Category: Pompous pseudointellectual musings

Girls just want to have fun

May 24, 2012 by

Last night I sent a tweet to a friend who was anxious about attending a party and told her to “Have fun. Just have fun, always and everywhere.”

Yesterday I was chatting with another author who was deep in edits and we were commiserating on how our lives had changed once we had been published, and how so much time was being spent on marketing and promotion and maintenance, and how little time we had to actually write anymore. Her comment: “Remember when writing was fun?”

Once, when I was talking to my mother on the phone the evening before I was going out of town for an SCA event, she said, “Have fun.” Then she stopped and added, “I don’t know why I always say that—you always have fun.” And it’s true. I do.

I’m a firm believer in fun. Not mindless pleasure, not the frenetic search for fulfillment, not the need to have or do or be whatever society and fashion tells us will make us happy that fills so many people’s lives, but fun. That other stuff might pretend to be fun, but it really isn’t. It’s obligation, and not even obligations that we’ve accepted, but obligations that are imposed on us. Just say no. Only say yes to it if it’s fun.

What is fun?  It’s joy in what you’re doing. The part of the word “enjoy” that really matters:  “joy.”

Fun isn’t something you get. It’s not something that’s given to you automatically when you do or are or have something. Fun is something you make. You can have fun doing those other things, like partying with friends or going to a sporting event or some other social thing. But you can also have fun watching grass grow. Or doing laundry or cleaning house. Or sitting on a porch with your bestie not even talking. It all depends on what you bring to it, and what you can make of what you’re doing.

Sure, doing laundry isn’t always fun. Sometimes your back hurts and sometimes you’d rather be doing anything else, but sometimes, when the time is right and you’re in the right mood, you can make it a game. Or take pleasure in the smell and warmth of clean clothes. Or of empty baskets and a full closet.

I normally loathe housework, and my house looks like it. But one day two weeks ago, I was in the mood to do it, and spent 10 hours enjoying every moment of the cleaning.

Whoa, Pollyanna time! When life gives you lemons, make lemonade? Cockeyed optimist much?

Yeah… no. Anyone who knows me knows I’m no Pollyanna (who, if you don’t know, is the main character in book written a jillion years ago, who was so cheerful and optimistic that she changed the lives of everyone in her creepy little town. They did a Disney movie of it back in the ‘60’s when Disney made movies like that). I’m occasionally crabby, have a very short fuse, and do not suffer fools gladly. (Riding on the cliché train!) But I know what I enjoy, and I know how to make things I do fun when I have to. And you can too.

The first key is to know what you enjoy. It took me mumble-mumble years to realize that no, I am not a “People Person.” Back in the day, that was sort of a required statement in job interviews. I do not play well with others. I am a classic introvert, which, contrary to popular belief, does not mean that I am shy or withdrawn (just ask anyone who knows me). It means that I am happiest when I can work on my own, or with one other person.

There is no “I” in team—and I like it that way.

The second thing is to figure out what you really want to spend your time on—and then do it.

Yeah, I know. We all have things we have to do. Work to earn a living. Take care of our families. Maintain our homes. Fulfill social obligations. But these things don’t have to be completely devoid of fun. Figure out what you have to do, and then what you can do to make those things fun.

If your job isn’t fun, if you’re not satisfied at the end of the day, find a new job. Or better yet, find ways to improve your job. Look at what you should be doing—and what you could be doing. Challenge yourself. Rearrange your job so that it works better. Rearrange your desk so that everything works better. If your environment is stifling, you’re in the wrong place. You got that job—you can find another. It won’t be easy, but why put up with misery for a third of your life?

If you’re not having fun with your family—your family’s not having fun with you. And that’s just sad.

I remember as a kid my mother taking us (there were six kids in my family) out of school to spend a day at the museum or zoo. We didn’t suffer for it—we all did very well academically, and I think it was because we discovered early on that learning could be fun.  Mom also would do things like rent famous paintings from the library and hang them in our living room, and we would all try to find out something interesting about them. Cue love of art. My dad was musical, and played the piano, and told long rambling stories of growing up in the ‘20’s and ‘30s. Cue love of history and music. And every week we had a long, multisyllabic word written out and hung up over the kitchen table that we were challenged to learn to define before Sunday dinner. Cue love of language.

