What if we couldn’t see the stars…




2015 – Year of the Goat

Over the past few weeks I have opened up my home to a couple fifteen year old Chinese exchange students. My dream is to travel endlessly . . . until then, I will bring culture to us.

I love to witness culture shock.

Late one night, my family and the foreign exchange girls had come home from Mexican food (which they had never tried, but loved) and a movie. My kids piled out of our car and walked inside. When I turned around to press the button to close the garage door, I paused. There, the two girls stood in the driveway, gazing at the night sky. Their mouths hung open and their eyes were glassy with awe. I stood watching and then walked toward them. A tug pulled on my heart when I saw their full expressions. In that moment of stillness, I followed suit and looked up. A brilliant display of stars winked down at us, flirting. The girls began to smile more radiant than I had seen them yet—more than when I had taken them to the mall, or to the American candy isle, or to the high school to see how other kids their age acted.

“Ten years,” one said to me in a watery trance. “Haven’t seen stars in ten years. No moon in over five. Pollution very bad in Beijing.”

My heart ached.

Oh, to never see the stars or moon. Can you imagine?

I would feel lost.

It got me thinking . . .

I have hosted students from China a few times now. Each time, the girls marvel about our freedom of choice in our schooling and futures. Each girl had their futures picked for them by their parents. From the time they were young, they followed a strict school schedule to prepare them for their given professions.

I’ve asked each one of them, upon first meeting, what they plan to do in schooling, because it consumes their life. Banker, engineer, accountant, family business.

By the end of their stay, each one of them has opened up and told me the desires of their hearts, not their parents hearts, theirs. Author, fashion designer, architect. But to them, the dreams of those futures were veiled. Just like the stars.

Soon, my own children came out to see what was taking us so long. And then we all just stood there arm in arm, looking into the endless heavens. I pointed out constellations that they had never seen. It was so interesting to hear the different views of what lies beyond our reach. And what our different beliefs are. I don’t talk religion with them, although they have come to church with us, for research, mainly. That reminded me of another time when I was on a stinky 40 hour bus to Beijing many, many years ago, when the surrounding people were so curious about my American religion that I couldn’t share with them. But anyway, I still want to talk about the stars, so let’s go back go that . . . I take them for granted. I do. Sometimes they are veiled to me in the moments that I am looking down and it takes someone from a faraway place to remind me to be grateful for what I have and look up.

I am so grateful when these girls come to stay. I love Chinese history and culture and am even collaborating on a non-fiction book about their vast history. (Here is another post I wrote about my time in Beijing, China.) I mean no disrespect, but a part of me aches for them and their wishful dreams. Just like they ached to see the stars.

I am grateful to have the freedom to reach for the stars and to have them in my sights.


Happy Chinese New Year! I hope you reach for the stars.



Here’s when I do a bit of self-promotion… I have written a book called Broken Smiles. (clean romance.) Most of the setting is in China. Below are a few 5 star Amazon reviews, along with the purchase link:

– “Broken Smiles has many wonderful things going on in this novel. The beautiful descriptive settings in places like China and Morocco, sweep you away as if you were there. Not only do you “see” what it would look like there, but you also learn many things about the culture. You can clearly see the large amount of research that Author Tara Mayoros has done in the writing of this book.”

– “I loved how the book was set in China. I have never been there but it made me want to go. This book inspires you to be a better person and to always go after what you love and for the right reasons.”

– “*** Warning, this book will give you the travel bug after you read it, and you may feel like spontaneously buying a ticket to China!***”

Here’s a link to the book. 🙂

Branding… are we cattle or something???

“Step right up and let me assess your brand,” said the man in front of the velvet frosted counter. He tipped his top hat at me and then the magician at the eclectic carnival waved his magic wand.

I responded, “okay.” Because, well, who doesn’t want to know what in the world our brand is.


(image found on entertainment.inquirer.net)

His cape and bow tie, tinged with green silk and pressed to perfection, moved with grace as he bowed down in front of me. His gaze lingered at my shoes because, well, look how awesome they are.


