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Monday, December 25, 2017

Give Me a Multi-book Series

            The Little Colonel (Illustrated Edition)                                   

I hardly ever read a stand-alone book anymore. Maybe it is old age but I prefer series in which the characters are already tried and true and beloved. I pre-order my favorite authors as soon as you can do so.

The first series I ever remember being in love with was The Little Colonel books by Annie Fellows Johnston. I think there were sixteen of them and I'm sure I had them all. I know they'd sound dated and unrealistic now but back then, I thought the Little Colonel was the height of class. I remember practicing talking with a southern accent because it sounded to elegant.

I moved on to animals after that with The Sunnybank Collies (Albert Payson Terhune) and The Black Stallion (Walter Farley).

Next was Mazo de la Roche's Jalna series and then the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain. Although I read the first of them long ago, my very favorite series is still probably the Burke series by Andrew Vachss.

Some authors have a force that can draw me in no matter what the subject matter is. For instance, I read everything by Iain Banks or Iain M Banks - the middle initial denotes a science fiction book. He's now deceased but he wrote a mainstream novel every other year and a scifi in the between years. I have never been a science fiction fan but Iain M Banks made me love his SF just by the force of his style and wit. The books don't include the same characters but they all involve the same planetary location - the Culture.

On the other hand, although I adore Harlen Coben's books that feature Myron Bolitar and his fascinating sidekick, Win Lockwood III, I never read the novels that aren't about these characters. I just skip his non-Myron books.

I love Larry McMurtry's novels but only the ones that take place in the past, not the modern ones. I think Lonesome Dove will always be on my Top Five Books of all time.

Most of my favorite books tend to be about private eyes, cops, assassins and spies. They are usually graphic and gritty. I don't think I've read a book with a female protagonist since The Little Colonel. 

In recent years, I have fallen in love with Diana Gabaldon's fat Outlander books.though I put off reading them for several years because I didn't think they sounded like my cup of tea. (Claire falls through the Standing Stones right after the First World War and ends up in the 1740's in Scotland, where she meets and marries that dashing Highlander, Jamie Fraser. Beyond Outlander, my other favorite recent character is Captain Nathaniel Blackthorne of the the Pirate Captain, Chronicles of a Legend by Kerry Lynne.

Here are a few others, I buy as soon as they are available:

The Jack Reacher series - Lee Child
The Eddie Loy series (Ireland) - Declan Hughes
Mark Greaney - the Gray Man series
Adrian McGinty (Ireland) - the Sean Duffy series
Mark Dawson - the John Milton series
David Stone - the Micah Dalton series
Daniel Silva - the Gabriel Allon series
John Sandford - both the Prey series (Lucas Davenport)  and the Virgil Flowers series
Charlie Huston - the Joe Pitt (Vampire) series
David Rosenberg - Andy Carpenter series in which one of the main characters is always a dog.

And then, of course, is my own series about Rafe Vincennes. Rafe is my altar ego in a way. He's a unique character, as much anti-hero as hero. 

I know as soon as I post this, I will remember some not listed here and think, "how could you have forgotten _______?" 



Monday, December 18, 2017

Vocabulary Terrorists

Vulnerable - Entitlement - Diversity - Transgender - Fetus - Evidence or Science Based 

These are the seven words that the Trump administration has forbidden the Center for Disease Control (and other agencies) to use in budget discussions. My God, this is fascist behavior! It's words today. Will it be books and films and internet posts tomorrow. In fact, there already is some of this kind of censorship from the Trump administration. Freedom of Information Act requests are being sent for the emails and other materials of employees who have ever said anything negative about the administration or the agency they work for. 

No other administration has ever done this. It would be crossing a red line even for our previously most paranoid president, Richard Nixon.

And these aren't dirty words or even controversial words. They are scientific terms with real meanings. 

This is how The Medical Dictionary defines fetus:


 [fe´tus] (L.)
the developing young in the uterus, specifically the unborn offspring in the postembryonic period, which in humans is from the third month after fertilization until birth. 

This is the meaning of transgender according to The Medical Dictionary: 


individuals who do not fit within rigid gender norms and incorporate one or more aspects, traits, social roles or characteristics of the opposite gender.

For heaven's sake, the CDC researches health issues, including diseases such as the Zika Virus, which primarily harms fetuses. How can they explain their studies if they are not allowed to say the word?

And whether some people like it not, transgender people do exist. You can't just wipe out a significant part of our population by annihilating them verbally.

