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Sunday, May 31, 2015

Living Through Another Droughtlander....Sigh

                                              Image result for the outlander finale

I never thought that I'd be writing a review of a television show, mainly because the only television I ever watch consists of news or NASCAR. People have told me about their favorite series - Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones, Mad Men, Breaking Bad. I ignored them all....until The Outlander.

Then, because I had loved Diana Gabaldon's books so well and for so long, I ordered Starz simply for this one program. I wasn't at all sure I would like it. I almost never think films are as good as the books on which they are based. Where movies and television usually let you down is in the casting. No real life humans can live up to the larger-than-life heroes and heroines of fiction.

But the cast of Starz have done exactly that. Sam Heughn is perfect as Jamie Fraser. He captures the essence of Jamie - courageous, funny, stubborn, tender. And there could not be a better Claire than Caitriona Balfe. She is spirited and independent and brave. Tobias Menzies is superb as the cruel sociopath, Jack Randall. Every member of the supporting cast is excellent as well.

Scotland, in all its magnificent glory, is one of the main characters in The Outlander. Her towering mountains and sweeping green vistas and breathtaking waterfalls are awe-inspiring, especially when Jamie and Claire are galloping across them on a black horse. The program is also true to its era, the Highlands in the 1700's. The castles, the villages, the food and the clothing are all exactly authentic to their time. Because it is on cable, there is more leeway for realism in language, sex (first time I had ever seen full-frontal male nudity, for instance) and brutality (as when Black Jack nails Jamie's hand to a table).

We had eight weeks of the first season, then a break that was labeled Droughtlander, because fans, me included, missed it so. Finally, the next eight weeks began and now it is over as well and we're into another frustratingly long dry spell. Sigh. I have recorded all the episodes and I guess I will watch them all again while I wait.

The only thing I can say is that I have loved this program. During its two runs, it was the high point of my television week. I have no basis for comparison so I can't tell you how it stacks up against other popular shows. Other reviewers have dissected the way it handles the female point of view with more sensitivity and consideration than most or the way the rape scene between Jamie and Black Jack flowed from the story rather than seeming gratuitous in order to titillate viewers. Believe me, there was nothing titillating about it, unless you have a taste for sadism.

To devoted readers of The Outlander novels, the television series is satisfying because for the most part it has been faithful to Gabaldon's writing, with a few minor exceptions. Naturally, there isn't room for every scene and bit of conversation in a 700-page tome to be duplicated in eight hours of film but readers could generally count on knowing who was who and what was coming next based on the book.

The Outlander, as both novel and film, is part fantasy, part romance and part adventure intertwined into an enthralling story, peopled by unforgettable characters. It doesn't get any better than that.

I can't wait for the start of the new season and the entrance of Lord John Grey, one of my favorite characters. I hope whoever is cast as Lord John is as perfect as the rest.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Writers Write

Image result for crying writer 

Writers write. That's the bottom line. It's what they want to do; it's what they need to do. I have written newspaper columns for 30 years. I've written blogs for at least 15 years.

I wrote when my husband died, when my mother died and a couple of weeks ago, when my son died. Non-writers asked me how I could stand to do it. How could I write about subjects that broke my heart. The fact is that I couldn't not write about them even when I was staring at my computer screen through a flood of tears.

It's how I put them in some kind of bearable context. It's how I come to terms with them. It's how I release my feelings. It is how I find closure (a word I generally hate but I can't think of a better one).

Writing is an act that returns normalcy to an abnormal circumstance. Over my decades of writing, I have had many kind and thoughtful letters of appreciation from readers who were grateful because I was able to put their own thoughts and feelings into words, something they couldn't do themselves.

That pleases me but the fact is that I don't write about these things for anyone but myself. If they sometimes touch others, that is a happy by-product. If I didn't have access to a newspaper column or a blog, I would write them into a journal. The words are there and they would harass me until I freed them.

Writers write. They have no choice.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

What Happened To My Time Management Skills?

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I've gone back to work at my old job and I'm glad about that but after being retired and living totally without a schedule for almost four years, I haven't quite got the time management thing down the way I used to when I balanced my outside work with my personal writing.

I once had it all down pat. Most of my own writing took place very early in the morning as I'm one of those people whose creativity lessens as the day wears on. By evening, the sludge factor has totally taken over. I'm lucky if I can think of a witty comment on Facebook by then.

