While these similarities made a negative impression on some readers, for me it was just the opposite. (And we can’t forget: Fifty itself was the retelling of another tale.) Far from being a hindrance, I loved seeing how Kery would take these similarities and make the story her own, and she did not disappoint. The caliber of her writing, the crafting of her characters and her beautiful language make Because You Are Mine very compelling fiction–erotic writing at its finest. Writing in third person (my preference because it allows an author to tell a broader, richer story), Kery took me on an emotional journey with Ian and Francesca. One of my favorite elements of the novel is the fact that, years prior to their first meeting, Francesca, an artist, had seen Ian from the rear and been moved enough to capture his desolation on canvas:

“She’d painted him four years ago. That’s what he was telling her—that he knew she’d observed him walking the dark, lonely streets in the dead of the night while the rest of the world slumbered, warm and content in their beds. Francesca hadn’t realized the identity of her inspiration at the time, nor had he probably known he was being observed until he saw the painting, but there could be no doubt of it. Ian Noble was the cat who walked by himself. And he’d wanted her to know it.”

That’s a beautiful scene, one that speaks to the heart of the connection between these two characters. When it comes to erotic romance, Beth Kery is at the top of her game and the top of my list.

There were also a few things about this book that I loved on a personal note, e.g. when Ian takes Francesca to Paris, they stay at the Hotel George V. Apparently, it’s the hotel of choice for fictional billionaires. (I have it on good authority that Heaven in the Dark ‘s David Swift always stays there.)  Also, as the book is set largely in Chicago, the protagonists visited many of my favorite spots. Dinner at Trump’s hotel? Yes, thanks.

In summary, the person that I am–my tastes, my experiences–had a fulfilling journey with these characters. For me, Because You Are Mine was a work of beautiful, nuanced writing, and each turn of the page was time well-spent.

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A HEAVENly Casserole for Cheese and Artichoke Lovers

My novel, Heaven in the Dark, is set in Milan. When you read it–as hopefully you will when it comes out on Oct. 20–you’ll find that good food is important to, and relished by, the characters. It is Italy, after all! While most foods described in the book are authentic to the region, I did take advantage of a dinner party scene to have the characters enjoy one of my all-time favorite recipes, savory bread pudding with artichokes and two cheeses. I highly recommend going the extra mile and using Parmigiano Reggiano–there really is no substitute for its sublime flavor. I like to serve this rich, decadent casserole around the holidays, but cheese lovers will crave it all year. David Swift loves it! Here’s the recipe, courtesy of the Vegetarian Times:

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Buon Appetito!

Pre-ordering…all the cool kids are doing it.

Heaven in the Dark is now available for ebook pre-order at all major online book retailers! Sales links are below. The paperback version will be available exclusively at Amazon on the October 20 release date.

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Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/dp/B015HJ1AJS

Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/heaven-in-the-dark

Barnes and Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/heaven-in-the-dark-tina-wright/1122718454?ean=2940152748055

iBooks:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1044526311

Teaser Time

I can’t believe that in only six weeks, I will publish my debut novel, Heaven in the Dark. To that end, it’s high time for a teaser, so here is the beginning of chapter one:

Chapter One

​​Was it night or day? Allie wasn’t sure. The room where they were being held was windowless and small, scarcely large enough to accommodate the beat-up wooden table and four metal folding chairs centered under the harsh illumination of a single bare light bulb. She sat, rubbing her eyes and trying to lift the veil of grogginess that enveloped her, and looked across the table at the two other girls who shared her captivity. They were younger than she, perhaps 16 or 17. One was crying softly; the other petted her and spoke comforting words in Czech. So most likely they were also from Prague. But where were they now?

​She could hear a group of men talking outside the room. Fragments of sentences seeped through its thin plywood walls, the familiar voices of her captors mingling with others in a multitude of accents, European, Russian.

​“Proč? Proč?” one of the girls kept repeating. Why? Why? Allie was afraid that she knew the answer: human trafficking.

​Prague was no more dangerous than many other cities—and no less. A young woman with no family, as she was, or one from a family with few resources, could disappear without a trace, a living commodity to be brokered for sex or forced labor, and no one would have means or motivation to pursue her. She shivered at the thought of what future lay on the other side of the wall…prostitution, servitude, imprisonment…or worse. She’d attempted escape once, on this forced, multi-day journey, but her efforts were fruitless, gaining her only rougher handling and a sharp blow to the back of her head. Recalling this, Allie rubbed the bruised area instinctively. Now, it seemed that the end of the line was here.

​The door swung to and a man grabbed one of the girls by the arm, yanking her from her seat and pulling her toward the opening. Her friend stood and snatched the other arm, forming a human tug-of-war until a backhand to the latter girl’s face sent her reeling into a chair. The first girl was taken away as the door slammed. Allie moved around the table to sit next to the remaining girl, putting an arm around her shoulder. It was meager comfort, Allie knew.

​Some minutes passed before the man returned for the second girl. He reached for her and she clung to Allie, wailing and screaming epithets at him in Czech. He pried her hands from Allie’s waist and dragged her away, closing the door once more.

​Being left alone accelerated Allie’s fear. Her limbs felt like sandbags, weighing her to the chair, and her heart hammered erratically. Bile rose in her throat and she resisted the urge to vomit. Her hands and feet were numb, her vision blurry. She felt simultaneously detached from her body, and physically overwhelmed with terror. It wouldn’t be long now until it was her turn. The door opened.