It’s Time for Sexual Assault Survivors, Including Me, to Name Names

The recent flood of sexual assault revelations from numerous victims regarding known predators and once-cherished idols in politics and entertainment have been hard for me. I was disappointed and grieved when Scott Brunton came forward to accuse George Takei. And just today, Senator Al Franken’s past caught up with him.

I’ve loved George ever since I first saw Star Trek as a young child. I’ve stood steadfastly behind his efforts to secure equality for my LGBTQ loved ones and to present the story of the Japanese internment of WWII through the Allegiance musical.  I cheered when he was finally able to marry the man he loved, husband Brad Takei.

I bought a ticket to the December 7 showing of Allegiance in the cinema before all this emerged. It would be my third viewing. I’m torn. I hate to cancel because I loved this musical. The entire cast did phenomenal work, and the music is wonderful. Should I again shed tears in the theater, however, there may be added subtext this time.

And Al? Saturday Night Live Al? Our champion in the decaying halls of a wolfish Congress bent on devouring our democracy? Sadly, he is all too human.

I can’t stay silent any longer.

Why is this so hard? Because I too am a survivor. My first perpetrator was a director at the Christian summer camp I attended while I was in high school. One day, while we all sat in the dining hall listening to announcements, he groped me.

I remember it like it happened yesterday. The shift of the picnic table bench as his weight settled behind me. My peripheral awareness of his presence—of no consequence, not yet. The light touch under my arm, and the sudden pressure of his fingers on the side of my breast. The sense of shock, of feeling frozen, unable to move or indicate to anybody what was happening to me.

His wife and young daughter had accompanied him to camp. I remember standing in front of them in a group not long after, wondering, Why? Why did he do this? Am I the only one? And, for one surging, tormented moment, What would happen if I spoke up now, in front of everyone, in front of his wife? I ultimately decided I would not. The realization of how things really were sunk deep into me—he had power and I did not. No one would believe me.

Over the years, I’ve tried to make sense of it. I’ve wondered if I misunderstood. I’ve come to the conclusion that I did not. It wasn’t a quiet touch on the shoulder from an affectionate mentor. Nor was it invited or encouraged. It forever shattered my tenuous illusion of safety regarding adults and authority figures. From that day forward, no report of sexual impropriety regarding any teacher, church leader, or public figure ever truly surprised me again. I knew the ugly truth.

His name was James Greene. We campers called him Jimmy. To my knowledge, nobody saw what he did that day in 1982. As far as I know, he’s still alive and probably doesn’t even remember it. Or maybe he does but he just doesn’t care. Or worse, mired in a twisted hypocritical version of Christian faith like so many people these days, he wouldn’t see anything wrong with it. After all, I had technically reached the age of consent.

But I didn’t consent. He had no reason to do what he did, and yet he did it anyway.

At college, I was raped by a fellow student named Doug Botham. He did not take my resistance seriously and traumatized me so severely that I blocked out the incident for an entire year. I’ve written about this one before, but until now, I didn’t name my attacker. It left me with lasting effects that I’ve worked hard to overcome but which still haunt me even today.

I didn’t consent. I said no, I don’t want to, and he did not stop.

I’ve no idea what became of Doug. Most likely, he too has forgotten. Many men like him don’t even realize they’re rapists. Our culture allows it. The same camp where Jimmy assaulted me later harbored another predator, who is now in prison for his crimes. They were apparently sued over it. They’re still operating, still emphasizing their religious ethic. And so the cycle continues.

I fought long and hard with myself over publishing this post. The bar is still much higher for sexual assault and rape victims than for their perpetrators. But I’ve held these feelings inside, covered these men’s names and my wounds, for too long. The time has come.

I harbor no desire for compensation or revenge. An apology? If I were Scott Brunton, that’s what I would want. Not an I’m sorry you feel that way, not the braggadocio of Louis C.K.’s excuses, but a real, heartfelt I did it, it was wrong, and I regret it. And I am sorry.

I’d like that too. Though if even a few people examine their deeds and their consciences, if it stops even one from offending again, I will be content.

We’re facing a true cultural shift here, one long overdue. For years, we’ve scoffed at victims and played sexual assault for laughs. Prison rape, men chasing scantily clad women around the room, jokes about secretaries and the Hollywood casting couch.

The victims who sat watching and silently suffering, too afraid to come forward for fear of ridicule or persecution, were not laughing. Even if we pretended not to take it seriously, inside we experienced trauma all over again. It’s past time we exposed harassment and exploitation for what they truly are. We need to put an end to rape culture so the women and men who have been so deeply wounded and betrayed can finally heal.

The sick disappointment, the disillusionment, as these incidents come to light, is exhausting and triggering. It breaks my heart to think that men I looked up to could ever have done something like this. None of us are perfect. We all experience lapses in judgment, some of them grave. I know also that fame can draw people who seek to manipulate and exploit. But most assault victims have nothing to gain and everything to lose by coming forward. They rarely lie.