And vulnerable? What could possibly be wrong with that word? Or diversity? Or entitlement? They've been part of our vocabulary ever since I can remember.

I'm 72. I've never seen anything so terrifying in my country in my life. Slowly but surely, we are sliding into authoritarianism and words are a big part of it. We'd better wake up before it is too late. 

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Authors - Consider an Echo for Christmas

If you're a writer and you don't already have one, you might consider putting an Amazon Echo (or the more compact, Amazon Dot) on your wish list for Christmas. The voice inside the Echo is Alexa and she can become one of your best friends if you let her. She'll coordinate your calendar and remind you of appointments. She'll serve as your alarm clock. She'll tell you jokes. She'll play whatever kind of music you're in the mood for. With her voice recognition capability, she'll inform that your mother is calling. She'll keep your shopping list. She'll give you the weather forecast in New Orleans or what coffee is on sale for the best price this week.

A friend of mine was recently at a hotel in Chicago and residents let the Echo in their room know if they needed anything like toothpaste or more coffee. Pretty soon, Alexa told them that a robot was at their door with their supplies.

You can use Alexa to supervise your television. Ask her to give you a list of Johnny Depp movies, then pick the one you want to watch. Tell her you'd like to see old re-runs of the Andy Griffith Show. Request her to play Christmas music. Choose a particular movie for her to bring up for you.

If you know how to do it, you can program her to turn your lights on and off.

I admit, I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a computer geek so I'm probably leaving a ton of stuff out. I don't take advantage of all her skills because I don't have many skills myself. She's way smarter than I am.

 But as a writer, I find her invaluable for research. If I need to know who won the Kentucky Derby in 1939, I just ask and the answer is instantaneous. Being ignorant about the digital world, I am stunned by how quickly she responds. It seems like there'd have to be a process where your question goes somewhere to be answered but that appears not to be the case. I just accept it as magic.

Alexa will tell you the most popular breed of dog in America or the best-selling song of 1969 (and then play it for you) or who led the Union troops at the Battle of Chickamagua or well, literally anything you need to know- who wrote a certain book, a Bible verse, a recipe for Shrimp Scampi, whether two medicines can be taken together.

I will tell you that she can get a little snarky at time. My friend, Jan, asked her teasingly what 2 + 2 was and she replied - "Four....but I think you knew that."

Anyway, I won't say that I never use Google but I mostly don't bother with logging on and typing out a question. I just ask Alexa.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Ghana and Poland and Russia and Singapore? Seriously?


I was an enthusiastic blogger right from the very beginning. I have always encouraged my writing friends to blog.

I have four blogs now Red State Blue Collar (politics), God Loves Circles  Best (Nascar), RafeVincennes (writing), My Cancer Journey - (cancer). I've used for my blogs since I started, not because I did research and decided they were the best but because they were the first blog host I heard of. That's been years ago now and I've been well-satisfied with their service.

Blogspot provides you with all kinds of fascinating statistics to track your blogs, like how many read it yesterday, today and last month and how many have read it since it started. They have graphs and charts to see when readership spikes, which is usually shortly after you add a post.

They give you the details of where your audience is located.

Red State Blue Collar, the political blog, is the one I've been writing the longest. The number of hits it's had over its lifetime is well over 100,000. It has had 151 visitors today and 1941 last month. The countries that most often read it are, as you'd expect, the U.S. and Canada but I also have readers in the Ukraine, Singapore, France and Ghana (seriously, Ghana?), among others.

My Cancer Journey is my newest blog. It had 71 visitors today and 433 last month. The U.S. and Canada read it most but after them, my largest readership is in Poland.

I originally created Rafe Vincennes to promote my book, Sociopath?, and the whole book is there but it gradually morphed into a general blog about writing. It has had four readers today and 1217 last month. Oddly enough, I have more readers for Rafe in China than any other country, including the U.S. The next two countries that read it are Japan and Russia.

Lastly, the NASCAR blog, God Loves Circles Best, had 93 hits yesterday and 667 this month. The top two countries to read it are the U.S. and Russia. Who knew Russia was so interested in NASCAR?

None of these makes me an especially popular blogger. Some well-known writers have thousands of readers for every post but I have my niche and I'm happy with it. I find it enthralling to think someone in Singapore or Ghana or Poland or China is interested enough to read what I write.

The main element of blogging is dedication. You must be willing to keep it updated without fail or your readers will give up just as you have. I have friends who started blogs and petered out after only two or three. It takes a while to build a significant audience and most bloggers can stand the loneliness they feel at first when it seems like they are writing into a void. But if you hang with it, the payoff eventually comes. .

