Tuesday, September 19, 2017

13 Minutes to Midnight on September 13






Eventually, he'll be awake at 11:47 at night.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Thursday, July 6, 2017

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love (When I) Bomb

A Treatise on Perfectionism

My dear friend Erika wrote on Independence Day that she would be declaring independence from a bad habit that was not serving her or her family well. She asked us what we would each declare independence from, and I responded that I was letting go of perfection this year because I was tired of being paralyzed by perfectionism.

Another friend asked me how I was able to let go of perfectionism--which I honestly haven't really been able to shed. It's a work in progress. But this is basically how I, at the ripe young age of 38, am able to make some headway on a lifelong habit of perfection paralysis:

I struggle with perfectionism in my fiction writing for a few reasons:

1. I don't think I deserve to have a voice. Who am I to think I can write fiction?

2. What's in my head never matches up with what comes out on the page.

3. I am an avid consumer of other people's writing, and I notice when it's not perfect--so I worry that other readers will notice when mine is not perfect.

4. Every story that has ever been told has already been told, so what's the point in me writing mine?

5. The eventual heat death of the universe makes all human endeavors ultimately pointless. (I'm only partially joking about this one).

Here's how I am getting over each of these contributors to my perfectionism:

1. I learned that telegraph operators in WWII could be distinguished from each other by their "fist," which is their transmission style when typing out dots and dashes. I learned this years ago, and I've been coming back to this factoid over and over again, because it tells me that we are all unique individuals with unique styles, no matter how mundane the activity is. The fact that an operator's fist could be distinguished from all other operators' fists made me realize that I have a voice that is unlike anyone else's who has ever come before or will ever come again. (And this, my friends, is one of the reasons why I LOVE trivia. You never know what piece of trivia will inspire you).

Each one of these men has a distinct fist, which is as distinct as their voices.
2. I started drawing recently. I draw for fun and relaxation and just because it makes me feel good, so I don't struggle with perfectionism there. And because of that, I've become very comfortable with the fact that my drawing may not look like the object or artwork I'm copying, and that's okay. My drawings just need to look like themselves, and there really are "happy little accidents" a la Bob Ross when it comes to drawing. This has helped me let go of my need to have my head-novel match my page-novel.

Uncle Sam's rocket is falling of the edge of the page, and IT DOES NOT MATTER

Lady Justice's scales are not symmetrical or balanced, and IT DOES NOT MATTER
I also learned from drawing just to skip the shit I don't want to do. I was drawing a building across the street from my art class, and there was a column part that was going to be hard to draw, so I just didn't do it and it didn't matter. With my novel, there was a scene that had kept me from moving forward for 3 or 4 years because it was going to be boring and I didn't wanna do it, so I just skipped that bad boy and did some "time passed" magic to get to the next scene, which I did want to write.

3. I realized that noticing imperfections does not keep me from enjoying stories and good writing. Imperfections are going to happen, because we're human, and I should embrace my imperfect writing, because even Harper EFFING Lee had extensive editing to help her create TKAM. Also, I remembered that picking at imperfections is either the joyful and playful work of fans or the bitter resentment of critics, and I can handle either of those responses.

4. Just because every iteration of the human condition has been told doesn't mean that my story has been told with my voice (and fist), and the only way to tell it is to tell it.

5. The universe is going to end eventually anyway, so why NOT write my shitty novel if it makes me happy? (Not that I think my novel is shitty, although it might be--it's just I have some perspective about how I want to spend my limited time on this rock).

Finally, I've realized that I want to write partially for my boys. I want them to be able to hold a little piece of my soul when I'm gone, and the best way to do that is to do the work that is meaningful to me, which is writing.

And drawing bug-eyed people with maniacal grins.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

So Effing What?

At about this time last year, I went through a marathon X-Files viewing, revisiting the greatest alien-themed love story ever told (and realizing that Fox Mulder is kind of a dick, sadly).

Though I'd never seen it during the original airing, I was delighted to be introduced to the mediocre-yet-hilarious (and very very 90s-rific) episode Syzygy. It's the story of two 17-year-old girls, who for some astrological reason that is never well explained, receive magical murder powers. Also, everyone is really crabby, which leads to one of the greatest moments of bickering between Scully and Mulder.

One of the subplots in that episode revolves around a local pediatrician who is a cross-dresser. The small town becomes convinced that he is behind the murders because he is clearly hiding something, and everyone comes bearing metaphorical pitchforks while he is dressed up.

Watching this episode in the modern era makes the doctor's dilemma seem sadly quaint. So the man enjoys a lovely frock and some lipstick. So what? So What? is a perfectly reasonable reaction in 2017, and even though I know it wasn't back in 1996, I'm still having trouble remembering why.

Had this poor pediatrician been able to So What? about his clothing preferences in the 1990s, no one would have ever suspected him of murder. He could have done rounds in dresses, and helped kids recognize that the pants-are-for-men rule is entirely arbitrary. Being able to say "Yeah, I like taffeta and tulle and sequins and eye shadow. So what?" would have released that poor man from a lifetime of shame and embarrassment. (And yes, I recognize that this pediatrician is entirely fictional and that his lifetime lasted approximately 7 minutes of a 45 minute episode of a show. Nevertheless.)

