Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Eat the Ice Cream

Long life. We pursue it with a vengeance. We diet, exercise, don't smoke, don't drink, blah, blah, blah. And what do we get? Pretty much the same thing we'd get otherwise living a life of moderation.

Moderation is the key. When I was in my forties, I climbed a mountain every weekend. It was an eight mile round trip, much of it straight up or straight down. I'm glad I did that when I could because now a flight of eight steps comes close to defeating me. Then I enjoyed and gloried in the view of the Hudson River Valley from atop a mountain. Now I enjoy the view from my second floor window. Life evens out.

My ancestors worked hard all their lives and lived into their eighties, only to face disabilities and pain. For every man or woman like Jack LaLane, there are a hundred wondering why they fought so hard to reach old age. We've all forgotten the simplest truth. However we live, we will still die.

Some like my mother who died at 31 in a car accident will have a short life. Others, like my lovely stepmother will work hard, walk, eat right and live long, only to find themselves confined to wheelchairs. She'll be 87 in a couple weeks and I'll enjoy every moment of her presence, but I wonder...I wonder about all the times she sacrificed an experience so she would stay healthier.

The destination is not the end game. The journey is. All my life I've struggled to do the 'right' thing so I'd be healthy. Instead of listening to my inner wisdom, I followed all the latest recommendations for the right foods, the right exercise, the right amount of sleep. Then I was diagnosed with diabetes. The first thing the nutritionist said was, 'get rid of all the diet junk.' Wow, what a revelation! No more diet candy or soda or any of that other crap. Eat healthy. Real milk. Real ice cream. Real food without preservatives and chemicals. And the only rule?

Everything in moderation.

Everything. No need to binge on a bowl of ice cream when you can have a small scoop anytime. No need to hike ten miles when you can enjoy a stroll around the block every day. We will all reach the end exactly when our time comes.

I did everything right. I ate what I was supposed to eat, exercised when I was supposed to exercise, didn't smoke or drink, and yet I require meds for diabetes, cholesterol, high blood pressure, GERDS, have arthritis in my spine and hips and I'm about 150 pounds overweight. When I complained to my doctor, she admitted what doctors have always known. Sometimes, you can't fight your genes. All you can do is keep battling a rear guard action.

So that's what I do. And somedays I eat ice cream.



Monday, April 4, 2016

Changing Stories

Literature is an endless sea with waves rolling onto shore, each bringing something new, sometimes treasure and other times trash. Whatever the result, readers decide the final disposition and value. From Shakespeare to Victorian Erotica, readers are the ones who keep the printed words alive--or buried in a midden heap.

When I was first published, erotic romance was just gaining a foothold in the literary market. Readers secretly read their books behind closed doors or hidden in the safety of the newfangled e-readers slowly finding popularity with the public. Then in a flash, it seems, erotic romance exploded like Fourth of July sparklers and the new genre was everywhere. The final salvo (Fifty Shade of Gray) ensured it would stay around for a year of two, at least.

By then, the authors who'd struggled for recognition moved on to other interests. Some found publishers of more conservative romances to work for. Others moved to the new YA or NA genres. And in that weird way these things work, suddenly erotic romance with the emphasis on romance turned into erotic romance with the emphasis on erotic. The lines blurred between erotica and erotic romance to the point one could never be certain which was which--just as the lines between romance (with a capital R) and erotic romance changed. More and more ROMANCE opened the bedroom door. What was once considered erotic romance just dwindled into that no-man's land of maybe, maybe.

Now there seems to be a surge of writers who are revising their books for self-publishing and in that process, they're removing ALL the sex, lengthening the stories, and then offering them as sweet romances. It's a head-scratching moment for me. I can understand lengthening the stories as many of them were short. It's the sex part that puzzles me. If they can remove the love scenes while maintaining the integrity of the story, then why were the love scenes there to begin with? If they weren't an integral part of the story, why include them? Or were they gratuitous as so many readers thought, just so they could be included in the erotic romance category?