Our eyes met again and when they did so, I noticed them glint behind his round spectacles.

“You obviously use your pen to wield great and terrible poetry,” he said. “You are a poet. Come hither, oh great one, and let me sell you a tale or two.”


None of this exchange actually happened, but my over active imagination saw this in full detail. I think the only real comparison was the perfectly coiffed mustache that splayed out from the corners of his smiling mouth. I do remember that fabulous mustache and maybe that is what sparked my imagination.

How this really played out was that I was at a fun fantasy and sci-fi writers conference for a bit this weekend. The guy behind the velvet covered table recruited people as they passed to enter into his competition for short stories and poetry anthologies that he published.

“You write poetry, don’t you?” he said as I walked by. I thought of the boxes and boxes in the basement full of discarded rhymes and riddles that I had marked as steaming piles of garbage that should never see the light of day.

I nodded my head. “Why yes, yes I do.” Okay, so maybe there were a few of them that deemed worthy of sunlight.

“Great, I knew it. I could just tell.”

I raised my eyebrows. A bit suspicious and a bit flattered.

“Well,” he said, handing me a flyer. “Let me tell you about this really cool opportunity…”


Earlier, like cattle, the crowd mooooved between classrooms where we could feed ourselves and munch on what other authors had to say. I sat through horror classes because I love to read and write horror. I sat through the genesis of mythology and folklore class because I use an over abundant display of that in my work in progress. Then there was the picture book class, the paranormal romance what-nots, and the marketing do-nots.

That conference experience didn’t really fill my brain with new, mind blowing insight, but I did learn some fun things and I went because, as an author, I believe we should remain teachable as I have shown in this post. But my experience with that conference did leave me wondering… what is my brand?


When I show up, do people envision me wearing armor because of my rally cry like in this post? If they do, I sure hope I have a sharp sword and majestic shield.

Or am I seen as a skier or a rock climber or a gardener?

But what about when it comes to writing? I know I am still a novice author. I probably should have thought about branding as a child and decided that I only wanted to write in one genre of fantasy, or horror, picture books, or romance. I should have, but didn’t. Now I am stuck here with a polyglot jar of genres.

I believe my brand will evolve as I evolve in my writing. As I publish more books, I will find my niche. Or maybe it will find me as I just continue to write for myself and not for others.


I suggest you just write. Don’t follow the crowd that often leaves you confused. I don’t think any of us know where we are going anyway. Maybe we are even following each other to the slaughter houses. So just write what is in you.

Often times the world doesn’t need your story at this point. You need your story.

I have a vision what I would like my brand to be. But then again, who didn’t dream of being the homecoming queen, or the captain of some sports team, or even the school newspaper photographer. Yes, I am referring to the cliques we find in high school. The more I go to these conferences, the more I see the similarities.

But people do classify, and readers often find an author they like because of the writing style. They become loyal because they know what to expect from you. In the meantime just write, write, write and your brand will show up… just like magic.


I love to hear from you. What is your brand? Do you have one? If so, how have you created your brand?

Happy writing –


“Fifty Shades of Grey”… My $.02 from an author’s perspective


Two movies are coming out this Valentine’s weekend. Which one will you see?

Years ago when the whole “Shades of Grey” trilogy hit the scene, I was deep into writing my clean romance novel Broken Smiles. In my world, those risqué books seemed to be everywhere and the topic on every woman’s tongue, both religious and not. My employees were gushing over it, their mothers were gushing over it, and most of my friends were googely eyed over the smokey, dark, hero. Curious, I read a synopsis and a couple teaser chapters. Whoa, this is what some of my sixteen and eighteen year old employees couldn’t stop talking about at work?

