Romantic Love

“Why do people prioritise romantic love,” I often see aromantic people ask, “as if all other forms of love are inferior?”

As if romantic love were ever a plain choice and not a sledgehammer of narcotics and stimulants triggered by arbitrary factors – or perhaps that is new relationship energy (NRE) and not the same as that true romantic love that can develop between life-long partners.

Or perhaps that is wrong again. Is the deep and abiding love between life-long partners based purely on affection and familiarity – attachment, if you will, and friendship – and nothing actually to do with romantic love?

Romantic love is such an intangible thing. At its best, it’s drowning in someone’s eyes, endorphins flooding the bloodstream; it’s holding on to someone and wanting never to let go; it’s finding everything about someone beautiful and fascinating; it’s about being willing to do absolutely anything, no matter how embarrassing or dangerous, just to get one smile from the beloved.

At the beginning, romantic love is powerful. The euphoria can last for hours, or days, or months, but as the years go by it diminishes to a mere echo. Instead of a conflagration, it is a flame. Tended well, fed regularly with chocolates and flowers and I love yous, it becomes a hearth fire, but these coded romantic gestures are not the conflagration that is yearned for.

When even sex is coded as romantic, then sexual desire is taken as proof of romantic love – and lack of sexual desire taken as proof that love is no longer.

Romantic love is irrational. It can’t be controlled. That’s why it’s called ‘falling in love’ – because it’s a loss of control. And because it can’t be controlled, what’s to stop the beloved falling for someone else?

If falling in love is like the discovery of sunshine after darkness what could be worse than having your beloved banish you once again to darkness?

No wonder romantic love is so possessive, and so fraught with insecurity and jealousy.

It isn’t love at all.

It’s fire.

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Alyth: Author on Fire

I started this blog on WordPress.com in November 2012, moving over from Goodreads, and decided to experiment with blog-based fiction. In a series of posts, I wrote about my friend Alyth, a beautiful and passionate girl who believes herself to be a witch, and her boyfriend to be a werewolf.

The narrator is myself, a university lecturer, and Alyth is a student whose older sister is a close friend of mine, and the blog posts are my accounts of our meetings. Her story, for the most part, is told to me by Alyth herself, so that I can only guess at whether there is any truth to it – and as a scientist I am disinclined to believe in the supernatural.

As the story developed, it turned dark in places, and erotic and even explicit in others, and what started as a slightly tongue-in-cheek story about a hot alpha werewolf boyfriend evolved into a story about lesbian vampires (go figure). Once I felt the story had come to an end, I turned the bulk of it into a novelette and published it on Amazon as Alyth: Witch on Fire – which, if nothing else, has a pretty hot cover.

Cover of Francis James Franklin's short story Alyth: Witch on Fire

Libraries are dangerous places – for a witch.

Young, free and far from home, Alyth has set out this year on a voyage of self-discovery. After cheating on her werewolf boyfriend with an incubus, she is driven into the arms of her lesbian best friend Tina. When Alyth goes in search of the vampire Carmilla one day, an enigmatic librarian called Lily shows her just how dangerous stories can be.

Erotic and explicit, Alyth’s misadventures have only just begun.

(You can buy it if you like, but the complete story is free on my blog.)

I’m talking about it today because I just noticed a review left recently. A one-star review – how delightful! (I’m happy to get any reviews so this really isn’t a complaint.) Here is the entire review:

When you have some unidentified man narrating and leaving out all the personal feelings, you get very poor erotica. I became turned off almost immediately. Unfortunately it just got worse.

It’s interesting how much this short review implies about reader expectations: that a narrator should be immersed in the action, rather than displaced from it; that a story should be shown, not told; even that personal feelings are essential. I dare say every good advice on storytelling agrees, and that Alyth: Witch on Fire fails each point.

But it was fun to write, and I will forever be fond of my friend Alyth.

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I Like It Hard – A publishing anniversary!

Cover of I Like It Hard by Francis James FranklinMy novelette, I Like It Hard, was published by Less Than Three Press (who are currently having a sale to celebrate Pride month) this day last year.

After her brother Dan loses in the final of the XXX-rated Reality TV show I Like It Hard, Helen Arnold finds new purpose in life: enter the show herself—and win.

But no amount of training or advice from Dan and his lovers can fully prepare her for naked interviews, two weeks in a porn-studio villa, and weeks of nerve- wracking live sex shows—all while dealing with the capricious nature of the judges, who wield absolute power over the show and its contestants.