I have the rights back to most of my books so I've been in the process of evaluating each of them, trying to decide what the final disposition will be. To that end, I've also considered whether to leave them as is, sex and all, or revise them. And this is what I've realized. For MY books, written in the past, there is no possibility of removing the love scenes without totally changing the stories. My sex scenes were integral parts of the stories. The books were explorations of that particular aspect of human relationships. It's a part we don't really talk about, you know. We skirt around the edges with dirty jokes and sly innuendoes, but the truth is sex is still private. And secret. In my stories, I dare to shine a small dim light on the rainbow of emotions and feelings possible in this most secret, private part of life. And so...there will be no changes, except perhaps some corrections of spelling or grammar errors. What is, is. If I change as an author, it will be in future work.

I'm not ashamed of my past work or where I came from. As I've said for years, it's fortunate that there's a story out there for every reader. If my stories make a reader uncomfortable, it won't bother me for them to not read them. After all, there are so many books and so little time.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Burnt Oatmeal

Heh. I burned the oatmeal this morning. It reminded me of this post I wrote back in 2008. And it was a good thing as I unearthed it to re-read again. It's still true, so I'm gonna post it as a reminder to myself. Enjoy.

Yesterday morning I burned the oatmeal. This is not a new occurrence. Rather it is the norm. My friend Jane and the house hunk don't even find it a subject worth discussing as I always burn the oatmeal. You might ask why make oatmeal if you always burn it? Because I need to eat oatmeal. There's always enough unburned oatmeal to satisfy my needs.



Why does it burn? Mostly because I have too many things going on at one time. I set the timer and then immerse my concentration on some other project to the extent that I don't hear the timer. It burns. I scrape off the top layer and put the pot in the sink to soak. And move on.



Life is pretty full of burnt oatmeal. All those wrong turns and bad choices we make in life have consequences. How we handle the inevitable consequences determines what our life is like. We can wail and gnash our teeth and cry over our burnt oatmeal. We can beat ourselves up or blame some one else for calling us on the phone while our oatmeal was cooking. But the truth is that none of those things really address the fact that we still have burnt oatmeal.



Or we can salvage what we can, put the pan to soak, and move on. There will likely be a lot of pans of burnt oatmeal in our lives. If I waste time obsessing about the burnt oatmeal, that's time I've lost forever. Time I could have put to more constructive use. Oh yeah, and while I'm moaning and groaning the salvaged oatmeal is getting cold. Who wants to eat cold oatmeal?



There are things I can do to "pretty up" my oatmeal. I can add nuts, raisens, peanut butter, brown sugar, nutella, or cream. All of those make the oatmeal more palatable. And unless I tell someone, they'll never know that I burned the oatmeal. See? Life is what you make it--even burnt oatmeal.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Identity

I've been pondering all the ways we identify ourselves. The primary identity is by gender. From the moment we are born--maybe even before we are born--our gender is the over-riding identifier. Girls wear pink, boys wear blue. Why? Is there some inherent reasoning there? If a male wears pink does it change his gender? Why pink? Why not orange or turquoise?

From birth we are surrounded in the trappings of 'male' or 'female'. Everything around us is appropriately color coded from coats to blankets to shoes to wallpaper and paint. Toys are gender appropriate, even when we are too young to know our own identity. Parents never say to their daughter, "When you grow up you'll be a fireman or a soldier." They don't urge their sons to be nurses or nannies or secretaries.

Later, gender identity determines behavioral expectations. Females are supposed to be modest, quiet, submissive, retiring, cooks, servants, baby makers with no opinions. I speak this truth from my position as a female. Sixty-seven years experience allows me to say this is not the veriest tip of the iceberg. Even at my age, there are expectations that I will cook, clean, do laundry, service my husband's pleasure--though we are both retired and have no commitments. It is a testament to his love that he doesn't sit back and do nothing, but pitches in to do his share.

Males on the other hand are supposed to be rough and tough, play sports, hunt, fish, learn carpentry, car repair, get a job, demonstrate their maleness by making inappropriate advances to women and drink beer. My goodness, that last is so important. When a male fails to reach one of the benchmarks, he is ridiculed and may have to defend himself physically because God knows having a brain is dangerous.

I wonder what would happen if we had one set of expectations for every child, regardless of gender? What if every child learned the same basic skills, played with the same non-gender specific toys, took part in the same types of sports? What if aggression was not acceptable behavior just because the child was male? What if females were encouraged to use their brains and leadership skills? How many generations would it take to reach the point when our gender identity wasn't our primary identity? Ten? Do you suppose ten generations would be long enough?

