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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Feminist Sexist?

                                                 Image result for outlander jamie

I have admitted with sad awareness in my old age that I have always been something of a sexist. It's not that I don't have wonderful women friends whom I love because I do. It's not that I haven't written and protested and carried signs for women's rights, because I have. It's not that I'm not supportive of women's causes because I am. I'm a full-fledged Hillary Clinton fan. I can't wait to see a woman in the White House as president.

But, having said all that, my heroes have always been males. When I was young, I wanted the main characters of the books I read to be male. I wanted the leads in the movies I saw to be men. Even now, the only t.v. program I watch is Outlander. I admire the Diana Gabaldon for having created a strong, fearless, intelligent female character - Claire. I respect the producers for accentuating her strengths. But, nevertheless, I doubt if I would watch if it wasn't for Jamie, her husband and lover. He's the one who draws me in so that that Saturday night hour is inviolate, no matter what else may be going on.

When I go to the library to pick out books, I read author's names rather than titles....and I mostly pass by female authors. I read the blurbs and if the protagonist is a woman, I usually put it back on the shelf.

Now I write books myself. I've written 13 novels and only one features a female main character and femininity wasn't her strong suit. I relate more to men than I do to women.

I wonder if that is cultural? I'm 69. When I was a girl, only boys played "real sports". Cowboys were all men though they might have a wife, like Dale Rogers, as a helpmate. Superheroes were all men until Wonder Woman came along. It goes without saying that all presidents were men, and most congresspeople too. Courageous soldiers were men. Even most breadwinners were men then....as were most inventors and scientists and doctors and college professors and pilots. In the beginning, all astronauts were men. So were police officers and firemen. And don't forget Supreme Court Justices.

So, where else were you to look but at the men to find your heroes other than the occasional Madame Curie or Amelia Earhart or Florence Nightingale?

Perhaps I'm a case of arrested development because be they actors, musicians, book charactors or athletes, my most loved are men - Johnny Depp and Sam Heughn, Jack Reacher and Gabriel Allon, Jimmie Johnson and Peyton Manning, David Garrett and Prince. I can't think of a list of similar females although I like some of them well enough.

Do you suppose it is possible to be both a feminist and a sexist?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Exhilaration of Creativity

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This is my favorite place to be: I'm at my desk. I have a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and an ashtray on my left, along with a mug of coffee on a coaster. My keyboard and monitor are directly in front of me. On the wall above, is a picture of a window ledge that holds a book, a cup and saucer and a vase of pink roses. The window looks out on the beach. It is a scene I can disappear into when I'm mulling my next sentence. It is where I wish I was instead of a small town in land-locked Indiana where a sea of waving corn serves as our ocean.

A long-haired tortoise shell cat (Paisley) is curled in a ball on one chair and a blonde Pekinese (Chantilly) is snoring in another. A huge gray part-Maine Coon cat (Slate) is stretched out at my feet; a black and white kitten (Filigree) is laying on an antique plate on the dining room table.

The house is dead quiet except for faint outside sounds- a lawn mower down the street, some kids giggling on their way to Kelly's Ice Cream, the booming base of a hipster's truck. The television is on so I can read the headline crawl when I go through the kitchen but it is on mute. The speakers on the computer are turned off.

So, it's just me and my animals and my computer. It may seem as if there's not much going on but that's not true. There are people, places and things inside my own head. I have no outlines or character sketches or 3x5 cards to go by although I sometimes write down rudimentary timelines. I don't need any of those things. I know who these people are and they know what they are going to do next. I am as close to them as to the real humans in my life.

I am not an organized writer, rather I write quickly, by the seat of my pants, letting it all spill out onto the keyboard. This spontaneity is what makes writing fun for me. I think plotting and planning down to the last detail would ruin the joy of it.

I revel in the pleasure of words although I'm not one who uses a lot of high-brow words or phrases. My writing is like me...rather plain and blue collar. I do love words though. Today, I learned a thing on Facebook that thrilled me: a large group of sting rays is called a "fever of sting rays." Isn't that a marvelous and perfect phrase? Discovering it made my day.

I played a game of Scrabble with the computer this morning and reflected that my least favorite vowel is the letter "i". I simply have an instinctive dislike of it. When it appears in my Scrabble rack, I get rid of it first if I can, either by using it or swapping it for another.