So, I am a big advocate of doing you, no matter who you are, when it comes to that kind of biggish stuff--and when it's about someone else. For me, getting to the So What? is a little tougher.

Idle Hands

For instance, I have a deep-seated fear that I am lazy. There is a part of me that knows I'd rather sit under a shady tree with a book and a tall glass of lemonade than do anything else, and I'm horrified by that part of me. There are things to do! Items to check off of lists! Productivity to accomplish! And if I'm not productive, then I am a lazy-ass bitch who has not earned her spot on this earth.

There is a big man named Spike on his way to roust me out of bed and force me to be productive. He'll be here any minute now.

Under the sane and relatively normal surface that I present to the world, there roils a belief that my only real worth is tied to my ability to get shit done.

Of course, I didn't invent this weird-ass belief. After all, how many times have we all uttered the phrase "productive member of society"? I just perfected the neurotic reaction that dictates no matter how much I manage to do each day, I go to bed at night fearing that the time I spent on Facebook or the nap that I took somehow subtracts from my overall worthiness as a human being. Because that's a rational response.

But here's the thing: being able to proudly admit that I'm a lazy-ass bitch who would rather sit under a shady tree than *do* shit helps negate that shame. It makes me realize I get one go around in this world, and if I want to spend my time snoozing on a blanket under fluffy white clouds or under a blanket while accompanied by a fluffy white-and-gray cat, that is my choice to make.

I've been working on proudly wearing my laziness on my sleeve. It's an uphill battle, but realizing that I can be who I am--even if who I am is a lazy bitch who really will do nothing today, thanks--is pretty awesome. It helps take the sting out of anyone who tries to call me lazy, even that bitch of a taskmaster who lives in my head.

I'm lazy. So What?

Book Shame, I Hardly Knew Ye!

Of course, rooting out any kind of shame is tough, especially when you don't even realize the sensation you are feeling is shame.

I have long lamented my reading tastes in my formative years. Why did I waste my time reading (and rereading and rerereading and rererereading) Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters and Susan Isaacs and Alisa Craig and Charlotte MacLeod and Mercedes Lackey and Minette Walters when I could have been filling my impressionable head with really good writers. If I'd been consuming "good' literature then, I'd be writing "good" literature now, instead of having stalled on a writing a romantic thriller for the past nine years that I can't seem to bring home, in part because I'm ashamed of it.

It suddenly hit me this week how very ashamed I am of my literary tastes. That bitch of a taskmaster in my head is apparently not just mistress of impossible to do lists--she is also arbiter of literary worth. She has me convinced that there was some sort of bright and immutable line separating "good" literature from "bad" literature and that I was doing nothing more than indulging my baser self by staying on the wrong side of the line.


No, seriously, WTF, taskmaster bitch? I can't like shit that I like?

The Divine Ms. Barbara Mertz

Image courtesy of NYT
My book shame realization came to a head this past week as I was considering the long career of Ms. Barbara Mertz, aka Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters. Between 1967 and 1987, Ms. Mertz wrote two books a year, a pace that only slowed down slightly through the 1990s and 2000s, until her death in 2013.

All told, she wrote nearly 80 books of romantic (and sometimes slightly paranormal) suspense, and I believe I have read every single one of them. After reading Crocodile on the Sandbank when I was about 13, I was hooked, and I would borrow one or two of her books from the library just about every weekend until I finished her oeuvre and started over again with the stuff I liked best.

Her heroines are funny and smart and really well educated and her heroes are funny and kind of arrogant and also remarkably well educated. Her books are painstakingly well researched, and I know what I know about subjects as varied as the gold of Troy to vintage rose gardening to designer jewelry to seances to Egyptology to pre-historic American history to Ozark magic to country music because of her. She loved animals and included cats or dogs in most of the books. Nearly every one of her novels ended with a young couple in love.

Ms. Mertz is probably my biggest literary influence.

(I actually had to take a deep breath before writing that.)

I love her books and they have shaped how I think about stories, and I've been pushing that away for a long time. The novel I've been trying (unsuccessfully) to write since 2009 is very much influenced by her books (Into the Darkness in particular)--which means I'm probably going to have a much easier time of things if I recognize and embrace my love for her books rather than run away from it.

So, here it is:

I like to read and write well-researched romantic suspense novels.

So. Effing. What?

Now, was that so hard?

If you'll excuse me, I need to go sit under a tree with a glass of lemonade and a Barbara Michaels novel.

(And taskmaster bitch, you'll kindly have a seat and keep your damn mouth shut.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

13 Minutes to Midnight on September 13

2016 (And no, I don't know why he is sleeping on the floor)

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Friday, May 27, 2016

Gillian Anderson as Bond Is Just Like Heaven

Earlier this week, fans jumped on the idea of casting Gillian Anderson as the next Bond. Whether she would be Jane Bond, Dana Bond (my personal suggestion as a nice hat tip to the series that made her a star), or James Bond, since the only reason James is a masculine name is because we have decided it is so, I have never been so excited about a pop culture rumor in my life.

