Thursday, December 30, 2010

Recycled Resolutions

Every year the question becomes whether to come up with resolutions. This year is no different. In fact, this year was different. When I thought about resolutions I could make, I came up with several that would looked good on any resolution list.

Then I asked myself what a New Year’s resolution really was. It has to be a promise one makes to oneself to make a change in one’s life - to give up a bad habit or try to make a new habit. Okay. I made a list of my bad habits.Then I made a list of the habits I’d like to cultivate.

Great. Two lists of resolutions. I decided to start with the bad habits. Which of them would I be willing to give up? Hmmm. Maybe I should have started with the list of habits I’d like to cultivate. Wait a second. Weren’t these the same habits I vowed to cultivate last year? After a short hunt, I located a list on my hard drive entitled, “2010 Resolutions.” Indeed, the resolutions were the same.

Is that what we do every year? We recycle old resolutions and call them new. Do we simply reword the old ones so we have a stock number that we keep so they magically appear on our next year’s resolution list?

I saw recent research that said 52% of the people responding to the poll said that they’re confident that they’ll succeed at their resolutions, but in reality only 12% actually achieve their goals.

All that being said, I can’t figure out which of the same old resolutions to recycle. So I think I’ll not make any.

So there.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Book Review: Taking Flight by Laurel Mills

Sydney Burke is a librarian and avid birder living in the small town of Applewood. At one of her weekly birding group meetings, she meets Michelle Westbook. Michelle is married to Robert, who, it soon becomes apparent, is abusive, both emotionally and physically. As the two women spend time together, an attraction begins to grow between them.

Laurel Mills has written a book about finding the courage to take the first step toward happiness and a future after an abusive relationsip. She writes honestly about physical abuse and why a woman stays and why she leaves that relationship. She also acknowledges the fear of being an abused wife - fear of the husband and fear for her own life. She tells of the embarrassment an abused woman feels about being abused. This book is not always easy to read because of this.

Mills gives us a great deal of fascinating detail about the birds and the flowers in Applewood. It almost makes you want to join a birding group to learn more and see more.

Mills is realistic about Michelle carrying damaging mental baggage from her relationship with the abusive Robert. She doesn’t have Michelle flying into Sydney’s arms and home as soon as she leaves Robert. Michelle first finds safety at an abused women’s shelter and then an apartment of her own after she leaves the shelter, which allows Sydney and Michelle to build a relationship of their own as Michelle heals, both physically and mentally.

The reader is given the point of view of both Michelle and Sydney using alternating chapters to do so. This may cause some readers problems because not everyone has the opportunity to read to the end of a chapter. Coming back to the middle of a chapter, the reader may be disoriented as to who is telling the story since Mills uses the first person perspective in each chapter. However, if you are a reader who reads to the end of the chapter no matter what, this writer’s device will be no problem for you.

If you are an abused woman, know an abused woman, want to know more about abused women, or simply want to read a good story that happens to have an abused woman as the main character, then this is a book you’ll want to read.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Book Review: As Always, Julia

In 1951, the American West historian Bernard DeVoto wrote an article for Harper’s magazine in which he deplored the lack of adequate knives for the American housewife's kitchen. In Paris, Julia Child read the article and sent him a French kitchen knife. Avis DeVoto, Bernard’s wife, who answered her husband’s mail, wrote back to Julia. From this start, the two women corresponded until Avis’ death in 1989.

As Always, Julia covers only ten years of their 38-year friendship. During that 10-year period, Julia attended Le Cordon Bleu school to learn how to master French cooking and decided to write a French cookbook for American women.

Over the course of their friendship, the two women wrote hundreds of letters. Interspersed through out their discussions of cooking and eating were equally fascinating discussions of politics, living in foreign countries, cookbooks, publishing, and many other topics.

One has to wonder whether these two erudite and intelligent women would produce such a body of correspondence in this day of 140-character tweets, 500-word blog posts, and emails.

If you love cooking, eating, Julia Child, cookbooks, and intelligent women, this book will fascinate you

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Older Dog Wisdom: Peer Pressure

Tux and I were out walking the other day when he put his nose to the ground and walked a few steps. When he looked up, he had a small red leaf hanging from his ear. Much to my surprise, he didn’t try to shake it off. In fact, he looked quite rakish with his new dangly earring. His walk changed - he walked slower, prouder.