Everyone loved Jimmy. Everyone loved George. We all loved Al. I must give the accusers of these men the benefit of the doubt. I can’t do any less because I wouldn’t want anyone to do any less for me.

I dont work in Hollywood. I’m just a writer with several unpublished novels to my name. I don’t have many followers and not a lot of reach. I’m not an activist or an influencer. I deal in words, and I want to use them to speak the truth for those who can’t.

To all survivors reading this, I believe you. I’m not alone and neither are you. You are strong. We are strong. This will never happen to me again, because I won’t let it. And I will fight like hell see that those who harmed us are held accountable.

Even if it’s someone I trusted.

———-

If you need to talk, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline 24/7 at 1-800-656-4673.

More resources at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline:  1-800-273-8255.  UK: Call Samaritans 116 123 (free call).

Learn more about rape and sexual assault at RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network).

NaNoWriMo 2017 Update

Hey all, I’m still around and still working on Book 2. I’ve gotten behind on my word count due to a nasty, vicious cold, and I’ve been unable to write for a few days. It started with the sore throat from Hell and has now progressed to sneezing and coughing.

Basically me trying to do anything since Wednesday.

Image: spongebob.wikia.com

I decided not to post here every day, just in case I suddenly find a job, so I’d have a little breathing room. (Nothing yet; I did have an interview so fingers crossed.)

However, if you noticed, I’ve posted updates on the word counter at the top left of my home page. I’m up to 9,285 words.  A dismal count by NaNoWriMo standards, though it’s actually not going too badly. My first draft sucks, but they all do. Yes, I am cheating–I did take some prewritten bits and work around them. You know me. I never do anything quite the way I’m supposed to.

I’m tricksy like that.

Image: movieweb.com

I’m feeling better today. I’ve taken this time to work on improving my first pages in Tunerville and tidying up my post-edit revision. Meanwhile, my Wolverine-like healing powers have begun to work on this cold.

I will keep you up to date. *HACK* to work!

NaNoWriMo 2017: See You on the Other Side

First order of business–thanks to all who bought a copy of The Shiny Folk and other stories. I hope you enjoyed them. The money from the October sales will be on its way to Unidos soon. The book will still be available on the Buy Me page.

It’s almost November, and you know what that means, fellow writers and writing nerds. It’s nearly time for NaNoWriMo!

For chronic non-link clickers, NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, happens in November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in 30 days. That’s around 1,700 words a day, roughly.

I’m a rebel.  I use NaNoWriMo to finish things. Technically, you’re supposed to start from scratch, but hell, I do what I want.

Yeah, I’m drinking milk out of the bottle. Fight me, bro!

Image: Ambro/freedigitalphotos.net

Since I didn’t get very far with Camp NaNo this past summer, thanks to some incredibly stupid distractions, I shall finish Book Two of the Tunerville trilogy.  While simultaneously revising Book One, which I just got back from a paid developmental edit.

I expect to be a complete mess before the month is over. I’m unemployed at the moment, but if I get a job before NaNo starts (or worse, during it), it’s going to be crazy. So even though I’m a veteran, I’ve been checking out resources like this LitReactor article by Robbie Blair on how to prep for the challenge.

And here’s one by Leah McClelland on SimpleWriting.org with tips on how to organize your household so you have maximum writing time. If you’re tempted to join the madness and you have a family, prepping beforehand will be critical.

It’s not necessary to sign up–if you’ve been with me for a while, you know I do it on my own, usually. I did sign up formally once and I even have a friend who facilitates a local NaNo group. But I don’t write well in a room full of people; that triggered my anxiety and I didn’t get much done.

The Book Two word counter is in my sidebar already. You can watch that climb if you want. I’ll probably try to post every day in November too. Reporting to you will keep me accountable. I have an outline, so I’m nearly ready to roll.  A bit of world-building in my notes, and I should be good.

If you’re doing NaNo too, stop by here or catch me on Twitter and let us know how it’s going. For now, I’m going to enjoy my last night of freedom with a fish taco, a spooky pumpkin, and a scary movie.  Happy Halloween!

Photo: Elizabeth West

 

I Made an E-Book and You Can Help Hurricane Victims With It

So I made a little e-book, y’all!  And you can help hurricane victims in Puerto Rico with it!

Through October 25, I’m donating 100% of all sales I get, no matter how big or small (hopefully big), to the Hispanic Federation’s Unidos program.

Just go to the brand-new Buy Me page on this site to purchase the e-book (click the link, or it’s at the top on the main menu). You get some stories; the Hispanic Federation gets some money to help people in Puerto Rico; it’s all good.

If you like the book or you think someone else will, please share widely! And thank you!