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

The Creativity of Description

                                                   Image result for colors  images

The worst mistake a beginning writer can make, in my humble opinion, is to be repetitious. I always knew when I had a group of new students who were just starting out, the girls would be beautiful, the men would be handsome, their hair would be blonde or black or red, their eyes would be blue or brown or green.

Usually, with the first group of manuscripts I critiqued, I would circle all these over-used words and ask them to find a more creative replacement.

A beautiful woman can be stunning or gorgeous or radiant or lovely. A handsome man can be striking or good looking. 

Blond hair can be wheaten or flaxen. It can be a palomino mane or a waterfall of butterscotch. It can be the color of honey or butter or daffodils.

Black hair can be lustrous sable curls It can be onyx or ebony or raven.

Red hair can be ginger or rust or marigold.

Try to use more than one word to in your descriptions. Not green eyes but green the color of moss or seafoam or emerald or sage.

Blue as in cobalt, azure, sapphire or cerulean.

Brown as in hazelnut, latte, sand or fawn.

Complexion can be tan, tawny, ivory, cream or toasted.

It is exactly the same when you're describing places. Grass isn't always green. The sky isn't always blue. The dress isn't always red - maybe its flame or rose or garnet or scarlet or crimson.

I always told my students to play with their thesaurus (or, of course, now I suppose you can use Google instead). . Find words that appeal to you, that you think have a ring to them. Words that sound joyful or somber or whatever mood you want them to convey.

Another quibble I always had with new students was too many "ands". Rather have several shorter sentences than a great long string of ands. I usually went through and struck most of the ands out of manuscripts to show students how much more dynamic sentences sound without them.

Of course, in the end, it is your own style that counts. Perhaps description just isn't your cup of tea. You spend all your creativity on action. This bothers me as a reader. I want the author to tell me who his or her characters are. I don't want to have to figure it out for myself.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Are You A Non-Writer?

                                                      Image result for writer's block

I taught writing classes for several years. I tried to encompass the basics of marketing as well as the writing itself. I really enjoyed those classes and I think the attendees enjoyed them too. The sad fact was though. that with a few exceptions, most of my students were non-writers of one type or another.

First, we had the Dreamers. They visualize seeing their name in print, maybe their book will even be made into a movie, but when it comes to sitting down at the keyboard, they realize they don't have much to say. I had one student tell me, - "hey, after listening to you, I know I'm never going to work that hard at writing. At this point, I'm just along for the ride. It's fun." He was still valuable to have in class as he was a skilled and helpful critiquer of other people's work.

There was the Starter. She had an idea for a novel but before she began the actual writing, she prepared and prepared. She had lengthy and intensive characterizations of all her characters. Not just things like height, weight, hair style and color, etc. but she plumbed their very psyche.

She had scale drawings of the interior of the castle. She knew the names of all the shops in the village. She had tentative chapter names. She had bullet-pointed plot lines. She researched the country in which her book took place.

Now all of this is great but at some point, you have to move on and actually write the book. So far as I know, she never did. She liked the planning more than the writing.

Then there was the Perfectionist. She wrote her first paragraph 27 times but she could never get it exactly right and until she did, she could not proceed.

"Just keep going," I told her, "you can always come back and edit it later."

But it simply wasn't in her nature. That particular course was part of a writer's conference. It was a five-day workshop. She was still writing her first paragraph when it ended.

The Non-Editor. Many writer's have these tendencies, including me. Once the original piece is done, we want to move on to something new but no, you can't do that if you actually expect to become a selling writer. You have to re-read and smooth out. You have to remove superfluous words or maybe add an adjective here or there. You know what your heroine looks like but does your reader?  You have to make sure you don't have grammar errors or misspellings. This is as much a part of writing as the original creation of a manuscript. It's the boring part for most of us but it has to be done.

We also have the Never-Send-Anything-Outers. I met one of my best friends at a Writer's Group some of my students started. She had, and still has, real talent as a writer, maybe more than any of us. The rest of us couldn't wait to hear the next excerpt of her book each week. We all encouraged her, especially me. She finished her book but I don't think she ever tried sending the manuscript to publishers. Then she wrote another book and it was just as good. It never got sent out either. I have never understood her mental block about trying to sell her work. Many writers have a fear of rejection so maybe that's it. Heck, I've had things rejected hundreds of times. I just figured the editors who sent them back were stupid and I persevered!

