Friday, December 19, 2014

Recovering from a Bad Start: "I Was an Online Idiot"

The regulars at writing sites have seen it many, many times. Newcomers arrive pretty sure they're geniuses, every word they write golden if not magical. They're waiting for the industry to buy their script and beg for more, to recognize their brilliance, to make them rich, to award the Oscar. While they wait, they're willing to drop crumbs of knowledge on us lesser beings, although we are unlikely to ascend to the lofty and creative heights they anticipate for themselves.

By the way, they mention, they do it all. They've written the score, although some lackey will need to write down the actual musical notes. The domain for the movie title is reserved and it's got a Facebook and Tumblr presence. Their own professional website is up, under the pseudonym that sounds so writerly and so cool as it explains both their process and their source of inspiration. They've got the poster designed for theatrical use and BluRay covers. They've selected the clips to use for the trailer, plus the voiceover actor. They want Joseph Gordon-Levitt or James McAvoy starring opposite Scarlett Johansson, Olivia Wilde if there's a scheduling conflict, and they plan to be on the set to help each actor better understand the character.

It's both sad and funny that this happens so often it's unsurprising. Whether the online response is mean-spirited, frank, instructive, or mocking is beside the point, although I applaud the websites which demand civility. Each of these newcomers requires two rude awakenings. One, this isn't how the business works, and two, their writing is utter crap.

It's demoralizing, I know, to think you'd written something that was pretty damned good and be told differently. You worked hard on it--really hard!--and the characters seem rich, nuanced, and real to you. The few friends or family members you dared to show it to said great things about it. They could see it playing like a real movie, just like you can! You may have found websites where screenwriters told you the script showed talent and promise, just like their early work did. And here these nobodies are telling you it sucks.

They suck! And they're idiots, too stupid to see how good this is! Spiteful and nasty retaliation, name-calling, and moral outrage happen far more often than denial or disappearing. The regulars have seen that play out a lot of times, too.

What we seldom see, though, is what might actually make you a better screenwriter. We rarely see people sorry they got upset, apologizing for their behavior, and saying they'll do better, and so far, we've never seen that promise come to pass. We don't see people open to learning exactly what they've done wrong and how to fix it. We don't see people ready to face the reality of early writing being bad. We don't see them asking for guidance on structure, format, character development, pacing, writing to a budget, grammar and punctuation,or anything else on the craft.

Which is a damned shame, really, since it means they're unlikely ever to improve.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Rate Books for Quality

Among my many, many pet peeves--a menagerie of peeves?--is the person who gives an online product a low rating because they did not read the product description and were unreasonably disappointed to find it was exactly what it said it was and not what they thought it was.

I was reminded of this yesterday, when someone rated a lamp with two stars of the possible five, because it was small. The dimensions of the lamp, the shade, and the lamp and shade assembled were in the product description, so how is this person's inattention helpful in informing other potential buyers of its quality?

I've seen the same thing on art prints ("I didn't read the description closely and was disappointed it came rolled up and not framed."), clothing ("This sweater isn't wool!"), and coffee makers ("This didn't grind the beans, which is what I wanted.")

And of course it extends to book reviews.

Don't get me wrong. I'm firmly in the corner of anybody who has an opinion and backs it up, even if I disagree with the opinion and the reasoning that led to it. But I have little patience for the buyer who writes a bad review when a book was exactly what it said it was going to be.

I've seen it in hard-boiled private eye novels ("This book has so much swearing and violence I had to put it down."), horror ("The gore made me sick--like the author must be!") and erotica ("This book is disgusting and decent people don't do these things.")

Excuse me? This is only a small portion of what real people do--your neighbors, the kind people at your church, the clerk who takes your money or sells you the ticket, the couple that owns the coffee shop, the plumber who'll come out in the middle of the night, the receptionist at your dentist's office, the ordinary people whose paths intersect yours on a daily basis.

If you approve only unadventurous sex between married heterosexual couples, then maybe you should be buying erotica only after reading the blurb. There's hot fiction written just for you--and plenty for everybody else.

