Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Talking Frankly About Sexual Violence and College Athletes--Extended Cut

Let’s Talk Frankly About Sexual Assault and College Athletics

Anyone who follows my personal blog knows that I’ve done a series of articles over the past few years regarding college athletics and the absolute indifference big money sports programs have toward allegations of rape or sexual assault. Yes, this is a difficult topic to discuss. And yes, there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to sexual assault, athletes, and the justice system. I’d imagine that quite a few people will get pretty darn mad after reading this column — either at me or the way the world works. But that’s okay by me. I’m not afraid of Twitter taunts if it brings us nearer to our ultimate goal and that’s to significantly address the sexual assault problem in this country. 

I knew there was one person whose insight I badly wanted to begin a conversation about rape and athletes. Brenda Tracy is an activist and sexual assault victim advocate who now travels the country meeting with college and high school programs to discuss this very issue with the players. Her story of being gang raped by members of the Oregon State football team in 1998 is hard to read, but I’d advise you to check it out. You may note some similarities between Brenda’s story and the stories of so many other people. Her input on this topic will be invaluable for everyone.

In recent years, it seems like every rape case you hear about any more deals with athletes as either the victims (Michigan State, USA gymnastics, Ohio State) or the perpetrators (Baylor, Minnesota, Florida State, Michigan State)and especially on the collegiate level. With big moneyed and storied programs like these having major conflagrations regarding sexual assault in the past few years, the time is long past when we, as a society, should have addressed this issue.

But in addition to these cases which have come to light, there was also the University of Tennessee case. These are the bare bones relevant facts of how the case unfurled:

In February of 2015, former UT football players AJ Johnson and Michael Williams were indicted for rape following a party the previous November during which some kind of sexual activity evidently occurred. Two days after the rape claim was filed with the Knoxville Police Department, Johnson and Williams were suspended from the team and never played another down of football for Tennessee. Almost four years passed before Johnson and Williams were brought to trial, where they were found not guilty of all charges by a jury comprised of seven women and four men. 

Now, three and a half years later in the “speedy” trial guaranteed to the defendants by the Constitution, Johnson and Williams have been acquitted. The jury deliberated for ninety minutes — minutes! — and came back with verdicts of not guilty on all counts when the defense didn’t call one single solitary witness to the stand. They didn’t need to. The defense told the court in closing arguments that the prosecution under Assistant District Attorney General Leslie Nassios had failed to prove the case against the former Tennessee football players. 

And they were right. The DA’s case was disastrous for everyone involved — alleged victims, alleged perpetrators, the District Attorney, and Nassios.

So stop and ask yourselves this: how is that possible? How in the name of Hades could the prosecution have proceeded with a fatally flawed case? And why would they go forward at all? 

The first knee-jerk answers I saw to this question over social media this weekend were pretty universal from within Vol Nation: the accusers lied. But that’s not necessarily so according to Brenda Tracy.
False reports make up 2–10% of reports. This also includes unfounded which just means it can’t be proven either way. making over 90% and probably 98% of all reports true. A common misconception that comes up when a not guilty verdict is handed down and/or the victims statements are inconsistent — people think this means the victim lied — which is absolutely untrue.
Research I’ve done independently corroborates Brenda’s assertion. In fact, the percentage of false sexual assault claims has landed very consistently between 2% and 10% since these records started to be kept in 1929 by the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report. Studies by major universities like Stanford, by advocacy groups like the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, and independent psychological and clinical research like the study conducted by Lisak, Gardinier, Nicksa, & Cote for Sage Journals: Violence Against Women in 2010, Recent studies have the number averaging right about 6%. And there’s much more to the story — and the numbers — than just that. 

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center tells us that one in five women and one in 16 men are sexually assaulted while in college. More than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report being assaulted, while 63.3% of men at one university who self-reported acts qualifying as rape or attempted rape admitted to committing repeat rapes.

Since someone on Twitter decided to challenge me on source materials, let me roll out a quick list of stats and links to my sources for you. 90% of campus sexual assaults are committed by perpetrators that the survivor knows.
84% of female survivors report being sexually assaulted during their first four semesters on campus. The majority of undetected college rapists are likely serial perpetrators, committing an average of 6 rapes each. 13% of women report being stalked during their time in college. 80% of survivors of stalking know the person who victimized them. 43% of dating college women report experiencing violent and abusive dating behaviors including physical, sexual, technology-facilitated, verbal or other forms of controlling abuse. More than 57% of college students who report experiencing dating violence report experiencing it while in college. 

Y’all have fun clicking.

And let’s be real here — these are older numbers. More recent numbers are even more disturbing as they highlight a progressively worsening trend. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reported in 2015 that more than 90% of sexual assault victims on college campuses do not report the assault.

NINETY PERCENT of victims DO NOT REPORT THEIR ASSAULT. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Law Enforcement Agency Report reported some reasons for this in 2015: Of those victims who have called the cops, 2 in 3 were afraid to call the police in the future. Only 1 in 5 victims actually felt safer after calling the police, and 1 in 3 victims felt less safe. Of victims who have called the cops, nearly half felt police discriminated against them. Of victims who have called the cops, 1 in 4 report being arrested or threatened with arrest.

And for the idiots who spent the weekend talking about “how many times alleged victims make false reports of sexual violence” ponder this False Allegations of Rape Study that provides analysis of ten years’ worth of reported rape cases at an American university for a moment:
Of the 136 cases of sexual assault 8 (5.9%) were coded as false reports, 61 (44.9%) did not proceed to any prosecution or disciplinary action, 48 (35.3%) were referred for prosecution or disciplinary action, and 19 (13.9%) contained insufficient information to be coded. It should be noted that in no case did the research team “override” the classification of a false report made by the police department. The eight cases that were described as false reports by the police investigators were also categorized that way by the coders.

So let’s dispel with a lot of these myths, shall we? As much as 90% of campus rapes are unreported by the victims. That number improves to around 60% in society at large. This isn’t an issue where only women are assaulted sexually, because men are being raped as well and the numbers of those assaults are growing fast. And even if you take the highest percentage of false allegations, at most you’re looking at 6%. Brenda Tracy is well aware of the spectrum of assaults beyond men raping women too:
Please note I’ve been speaking in terms of men and women, but let me be clear, Sexual violence does not discriminate. Anyone can be a victim. This is a human issue. These are crimes committed against humanity and the saddest part is its all preventable. Marginalized and vulnerable communities of people experience higher rates of assault.
After all this, I think we can all agree that the numbers not only don’t lie but are remarkably consistent. So now we need to decide logically if 94 legitimate rape victims should be ignored because of the 6 who lied about being assaulted?

Brenda Tracy nails this argument to the wall swiftly.
The take away from the research is to believe survivors. And let me add that false reports for rape are no higher than false reports for other crimes. People lie. We all know this, but we only care when it comes to sexual assault. If one person lied about getting robbed society would never say ‘now we can’t believe the other 99% of people who report being robbed because of that one report. 
That means that we, as part of the Tennessee community, need to determine why the DA’s office miscalculated a criminal case so badly that they dragged the proceedings on for almost four years? How could they have proceeded with these indictments for that long when they knew the alleged victims’ and witness testimony wasn’t going to match up with the allegations? 

Defense attorneys David Eldridge and Stephen Ross Johnson — in the face of the prosecution’s lack of forensic evidence, conflicting or changed testimony from the accuser and witnesses on the stand, and the fact that both accusers deleted their social media and texts and then ditched their cell phones within a day of each other a few weeks before Johnson and Williams were indicted — put forth the opinion that the prosecution of such a flawed case was the result of a conspiracy because the accused were Tennessee football players.

Last week, that seemed like hyperbole but today that’s kind of difficult to argue against, isn’t it?
But, perhaps we should argue with that conspiracy theory. I’m not a fan of conspiracy theories or flat earthers or tin foil hats anyway, so let’s do a little more shredding of this case. 

It was just a little over two years ago that the University of Tennessee settled the Title IX case alleging a “rape culture” for such things as the kinds of sound bytes used during game and the music played by the DJ. Because…you know…Lil Jon. That case included the two accusers in Johnson and Williams’s criminal case as plaintiffs. You can read the accusers’ allegations specifically in the Title IX lawsuit here, beginning on page 27.

What really struck me about Jane Doe IV’s statements included within the lawsuit at the time was a comment about “whose side they were on”, meaning the university. 