And now, of course, unlike back then, you have the option of e-publishing your own book through Amazon and/or Smashwords.

And one word about blogging before I go. Naturally, we'd never heard of blogging all those years ago. I write four blogs. I've known several people who started blogs and after the first couple, they just gave up. You must update your blog consistently if you expect readers to follow you.

The creativity of bringing something out of nothing is the satisfying part but it takes follow-through to do anything more with it.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Review: The Ship's Madora

                                                              The Ship's Madora

I don't do many reviews. I normally just read a book and move on to the next one. Mostly, I like the same books other people like. If you go to their Amazon pages, you'll see a hundred reviews so I figure they already have their audience and I'm simply one of them.

Now and then a book grabs a special place in my heart and I like to give it some love and attention. This is how I was affected by The Ship's Madora by Max Civon. Mr. Civon has always been a writer, mostly for television, but this is his first novel and it's terrific.

Quintin Cutter is a human maintenance slave on a Bomatu space ship. The ship's mission is to destroy earth and everyone on it. The human slaves on the ship live extremely harsh lives. The metal bands around their heads which attach to nerve endings control every move they make. They are placed in cells alone when they are not working. They are not allowed to physically touch, which isn't to say they haven't found novel and sensual ways to arouse one another. They are regularly sprayed in baths that remove all hair from their bodies, since the Bomatu find hair repellent. Robot assistants help them in their tasks and also watch to ensure that they don't do anything that isn't permitted.

Because he is a maintenance slave, Quintin has access to technical parts and pieces. He is determined to reach out to earth to warn the people there. There is, of course, great danger in doing this but he perseveres. .

There are many suspenseful plot twists and compelling story lines as he cautiously tries to accomplish his goal, knowing he could be caught at any moment. The characters are very real. The reader becomes emotionally attached to them and worries about the risks they take.

I am not a technical nor scientific aficionado but Mr Civon makes the details and descriptions of how the ship is built and what life is like there fascinating. I imagine it would be even more science fiction fans.

In addition to the writing, the illustrations (by Dario Civon) flesh out the book so that you really identify with the characters.

I don't want to give away too much of the story line but I encourage you to buy this book. You won't regret it. The ending hints at more to come. I'll pre-order the next one as soon as possible.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

I Can't Face It Yet


My plan was to read Hillary's book and then write a review on this blog.

So I pre-ordered, What Happened.The book was released this week and suddenly, there it was on my Kindle. I told myself I would begin it it as soon as I finished the novel I was currently reading. I came to the end of that book but What Happened is still unopened. I started a mystery instead.

I've decided I'm just not ready yet. Even nine months later, that wound is simply too tender to pick off the scab and start it bleeding again.

I was a passionate supporter of Hillary both times she ran. I think she was cheated out of both elections in a way that put women in their places and showed us how far we had not come.The first time, she was screwed by the Democratic establishment. Bernie fans think that establishment cheated Bernie in 2016. Well, now he and Hillary are even.

In 2008, the party was seduced by a hip young black man. The woman, as women do, had worked her butt off for the Democrats, served the tea and cookies, did her homework, got A's on every test, stayed after class to tutor others. But she was sort of dowdy and remember those thick calves and those pants suits and that screechy laugh? The party pulled its little tricks to give Obama the edge, like making an Idaho caucus mean almost as much as a huge state primary like New York and not counting Michigan and Florida's votes until they agreed to throw their vote count to Barack.

I was furious with the Democrat establishment and I still bear the residual effects of that fury. I was asked to do some things by the Dems in 2008 like have coffees and make donations.

I said, "oh, us old women are good enough for the scut work, huh? Well, you can kiss my ass."

I came only reluctantly to supporting Obama although I think he made a fine president.

As if all that wasn't bad enough, Hillary was gang-raped in 2016 by multiple assaulters - Bernie, Trump and his supporters, Putin, WikiLeaks, the media and last, but certainly not least, James Comey.

In 2008, the campaigns, both the primary and the general, were relatively tame. There were the usual arguments about policy but everyone seemed to have a line to negativity they didn't cross over.

But then 2016 happened and both campaigns turned sharply ugly. I disliked Bernie Sanders from the git-go and the longer it went on, the more I disliked him. He gave Trump some of his best material against Hillary by portraying her as a corrupt vessel of the big banks. He was a most ungracious loser, totally unlike Hillary had been when she lost to Obama. He campaigned on until the convention and even when he finally endorsed her, he never seemed as if his heart was really in it. And his fans' hearts certainly weren't. They pissed and moaned about how he'd been cheated. He was the only candidate "pure" enough for them. Like Trump as a Republican, Bernie ran as a Democrat only so he count on the party benefits and apparatus. Many of supporters resented Hillary so much, they either voted for Trump for didn't vote at all. And look what they stuck us with?