Being both bisexual and aromantic, Helen is used to dealing with people who don’t like or approve of her—and she’s never been the type to back down when life gets hard.

Excerpt

“Oh,” my mother said when I told her the news, her neutral response spoken through lips twisted with unconcealed distaste. “Well done.” My father mumbled agreement. Clearly, both were still distressed that I was taking part in the competition at all, and despite their words, they were disappointed I hadn’t been kicked out.

Not that they had been one hundred percent behind Dan, but their complaints then had been more about his dragging them into the media spotlight. Which they were used to by now, really, so that wasn’t so much an issue. With me, it boiled down to my being a woman. My poor Mum. She had triumphed in her acceptance of Dan being gay, and had even at times shown a reluctant pride in seeing him on television, but I baffled her. In her mind, my bisexuality was a phase, my aromanticism was just a fancy way of saying I hadn’t met the right man, and my determination to follow in my brother’s footsteps was pure perversity to spite her.

“I don’t know why you feel you need to do this,” my mum said, not for the first time. I think I must have heard it at least once every week since I had started my training in earnest. “You’re such a smart girl. You should get yourself a normal job, find a nice young man, get married.” Thus proving that she never listened to a word I said.

Dan grinned at my scowl. “Yeah, Sis. You know what, we should post a video of you on YouTube, standing in front of a blackboard and writing fancy equations. Then you turn round, look at the camera, and say, ‘I like it hard!’”

I chuckled at this. “Do you think I could make a career in naked accountancy? ‘All figures exposed — except the real ones.’ How’s that for a slogan?”

Mum glared at both of us. “This isn’t a laughing matter! No one will ever take you seriously if you do this. And no man will ever love you. They’ll see you as a slut to be used and discarded.”

Yes, my mum called me a slut. While pretending not to, but still. Sighing, I looked at Dan. “Let’s go. This girl needs to train hard if she’s ever going to be as big a slut as you.”

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tea leaves stewing in bitterness

machine-gun police peppering the streets

why, this zephyr seeks revelation!
I skirt the issue

play catch as you like
an electron waves
goodbye

an ex to grind
beneath my heel

ex machina
both god and the devil
logically

tea leaves my thoughts astir

eggshells an easter mosaic

where do the gods turn
for solace in misfortune
a four leaf clover

molehills from mountains
the footprints of giants now
we will not endure

again I write words
that have been written before
but never like this

barb catches the i – a true barbi doll
(A guilty Pamela Anderson reference…)

lucifer perished
in pursuit of amaranth
falling from heaven

in grand tradition
my seventeenth syllable
is imagined

old monsters
stewing in bitterness
spent, and yet
how fragile the chains
that guard

waves of immigrants
washed on unwelcoming shores
we build walls of sand
on sand

easter monday
i walk on eggshells
past the church

voluptuous – imagination
I reflect well
on myself

bach’s chaconne
plays upon my guts
with violence

fearful
insect
zzz…
zap!

divinity of wine drunk at the altar

camelot
we’re still trying
to get home

listen, arthur
a less fantastic man
sings his perfection

pole position
up, down
and spinning

where has the day gone?
the sky has fallen
dark again

bias in the press
the rich pay to get richer
but at what cost?

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The Enchanted Forest: Epilogue

Their parting, at the edge of the forest, was wordless, both afraid to admit that this was the end, a parting of ways. Lisa kissed the tears from Kari’s cheeks and wrenched herself away, feeling she had left her heart behind and would never love again. Tears blurred her vision as she strode through the tall grass, and when the effort to not look back was too great, it was a relief to see the dark figure of the bard still watching from the trees.

There was no choice. She had to leave. Her princess was dying. Her brothers were in the hands of slavers. The Oracle had said that all would be well, but had not said who would make things well. “I am the hero here,” she muttered, “though I received my reward in advance.” A few precious hours with Kari. A happiness she had never known before, and would never know again.

The sun was well into the sky. Soon she would lose the beauty of the fairies’ gift. She had wanted to set off before she did, so that Kari’s last memory of her was as a woman, with a woman’s body. Already she had lost the gift of the fairies’ speech, and her hand ached with the memory of dragon fire – though the hand itself had healed, and its grip on her maidsilver sword was firm.

The sword sang in her thoughts whenever she held it. The fairies had made Lisa a scabbard for it, for which she was grateful, because its song filled her with unwary confidence and eagerness for battle. It made her wish she had the knight’s silver armour as well, to make her invincible – not that it had saved the knight himself in the end.