The erotica writers selling commercially- and self-published books cover the full range of sexual activities actual people do. Your disapproval of their choices, or of who they are, does not belong in a book's rating.

Rate it poorly if it's badly written, if the characters seem flat, if it bored you, if the plot had holes. That book deserves a low rating. But the fact that you do not approve of the activities or characters depicted? Giving such a book a low rating just shows you're a fool.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

On Dirty Girls

Pardon me, but I have to get something off my chest. Or more accurately, my thighs and ass.

I'm recently returned from a short trip through western New York, northern Pennsylvania, and northern Ohio on my way to Akron, trying to dodge bad weather hammering Cleveland and Erie.

I like Ohio in many ways. The people are uncommonly friendly, from hotel desk clerks to crowds milling in line to enter Akron's gorgeously renovated Civic Theater. The weather, while wintry, has more sunshine than I get at home. Drivers tend toward courteous, letting you into their lane.

But there's one thing I loathe about Ohio. I first noted it more than a decade ago, and it seems to be worsening. I see it at highway rest stops, restaurants, hotels, stores, academic buildings on college campuses, sports stadiums, museums, movie theaters, comedy clubs, and music venues large and small.

Ohio women--surely not all of them, but far too many--hover above the toilet seat rather than sitting down. They piss on the seat and often the floor as well. They do not clean it up. If you're the next woman and not paying attention, you're going to seat yourself in somebody's pee. If you are paying attention, you get the pleasure of wiping up some stranger's urine.

Oh, sure, I've gone to the next stall, and the next, and the next, living one of those weird dreams you're having because you really need to pee but haven't waked up yet, to no avail. It's not that some inconsiderate woman has hover-peed. It's that a great many do. At a place with a half-dozen stalls, it's not at all unusual to find every single one of them sporting a wet toilet seat.

This does not happen in neighboring Pennsylvania, by the way. You use a public restroom in Pennsylvania, the seat is likely to be dry, same as in most places.

So what is it about Ohio? My theory is that there's a basic distrust of and contempt for other-ness. In one's home, for instance, and perhaps at one's job, one's church, etc. surely these women sit. They presume the bathroom that looks clean is clean and the basic hygiene of the others using the bathroom is fine. They're right.

However, they also presume people and places they don't know are dirty, that sitting on toilet seats which only look clean might make them dirty, too, that the default for other women is unclean. And so they hover, making the seat unclean for others.

Who's dirty?

I take offense at the attitude that anyone who's not One of Us is presumed dirty. This isn't just about toilet seats but carries over into politics and social mores, and it's every bit as ugly as somebody's cold piss on the seat.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Yup, I'm in There

The internet is all the proof required to know many, many people cannot reason at the most basic level. The family member who thinks schools need to teach logic in middle school is absolutely right.

I'm a fangirl--it doesn't matter which actor--and there's a woman I see on various fan sites who is certain the actor is gay. She reads between the lines of every print interview in which he mentions a male friend or colleague, gleefully reposts pictures in which he stands near any other handsome actor (while ignoring those of him near or touching gorgeous female actors), knows his few public relationships with women are for publicity's sake, ignores the pregnant girlfriend, and generally sees what she wants to believe whether it's there or not.

Among her favorite arguments to convince others (which seems to be her mission in life) is a novel written by a gay director who has worked with the actor. A character in that novel is very probably based on the actor, and that character is gay and has sex with the narrator. Obviously the director had sex with the actor, right? Is this not proof?

This is where her logic fails.

Novelists, including this director, put themselves into their characters. There's a bit of me in everyone I write, male and female, hero and villain, gay and straight and in between. I'm the curvacious wife--and her neglectful husband, the new lover, the older woman who becomes a friend, the elderly neighbor headed for a nursing home, the harried doctor, the stuttering man who prays aloud, and the cop.

Writers add many details which are not drawn from their own lives. They're inventions, fantasies, what-ifs, intended to develop the character or propel the plot.