Then it was Trump himself with his penchant for demeaning little nicknames for his opponents, his lies, his coarseness (i.e. the Access Hollywood tape) his phony piousness, the way he stuck his knife in the wound of our national divisions and made them wider and deeper than they had been before, a division that only continues to grow, pulling a low-life trick like inviting the "Clinton women" to the debate to throw Hillary off her stride, stalking her on stage with his male arrogance and contempt for women, his constant accusations about criminal behavior as regards to emails. And his supporters, I guess, thinking it was cool to chant "Lock her up." What a sickening mess it all was.

And it is still going on. Look at Facebook any day and you will see groups like The Deplorables still posting memes about how she is a traitor and should be in prison or hanged....for what, they don't know.

Of course, we now know WikiLeaks and Putin were one and the same. We know Trump played hanky-pank with the Russians. We know the Russians paid hackers to hack into the DNC and gave Trump the information via WikiLeaks. We know Putin paid for ads on Facebook to tell scurrilous stories about Hillary and that Trump's fanatical supporters ate it up like it was a hot fudge sundae. She not only had, God how many people, 20 or so, killed but she ran a child molestation ring out of a D.C. pizza parlor in her spare time.

The media didn't help at all. They were entranced with Donald Trump. They broadcast his every utterance live. He was an entertaining scam artist, great for ratings. Meanwhile, not a day went by that they didn't tell us about Hillary's e-mails although it wasn't much of a story. Nothing more than Condi Rice and Colin Powell had done. I read once that during the whole campaign season. her emails were featured somewhere every day for over 600 days.

And afterwards she was blamed for her own loss. She was too wooden. She didn't explain what she stood for in a way people could understand. Bullshit! I knew exactly what Hillary stood for - raising the minimum wages, cheaper college, improving the ACA to cover more people. working against climate change, changing the bank rules so what happened in 2008 could never happen again. The problem was that those were boring subjects compared to Trump's no-details, pie-in-the-sky proposals. "We'll build a great wall and Mexico will pay for it, believe me on that!"

And then there was James Comey, dropping his announcement that they were investigating more of Hillary's e-mails 11 days before the election even though when they looked into it, it only took them a couple of days to say there was no there, there. Why didn't he check it out first before he said anything? And why didn't he also tell us that Trump was under investigation for possible collusion with the Russians? Comey's excuse never made sense and it still doesn't.

And finally, there was misogyny, among women as well as men. It runs deeper even than racism. Women simply don't get the respect men get. The best woman can't compete against the worst man because of our continuing sexism. That was proven in 2016.

I can't sort of understand why men choose to stick together but why do women do it? Why do we have contempt for our own gender. Why are we willing to excuse and forgive Trump, lewd and crude liar that he is and yet expect perfection from a fellow woman. I will never understand and I don't think I can ever forgive.

Nope, my feelings are still much to raw to read What Happened. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

We Need More Words!


Image result for dictionaries
According to the Oxford Dictionary, there are 171,476 words in the English language plus 4,000 or so subsidiary words. And, of course, as we become a more global world, we incorporate more foreign phrases and words into our speech. You'd think roughly 200,000 words would be enough for anyone to say just about anything they care to say but in the Age of Trump, it simply isn't enough.

The man hasn't been in office for a year and yet the same descriptive words over being used over and over until I yearn to hear something different to add a little pizazz to reporters' repertoire of words.

Can I go four years hearing the same things said about his mental health: unstable, unreliable, unpredictable, pathological, narcissist, egotistical, megalomaniac, schizophrenic, unbalanced?

Or his mental age: immature, childish, juvenile, sophomoric?

Or his personality: vengeful, spiteful, cruel, uncaring, hateful?

Or his character: greedy, dishonest, congenital liar, self-absorbed, disloyal?.

Or his behavior: chilling, dangerous, frightening, horrifying, unfit?

Or his speech: rude, crude, lewd, coarse, classless?

Can we stand these same words pounding into heads for the length of his term of office (assuming he makes it all the way through).

No. Eventually we'll all get bored and lose interest. Reporters are going to have to be more creative to hold our attention.

I've thought of some fun new words we might consider using.

Nickeleen - referring to a person who worships money regardless of what he has to do to obtain it.