Learning=fun. Is it any wonder that several of us have advanced degrees—and some more than one?

We all had chores, of course, but even those could be fun. Racing to finish first (and still pass muster). Negotiating to switch jobs you were bored with. I used to clean the bathroom, and when I was done, I pretended with my Barbies that the sink was a lagoon and waterfall on a deserted island where they’d been stranded. Pirates were usually involved.

Around the holidays, our regular chores were assigned monetary value, so we would compete for the right to sweep down the stairs or clean the bathroom or shovel the walk. Of course we’d get aggravated sometimes, and sulk and fuss and whine about doing them. But a lot of the time they were fun.

I sometimes feel sorry for kids nowadays who don’t learn responsibility at such an early age. They’re missing out on the fun. And their parents, who run around taking them to soccer and dance class and play dates and all that stuff—yeah, they’re missing out on the fun, too. It’s not fun being a glorified chauffeur.

So why not try to find ways of making it fun? Why not indulge in a little make-believe? Buy a gray cap and pretend to be a chauffeur. Wear a Groucho nose and glasses. Embarrass your children.

And when you can spend time with your kids, or your Significant Other, or your mother-in-law, spend it doing something simple you enjoy, even if it’s only talking or playing cards or badminton. (Does anyone play badminton anymore?) Turn off the TV, turn off the computer, turn off the Nintendo. You can leave the Wii on if you promise to share.

Really, the most fun stuff is the simplest stuff. But you have to make it fun.

Okay, Pollyanna time over! You may now return to your regularly scheduled life, or the facsimile thereof.

 

Zen and the Art of Hand Sewing

Jul 25, 2011 by

I have in my hot little hands the contract for Bitterwood, from Amber Quill Press. It will be published under their LGBT impress, Amber Allure. I am FedExing the signed version back today. With luck, and speedy editing, it will be released in ebook format in September, and in paperback in October—hopefully before GayRomLit in New Orleans. I would love to show up there with three books under my belt. We’ll see.

In the meantime, Pennsic looms, and I am sewing. This happens every year before Pennsic, when I drag out my garb and say “OMG—I need new clothes!!!” Pennsic garb has very specific parameters. It has to be cool, because temperatures shoot into the 90’s, sometimes. It has to be layerable, because they also drop into the 50’s sometimes. And it has to be washable, because above all, Pennsic is dirty. It’s in the foothills of the Alleghenies, and the area is rich in a peculiar red clay which, when it turns to mud (as it frequently does at Pennsic), gets into your clothes and dyes them funky colors.

Fortunately, the two Irish style dresses (lace up the front, sleeveless) still fit, as do the linen shirts I bought last year to wear under them (because I SO do not go sleeveless). But two linen shirts will not do for ten days worth of sweltering heat. And I am very much afraid that it will be sweltering. 

So this past weekend, I used one of the old shirts to design a pattern for a simple shirt, and cut out enough white linen for two more shirts (one handkerchief weight, which is very light and sheer, and one of light weight, which is not so sheer. I made bloomers out of it for last Pennsic). Today on the train I started sewing. 

I love hand sewing. I love embroidery, cross-stitch, needlepoint—practically anything done with thread or yarn and a needle. While I like crochet and do that very well, I suck at knitting, am ambivalent about spinning, and have never learned weaving, so those things aren’t very zen for me. But hand sewing… for me, that’s zen.

The funny thing is that people tend to HATE hand sewing. Even if they embroider or do other needle arts, they resist hand sewing, complaining that’s slow, difficult, aggravating and frustrating. Me, I hate to use a sewing machine. They’re noisy, you’re stuck in one spot, you have to pay attention to it, a machine is involved so of course things are going to go wrong—and when you screw up and sew the wrong sides together or something, you have to pull out acres of stitching and the stitches are teensy-tiny. Hand sewing is portable, you can pause and look at something or carry on a conversation, it’s slow and it’s in your hands, so if you’re doing something wrong, you catch on a lot faster. 