But… I’m a sucker for romance and some friends said it spiced up their love life, so I teetered on if I should read the books or not. I knew it went against standards in my church and I knew it would mark me with a scarlet “R” for Reader (of sinful things). But… I’m a curious, inquisitive creature and so on my day off, I went down to my local grocery store where I had seen them for months staring up at me saying, read me/don’t read me. Read me/no… don’t. That particular day I finally rolled my eyes, grabbed the first book, and shoved it between milk cartoons and bread and continued to shop for food for my family. I was a crazed author by night, a full time working mother by day, and a broken soul constantly. I needed a get-a-way, and I’d heard this book could give me the escape I needed.

Something happened to me in the produce department. A feeling washed over me. I’m not even going to beat around the bush — no, it wasn’t a feeling, it was the spirit. At that time years ago, I was in a dark, vulnerable place. I hadn’t felt the spirit for a very long time. I was going through a personal, gut wrenching faith crisis. Writing my book was my way of saving me and sorting out who I was. Consumed in the creation of my words. I stopped in my tracks as the burning heat coursed through me. I had felt it before, and recognized its source. A voice came powerfully to mind. “If you read that, it will taint your characters and go against everything in your novel that you have been trying to achieve.”

For a woman who was writing a clean romance, that slapped me across the face. The spirit knew how to reach me. It knew to not scold me, or make me feel guilty. It simply and with profound urgency continued to say, “you can do better. The world needs your books, not this. You need to be a light. Not a darkness.”


(image found on Uploaded by user)

I placed the book back down and consequently, the debate of reading it or not, dissolved and I didn’t think about it again. In fact I had gained more confidence behind my words and when publishers told me I needed to add more sex to sale my book to their publishing house, I would think back to that day in the grocery store and shake my head and with assured resolute say, no, I don’t. You are wrong for me.

Okay, so fast forward over three years or so. Through a lot of hard work and a bit of luck, two of my books were published, including Broken Smiles. Recently, there was a free book exchange I stumbled upon, and staring up at me again, was a free copy of Fifty Shades of Grey. I honestly hadn’t thought about reading it since that day in the grocery store, although I had heard about it everywhere on the news, in my book clubs, on radio and talk shows. Most of the comments were negative.

I stood there debating, then picked it up. I didn’t have a strong impression one way or another about reading them. In a way I felt numb. I wondered why that was, as I have been actively trying to rediscover my faith in God and sincerely trying to live with the spirit. I stood there a while. This is where some woman would have placed it back down, this is where some woman would have jumped for joy at their free find. But I stood there curious as to what caused this crazed phenomena in our culture – enough to produce a movie and multiple best seller lists. Finally, I shrugged my shoulders. Hey, it was free and my husband was taking the kids out of town, so it found its way home with me.

What. The. Hell. Is that romance these days? I am not that old in body and mind to be that out of touch. No wonder my book sales haven’t been what I would have liked. Seriously, women, tell me, is this what readers want? I know I’m years late on this debate and quite frankly, I’m glad that I am. I read it objectively, without the crazed fans, the whirlwind of promotion, and the opposite seething negativity. I couldn’t get through half of it, not because of the kinky bits or the atrocious writing, but my fierce feminine warrior wants to fight this. The strong, independent woman inside me hated the hero. Hero? I laugh — he is a romantic hero? I would love to slay him. He romanticizes sexual abuse and violence. I did plenty of eye rolls (oh no!) and laughed at parts that were not meant to be funny.

Needless to say, I will not read the rest of the trilogy and I actually threw away my copy because it is not even worth reading if it’s free. It’s different, reading this through the eyes of an author, I think. It shouldn’t be — we should all be able to see it for what it is.

I get why women love to read about romance. A woman I loved very much was a widow for many years. After her funeral, when we were going through her things, we found 13 boxes full of romance novels. We had no idea. I get it, I understand. But these books… these books are a whole other level.