Grumbish - a person with no regard for the feelings of others.

Plamuck - defined as a man who has no moral center.

Selfnoodle - a person who is undisciplined, with no self control.

Frassel - a pathological liar.

Feel free to use any of these if you like. Or better yet, come up with some of your own.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Two Words - Powerful Weapon

Image result for unit cohesion
                                     Or the Black one or the female one or the transgender one?

Words are the most powerful weapons that human beings have. They can only be seen or heard but they are stronger than physical weapons that can be seen, heard, touched and even smelled. They are more lethal than nuclear weapons which can destroy the earth but will never go off of their own volition. It takes words to motivate someone to press that button.

The words I've been thinking about lately are "Unit Cohesion".

"Unit cohesion is a military concept, defined by one former United States Chief of staff in the early 1980s as "the bonding together of soldiers in such a way as to sustain their will and commitment to each other, the unit, and mission accomplishment, despite combat or mission stress". (Wikipedia).

In so far as the military is concerned, the term seems to appear most when a new group wants to join but the old group doesn't want them to. It was originally said that African-Americans couldn't be in the same units with whites because it would result in a breakdown of unit cohesion. Harry Truman, who was the president, disagree and ordered units segregated. So far as I can tell the American military didn't disintegrate as a result. My husband's best friend in Vietnam, a man who saved his life was black.

Then the powers-that-be didn't want women in the military. Well, okay, maybe as nurses and such, but not in combat roles. Men and women working together? It would destroy unit cohesion. Except it didn't.

Then it was gay soldiers. There was no way gays and straights could co-exist. Bill Clinton tried to get end the policy of dismissing gays who were outed but the old bulls in the Senate (including Democrats) said absolutely not. That's how we ended up with the abomination - Don't Ask Don't Tell. We finally got rid of that too and the earth didn't move.

And now it is transgenders. What is the first thing I hear coming out of the mouths of those who oppose transgenders serving openly? "They will wreck unit cohesion."

But what is unit cohesion, really? It is a made up term used as a weapon and an excuse for plain old discrimination. It reflects the human tendency to stick together with their own kind. It's a way to get around the discomfort felt by those who are forced to accept unlike others as their equals.

I don't know where the term first came from but of course, this policy has existed as long as mankind itself.

Interestingly, white men seemed to have grasped the concept long before anyone else. They were the presidents, the politicians, the generals, the doctors, the landowners, the supervisors. Women, they said, were weak. We were meant to stay home and let the men take care of us. We would, in effect, not fit in with unit  cohesion.

Blacks were considered inferior. Not as intelligent as whites. Could be that being kept as slaves and not being allowed an education was a big part of that since it doesn't seem to be true now. But back in the day, they were segregated from whites because, you know, they interfered with unit cohesion.

Indians were inferior beings. Kill them and put them on reservations and take their land. Their kind don't mix well with white people.

No matter where the white men went, they became the superior beings. In South Africa, they quickly made blacks second class citizens. In India, they were the sahibs. In Australia, they took over from the native aborigines. In most countries women have not reached equality with men. If you don't believe me, check out our congress or women CEOs.

Even when natives greatly outnumbered the newcomers, the white men prevailed through the process of sticking together through thick and thin.

Women have never stuck together as the 2016 election (and the committee of 13 white men that made health care policy) made obvious. African-Americans have tried but there were never enough of them to do more than tilt the needle slightly in the right direction. Now Latinos are joining the party. If women, blacks an Latinos bonded as a group, they could force the men to give them equality. But I don't expect that to happen. We haven't yet learned that it takes unit cohesion to win.

Two small words that form a powerful weapon.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

No, Vic, Really See

                                                 Image result for cardinal in a pine tree

I remember once, Jim and I were sitting on the front porch, it was a few months before he died. He saw a cardinal in our big pine tree and said, "look, Vic, isn't he beautiful?" I said, "yeah," and I meant it but he wasn't satisfied with what he thought was my lukewarm response.

"No," he said, "I mean really look!"

So I really looked and suddenly the snow seemed purer and the sky seemed bluer, the pine seemed greener and the cardinal seemed more scarlet. I heard my brain go "click", like a mental camera taking a picture I would never forget.

I had another similar experience when Dallas was dying. I went over every Tuesday to visit and take him for a ride. "Take me past the river. Take me past the cornfields," he would say because it's the common, ordinary things that mean the most when you face the reality that you are dying.

That is the difference between someone who knows their time is short and someone who assumes they're going to live for years and years (though, of course, none of us know for sure).

