Monday, July 30, 2018

Fate Calling....?

(It's summer, I'm writing and revising several books and I have surgery coming up so I'm doing a short blog post. Sorry, you'll have to deal with it.)

Why can't I get an agent or an editor to call?

(Save the vitriol- I'm a registered Independent, and this was a robo call.)


Monday, July 23, 2018

A Classic Conundrum?

I'm reading a number of classic novels. Currently, I'm in the midst of The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. This edition is published by Wilder Publications. On the title page is this disclaimer:

     This book is a product of its time and does not reflect the same values as it would if it were written today. Parents might wish to discuss with their children how views on race have changed before allowing them to read this classic work.

I was too taken aback at first to think beyond "Really?"

1- This book is listed as a 'classic.' Generally, that means it was recently published.
2- This novel was written by Jules Verne. Not a common name and I find it hard to believe that anyone picking up this book would not know this was written a long while ago.
3- A quick Google check showed this book was published in 1874. Like just after the Civil War.

? I'm at a loss for words (momentarily). The above information ought to clue even someone living under a rock that values in 1874 were vastly different than today. Why does there need to be a disclaimer? Are today's readers so clueless that we have to spoon feed them everything?

I don't think so. I feel anyone reading the story would deduce that because of the historical content they would figure this out themselves.

A passage from the book:

    Such were the loud and startling words which resounded through the air, above the vast watery            desert of the Pacific, about four o'clock in the evening of the 23rd of March, 1865.

The Civil War was still raging. Everyone capable of reading this book should know what the racial and social atmospheres were during this time. (If they don't perhaps they should start with a good book on world history.)

While not banning the book, I feel this is political correctness to the nth degree. Notes on violence, sexual content, language, certain situations sometimes require a little heads up. But this book?


In an era of children learning sex and violence from TV, movies, electronic games, schools, and even their friends, this is, in my opinion, ridiculous. I believe that parents should know what their children are reading in case questions come up (although in my experience schools will require students to read books that I would have objected to had I known they were going to be forced to read them. While some books disturbed my children, it was discussed in the classroom and later at home to help them put the story into context.). I don't believe that The Mysterious Island is a book that needs such a disclaimer. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, a group of men, among them an engineer, his servant and former slave an African-American, a sailor and his son, and a reporter, all prisoners in the Confederacy, escape by stealing a hot air balloon. They become entangled in a hurricane and are whisked away to an island in the Pacific. Some of the 'controversy' (and I don't feel it is, being how historical the book is, centers around the engineer Cyrus and his servant, Neb. Possibly this passage:

     In the meanwhile Captain Harding was rejoined by a servant who was devoted to him in life and        in death. This intrepid fellow was a Negro born on the engineer's estate, of a slave father and              mother, but to whom Cyrus, who was an Abolitionist from conviction and heart, had long since            given his freedom. The once slave, though free, would not leave his master. He would have died for      him. ...

And this one:

     When Neb heard that his master had been made prisoner, he left Massachusetts without hesitating       an instant, arrived before Richmond, and by dint of stratagem and shrewdness, after having                 risked  his life twenty times over, managed to penetrate into the besieged town. The pleasure of          Harding on seeing his servant, and the joy of Neb at finding his master, can scarcely be described.

I haven't had responses yet from librarians I questioned how they feel about this. Are publishers being overly sensitive? Should we put a disclaimer in every work of fiction? What classic book would pass this test? Following this vein, many books, from picture books through middle grade, past young adult and into adult might be required to have a disclaimer because someone, somewhere, might be sensitive or offended by the subject and how it's handled. (I think on the OJ Simpson book If I Did It and it makes me pause to consider if 'non-fiction' books might need a disclaimer too...)

Where does it end?

It's a complex subject complicated by not only the current political, social, and racial atmospheres, but by our personal emotions as well.

What do YOU think?


Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In the Writer's Garden

Anyone who knows me or has read my social media know that I have a meditation garden, love flowers, and feel bad for weeds (which are just misplaced plants). Over the winter, a heavy snowfall  broke a tree in half (we discovered later that the inside of the tree was rotted).

It landed on the wire fence, so both had to be removed. Two weeks ago, the tree was cut down and just this past weekend, I fixed the fence. (Yes, I did.) Without that tree, more sun shines on the garden. I had worked around the shade, planting sun-loving flowers in pots or on the outside edges. Now half the garden stood in the glare of the sun.

Changes had to be made.

It reminded me of my novels. You start to build one way, but things happen- critiques, editor/agent comments, lost plot threads, etc. It requires major changes. Some plants could stay where they were, some had to be moved, and some were crushed by the tree guys. I needed to add full sun plants, move around statues and objects of interest. In my novels I've had to change endings, kill off some characters and add others, and I've had to revise/add/delete language. What results is the same garden (book) but it's different.

Here are the results:

The long view

A new addition - red grass

My black-eyed Susans blooming. They are a lustful bunch- all over the place!

Calendra - I love the pink and green

A burgundy dracenia spike

A bird house crafted by YMCA camp kids thanking me for my donation

No garden is complete without a gazing ball

I have a statue for each son - this is Alec, my animal lover

This is Thomas, my Harry Potter/avid reader fan

This is Collin, my gardening buddy (when he was younger and wanted to help)

The fixed fence (I do nice work). See my pretty blue chair?

I turned the stump into a pedestal 

The first time my lily bloomed! 

My cats love the garden too!

So that's where I've spent some time. I hope my novel looks and turns out as good as my garden. With both, I don't follow traditional rules- I don't like stuffy, formal gardens, but I don't like chaos either. Same with my books; I hate angst and stereotypical characters but I love books that touch me emotionally. 

Now to fix that novel...


Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Nice Guys/Gals Need Not Apply....

I'm working on a middle grade story. The main character, Jake, is having issues. (It's middle grade- there are always issues.)

One of the criticisms I'm hearing is that "I don't like the character enough."

Um, do you like every person you meet? I don't. And I know some people don't like me at first (and sometimes not even later, but that's a drama for another day.) While teen books are reflecting more of reality- sexual assault and gender identification, bullying, school shootings, etc., it seems every book's main character is a nice person. It's not like that in reality. Everyone knows this yet few write it.

My character has to have room to grow.

I'm not buying into the 'your character has to be likable' in order for the story to be good. Maybe I'm just a little tired of the kumbaya, sugary portrayals: a nice girl who's the cheerleader with the best boyfriend and perfect life who suddenly finds her life in a mess. Or the jock with a promising college football scholarship who's a nice guy except for that drunk driving episode. Or any other story where everyone starts out nice.

People are complicated. Characters should mirror that. There are times when you meet a person, and they come off as a jerk, or nasty, or just annoying. Maybe they have a problem or situation you don't know about. Until you learn more about them, you won't understand why they may come off as unlikable. Possibly they are simply unlikable; that doesn't make their story less compelling. If we're looking at a short time period, we could all point the finger and accuse each other of not being nice- at that time, or from that time going forward, or backward. Everyone has those moments of 'un-niceness' and I dare anyone to argue to the contrary.

Photo by Kat Jayne, courtesy of Pexels

Maybe a character or a specific person is just a jerk. There are real people like that. Look around. Maybe you're related to a person that isn't so nice. Possibly you work or live near someone you don't like, but you have to interact with them. That's real life. Middle grade and young adult books should have characters like this; if kids understand complex issues, they will understand, and accept, that not all people are sweet, nice, helpful, etc. And that doesn't make the character a villain.

Before you write off my character Jake, get to know him. By the end of the book, you'll understand why he's the way he is and that to tell his story, I couldn't make him sweet.

You might even like him.