Do I fret over my looks like Natalie? Yes. Am I long and happily married like she is? Yes. Would I add a very attractive person we'd only met that evening to our sex lives? Nope. I made that part up, like the director probably did his gay scene with "my" actor's character.

Using our own lives, and minutia drawn from those around us, is how authors make their characters seem real and rounded, with lives which existed before the events in the book and which will continue after its end--unless we kill them. I work hard to give my characters backgrounds and childhoods, opinions, beliefs, hopes, fears, families, friends, weaknesses, doubts, jobs, frustrations, tempers, senses of humor, hobbies and interests, and everything else real people have which make the simplest lives rich.

I make it all up, peppered with a few tidbits from real lives if they fit in the fictional mosaic of my characters' lives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

On Writing vs. Having Written

I've been hanging around in-person and online writing communities for a lot of years now, and there's one phenomenon which is a constant. If you, too, observe or participate in any group of writers, you've no doubt seen it yourself.

There are a lot of people who call themselves writers who write very, very little, if at all. I don't mean this month, or even this year. We all know life takes some crazy turns which can eat all of a person's available time or every bit of energy, creativity, or motivation they can muster.

What I'm talking about is the person who likes to consider himself a writer among his own kind when he only talks the talk and rarely walks the walk. You know these people. They're the self-identified writers who talk about their story, who figure out what actors at what ages would play their characters, who draw maps of the settings or create the world where it takes place, who generate detailed character biographies and determine the limits of the monsters' or aliens' abilities, who run potential titles or plot ideas past their "fellow writers"--but do not sit down before the blank screen or page to put down the words to make it so.

These people don't want to write. They don't like to write. What they want is to have written, and what they like is to call themselves writers.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Second Place and Accepting a Half-Assed Effort

I live near the flagship store of Wegmans, the grocery chain ranked best in the US by Consumer Reports. It earns its reputation across the board--competitive and consistent prices, the quality and variety of goods they sell, how they treat their customers, how they treat their employees, their contributions to the community. It's all first-rate, as shopping experiences go.

There's another grocery store chain here, with locations nearer to the less prosperous citizens, although no stores inside the city itself. Not long ago they closed a fairly decent location and opened a new store nearby. What the hell, we thought. Let's shop there, try it out.

For a new store, the produce section was tiny. Where Wegmans offers much variety within types of foods--say, seven or eight types and sizes of tomatoes, five of onions--this store had very little depth. Still, a lot of our list was produce, so we bought what we could and made substitutions for the rest. (OMG, we have to chop our own celery to make jambalaya!) They had no field greens salad mix, no large bags of pre-made salad, no heirloom tomatoes, no local berries, no pre-pared vegetables ready to cook, no chunks of trimmed pineapple or melon.

Our next stop was the deli, where the selection was smaller than Wegmans but still not bad, with some brands Wegmans does not carry. I chose quickly, but the woman already being served was buying a pound or more of several types of meats and cheeses. There was only one employee working the deli, mid-day on a Friday. She called a specific employee to come to assist, but he never arrived. The woman already being served was aware how long I'd been waiting and apologized; she was buying everything for a large family reunion picnic. The lone employee finally went to another department, apparently spoke to a manager, and brought back the employee she'd called over who hadn't come on her say-so.

We continued our shopping, finding they carried neither of the Popsicles we devour. Oh, well, it's not like we're addicted. Just very, very dependent.

At the checkout, the lines were long. We chose one where the woman in front of us had a large order. The cashier was slow, the kind of uncaring employee who projects I-hate-this-job and refuses to respond to any attempt at pleasantry. (She wouldn't last long at Wegmans. Really, they're uniformly either friendly or at least neutral.) She apparently rang multiple items up more than once, which caused the customer to correct her.