When we rounded a corner, a woman and her two large dogs were approaching. We had met them a week earlier and the dogs were polite. One of them started trash talking. It was only then that Tux shook off the leaf. No sooner had the earring flown off his ear than he lunged at the trash-talking dog. I’m not sure what had been said, but Tux definitely took umbrage with it. I’m sure, though, it had something to do with Tux’s new earring.

Whenever Tux does something out of the ordinary, I try to figure out if there is something to be learned from his actions. Tux felt good wearing his earring right up to the moment when that other dog made fun of him. Then, he shook off the earring. He obviously hasn’t learned that it’s okay to march to a different drummer. He allowed someone else to dictate how he should dress and what should make him feel good about himself. That is a very hard lesson to learn regardless of how old you are. I was sad to see him shake off his earring, it had added to his self esteem. I’d like to shake the other dog for making Tux feel self conscious about something that had made him feel special.

I suspect for we humans this begins as soon as we enter school. Peer pressure begins almost immediately. My four-year-old niece, who is in pre-school, has been allowed to choose how to dress every morning for some time. Some of her outfits have had her family members, her grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and mother, cringing. Out we go, though, with her dressed in purple striped leggings and orange print dress with a blue t-shirt over the dress. We all agree it will be a sad day when she begins dressing like her schoolmates. We’ll miss her individuality.

For a short time, Tux was where my niece is - proudly wearing his earring. Then he ran into the trash talking dog and graduated to where my niece will undoubtedly be when she enters primary school. It was a sad day.

There is, of course, nothing I can do about the blow to Tux’s self esteem. I’m hoping, though, that my niece is enough of an individual to withstand first grade peer pressure. Maybe with the help of her Mom and aunties, she’ll retain at least some of her unique sense of fashion. Her grandmothers, on the other hand, can’t wait for the peer pressure to begin.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: Long Way Home by Rachel Spangler

Raine St. James grew up in Darlington, a small Illinois town, where being a lesbian was not only frowned upon, but was unheard of. At 17, Raine escaped the town to make her way in the big world. She became a successful writer and lecturer by telling her story of growing up in the farming country of the midwest. Now, a decade later, her story is old news, and her articles are no longer selling and no one wants to hear her coming of age story again. Her agent tells her that he has a job for her. She has no choice but to accept it because she is about to be evicted from her apartment in Chicago.There’s a problem, though, the job is as a guest lecturer in Darlington.She reluctantly returns to the town that was the cause of Raine reinventing herself to deal with the pain of small-town homophobia. Once on campus, she meets a woman she remembers from high school, Beth, who is all grown up now and irresistible. She reconnects with her high school friends who seem happy to see her. Not everyone, is happy to see her, though. There are still small-minded people in Darlington.

Beth tries to tell Raine that not everyone in town has a problem with her. But Raine can’t believe that. Slowly, but surely, Raine begins to accept that her friends are really her friends. There is a growing attraction between Raine and Beth, but Beth is with another woman in a very closeted relationship.

Spangler’s third book explores how we remake ourselves and the consequence of not being true to our real selves. In the case of Raine, her perceived notions of small-town life may have been tainted by being 17. The reality of what she finds when she returns as an adult surprises her and has her wondering if she’d been wrong about her home town, her parents, and her friends.

Spangler’s story will have you staying up very late as you near the end of the book. Will Raine be able to look at her life now and give up her 17-year-old persona or will she continue to be the town’s most infamous daughter, the bad-girl who trashed an entire town to make her reputation? Will Beth be a part of that journey back to herself?

While Spangler has a tendency to be repetitious, and you might be tempted to skip those parts, don’t. It’s all part of trying to make decisions by both Raine and the woman she doesn’t want to love, Beth.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Have you written anything featuring an older main character? No? Why not?

Older women are very interesting. Before you understand that, you have to let go of your stereotypes and prejudices. Undoubtedly, you may think of older women as either mother figures or pathetic, embittered old women. More’s the pity for that.