Side? Nothing could demonstrate the he said/she said nature of this case any more clearly than that statement. Now that comment seems really odd in the face of what Johnson and Williams endured and will always endure as the result of this case. 

The fact of the matter is that we will never know the full extent of what happened at the party, but we can be absolutely certain that what the women alleged in the Title IX lawsuit — for which they received significant financial remuneration from the university in 2016 — is not what they stated on the witness stand during the rape trial this week. And while the jury may not be aware of that fact, it evidently didn’t matter. The accusers destroyed the prosecution’s case all by themselves because what they’d originally alleged and what they admitted to under oath in court last week were two different things. Brenda Tracy offered this thought on the verdict:
If the Tennessee case is a legitimate case of a false report then the system worked and those men were exonerated. What more as a society can we ask for than for the system to work? Does that mean any one deserves to go through that? No. Of course not, but there is nothing perfect in this world. People lie and people hurt other people. That’s why we have systems in place to prevent innocent people from going to jail. The response to this case, if it is a true false report, should be ‘good, the system worked’ not ‘all victims lie and we should disbelieve all survivors’. If the system is failing then you fix it, you don’t punish all victims of rape because a small percentage of people lie. If innocent people are being jailed and prosecuted then you fix the system — you don’t ignore, shame, invalidate, and dismiss survivors of rape.
Bolding mine. 

In a society where allegations of sexual assault committed by athletes have become almost commonplace, what happened last week in Knoxville could be a massive blow to legitimate victims of rape and sexual assault. Now, whenever an athlete is accused of sexual misconduct, there’s a huge section of the athletic world that’s going to say, “She’s a liar, just like those women at Tennessee were” just like they used to say “she’s a liar, just like that woman with the Duke lacrosse team”.

And that’s not the case. 

See, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t accept that sexual assaults occurred at Baylor or Michigan State or Ohio State but fall back on the “she’s a liar” defense for players with teams you root for. The fact of the matter is that our society has an obligation to believe people who report being the victims of rape. For hundreds of years, the justice systems in this country and other nations have routinely used a ‘blame the victim’ defense strategy.

She/he was dressed provocatively. 
She/he was drunk. 
She/he wanted it. 
She/he is a slut. 
She/he enjoyed it. 

That legal strategy has only one real purpose: to keep real rapists out of jail. Instead of saying ‘I never touched her/him’ the perpetrator is saying ‘I never would have touched her if she hadn’t enticed me with her behavior. Yeah, I had sex with her but it was consensual because she is a slut.’
And it’s not like that ‘blame the victim’ mentality doesn’t go on anymore. It absolutely does, and Stanford swimmer Brock Turner’s case is a prime example. Turner found a girl passed out in a parking lot and — instead of calling 911 like a responsible citizen — decided a quickie was the right way to go. Regardless of whether you think he was guilty or not, he and his family (who coincidentally live where else but not-so-smart Ohio)launched a ‘blame the victim’ publicity and social media campaign in which they bemoaned the fact that Brock wouldn’t be able to eat steak on Fridays because of some stupid slut’s addiction to alcohol. 

Sexual outercourse? What in the heck is that? Apparently, it’s a form of sexual encounter that is comprised of “non-vaginal sex” or penetration of the vagina with anything but the penis. I guess in Turner’s world, non-consensual non-vaginal sex is somehow okay to do to a non-conscious person. Turner was presented as an all-American boy…an athlete whose father publicly reinforced the elitist entitlement Turner displayed with a letter on Facebook:
His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life.
Boo hoo. 

Although sexual assaults happen on a daily basis at every college and university in the country, the only cases we hear about are the ones that are centered around college athletes. I asked Brenda Tracy why that is.
There is nothing bigger than sports in this country. When sexual assault happens, we don’t hear about the chess club President. We hear about the football player and the point guard. The athletes and those stories make the news. The stories we see in sports shape the attitudes and beliefs we have about victims and perpetrators — and its an ugly one mainly because society has decided that all athletes are heroes and we can’t believe our heroes would disappoint us in this way. It’s also a huge inconvenience for the sports fan. They don’t want a rape victim ruining their game. And if we believe that the athlete committed this crime then we would be obligated to do something. We would need to demand change and accountability, but it’s easier to blame the victim and place the onus on them so that we don’t have to do anything — and this way we can get back to cheering for our team and our sports hero.
Brenda’s remark is harsh, yes, but it’s also accurate. When I first heard about the allegations against AJ Johnson and Michael Williams, I got that sick feeling in my stomach…that oh no, not UT! Dangnabbit,there’s got to be something wrong with this story because this is the last thing Tennessee needs…

I wasn’t thinking about the victims or the athletes. I wasn’t thinking about the lives that had just been irrevocably changed, for good or ill. I was thinking about how that accusation was going to impact the football season, and how other fan bases would be dogging us online, and that just when I thought UT had reversed an ideology that made me ashamed of the athletic department in general a couple of guys got their drink on and ruined everything…

…or how some chick made a bad decision and decided to ruin the lives of two great athletes out of spite or greed. 

Yes, I went there. And so did you. Most of us in this current conversation moved on from that gut check fairly quickly. For me, the gut check came within the first hour. I was 100% okay with the university’s response to the indictments. Once the allegations went into the criminal system, UT absolutely made the right decision to suspend both players immediately — a lesson Dan Mullen and the Florida Gators need to learn, by the way. 

But there’s a sizable proportion of the fan base that did not move past that first reaction. A ‘blame the victim’ ideology is the fastest and cruelest knee-jerk response to any allegation made against the young men who wear Tennessee uniforms and represent every single person with a love for UT.

How different the Turner case ended up from the Johnson and Williamson case. There were eyewitnesses, other men who intervened and prevented Turner from doing even worse then kept him on the scene until the cops got there; the victim’s testimony never wavered; the physical trauma of Turner’s attempts at ‘sexual outercourse’ was documented properly. Turner was convicted and served 90 steakless days in jail. Johnson and Williamson were acquitted, and lost four years of their lives. If the accusers in the UT rape case did misrepresent what happened initially, we’ll never know for certain if that was intentional. We do know that Turner’s victim did not lie. So, it is fair for Turner’s victim to be disbelieved just because the women that accused Johnson and Williams were not believed by a jury? 

Of course not. 

There are currently 310 open Title IX investigations ongoing at US universities. That’s indicative of an epidemic, which is a problem we absolutely must address. Part of the price we pay for the enforcement of Title IX and the protection of victims of sexual assault has to be belief. We have to agree to believe without question any rape or assault allegation that arises. We owe that to the victims of sexual assault. We know the majority of rape cases are never reported. Why? 
Because of what Brock Turner’s accuser has had to face, including a relentless assault by the accuser and his family on her character and reputation.

If you’re looking at someone to be mad at regarding what happened to AJ Johnson and Michael Williams, the culprits are easy to find. 

Look at the court system, that dragged this case out for four years without resolution. 

Look at the DA’s office, who went ahead and prosecuted a case in which the material witnesses, the accusers, couldn’t keep their testimony consistent. \

Look at the attorneys who handled the Title IX lawsuit, for making sure their clients got paid despite the damage those false allegations wreaked upon AJ Johnson, Michael Williams, their futures, their prospects, and their families. 

These are the people at fault. These are the people to blame. 

For those of us who’ve watched this case from afar for four years, we need to come to a realistic understanding of the issues surrounding big time athletics. We can neither afford to disbelieve assault accusers nor rush to judgment and condemn the accused without due process. We have to understand that the university’s actions in this case are absolutely what needed to happen as well. UT’s immediate suspension of the players is precisely what the university had to do under the circumstances. Once the DA indicated that the players were being indicted for a crime, Tennessee had no other choice. 

But we also much hold the people who really profited from this fiasco responsible for their actions. I think there’s definitely reason to look at repercussions for multiple parties and especially those in the DA’s office. 

I would have to wonder as well what legal ramifications there might be for the accusers, who said one thing under oath during legal depositions in the Title IX suit and an entirely different thing under oath on the witness stand during the trial. If the difference is that extreme — which upon first glance it appears to be to a layman like myself — I would think there are avenues through the civil courts for Johnson and Williams to seek some kind of remuneration. 

So should there be legal and criminal ramifications for people who bring false charges of rape, domestic violence, and assault be? Well, lying under oath is perjury, which in the state of Tennessee is a Class A misdemeanor. That carries a jail sentence of 11 months and 29 days maximum and a fine up to $2500.