The cashier didn't like that and moved even slower, never mind the people in line at her register who'd caused her no problems. When it was time to pay, the customer's debit card, credit card, and personal check were all rejected, even after a front-end manager was called to run them. Now the cashier was in in a visibly foul mood and made no attempt to hide it. She seemed to resent having to scan our membership key tag--so much effort!--and sighed largely at the imposition. She made no eye contact. She coughed a fair bit, half-coverng it with her forearm.

Maybe it wasn't that she didn't give a fuck about being a good cashier doing a good job representing her store. Maybe she didn't feel well--in which case she most certainly should not be handling my food.

Anyway, we were in line to check out, our stuff on the conveyer belt, for at least twenty minutes. At no time did anyone, including the front end manager who came to attempt to process payment for the order before ours, apologize for the delay.

Delays happen at Wegmans, too, but there the front-end manager would have apologized and gotten someone to unload our groceries from the conveyor into a cart and rung them up on a register opened just for that purpose.

And the perfect ending: By eight that night, so many of the strawberries and raspberries purchased mid-day were molding or so soft they became semi-liquid on handling that we estimate more than a third but less than half were inedible. By lunch the day after purchasing bagged mixed salad, with its Best By a date still six days in the future, the lettuce within the new sealed bag was rusted, some of it rotting.

[There's no point in naming the other store. If you know where Wegmans flagship store is, then you know what store is the also-ran.]

And why am I sharing this here, besides a nice healthy venting? Because I see it in aspiring writers. They know their book--or poem, or screenplay, etc.--is not the best. Instead of working on it until it can truly compete with those which are excellent, these writers settle. It's good enough, they tell themselves. I'm not trying to be J.K. Rowling, Khaled Hosseini, Diana Gabaldon, Jonathan Franzen, Neil Gaiman, Susanna Clarke, etc.--I just want people to enjoy my book. Or I don't need content edits. People can tell what I mean even if the dialogue isn't punctuated right every time. A few spelling or grammar errors don't really matter. I'm going to make a simple cover and self-publish.

But it does matter. It matters a lot. I don't want your rotting salad and berries, or your coughing cashier who hates waiting on me. I want Wegmans!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

We be Jammin'! Jambalaya Recipe

Not long ago, I tweeted that I was about to make healthy jambalaya that rivaled the less-healthy version at the local Creole-Cajun place. We'd already gobbled it entirely when I got a few requests for the recipe. Happy to oblige.

based on Emeril Lagasse's recipe

Brown and drain, then set aside

4 to 6 ounces (cooked weight) hot Italian poultry sausage

We brown the whole pound and freeze what we don't use, since it's great on pizza, in lasagna, etc. While your sausage cooks, make the seasoning mix. You'll use this both in preparation and possibly sprinkled on top if you like things extra-spicy. This makes far more than you'll need for a single batch of jambalaya. Mix well and store in a clean jar or sealed sandwich bag.

2 1/2 teaspoons paprika

2 teaspoons salt

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried thyme

Next, do your dicing, until you have

1/4 to 1 cup chopped onion

1/4 to 1 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 to 1 cup chopped celery

We always go with about a cup of each, because it makes more jambalaya without adding anything that's not terrific both in terms of taste and texture and healthy aspects like fiber. You do want to have approximately equal amounts of the holy trio of Creole veggies.

On the same cutting board

1/2 cup tomato, diced and set aside in a small bowl
2 Tablespoons chopped garlic, add to tomatoes
2 to 6 medium shrimp, peeled, deveined and cut into1/2-inch pieces

1 small chicken breast, 4 to 6 ounces, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

Put the shrimp and chicken in a bowl with 1 Tablespoon of the seasoning mix. Blend well and set aside.

Get out and measure the rest of what you need:

2 Tablespoons olive oil, placed in large saucepan or dutch oven
3 bay leaves, add to tomatoes

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, add to tomatoes

1 teaspoon hot sauce, add to tomatoes

1 cup rice

3 cups chicken broth or stock

Salt and pepper

Heat oil over high heat with onion, pepper and celery, 3 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, bay leaves, Worcestershire and hot sauces.Mix well. Stir in rice and slowly add broth. Reduce heat to medium and cook until rice absorbs liquid and becomes tender, stirring occasionally, about 15 to 25 minutes. When rice is just tender add shrimp and chicken mixture and sausage. Cook until shrimp and chicken are done, about 10 minutes more. [Stir often. Here is when it starts sticking to the bottom on the pan and burning.] Season to taste with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning.

