Follow by Email

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Changing Reading Habits

                                                          Image result for books

My book reading and buying habits have changed a lot in the last couple of decades.

For one thing, I used to have a rule about always finishing a book once I started it. I don't do that anymore. Maybe its because I'm getting old but I no longer feel that I have the time to waste on a book that doesn't capture me pretty quickly. I'll give it a chapter, then toss it aside without a second thought if it doesn't live up to expectations.

I also had a rule about keeping a book once I bought it, especially if I enjoyed it even, if I thought I probably wouldn't read it the second time. But again, age and reality set it. My son once made a comment about me dying and leaving him with a ton (literally) of books to dispose of. After that, I started giving them away. It hurt to see some of them go, it really did, but its not like I don't have nine bookcases-ful of my very favorites left.

Of course, technology has changed book-buying and reading habits as well. When I was young and poor, I rarely bought a book, except for the occasional paperback. They all came from the library. I waited patiently for my turn for a new book by a favorite author. Beyond that, I read anything and everything they offered whether it was exactly my cup of tea or not. I discovered a lot of wonderful books that way.

Now, I buy almost all my books from Amazon and I don't have the patience to wait. I pre-order books so that I get them at the earliest possible moment.

And, more of them now come in the form of Kindle downloads than actual books. I resisted Kindle for a long while but now I'm sold on its convenience - taking one small device containing a whole library of books on vacation instead of carrying a sack of heavy hardbacks - being able to start reading a looked-forward-to book instantly - lower prices (with most classics for free) - reading by Kindle light if the electricity goes off or while waiting in a dark car.

I notice I've gotten rather quirky about my book choices. I hardly even look at titles any more. I simply go by authors. Only if I can find nothing by writers I know and trust, do I begin looking at the books themselves. (I think this is a form of stick-in-the-mud-ism.)

Similarly, I'm  almost never attracted to books by female authors. (Diana Gabaldon being a huge exception). Generally, I seem to relate much more to the male point of view. And also I pass on books in which the main protagonist is a female. I want my hero to be a man and while he can have his soft moments, I want him to be as much anti-hero as hero.

My taste for books in my older age is for grittier and more graphic fare. (My number one favorite author is Andrew Vachss.) I like Noir. For this reason, many of the books I buy are from Scotland and Ireland. They seem to have the edge on edginess there.

That's one reason I don't go to my library as often as I used to (although I do still go) - whoever the buyer is for new books is Mrs. Obvious. She buys all the mysteries that also contain recipes. She's partial to all the most popular female authors. While I'm more into blood and sex, she appears to be more into tea and crumpets. She purchases everything that appears on the Best Seller list but rarely ventures into unfamiliar territory.

Reading seems as if it would be an unchanging preoccupation but it turns out, it's not.









Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rafe Rides Again...

Vicki Williams Amazon Page







I continued to write my column and update my blogs after my son died but I found that fiction was simply beyond me. I could write about real things - politics and NASCAR and writing - as I do on my blogs but the creativity necessary for creating fictional characters and places and events just wasn't there.

I'd try but I'd end up staring at a blank computer screen, grasping for an idea, any idea but my mind simply balked. I wrote not a word of fiction for 4 1/2 months.

When I did decide to force myself to focus once again on a book-length piece of writing, I knew I had to start with Rafe Vincennes. Rafe is my comfort zone and my familiar. Eight of my books have been about him. I know how he thinks and how he'll react in any situation.

He isn't always a comfortable character though. He's been called a sociopath and a autistic savant. Even his own son isn't sure he has a conscience. None of this concerns him. He lives life by his own individual credo.

As a child, his father said raising him was more like raising a wild wolf cub than his other normal children and even as an adult, he's still the alpha male, guardian of his pack, always alert for danger and willing to do whatever needs to be done to protect them.

He's a champion race car driver and an actor, married to an actress who has been voted The Most Beautiful Woman in the World. She is his north star to whom he'll always return but he is chronically unfaithful. Sexual adventure is a completely different part of his life and, to him, has nothing to do with family.

Once I sat down after my long respite from fiction, I sought him out...and there he was, waiting to take me along on his adventures.

"Come on," he said, "I'll pull you out of this funk you're in."

I'm 30,000 words into my next book, thanks to my faithful sidekick. Well, really, I think it's the other way around. He's the primary who determines the action and I'm the sidekick who records it.















Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Facebookization of America

Image result for blowhards      Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah!


As a writer, one of the things I hate most about the 21st century is the Facebookization of our communications. We have embraced over-the-top hyperbole to such as degree that everything is capitalized and dramatized. Every issue is surrounded by superlatives and contains it full complement of exclamation points. Every missive ends with a laughing or crying or winking or frowning emoji, the words themselves obviously considered too weak to stand alone.

These are examples of what I found on my newsfeed in just one morning Facebook run-through.


"Every judgement about women DESTROYED in just over one minute!"

"NY Times throws Ted Cruz off bestseller list for cheating, conservatives go INSANE!"

"Watch former confederate flag-defending hypocrite Haley flip-flop on its banishment!"

"Pink SLAYS flat-shaming trolls!"

"Politically incorrect cartoon NAILS the media double standard!"

"Toning down the rhetoric won't change as racism is as rife in the Republican base as maggots are in rotten food."

"In the U.S., you are free to live as you wish unless your white, straight, Republican, a gun owners or southern."

"BOOM - the awesome cartoon nails Hillary!" (Three for the price of one here - boom, awesome, nails.)

"Toby Keith has a BRUTAL message for Barack Obama about GUN RIGHTS!"

"Ted Nugent has a message for all Trump haters and its AWESOME!"

"Oh. My. Gosh. Megyn Kelly just went OFF on the White House!"


And this goes on day after day. No one ever simply responds effectively to their critics, they CRUSH them, or ANNIHILATE them or DESTROY them! Everything is beyond excellent, it is AWESOME or INCREDIBLE or AMAZING. And some things genuinely are awesome or incredible or amazing but we don't save those words for those things that really qualify. We use them for the just good and the simply okay as well.

We don't disagree with certain politicians. They can't just be wrong in our eyes, rather they must be EVIL beings who want to DESTROY America!

Naturally, I think the worst of the excess is perpetrated by the right but I don't deny that my side does it too.

What I wonder is where do we go from here? Can writers actually keep readers interested in mundane words when they have become so habituated to hysterical rhetoric? What will we call wonderful things when you label your fast food burger incredible and your new shoes fantastic?

How will we recognize true evil when a president trying to do the best he can has that awful adjective hung around his neck?






Sunday, July 05, 2015

The Inevitability of Change

Image result for royal poinciana trees    Image result for frigate bird



          Image result for southernmost point key west



Image result for everglades     Image result for florida keys sunset pictures


It's easy to take something for granted when you've experienced it so many times and I suppose I'd gotten rather blase about the Florida Keys. I've been there often since my kids have lived there so many years. But this time, I took my friend, Brenda, so I got to see it through new eyes and that helped me appreciate southern Florida all over again.

When we left Indiana, it had been gloomy and gray and rainy for so long, we longed for sun and warmth and riotous color and we found all that in the Keys. Brenda got to see many firsts - the weirdly twisted gumbo limbo trees, Frigate birds like flying Batman logos high in the sky, the Royal Poinciana trees in full spectacular bloom, the vast sweep of the Everglades, the incredible Keys sunsets, the southernmost point of the United States.

Beyond my daughter-in-law's pier are a line of mangrove islands that create a kind of protected harbor between them and the seawall. Many boats, extremely upscale cruisers and yachts and sail boats, anchor out there. We'd go out each night to sit on the benches at the end of the dock to watch day turn into night. The boat people have a tradition of blowing conch shells in tribute to the sun as it falls below the horizon leaving shades of tangerine and fuchsia and scarlet and gold behind. It is an eerie, otherworldly sound.

During the day, we admired the blooming bougainvillea spilling down the sides of fences and watched pelicans and seagulls cruising above. Sometimes, we spied an iguana and other smaller lizards. Sitting on Lisa's balcony, we heard the rustling of the graceful coconut palms and palmettos.

We drove to Key West one day over the Seven-Mile bridge where the waters swirled in hues of royal blue and emerald, turquoise and sage under a powder blue sky. We ate grouper and shrimp po'boys and sandwiches mounded high with barbequed pork.

It was exactly what I needed to find a new lease on life after John's death. The vivid colors and hot sun and plants and animals so different than what we're used to at home encouraged me to acknowledge that life isn't static but filled with constant change. There is nothing to do but accept it and move on to see what good can be found in what comes next.



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?

                                                             Image result for time management

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.