If you want to make a personal donation to help people impacted by the recent natural disasters, you can also choose One America Appeal, a fund set up for hurricane victims in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean by all five living former U.S. presidents. Or donate to Oxfam America, which has stepped up in the face of this administration’s inadequate response. You can also give to earthquake relief for Mexico through the Hispanic Federation’s link.

Annoy a Politician: Read a Banned Book Today!

Holy crap, I’ve been so busy looking for work and doing things on a project I forgot all about Banned Books Week! I’ve been avoiding Twitter this past weekend, or I would have noticed before now.

From the American Library Association’s webpage:

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community — librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers — in shared support of the freedom to seek and express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks)

This year, in light of recent attacks on free speech by people who should fecking know better, I will highlight books that are banned by governments. I’m confining it to books I’ve actually read. Let’s begin.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

Remind you of anybody?

 Image: exampapersplus.co.uk

Orwell finished his book in 1943 and because of its criticism of the USSR and its alliance with Britain in WWII, he had to wait until 1945 before he found a publisher. Of course the USSR promptly banned it.

North Korea also banned the book, where it remains forbidden. The novel originally contained a preface that admonished the British government for suppressing criticism of the USSR. The United Arab Emirates banned it in 2002 because of the depiction of anthropomorphized pigs, considered an unclean animal in both Islam and Judaism.

Read this book and piss off Kim Jong-un!

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

This 1991 novel, made into a rather entertaining film starring Welsh actor Christian Bale and a 2013 musical (no, really), details the inner life of investment banker Patrick Bateman, who may or may not also be a serial murderer. It’s also a darkly hilarious critique of trendy ‘80s Wall Street elites and their superficial lives.

Chief complaints against the book have concerned the intense graphic violence Patrick (dreams of? Commits?) and the Australian state of Queensland banned its sale. Now you can get it in libraries there, but only if you’re over 18. Elsewhere in Australia, you can’t buy it unless you’re 18.

Everybody remembers what song was playing in this scene, right?

reactiongifs.com

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

People slammed the hell out of Steinbeck’s book as socialist propaganda when it was released in 1939, but that didn’t stop it from winning both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. You might have read the story of the Joad family, who travel from Oklahoma to California during the Dust Bowl years of the Great Depression in search of a new life, in high school. The book was banned in parts of the U.S., including California, where the Associated Farmers of California organization decried its portrayal of the way farmers treated the migrant workers (hint: it wasn’t great).

Oh yeah, and it might have been partially because of this scene at the end, where Rose-of-Sharon, who has recently given birth to a stillborn child, offers her breast to a starving man.

A poignant scene of survival, but BEWBS.
Rosasharn: Kelly Kaduce
in Minnesota Opera – The Grapes of Wrath
Composer: Ricky Ian Gordon
Conductor: Grant Gershon
Lyrics/Libretto: Mchael Korie
Director: Eric Simonson

Image: michaelkorie.com

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Banned in Lebanon for a positive depiction of Jews, according to Wikipedia, this 1979 novel about the relationships between several people living in a boarding house in Brooklyn absolutely broke me. If you’ve seen the film starring Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, and Peter MacNichol, you know what Sophie’s choice was.

I can’t even.

Image: listal.com

It was also banned in South Africa and in Poland for views on Polish anti-Semitism.  Controversies around this novel also included sexual material and the novelist’s decision to make his Holocaust survivor character a Polish Catholic. It came out during a time when people were just starting to really discuss the Holocaust, and Styron pointing out that it wasn’t only Jews who suffered under Hitler’s maniacal regime engendered fierce discussion of what some people saw as revisionist views.

Regardless, it’s a hell of a good read.

———–

More banned books I’ve enjoyed include:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – Inspired by the McCarthy era, Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian future in which the protagonist is a fireman whose job is not to put out fires but to start them….with forbidden books the fuel.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – I read this 1951 novel right before it was yanked from my school because it has the F word in it. We didn’t read it in class but my English teacher loaned me a copy because she knew I would get it. Bless you, Mrs. Burns. It’s become one of my favorite books.

The Harry Potter series by J.K. RowlingWell of course I enjoyed this story of a boy wizard fighting the most fearsome and fascist wizard of his time. But you knew that.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale HurstonI didn’t read Hurston’s 1937 novel until I was in grad school and took a class in African-American literature, but DAMN, this is a good book. It’s about how black women are defined in their marital relationships. Janie is a strong woman and her yearning for a mutually giving relationship is very relatable. I really enjoyed her story.

Hit up Amazon or the library and read a banned book this week!

I Saw the New IT Film and I Bloody Hated It

WARNING!!! THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE 2017 ADAPTATION OF STEPHEN KING’S IT.

Today, I took advantage of an Alamo Drafthouse $6 ticket price special for shows before 2 p.m. and I chose IT. Well, the chicken strips were good, anyway.