Serve with an ice cold beer or plenty of red wine.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014


One of the things my best writing teacher taught us is that fiction isn't a movie. We get to use all our senses, not just what an audience can see and hear.

As an erotica writer, I use touch a lot. The feeling of a fingertip moving lightly on a leg or arm is completely different depending on whether it goes with the direction of hair growth or against it, for instance. A slap or swat can sting, then a different sort of hot pain bloom an instant later from the blow.

Smell and taste are tougher sells. There are only so many ways to describe the natural smells and tastes of humans when they're not dirty or unwell, all of them now trite. Readers don't want me describing the taste of their coffee or the PB&J eaten on the fly.

But in real life, there are smells and tastes which trigger such a richness of memories that I'm determined to find ways to have my characters experience something similar.

I've just made Hot German Potato Salad, and the whole downstairs smells of bacon (a rare treat) and white vinegar, which I often use for cleaning. In combination it's so much more, fully evocative of my mother's love.

Other smells which knock me out are clean babies, the first whiff of ocean, freshly turned garden dirt, and the classic new-mown hay, which is so much better than mowed grass I'd like to have a back yard of the stuff.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Take a Picture, Why Don't You?

Years ago, comedian Bill Mahar took a fair amount of heat for saying—and refusing to apologize for saying—stereotypes have a basis in fact. Society didn't just up and decide one group drank to excess, another was reluctant to spend money, a third exhibited inadequate driving skills. The groups labeled in those ways had members whose day-to-day behavior exhibited those negative traits.

Today I visited a gorge in New York state. I clambered up a steep trail, with enough steps to be daunting, to circle its rim, then back down (uh-oh, my glasses and irregularly spaced steps going down are not a happy combination!), finally walking along the trail at the lowest part of the gorge to the most scenic spot overlooking an impressive waterfall.

There's a small viewing area (great, more steps down) where three generations of an Asian family were taking pictures of themselves in various combinations with the falls as a background. It's hard to mind when two adorable little boys are totally hamming it up for their grandparents.

After a while, though, it became easy to be annoyed when this one group of six people had occupied the vantage point fully, preventing others from viewing the falls or taking their own pictures (unless they were willing to spoil the pictures the family was taking by entering the frame), for fifteen minutes. How many ways and combinations are there to pose five people against a scenic background?

Yeah, I know. Not all Asians are this selfish with scenic vista viewpoints, nor so obsessed with picture taking. Of course they're not. The assumption is both ridiculous and ugly racism. But what I found more disturbing the longer I thought about it was that while the hogging of the public space for private picture-taking bothered me, worse was that they'll return home only with pictures of themselves. Not one of them, not even the kids, took a moment to turn and view this large waterfall with the wonder and awe it deserved.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Hate Speech Ain't Free

Not long ago, a pair of trash-talking local radio hosts was first suspended, then fired, for their twelve- minute rant against transgendered people, during which they ridiculed the bodies of transgendered individuals, called them “nut jobs” multiple times, insulted callers who protested, and mocked a local transgendered student for being a member of the girls' softball team at her high school. They closed their program with Aerosmith's “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”

Yuk-yuk. Although the station's owners were swift to pull them off the air and condemn their hate speech, the damage was done. Once again, people who were different from the mainstream were the butts of hate-filled ridicule in the guise of entertainment.

Of course, fans of the pair were quick to announce their rights to free speech had been violated, which makes them either ignorant or just plain stupid.

This reminded me of the many people who think the right to free speech means they (or their favorite shock jocks) can say anything they want, anywhere they want, and that the radio station violated their rights by firing them.