That doesn’t seem right, does it? Not when set against four years of two young men’s lives, months of backlash against UT for the Title IX suit, tens of thousands of dollars used to prosecute the case, and two shares of the $2.48 millions UT shelled out to the Jane Does of the lawsuit. Sure, Johnson and Williams can file a civil suit against their accusers, but that’s probably not going to accomplish a lot. Not really. Perjury during a trial is rarely prosecuted, so there isn’t much of a chance that the legal system would step in. At the end of the day, four young adults walked away from the courtroom on Friday and were freed from the trauma of a four-year court case. 

But they’ll never be free of the lingering aftereffects. Because of the DA’s’ ineptitude, the accusers will be forever thought of as liars and the accused as having ‘gotten off’ on all charges brought against them but…

The stigma of having been accused of rape is inescapable.

This story is tragic on multiple levels, but it’s also a cautionary tale. Young athletes need to demonstrate strong decision-making skills before they initiate a sexual encounter with anyone. Here’s a big hint — a party with lots of alcohol is probably not the right place for that kind of fun. For poor judgment, at least, AJ and Michael have to own up to their own responsibility. That one night of “fun” ruined almost everything for them. Young women need to make good decisions as well. The same advice I just gave the athletes works for them too — don’t have sex with a guy you don’t know at a party because you’ve been drinking. Just don’t. Save everyone involved the grief that follows.

Brenda Tracy is a person who understands, probably better than anyone in my acquaintance, of how to deal with the conversation that all of us need to be involved in. She travels the country, speaking to athletes in high school and college about sexual assault and its ramifications. Her #SetTheExpectation campaign educates young men and women all over the country, including downloadable pledges for athletes to commit to upholding — setting the expectations for the teams in simple terms. Athletes sign the pledge, acknowledging that if they break any of the commitments against sexual violence, they will be dismissed from the team. And their coaches sign the pledge as well, committing themselves to dismissing any athlete, no matter who, from the team if they violate that pledge. #SetTheExpectation does exactly that, and binds athletes and coaches alike to a code of behavior. 

As for the rest of us, we need to continue this conversation. We need to expand it, to develop it, to wowrk together assertively to change the trend toward sexual violence in our society. We need to teach our kids to make better decisions, athletes and non-athletes alike. And we need to make sure that no one is afraid to report sexual violence against them to authorities. 

That's our responsibility to the generations that follow us. Best get started, folks, because this is a Herculean task.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Classics, Epics, and the Theater of Vengeance

A twelve book twelve months. 

Normal people don't do that to themselves, but I think we've already established that I am anything but normal. Nearly 1.5 million words and 4800 pages. When you get right down to it, that's a hell of a commitment--not only for a writer, but for the reader as well. When Theater of Vengeance is released on Friday, July 20, I will hit the exact middle of the Harlequinade's story. 

Obviously, Theater of Vengeance is the book where everything changes. 

I grew up on the classics, as in the real classics. While most of my teenaged peers were out getting into trouble or trying to stay out of it, I was at home reading and studying the classics. Homer's two ancient epics about the Trojan War, Iliad and Odyssey. Virgil's fan-fiction, The Aeneid. Ovid's Metamorphoses. Greek and Latin authors writing the mythology of their cultures that have survived for over two millennia.

The real classics. 

When I approach a story like Asphodel or Harlequinade, I'm creating new mythologies. Just like Virgil and Homer, I write those mythologies over the space of multiple books. Homer's epics had twenty-four books. Virgil's magnum opus had twelve. 

I didn't consciously set out to write twelve long novels about my Harlequin character, though. I wish I had in a way, so I could cross my legs and say complacently over a single malt, neat, that "I wanted to pay homage to Virgil by creating twelve separate books in my epic." But nope--that's not how it went down. 

The Harlequin is just one of those characters that won't shut the hell up. Despite the incontrovertible fact that the Harlequin is a medieval pantomime character who never once in the course of legit commedia dell'arte spoke a single word, still he won't quit talking. He won't shut up until the last word of book twelve, and even then there's a good chance he'll find more to say if (and that's a big if) he survives.

Someone asked me the other day how I would best describe myself as a writer. Oddly enough, I was originally stumped. As usual, the first thought that came to mind was something smartass. Can't escape the dominant parts of my personality so easily after all. And sure, there are lots of standard remarks I could make. A spec fic writer...a sci fi/fantasy/horror writer. The writer of books featuring strong female protagonists. An obsessed idiot who spends all her waking hours staring at a laptop screen while she tries to find ways to get just one more bloody death squeezed into a plot. But then, it occurred to me that in the end a writer cannot be defined. There's not one single description that any writer could arrive at for themselves. In the end, I'm no different. But I guess if I had to narrow it down to one summation, it'd be the following: 

I am a writer of modern epics featuring modern mythologies that reflect the changing culture and society I observe around me.

If there's one thing I learned from reading the classical epics though, it's that you can't maintain the status quo throughout the course of four or ten or twelve books. Your plot, like your characters, have to reach turning points during which their comfort and security have to be stripped away. A good story can't continue on the same smooth, unbroken track. A heroine's story has to pivot in places so that she can confront unexpected challenges and instant, serious consequences for her actions. 

Does it sound like I'm writing an apologia? 

In a way, I am. 

With Cat's story in the Harlequinade, it would have been only too easy to keep her progressing down the same road. By the time she reached the end of her journey, though, she would have devolved into a trope...a predictable badass urban fantasy character. For a lot of folks, both writers and readers, that's perfectly all right. Reading is a form of entertainment, after all. We read fantasies so we can escape from the mendacity of the real world into worlds that exist solely to give our imaginations scope to breathe. 

But I'm not fond of tropes. I want my characters' journeys to trod upon unbroken paths and through unexpected obstacles. In the Asphodel series, I made my heroine deal with physical disabilities before she reached the end of her road. Kind of hard to win a sword fight if you can't walk, right? With Cat, a different kind of strength is required. She's an empath, a mage who can sense and influence the emotions of others. The challenges she faces come on a wholly different level, and to provide her those challenges I...well, no need to sugar coat it. 

I screw her whole world up. Brutally. 

You see, even though the world Cat lives in is a fantasy, it's still life. We aren't challenged by what we expect. Challenges come from the unexpected, when in a single moment we confront the destruction of everything we hold dear or a choice where there isn't a good or right decision to make and you're only choosing between two bad options. That's how life works, whether it's on the battlefield at Troy or the underworld of Asphodel or in the dark world of magic and immortals in the Harlequinade or sitting here in my study, wondering why in the hell I'm up and blogging at seven in the morning after pulling an all-nighter. If you're reading any of my books, then I owe it to you to make sure that I don't spoon-feed you exactly what you expect to happen next. I can't take the easy way out because I know that to make a fantasy credible it has to feel like real life.

And real life never takes the easy way out. Never. That's not an author being arbitrarily cruel to her characters either. 

*evil grin*

You guys enjoy Theater of Vengeance. If you want to check out an excerpt, one's up on my website. Otherwise, see you on Friday~!

Friday, June 15, 2018

Theater of Desire Release Day, Beta Readers, and Series Secrets

Book Release Day! Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire is now available on Amazon. You can grab the ebook at…/ref=cm_sw_r_tw_dp_U_x_ZzbjBbQKJYBPF
and the paperback at You can find out more about the series at my BRAND SPANKING NEW website at

Theater of Desire is the book where everything starts to change. You know as well as I do that any twelve-book series can't have everything go on without new conflicts and challenges and alliances. One person in the world has an idea of what happens in later books--my beta reader, Marguerite Butler. I've edited her since the late 2000s, first at Aurora Regency and then at Musa. She's beta read almost all my books, and she's the only person I discuss future plot points and character arcs with. She sent me some memorable hate mail when I killed one of her favorite characters off in Asphodel, and I still torture her about that.

AND she has a fantastic blog that I'm addicted to at Cowtown Crime is a true crime blog and I'm addicted to it because in the other series I'm working on, I deal with a lot of criminal stuff and the way she writes about legitimate true crimes really helps me to see how to present my fictional ones. The blog doesn't read like a boring recitation of stats and facts. The blog reads like fiction. You should check it out. It's addictive.

At any rate...