Everyone knows I’m a huge Stephen King fan, and I had high hopes for this film. I really did. Special effects have grown leaps and bounds thanks to CGI since the first TV adaptation. And they really nailed the look of Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård). That made me think it might be worth seeing.

Silver suit–check. Orange pompoms–check. Malevolent smile–check.

Image:  youtube.com

Alas, it was not to be. Instead, I got an overblown, shallow version with myriad jump-scares that didn’t even make me jump.  Not once. In short, it was shit.

Stephen King’s novel is a behemoth at 1,138 pages. There is no way you could do it all in one film, and this is the first of two. The filmmakers wisely chose to put the kids in the first film and save the grownups for Chapter Two.

The children’s section of the book is set in the 1950s. Characters have 1950s names – Richie, Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Betty. Obviously when these kids grow up, they’re adults in the 1980s.

The kids’ period has been updated to the 1980s. Kids then had names like Matt, Jennifer, Shelley, Daniel, Becky, and Kenny. Of course, millennials wouldn’t know that, but anyone old enough to have read the book when it came out absolutely will notice. Though not a huge problem, it lends a jarring note to the film’s atmosphere.

I blew that off and kept watching.  Didn’t take long before I started to squirm in my seat. It physically hurt to watch them gut the story. I recognized moments from the book as they began, and then they shot off track into unknown and ridiculous territory.

The deviations robbed many of the story’s most powerful moments of their punch and skimmed the surface of the characters. Sloppy writing and contrived dialogue (there is TONS of great dialogue in the book; they should have used it) only made it worse.

In the novel, each kid has a separate encounter with It before they are drawn into the Losers Club. These scenes establish not only the kids’ characters but the monster’s (it’s a shape-shifter, and clever).  Only Beverly, Bill, Stan, and Eddie get to do this. We lose Mike’s giant bird, and Richie’s narrow escape from the big plastic Paul Bunyan statue.  Paul appeared in the background of a scene and I got super excited when I saw him; then he vanished for the rest of the film.

HI RICHIE! Wait–what? I only get a cameo? Well bust my buttons and call my agent!

Image: northumberlandnews.com

The dead boys at the Derry Standpipe who chase a horrified Stan Uris (Wyatt Oleff) become instead a misshapen painting in his rabbi father’s office. It’s inspired by something that scared the film’s director; it had nothing to do with the book, mind you. Like most of the film, actually.

Other choice missteps:

  • Mike Hanlon (Chosen Jacobs) is still a farm kid, but now an orphan. They barely spend any time on him before he joins the Losers Club. The adult story hinges on Mike, and they should have plumbed his character more here.
  • George Denbrough dies in the same way at the beginning of the film–Pennywise tears his arm off. Pretty awful, right? A kid getting his wing ripped completely off! He screams, he bleeds–and then the clown yanks him down into the storm drain and eats him. Not only is this anti-climactic (yes, really), now big brother Bill’s (Jaeden Lieberher) motivation changes from white-hot revenge to the anemic “Georgie isn’t dead; he’s only missing. We have to find him.”
  • Ben Hanscomb (Jeremy Ray Taylor) is still fat, but he looks a good two years younger than he should. Ben was supposed to be a BIG fat kid, not a teeny fat kid. His tormentor, bully Henry Bowers (Nicholas Hamilton) also looks far too young and isn’t really all that menacing, though Hamilton does his best. Taylor’s performance is good, but he gets eclipsed by Richie.
  • Patrick Hockstetter (Owen Teague), a shudderingly creepy character in the book, was barely in the film and should have been left out entirely if they weren’t going to do anything with him.
  • Not far in, I found myself asking, “Where the hell is little asthmatic Eddie Kaspbrak’s (Jack Dylan Grazer) aspirator?” A huge character tag for this hypochondriac kid, it pops up halfway through as though the writers forgot about it. We also get no sense of the power his fearful mother Sonia (Molly Atkinson) holds over him; it’s merely hinted at, and Atkinson’s part is also wasted.
  • The abandoned house on Neibolt Street made it into the film, but they bloated it into a giant burned-out haunted looking monstrosity, instead of the ordinary facade it was in the book. No werewolf because no 1950s; just Eddie’s leper, who starts out cool but devolves into another overdone effect.
  • A well in the house also becomes the portal to It’s lair, instead of the sewers in the Barrens. The Barrens themselves are merely backdrop here; they’re mentioned often and then discarded.

Why no, Myrtle, that house couldn’t possibly be haunted.

Image: mashable.com

The most egregious fail involves Beverly Marsh (Sophia Lillis). She’s the only girl in the Losers Club. Book Beverly is tough and yet vulnerable, with a father who beats her, a pattern she repeats as an adult by marrying an abusive man.

To my disgust, the film utterly sexualized Beverly. This is what Hollywood does to girls. It starts by bumping up the book’s popular kids’ rumors that Beverly is a slut and will sleep with anyone.

