Welcome to my world and beyond...

A collection of snippets of the books I write and, occasionally, my life and the things that inspire my writing...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Um...Sex... Yep. Writing about sex...

Oh, it is that subject.  :-)  Well, the title caught your eye, and you are here reading this--which attests to the draw of the subject.  First, let me say that this is not an advice column on the subject. It is simply a short history of my own experience wrangling with writing sex.  Many of my readers are not writers, and thus, have probably never given a thought to what goes into writing about sex...or the process by which we come to it.

Okay, I am smiling as I recall while writing my  first book (still sitting in a file on my computer)  how I dodged the whole issue of sex scenes until I could no longer avoid it.  Did I just write "issue"?  Well, it was an issue.  I had no idea how to do it. And the longer I waited, the more complicated it became.

I was tempted to just leave it out...but, not only would that have turned the story into a veritable treatise on inter-galactic politics and intolerance, but it would have starred a prudish protagonist who may as well have worn a habit...  A habit, I say?  Now there might be a clue.  Writing about sex. I dunno...I was raised Catholic... I can't do that--there must be a special place in hell for people who do that. Sister Mary-slap-my-hands-with-a-ruler would stand beside St Peter and point the way--ruler outstretched, pointing down
So, I bumbled along, at least that is what it felt like, avoiding those parts of the story.  My mom, bless her heart, read the book in sections as I wrote them, while cheering me on.  And I finally wrote my first draft of a scene where the protagonist and her love interest crawl under the covers together.  Let me tell you, it was hot!

And, I reached a conclusion that it is an art writing sex that is something other than funny, because when you write it as you think it--especially if you have an analytical mind, it is sort of...well...you know, funny.

Oy! In retrospect, it was akin to a how-to manual.

Sue, a former supervisor at work, read it as well.  The plot thickened. No, not the plot of the book, but what followed after Sue read my fledgling sex scene--along with the rest of the book.

She commented to me that she saw a lot of me in the protagonist, I was dismayed. I had not written about me, she didn't look like me, she was 30 years younger than me! How could Sue see me in this woman?  The introspection began.

I discovered after much thought, and an objective look at my protagonist, that there were some pretty obvious similarities in philosophy. Well, I forgave myself after the realization. I was new to this, and in truth--for any of you who don't write, every character I write is, in at least some small way--part of me. I can't help it; it is the well from which I draw.  Oh, there are tons of other people I have met along the path of life whom I have infused into my characters.  But still, my fictional creations can't help but occasionally speak with my voice, whether in anger, dismay, or love.

Then it was like a bolt of lightning hit me.  Dread...well, if it is me that readers see in this book, oh my God!  People will think, I mean...they will get an image of me and my husband...oh my God, my mom read this! And someday my children will read it! Oh...my children, I mean, yes, humans are sexual animals...everyone but our parents and our children, that is!

It was a horrific moment for me. What had been a struggle before suddenly became an impasse of humongous proportions. I was not going to write about sex when someone I knew would read it and think, she does that??? Or, wow, gives a person a whole new view on the room-mother who bakes cookies for the class. 

Back  to the drawing board. I tried to go to just alluding to the sex in the book. Sue read it and then told me that I had built up all of this great sexual tension...and then...nothing. <I am laughing as I write this>  The scene just fizzled.

At that time, I was beginning my fledgling attempt to establish a blog,  and found the blogosphere to be a very cool place, a friendly place, and a useful place.   I began to post short essays about my life, what occupied my time, and yes, finally a mention about my travails writing sex scenes.  And then, Eureka!  < --I know, an expression associated with a man running naked down the street--I have come so far in what I am capable of writing>

A blogging friend, Kate Dow,  read the post lamenting my shortcomings on sex scenes--writing them that is.  And she commented back to me that Erotica is writing the physical description.  What I needed to do was to write the emotions associated with the moment, the act, the scene. "Stick to the emotions."

<huge sigh>  What a relief!  This whole writing sex thing...so unavoidable, so complicated...and so much easier after Kate's simple explanation.