I write books, blogs (three of them about: 1) politics, 2) NASCAR and 3) writing) as well as a weekly newspaper column. I appreciate the variety. Politics is nothing like writing and writing is nothing like NASCAR. My newspaper column is more proscribed by length and language and subject than the blogs. I have to please an editor with the newspaper column. I don't have to please anyone but myself with the books and blogs.

Most people don't think my writing matches my real persona. It is sharper and harsher than the plump gray-haired grandma I appear to be. I seem like the type who would write romance novels or cozy mysteries instead of novels about race car drivers and serial killers and graphic sex.

I don't follow the "write what you know" theory. I've never based a book in Indiana. I like doing the research that allows my characters to live in Romania and Ireland, New York City and New Mexico and New Orleans. You never know what you will find. I was completely charmed by Ireland but felt nothing but distaste for France. I had no idea this would be the case going in.

Writing is pure creativity - starting from scratch to build your own world with its own cast of unique characters and scenes and actions. There is nothing else quite so exhilarating.



 




Sunday, May 22, 2016

Australia and Great Britain and Japan - Oh My!




I've really never had much interest in my books once they are published. I never re-read them myself because I'm on to the next one. I don't try very hard to market them because I don't enjoy that part of authorship. In fact, I rarely even visit my Amazon or Smashwords author page (I not sure what my passwords are). I don't try to track sales. And I've really never given too much thought to who reads them...at least, I didn't until lately.

Amazon must have a new system for paying royalties. I don't know how they did it before, maybe just packaged everything together into one quarterly direct deposit. But now they notify me separately of payments that come from other countries and it was rather a shock, but a thrilling one, to suddenly be notified of my books being sold in Great Britain and Japan and France and Australia. It simply never occurred to me that people could be reading my books in foreign countries even though I know Amazon books are offered in those places.

There is a kind of a "wow" factor to it though I don't exactly understand why it should be any more exciting to know a book is being read in Australia than Indianapolis.

I've always felt a little guilty that I wasn't more committed to my poor books once they were complete instead of leaving them to languish and letting the chips fall where they may.

Maybe this new development with get me more interested in paying attention to the after-life of my novels. They deserve better than being ignored after their birth.



Sunday, April 24, 2016

Purple Rain is Playing in my Head

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I think Purple Rain will be playing in my head on a continuous loop for oh, about the next year! It is there right now, playing in the background - "Purple Rain, Purple Rain...."  It was there when I went to bed last night. I noticed myself stirring the gravy to its rhythm this morning, fat old hips swaying in tune.

There are artists of every stripe in our world - painters, musicians, writers, poets. They all deserve a little credit although they may have touched our lives only slightly and barely rate the title. (I consider myself in that light). Some are mediocre. Some are good. Some are great and some are sublime...and Prince was one of those.

In a time when poor black boys so frequently fell by the wayside of drugs and gangs, Prince didn't just crawl out of the ghetto, he blasted out with the force of a rocket, leaving a trail of stardust for others to follow.

In a time when poor black boys were so anxious for a way out, they were willing to sign their lives over to a publishing or recording company, Prince did that too....until he marshaled his forces and through sheer talent and courage and determination, forced Warner Brothers to back down and sign a contract written exactly the way he wanted it written, even if he had to change his name to a symbol to do it.

In a time when poor black boys were expected to be non-threatening, leaving the bawdy hip-shaking to "safer" white musicians like Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis, Prince oozed sensuality. He was sex personified in both his lyrics and his movements. He was in-your-face about it. "Fuck you if you don't like it." And we liked it even if Tipper Gore and the Parent's Resource Council didn't, putting him at the top of their list of unacceptable dirty boys.

He was so hot, he was cool, rocketing past all the conventional norms. He wore mascara and lace but none of us women were fooled. We knew a man when we saw one.

He forced us out of our musical comfort zones.

"Think you don't like rap? Think you don't like hip-hop? Think you don't like disco? Whatever it is you think you don't like, listen to this and I'll change your mind."

He was an outlaw but he didn't spray bullets just to make noise. He was so in control of his environment that every shot hit the bullseye whether that was in arrangement of his music or perfecting his brand or helping young musicians find their voice and their confidence in themselves.