I do not wish to offend my friends who are into these books. I am only stating my own experience. In preparation for this blog post, and to attain other opinions, I sent a draft of this post to some of my fellow author friends who I knew wrote erotica and all different levels of heat in romance novels. Some points were brought up that I did not know about and want to touch on here. Click on this link for studies about how the books promote unhealthy behaviors. Click on this link for the numbing effects that this kind of literature has on future generations.

It angers us authors who work so very hard to learn the craft and then this comes along, trumping us all. Here are some of my author friends thoughts: (I have kept them anonymous, although I have their permission.)

“…I wrote a XXX once on a dare, and I won’t do it again. The characters were shallow, the plot lacking in energy and it was boring to write. It did, however, give me a much-needed income boost at the time. My opposition with FSOG (Fifty Shades of Grey) has much more to do with an author who essentially stole the characters, wrote a very badly presented story that needed a LOT more editing, and her lack of knowledge on her subject could be dangerous to the health of those reading it if the try some of the things she portrays. She is an irresponsible author.”

“I write stories for other publishers that want heat in their story lines, too. It is part of the business. I read those three books to see what all the fuss was about when I could not ignore the phenomena any longer. It angers me. The writing is horrible and the storyline… well, a bit of one finally shows up in the third book. The rest of us struggle with our craft to improve it. These books come along and make millions. To each his/her own. I am not a censor. I am not jealous. Just frustrated all writers don’t take the care to do their craft to the best of their ability and give more thought to the readers who will be influenced by what they write.”

“It’s porn, and badly written porn at that. No, no, and no.”

“We struggle to give our readers a quality product and along comes sloppy writing that makes millions. I actually cringe for the dumbing of society to know how many people read it and thought the quality was great.”

“The snippits I have read of it were poor at best. I almost cried when I mentioned the poor writing to someone and she stated that she didn’t notice it and found the trio very engaging and a wonderful read *head desk*”

“I’m a bit more liberal in my reading and writing in that to me it’s just words and it’s about the craft and I either like something and will read it again (or similar stuff) or I hate it and will not. BUT. And this is the BIG BUT here. The author (by her own admission) did NO research into the BDSM culture. Thus, some of the things she portrayed are actually considered DANGEROUS. So on that level, people emulating the book can potentially hurt themselves. As to the writing, well, it’s horrific.”

“I know a lot of NYC authors who really would rather not write sex scenes. But I think the pendulum is going to swing back a bit quite soon.”

“I think it’s a little unfair to fault EL James, though. I mean, she just wrote the book. It could have died on Amazon like millions of other books, but it was something that hit a sweet spot (no pun intended) with the readers and became successful. She gave the world what it wanted at the moment. I think that with the internet generation, we want 2 things: 1) to see horrible stuff (American’s funniest Home videos comes to mind… laughing at other people’s pain) and 2) to be part of the crowd. The big draw to 50 Shades was people saying, “OMGOsh, have you read it?” And no one wanted to be left out so they read it and whether they liked it or not, they said they liked it (most of them) because they wanted to be ‘in’. To be honest, I never even thought about reading it until I kept reading Christian or other author sites talking about how bad it was– and THAT is what got me interested.”

The last comment, especially the last sentence, reminded me of conversations I’ve had over the years. It reminded me of the times that snippets of the books were read secretly between women in church services. I think back to the many hushed conversations I’ve had with guilt ridden women at book conferences, book and critique groups, and small gatherings.

I could have kept my admission about reading this awful book a secret, like so many others, but what good would that do? I’ve always read a massive amount of books — it’s another title on my long list. So be it. The problem is the effect it had on me afterward.

Do I regret reading it?

Yes. A part of me died. A hope in me, dimmed.

It leaves me to wonder what is next in the literary world. What is the next shock factor?

My friend, out of a joke, sent me a link to an article about a woman who writes erotica with  dinosaurs, bigfoots, and sea creatures. Haha! I laughed and laughed until I read the article. People, she makes $35,000 a month selling her books!!! What! That is not funny, that is depressing and sad. Her books have been pulled from Amazon and other online sites because of the questionable material. Oh great, every author knows that if you have a banned book, it is a guaranteed seller. How do these books find interest with people?