Kari had guided her well. The Bnekissi encampment was not far from where Lisa had emerged from the forest. Sword in hand, she charged in amongst the warriors with a yell. They leapt to their feet and grabbed their weapons, but she dispatched four to the afterworld before they had their wits about them, and made swift work of the rest. The Bnekissi had, perhaps, grown too used to ambushing their enemies with crossbows. And while she herself was unarmoured, and thus free of the weight and constriction of ring or plate, her opponents’ armour was little defence against the maidsilver’s fury.

Not that she escaped injury entirely. Crimson blossomed at her side where a blade had cut against her ribs. Lisa glanced at the sun, a little surprised that she hadn’t yet changed back – but not as surprised as her brothers when she released them, and several other captives, from their chains. “Who are you?” they demanded. “You look very much like our lost brother.”

“My name is Lisa,” she said, “and I am your lost sister returned to you. In the depths of the Carwe, the great forest, I met the Silver Queen. She gave me her last tear.” She showed them her necklace. “You must take this to the princess.” At last the words of the Oracle were clear to her. The old woman had told her everything she needed to know, though only now it made sense.

Her brothers looked at her in amazement, and dawning comprehension. “You are not returning with us?”

“No,” she said. “My heart belongs to the forest.”

Once she was sure that her brothers were well, and once her side had been bandaged properly, she bid farewell to them and gave them messages for their parents, of the sort she had only ever imagined in her wildest dreams.

She freed one last captive, a grey mare that greeted her with affection. “Come, Sal,” she said. “A forest of wonders awaits us.” Were it not for the pain in her ribs, they would have raced through the grass, all the way to the forest. Instead they endured a gentle pace, and by the time the Habnesk plain gave way to the trees of the Carwe, the silver birch here packed so closely together that she was almost forced to dismount, the sun was setting behind her.

For a while the sense troubled her that she was following a path laid out for her, much like the one she and Kari had followed their first night in the forest, but then the birch trees thinned out and she found herself amidst maples and walnuts, shot through with streaks of moonlight. A path ahead was lit by magical lanterns that floated mid-air, twinkling many different colours.

“Well, Sal,” she said, “this doesn’t feel like a trap, and if the forest wants us dead there’s not much we can do about it.” The grey mare snorted impatiently, and Lisa laughed. “Onward, then.”

Onward they went, climbing ever higher, the forest turning to oak and cherry, sounds of fairy song in the distance. Dismounting to cross a river, Lisa found herself in the arms of a gold-haired goddess. “I knew you’d come back for me,” the naiad said, and the temptation to drown in her beauty was nearly too much for her.

Lisa pushed her away. “I’m sorry,” she said, with utmost sincerity. “Not tonight.”

“Tomorrow, then?” the naiad called after her, and Lisa laughed at how impossible she was.

Onward they went, the song of the fairies leading them on, and suddenly the forest blazed with light about them, hundreds of fairies dancing and singing and celebrating. Acorn flew down and landed on Sal’s head, and cast a spell that made stars twinkle about Lisa’s head. “We knew you’d be back,” she said. “Follow me, Dragon Slayer!”

Lisa followed Acorn, and all the other fairies followed in grand procession, to a clearing on a hilltop where Kari and her mother stood waiting.

Kari stared at her in confusion. “They said you were back, but… The spell should have ended by now.” She turned to her mother. “I don’t understand. Only the tears of the Silver Queen can make fairy magic permanent.”

“That’s true, my love, but it wasn’t my tears she drank.”

Lisa understood at once, and knelt in front of Kari. “They were yours, Your Majesty.”

The confusion slowly eased from Kari’s expression, and with a rueful grin she dropped to her own knees. “Stay with me,” she whispered.

“Forever,” Lisa whispered back, and kissed her.

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The Enchanted Forest: 12. The Silver Queen

“Mama?”

She hadn’t changed at all, except for her hair that had once been black and straight but was now an effusion of silver curls. “Kari,” she said, and strode towards her.

Kari surrendered to her mother’s embrace, to the protective arms that had not held her for over twenty years. “Why?” she whispered. “Why did you never come back?”

“I’m sorry, my love,” she whispered back. “I’m so sorry. I tried. I really tried. But the forest wouldn’t let me go – just as it will never let you go, now that you are here.”