He gave millions to charity but he didn't talk about it. He was never involved in any scandal that I ever heard about. He was a consummate showman but he kept his private life private. He never "went Hollywood" but stayed in Minneapolis and supported his own community. He'd told his family that when he died he wanted "no drama" and so it was.....just the family at a private ceremony and cremation.

His Super Bowl half-time show was indicative of who he was. When others would have canceled because of the pouring rain, he said, "can you make it rain harder?" And so he played in the drenching downpour and gave the best half-time show ever.

He was that rarest of humans - the Artist Sublime.

Rest in peace, Beautiful Man.





 










Sunday, March 20, 2016

Writing on Social Media Comes With Responsibility

                                                   

                                                      Image result for mean politics

Facebook is a polyglot combination of disparate things. Almost anyone can find what they want and block what they don't want. Maybe you don't like kittens or recipes or being guilted into giving someone cyber-hugs or reading religious exhortations. Or maybe you don't like politics.

That's all fine. To each his own. But kittens and recipes and hugs and sermons don't have the affect of changing lives on a large scale the way politics can. We should all be interested in politics because what our country is and does depends on it and that impacts you and yours.

Do you think abortion should be legal or illegal? Do you think Syrian refugees should be taken in to America? Do you think guns should be allowed in your child's school? What do you think we should do about ISIS? Should the minimum raise be raised? Should 11 million illegal aliens be deported or allowed to stay in the U.S.? Should torture be illegal? Is climate change a real thing?

Those who say there is no difference between the parties and that all politicians are the same are absolutely wrong. Look at the list above again. Depending on your answers, you are either closer to conservative Republican thinking or closer to liberal Democratic thinking. If you throw up your hands in disgust and ignore the political process, you are a lazy American.

The political junkies among us (count me in) have all become writers thanks to social media. We all try to put words together that will convince others to our way of thinking. Often the posts on Facebook are 100% perception and 0% facts. If you are trying to figure out whether someone's words are true or not, see if there is meat on the bone of their contention. If they are bitching about Obama leaving Iraq too soon, have they read the actual Status of Forces Agreement George Bush negotiated with Iraq? If not, they don't know what they are talking about.

If they are whining about NAFTA, have they actually read the Agreement? Do they know what NAFTA actually said and did? If not, they are making an emotional pitch, not a reality-based one.

Unless you are writing fiction, your writing is expected to be honest. There is a lot of political fiction out there in cyber-space that tries to pass itself off as non-fiction. Political posters need to be specific. I have a friend who believes Obama is the worst president we ever had and is engaged in the destruction of America. I asked, "so you think things were better in 2008 than they are now?"

"Absolutely," she said.

I asked her if she could be more specific (employment? stock market? Americans in harm's way? foreclosures? oil dependence? auto industry?) but she declined to answer.

In my opinion, anyone who is interested in politics needs to listen to every side of the story and seriously consider who may be right. If you surround yourself with either a conservative or liberal media bubble, you don't have a clue about what is real. If you block all the friends with whom you disagree politically, you're out of touch. I have a long commute for my work and I listen to all sides of political talk radio. I have Facebook friends of all political persuasions and I try to listen to the other side with respect.

Votes are really the main thing. The voting records of politicians aren't hard to find via Google. Look at the list of issues again. Did your favored representative vote in a way that pleased you most of the time or did you just pull and R or a D in the voting booth because of habit?

If you question whether something is true, you can always go to www.Snopes.com. You can monitor the fact-checking websites like Politifact or Factchecker.com.

Choosing whom we want to vote for is serious business and determines the future of the country. Granted, kittens are precious but kittens aren't going to raise the minimum wage or send our kids to war.








Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Spring Writing

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Ah, spring. It always seems to me that it is the most creative season. I don't know if that's true for writers, it's just a theory I've long held. I've never kept a calendar to see if my output is actually more prolific or my writing is more profound in the spring of the year but I choose to believe it is.