Before you can write about older women, you must know a few and talk to a lot more. Certainly start with your mother, aunts, grandmothers and their friends. Interview them. Then spread your net wider. Go to a retirement community. Tell them you’re doing research on a book and are looking for an older main character. I think you’ll be surprised who you find and how interesting their lives have been even if they tell you their lives weren’t all that interesting.

Old Friends

A couple of years ago, on November 1, I started a novel for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I made my 50,000 word quota for the month, but then I kept writing. I ended up with a 90,000 word novel about five old friends, and I titled it, naturally, Old Friends.

Old Friends features five women who met as freshmen at college. Forty-some-odd years later, one of them is dying of cancer. The other four friends gather to support their dying friend and each other. As the days progress, they reminisce about their college days, lament how society treats them now, find out that they don’t know each other as well as they thought they did after forty years. They have celebrated each other’s triumphs, supported each other in times of trouble, and always loved one another as only best friends can.

Old Friends is a celebration of life, of being able to face the death of a dear friend, of loving your friends in spite of themselves, and being open to loving relationships regardless of your age.

Eighteen months after finishing the book, I started looking for an agent. Thus far, no agent has considered taking it on. Yes, I’m aware that it might be my writing. On the other hand, it may also have something to do with the subject matter - women in their sixties. If I had written the book about women in their thirties or forties, would I still be getting the same response? There is no way to determine that, of course.

Older Women Want Their Own Books

One of the complaints from women in their sixties and beyond is that they’re tired of reading books about women in 20s and 30s. They’ve been doing that for 40 years. Enough, they say. Give us books we can relate to. Another, more common, complaint is that they’ve become invisible. No one looks at them any more. Try saying, “good morning” to the next older woman you see and watch the surprise on her face and the smile that follows.

Agents and publishers should begin to accept at least the occasional manuscript written for this group of readers. Read the statistics about who the largest segment of purchasers of the iPad is - yep, old people. Not your 20-somethings, it’s your 60-somethings. Go into any bookstore, big box or Indie, and look around. You’ll see a lot of older people actually purchasing books. Many more go to libraries because they can’t afford the price of books any more. They’re reading. It would be nice, I’m sure, if they could read a book they could relate to. A book about people their own age, who have lived through a half dozen international wars, the birth of computers and cell phones, who have seen, and mourned, national leaders and heroes being assassinated. They saw the first man step onto the Moon. These people have lived through incredible times and seen incredible changes in our society and the world at large.

Aging America

American society is aging. Isn’t it time that the publishing world acknowledge that and at least once in a while give them a book they can relate to? Who knows? We may have a new genre to write in.

A New Genre - Graypunk

Let’s call this new genre “Graypunk.”

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Book Review: Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Fatal Grace is the second in Louise Penny’s excellent series featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Gamache returns to the small town of Three Pines when one of its residents is electrocuted during a curling match. It soon becomes clear that this was no accident, it was murder. Gamache discovers the victim, who is not liked by anyone, including her family, is not who she said she was. Slowly, but surely Gamache peels back layer after layer in his search for the killer. As each layer is stripped away, he learns something new about the residents of the small town, about the deceased, and about the murderer.

As with all the books in this series, there are recurring characters. While you don’t necessarily have to read the series in the order it was written, you will miss the joy of getting to know them as Gamache speaks with each one. While Gamache heads the investigation, his team, including a spy working for the head of the Sûreté du Québec, is instrumental in turning up pieces of the puzzle that Gamache finally puts together in order to discover who the killer was.

One of the things that readers will savor in Penny’s books is her ability to turn a phrase. One of my favorites from this book is when Gamache speaks about his deceased dog, “Gamache had had the impression it wasn’t that his old heart had stopped, but that Sonny had finally given it all away.”

Penny’s descriptions of the winter weather will have the reader inching up the thermostat so vividly does the author make the reader feel the bitter cold of a winter’s day in Three Pines. Better yet, though, is the author’s ability to evoke the winter scenes in our minds allowing us to see what Gamache sees as he sits in the local bistro watching the residents hurrying by to get out of the cold, all except the elderly and curmudgeonly poet Ruth Zardo who sits on a bench in the park every day at 5:00 p.m. regardless of the weather.