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Vanishing Words

Those who follow me on Facebook know I'm currently reading through my collection of Georgette Heyer's novels. After finishing eight of them, I've reached certain conclusions. First, I miss the leisurely development of the story in modern romances. By modern, I mean the last fifteen years. Prior to that, most novels had a thorough development of the story--that meant not only a longer book, but a cast of characters the reader was invested in. In the current book I'm reading (Black Sheep), the entire cast of characters wasn't even introduced until Chapter Six. Contrast that with modern novels where the hero/heroines are already in bed with each other!

Second, I'm totally enjoying reading a book that doesn't dumb down to the reader. Over the years, so many women (in particular) have recalled reading their first Georgette Heyer book when they were in their early teens. Yet, there are many instances where both vocabulary and descriptions might be totally incomprehensible to the average young adult today. The point is...if you don't understand, then there is an opportunity to stretch your knowledge by looking it up. Do readers still do that?

Finally, I've been struck over and over by how many words we no longer use in our everyday vocabulary. I'm not referring to words like balderdash or lollygagging, but words like cross, dawdling, daresay, venture, and fritter. Everyday words. It seems to me our vocabularies are steadily dwindling as we strive to write for everyman or everywoman. Instead of tossing in the occasional unfamiliar word or phrase, we go out of our way to simplify it as much as possible. No wonder the modern romances are less and less satisfying. There's nothing that requires thought. I submit that just as we wouldn't want a diet of baby food, neither should we seek reading material that doesn't challenge us with new ideas, new vocabulary, and introduces us to the unfamiliar. How are we to stretch our vocabularies and our minds if we only read what we already know?

 

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Drinking the Koolaid

In November 1978, 909 people (part of the James Jones cult) drank poisoned Koolaid and died. 304 of them were children. That's where the expression for blindly following an insane leader came from. Folks just shake their heads and wonder what kind of idiots would do such a thing. Who would blindly put their fate in another person's hands?

Well...the American people, apparently. Based on the voting so far and the fervent posts across social media, the people are anxious and eager to embrace the whole Koolaid scenario. I've studied each of the candidates (both Republican and Democrat) and except for the flavor of Koolaid they're pushing, there's not a whole lot of difference.

No one has stopped to ask what they're adding to their Koolaid. Instead, they're choosing their favorite flavor and going with the insanity. Unfortunately, I fear our children and grandchildren will once againa pay the price this time without having a vote. When did we turn into such a stupid bunch of sheep?

Step away from the Koolaid...before it's too late.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Diminishing Returns

Articles about Disney's hiked prices hit the media yesterday with folks declaring Disney would soon be out of reach of the middle class customer. And... so what? The truth is people spend money on things they value and they deem everything else 'too expensive'.

I once had a conversation with a former supervisor about this very subject. The hunk and I had invested a considerable amount of our income on a new computer set-up. In my excitement, I was describing the components with loving detail. And then she said rather doubtfully, "But isn't that a lot of money when you have so many other things you need to buy?"

Well, yes. It was a lot of money. But everything in life is about perspective. So I asked her what she thought her monthly output on the family skiing hobby would amount to. Condo at the ski resort. A specially outfitted van for travel. Ski paraphernalia and equipment. Ski clothing. After a moment she just smiled. My family didn't go for ski holidays every month. We had a computer for entertainment.

The expense for something is directly related to how interested you are in acquiring it. If you don't like movies, then paying to see one is 'too expensive'. If you don't read, then books are out of your budget. There is a price on everything in life. Everything. What you are willing to spend in time, money, effort is proportional to the return you receive. The reward. No return or reward = prohibitive expense.

For the vast majority of people a visit to one of the Disney parks has been and will always be a fantasy. So are trips to Europe/Africa/Australia/Asia...heck, even Hawaii. For a lot of people just having enough money to pay for groceries this week is a fantasy. Disney price hikes fall firmly in the category of a First World problem.

