How fast can you read?

Here’s a cool online test to show you.

Apparently I read just under 300 words per minute, which is 19% faster than the average adult…but slower than the average 11th grader? I’m not sure how that works. It would take me around 33 hours to read War and Peace.

Take the test and let us know your score.

ereader test
Source: Staples eReader Department

What happens when science meets love?

Romance writers spend a lot of time trying to come up with new and interesting ways to describe what a person feels when they experience love.

It turns out that scientists are also finding intriguing ways of showing what happens when we love someone.

This wonderful video shows a light-hearted competition between six people who are put into an MRI machine and told to think about love. Whoever’s brain lights up the strongest and longest wins.

It’s a simple premise, but what comes out of it is more than a visual depiction of our brains’ reactions to various chemicals or memories. Do yourself a favor – take 15 minutes out of your day to listen to the “contestants” talk about their experiences of love and what it means.

From a 75-year-old man who spends the time reflecting on his wife of 50-something years, to a young man whose heart has been broken, to a 10-year-old boy who thinks about his new baby cousin, it’s a beautiful and life-affirming statement on how varied love can be.

Did you watch it? Did the winners surprise you? If you were taking part in the experiment, who would you think about?

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Dublin’s best museum: a must-visit for writers and readers

Back in March, I was lucky enough to spend a weekend with my husband’s Irish cousins in Dublin.

For my husband, his dad, and his cousin, it was a big rugby weekend. The men in my family are big Ireland rugby supporters (I can’t bring myself to tell them the hero in my novel First Aid for a Broken Heart plays for England), and that weekend Ireland smashed Scotland.

But tickets are expensive, so I watched the match on TV with my mum-in-law and cousin’s wife. You get much better close-ups of players getting their shorts ripped off that way.

Chester Beatty LibraryAnyway…the day of the match, my mum-in-law and I had a girl-date. As a belated birthday treat for me, she took me to the Chester Beatty Library, and I’ve been urging people to go ever since.

Here’s the story:

Chester Beatty was a New Yorker, born in 1875. He studied mining and started his career shoveling rock in mines before going on to become an engineer and then consultant.

But Chester’s main passion was collecting. As you’d imagine, he started off with minerals as a kid, but as an adult he branched out into European and Persian manuscripts.

Continue reading “Dublin’s best museum: a must-visit for writers and readers”

Five things romance writers should know about vaginas

If there’s one thing you’d think romance writers – who tend to be women writing for women – know about, it’s the workings of their own bodies.

After all, some of us write fairly explicit sex scenes, right?

Read My LipsThis week, though, I was surprised to discover how ignorant I was as I read the delightfully informative Read My Lips: A Complete Guide to the Vagina and Vulva by Debby Herbenick, PhD, and Vanessa Schick, PhD.

This book, which will be released on November 14, should be required reading for everyone – women and men. It expels myths, builds confidence, and contains vital health information that would surprise many women.

And there are craft projects! I don’t want to reveal any spoilers, so let’s just say I know what I’ll be dressing as next Halloween.

Luckily, Debby and Vanessa are giving away a copy of Read My Lips right here! (Details at the end of the post.)

For those of you who don’t write romance, please don’t feel you need to click away. Vulva knowledge is good for everyone – whether you carry one around all day or love someone who does.

First, a brief word on terminology. Vulva is used here to describe the genital region that can be seen from the outside (clitoris, lips, vaginal opening, etc). Vagina means the passage between the outside world and the uterus. But I won’t be anal about people using “vagina” to refer to the whole shebang.

Ready to learn about the mighty vulva?

1. All vulvas are different.

This might sound obvious, and maybe it is to people who have seen lots of naked women.

Then again, depending on where you encountered those women you might be forgiven for thinking most vulvas look the same. Apparently, most of the women pictured naked in magazines and online have a certain look: hairless or nearly hairless, with small inner labia that are fairly uniform in color.

But women are much more diverse. The authors say:

Painted lady statueThe inner labia (labia minora) are perhaps the most diverse part of women’s genitals. The color of women’s inner labia may vary greatly from one woman to the next. They may be a shade of pink, red, brown, gray, black, or slightly purple (particularly as women become sexually aroused and blood flow increases to the genitals, as the inner labia are filled with blood vessels; inner labia also sometimes darken in color while a woman is pregnant). The outer ridges of the inner labia are often darker than the rest of the labia. Similarly, in one study, forty-one of fifty women (92 percent) had genitals that were darker than the skin around their genitals.

Now, a lot of romance novelists skim over this kind of detail when describing sex scenes, but some don’t. And if you write explicit scenes, then you might like to add a little more genital diversity. Not only will it make your heroine more interesting, it’ll make her more real.

Most importantly, though, it could encourage your readers that their bits are normal, healthy and sexually desirable.

Wikipedia has a set of drawings showing vulvar diversity.

2. The hymen is at the vagina’s entrance.

Continue reading “Five things romance writers should know about vaginas”

At first scent: exposing the secrets of chemical attraction

Couple nearly kissing
© Geber86/istockphoto

Romance readers are familiar with chemical attraction – that unmistakable yet intangible sensation when your body recognizes your soul mate.

For horror and suspense writers, the most important chemical reaction is different: the scent of fear and hint of danger the hero detects that lets him react just in time to save his own life.

These may sound like cliches, but they’re based on real-life reactions our bodies have to pheromones.

Earlier this week I went to a lecture by Karl Grammar of the University of Vienna, one of the few scientists in the world studying human pheromones. He gave us an insight into how humans react to the scent of pheromones, and I thought some of it might be useful, or at least interesting, to my fellow writers.

Let me preface this by saying that I didn’t take notes on the scientific nitty-gritty, so some of what follows here may be educational while other parts will just sound strange. Take what you will and store it away – surely it’ll come in handy for a pub quiz one day.

What are pheromones?

Dr Grammar began by saying that in almost all animal species life is controlled by highly volatile substances made by the glands. These are pheromones. We breathe them in, and our olfactory system takes these scents (which we don’t even know we’re smelling) straight to the brain.

In other words, people give off these super subtle messages which our nose takes to our brain for interpretation.

What do pheromones help us do?

Pheromones help us do things like recognize our relatives, select our mates, and be aware when someone scary or aggressive is nearby.

We have hundreds – possibly thousands – of different pheromones. They’re transmitted through our skin; since we each have a unique genetic epidermal composition, our pheromones “smell” different. This makes it easier for us to identify our kin, but it also means romance novels are right: we can identify that one person who’s special to us, even if we can’t see them.

Weird pheromone facts

Boar
© osmar01/sxc.hu

Humans have some of the same pheromones as other animals. For example, one of the pheromones men have is the same as a boar’s. Dr Grammar explained that when a female boar smells a male boar’s pheromones, she assumes the copulation position. “It doesn’t work like this for humans,” he said.

Women share a pheromone in common with wasps. Yep, women smell sorta like wasps, men smell like pigs, and no one knows why.

Continue reading “At first scent: exposing the secrets of chemical attraction”