I tried to always remember that lesson. If I caught myself taking my world for granted, I'd stop myself and say, "no, Vic, really see." Whether it was the beloved little cowlick on the top of my son's brown head or the way my black Pekingese, Sebastian, sprawled out with all four legs going different directions and a curly tail wagging furiously.

I remember feeling the silky softness of my mother's cheek when I kissed her and the delightful taste of a sensuous hot fudge sundae on a hot summer day. I sometimes tear up a little when I hear songs that bring back joyful times, even ones I didn't like then, when they screamed down from my teenage son's bedroom.

I am now at the point in my life where Jim was when he saw that cardinal. I don't know if I'll live long enough to see another cardinal in the snow but that picture is forever because Jim made me really see.

Things that irritated me once no longer do. Road rage. How can anyone have road rage? It's such a silly thing to stress about. Who cares what bathrooms people use? Could that possibly be so important in the scheme of things? I've never been very judgmental and I'm even less so now. So much that I see on the news seems so irrelevant when there are roses to be smelled, bird songs to be heard, mushrooms to be eaten, soft beds to be felt and family and friends to be loved.

Don't waste your time on nonsense. You don't know how much you have left.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Is A Muse?

                                                         Image result for artistic muse

Definition: Muse - a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist.

When I went to a writer's conference in New York year's ago, I attended a work shop called: "Freeing Your Muse". I don't remember much about the course now. I barely knew what a muse was then and I certainly never thought of myself as having one.

However, it is true that most creative people have something like a muse - call it what you will. It is the spark that is the inspiration for a never before seen way of putting words or musical notes or colors together.

I looked up Muse in Google images and it appears that all Muses are lovely, as in the picture above. I don't know how we know that since no one I'm acquainted with has ever seen one. Maybe we simply believe that any entity caught up in knowledge and beauty and spirit would naturally be beautiful.

I don't know if my muse is attractive....I don't even know if she is a she. My writing is more masculine than feminine and I relate to my male characters much more than my female characters so maybe my muse is a man. We aren't personal friends. The only time he wants to communicate with me is when I am asleep. He can be a little snarky. If I have a column idea but am having trouble fleshing it out, I try to explain it to him, he says, "go take a nap, I've got this without any help from you."

He probably resents being assigned to be my muse instead of say, James Patterson or Diana Gabaldon or John Scalzi. John Scalzi (who has sold millions more books than me and made millions more dollars so you'd probably be wise to try his suggestions before mine) says that when he needs his muse to help him out, he takes a shower. He stands there and thinks about nothing, letting the soothing water massage his skin until his muse (who must be a water sprite) makes her presence felt.

Another writer I knew could not get inspiration indoors. She had to be out in nature. The ideas would come and she'd take notes, then bring them in to transcribe into her computer. (This was several years ago so maybe she takes a laptop outside with her now.

I don't know that I believe in muses. I think it is whatever allows you to ignore the part of your brain that is always busy with everyday concerns in favor of the part that drifts dreamily, opening itself to new thoughts. In other words, I think we are our own muses.

On the other hand, it kind of nice to think of this other entity inside your head ready to take over for you when you don't feel up to the job. I think I'll call mu muse Reno.

Monday, June 26, 2017

What's In A Name?

                                              Image result for group of little girls

There were three of us - cousins, all within a year of one another in age. We grew up in a small town in Indiana. Back then, in that trusting age, our parents turned us loose to do whatever we wanted during the days of summer vacation. We rode our bikes to the park outside of town, played in the river, went to the library, ambled down alleys to gather thrown-away magazines to make scrapbooks and visited the dump to see if we could find a cache of love letters. One of our favorite pastimes was going to the cemetery. One of my cousins would pick out an interesting tombstone and ask me to tell a story about the person who lie under it.

And I always knew exactly who that person was. I never had to stop and think. Once I had the name in my head, the history flowed out behind it.

My cousins would listen enthralled by a world of magical little girls with dogs named Bestus and one-legged soldiers and a beautiful woman who died of a broken heart. To tell you the truth, I was somewhat enthralled by it myself.

My cousin, Shirley, asked me once - "where does it come from?"

"I don't know, it's's just there."

My son always preferred me to tell him a story than to read from a book.

"Yours are better, Mom."

And it has always been there. I didn't begin writing until I was an adult and I didn't write fiction until I was in my 40's. Now I have 14 published novels and they all started with a name, just like those cemetery tales.