She's the only person on the planet who knows what my ultimate goals were for this series. I'm experimenting with a character arc that's extremely difficult to make work--you know...just to see if I can pull it off--and whenever Marguerite gets riled up about something I'm planning to do to a character/characters, I know I'm on the right track.

She's been riled up a lot about Harlequinade.

But this time, I've done something different with poor Marguerite. She read the first phase of Harlequinade, but not the second or the third. She has sort of an idea what happens, but nowhere even close to knowing how things end up. I didn't give her the later books to read. She has to wait, just like everyone else, so she's stayed riled up.

I love riling her up. Gives me purpose.

Here's the thing. A relationship with a good beta reader provides an author with the feedback they need to push the boundaries. If a writer spews out formulaic stories where everything that happens in book B happened in book and will happen in Book C, a beta reader isn't challenged. They're happy because they're reading what has already worked for them before. But if you don't write formula books...if you experiment with storylines that are dangerous (ie--read: DIFFERENT) then your beta readers are challenged. They have to shift their points of view about you as an author and they never know what to expect. A good beta reader wants to be challenged. They want to be riled up. When a beta says something like, "Oh, but this was so different from *insert name of last book*. It's not what I was expecting." then you probably need a new beta reader. If your beta reader's feedback is always some variant of, "Oh, this was so good! I love it just as much as *insert name of last book*. I knew she'd pick option A over option B." then you probably need to re-evaluate what you're writing.

Challenge your readers. Don't hand them a book where they know how it's going to end when they open the book for the first time. Because if you challenge your readers, you're challenging yourself as a writer and that's exactly what you need to be doing. And remember, always, that a beta who says nothing but "This was so good. I loved it!" to every book you write isn't helping you. Betas are supposed to give you an honest critique of your work, both good and bad, and if they don't give you valid criticism then they're not fulfilling their purpose. Marguerite can love everything about the story or the characters or whatever, but she's not going to let one of my manuscripts slide without pointing out my writing tics (pet phrases or words) or plot issues. She knows that what I really need is the criticism. Her eyes are the first ones on the manuscript, and I rely upon her to give me an honest, valid critique. Because when she gives me an honest critique and then gets riled up about a plot point but still loves the story, I know I've done my job.

And so has she.

At any rate, phase two of the Harlequinade begins today with Theater of Desire, so it's a good time to warn everybody that this is the book where everything begins to change. It's also a good time to give you some new insights about the series and how it came to be.

So let me tell you a few secrets about Harlequinade. 

First off, yes--it's a legitimate twelve books in twelve months series (although there's a prequel that will come out in 2019 at some point). All twelve books clock in around 100,000 words. All twelve books were professionally edited (not by me) and designed (also not by me). All twelve books involve real magic:the world of the theater, and real fantasy magic: time travel, empathy, and a set of immortals who would do anything for ultimate power but are restricted from open warfare by the very strict rules of their game. If an immortal violates those rules, he is instantly obliterated by the ruthless magic of some unknown agency. The deeper into the series you go, the more magic there is.

Second, the Harlequinade was written in stages, which is only to be expected with a million and a half words. The first phase of the series is comprised of the first four books: Theater of Seduction, Theater of Deception, Theater of Cruelty, and Theater of War. The second phase begins with Theater of Desire, followed by Theater of Vengeance and Theater of Time. Phase three consists of the last four books: Theater of Spontaneity, Theater of Birth, Theater of Redemption, and Theater of Oblivion. And then the prequel, Theater of Power, stands on its own. 

Third, this series was shopped by my former agent for several years to traditional publishing houses. Every rejection started to sound the same after a while. I'll just give you the Cliff's Notes version: "I love this, love the writing, love the characters, love how different this is--BUT we don't know where to shelve it, so we're going to have to regretfully pass." I'm used to those kinds of rejections at this point. And I don't foresee writing anything that's going to meekly fall into the categories everyone expects. I like to write things that are different and that challenge the reader. So I doubt that ever changes.

And finally, I leave you with a tagline for the remainder of the series. Have fun trying to puzzle it out.

When I was trapped in the ruins of Desire, Time extended his hand and set me free.

Y'all have a great weekend. GO GET MY BOOKS!

Thursday, June 14, 2018

EXCERPT: Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire

Nota bene: If you haven't read and completed Harlequinade 4: Theater of War you REALLY DO NOT WANT to read this excerpt. This excerpt will spoil the crap out of the previous book. If you either HAVE finished book 4 or just don't give a darn about learning spoilers, then proceed and enjoy! 

Harlequinade 5: Theater of Desire to be released June 15, 2018~! You can learn more about the Harlequinade at my brand-spanking new website,!

Nothing could be more exciting for Catherine Brighton than having the company’s shows booked on London’s West End. Bringing the Carnival trilogy to England allows her to fulfill an ambition beyond any other. After defeating the Harlequin and destroying most of the window of Time, the strange world of magic has receded from her world.
But it doesn’t take long for her and her husband, Dominic, to discover new dangers. Her panic attacks are getting worse, and now the company has come to the notice of other immortals—many of whom want her for themselves. As the magic of the Carnival trilogy winds around them all, old enemies become allies. The Harlequin is no longer trying to take Catherine but seems to be working to protect her instead.
Can she overcome her distrust and learn to work with the Warden of Time? Or will another immortal break through his guard? In the Theater of Desire, everything is starting to change.



I resisted the urge to squeal like a teenage girl. The Royale Theater Troupe was going to play the West End. The day after we arrived in London, I stood across the street from the Dumas-Oxford Theatre and watched as our sets, costumes, and props were loaded in. Chris, our designer, had flown to the UK several months ago and supervised the construction of our new sets. I hadn’t even seen them yet. 

It’s funny, really. No one looking at the huge crates and packing boxes would ever guess the magic contained inside them. Right now, they looked like huge plywood boxes. In a few days, however, they would comprise the immense, fanciful sets for the Carnival trilogy, the story of when two young girls met and fell in love with two extraordinary young men. 

Our history, believe it or not. 

After we’d signed a contract with James Harrison, the undisputed magnate of the West End, we’d invested much of our liquid capital into the four shows we were performing in London. First, we’d do the trilogy in true repertory. The audience would buy three tickets for three consecutive nights to see the story in its entirety. Then, we’d bring Harlequin to the London stage. 

I was nervous about performing the trilogy again, and I’d made no bones about it. The trilogy was really a retribution our erstwhile enemy Phillip Lewis had created to punish Dominic and Alistair. After all, what could be crueler than forcing your captives to relive their heartbreak every night for two hundred and forty-one years? For two hundred and thirty-nine years, they’d only done the first show, Carnival. Three years ago, the trilogy had been born and performed in full for the first time. Once Phillip found me, he added the two sequel plays. 

After all, I was the culmination of the story. 

Everything that happened in Asylum and Sacrifice had set the stage for my entrance into the tragedy. I, Catherine Brighton, who my husband thought was the reincarnation of the original Odette de Chevigny in the court of Louis XV….Odette, his first wife. I didn’t like to remember Odette, and I didn’t want to channel her onstage anymore either. 

Unfortunately, it was starting to look as if I couldn’t channel her anyway. Although everyone else had been right back in the swing of things within a few days once we started reworking the trilogy, I’d hovered on the cusp of the power and never just dived right into it like I always had before. Those insidious shows changed us. They made Dominic more autocratic and Alistair more alluring. They made me anxious, even though now they shouldn’t. Phillip was gone; I’d obliterated his mind myself. Mary Houghton had been destroyed also. 

The dark council of mages in Medmenham had been obliterated by the Harlequin, my erstwhile enemy who had tormented me in some bizarre game and lost. He was probably sitting in his tacky throne-like chair, trying to figure out a way to repair the damage I’d done to his ceiling where every pane of glass was a moment of decision in time. 

I had a rather large shard of that glass, actually— the shard where Dominic’s soul had hovered on the brink of life and death. The shard I’d broken just a split-second before he was lost to me forever. But with that shard had come uncertainty, too. The panic attacks I’d thought were a thing of the past had returned with a vengeance and were far more potent than they’d once been. 

So now I was broken too, just like that shard of glass. 

Broken. Just like the Harlequin’s little dolls. 

I hadn’t mentioned that to Dominic yet. I watched as the stagehands wrestled a huge crate of flats out of the truck, sliding it carefully onto the loading dock. They had no idea that what they were handling was actual history. No one did, save the cast, and it wasn’t something we talked about. Not even among ourselves. 