That, my friends, is the evolution past “Shades of Grey”. The next shock factor.

I’ve hesitated to hit the publish button on this blog post. Both because of the fear of being marked with a big red letter R (Reader of garbage) and because I don’t want to be thought of as a prude. That has been the story of my life though. I’ve always teetered in grey areas. Maybe it’s the critic within me and being the victim of criticism, that has made me not care what people think of me anymore. Or maybe it is the warrior woman which screams against my skin — that does not see grey when it comes to this topic. I want to slay this ugly, dirty, abusive monster. I have even created a new romance rating system and wish books would adhere to the ratings I have shown HERE.

I want to produce books that can go into epic battle with books that hide in the shadows, but somehow end up on grocery store shelves in plain sight. I am building an army of like minded authors. I have had at least a dozen people contact me after reading the pre-release of this article, encouraging me. There have also been people who have said my words encouraged them to also speak up. That makes me happy and more courageous.


Who’s with me! I yell in battle gear with sword pointed to the sky. I gaze across the battlefield to the opponent bound in straps and chains, with whips and leather as weapons. Upon my steely gaze they look helpless and weak, but don’t be fooled. It will be bloody, it will demand courage. I know this post has started the war for me. Fiery arrows will come early, followed by cannon fire, then hand to hand combat. But I stand on this pre-war hill with hope and determination that “The world needs our books, not theirs. Be a light. Not a darkness.”


(image found on fromwingsandthings.com)

I’d love your comments, even if they are different than mine and the other authors on this post. However, I do demand respect, as this is such a heated topic.

Thanks for stopping by –


Heat Ratings in Romance… should it be like the ratings in Rock Climbing??

I have been thinking about the different levels of heat in Romance novels lately.

There have been times that people told me I needed to add more heat into my novel Broken Smiles. There have also been times that critique partners told me I need to tone down the steam. Where is the balance? I decided to delve in and discover all of the levels of romance and what certain target audiences expect. This is mainly for my reference, and I am glad to share and hope that it will help some of you.

As I was thinking about what rating system I wanted to compare this to, I thought about rock climbing. I love rock climbing and had many friends growing up who were hard core climbers.


(photos of me, Tara, in Rock Canyon and Mystery Canyon)                                       


As romance novels become more and more mainstream, there needs to be a definite rating system. I don’t mean to throw the climbing community under the bus by referring to them, but the rating system they use is genius.

By going into detail and explaining each romance category in terms of 1-15a,b,c,d, the guessing game of heat level would be out in the open. There wouldn’t need to be a board of directors or big debates on what should go where when it comes to levels of sizzling heat in romance. We could simply look at it through the eyes of a child. And so that is what I have done…

*No Romance at all would be comparable to the rock climbing ratings of Class 1 to Class 4. These rock climbing ratings begins with:


Class 1 – Walking on an established trail

Children’s books, picture books


Class 2 – Hiking up a steep incline

Early Reader, Middle grade reader


Class 3 – Climbing up a steep hillside

Upper middle grade or Young Adult. Platonic interest between boy and girl.


Class 4 – bouldering or following a ledge. Sometimes a rope will be used for help.

Young Adult mild swearing or love interest. Internal emotions, but no follow through.


***The tricky bit is when we get to Class 5 in climbing. This is when ropes are used and technical rock climbing begins. Past Class 5, the climbs begin to become subdivided into categories.***



Class 5.0-5.4- climbing up a ramp or steep incline with good holds.

Super Sweet Romance – An innocent look, an internal feeling by one or more of the characters. No swearing.


Class 5.5-5.7 – steeper, more vertical. Still good holds and easily protected.

Sweet Romance – Maybe a brief touch or a steamy look. A walk around a garden alone (in historical fiction) Realistic sexual tension.


Class 5.8 – Vertical climbing on small holds

Mild Romance – Hand holding, a quick hug. Internal thoughts and feelings of love or lust.


