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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

An Idea for Writing Inspiration




I know that some authors keep very detailed outlines about the books they are writing. I have never had the patience or inclination to do that (and, yes, that sometimes means I have to go back to see what the brother's friend's name was!)

One technique I have always used for inspiration is to compile a collage of pictures that fit the book I'm writing and make them my rotating screen saver during the course of writing that book. For instance, the pictures above represent Rafe Vincennes' NASCAR and the Vincennes family's chateau on the Eastern Shore, Heron Point (the Rafe Vincennes series), Cole McCarren's Ireland (Sticks and Carrots), Shea's wild horses (Eureka Spills), Magic's friend, the Lynx, Creed (Magic Creek), the Sicilian stiletto used by Luca (Refuge in the Atchafalaya) and the man who looks as I imagine Ethan (How To Build a Killer).

The various groups of photos include Magic's cabin, Magic herself on her moon-silver pony and her lover, Waban, the trading post. In the Refuge in the Atchafalaya group, there are pictures of the French Quarter in New Orleans and a gypsy caravan and the mountains of Romania and street scenes in Brooklyn and Luca's antique bed (formerly owned by an infamous madame). I have photos of Rafe's Belgian Shepherd and Shea's pit bull, the cliff house above the sea in Italy where Cole and Lency spent a vacation and the prison where Ethan was incarcerated.  And on to each book.

The reason for this is that if I pause in my writing to consider what should happen next or how I want to say something, the screensavers kick in and I'm immediately thrust into the place and time and with the people and animals in the book itself. I'm actually there on that flower-laden verandah with Cole and Lency relaxing in the warm Italian sun. I'm watching the freedom and majesty of wild horses streaming across the meadow. I practically hear the roar of race cars on the track. I smell the hopeless dankness of Ethan's prison cell or the spiciness of the pines that surround Shea's log house in the mountains of New Mexico.

Words are wonderful but illustrations touch another part of your creativity and help to keep the words flowing. If Shea is training dogs to herd cattle, it is easier to write about if you see those Collies and those cows in front of your eyes. If Luka is paddling down the bayou in a pirogue so that you see the still, brown water, the alligators on the bank and the herons fishing, the scene touches you in a deeper place. The man who is Ethan to me ensures that I picture him vividly. (I'm on a constant search to find the perfect Rafe, which is why I follow websites like Fifty Shades of Sexy on Facebook and go through photo after photo on (sexy men section).

As I watch scenes go by that represent the book I'm writing, ideas come to me more freely than if I'm staring at a blank screen.

All writers have their own methods for jump-starting inspiration. This is one of mine. Finding the pictures adds an element of fun, especially when you discover one that is perfect. "Oh, yes," I say, "that is Luca's Creole townhouse." Visuals excite my muse. You might give it a try and see if yours responds as well.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Don't Ban This Book!


I just finished a terrific book entitled The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie. It isn't my usual cup of tea, being a Young Adult novel. It was written in 2007 and got rave reviews. It won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature along with many other honors.

The reason I read it now is because it was recently banned by the Meridian School District SW in Idaho. It has also been banned in a few other places although when they tried to ban it in Billings, Montana, kids and teachers rose up to protest.

I was curious to know what in the world would get a book banned in 2014 when kids have access to the most crass and ugly material in movies, on t.v. and on the internet. They can watch YouTube videos of actual sex, watch Miley Cyrus sticking out her tongue while twerking, read 50 Shades of Gray, massacre bloody victims in video games,not to mention the real life horrors such as hearing about the dead bodies of first graders in New Town or seeing the corpses of children in Syria. So, I'd say kids are pretty sophisticated these days in the ways of sex and violence. I figured The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian must be pretty bad to be considered too tough a read for today's teens and pre-teens.

Diary is the semi-autobiographical story of Arnold Spirit who is growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation. Almost everyone on the "res" is poor. the majority of them are alcoholics (like Arnold's father). Indians on the reservation die young. Arnold has been to 42 funerals by the time he's 14 and alcohol was involved in most of them.