The thing is that you have to understand what you’re doing when you hand sew. You have to become one with the fabric, one with the thread. (Okay, that’s me being silly, but in a sense it’s true. If you understand your materials, you’re halfway there. And that goes for a lot more than sewing, but that’s a post for another time.) 

Hand sewing and machine sewing, for one thing, are nothing alike, except for the fact that you are attaching one layer to another. The same thing might be said about hand sewing and stapling (which I’ve also used in garment construction. Works great instead of basting for matching plaids). For one thing, machine sewing isn’t really sewing. It’s something called “couching,” which is when you lay a thread down and hook another thread over it to hold it down. That’s the purpose of the bobbin thread: to hold down the top thread. The thread only goes through the fabric once, and therefore doesn’t build up any friction. 

In hand sewing the thread goes through the fabric over and over again. This creates friction. If you have a thread that’s rough, or multiple fibers, the wear will roughen it even more. This is when you get knots. So for hand sewing, I either use a good silk thread, or a waxed linen or cotton thread (waxing it with beeswax, or, my favorite, a thread conditioner called Thread Heaven). Waxing the thread keeps the fibers from unraveling and reduces the friction. This helps if you use polyester thread, too. 

Friction causes the problems. But then again–doesn’t friction ALWAYS cause the problems?  No, not really–consider sex. But in sewing, it definitely does.

My favorite time is when I’m sewing linen with silk thread. The peaceful little stitch: the little twist of the needle to straighten the thread, the smooth slide of the thread through the loose soft weave of the linen, the gentle tug to set the stitch—it’s very zen. Yes, you can carry on a conversation, yes, you can pause and look out the train window, yes, you can think about the scene that you should be writing this lunch hour instead of this blog post… but you don’t have to. You can just think about the sewing instead. Even if the thread does make a knot, it’s easy to fix, and if it’s on linen, you may not even need to, since the weave is so forgiving. And when you finish a seam or a hem or a whatever, you can look at the neat row of stitches and feel a sense of accomplishment. It’s restful. 

It requires patience. It requires serenity. It requires a willingness not to rush, not to hurry, not to get frantic meeting an arbitrary deadline. It requires good materials, or cheap materials properly prepared. It’s like the fabric version of cooking—sometimes the beauty is in the task and not in the results, whether it’s a cassoulet or a plain white shirt. The journey, not the destination.

Oh, for a muse of fire!

Jun 16, 2011 by

     I could use a muse of fire. Or any kind of muse, at all. Feeling plenty stalled on the writing front, which of course leads to doing Other Things instead of writing.

     Because my life isn’t quite full enough, I’m taking an online, non-credit class called Shakespeare for Writers. It’s taught by Heidi Cullinan, who has a master’s degree in teaching, so she knows what she’s doing. Heidi’s also the one who organized the LGBT Authors table at Capital City Pride in Des Moines this past weekend, where I met and spent some quality time with other authors of gay and lesbian literature, specifically Marie Sexton, M.L. Rhodes, and Catherine Lundoff, along with Heidi, of course. Lovely people, all of them, and a good time was had by all. I’d never been to a Pride event before, and it just made me so happy to see so many people—young, old, gay, straight, whatever—just having fun and hanging out. I’m looking forward to going to the Chicago one in a couple of weeks so I can compare them—I have the feeling, though, that the Chicago one is going to be huge and scary (for me) so I’m glad I got my feet wet at the Des Moines one.

     The quote above is the opening line of Henry V, also known as TGMEM (The Greatest Movie Ever Made). That distinction is not mine, but that of my friends Henry and Philippa, who go about quoting from it willy-nilly. Specifically, they are referring to Branagh’s version of the play. I’m very fond of Branagh’s Shakespearean plays myself, even taking into consideration Love’s Labour’s Lost. On second thought, let’s just forget that one altogether.

     I like Shakespeare, a lot. I never took a class on the subject before; everything I know about the plays is simply what I’ve read or seen. When I was a kid my family had a copy of Charles and Mary Lamb’s Tales from Shakespeare, which were simplified prose versions of some of the plays, and I loved that book. It had elegant line drawings illustrating it in the style of maybe Blake or Beardsley—something Art Deco-ish, anyway—and I just absorbed the stories. (For some reason, one of the less-performed ones sticks in my head: The Winter’s Tale. I just adored that story, and still remember the drawing of the betrayed wife, Hermione, pretending to be a statue in front of the husband, Leontes.) The high drama of the tales really did a number on me, and I credit that little book with triggering my over-the-top imagination.