It permeates the relationship between and her father; instead of hitting her, he sniffs her hair lasciviously after she comes back from the drugstore with a box of tampons (not in the novel). Nobody outright says he’s molesting her, but you get the sense that he wants to. This was only hinted at in the book–King focused on the beating because Bev’s husband Tom Rogan is also a violent man.

The film subverts Beverly’s role as an actual member of the group in a scene where all the boys stare mesmerized at her body as she sunbathes, thus establishing her merely as a sex object. Although Ben has a mad crush on her, in the book they don’t really think of her as a “girl” per se. She swiftly becomes one of them. This moment ruined that burgeoning dynamic entirely.

The rumors surface again when Bev’s father literally tries to rape her (“I’ve been hearing things about you, Bevvie.”).

Worst of all, at the climax of the film, Beverly is objectified again when Pennywise kidnaps her and plunges her into a catatonic state with its deadlights, so this otherwise resourceful girl cannot save herself (also ruining the deadlights for Chapter Two).  The boys have to save her.

Let me reiterate. THE BOYS HAVE TO SAVE HER.  It’s the power of the penis!  And how do they do that?

WITH A KISS. Yes, when Ben kisses her, Beverly comes out of her catatonic state. True love (not friendship, mind you!) wins the day!

At this point, I badly wanted to get out of the theater. I didn’t even wait for the credits to roll, something that as a soundtrack nerd, I usually anticipate.  Nope, up and out as if Pennywise himself were after me.

A very few things were okay.

  • Finn Wolfhard, whom I love as Mike Wheeler in Netflix’s Stranger Things, plays Richie “Trashmouth” Tozier. Despite the film’s lack of character development, Richie has a very strong personality and Wolfhard does a great job with it. He’s the character I felt was closest to the book version.
  • Instead of being a whiz at building things (adult Ben is a famous architect), kid Ben gets to be a history nerd. It provided an easy way to shoehorn the history of Derry and the ubiquitous presence of the clown into the story. And they left his anonymous love haiku to Beverly, a sweet moment in the book, intact.
  • The Apocalyptic Rock Fight survived, though short and clumsy in execution.

The jump scares are run-of-the-mill standard horror fare. I’ve seen so many scary movies that directors have to try much harder if they want to actually frighten me. The film was infested with them–they took up time that could have been used for character development. Instead of slowly building tension with each child’s It encounters, the film tried to cram it down the viewer’s throat–Here! This is gross! Fear it! FEAR IT!

IT said “Boo!” over and over but failed to get me on every level. I do not recommend this film. I don’t know if I’ll even bother to see Chapter Two.  If I do, I’ll most likely rent it from Redbox for a couple of bucks. But I won’t waste my popcorn money on it, or throw an Alamo experience down the drain again.

Just read the damn book.

Rating:  D-minus

How to Get Past the Feeling That Your Writing Sucks

I started re-reading IT and I’m in despair over how poor my writing is in comparison to Stephen King’s. I know I shouldn’t do that; IT was his thirteenth novel and Tunerville is only my fourth, so I don’t have as much practice as he did when he wrote it. But it’s so hard not to, especially now that I can read books and see the mechanics that went into writing them.

Mel Gibson allegedly said about directing, “I can’t watch movies anymore. I can see the strings.”  Yeah, mentally ill or not, Mel kind of sucks, but this quote illustrates very well the phenomenon that happens when you begin to see how your craft actually works.

I feel exactly like that now–I can not only see the elements that make up the whole, I can understand WHY they don’t or do work. It’s akin to watching figure skating before and after I learned to skate.

Tara Lipinski, 1998 Winter Olympics. This is a combination triple loop jump followed by a double loop. Very difficult.

Image: popsugar.com

At the time Lipinski performed this program, her elements made no sense to me. I could not see a jump coming and had no idea what it even was until she did it and the commentator remarked on it. Watching a figure skating program  then was an experience in surprises—stroke stroke BOOM! stroke stroke BOOM!

After fifteen years of skating myself, I can see the jump setup. I notice many more technical details that I didn’t before, such as whether the edge is good, shorted rotations, etc. I can even tell if someone jumping is likely to fall (sometimes they manage to save it when I think they can’t, so I’m not totally accurate). Even if I can’t perform all the elements Lipinski did, I recognize them. I can watch the jump and know with at least some certainty whether the judges will mark it as well executed.

Of course, you don’t have to be a skater to know these things. If you have a keen eye for observation and have been watching for many years, it’s possible to understand and analyze a sport with great accuracy. Many people who enjoy American football have never played it, but they can look at the formation during a game on TV and tell you exactly what’s about to happen. 

Whoop, didn’t see THAT coming! #herpaderp

Image: buzzfeed.com

Doing an activity, however, provides you with a deeper understanding of its execution. That doesn’t make you an expert unless you’ve put in the hours and practice to become one. However, it does give you just enough information to be dangerous…

…to your self-esteem.