“Getting nervous?” 

I looked up. Dominic was standing a few feet away, watching me with a small smile curving his lips. 

“I keep seeing zeroes and dollar signs on the wrong side of the decimal point,” I said lightly. “That and all the articles scoffing about an upstart amateur American troupe being stupid enough to try a true repertory series on the West End. Between the two, I’m petrified.” 

“The show will sell out for the entire run. Zeroes should be a positive thing.” 

“I know.” I looked up at him from under my lashes. “Just…concerned. I’ll be all right.” 

“Well, there’s nothing for you to do here, really,” he pointed out. “Shall we go? I have a call to make.” 

“A call?” I laughed. “Do people even talk that way anymore?” 

“I do. I’m meeting an antiquarian who has a set of Goethe I’m interested in.” 

“You want to go to a bookstore? On our first day in London? For Goethe?” 

“Of course not.” Dominic raised his hand and hailed a cab. “We’re going to his house. It won’t take long.” 

 “We need to go house hunting.” 

I sighed as he opened the door for me and slid into the waiting car. Dominic had point-blank refused to take a house or apartment without seeing it first. We’d had a fairly serious disagreement about that, but in the end he’d won with one word. 


“Look at this article,” he’d said, coming into my office with a magazine. “Apparently the entire theater district is infested with rats. How do you expect anyone in the company to move into a place sight unseen? It could be dripping with rats and then we’d be stuck in some rat trap for a year.” 

After that conversation, I’d insisted that no matter where we moved the cats were coming with us. 

Once we'd gotten pet passports, plus all their shots and microchips, we’d sedated Spawn and Demon and they’d flown with us to England. Even now, they were in their comfy crate, totally pissed off at me, at the hotel. And Dominic had won the living arrangements argument, insisting that when we got to London I would take charge of the business of the theater as usual while leaving the housing situation to him. 

That’s why we were all currently lodged in a sterile hotel chain. 

“Do you realize how impossible it will be to find lodgings for the entire cast and crew in metropolitan London?” I asked, warming to my theme. 

“Not impossible,” my husband replied as the cab pulled into traffic. 

“I don’t even know where to start. I don’t know enough about London to even begin the search.” 

“As I told you already, I’ll take care of everything. You have enough to worry about.” Dominic didn’t seem that concerned. But I handled the accounting for the company myself. If he knew how our capital had been deprived by this move to the UK, he might not have been so flippant. 

“Wherever we end up, it’s going to cost us a fortune.” I caught myself gnawing on my thumbnail, so I dropped my hand into my lap. “London is horrifically expensive. We should have stayed on Broadway a couple more years and built up the bank account first.” 

“Oh, it won’t cost that much. If you’re worried about the company’s finances, I’m more than willing to foot it a loan.” He smiled lazily. “The interest will be a pleasure to collect.” 


“Guilty as charged.” 

The taxi pulled up in front of a block of houses. We were in Mayfair, which seemed only appropriate considering why we were here. Only a wealthy person, like an antiquarian, was able to afford a house like these. The entire block was made up of a series of tall Georgian townhouses, their facades broken only by a few flower boxes and front doors with small stoops and Palladian columns. Dominic paid the driver then took my elbow as we went up the four steps of the stoop. 

To my surprise, Dominic opened the door and walked right in. Confused, I followed. 

“Seriously? Shouldn’t you have at least knocked?” 

The entrance hall was a long, narrow room with a gorgeous staircase winding both up and down. The whole room was open and light, and the terrace was clearly visible through the living room, dining room, and kitchen. Whoever this antiquarian was, he certainly had hired a fantastic interior designer. The walls were painted a cool gray above creamy wainscoting that seemed original to the house. The floors were polished to such a shine that the furniture was reflected in it, and while the furnishings were modern they didn’t clash with the feel of the centuries’ old building. 

“He said he’d be on the first floor and just to come up,” Dominic said. 

“We are on the first floor.” 

“Not in Britain. Here, this is the ground floor.” 

“That doesn’t make sense.” 

“Apparently it does to them. Shall we go upstairs?” 

Together, we climbed the staircase—which made me extremely jealous, I might add—and emerged into an immense drawing room. The door in the back wall alerted me there was another room behind this one, but this room took my breath away. I glanced at the comfortable but still elegant furniture, the tasteful art on the walls, that plush rug covering the wooden floor, the recessed fireplace, the two cats dozing on the sectional… 

I didn’t have to ask if this was our house. Spawn and Demon were curled up together in a multi-colored heap. 

“Dominic, how did you pull this off?” 

“I bought the property right after we signed with James,” he confessed. “Then I hired an interior designer, who oversaw the renovations. I am not as content as you are in apartments or lofts, and I wanted to make certain that you had your own home while we were here. The furnishings are a bit sparse, but I thought you’d enjoy shopping for your own. In the meantime, we’re moved in and that’s one less stress you have to worry about.” 

I ran my hand along the velvet plush settee facing the sectional, and a twist of guilt made me take a step back. “But what about the company? How can we put ourselves in a gorgeous house and leave them in hotels?” 

“Love, I don’t think you understand. I said I bought the property, not the house.” 

I wasn’t quite catching what he was trying to say. 

“We own all the houses except one on this side of the block,” he explained patiently. “They’ve all been renovated into apartments and furnished. In fact there actually are four apartments more than our American crew needs, so we have an option for additional income should it become necessary. That’s even with me setting aside an apartment for David and Christopher when they come, or family like Eleanor’s parents or Janet’s children or your father. This is my gift not just to you, but to them. If they ever decide to retire or to leave the company they each own their own flat in Mayfair. It’s a nest egg for all of them. As for you, I—” 

I stopped him with a kiss. He tightened his arms around me, sliding his fingers into my hair. I broke away, laughing, and he was laughing too. 

“Are you going to thank me properly?” 

“Of course I am, but that will have to be later.” 


He sounded so horrified that I laughed again. But his eyes were sparkling and his body relaxed. This was something I had yet to become accustomed to. Since I’d shattered the Harlequin’s glass ceiling that allowed him to travel through time, Dominic had slowly…gradually learned how to relax. If I woke up in the middle of the night, he was sleeping next to me and not sitting in a chair mounting a psychic guard so I could rest. The cares and burdens of over two centuries had fallen from his psyche, and he was healing as a result. 

That alone made everything we’d endured worth it. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Dumbass, Volume 1

So yeah... dumbass  me decided to take a week off social media. 

Funny how we always underestimate our addictions, isn't it? 

Here's why. Bear with me, this explanation goes in a million different directions.

First off, professionally. 

Lately, I've been catching myself paying more attention to my BREAKS from work (i.e. Twitter) than my actual work. You folks know I have a ridiculous, stupid, self-inflicted publication schedule this year and that's just under my own name. Not counting the pen names. Sixteen books just under my real name. 

That's Dumbass, Volume 0. 

Obviously, in order to get that many books out you've got to have discipline. Usually discipline's not an issue for me. I don't watch a lot of TV, I have no social life, and I'm far more entertained finishing off stories on my head/on paper than I am anything else. But now that I'm four books into my publication year, I'm starting to drag. Last night, I finished Book Eleven of Harlequinade and started Book Twelve which means I finally worked through the transition snag that was stalling me before the grand denouement. 

Also means I'm two books behind on my ridiculous, stupid, self-inflicted writing schedule. 

Discipline means not sitting around and waiting for a Muse to float into the room in a chariot pulled by rainbow glitter-barfing winged unicorns and bringing a writer inspiration. (Sorry, granddaughter #2--I just can't bring myself to like your favorite decorating staple.) To be a professional writer who turns out a lot of volume, you must have discipline. That's why I don't write while the TV is on, why I don't have my desk facing my butthead neighbors' yard, why I don't listen to modern music and use playlists of classical, preferably without lyrics to set the moods I need to write certain scenes. 

Now if you had just one perfect book in you--like Margaret Mitchell--and don't have to deal with being found on Amazon, then sure. Wait for the Muse. I'd rather see one outstanding work of fiction than yet another porn-disguised-as-romance series from Dougie Ze Tool. But if you're building a platform, like I am under my real name, you need volume. And if you're fundamentally incapable of writing a first draft under 120,000 words, like I am, in order to get that volume you have to have discipline. 