     We didn’t cover the Bard in high school—mine was a very progressive one, and in English classes we studied things like Magazines and Newspapers, and Song-Writing, and Myths and Legends. The latter, actually, helped a lot later when I finally did get into reading the plays, because Shakespeare flung poetic references to mythology around like a parader flinging beads at Mardi Gras. In college, though, my brother Jay discovered Oak Park’s Shakespeare in the Park, and it was there that I really discovered the best way to experience the plays. The way they were meant to be experienced—live.

     Now generally, if I’m given a choice between a performance and a book, I’ll go with the book most times. The book lets me cast the story and set the settings and arrange the pacing in my own head, and I live most happily in my own head. But Shakespeare needs to be heard. It needs to be seen. And it needs to be felt. It doesn’t require extensive, elaborate sets; it doesn’t require props. In most cases, you don’t even get stage directions (“Exit, pursued by a bear” is about as detailed as it gets). But you get the language and the faces and the passion behind it all.

If the enemy is an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb, is it meet, think you, that we should also, look you, be an ass and a fool and a prating coxcomb? in your own conscience, now?  – Henry V

    That’s kind of a run-on sentence in print. Read it aloud, and it’s damning. More passion: Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She’s just found out that her cousin has died for love of Claudio, who has rejected her: “Oh, that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the market-place!” Sounds kind of over the top. Watch Emma Thompson in Branagh’s film version of that play and it will give you chills. (A shorter, but just as chilling line from her: “Kill Claudio.” Brr!)

    I really had intended this blog to be about James Joyce and Ulysses (speaking of mythology) in celebration of Bloomsday, but I had to download some of the plays for the class and started thinking about Shakespeare, and you know, once that happens, it’s all downhill from there.

More forn words: Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Apr 5, 2011 by

Which translates, of course to “when Gloria feels ill on Mondays, she takes the bus.” (Or was it “taking the bus on Mondays makes Gloria ill”? I can never remember which.) 

It’s about the fleeting nature of fame, but as usual the title doesn’t have much to do with the content of this post. Today’s post is more about the things that stick with us, and link us together. Or at least, one thing. A soap opera, and a vampire. Okay, I guess that’s two. Math was never my strong suit.

I’m a Boomer. The tail end of the Baby Boom, 1957, to be specific. Which I read someplace was the year in which more babies were born than any other year before or since. I guess that means it was the boom year of the Boom. At any rate, I have a lot of fellow 53- & 54-year-olds, more than half of them women, and most of them named Kathy. 

And what was the defining element of our year group, those white, middle-class girl babies like me? What was the cultural landmark, the zeitgeist, if you prefer (assuming that’s the right term, and I’m not taking bets)? 

Not the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We were 6 or 7 when the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. I don’t remember that, myself, because my family weren’t big Ed Sullivan watchers. We were probably watching “Sing Along with Mitch” instead.  But even if we had watched Ed, I probably wasn’t all that interested.  In fact, after a brief, very informal poll, I found that most of the women my age who didn’t have older sisters, didn’t remember the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. 6 is too young to appreciate the charm of the Fab Four. 

Not the hippie stuff. We were 11 or 12 during the Summer of Love. We missed out on the Age of Aquarius era. (I read an article around then that talked about a drug hangout and described the inhabitants as “pimply-faced kids.” For a couple of years I thought that that was what was so wrong with drugs: they caused acne.) We were mostly still playing with dolls when the astronauts landed on the moon. The Civil Rights movement was happening in the far South and we didn’t even know any black people. The Vietnam War was something that was on TV, and probably in black and white. (Or in the case of my cousins’ new color TV, a weird shade of green.) 

No. The single defining element of my birth year-mates was… Dark Shadows. 

Seriously. Ask any woman my age about Dark Shadows, and she’ll tell you the same thing. “Oh, my gosh! I loved that show! I used to run home from school every day to watch it.” 