Writing is, in its nature, a solitary activity. You must enter the cavern of your mind and search for treasures there, then haul them out and attempt to convey them–and the quest for them–in a way that resonates with the reader, so he or she will buy your work.

But one man’s treasure is another’s trash. And a clumsy attempt at presentation will sell no merchandise. In your solitude, you can lose your objectivity regarding the quality of your presentation. When you run into a master’s-level piece, you may feel your work is just a sad little flea market tchotchke.

We know it’s all too easy to measure ourselves against others, and we shouldn’t. A quote attributed to David B. Schlosser has been going around on the internet lately:

Image: taaonline.netE

Easier said than done when you’re confronted with the exquisite reality of a more seasoned writer’s technique. It’s enough to make you swear off writing. Hell, it’s enough to make you want to quit reading.

Since we are artists and we must create or die, we have to use these moments not as cudgels with which to beat ourselves, but as tools to sharpen our ability. You simply cannot write effectively if you don’t read.

But Elizabeth, you say, reading in an analytical manner spoils the story for me. Yes, it can. However, you will not know if the jump is good unless you watch it. I “headit” when I’m reading, and yes, it can spoil a poorly executed story–all my attention is on how I would fix this sentence or that phrase or what was this idiot thinking that is not how a semi-colon works.

But I can still pick up books and lose myself completely before I remember I’m actually reading and not crawling around inside another person’s head in a land far, far away.  A skilled writer can employ these techniques so well that a reader will remain unaware of them.

Book’s so good the kid doesn’t even notice he’s stuck in a damn attic all night.

Image: dvdactive.com

Pay attention to the techniques you see–do they work? Why? Why not? If you’ve read the book before and you don’t remember how the author used them, go back and read it again. This time, watch and learn.

Sometimes we can’t see what isn’t working. We’re too close. In that case, we can put our work in front of another person’s eyes. Beta readers and writing groups can provide helpful feedback.

If you have the money, consider hiring a professional editor to give you an in-depth analysis. Work can change; it can be improved. Someone with industry experience can help you not only make your story better but in the process, help you become a better writer. 

I decided to pursue professional editing for TunervilleI have little money; this is going to hurt financially, but I’ve reached an impasse. After countless rejections and two with the same critique, it’s time to admit I might need some help.

It feels a bit like I’m sending my baby off to war. Maybe I’ll find I just need more time and more practice before I get there. Maybe this will actually help me get the book published. I will not know until I give it a chance.

Don’t dwell on YOU when you read for analysis or solicit feedback. Think about your WORK and if the techniques you see can help it or not. Your personality and self-esteem are not the focus here. This isn’t therapy; it’s called improving your craft.

If you need help, ask for it. And be nice to yourself. You probably don’t suck as much as you think.

Related:  10 Things Your Freelance Editor Might Not Tell You But Should

So I Saw the Total Eclipse, Y’all

You may recall that last Monday, the U.S. had a total solar eclipse.

Eclipses occur quite frequently around the world, but this one got a lot of hype because many more people than usual were within traveling distance of totality. Including me. I’ve seen many partial eclipses, but I’ve heard from tons of people who said you must, simply must, experience the ultimate photobomb at least once in your lifetime.

Image:  awkwardyeti.com

My mum happens to live in a city in Missouri located in the band of totality that stretched across the continental United States. So, as is my wont, I vastly overpacked for three days and drove over on Saturday.

Mum’s brother decided to drive over too, on his own. I prefer not to carpool in case my travel anxiety dictates an urgent need to leave; a fortuitous habit, as it turned out.  Mum put me downstairs in the finished basement. I didn’t mind this, but I had to sleep on a slowly deflating air mattress, and I might as well have been on the floor. Oof.

Getting old ain’t for sissies.

Image: Alex Rotas / positivenews

S. and A., chat room friends from Europe, were traveling in the States for a concert and other visits, and they messaged me that they were coming to St. Louis for the eclipse and wanted to meet up. Mum was fine with them coming down to watch with us, so they did.

My uncle plays the guitar like a goddamn virtuoso and he really impressed them. We had an outstanding visit. I rarely get to see S. and A., because 1) they’re in the Netherlands and Poland, respectively, and 2) I can’t travel as much as they do.

The total eclipse absolutely amazed me. Anyone who saw a partial just cannot understand how mind-bendingly weird it is. The strange silvery light–like twilight but not, that no camera can capture. The crescent shadows (partials will make those, so you saw them if you were in any of it).

Crescent shadows on uncle’s car.

Image: Elizabeth West

As the day slowly darkened, the birds settled down as if it were night. We have cicadas this year, and they began to buzz the way they do at dusk. The temperature dropped. The day had grown butt-melting hot, so we appreciated that more than you could know. A breeze started to blow. The diamond ring appeared as the eclipse neared its peak, and we could see Bailey’s beads.

Then, totality.