And discipline doesn't mix with Twitter. So a week off from social media will get me back on track. Some of you are thinking, "A week? You won't get much done in a week."

And quite a few of you are thinking, "Oh, she's going to whip out that first draft in seven days again just to piss me off."

We'll check in throughout the week to see who's right.

Second off, I'm allergic to stupid.

You think I'm kidding, but I'm not. I hear some voices on the other end of the phone when I answer it and literally break out in hives. Used to be that only happened if it was my mom, but over the past couple of years my stupid allergy has cruised way past anything an antihistamine can solve.

And there's so much stupidity online right now.

I avoid politics online for that reason. I've worked as a speechwriter, platform writer, and editor in politics for way too long to tolerate idiocy lightly. Probably ought to mention here that a background in collegiate debate means that I can come up with pros and cons for just about any candidate, any social issue, any platform. I *never* restricted myself to one party's candidates or one ideology. The same old, same old involved in party politics has never interested me at all. I'm only interested in what's different or unusual about each candidate, and I've managed to find that difference in every client whose work I've taken on--something to focus the voters on other than pachyderms and equine half-breeds.

But, the past few years politics has taken on a vitriolic sameness that nauseates me. There are no longer political ideologues who can absorb the best of both parties. Instead, there are only extremists, and their social media seems to be all about supporting "their" candidate or office-holder and running down the other guy.

Let's be honest: over the past decade, we haven't been blessed with outstanding elected government. More often than not, political discourse has devolved into opposing biases without any efforts made to understand the other point-of-view. That, in turn, has led to rampant racism, homophobia, misogyny, sizeism, ageism disguised as politics--and all that serves is a negative purpose. Far-right and far-left are about are far apart on the political spectrum as socialism and fascism--although one's considered left and the other right when you take a look at them they're basically the same damn thing.

I'm been called a snowflake for not supporting Donald Trump, a racist for not supporting Barack Obama, a sexist for not supporting Hillary Clinton. I had the last election blamed on me (and people like me who think for themselves) because in the United States anyone who doesn't vote for your candidate that loses the election "gave" the election to the enemy.

No, I didn't. Clinton and Trump both sucked. And as a result of that one campaign, look where we are now. Not all conservatives are racists...but racists are almost always conservative. The media has a liberal bias--because obviously any criticism of the president has to do with all the libtards who work for CNN. Freedom of speech means you can say anything you want without any consequences whatsoever, even though your racist tweets on Twitter are not a protected form of speech, Roseanne.

People don't understand the Constitution they quote chapter and verse, like the Bible.

Oh, and my personal favorite--new gun control laws mean I'm trying to take your second amendment right to own guns away.

Uh...nope. The second amendment was in specific response to British measures designed to suppress the colonists' rights. "Well-armed militia" refers to exactly that--militia. And seeing as those rights were guaranteed for Brown Besses and single-shot rifles, people can own as many of those as they want. That's fine. But if you're not capable of separating gun safety from gun ownership, then all you're doing is regurgitating the platform points designed by a special interest group. Don't come crying to me when your kid is the one who's shot in school...or does the shooting with your own legally obtained firearms that you weren't smart enough to store safely.

Let's be for real--the Third Amendment of the Constitution means that the government can't force you to house soldiers in your house and pay their expenses while they're there.

Doesn't mean I'm trying to take your guests away.

As with any almost three-century old law of the land, some of the measures are dated and no longer have any real impact upon our day to day lives. Applying laws designed for the technology of the eighteenth century to the technology of the twenty-first is ridiculous. But if it's not, I'll let the government know. How many soldiers can you afford to house/cook/clean for again? We can close all the military bases and balance the budget in a matter of weeks. Good job.


Third, and finally, social media is mental torture for someone who's in the midst of editing. Every typo makes my eyes bleed, every homonym error makes my ears bleed. I'm nowhere close to being OCD--as the state of my living room currently attests--but damn, people. do your friendly neighborhood editor a favor and learn to spell single-syllable words correctly at least. The first time I see you mess up they're/their/there, I assume it's a typo and overlook it.

The fifteenth time, I start to question the legitimacy of your education.

And no--I'm not talking about people who finished high school and went into careers that didn't involve higher education. I know truck drivers who spell perfectly in every Tweet, and high-priced executives, public servants, and educators who look like a passel of ridge-runnin' morons. The FOIA document dump at the University of Tennessee is a great example of that. There were members of the Board of Trustees--people who were making all the policy decisions for a major university--who wouldn't pass a second-grade spelling test despite their multiple degrees.

Are. You. Kidding. Me...

And lest anyone bring this up thinking I'm going to gloss over it, that goes doubly for writers and triply for editors. Everyone makes typos. I do thousand words or so. Might be a higher number if I didn't automatically proof everything I say online. I'll delete a typo off Twitter so fast I get nosebleeds.

But I see authors with book advertisements on Twitters with spelling errors. A couple of months ago, I ran into a book with a spelling error in the title. Sure, everyone makes mistakes but good God almighty, people, you're trying to convince people to read YOUR words but you're so careless or arrogant that you don't check your advertising for mistakes?

I had a typographical error in a quote for one of my book covers a few months ago. Teensy print, but what the heck--was my fault for not catching it. Unfortunately, my cover artist was out of town. Took MUCH longer than it should have to get an apostrophe moved to the right place. Not her fault.

Mine. For not double checking it.

So what do you think I did? Damn skippy--I set all my promotions back by two weeks, took down every post with that book cover on it, stopped mentioning the book altogether until she came home to fix one itty bitty piece of punctuation. I had nightmares over that apostrophe. Even now, I find a typo or glitch in one of my books and I cringe until I'm about to throw up.

My fault. I didn't pay attention to the proof, and I paid for it. Cost me significant money in the end, but I'd rather live with the expense than a typo on my book cover.

So just imagine the horror I feel on Twitter and Facebook every day. It's torture.

At any rate, Dumbass, Volume 1 is underway and we'll see how my social media-free week works. If nothing else, it'll get me back to blogging. But blog-time for the day is over.

Time to get back to work.

Monday, May 21, 2018

PBS Should Be Ashamed For Trying To "Improve" Classic Literature

I never thought I'd be in the position of criticizing PBS. 

I love PBS. I love Masterpiece Theater, and the way PBS keeps modern interest in the classics alive. The production values of PBS shows is amazing, and everything is done to the best of the production teams' abilities. To be honest, I don't think I've ever criticized any PBS show. 


Until today. 

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is one of my lifelong favorite books. As a matter of fact, I own early first editions of both Little Women and Good Wives, back when the story was divided into two separate books. So when I learned the PBS was going to do a production of the book, I was thrilled. I knew that what would result would be a glorious, beautiful film version of a story I know so well I can recite large sections of it. 

And then I watched it tonight.

For some ungodly reason, PBS decided to "improve" Little Women

Are you kidding me? You can't improve Little Women. There's nothing to improve. This is one of the great American classics, a story that has endured in public affection and interest for almost a century and a half. what in the hell is there to improve in the first place? 

What? Is the story of four sisters growing into adulthood during the tumultuous years of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath somehow not enough? Does the story suck somehow? If it does, then that suckitude was so subtle that neither me nor millions of readers who love this book and its characters never noticed? No one needs to make everything different when Mr. March falls ill in Washington and the girls are left on their own. 

There's no way that Meg would have left her sisters alone and gone to the Moffats and get drunk on champagne at a ball while her father is lying dangerously ill in a hospital in DC. 

There's no way that Amy would have been able to get the money for pickled limes while her mother's away nursing her father. 

There's no way that Jo would make the unilateral decision to remove Amy from her school while both her parents are occupied with Mr. March's illness. 

There's no way that Jo and Laurie would be kissing in the attic while Beth lies at death's door on the floor underneath. 

What in the hell are you people thinking? 

Let's be honest--we've all seen this. We've all wondered why Hollywood feels the need to "improve" the storylines of classic literature but the fact of the matter is simple for anyone outside a film production company to see. 

There's a reason why classic literature is regarded as classic and that's because there's nothing TO improve in those beloved stories. Nothing. They're classic because they're beloved just as they are. They don't need new creative over a century after they were written! What possible value does a modern screenwriter bring to a story that's part of the Americana that makes up the literature and mythology nurtured in a fledgling country desperately seeking to find its own identity in the words and stories of the people who lived during that era? 