I used to run home from school every day to watch it.  That, my friends, is the kicker. They all say the same thing. Every single one of them. 

I did. Well, not home; I lived too far away to make it there by 3:30, when Dark Shadows aired. I ran to my BFF’s house three blocks from school and watched it with her. This was just what we did. I never thought twice about it. And even as we grew older, as the subject of Dark Shadows came up, which it did, because it was so much a part of our cultural identity, when someone said “I used to run home from school every day to watch it” we accepted it as natural. Normal. 

Then, a few months ago, I bought a used copy of  The Dark Shadows Companion. And in the foreword, written I think (I don’t have the book in front of me) by Lara Parker, who played Angelique, there is a comment about people running home from school every day to watch it. I said, “Whoa.” Because there it was, in black and white, much like the show itself (at least in its early days): The Comment. And it made me think. 

Why Dark Shadows? What drew us to that show? It premiered in 1966, when we were only 9 or 10, and at first was just a gothic soap opera, on a par with the suspense thrillers of the time, all of which featured a woman in a white dress running away from a looming dark mansion. (I think it was a law that all suspense thrillers had to have basically the same cover.) Dark Shadows was the TV version of the suspense thrillers. There was the beautiful young girl, the looming mansion, the creepy inhabitants (including the creepy little kid the BYG was governess to—and seriously, folks, did they even still have governesses in the ‘60’s?), and, of course, the dark, brooding hero who just might be a Bad Guy. 

I’ve been watching the first season of DS, and it’s… well… kinda bad, in a good sort of way. Or maybe I mean the opposite. It takes a while to get into the story, nothing much happens in most of the episodes except people talking about what happened in the one episode where something did, and there’s mood music and lighting. Cheesy mood music and bad lighting. Occasionally you get a dialogue flub. In other words, it’s a soap opera. But it was an ambitious soap opera, and I kind of think that was the appeal. It was different. 

All of us had grown up on soap operas. We were the last generation with stay-at-home moms, and the TV was always on in the background, even when housework was being done, because in between loads of laundry and batches of dishes and supper preparations, there were moments where our mothers needed to connect with other human beings. And the soap operas usually showcased drama and luxury and forward thinking concepts like women who worked (okay, usually as nurses or teachers or something acceptable like that, but still…), and they were something the stay-at-home mom could watch in those odd moments and feel connected and superior and interested. That’s why nothing much really happened, and when it did, the characters talked it to death—because, if the dramatic thing happened when Mom was changing a diaper, she’d have missed it, and thus the characters would let her know what she missed. So everyone’s mother had her favorite soaps, and we all knew them almost as well as we knew our own families. 

But they were mostly about ordinary, middle-class white things, things that our SAHM (Stay At Home Moms) could relate to. (This was before the spy stories and demonic possession took over the soaps.) 

DS took the suspense thriller trope and translated it to television, while keeping the standard soap opera format. So the form was familiar, and acceptable, and in the beginning, the stories were familiar, too, because everyone read romantic suspense novels and watched nighttime TV and went to Alfred Hitchcock movies. DS just provided more of the same:  Why hadn’t Elizabeth Collins left the house in 18 years? Who was it that sent the money every month for Victoria Winters upkeep at the orphanage? What happened to Roger Collins’s wife? Why was David so creepy? What mystery kept Sam Evans drunk all the time? And was Burke Devlin a bad guy—or the hero? Interesting, comfortably familiar, and consistent. 

And then, 200+ episodes in, there is a knock on the door, and the mysterious British “cousin” Barnabas arrives. And the whole dynamic changes.

Because—in a first for daytime TV, if not TV period—Barnabas Collins is a vampire.

And that’s where we come in. There’s something about girls and vampires—something primal and appealing even as it scares us to death. And adolescent girls are attracted to large, threatening things, like horses and vampires. (What? Horses are scary! I was terrified of them for years. But that’s another story.) Or maybe it was the British accent. Whatever it was, Cousin Barnabas was the thing that brought Dark Shadows from original-if-obscure minor-league soap to full-blown cultural touchstone. Even though he may have seemed to be a bad guy, there was something vulnerable that appealed to us about him. We weren’t running home so much to watch Dark Shadows as we were running home to see Barnabas. 