Reality is knocking on the door. How much money we have and what we spend it on will always be determined by the law of diminishing returns.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Throwaway Story

On more than one occasion, I've mentioned I'm a passionate re-reader. At the moment, I'm working my way through my Georgette Heyers. In the recent past, I've re-read books by Alistair MacLean, Barbara Michaels, Louis L'Amour, John Sandford, and Nora Roberts. That's the recent past.

I'm a very fast reader so when I tell you I've been reading Frederica by Georgette Heyer for the last three days...and I'm only halfway through, you might conclude I've just been too busy to read. And you'd be wrong. Nope, I'm just savoring the book, enjoying the vocabulary, the sparkling dialogue, the leisurely unfolding of the story, and the complete development of the wide cast of characters, no matter how secondary.

In recent years, there has been an enormous change in the publishing industry. Some people blame the publishers, others blame the big delivery systems like Amazon, and yet others blame the technological advances such as e-readers and the Internet. But in all my research, I haven't found anyone who blames the authors.

Say what you will...it's a new standard out there for writers. Thanks to social media sites such as facebook and twitter, writers are free to share their daily production goals and their completion rates. I've noticed you can find many instances of a writer bragging about the three or four thousand words they wrote, but none where a writer is excited about writing the best paragraph they've ever done. No one brags about locating the perfect word they needed to convey the exact image they've been striving for.

I remember posting once on facebook something about finding the perfect word. There were a lot of commenters on that post--all negative, all pooh-poohing the idea of searching out the perfect word. The general consensus was, "Who cares?"

Well. I do.

Let me slap on my READER hat here. I care about what I read. I care about the attention the writer showed in their 'production'. Story is important. Spelling and grammar are important. But my friends, craftsmanship shines through. What makes the difference between a well known writer and an unknown? Craftsmanship. Fewer and fewer books are being crafted.

The driving force in the book market now is not craftsmanship, but more, more, more! The conventional wisdom in the publishing world isn't 'write the best book you possibly can', but 'you must produce as much as you can, regardless of quality'.

Tell me, honestly, how many books have you read in the last year that touched your soul? I don't mean inspirational books. I don't care if they were flaming erotica or books about repairing motorcycles. How many? What was the last book you took the time to savor because the language was so lovely, because the writer was passionate enough about his craft to draw you into his/her world?

This week another publisher announced their closing due primarily to poor sales. I submit that at least a portion of the blame rests on the current attitude that more is better. It's false. More is not necessarily better. Harper Lee wrote one book. Margaret Mitchell wrote one book. We still buy them. We still read them.

Here's my confession for the week. Unless an individual I trust recommends a book, I will not buy it. That's right. I buy only books by authors I'm familiar with--and know they will spend as much time and care as possible to produce a book worthy of my dollars. And when I do buy, the price is the least important consideration. Did you catch that? The price is the least important consideration, because I plan to read that book many times over the years. I plan to savor it, finding new bits, new views each time I read it.

The book industry is crashing not because there aren't enough books...or even because there are too many books. It's crashing because most books were written to be throwaway books. Read once and discard.

Stick that in your pipe and think about it.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Wag the Dog


As I watch the Stupid Political Show currently playing on our televisions, more and more it brings to mind a movie released in 1997 titled Wag the Dog. The premise of the movie could be taken from any scandal in the last twenty years. Just prior to an important election/congressional vote/blah, blah, blah, a scandal erupts. In order to divert attention from the scandal a Hollywood director is hired to 'invent' a crisis which is hyped in the media. If you've never seen the movie, I urge you to at least check it out HERE.

It makes me wonder what the current parody of politics is supposed to be a diversion for. What are we not seeing because we're so caught up in the circus unfolding on our TVs night after night? How successful will the puppeteers be in the end? Or will we allow them to wag the dog until it's too late?


Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Storm on the Mountain

About sixty years ago--when I was a little bit--we lived in Pima, Arizona. Yep, where Pima cotton was grown. Pima is in a valley beneath the majestic Mount Graham. Several times a year we camped up on the mountain. Camping back then was not what it is today. There were scattered log lean-tos and the occasional primitive water faucet, randomly sticking up every so often. The road up the mountain was a rutted dirt trail that wound to and fro through thick heavy forests.