That's not true at all, and if you think about it for more than a moment, you'll be glad it's not. Do you want to take your family out to a fine restaurant for a special occasion only to have to talk over a loud political rant or someone preaching about how to save your soul? Probably not.

Free speech grants US citizens the right to be free from government interference when they speak in public places. This does not include words which are obscene by community standards, incite others to riot, provoke acts of violence, threaten someone, commit fraud or perjury, violate copyright or trade secrets, or slander or libel others, among other exceptions.

Free speech does not cover speech on private property. That fine restaurant, your living room, the parking lot and premises of stores and malls, electronic “places” like websites, and the TV and radio airwaves which are open to the public are not public places.

Employers, of course, are not obligated to continue to employ people whose ugly opinions discredit the employer. If the radio personalities want to stand on the street corner and give voice to their opinions, they're free to do that, but their firing most certainly has not violated their rights. The government has not interfered with their speech in any way.

To me, this case is especially sad. Transgendered people find themselves in a situation very like that of gay people twenty or thirty years ago, who themselves were in a position previously occupied by minorities, who were in the position of women... Once we all know people who are trans—or gay, or black, or disabled, or Jewish, or Muslim, or any other group we hate and fear—we realize very quickly they're just people, and like all of us, have good and bad traits.

I applaud the station for removing the purveyors of hate speech.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Spiders, Snakes, and Writing

I hid some of my traits from our children in order not to pass them on. They were young teenagers before they knew fast-moving spiders made the hair on my arms stand up (and the ones that jump did the same for the hair on my head), or that snakes and worms were fully e-e-ew no matter their perfection in Nature. My stifling of my genuine reaction was a parenting success.

But other traits I should have suppressed, I did not. My own self-doubt and introspection undoubtedly birthed theirs, and my small triumphs over it don't translate to theirs.

What I wish they, and many other people I know, could do came to me rather late: Get on board with the notion that it's okay to suck, to be low on the learning curve, to strive and flop. I wish I'd realized that good people don't judge you for trying and failing, that it's normal to be pretty awful at something you've only just begun.

Too many would-be writers who take it up when they are adults accustomed to doing well fall into this mindset: They have to be decent right out of the gate. But it makes no sense. Nobody became a master gardener, great waitress, fine surgeon, or accomplished pianist at their first attempt.

When you take up writing—or art, or violin—you're even with high school students, or college student if you're lucky. Those people are young enough to be all right with themselves as unskilled learners. Swallowing your pride and lowering your self-expectations doesn't come easily to people who are used to being great at what they do, but if you want to master new skills, you've got to do it.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

What's In *Your* Suitcase?

As many of my online friends stress about packing for RT—that's the Romantic Times Booklovers Convention, this year held in New Orleans—I am reminded of my wisdom (who, me?) of years ago: The Master Packing List.

Within this document, in a folder cleverly labeled Travel, I jotted down in considerable detail the things I always took with me when I traveled. I update it when I realize I never touched an item I packed during multiple trips, or when I really could have used something I did not have. I tend to copy and paste then correct, rather than delete old versions, so it's interesting to watch the list's progression as I no longer carried pacifiers and started carrying wine glasses. (Call me a snob: I hate drinking wine out of a water glass or worse, a disposable coffee cup. Thrift stores have lots of wine glasses cheap.)

Naturally, what you pack will vary depending on whether you're traveling by car, train, or plane. When you're limited to one suitcase of a certain size, or will be shlepping your suitcase on city streets yourself, you're smart to travel light. What your plans are on arrival will affect what needs to come with you, too.

I'm aware that some of what I bring could be replaced by a laptop, ipad, or phone—but I'm not letting being unable to charge my devices due to a power outage in my hotel mess up my plans. I also tend to bring a swimsuit and athletic wear even though I don't swim or work out at the hotel more often than I do. And last, I'm a huge believer in having a light source for power failures or evacuation of the hotel. Yes, both happen, although not often.