Arnold sees his future laid out in front of him if he doesn't find another path so he transfers to the white school in Reardon, 22 miles down the road from the reservation. His parents do all they can to help him get back and forth but sometimes they don't have the money for gas money and sometimes his father is too drunk to remember to come pick him up. Sometimes, he hitches rides but sometimes he has to walk the entire way.

He lives with a foot in two different cultures and both are painful. The Indians consider him a traitor who thinks he's too good for them so they beat him up and call him names. His best friend, Rowdy, turns on him. Meanwhile, the whites in Reardon treat him as if he doesn't exist.

But he perseveres. He excels in his classes and eventually, excels on the basketball court. His white classmates start to consider him one of them. When his beloved Grandmother Spirit dies, the tribe softens and quits picking on him. A short time later, his sister dies burned to death in a fire, too drunk to save herself. It only makes Arnold more determined to make something different of his life although it hurts because he acknowledges that he can only do that by abandoning his people.

Through everything that happens to him, Arnold draws funny and satirical cartoons as a way to talk to himself about the meaning of the events that happen to him. The book is enhanced by the illustrations of Ellen Forney by means of Arnold's cartoons.

Sherman Alexie did escape the res. He has won numerous awards for his writing, films and poetry in the years since he wrote the book.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is funny and sad and poignant and inspiring from one page to the next. You root for a boy for whom life has been so harsh to find the path for which he's paid so dearly.  Alexie's dialogue of a 14-year-old boy is dead-on. He's irreverent and wistful and joyful and agonized by turns.

But sometimes he uses curse words and sometimes he talks about "boners" and masturbation (find me a 14-year-old boy who doesn't) and he's brutally honest, both about the way whites treat Indians and the way Indians treat themselves, as if they've been so ground down and put down so often, they've given up everything they used to be proud of in themselves.

Some people don't like the cussing and some people don't like the sex and some people don't like the honesty.

But kids love Arnold and his story. They relate to him. They have written testimonials about Diary being the first book they ever got totally caught up in.

I'm generally against banning books in schools unless they have no "redeeming social value" whatsoever but a book that encourages kids to read, that captures their their imagination, that touches their heart. No, no, you never want to ban a book like that!


Monday, April 14, 2014

Your News Versus My News

Your News Versus My News


Back in the day, when I was young, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley and Walter Cronkite were The Men. We all listened to them on network news and believed if they said it, it must be so. They played it straight down the middle and then it was up to their viewers to decide what they thought. That didn't mean we agreed on every issue (i.e., the Vietnam War) but at least we were all basing our opinions on the same set of facts.

I don't remember when the conservatives first began to feel that their issues and ideas were not being given fair representation in the news but the Rush Limbaugh Show began in 1988 and quickly became the top-rated show on the radio. Rush' followers were thrilled that an outspoken conservative was taking on the establishment and winning. His fans called themselves Dittoheads, never questioning his assertions. Rush, of course, made no effort to tell both sides of any story. He leaned so far right, he often tipped over into pure conspiracy.

The next conservative leap came in 1996 when the Fox News Channel went on air. In one of the most breathtakingly false declarations of all-time. Fox billed itself as Fair and Balanced. Under the leadership of Roger Ailes, Fox (like Rush) existed to push the conservative line. Fox became, and has remained, the most watched cable news channel even though neutral research organizations have shown over and over that Fox is the least reliable. I really don't even consider Fox a purveyor of news but rather of propaganda.

Naturally, liberals attempted to fight back by developing their own sources of news that leaned their way, as with MSNBC which gives liberals the news with a left-leaning bias (although I would argue, not quite as deceitfully as Fox). They also have some liberal radio talk show hosts who, although moderately well-known, never became household names like Limbaugh.

And finally, we all became consumers of the internet and along with that, came blogs of every description. Matt Drudge was one of the first to hit the big-time with the Drudge Report but a veritable flood of blogs followed, from both the left and right. Again, it seemed as if conservatives put way more passion into their submissions. Perhaps that's because liberals weren't all that dissatisfied with the mainstream (known in conservative circles as "lamestream")  news.