Just considering Ms. Anderson for the role has seemed to turn the world on its side, only to reveal that the world itself is bigger and more beautiful and far far more exciting than the upright version I've been living in for 37 years. This is the feminist sea change I've been waiting for.

Is Bond "Quintessentially Male?"

Last night, I was unable to sleep because someone was wrong on the internet

I had expressed my delight about the Gillian Anderson Bond rumor on Reel Girl's Facebook page, where people come to talk about gender equality in the fantasy world. More than one person suggested that writing a new story/franchise about a female spy played by Gillian Anderson or Priyanka Chopra would make more sense, since James Bond is quintessentially male

When I responded that James Bond is anything we want the character to be because that's how fiction works, another commenter stated that changing Bond's gender would be taking away the fundamental characteristics that makes James Bond James Bond. She likened it to changing Superman's origin so that he no longer came from Krypton, and was simply a hard working reporter, or making Dr. Who an accountant instead of a Time Lord.

But why is Bond's gender identity or genitalia one of the character's defining characteristics, like Superman's Kryptonian origins or Dr. Who's powers? 

As I see it, these are the things that define Bond:
  • International espionage
  • Loyalty to Britain
  • A casual attitude toward sex
  • Ruthlessness and aggression
  • A license to kill
  • Bad puns
  • Martinis
  • Gadgets and cars
Not a single one of these characteristics is quintessentially male. Though Bond's sexual attitudes have been incredibly misogynistic in nature since the character's creation, that does not change the fact that they reflect Ian Fleming's (and possibly Albert Broccoli's) discomfort with casual sex and with women far more than they reflect some intransigent property of the character. Bond already has changed a great deal in that regard, considering the fact that audiences in 2016 will no longer accept a lesbian character named Pussy Galore who "turns straight" after a literal roll in the hay with Bond.

Bond's quintessential maleness in many people's minds (including my own mind, had Anderson's casting been a suggestion made back in the 1990s) shows how sexist WE are. We cannot imagine a woman who is devastatingly competent, has casual sex, and is willing to kill and torture while throwing off smug one-liners. We cannot imagine it not because a woman cannot do this, but because we have internalized the idea that the world will not allow it.

A New World Is Not Enough

So why not leave the Bond franchise alone and create a female spy who kicks ass, takes lovers, and generally makes the world a more badass place?

Honestly, I would happily watch that movie and probably buy the Blu-Ray. But it's not enough. Because creating a new character who we have decided ahead of time is female means that many of our assumptions about women and men will be baked right into the story.

If we create this female spy character, then perhaps her badassity will stem from the fact that she was raped. Or she will be fighting sexism and glass ceilings left and right so that the story feels more "realistic." Ultimately, writing a new female character means that we will start the exercise with all of the same old assumptions we already have. It will be a small step in the right direction, but casting Gillian Anderson as Bond, the Bond, the shaken-not-stirred badass spy we already know will overturn the world and change everything.

I truly believe that we need stories about badass women that are rooted in our current world. I loved the HELL out of Mad Max: Fury Road, and it is based on many of the above assumptions--rape as backstory, fear of men as the source of anger/courage, and the reality of sexism and the loss of sexual agency. It is an important story (with guitar flamethrowers) that was told well and that makes my heart sing--but it still does not provide us with a world free of our assumptions.

But I need, and my boys need, and we ALL need to see stories that throw out all of our assumptions about gender (and race and age and beauty and any number of other harmful assumptions). That's the only way to make the world open up to us.

The best and most efficient way to throw out those assumptions is to begin gender-blind/race-blind/assumption-blind casting of iconic characters. Creating a new world for a female spy to inhabit will not do it.

Further Up and Further In

The only way to describe the feeling of lightness and freedom I experienced when hearing this rumor about Gillian Anderson is to turn to another British author.

In C.S. Lewis's final Narnia book, The Last Battle, Narnia is destroyed, only for Aslan to show the characters that the real Narnia is still very much there, and it is much bigger and grander and deeper than the Narnia they knew and loved:
The new one was a deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.
It was the Unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right forehoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried:
“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-hee-hee! Come further up, come further in!
(Considering the fact that C.S. Lewis's Narnia/heaven was closed off to poor Susan for committing the awful crime of caring about lipstick and boys, I can't imagine he would be pleased at my comparison. Perhaps if we could figure out a way to harness the energy, the UK could solve the energy crisis through the power of Ian Fleming and C.S. Lewis spinning in their graves).

Casting Gillian Anderson or another incredible British actress in the part of James Bond makes me feel as though the world has opened up, revealing a larger, more complex, more beautiful, and freer place than the one I have lived in so far. I want that world for my boys and myself, and I'm greedy. I don't want to get there in small incremental steps, but in a giant upending of the world--an upending that popular culture can provide for us.

There is so much to explore further up and further in, and I don't want to wait another minute to get there.