Spring represents awakenings and growth and birth, not only in fact, but in our souls. Every season has its beauties but spring is when we hunger for beauty most. The colorful hues of Daffodils and Tulips, Crocus and Hyacinths, seem more exhilarating after months of brown grass and gray skies. Seeing trees erupt into clouds of pastel color warms the heart. So does seeing rosebuds fatten under a spring sun.

We used to take rides in Spring just to see all the babies - gamboling lambs, awkward colts, curious calves  who'd come over to the fence and snuff you with fat wet noses. Military-like lines of chicks or ducks following in Mama's footsteps. Signs would begin to appear on fence posts - "free puppies" or "free kittens". Not so many farmers keep free-running livestock anymore which I find sad.

Springs brings its own characteristic smells, delighting the nose. The entire kitchen is overtaken by the fragrance emanating from the bounteous vase of Lilacs on the table. The odor of grilling drifts across backyards. There is an earthy muskiness in the air that comes from spring rain and thawed earth and  reborn plants. And nothing can beat the smell of a cast-iron skillet full of morel mushrooms, fried in butter.

And seasonal sounds - we begin to hear the joyful songs of birds before dawn celebrating the matings that will lead to a new generation. I associate the sound of spring with the throaty roar of motorcycles flying past my house as well as trucks with windows down, booming with base. Nah, it doesn't irritate me. I'm old now but I remember the blood-stirring of spring and the wish to advertise the glory of it. No different than the wild singing of geese and ducks heading for home or the haunting howls of coyotes. For most species, spring equals sex and babies, subconsciously if not consciously, and they extol it in different ways.

For Christians, of course, spring is the season of Easter - the ultimate act of being reborn for them. When I was young and we were still church-going Catholics, Easter meant new clothes - pastel dresses and straw hats and patent-leather shoes. Now it means (hopefully) getting Good Friday off work.

Spring means freedom from coats and gloves. It means a return to porch-sitting, cleaning out closets to cast away the old.

For writers, perhaps it means the birth of a new idea, a new manuscript, a new motivation. That's what spring does.








Monday, February 15, 2016

Deadline-driven.

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I am a person driven by deadlines. Maybe it is because I've been a columnist for so long. Columnists simply can't miss deadlines or they won't be a columnist for long. Even before that though I think my way was to ignore a task until the pressure was licking at the back of my neck.

I wait until April 15 to do my taxes even when I think I'll be getting a refund. I simply don't want to face such an ugly chore until I absolutely have to. I turned in homework on the last day it was due, because I probably hadn't finished it until the night before. I usually only balanced my checkbook over concern about an overdraft. I wait until my car reminds me that its time to change the oil. I postpone appointments until my doctors are practically threatening me before I accede to a physical check up, a teeth cleaning or an eye exam.

Because I'm such a terrible procrastinator, I need deadlines to keep me on the straight and narrow and to keep my goals from floating around aimlessly as dreams.

As a columnist, my deadlines are presented to me by whatever newspaper I'm writing for. I currently write a column for the Logansport Pharos-Tribune (approximately 650 words) every Sunday without fail. It has to be at the paper by Monday. Thank God, for the internet to send it to its destination within minutes unlike back in the day, when I depended on the postal service and delivery could vary by a day or two. The internet allows me to procrastinate a while longer.

I've learned to impose other deadlines on myself and to see them as inviolable. I try to update my three blogs every week (somewhere between 500 and 1000 words each) and I mostly stick to it. In the case of blogs, your readers are really your deadline determiners. If they expect to see a new post regularly and they don't, they'll stop dropping by. You have to keep them satisfied if you expect to maintain their loyalty.

With long fiction manuscripts, I have to make bargains with myself. "You cannot light another cigarette until you finish this page." Or, "you cannot get dressed and go to the store until you complete this chapter." My goal is usually to finish a novel in three months. I don't always exactly make it but I usually come close. I fell way behind when my son died and my inspiration seemed at first to die with him but I seem to be getting back on track now.

I think I manage my writing deadlines pretty well but the ones I set for myself regarding marketing are abysmally ineffective. I don't like marketing. In fact, I don't really like to think about books at all once they are published. The fun part is done and I want to move on to writing some new exciting thing - new characters, new locations, new plot lines.

So my poor books tend to wither on the vine of non-publicity. My dream for 2016 is to put more time and energy into marketing. So far, it remains a dream and not a goal.