Kari pulled away and looked at her in confusion. A single tear rolled from her mother’s eye. Before it could fall from her cheek, Acorn swept down and captured the twinkling tear, binding it with silver thread and winding the ends into a delicate necklace. “Thank you, Acorn,” she said as the fairy tied it about her neck.

Kari nodded her understanding and acceptance. “You are the Silver Queen.”

“I am, and it has brought me great happiness – though I was almost mad with grief until the Oracle foretold your coming. I have waited for this day for so long.”

Her mother turned to Lisa and smiled warmly. “In slaying the dragon and the silver knight, you have earned the friendship of the forest. As long as my daughter loves you, you are free to go and come as you wish.”

Lisa glanced at Kari, clearly as startled as Kari herself by that declaration, before nodding respectfully. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”

“I know what your quest is, and for your friendship with my daughter I am willing to give you this.” She took the twinkling necklace from around her own neck and fastened it about Lisa’s. “The last tear I shall ever shed.”

“The last?”

Kari’s mother nodded, and turned back to her daughter. “I have so much to tell you – so much I wish to say – but it can wait until tomorrow. Look for me when your friend has gone.” She looked up and around, and spotted Acorn and the other fairies watching curiously from a low branch. “Come, my friends. You have fulfilled the promise you made me. There must be some way I can repay you.”

They flew down, laughing and singing as they circled about her. Somehow Kari understood their language, though it was strange to her. “Come with us,” they said, leading her into the forest. “We have so many new songs to sing.”

Kari was left alone with Lisa, whose deepening flush of embarrassment matched the one Kari could feel heating her own cheeks. “I was hoping you would come with me,” Lisa said quietly.

Kari shook her head. “I can’t. I belong to the forest now. Will you come back?”

“I don’t know.” They stood in silence for minute, not quite able to make eye contact. “Do you love me?” Lisa asked.

“I do.” That was one thing Kari was sure of. “We’ve known each other such a short time,” she said, “but I know that I’m going to miss you terribly.”

“But what about this?” Lisa demanded, suddenly angry and pointing at herself. “Could you love this?”

Not for the first time, Kari tried to imagine herself kissing Lisa, or even making love to her. As usual, it left her with very mixed feelings. “I don’t know.”

Lisa nodded, and looked at the apple. “Acorn gave me this. She said it would make my dreams come true.”

“Fairy magic is powerful, but it doesn’t last. Your dream wouldn’t last. You would have a few hours of happiness, at most a day.”

Lisa sighed heavily. “Can’t we have that at least? A few perfect hours together before I must go?”

Kari smiled. “I’d like that. I’d like to see your dream come true.”

Still Lisa hesitated. “I don’t know what this will do. Whether it will change me, or you, or both of us.”

Kari stepped closer and kissed her. “Let’s find out.”

Lisa positively glowed in response. “I love you, Kari,” she said, and bit into the apple.

The song of the fairy magic was deafening, and more like a choir than a soloist. The words of the song and their intent escaped Kari, however, and their effect, if any, was subtle. Not until Lisa was down to the core was the changing apparent. “Your hair is growing,” Kari said, running her fingers through the increasingly long curtain of fine, blonde hair.

“Not the only thing,” Lisa observed, her voice breaking like an adolescent boy’s. Her hands caressed her chest lightly, and Kari tugged her tunic and undershirt off to reveal a body that was still powerfully muscular, but now unquestionably feminine – with more than a suggestion of breasts, and very prominent nipples. Lisa’s face, similarly, softened at the edges; framed by the blonde hair that now fell past her shoulders, she was very pretty indeed.

“Wow,” Kari said. “Soon you’ll be making the naiads jealous.” Laughing at this, she tugged down Lisa’s trousers. “Let’s see how complete the change is.”

Lisa’s fingers explored the smoothness between her legs, even as the transformation continued. “I have dreamed of being this way,” she said, her voice now as feminine as the rest of her, and Kari was startled to see tears forming.

“You are cruel indeed to show me this,” Kari said teasingly, “and then deprive me of it.”

“Let us not talk of leaving.” Lisa pulled Kari tight against her and kissed her hungrily. “Why am I the only one who’s naked here?”

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The Enchanted Forest: 11. The Oracle

“Oracle!” they cried, flying ahead and whirling about the old woman.

She smiled as she greeted each by name: “Acorn. Ivy. Bluebell. Honeysuckle.” Her face was lined with great age, but there no sense of weakness in her slender frame. Though she held a staff, she did not lean on it, and she strode between the trees with a relaxed confidence and a steady pace, her brightly coloured dress fluttering about her.