The problem is, right now, I haven’t gotten to the Barnabas episodes yet. I’m only 18 episodes in, and have something like 185 left to go before I get there. So I don’t remember much about him—just that he was mysterious and brooding and interesting. And a vampire.

And the reason adolescent girls ran home every day after school to watch a soap opera. To the point that it is the defining zeitgeist of women my age, the one thing we all have in common. A soap opera. And a vampire.

Not the Beatles, not Free Love, not the Civil Rights Movement, not Neil Armstrong, or the Vietnam War or Watergate or anything like that. A soap opera, and a vampire.

 And Stephenie Meyer probably hadn’t even been born yet.

Rights and responsibilities . . .

Mar 4, 2011 by

Today is the birthday of Garrett Augustus Morgan.  He was born in 1877, the son of former slaves. He invented the traffic signal and the gas mask, and is possibly the first black man to own a car.

More evidence to show what you were given means less than what you do with it. Some people have everything and do nothing; some have nothing and do everything. And some have everything and will do anything to keep others from doing anything.

 Two headlines caught my attention this week. (Okay, more than two, because I have the attention span of a gnat and am always going off reading articles that have nothing to do with what I’m supposed to be looking for.)  One was on the Supreme Court’s determination that the “Baptist” church from Kansas (that shall remain nameless because I don’t want them getting any more publicity), that bastion of radical nutcases, had the right to picket military funerals with anti-gay signs. The other was about a principal of a high school in Corpus Christi, Texas, that cancelled ALL of the extracurricular activities and clubs at the school so she wouldn’t be obliged to permit a Gay-Straight Alliance club to form at the school, as she would be on the basis of federal law. (I think it was federal law. I not only have the attention span of a gnat, I have the memory of one, too. I do know that some law or other was in question. Sorry.)

 The fact is, the Constitution specifically allows wack-job cultists to spread messages of hate, as long as they don’t do it in a way that incites violence. Okay, so far the wack-jobs have been lucky in that their victims haven’t gotten physical with them, but it is only a matter of time. I suspect that they are targeting military funerals in specific for that very reason; they’re hoping that someone will attack them, and then they can go on record as being the “victims.” Military funerals are, even more so than the average regular funeral, hotbeds of grief and suppressed anger, and sooner or later someone’s going to snap. These are men and women who have died in the service of their country, who of all people deserve a graceful and loving send-off, and it is heartbreaking to see evil people with an agenda of hate using the grief of a family and a nation to push that agenda forward. They should be struck by lightning.

 But it’s still their right to do so. Even if they are terrorists of the emotional sort. I think it was Voltaire (or maybe Balzac; I get them mixed up) who said “I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

 The principal in Corpus Christi needs to hear that message. Rather than follow the spirit of the law and permit a club that she personally may not want to join (and who’s asking her anyway) and that maybe goes against her personal beliefs, to form at a public school (and one, therefore, that must follow the laws of the government that funds it), she prefers to take away the privileges of all the students at the school. She is imposing her personal viewpoint on a public institution. This is not a matter of the principal’s free speech. She is welcome to speak against the organization at any time: that is her right. But it is equally the right of the students to form the organization, as long as it complies with the accepted regulations of the school, and as long as this country does not permit discrimination on the basis of age, race, gender, or sexual orientation or any of the other things that are on the list, she is obliged to conform with that. She is a public employee, working at a public institution. She is paid by the taxpayers, and while administrators have a lot of leeway in decision-making, they must take into consideration what is not only in the best interest of the students, but what is the legal responsibility of the school in furthering those interests. She may not consider a Gay-Straight Alliance in the best interest of some of her students, but to cancel all clubs or student organizations is in the best interest of NONE of her students.

 In doing so, she has failed in her responsibility to her students, to her community, and to her employers.

 Sigh.

Living with Expectations

Dec 23, 2010 by

There were swans on the river this morning:  perhaps a dozen, gliding through the light mist that rose from the clash of the cold air and the warmer water, brilliant white against the grays of a chill winter’s morning.