I always thought when the moon obscured the sun, it would slide slowly over it and the sun would gradually fade out, but it wasn’t like that at all.  When totality comes, the moon sort of slams into place over the sun like a manhole cover, and the corona explodes into view.  It’s not the least bit subtle! And then you take off your glasses and see this big black hole in the sky.

A HOLE IN THE SKY Y’ALL

Okay, so I may have freaked out a little bit.

I forgot to upload this, I think. #eclipse2017

A post shared by Elizabeth West (@dame_writesalot) on

Video: Elizabeth West

Of course it’s bigger than the camera shows, because cameras suck and I don’t have a zoom lens (but I will next time, dammit). It resembled those pictures of black holes where artists have rendered a glowing event horizon around the edges. If you look at this picture and squint to obscure the stars, you can get a rough idea of how it looked.

Image: M. Weiss / Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics / newsdesk.si.edu

Totality lasted a little over two minutes–the shortest two minutes of my entire life. It felt more like thirty seconds. All too soon, the diamond ring reappeared and we put our glasses back on.

We didn’t stay outside for the rest of it. Instead, we went inside for a delicious lunch of chicken tenders with herbs and apricot sauce and roasted smashed potatoes (my mum could easily take Martha Stewart’s crown right off her smug little head).

Even the potatoes did the crescent thing. This was totally accidental, btw.

Image: Elizabeth West

My uncle ran a quick errand, and unfortunately, his car decided to throw a rod or something. He had to stay over another night to have it fixed. Which meant another night on the floor for me, so I decided to go home.

S. and A. left to drive back to St. Louis for the night; they spent the next two days driving to Chicago to visit a couple of other chat friends. I’d planned to hang out with them in Krakow this past May at the Fans of Film Music festival, but as you know, I lost my damn job. But with luck, I’ll see them again soon.

The next total eclipse visible in the U.S. will occur on April 8, 2024. The path of totality lies further east. If I were you, I’d start planning now.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, that your discontented ass needs to see.

Not In My America, Assholes

Suzanne Lucas (Evil HR Lady) recently posted an article about whether employers should or can fire the white supremacists (neo-Nazis) who participated in the deadly rally in Charlottesville, VA over the weekend.

I’m going to repost my comment from Evil HR Lady’s blog post (and Inc. article) about this here.

Here’s a link to her article (somebody may have already beat me to this): Should You Fire the Charlottesville Protestors?

If you don’t follow me on Twitter, I also posted this thread.

My comment on Suzanne’s blog:

This is tricky legal territory. I agree with Suzanne; employers should be really careful to make sure they’re not firing someone unlawfully.

You can be fired if your employer deems your presence disruptive and all the legal conditions are satisfied. If you work with clients, they could decide it’s too much risk–what if one of them recognizes you and they lose customers because nobody wants to contribute to your livelihood?

And she’s right that mob identification can often result in a mistake–recently in London, a jogger randomly pushed a woman in front of a bus. Quick action by the driver kept her from being killed. The police picked up [edit] someone who was not even in the country at the time of the incident because he looked like the jogger in the CCTV video (they still haven’t found him). Luckily, they realized their error quickly and the man was cleared. If the cops can mess up, then anyone can. So do your due diligence.

I think people need to remember that our right to free speech only applies to government interference with that speech. This means the US government can’t prevent you from airing your opinion on Twitter, or marching to protest an injustice, or even staging a detestable display such as this group did, as long as you’re not breaking any other laws.

But it does NOT protect you against the consequences of that speech. When you’re out in public, you have NO expectation of privacy. You should know that attending public events might mean your face ends up on TV. People might be able to identify you. Social media makes it very easy to figure out who someone is. And yes, it may affect your employment.

On the other hand, DO NOT DOX PEOPLE. Identification is one thing. But putting people’s personal information (addresses, employers, Social Security numbers, etc.) on the internet is NOT okay. That gets into some very murky moral territory, because it’s usually done to facilitate harassment.

Just don’t be that person. If I were an employer and I found out you were doxxing people, regardless of whether they were Nazis or not, I would really rethink my decision to hire you.
———-

Hate speech has absolutely no history of or evidence backing it up as being in any way constructive. It exists merely to harass, intimidate, and terrorize people who are different from the person saying it. It can be (though not always is) inciting, which is not covered by the First Amendment, according to Brandenburg. v. Ohio When designed for this purpose, hate speech can incite terrorism.

The neo-Nazis want ONE thing–the complete destruction of anyone they view as “other.” That means anyone who is not white, or anyone who opposes them. They are pushing a false narrative of oppression to justify this agenda.

There is absolutely no reason whatsoever to entertain this kind of thing. I think we’ve (almost) reached a point where you’re either a Nazi sympathizer or you’re not. There is no “many sides.” There is no longer any nuance.