So, remembering my previous way of doing things, I tried to go back to that but so far, it hasn't happened. Over my time of being retired, I gradually stayed up later and got up later until my wake/sleep hours were roughly: bed at midnight or so, up at about 8:00, nap in the afternoon. I still did my writing in the morning only now the morning began at 8:00 a.m. instead of 4:00.

I've tried setting my clock for zero dark thirty again. Mostly, I just hit the snooze button a hundred times but on the few occasions that I actually got up, I didn't write, I just sat groggily in front of the computer screen. Even strong coffee didn't help.

So far, the only productive time for writing at home is the weekend but that's not enough hours for all I do - three blogs, one newspaper column, on-going novel, an occasional Linked-In piece, updating my Facebook writer's page on a regular basis.

Maybe I will eventually get into a routine and become more organized. Maybe I will re-train my body to go to bed at 9:00 and rise at 4:00. Maybe I will learn to once again be able to function without an afternoon nap.

But right now, my time management skills seem to have atrophied from lack of use.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns


I have published a non-fiction book, Marking Time - A Book of Collected Columns, that readers of my fiction may not recognize as coming from the same author. My novels are graphic and gritty. My main characters are as much anti-hero as hero. My subjects are sometimes controversial.

By contrast, Marking Time contains 87 columns that run the gamut from humor to slice-of-life pieces to philosophical essays about larger issues. I write about people and pets, places and politics. I've worked as a bartender in a rock and roll bar, as a Mayor's secretary, a legal assistant, a machine operator in a factory and a transporter of prisoners, among other jobs, so my experiences encompass a cross-section of people - the movers and shakers; the cops, the courts and the criminals; the well-off and the down and out; the farmers tied to one piece of earth by love of the land and the musicians who live a gypsy life for love of music.

These columns are reflections about a rural Hoosier county in all its guises. Nature and human nature, the celebrations of our history, the bonds of family, the generosity and the meanness. Over the years, I have written honestly about my own struggles with life, warts and all.

Simply, Marking Time is about one person's effort to find beauty and love and laughter wherever it may be while acknowledging that there is darkness in the world as well.

Friday, February 27, 2015

New Book - Leaving the Gypsy Life


Leaving the Gypsy Life can now be purchased from Amazon or Smashwords.

Farren, Devlin, Nicky and Autumn Coffey's forebears came to America during the great Irish Potato Famine in the 1840's, when Ireland lost half its population. Unlike other immigrants though, these Irish did not assimilate but banded together in their own self-contained communities, mostly in the south, still speaking a language called Shelta or Cant. They were called gypsies and while, not ethnically related to the Romany gypsies, they did live a gypsy lifestyle. Originally, they worked as tinkers or knackers (knackers bought horses too old to work for rendering). In modern times, Travelers turned to home repair jobs, such as roofing or asphalting,  or they sold tools. The Travelers were looked upon with suspicion by both law enforcement and "settled people" and, in truth, some of them were scammers (though certainly not all). They did shoddy work or sold cheap goods and were long gone by the time their victims realized they'd been conned.

Patrick Coffey was known as the King of the Pickpockets while his wife, Shayla, was a cutthroat pool player. They and their four children spent most of their lives on the road, traveling to fairs and festivals, sporting events and concerts, anywhere their marks could be found, returning to the Traveler village of Shay's Knob in South Carolina only occasionally. It was a free and unstructured life for kids whose parents were nonchalant disciplinarians.

When Farren was 13, Devlin was 11, Nicky was 10 and Autumn was 5, Pat and Shayla decided to break with the Travelers so their children could grow up as normal American kids. They bought a farm in the North Carolina mountains, Persimmon Bend, and confined their travel to the summer months.

It was a drastic lifestyle change for the Coffey kids - attending school for the first time, going to church every Sunday, sleeping in the same bed every night. Each adapted in a way dictated by their individual personalities. Farren, dark and impassive, excelled by flying beneath the radar screen of attention. Christian, brightly blonde and charismatic, won over his new neighbors with his charm. Nicky, shyer and slower than his older brothers, happily settled into a life that was predictable. Autumn was satisfied to be wherever her parents and her brothers were.

Coming of age while being torn from the world as you've always known it, to be thrust into a completely different life wasn't easy for the Coffey children. This is their story.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Outrage over 50 Shades of Grey

I've read several of the reviews about the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey. The most commonly expressed reaction seemed to be outrage. Feminists were outraged at what they deemed an exploitation of women. Conservatives were outraged by what they saw as prurient sexuality. One male reviewer was outraged at Anastasia for being what he considered a manipulative, gold-digging bitch. BDSM enthusiasts were outraged because they thought the film wasn't an accurate portrayal of their particular fetish. Some viewers were outraged because the movie didn't show enough graphic sex.