Sounds bucolic, a scene you might find somewhere in the country, a long way away.  Fact is, I saw them rumbling by on a commuter train traveling through the industrial South Side of Chicago.  Where they sailed was the bend of the Calumet River where it curves past the old, now-defunct Acme Steel mill, a collection of battered, shuttered, and embittered old buildings.  Not a place where you’d expect swans.  But they were there.

Geese, too, and I’ve seen loons and the occasional crane.  In other places the Calumet is a busier river, but except for a barge once in a while, this particular stretch is pretty quiet now.  Once, before the steel bust, there would have been more barges.  There would have been cars in the empty lots, and fires in the empty mills, and smoke pouring from the smokestacks.  It’s a quieter place now.

The surprise of seeing things like that—swans on an industrial river, the coyote that crawled into a cooler of a Quizno’s on Adams and Wabash a few summers ago, the deer walking across the lawns on my street last summer—is all the more potent because for most of my life, I didn’t see things like that.  If I wanted to see a fox, or an owl, or a hawk, I went to the zoo.  The neighborhood I live in now is not much different from the one I grew up in, and that neighborhood, too, now sees things like coyotes and fox and raccoons.  (Okay, the raccoons have always been there, along with the skunks.  There just seem to be more of them…)  It’s simply because we’re encroaching more on their territories, but to me, sometimes, they’re a touch of grace, a little message from God or Mother Nature or Life that says:  Hey.  Don’t take things for granted.  Loosen your expectations.

We all live with expectations, even when we don’t realize it.  We expect that the next job will be better.  We expect that we’ll get a raise this year.  We expect, sometimes, that we’ll be laid off, or that our lover will cheat on us, or that the dinner we just ordered will be less food and more money than we want it to be.  Our expectations can be high, or they can be low.  We expect things of our family, of our children, of our parents, of our lovers, of our friends, of our enemies. We look forward.  It’s the way we’re built—we face forward, we walk that way, we see that way, we think that way. We anticipate, we expect, we prepare. And when things don’t work out as expected, we’re thrown.  We don’t know how to react, how to behave, how to compensate, how to recover.  Unexpected things cause us stress.  Even good surprises cause stress, according to recent studies.

But they can also give us a bit of grace.  A time-out decree from Time itself.  A space to regroup, to rethink.

I’m not so good with change.  I’m an Expecter.  I expect things to go a certain way, according to a certain schedule.  I’m great with timetables.  When I travel by car I figure out exactly when I’m getting to a certain point in the trip and I’m usually within fifteen minutes of my expectations.  I get nervous when I have to make a flight or a train or a meeting and automatically build in extra time to allow for mistakes.  It’s not efficiency. It’s paranoia.  I hate to be late, and when being late matters, it makes me nuts.  So I know about expectations. I have them constantly.

But I didn’t expect the swans, and they were delightful, so lovely and serene (even though intellectually I know that they’re mean-ass bastards who’ll bite you as soon as look at you), and for a moment I was pulled out of my expectations.

I submitted Kindred Hearts to the editors of Dreamspinner Press yesterday, and expected to get the usual automatic response letting me know that they had received it, and that I would be getting an email from an editor later.  What I got instead was a nice note from Elizabeth, the publisher.  I didn’t expect that.  And it was delightful.  Like the swans.

Life may not always go the way we expect it to.  And you know what?  It’s okay.

Holding pattern…

Nov 20, 2010 by

Well, still waiting for feedback on Kindred Hearts, and my own heart is sinking rapidly.  Are the beta readers just not engaged enough to finished?  Does it suck so badly they’re afraid to tell me the bad news?  The longer this goes on the less confident in the story I am.  Lynda described it as “ambitious,” and I guess it is, far more so than “Zach.”  Which was, essentially, just a romance.   But then, Kindred Hearts is also just a romance–albeit one set in an historical period with characters like Lord Castlereagh and the Duke of Wellington.  I dunno.  I never thought “Zach” would receive the kind of reception it has–the original intent was just to see if I could A, finish a book and B, get it published.  The fact that it’s still getting good reviews after six months seems to me to indicate that it has legs, which is good.  God only knows what Kindred Hearts will have.  Hooves?  Tentacles?