My folks had a heavy canvas tent that always seemed to smell of mold. They pitched it near the lean-to that they used as an outdoor kitchen (and as necessary, a bathing room). Somewhere there are pictures of me taking a bath in an old metal washtub. I know I've seen them, but I haven't any idea where they ended up. Out in front of the lean-to, my dad would build a campfire. It always seemed to smell so good. When we were old enough, we would roast our hotdogs and marshmallows over the fire using straightened wire hangers.

One summer my Grandmother came from Indiana and naturally, we went camping while she was visiting. It was a beautiful morning as we chugged up the mountain in our old black car with the camping gear bundled in a tarp on the roof. I suspect we looked like one of the migrant families in Grapes of Wrath. Anyway, we settled on a spot and pitched the tent. I vaguely remember being assigned to gather some small sticks for the fire.

As the day wore on, the sky darkened, first fading into gray before finally turning black and foreboding. The treetops high overhead began to whistle and whip back and forth as the winds picked up. And then with a crash of thunder, the sky opened up in an Old Testament demonstration of the apocalypse.

Lightning flashed all around as we huddled in the lean-to. The tent collapsed in pounding rain. Thunder boomed and growled above us. Then things started to get really exciting when the great towering trees started crashing to the ground as water rushed down the mountain.

As I peer back at the misty memories, I think we probably would have been safer to stay in place, but the adults decided to get off the mountain in a nightmare journey to the valley below. This was long before such conveniences as long range weather forecasts and satellites or radar so they had no way of knowing we were in the tail of a tropical storm. After stuffing the car with what they could, the adults piled in with kids cowering on their laps and my dad started down the mountain. Trees fell. Water rushed past carrying boulders and debris. The rutted dirt road degenerated into a slickery, goopy mess.

There were constant stops as Dad roped tree trunks and boulders with a chain attached to the bumper and hauled them to the side so we could continue one. And all around, the lightning lit the dark in weird surreal flashes as the winds howled and the thunder drowned out the pounding rain. My main memory of that night was cowering beneath an old army blanket with my hands pressed against my ears.

Eventually, we reached the paved road at the foot of the mountain only to face terrible flooding. The water was over the running boards on our old car. I don't remember actually reaching our small home so I expect I finally fell asleep. But every storm for the rest of my life has been measured against that one. And thankfully, none have topped it...though some have come close.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Genre Trap

Earlier today I saw a post on facebook asking commenters to post Romantic Suspense author's names. As I read through the comments, I noted some dissent about whether this or that author qualified. And others mentioned writers from different genres that had the same feel as those listed.

I wonder if we don't limit ourselves by trying to fit both our reading and writing into all those ticky-tacky little genre boxes instead of just writing or reading the story. I think about Dickens and Twain and Hardy and Huxley and yes, even Harper Lee. If they weren't considered 'classics', where would we find them? What section of the bookstore is the one labeled 'Damn Good Books'? Where is the shelf for the 'Fabulous Adventures of Outstanding Women'? Or the aisle filled with 'Hot Alien Gals in Shades of Blue with their Vampire Sidekicks'?

When I was in my teens, there were no books for young adults. You went to the library and picked a book either from the children's section (which I left behind in 5th grade) or you chose one from the adult section. It never occurred to me to read by genre. I read everything--biographies, histories, fiction, action adventure, how-to. During my senior year of high school, I decided to keep a list of every book I read. From September 1966 through June 1967 I read 472 books while completing majors in English, Math, Science, Language, and History...

I suspect when I graduated at seventeen I was better educated than most college graduates today. Certainly, I was better read. Reading stimulates creativity and thought. Reading introduces us to other viewpoints. And reading incites us to question our beliefs about the world around us. It broadens our vocabulary and by osmosis, it improves our spelling and grammar. If you can read, you can learn anything you want to learn. Reading is everything.

But!

Only if you refuse to be limited by artificial genres. How many folks have never read a Louis L'Amour because it's a western? Or a Mercedes Lackey because she's shelved with the fantasies? Or a Nora Robert because she writes romance. What if bookstores were stocked, not by genre, but by author's last names only like a library? Heh, I used to browse...and browse...and browse...until the librarian would limit how many books I checked out. Because, really, there was always just one more that looked interesting, right?