So--shame on you, PBS. Shame! You've managed to ruin one of the best American classics ever written and for what? Pissing off people like me, who find a way to squeeze money out of their tight monthly budgets to keep you afloat. I've never been as disappointed in any PBS production as I am right now. Absolutely revolted. 

This PBS version of Little Women? Don't bother, folks. If you see this adored story butchered the way it's been in this production, you will also find yourself wanting to throw things at the TV. 

For shame.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Speak Out Against HB 2115, a Consolidated Power Grab for Control of UT System

Okay Vol Nation. If you want to help stop the controversial HB 2115 and prevent Governor Bill Haslam from reconstituting the UT Board of Trustees I'm going to make it easy for you. I'm going to set this up so you can email EVERY SINGLE MEMBER of the Tennessee House of Representatives at the same time. All right? 

First off, copy and paste the following into your TO block (your recipients) at the top of your email:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

It looks ridiculous and if you're like me, you probably thought, "Nah. No way you can send to that many people at the same time."

But, yes you can. I sent my email without a bit of trouble with this many subjects.

After you've set your email addresses for the representatives, on the subject line of your email put: Say No to HB 2115 

Then, write your email. Mine was a little long, but that's because I write epic fantasy. Yours can be as short or as long as you like. What important and you must state clearly is that these representatives answer to YOU. They were elected to represent the best interests of every citizen of the great state of Tennessee.

Or, if you want something quick and easy to copy/paste, I'll give you a few options.

Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
I am writing to encourage you to either vote against HB 2115 or to table discussion on the bill until the next legislative session. I strongly disapprove of any measure which allows Governor Haslam to wield more influence over the University of Tennessee than he and his family already do. This bill looks like a way for to consolidate power right before the hiring process begins to replace UT President Joe DiPietro. If this bill was drawn up by the Governor without any thought of personal gain, he could have no objection to putting this bill on the shelf until after this last year of his administration. 


Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
I wish to express my strong disapproval of HB 2115 and am writing to ask you to vote no against the bill or to propose the bill be delayed until the next legislative session. I feel there is no need to rush these changes through, and that the possible ramifications of this legislation need to be researched and analyzed thoroughly. That can't happen before July 1, 2018 as is now required by the amended bill. The way this bill has been introduced by Governor Bill Haslam concerns me as well. Considering the public feeling against the influence that the Haslam family already has over university affairs, this bill appears to me to be an attempt to once again solidify Haslam control over UT and that is unacceptable. I ask you in this election year to pay attention to the wishes of your constituency and say no to HB 2115


Dear Representatives of Tennessee,
Thursday, the House is set to vote on HB 2115, a bill which will reconstitute the UT Board of Trustees. I am opposed to this legislation and urge you to oppose it as well. I disagree that there's an immediate need to revamp the BoT and especially in the precipitous manner the legislation establishes. Last November, many of you stood with the citizens of Tennessee and the alumni and students of UT against a coaching hire we felt was unacceptable. We urge you to stand with us, your constituents, once more. In an election year, we feel it is important that you represent our wishes and not those of the Haslam administration. Vote against HB 2115 or vote that the legislation be tabled until after the end of Haslam's term. 


The matter is simple. You are an elected official, and 2018 is an election year. If you vote YES on HB 2115, citizens of Tennessee will vote NO to your campaign for re-election in NOvember. Only a NO vote or a vote to shelve HB2115 until the next legislative session is acceptable to me as a citizen of Tennessee.

After you write your email or choose one of these options, sign your name, your address, your telephone number, and your email address. Then hit send.

And you're done!

The only way to hopefully defeat this measure is for citizens of Tennessee to speak out. So take the two or three minutes it'll require to send this email so that it reaches every single representative in the State of Tennessee legislature. Make your voices heard.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Rocky Top ReVOLution Excerpt #1

Author's note: I'm doing something really different with this book. Obviously, there will be a lot of books released in the coming years by sports media guys who'll do an outstanding job of breaking down the sequence of events that resulted in the Rocky Top ReVOLution from a journalist's point of view. But to me, the big names of decision-makers or influencers aren't the real story embedded within the six day revolt that saw the UT fanbase came together with loal media, former players, alumni, boosters, students, and state officials to stop the hire of Greg Schiano as the new head football coach and the day that Coach Phillip Fulmer was hired as the athletic director. The real story is the fans' story, and that's what this book is about. So have a look at the foreword and the first chapter. Drop me a comment either here or on social media and let me know what you think. I'll be announcing the release date next week.Big shout out to Spencer Barnett for the cover design!  

Rocky Top Revolution


Where were you on November 26, 2017?

That’s a question people who love the University of Tennessee will probably be able to answer for the rest of their lives. Not because they were all in the same place physically, but because they were all in the same place mentally and emotionally.

November 26, 2017 was the day a fan base revolted against the hiring of a football coach. Six days later, the athletic director who’d tried to sneak that hire past everyone—fans, boosters, players, and alumni alike—was fired and left UT in an absolute shambles after the worst-conducted head football coach hiring search in the history of the NCAA.

On the same day, former Tennessee head football coach Phillip Fulmer was named as the athletic director for the foreseeable future. Six days later, he hired Alabama defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, one of the top assistants in the country, to the head coach position after a calm, methodical, and thorough evaluation process.

On the face of it, this is exactly what happened. The Cliff notes version.

But there’s so much more to the story than that.

The events of that day were\unprecedented in the world of big-name universities and big-money athletics. The people who loved Tennessee united in a remarkably short time—students, alumni, former players, local media, boosters, and just regular fans—and with their unity forced the university to change the ways decisions were made and influenced in the athletic department. The astonishing uproar, the Rocky Top ReVOLution, was thoroughly lambasted by national sports media. The protesters were called “trailer park Bubbas from Pidgeon (sp) Forge”, a “lynch mob” that was “completely ignorant” of what football was all about. That media narrative portrayed UT fans as ignorant, uneducated, and stupid as those famous sports personalities tried to force Ohio State Defensive Coordinator and former head coach of Rutgers University and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Greg Schiano down their throats as a great hire for UT.

But these events weren’t about a coaching hire. Not really. Hidden behind the rhetoric was a slew of sobering facts. A football coach whose association with a national scandal had painted him, fairly or unfairly, with the same brush. An athletic director, who was telling boosters one thing while working to bring Schiano through the back door. A mega booster, who was controlling the whole show and determined to foist Schiano upon Tennessee regardless of what anyone thought. A civil war was instigated among the top tier of millionaire donors to a university whose prestige in college football had declined since the glory days just two decades ago when Tennessee won the first BCS National Championship game.

The characters on the main stage are fascinating. A desperate athletic director who went AWOL in an attempt to save his job. A former Tennessee head coach, ousted unfairly and in humiliating fashion nine years before, returning to right the Volunteer ship. A vampire in the shadows, determined to suck more power over the university and their hiring practices in the athletic department. A suddenly vivid and blatant divide within the sports media, which demonstrated which journalist’s foot was in which camp.

And out front, vocal and angry and exasperated, were tens of thousands of UT fans who exploded in a spontaneous protest that shocked the sports world…and against the odds, won.

That’s where the real story is. The ones who were the real impetus behind an incredibly visible and public drive to take control away from the power brokers in the shadows and give it to the countless people who are the backbone of UT athletics aren’t mega boosters. They don’t have buildings named after them on campus, or spend tens of thousands of dollars annually for sky boxes in Neyland Stadium. Some are season ticket holders, some only get to a few games a year. Some don’t get to any. Few are wealthy, but they’re all rich with a shared passion for the University of Tennessee.

The fans.

I was part of that protest. This is the only place for an “I” in this story, which is so patently about so many different people. I was at home on that Sunday morning when everyone got blindsided by the news that Greg Schiano had been offered and accepted the Tennessee head football job. I bore witness to the exponential swelling of that “lynch  mob”. As a sports op ed contributor to the Orange and White Report, which covers UT athletics, I joined in the local media’s drive to get news of the protested hiring out. I was part of the “deplorable” social media mob that refused to accept the hire. I listened to live streams of local radio and TV broadcasts as people showed up on campus and gathered in front of the athletic department, chanting “Hell no Schiano!” with signs and bullhorns.
So I am a part of this story. A very small part that had to get a new phone the following week since I'd texted and retweeted the poor thing to death. 