I read all three books in the trilogy. I thought they were fun and Christian was hot...and no, I did not suffer any feminist angst about enjoying them, even though great literature they are definitely not.

I didn't figure I'd see the movie, mostly just because I don't do movies much, but also because I thought they made a terrible mistake casting Jamie Dornan as Christian. He didn't fit my fantasy of Christian at all.

Recently though, I had someone give him kudos for being a terrific actor. "He'll convince you," this person (a male) told me. And also, I guess all those reviews make me want to decide for myself what my take is.

As to all the larger questions brought up by the critics, we might want to ask, not just about Christian, but why so many of our favorite characters are less than lily-white heroes. What was the other movie that recently came out and set box office records? Oh, yeah. American Sniper, for God's sake. I'm good with Chris Kyle....some of my best fictional friends are snipers but it is telling that the movie isn't about American Missionary or American Teacher or American Doctor.

Look at so many of the best-selling books. Their main characters are assassins (Jack Reacher, phone home!) or spies or rogue cops. Of course, we are always thrown the bone of patriotism or revenge or defense of friends and/or family as the justification, but still, these are all men can kill without remorse.

And look at some of the television we love. Tony Soprano - the guys on Breaking Bad - Jack on 24, to whom torture is just doing what you gotta' do - to mention a few. Confession: I rarely watch television and haven't seen any of these but I have heard about them. I'm sure there are more.

So, I'll stick up for both the 50 Shades books and for the movie and say, lighten up, people. They are fiction. Writers have the right to write anything they want. It doesn't mean they are pro whatever that is. Writers who write about serial killers aren't pro serial killing. Producers have the right to produce whatever they want. And readers and viewers should have the right to read or watch whatever they want....without having to listen to lectures or being talked down to.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Words Matter - Part 2 - The Military Just Loves Them Some Native Americans


A friend recently sent me this post on Facebook - "with all the recent banter...and continuing lawsuits...challenging the name of the Washington Redskins, I had not thought of this angle; 
but it actually strikes a very good point!
The federal government, which has Tomahawk cruise missiles and Apache and Lakota helicopters and used the code name "Geronimo" in the attack that killed Osama bin Laden; officially objects to the name of the Washington Redskins."
Most often my friend's and my on-going debates would be a better fit on my political blog - Red State Blue Collar - but I thought because this one dealt with words and the connotations of words, it would be more appropriate on this one. Because words do matter.
And, yes, just as my friend's post said, the U.S. Military has often named its planes and helicopters and weapons and even missions, such as Geronimo, after Native Americans. There are actually many more than just the ones listed here, over 20 of them - Black Hawk, Chinook, Kiowa, Cayuse, Creek, Iroquois, Choctaw, Shawnee,Cheyenne, Comanche and Arapaho helicopters as well as Huron, Ute, Seminole, Mohawk and Mescalero aircraft, along with the Navajo cruise missile. (Some of these are now retired and some were proposed but never used). 
Why do you suppose the American military has such a penchant for naming its proudest possessions after American Indians and is that reason a badge of pride or shame to the Native Americans thus "honored"? 
In my opinion, this is done because we still appreciate a view of Indians as bloodthirsty savages (as seen represented in countless old westerns) and that is the image we want to portray of our mightiest war weapons. Whooping, painted warriors on spotted ponies would race through your town to scalp you and rape your women and take your children to sell or enslave.
That's the same reputation we want our most wicked helicopters to have. We want our enemies to think there is no use trying to run and hide. We will find you and kill you. Our weapons are brutally conscienceless....just like uncivilized wild Indians. 
But you have to wonder why these naming decisions were made...because, in fact, though the poor Native Americans won some battles, their entire desperate struggle not to be taken over by the Whites was a rearguard action from the start. They never had a prayer of actually prevailing. 
So seeing how they were the big losers in the war between red and white in America, why would we name our ships and planes and missiles after them? 
You'd think we'd want to call them for the triumphant ones - us. Why not White Guy helicopters and Christian Caucasian drones and Pale Face Intelligence Aircraft? Why not Cowboy cruise missiles since in the game of Cowboys and Indians, the Cowboys were the good guys and always won. Oh, yeah, maybe the truth is contained within that sentence - the phrase "good guys". We were the good guys so we certainly wouldn't want those death-dealing weapons and aircraft named after us!