I’m not sure where I’m going with Miles and Adam’s story–it started out as sort of an in-joke between me and my friends Adam and Philip.  Or David and Craig, if you’re speaking mundanely.  Adam is the SCA name of David, and Philip is the SCA name of Craig.  And David Philip Evans is in Finding Zach, so I had to write a story with Adam Craig, of course. The name sounds like a rock star, so he is.  And Miles Caldwell is a hermit calligrapher who lives by a lake and never goes anywhere and doesn’t have a clue who Adam is.  Which Adam kind of likes.  And he likes Miles, and vice versa, but what’s going to happen when Adam goes back to LA and takes up his life as a rock star again?  Miles has a very negative opinion of their future, but Adam is optimistic…

Question, totally off-topic:  What do you do when someone asks your opinion of their own book, and you think it sucks?  I mean–really, really bad.  Flat writing, bad characters, uninteresting story…  The problem is that the person is someone you either work with or have to meet regularly in a social situation or is another author with your publisher, and they’ve published before and you couldn’t read their other books either?  So far I’ve been able to avoid the subject when we’ve met, but I’m scared to death that I’ll be asked for input–and I just can’t give it.  Because it’s really that bad.  And I don’t want them mad at me or insulted, because they are a nice person.

I’ve read bad books before and it amazes the hell out of me that they got published.  I do galley proofreading for my own publisher, and one of the books I had to proof was absolutely terrible.  I was so relieved when I was done!  And then a few weeks later, the editor asked me to proof the sequel.  Fortunately I was absolutely slammed with other work and couldn’t do it anyway, so that saved me coming up with an excuse not to read it.  I’m not being picky or snobby–it was just that bad.  I’m curious to hear what the reviewers have to say about it.

My ambition is to have Sarah Frantz from Dear Author review Kindred Hearts and give it a good review.  She’s tough, but I respect her opinion.  Her reviews were in the back of my mind the whole time I was writing KH, and I kept editing it by her voice in my head.  But first I have to get feedback from my betas…

Ten reasons why gay marriage should be illegal…

Jun 30, 2010 by

posted on the Facebook page Wipeout Homophobia.  This is hilarious…  and sad.

  1. Being gay is not natural.  Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.
  2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.
  3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior.  People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.
  4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn’t changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can’t marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.
  5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Brittany Spears’ 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.
  6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children.  Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn’t be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren’t full yet, and the world needs more children.
  7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.
  8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion.  In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country.  That’s why we only have one religion in America.
  9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home.  That’s why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.
  10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms.  Just like we haven’t adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Smart Pop: Science Fiction after Star Wars, and what about M/M?

Jun 10, 2010 by

Another long post.  Sorry.  Feeling philosophical.

Today’s free essay on Smart Pop Books is by the fantasy and science fiction author Tanya Huff, and deals with the effect of Star Wars on science fiction publishing.  It’s an interesting take, pointing out that the success of those movies had a significant impact not only on the popularity of science fiction in general, but on the stylistic elements of the genre and, more to my point here, the publishers themselves.  Basically it boils down to this:  Star Wars turned what was essentially a niche genre—published by mostly small imprints where marketing and editorial staff were usually on the same floor, close to each other and to the authors and to the product—into a financial powerhouse, drawing the attention of larger, more bottom-line-oriented publishing houses, which promptly ate up the smaller imprints because they were Making Money.  The editors were banished to the editorial dungeons, the marketers were swept away to the Money Making Suite, and the authors were left to languish in the outer darkness, only receiving their crusts when they produced something to the firm’s standards, except for the lucky few who came up with the blockbusters.  Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating—a little.

 What struck me about this is the similarities between science fiction then—the niche genre—and m/m romance now.  True, the probability of m/m throwing up a cultural phenom the likes of Star Wars is minimal, but as the genre grows and becomes more mainstream, will we see the demise of the many little presses that support the niche?  Will they all be swept up by The Suits, as the small-imprint science fiction shops were?  What would be the effect of that?  Beneficial to the authors or detrimental?  Obviously harder to break into, but potentially more lucrative?  I don’t know if this will happen; I don’t know if it matters in the long run.  But it’s an interesting article, and worth reading—and thinking about.

 The link is http://www.smartpopbooks.com/1027, and the essay will be available for free until Thursday, May 17th.