This is one of the best series being written today. Penny is in the same league with P.D. James, Charles Todd, and Laurie R. King. Don’t miss this author and her series starting with Still Life.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Older Dog Wisdom 4

Walking with Tux

While out for our morning walk, Tux, my 10-year-old male dog, was prancing along when he suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. He brought his left front leg up and stared hard down the sidewalk. I looked where he was looking, but saw nothing that should have put him on alert. He began stalking the object. We moved down the sidewalk one slow step at a time. I kept trying to figure out what had captured his attention, but still didn’t see anything. He was stepping down the sidewalk very carefully, trying hard not to alert his quarry to his presence. I guess it didn’t occur to him that he was with me and surely whatever he was stalking would see me before it saw Tux. Be be that as it may, the two of us were stalking something only Tux could see.

Finally, Tux sped up. Then I saw what he had seen. At first, I thought it was a squirrel, but it wasn’t moving. Then I thought maybe it was Mr. & Mrs. Mallard, but they haven’t returned from their summer vacation yet. Then I was sure it was a bunny. As we got closer, Tux sped up again. He put his nose to the ground and we were moving down the sidewalk at a fast clip.

Then it happened. Tux stepped on his ear and almost went ass over teakettle. It took all my self-control not to laugh out loud. After he recovered his equilibrium, he looked around to see if anyone had seen him stumble. There was no one but us. So we moved along.

The object of his attention turned out to be a twig with its leaves still attached. Once he ascertained that it was a bunch of leaves, he proceeded to a small planted area where he knew bunnies usually hang out as if to convince me that he’d been stalking a bunny and not a bunch of leaves.

Tux’s Lesson

The lesson Tux taught me was to keep my eye on my goal so that I don’t get distracted and careen off track.

That lesson is often a hard one for writers. There are so many stories in our heads clamoring to be told that sticking with one for 75,000 words can be hard. I have several started projects that need to be finished. Someday, I tell myself, I’ll return to them and finish them. I tell myself if I don’t at least start the story, I may forget the idea. While that may be true, writing 5,000 words and then setting them aside means there are 5,000 fewer words in the novel I currently have 45,000 words written.

How Do You Track Story Ideas?

How do you track the story ideas running around in your head? Do you write the idea down somewhere and hope you remember where? Or do you start the story and set it aside until it’s time to spend the time finishing it?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review: Whatever Gods May Be

Sophia Kell Hagin’s debut novel, Whatever Gods May Be, features Jamie Gwynmorgan, a 17-year-old woman who enlists in the Marine Corps because she has no where else to go. After surviving, Boot Camp, Jamie is assigned to Sniper/Scout school because of her prowess with a rifle. Once out of Sniper/Scout school, she is sent to the Philippines as a replacement as a sniper’s spotter in the government’s effort to suppress an insurgent group trying to overthrow the Philippine government. The older man imparts his considerable knowledge to Jamie while keeping them both alive. When he is wounded and shipped home, Jamie is his replacement.

There are twists and turns throughout the book and to give any one of them in a review would be a disservice to the reader. Suffice it to say that each twist and each turn is believable and will keep the reader turning pages as fast as she can.

This is a book about war - war with a known enemy, war with an unseen enemy, war with one’s self, war at its worse, war at its best. The author uses military jargon through out, talks about weapons, and doesn’t sugar coat anything. This book is about the US military being in a foreign country, it is about killing or being killed, it is about a Marine’s life and life in the Marines. More importantly, it is about a young woman’s indomitable will to survive whatever horrors she is forced to endure. Even if you have zero interest in a novel about war, read this one because it is also the story of young woman overcoming horrific hardships under the worse possible conditions.

This is not an easy read on so many levels.The content of this book may disturb the reader because of it’s intensity and no-holds-barred telling of Gwynmorgan’s story. The reader may be tempted to judge this book on its surface, but that would be a disservice to both the reader and the author.

Let it be said that this is not your run-of-the-mill lesbian fiction. The publisher has designated this a romance for reasons passing all understanding. There are romantic elements, yes; but this is not your typical lesbian romance. This is more, much more than a simple romance.

Kudos to Bold Strokes Books for departing from their norm and publishing this book. This book deserves a wide audience, if for no other reason, than to say to lesbian publishers, your readers want more than what is being served up to them now. This book is a start.