Don't fall in the genre trap. Don't limit your horizons. Read everything.   

Monday, February 22, 2016

Between the Tracks

I rarely comment on controversial subjects--mostly because I usually don't believe I have anything important to add to the controversy. The truth is I have very few new thoughts to add to most of the tempests currently populating social media, whether they're political, cultural, or religious. Sometimes they're all three.

I've recently been considering where to put my writing skills to work. Do I continue to write romances few people read? Do I pen vignettes from my childhood? Where, oh, where do I wield my sword? I don't know.

But it occurs to me, little is written (possibly even nothing is written) about segregation from the the white viewpoint of someone on the outside, looking in. My early childhood was spent in rural Arizona. I could count all the black folks I'd ever seen on one hand. Then when I was ten, we moved to a small town outside Gary, Indiana. Even back then, there was a high black population. I was fascinated. I had so many questions, questions that turned out to have no answers in 'polite' society.

I wanted to know how they got their hair so kinky. And if their dark skin felt the same as mine. How DID they get such dark skin, anyway? Did they stay out in the sun longer? What kind of lives did they live? Where did they live? It never occurred to me they were people just like me. And then Ora came to work for us.

My mother had died, leaving four motherless children. My grandmother worked as a school teacher so she wasn't available to 'do' for us. So they hired Ora to clean and cook and do laundry and keep a wary eye on us. Sitting in the kitchen, watching her bake cookies or make dinner, I asked her all the questions that bubbled up within me, never imagining the incredible rudeness I was inflicting on her. I will say this. She never failed me. She allowed me to touch her hair. And tried to explain why the palms of her hand were pink when the rest of her was so dark. She told me about the little house and the neighborhood where she and her friends lived.

Summer came and my grandmother was at home so the chats with Ora became a thing of the past. Naturally, my brothers and I played more outdoors and so it was we discovered the Red Train.

That's exactly how we pronounced it, with awe and a little anticipation in our voices. The red train was an abandoned section of passenger cars, rusty and barren, but we thought it was the most fabulous discovery. It sat on a derelict section of track a couple blocks behind the house where we lived. I suppose I should explain our town was a strange spot where about twenty tracks all came together. We lived south of the tracks. Town which included the schools, churches, stores, etc., was north of the tracks. Anytime we went to an event in town, we always had to plan an extra twenty to thirty minutes travel time in case a train was crossing Main Street. That was a frequent occurrence.

Anyway, one day when we were playing in the train, I met Bobbie Jo. Now Bobbie Jo was...a girl, a black girl, my age. We immediately hit it off because we both liked to read and had vivid imaginations. She invited me to her house--and that was the beginning of a wonderful few weeks for me. Her family lived in a small house between the tracks. I thought it was the most fabulous thing I'd ever seen and at once I began trying to think of a way my family could also have a house between the tracks. Her daddy worked for the railroad and her mama had just had a baby.

I was enchanted when her mama entrusted me with Bobbie Jo's baby brother. She actually allowed me to hold him while I sat in the rocking chair. Life was complete. At every chance, Bobbie Jo and I found time to play and read and talk about the strange world we lived in. We speculated about all the things young girls discuss when they're on the edge of womanhood. And never dreamed our friendship would ever end.

Now my daddy was the preacher at the Baptist Church. And the deacons summoned him to a meeting one day where they informed him he would need to deal with severing my friendship with the little black girl. Our church was considered quite progressive because it allowed the children in Bobbie Jo's family to attend the Sunday School. But. Bobbie Jo and I had crossed a line because we actually dared to be friends. That was something the deacons and church board wanted nipped in the bud at once.

To that end, our family moved to a house way out in the country, far from the temptations and delights of Bobbie Jo's family. And I was informed by the head deacon if I persisted in the friendship, my father would lose his position as preacher. From the perspective of adulthood, I'm pretty sure my dad didn't know about the little meeting between the head deacon and me. But the consequences were clear.

I wept many bitter tears over the loss of my friend. And that was when I lost a deal of innocence, too, because until then, it never even crossed my mind that such hatred and bigotry existed, masked behind the sorrowful smiles of religion. And my heart still hurts for the loss of Bobbie Jo.

Author's note: This story takes place in the very early sixties...