“Tell us our futures!” the fairies cried over and over.

The Oracle smiled kindly at Lisa as she passed, and with a nod of her head beckoned her to follow. The huge, fist-sized eyeball at the top of her staff studied Lisa for a moment, then looked away.

“You will find love, of course,” she said. “All of you. Of one sort or another. Bluebell will have twins before the end of the year, and Honeysuckle’s heart will have been broken three times. Ivy will finally cast a spell that doesn’t go wrong, and Acorn…”

Acorn flew closer. “Yes?”

“You will make a dream come true.”

“How wonderful! And I know! I know!” She flew off into the trees and was quickly lost to sight. The others danced about the Oracle for a bit before apparently losing interest in her and flying up into the trees, leaving Lisa alone with the old woman.

Not once had her pace slackened. “Rika’s mother wrote that the Oracle’s Glare was a fixed point,” Lisa said, “but you don’t seem very fixed to me.”

“You would say that trees do not move,” the Oracle responded, “that rivers hold their course and mountains are eternal, but I see differently. My Glare, young lady, is not me but my destination.”

That, of course, was not what Lisa truly wished to ask. She had so many questions she feared she would judged impolite. “Tell me, Oracle, if you please, what happened to my brothers?”

“Captured by the same Bnekissi that nearly killed you. They are being taken to the slave auction.”

“No,” she whispered, her other questions seeming suddenly unimportant. She couldn’t afford to run around in the forest while her brothers were in dire peril. The urge to drop everything, to retrace her steps as best she could, to escape the forest…

To deny the reality of magic, and the possibility of a cure for her princess, and even the dream that there could be more than mere friendship between Rika and herself…

“Oracle, I’m sorry, I have so many questions. Where is Rika? Where is her mother? Where is the Silver Queen?”

“These are not questions that I can answer,” she said, “but I have always known that you would ask them.” They had come to the bank of a river, and the Oracle paused briefly to drink before turning to follow it. “By Midsummer your princess will be restored to full health, and your brothers will be celebrated heroes. Rejoice, Dragon Slayer!”

“Your words bring me hope, but give me no direction.”

Lisa halted in amazement as two women burst from the river. One crawled up out of the water like a drowned rat, but the other emerged like a radiant goddess, bright golden curls cascading about a face of divine beauty and eyes that fastened unwaveringly on Lisa. She was naked and unashamed of her perfection, and her lips when they pressed against Lisa’s were soft, warm and demanding, as hungry as Lisa’s for this divine intimacy.

She screeched as she was pulled by the hair, away out of Lisa’s grasp. “She’s mine,” the other woman said, and the goddess pouted as she withdrew, her passionate gaze never once leaving Lisa. “Snap out of it!” the other woman said, slapping Lisa’s cheek.

With difficulty, Lisa shifted her focus. “Rika?” Lisa’s chest tightened with panic. How had she been so obsessed with the blonde stranger that she hadn’t even recognised her friend? She felt her face burning with shame.

“Try not to look at her,” Rika said with obvious amusement. “She’s irresistible and will not take no for an answer.”

Even as she said this, the gold-haired beauty coiled her arms about Rika’s waist from behind. “You don’t have to fight over me,” she said. “I always say that two lovers are better than one.”

Rika laughed and twisted in her arms. “Exquisite temptress,” she said, and kissed her. “Begone!”

The goddess sighed theatrically and retreated, blowing a kiss to Lisa before diving into the river. Her departure was like when a cloud passes in front of the sun, the world suddenly colder but clearer.

Rika grinned at Lisa. “It’s impossible to be angry with her. She did bring me back to you.” She caught Lisa in a fierce embrace. “I missed you.”

Their reunion was interrupted by Acorn’s return. With one hand she held an apple by the stalk, freshly plucked by the look of it and ripe for eating. How the fairy managed to fly while carrying it, Lisa had no idea. “This apple is rich with fairy magic,” she said, presenting it reverently to Lisa. “It has the power to make dreams come true.”

Lisa accepted it with equal reverence. “You have been very kind to me, Acorn. I thank you.”

“It’s the least we could do for the Dragon Slayer.”

Acorn’s eyes widened suddenly at the sight of someone behind Lisa, and she squealed with excitement. “Your Majesty!”

Lisa turned to see a woman with skin as dark as night, and long, lustrous hair like a moonlit waterfall. “Hello, Acorn,” the stranger said with a smile, but she only had eyes for Rika.

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