But then, all Tennessee fans are a part of this story. Anyone who knows every word to Rocky Top can pick up this book, read the story, and immediately recognize the fact that it’s basically part of their biography. Their memoirs. Because every Tennessee fan knows that they, too, were part of the Rocky Top ReVOLution and so they, too, share in the victory.

Don’t let anyone fool you. There was no one person who began this protest, no shock jock leading the charge for truth and justice on a white horse. No one was more important than anyone else. What’s remarkable about the Rocky Top ReVOLution is that everyone was instantly unified, to the point where Tennessee government officials joined the “uneducated idiots” on Twitter to voice their displeasure with the Schiano hire. Even White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke out against the hire.

So the media narrative that the folks from the trailer park were mad because Schiano wasn’t a good football coach isn’t even remotely accurate. Those claims were part of an agenda that national sports media has maintained regarding the University of Tennessee and its fans for years. But what also happened as a result of that day was that people started to come to me with their stories of what was happening behind the scenes. As a result, I began to piece together a tale that didn’t match up at all with what the major sports networks and websites were saying.

I promised at the end of that tumultuous week that I would write the real story of what happened around the University of Tennessee. You may think this is a story about ten days, but it’s not.

This is the story of two decades in Knoxville, and the people who remained loyal to the Tennessee Volunteers no matter what was going on.

This is the story of an unprecedented event in sports, where the fans took back their program from the fat cats who were systemically destroying it from within.

This is the story of the Rocky Top ReVOLution and the people who made it happen…a blueprint for fan bases everywhere that face similar problems with their beloved school. A blueprint that every major university’s athletic department now dreads and fears because none of them want to see a fan movement take over their campus, their public relations, and their until-now unaffected hiring processes where the opinions of the little people hold no sway.

This is a story of humiliation and revenge, exile and vindication, fury and triumph. But ultimately, it is a story of the passion people have for the University of Tennessee.

This is the story of Volunteer Nation, and the way they put an end to the most tumultuous and humiliating era in the University of Tennessee's proud history, and no matter what anyone else may tell you this is the real story. This story shouldn't be told in just one voice, but in the voices of the real heroes of this modern-day revolution.

This is the story of the fans and their shared passion for the University of Tennessee.

Chapter One--Vol Nation

Being a Tennessee fan has never been easy. 

For the fans who grew up, like I did, learning about college football when Johnny Majors or Phillip Fulmer was the head coach, the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s were a constant roller coaster ride. Although UT was growing into a powerhouse program, the fan base was isolated...condescended to by the national sports media and all those people who knew everything about the game. 

Let's be honest: the national media never had much respect for the Vols. Only the Lady Vols under beloved and iconic basketball coach Pat Summitt was acknowledged by the media as a powerhouse team. What they failed to realize was that over in the football section on Rocky Top, things were starting to change. 

But for the fans? Not so much. 

Back in the days before social media, the fans' opinions didn't matter. There wasn't an avenue that a sprawling group of people could utilize to make those opinions known aside from talk radio on the local level. ESPN was a growing monster, and UT fans quickly learned to tune them out. 

Make no mistake: ESPN has never liked the University of Tennessee.

That all changed drastically when personal computers created a platform everyone could use. Suddenly, fans from all over the world and all walks of life could take about what they loved online. They could respond instantly to games...or the latest snide remark from some sports analyst who thought it was funny to broadcast the generalization of UT fans as uneducated, stupid, and incapable of understanding big money sports.During the last four or five years, the UT fan base has taken over social media, and hundreds of thousands of people came together under on unifying brand. When Lyle "Butch" Jones was hired to replace the woeful Derek Dooley as the head football coach, the Vol Nation platform was firmly entrenched in Tennessee culture. Jones had to learn to deal with this new aspect of his job and how best to utilize the immediacy of online interaction with the fans.

But coinciding with the beginning of the Butch Jones era as head coach for the football program at UT, a major power player arrived on the field.

Vol Twitter--Still Undefeated

Anyone who’s waded into the shark pool known as Vol Twitter quickly learns the value of social media in today’s society.

Social media is a dog eat dog world anyway, but when you add in the volatile emotions of college sports it can get downright scary. Vol Twitter is the most outrageous, aggressive, keen-edged fan base on social media. 


Vol Twitter quickly became very powerful. It drove public opinion about everything UT. Watching a game while on Vol Twitter was almost ridiculous because they miss nothing.


Every call is analyzed and argued. Every misstep is under the immediate glare of the fan base’s spotlight. Every snafu is dissected. Vol Twitter is so practiced at breaking down game film that some members can do it in real time. They immediately interact with local media, and the younger journalists who cover the UT beat became expert at working with and within Vol Twitter. This extraordinary relationship changed the way that Tennessee sports were reported, and turned journalists into friends. Or enemies, depending on the journalist. 

Vol Twitter was also very in tune with what’s going on with every sport on Rocky Top. And while UT fans congregated on other mediums, like Facebook, Vol Twitter became the online face of the fan base. Vol Twitter and Vol Facebook groups, like the immense Vol For Life group, also exemplified a major divide within Tennessee fans. The Facebook-connected fans were more forgiving of Jones's missteps initially; Vol Twitter, on the other hand, savaged the coach for them. 

As with any large group of people, there were spats and cliques within Vol Twitter that made for some very interesting off-season nights. But since the beginning of the 2016-2017 football season, Vol Twitter was fairly united on one thing they thoroughly disliked about Tennessee football.

Butch Jones

Before the 2017-18 football season, there was a strong sense that it was the last gasp chance for head football coach Butch Jones. In 2016, Tennessee fans had watched in horror as the most talented team to run through the T in twenty years had crashed and burned. Instead of the college football playoffs or a major bowl game, the Volunteers had gone 9-4 and subsequently played Nebraska in the Music City Bowl on December 30 while much of its roster watched from the sidelines or from home. For the second season in a row, a baffling rash of injuries had deep-sixed the season with more than twenty-five players out of commission by the end of October.

Now the Vols were facing a new football season, and the matriculation of talent had created a great deal of uncertainty about what the season ahead had in store. The Vols were picked to finish third in the East division at SEC Media Days, with most prognosticators predicting a seven or eight win season as the pinnacle of what UT could hope to accomplish.

The 2017-18 season was the fifth year of the Butch Jones era. Every player on the roster was one he’d recruited and coached exclusively while at UT. And while everyone was aware this was a rebuilding year, the success of the team would decide once and for all if Jones really was the coach Vols fans had been waiting for.

Butch Jones needed a legendary season.

He got one.

The first eight-loss season in school history, leaving Ohio State University as the only D1 program never to lose eight games in the same year. The first winless season in SEC play, going 0-8 with humiliating losses to Missouri, Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Florida along the way. A 41-0 pounding by Georgia, the worst loss in Neyland Stadium history.

No doubt about it. The season was legendary, but for all the wrong reasons. 

After that embarrassing Georgia loss on September 30, everyone knew that Jones would be gone. I, for one, expected him to be fired almost immediately. After all, Athletic Director John Currie obviously didn’t have a problem with firing coaches mid-season, considering that he was implicated up to his eyebrows in orchestrating the Fulmer dismissal nine years earlier. But what emerged from the UT athletic department was…nothing. 

For a month and a half, through a woeful October and half of a disastrous November, John Currie took no action, made no comment, and didn't seem to care that the Tennessee football program, the pride of the university for decades, was being utterly destroyed. For a month and a half, Currie smirked his way through a Volunteer nightmare, while Vol Nation boiled online, local sports media crucified Currie and UT for its inaction, and the rest of the college sports world turned UT into a laughing stock. 

Not until November 16, when Missouri massacred a woefully undermanned UT roster—with only fifty-five players available…a loss of thirty players from the team—50-17 while dropping 659 yards of total offense on the Vols, did John Currie finally take the step everyone knew was coming. During that month and a half of inaction, the Vol Twitter beast was seething, fans were blacking out their avatars--which made their timelines look like targets at a shooting range. And at last, frustration and rage brought all the scattered elements of the Tennessee fan base together. The groups on Twitter and Facebook, the people who called in to local and national radio shows, the local media, the alumni and students, and the former players were all in agreement that the status quo of Tennessee athletics was no longer acceptable.

And while all these elements were stewing together, a recipe for a fiasco was created. At the end of the day, the debacle of a John Currie-run coaching hire was inevitable. There wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell that concoction wouldn’t boil over.

The Rocky Top ReVOLution had begun.