We fought a worldwide war to rid ourselves of this. Do we have to do it again? Are we going to have a war on American soil, and will troops from other countries come here to fight with us? I highly doubt it; they’ll probably just watch us tear ourselves apart from the inside.

Then someone will take advantage of the chaos and step in and take over. Guess who that could be? Might rhyme with tootin’.

If we don’t call it out immediately, it will only get worse. Trump’s waffling and refusal to do so has literally excited them. They think he supports them–he probably does, for the votes, at least until he sees that there is no way in almighty Hell he’ll be re-elected. We have to make SURE of that.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

–Call your Congressional representatives (please be polite to the staffers) and tell them how you feel. Demand the removal of Nazi sympathizers Bannon, Gorka, and Miller (and for good measure, known racist Jeff Sessions) from the Trump administration. Tell your representatives that you support their efforts to combat domestic terrorism perpetrated by right-wing factions.
Contact information and scripts here: 5calls.org

–Donate to organizations that combat hate and discrimination.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are working hard against it. You can also report hate incidents at SPLC’s Hatewatch page.

–Report hate crimes in your community to local law enforcement.

–Don’t forget to vote in local elections as well as national ones.  If someone needs a ride to the polls, give them one.  Vote against discriminatory candidates, and against voter ID laws, which target poor and minority voters who are more likely to vote for progressive candidates. Election schedules can be found at the My Time To Vote website. 

–If you want to counter protest, stay safe and do it lawfully. This article from Self magazine has tips on safety, what to bring, etc. and useful links at the end:

21 Things To Know About Your Right To Protest And How To Do It Safely

BEFORE YOU COMMENT:

Please visit my comment policy page. I will remove you, block you, and report you if you post any hateful rhetoric here or threaten me or any other commenters.

I Missed Camp NaNoWriMo 2017 So I’m Doing My Own

So I’ve been busy/not busy.

You might know (or not) that I’m still not working at the moment. Most of my time has been spent job hunting, and while that’s not entirely a full-time job, it does occupy a lot of head space.

Assuming your head is this big.

Image: superheroes.wikia.com

July is a Camp NaNoWriMo month (also April), the summer version of NaNoWriMo. Since I’ve been scouring job listings and writing cover letters until my face bleeds, I missed it. My intention was to use it for something, but that did not happen. I tend to actually work better when I have something else going on. Like you know, a job.

I’ve got five queries out for Tunerville at the moment. A couple of them don’t look like they’ll garner any results, but you never know. The period for a no reply = no isn’t up quite yet. Should someone decide they want to represent me, one of the first questions they’ll ask is “What else are you working on?”

I realized I have no answer for that question.

Secret Book is finished, but it’s such a hot mess that it could take me years to work it out. Not only would I have to do a ton of research I’m not ready to do, but I screwed up so badly that it requires an extensive rewrite. That’s okay; it happens. The book failed in its first iteration, but even if I can’t salvage it as a whole, it contains a ton of well-written prose I can cannibalize for something else.

That’s how you learn, grasshopper.

Image: imdb.com

Rose’s Hostage is so old I don’t know if I can even sell it. I’d like to, but it probably needs another edit. I don’t have time for it right now.

Tunerville’s first full manuscript was rejected in September and I was so disappointed, but I received a (rare!) critique. I’ve done some revision and I’m editing it now to reduce the word count again and clean it up a little more. I thought it could be a stand-alone or the start of a trilogy.

In keeping with the great maestro Ludwig van Beethoven, I thought of a really cool way to carry the trilogy idea forward while on a daily walk. Beethoven was big on taking long walks, but of course he had the Vienna Woods for that. I get to walk among discarded liquor shots and condemned houses.

That’s the only thing we have in common, as Ludwig was a genius and I am decidedly not. (Confession time–I used to have an ENORMOUS crush on the guy.)

You know what they say about musicians.  ;)

Image: allmusic.com

The entire month of August, I will be writing. In between job hunting, interviews, studying, and a total eclipse of the sun for which I have a front-row seat, Book Two is going to blast out of my computer. First drafts suck, I hate writing them, and sustained torture seems to be the only way I can do so.

Should I bother? I don’t know if anyone will ever publish Tunerville. People have told me they’d like to read it.  People who have read it liked it. Industry folks have said I’m very close. Either way, I’m a writer and that’s what I do. I won’t get any better at it if I sit on my arse and click hearts underneath pictures of cats on Twitter all day.

So I’m gonna sit on my arse and write. I’ll try to stay up-to-date on social media (I have to, as a member of the #Resistance) and keep you informed here as much as I can. Don’t expect any word count posts. I’ve placed a widget on the main page, at the top right. I’m shooting for 80,000 words or until I’m finished, whatever comes first.

Do expect eclipse photos and video, assuming it’s not cloudy that day. If you need anything, follow me on Twitter at @DameWritesalot; that’s the best place to catch me.

*sigh*
*deep breath*

And here we go.