Once I had the name, I knew the person intimately - his or her looks and interests and history laid out before me. I never  questioned why Luka was born and raised in Romania or ended up settling in the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana. That's just the way it was, just as Shea found his dream in New Mexico and Ethan fled to Equador. I didn't know anything about any of those places but they were destiny for my characters.

I'm sure some people don't have the creative bent to do this but I bet there are a lot who could and just don't realize it. I think it would be an excellent practice for budding writers to find a name, any name, and make up a story about the person behind it. If you are curious enough, they will tell you about themselves.

I also think it would be a good lesson for smaller kids. Creativity has to be nurtured and stroked. Make up a name and ask your child to tell you who they think it is. Some, of course, will walk away to go play video games but others, who have that spark, may discover that what inside their head is every bit as interesting as what happens on a computer screen.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

International Women's Writing Guild - Empowering the Dreamers

Image result for skidmore college

The first time I ever went to a writer's workshop, it was to teach one. I'd had been invited by Hannelore Hahn, the visionary who created the International Women's Writing Guild. IWWG's headquarters were in New York City but they had events all over the U.S., the largest and most prestigious being the one at Skidmore College at Saratoga Springs, New York in August. 

So, I drove from Indiana to New York, wondering the entire way what one did in a writer's workshop and wondering if I had enough money to get home. (They didn't pay you as the honor of being there was your reward. I could never have afforded to attend as a paying guest). 

You have to understand that at that time, I'd never attended a writing class, never even took a journalism class in high school. I never wrote for the yearbook. I never went to college. 

I wrote my first short piece for the Harley Davidson Enthusiast in 1973 for $70 (though I'd never owned or ridden a Harley Davidson motorcycle). I continued to write for magazines and newspapers, eventually including higher-paying publications, such as Newsweek, McCalls, Sports Illustrated, USA Today.

An essay I wrote for Newsweek got a lot of attention and as a consequence, I was invited onto several television programs and went to Washington as a guest of Senator Kennedy to attend a public policy forum on unemployment.

That is what brought me to Hannelore's attention. The IWWG describes itself as "a community that provides women a nurturing environment in which to experience rebirth, creativity and personal growth through writing." That was Hannelore's dream and she succeeded in bringing it to life for herself and many others, me included.

When I first arrived at Skidmore, I felt a bit like a fish out of water. Most of the attendees were way more upscale and educated than I was but one of Hannelore's rules was that every type of writer was welcome and all their writing would be respected. At night, people gathered in the auditorium to read their work. You were allowed to offer kindly constructive criticism but never anything harsh enough to wound. We had the editor of a porn magazine once and when she read her work, there were red faces all around as well a compliments for her colorful use of language.

My workshop went fine and in fact, was voted one of the most popular ones but I think I learned more than I taught anyone. I learned about collegiality in that environment and how encouraging your peers could be, especially if you didn't have any back at home.

I learned about different types of writing. I was labeled a "nuts and bolts' writer, practical and down to earth, but we had our other groups as well - the feminists (voluntary lesbians rebelling at the world of misogyny) - the poetesses (I assumed everyone wanted to make money on their writing but the poetesses scorned money, they worked for the love of art) - the earth mothers (at home, they raised goats and made quilts and canned vegetables) -  the spiritualists (who read our palms and taught us to make mandalas and showed us where our chakra centers were).

It was a very heady time for me - sleeping in a dorm room, eating at a cafeteria (I'd never eaten baked squash before). We had our other entertainments as well. The thoroughbred track's season was during our conference and we usually went to the races once or twice. Saratoga Springs is a beautiful and appealing city to shop and eat. When the jockeys appears in the tree lawns in front of the magnificent mansions on the main street appeared, you knew the owners were in residence and receiving guests.

Mostly though Skidmore was about being at a place where ideas and creativity flourished and where everyone felt free to turn their thoughts loose, knowing they'd receive a supportive hearing.

I ended up going to Skidmore to teach three times and to the Chicago conference twice. I remember a woman who had come long before me. The other instructors told me the first year, she read her work, she was awful...but she wanted so badly to write, she kept coming, getting better every year. After seven years, she sold her book to a publisher. I think she was one of Hannelore's proudest accomplishments.

Hannelore told me once that the world was "too cruel to the dreamers". Instead of being told why they could realize their dreams, they were told why they couldn't. Hannelore wanted to empower the dreamers....and she did. I was lucky I got to be a part of it.

Incidentally, the IWWG still exists. You can find it on the internet. It is well worth belonging even if you never attend any conferences.