For the travel itself, I wear or pack:
comfort clothing (including athletic shoes, which double up for workouts) with pockets for glasses, keys, etc. Unless it's baggy sweats, nobody will pay much attention to how I look when I check in or out. Yoga pants, knit top, cardigan sweater or wrap for the win.

For the hotel, I pack:
nightlight, tiny flashlight, flip-flops, change and singles for vending, wine glasses (and wine), chargers for all electronics, earplugs, music source and headphones, paperback or other novel, notebook and pen, printed itinerary with addresses and phone numbers, printed area map, swimsuit, resealable plastic bag for taking wet swimsuit home, sleepwear that can double as a coverup, workout clothes, clothespins to shut drapes, tea bags. I usually pack a laptop with a DVD in its drive and a movie or several TV shows downloaded at home, since hotel internet connections are rarely fast enough for streaming and I need some down-time.

For times away from the hotel room, I pack:
clothes appropriate for the event, especially items I can mix or match (wear the same jacket and sweater with a skirt, over a dress, or with pants, and later with jeans, for instance), shoes I can stand or walk in all day (at least two pairs unless I'll be there only one day), a cardigan sweater, a camisole (I'm covered if the weather is colder than forecast), one pair of jeans to make the day's end more casual if need be, the lightest coat suitable for the season (unless I'm likely to be outside a lot), a scarf which can serve as fashionable or warm, a compact umbrella, a larger purse than usual or a nice tote bag (stocked with two Band-Aids, Kleenex, a hairbrush and barrette if my hair is ruined, Tylenol or similar all-purpose painkiller, a notepad and pen, business cards, lip gloss and other makeup touch-ups, and a bottle of water).

We have relatives who travel a great deal, yet when we meet them away from home they never have an umbrella or change for vending machines. How they manage Europe I don't know.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spider-Man Won't Like It Here

I'm seeing the first trailers for the newest rendition of Marvel's Spider-Man, "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Our kids were too old to get into it last go-round but do not have kids of their own yet, which suggests the franchise is so eager to make a buck they're trotting it out awfully early. Doesn't Tobey Maguire still look like he's just out of his teens?

A recent trip to Manhattan and the phenomenon of Spider-Man's abilities got me thinking. I live in a close-in suburb of a medium-sized city. While the city has tall buildings, it doesn't have many. Its sixteen tall buildings were enough to justify filming  exterior shots in the new Spider-Man movie here, the high point of the city's cultural year. Manhattan, as a point of reference, sports 206 tall buildings, most in close proximity.

So if Peter Parker were to move to the nearby city, he could swing between buildings, but only within a fairly small radius. That might be sufficient if the bad guys were doing their thing in the city center. But what if they're acting up at the outskirts, or in a suburb? Spider-Man is going to need a car, because few buildings outside the downtown area are taller than five or six stories, and most of those in areas of green space with large adjacent parking lots.

Poor, poor Spider-Man. I hope he can afford the monthly car payments. At least his commute will be short.

Can We All Get Along?

On this day in 1992, Rodney King, whose beating by Los Angeles police caught on video sparked riots, said, “Can we all get along?” (It's often misquoted, but the gist is usually right.)

Apparently not. Racism continues to fester, both subtle and overt. Police brutality thrives. Hate speech is more widely disseminated than it was in 1992, courtesy of the internet.

Good people try not to be racist. When they identify such leanings in themselves, they seek to erase them. But for many, such feelings crop up again. We humans are programed to recognize patterns, to fear what is different because it can be a danger. It may have helped us make it this far, but now it's holding us back.

One of my own more shame-inducing moments occurred years ago, when I was jogging on the street. A car passed, and the men in it shouted, one cheering me onward. They were black.

If they'd been white, I'd have thought either Stupid teenagers or Jerks, but my WTF? reaction was tinged with fear. Sure, I was in a residential area where cars were not infrequent. Nothing was going to happen. But I was substantially more uneasy because the men yelling were black.