So, here we all are now, with our very own tried and true sources of news, sources that are often in direct conflict with one another. Black is white to conservatives and white is black to liberals. Don't believe in climate change? You can find innumerable talk show hosts and news anchors and bloggers who will back you to the hilt. (Not many scientists but oh, well, everyone knows 99% of scientists are bought and paid for by, by, well I'm not sure by who, but spout the party line.

Is Clive Bundy a patriot or a deadbeat? Was George Zimmerman a hero or an over-zealous wannabe cop? Is voter fraud the problem or is voter suppression the problem? Is Barack Obama a Christian American or a Muslim alien?

Not to worry, just seek out "your" sources and you'll be told you're right and that anyone who believes the opposite is a moron.

When I debate with my conservative friends, I try to back up my argument with what I consider reliable sources - The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, USA Today, Forbes, etc. - but it doesn't matter. For many of them, if it didn't come from Rush, Breitbart, RedState or Barack Obama's Dead Fly, it simply isn't information that can be trusted.

What does this mean for the future of America? What does it mean to remaining the UNITED States of America? Two completely different news streams giving two completely different sets of alternate facts seems like an insoluble problem in overcoming our problems as a nation to me.

Thursday, April 03, 2014



Karma is strange. It has always been my dream to live alone. I'm 67 and it hasn't happened yet. I've lived with parents, husbands, children, then parents and children again....but I've never lived by myself.

In November, after a couple of extremely painful years as her dementia progressed, my mother died. Her death brought both grief and freedom. For the first time, I had no one to take care of, no one to account to. There was no television playing in the background when I preferred silence. I could play my music as loud as I wanted. I could eat a bagel for supper if I chose.... I could take a cozy nap whenever I pleased. I could leave the house and not worry about getting back at any particular time.

I spent a week with my kids in Florida after Mom's death. Another week after I got back, my son and his wife separated and he came home. Now there are always dishes in the sink and screwdrivers and drills on my pristine dining room table and the television is once again is a constant in the background. The pretty little spare bedroom I re-decorated is filled with work out equipment. I cook at least once a day. Out of courtesy, I tell him where I'm going and when I plan to be back....not because he demands it but so he won't worry.

If you get the impression that I didn't love my mother dearly or that I don't cherish my son, you be dead wrong. I did and I do....just as I loved my husbands. But here is the way it is: in any human chain I'm part of, I'm the weak link. I'm the easy-going one. I'm the one who will give in first whether it's about what television show to watch or what sounds good for dinner or where to hang a picture or whether to buy Pepsi or Coke. It's not like I lose the arguments because it never gets that far. I don't care enough to argue so if you prefer Coke, I'll big deal.

I have always said that my family members are There with a capital T while I am there with a small t.  And in a little secret place in my heart, I always looked forward to the time when it would be different. Mom was a hoarder and since she's gone, I have given away most of her 1,000 dolls and many teapots (keeping only a few of my favorites). Shelves now hold one special thing instead of ten items each. The oval, brass-framed Thomas Kinkaide pictures, along with the angels, have disappeared in favor of less sentimental, edgier art.

But now, instead of her stuff, there is his stuff - tennis shoes under the end table and hats and gloves on the piano and drills and tape measures on the kitchen counter and piles of jeans and flannel shirts and socks and teeshirts in the laundry basket.

No one would ever have called me an immaculate house keeper but I have found that when I'm alone, I am actually rather a perfectionist. I put things where I want them and they stay that clutter allowed. Who knew?

When I was looking for a picture to illustrate this blog entry, I had a difficult time finding one I liked. It seems that when you search for images using the keyword "alone", most of them are negative. They tend toward darkness and it is often raining. The people in them all look sad, sometimes they are ready to jump off of bridges.

But to me, being alone is a happy place. Being alone is being a free spirit.