It’s books like Have Mercy that make me sad more people don’t read erotic romance. Shelley Ann Clark may be a first-time author, but this book doesn’t read like a first effort. It’s super hot, it’s tightly written and Clark conveys truth about humanity and feminism that will stick with me for a long time to come.
Emme is a star on the rise. She reminds me a little of Vanessa Carlton, Adele or Lana Del Rey. She has a sexy, sultry, bluesy sound that seems perfect for this moment in music. On stage, she’s magnetic. But she is not the same person off stage as she is on stage. Early in her career, she was a back-up singer for a popular band that subsequently broke up. And as legend had it, it was her fault. She has so much potential and the will to grasp it, but fear of how others will see her if she really takes the reins of her career and her desires paralyzes her.
Tom has barely had a life at all. His entire existence has been spent caring for others, particularly his alcoholic sister. He has always had to be the strong one, the responsible one. He inherited his father’s bar and his father’s house when it was never his ambition to obtain either. His true love is music and he’s a phenomenal bass player. So when Emme approaches him to tour with her up-and-coming band, he desperately wants to say yes, but doesn’t feel he can. Even when he commits, it isn’t all the way.
When they go out on tour together, their mutual attraction has them taking tentative steps toward each other pretty early on, but both have issues outside the relationship holding them back. When they eventually do let their sexual relationship develop, the way it plays out may not work for every reader, particularly if the woman taking the lead in a mild BDSM scene is new to them. But there’s a reason why this is important, and it’s not just to hit readers’ kink buttons. (That said, those with that particular kink button will find this story very satisfying indeed.)
At first, Emme allows herself to be painted as a victim, even in her own mind: of her mother’s disapproval, of her suspicious neighbors, of her bandmates’ paranoia, of the lead singer of the band she “broke up” and of the music industry gatekeepers who can’t let her just be an artist. They want to label her a chunky homewrecker who uses her feminine wiles to distract from her lack of talent. It takes almost the entire duration of the book for Emme to realize that this is all, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. More importantly, it’s bullshit that she can turn back on itself and use to her benefit.
And it’s her sexual relationship with Tom, along with his unflagging confidence and pride in her, that teaches her about how to take the power she wields as an artist on stage and as a capable professional offstage and extend that into her interpersonal relationships. It takes a special kind of man to provide that support. For Tom to acknowledge that Emme has a deep well of strength of her own and to accept that and celebrate it and lean on it shows Have Mercy’s true colors. It’s not just about the femdom sex or the sultry blues club atmospherics. It’s about revolutionizing the way we women see ourselves: powerful, talented, and in control of our own lives and destinies.
Touring musicians eat pretty terribly. My brother was the tour manager for a punk band when he was in his 20s and the main thing he wanted when he got off the road was home-cooked food. So it’s not that surprising that the only major reference to a meal in Have Mercy takes place at a Waffle House, that bastion of highway-exit breakfast mediocrity.
It still manages to be a pivotal scene. In it, Emme acknowledges that the music industry would rather she be waifish than rock the curvy retro pin-up vibe she has. In this scene she baldly states that her body needs fuel and can’t run on champagne, olives and air. And since this takes place immediately before she moves to take Tom for the first time, Emme’s insistence on having the body she wants and not the body others would prefer her to have doesn’t seem like an accident.
I had a couple failed batches of waffles before I hit upon this one. I found a few common denominators among the successful waffle recipes I tried. First, I had to turn my waffle iron up as hot as it would go before I got a sufficiently crispy waffle. Second, when I tried to cut back on the butter (which in this case would be desirable for more than maintaining a girlish figure because it gets all over your hands), the waffles turned spongey. Third, it didn’t seem to matter whether I used milk or buttermilk, but this was not the time for any kind of buttermilk substitute. I tried it and it was just…gross. So get a quart of buttermilk. Between the chicken and the waffles, you’ll use most of it anyway.
I served these sandwiches with some homemade sweet potato fries and Sriracha mayo dip. This is the recipe I use. Don’t skip the step that has you soaking the cut sweet potatoes in water. I made the deep fried version since my oven was occupied with chicken, but that means you need to dry them quite thoroughly. Very hot oil and water are a bad combination. The recipe says cook for “several minutes” but my cook times have been consistently longer; about 10-12 minutes.
When you’re done with these, you’ll have butter-slicked fingers and you’ll be dripping BBQ sauce. You’ll want some napkins handy. But sometimes messy is fun, right?
2 chicken breasts, cut in half length-wise
1 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
high heat cooking spray (not olive oil)
1 cup flour
3/4 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
16 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
3 large eggs, well beaten
1 large tomato
4 leaves lettuce of your choice
1/3 cup BBQ sauce (I like Smokey Bones)
1. Cut chicken breasts in half length-wise and put them in a shallow dish. Pour 1 cup buttermilk over them and refrigerate for 2 hours or overnight.
2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a wire rack on top. Spray the rack with cooking spray.
3. Combine the panko bread crumbs, fine bread crumbs, flour, onion powder, smoked paprika, salt and pepper. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and dredge in the bread crumb mixture. Press the bread crumbs so they adhere.
3. Put the chicken on the wire rack and spray with cooking spray on top so they crisp in the oven. Bake for 15 minutes. Flip the chicken, spray the other side and bake for another 10 minutes.
4. While the chicken cooks, start on the waffles. Heat the waffle iron.
5. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, sugar, salt and baking soda. In another bowl, combine the buttermilk, eggs and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Whisk until combined. The batter will be lumpy.
6. Spoon 1/2 cup of batter (or different amount according to your waffle iron’s instructions–mine takes 2 cups) into the hot waffle maker. Close the lid and bake until the waffle is golden.
7. Place a slice of tomato, a piece of lettuce, a piece of chicken and a bit of BBQ sauce on each waffle. Top with another waffle and serve immediately.
8. If for some reason you can’t serve immediately or you’re making more than 4 sandwiches, I had good luck with reheating the fresh or frozen waffles in my toaster.