Class 5.9 – Rocks might be slightly overhung, or smaller hand holds. With practice, beginner climbers can climb with confidence

Clean Romance – A brief kiss. A warm hug. More internal thoughts and feelings described in detail.

***Get clipped in, because it starts to get more intense!***


(My good friend Emily Ernst “rockin'” American Fork Canyon.

She told me this was about a 5.11a – I don’t believe her 🙂 )


Class 5.10 – This is where it becomes more intense. A beginner rock climber does not feel comfortable in this range unless they go often or have natural talent. The classifications break down even more into a,b,c,d.

Spicy Romance – a) A more intense kiss, closed bedroom scenes, b) maybe some swearing. c) If lovers do make love, it is implied and not graphically depicted. Much is left to the readers imagination. d) The focus is still on the emotions rather than the body parts.


Class 5.11 a,b,c,d – Steep and difficult routes with powerful and technical moves. Above average skill.

Steamy Romance –  a) Open door bedroom scenes, some nudity. b) We get heated feelings from the characters, but not in graphic detail. c) Maybe one or two mild love scenes in the novel and they tend to be longer scenes. d) Infidelity.


Class 5.12 a,b,c,d – Overhanging climbs. Requires delicate footwork on thin holds or long climbs requiring a great deal of balance. Expert level.

Hot Romance – a) Nudity and intimacy in detail. Authors start to use funny words to describe the intimate parts. b) Internal thought and dialogue are meant to make you feel that you are the one experiencing the sensations. c) The focus throughout the book are sexual feelings and desires. d) More description, but nothing wild or kinky.


Class 5.13 a,b,c,d – Very difficult climbs. Elite athletes.

Erotica – a) Hard core. b) Explicit language and bedroom scenes. There probably isn’t much of a story line at this point. c) The focus is mainly on sex. It probably takes a very gifted author to have a storyline beyond sex. But this is a Billion dollar industry, so there is a demand. I don’t think people read this genre for literary purposes!


Class 5.14 a,b,c,d – These climbs are among the hardest in the world and very few can even attempt them.

Graphic Erotica, a) Extremely explicit scenes and language. b) BDSM, c) rape, all explained in full detail with all of the feelings described. May include what others consider kinky. This is unlike rock climbing in that this genre is becoming mainstream. It is front and center in grocery stores and gas stations. Movies are being made.

***Often I have seen personally where girls have gone from reading Class 5.0-5.4 to Class 5.14 with no preparation or maturity in between. Imagine the years, the hours, and the training a climber dedicates to this level of skill. You can’t stick a beginner on an over hanging ledge and say “climb.” Nor should you. They would fall, they could die. Why then, is there no rating system to prepare or caution early readers?***


Class 5.15 – Very few people can climb on this level. I think Spiderman skills are needed.

Beyond Romance and Erotica- Think of the worst or most graphic thing you can think of, combine them all, and this would be there.


(My awesome sister Traci Stewart rock climbing on Moon Hill in China.

Climbs range from a 5.10b-5.14a)



In Rock Climbing, when new harder climbs are found, a new number is made. It is impossible to imagine someone being able to find and climb a 5.16. Just as it is impossible to imagine what will be acceptable and written in the literary world. This rating system leaves it open to both. Incomprehensible, but possible.

The thing I have found is that romance in novels can be very subjective. Everyone has different lines they will or will not cross. I have found this as I have been exposed to the romance writing community. There is a definite line that I will not cross in my writing and what I feel comfortable reading. The frustrating part comes when you don’t know what to expect when you pick up a book and then you invest in a story line and it takes you to a place you are frustrated or become uncomfortable with. Much in the same way that a cliff face might look climbable from below, but once you get half way up, you realize you are stuck.

Rock Climbers, I love you! You are genius (and hot!) May us romance writers use or borrow or steal your rating system??

Thanks for “hanging” with me and happy writing –