A few weeks later, it happened again. Now I was getting angry, with myself for having this reaction, with the black man—this time driving alone—for calling out. Perhaps another month after that, again a car with several black guys.

The worst moment was when I returned to the gym when the weather made running unsafe. The personal trainer who'd taught me to use the weight resistant equipment in proper form mentioned he'd seen me running several times during the summer and was glad I'd kept in shape. "I called out 'Way to go!' and all, but I didn't think you heard me, even though I couldn't see any headphones."

The trainer was black, and I was ashamed.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Edits: Not Bad at All

Everyone I know who submits what they write hopes for acceptance and fears edits. While we acknowledge edits are for the good of the writing, not personal, we hear horror stories.

"I dislike this character. See if you can make him better." No input on what they dislike or how they recommend the character change.

"This plotline isn't working." Why? At what point does it no longer work?

Or, in an erotica story, "Boring!" or worse, "Gross!"

There are professional editors who know their stuff but whose people skills are lacking, and there are editors who think they know their stuff but are delusional. And there are editors who are good people and who know their stuff. Who you get can be a crap shoot.

If you hire an independent editor, of course you do your homework, checking out their recommendations, seeking a sample of their work, and talking to people who have hired them but do not recommend them publicly. But when you sell a book, you don't get to do that.

I am pleased to say I finished the first round of edits and have zero issues with the editor's take on things. Whew! I'm going to let it sit overnight, double check I addressed each concern, and send it back, a day early.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

On Writing While Young

This blog won't focus on writing and publishing. There are many talented writers doing that already, no doubt better than I could.

But since writing is what I do most days, it's going to come up as I blog about life. Today, for instance.

I like teenagers. I like their enthusiasm, their self-doubt or undue confidence, their exploration of themselves and their world. I like that so many experiment with writing, eagerly asking others to tell them if they're any good.

They're not. Oh, sure, once in a while the scene or chapter is something which isn't awful, but for the most part, they're missing two vital elements.

One, they don't have enough experience at life to be writing. They've never been in love or had their hearts broken, never gotten falling-down drunk, never chosen a literal life-or-death risk, never committed a wrong which is life-changing. This is good; you want teenagers to retain some of the fresh innocence of the children they so recently were. Those experiences, both good and bad, will come soon enough. And until they do, you shouldn't write about them. You can't write a good lovemaking scene if you've never been kissed.

Two, it seems many of them have been let down by their schools. It saddens me to see the many creative, bright teenagers who cannot write a simple paragraph with no mistakes. Not that I thought I'd see crisp lyricism, but come on, no mistakes is not an unreasonable expectation for someone in high school, especially someone who reads.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

In Which Maryn Arrives

Kicking and screaming only a little, in a most ladylike way, I have dragged myself into the 21st Century with a blog.

See, I've never been much of a tech person and felt little need for a blog. I don't keep a diary or journal, although the jottings on the flip side of the grocery list probably sum up my days pretty well.

My life as a person is mercifully boring, which beats the hell out of dysfunction and drama. It's not perfect, but whose is?

My life as a writer has only recently become more interesting. While I've written regularly for a lot of years, I rarely submitted anything. I enjoyed the process of creating the characters and their world and making things happen to and between them. I liked the finished results. If I were to--gasp!--submit them, I might find out nobody else thought much of them. Why risk it? So I mostly wrote for myself.

Oh, sure, I subbed once in a while, and got a double-handful of sales of short stories, under several pen names.Why pen names? Early on, I worried family or the parents of our kids, still in school, would be disapproving. My husband's from the heartland, and the relatives our age who remain there are lovely people who have probably never read anything erotic in their lives. Their adult "kids" might have, but I'm not sure. They're a socially conservative bunch, which is their right.

But you know what? Not one of them is a detective. I don't see how they'd know Maryn Blackburn is me, or Maryn Bittner, or James Bittner, or any of my other selves who've published their shocking personal fantasies.

And I've sold a book. 

So I'm good. Real good, even. Hope you are, too. Welcome to the blog.