So, I can do it now, and I have avoided the dreaded ruler pointing me toward the most direct route to hell-- for writing sinful scenes.  Just kidding about the straight to hell stuff, guys.  I have befriended people who write children's books and people who write erotica. I have great respect for both; each requires its own special niche talent.  I have simply chosen to develop my talent somewhere in between them.

So, there you have it...my experience with learning the ropes about, coming to terms with, and finding my comfort zone when writing sex.

Question... as you finish this...should the title have been, "Writing about writing about sex?"  ;-)

Please. leave me a comment.  I learn so much when others share their thoughts.  If you have never written, have you ever given a thought to what goes into writing a sex scene?  And if you write, how do you approach writing sex into your story?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago

Like so many, I spent a great deal of time today thinking about ten years ago.  And, like so many people, I thought about where I was when the towers fell.  I was at work, had just returned from morning break, from drinking a cup of regular old tea, nothing out of the ordinary, just a typical day.  Then my manager told me what was happening.  Odd, just now, I can see her face, hear her words...a moment that almost seemed as if time stood still.

Few events in our lives are so transcendental...so big, and impact us with such emotional intensity that we can ask anyone, strangers on the street even, where they were when it happened, and they can tell us like it was yesterday.  But that string of words from Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, "When the towers fell" is enormous.

And so it was, on that day that started like any other day.  Here, in western Pennsylvania, like in NY, the sky was clear blue. The kind of day when looking skyward allows you a glimpse of heaven.  But for many the world over, the events of that day brought us a glimpse of hell.

The details? Ingrained in my mind. The images?  Filed away where horrible thoughts and memories are stored.  Looking back, though, the lens by which we see such things become clearer and clearer.  When I think of my reaction, my need to connect with my children, my family, to know they were safe, and to hug them at the end of my workday. To call my daughter at college...and then cry.  Our world had been turned upside down and I tried to right it again as quickly as I could.

There was no righting it. To right it, I had to understand what went wrong...and I admit, I had no idea who the demons were who had perpetrated this harm to so many innocents.  If shown a map, I could not have named the countries in the Mideast.  I had never heard of Al-Qaeda. I was just this very average girl who years before had begun to turn off the news as soon as the weather was over because there was nothing but heartache on it.

So, I was forced to learn the names of people who hated us, hated all of us in America. And I watched as fear made the hate flow back the opposite way.  It appeared that innocent people had paid the price for a fight that had been picked over years and years of American policy in Arab countries.

I struggled to sort it out in the days that followed while  looking at a sight in the sky I had never before seen--no planes, no jet trails...just clouds aimlessly drifting by as if nothing had changed. The same thought kept going through my mind as I thought about people I knew and loved who had recently flown out of Pittsburgh, and through New York for changeovers, there but for the grace of God go I.

I wanted to figure out who to hate. I needed to know who was the enemy. I watched people dancing in the streets from Iraq to Palestine as they celebrated the fall of the towers.  And I was angry. I wanted to know why they hated us, why they hated Americans, why they hated the people in the towers, the people on the planes...why did they hate America!

I heard anger and dismay nearly every direction I turned. We had been violated, traumatized, assaulted in an unfair way. I was suddenly a child again, and the word "unfair" took on a newfound weight. Once again, geography became part of the daily news and Arab names and places took the utmost importance.  All the while I looked for comfort in things that felt normal, like the world could be okay again.

I worried that we might not get this sorted out for my children, for my grandchildren, that my generation had created this hatred from across the ocean.  And then, what would their lives be like?  Would they ever live peaceful lives, would things ever become "normal" again?

Thankfully, little by little, life defined its new normal, and it was different.  An enemy was identified and it was rather ambiguous. The enemy was "terror".  It wore no uniform and followed no rules of the Geneva convention.  It was nameless and faceless, but it seemed that every photo was of a Mideastern face with an Arab sounding name.  People became fearful of boarding planes with Arab looking passengers on them.  Mosques became unwanted.  There was a sudden interest in Shariah law, and in honor killings taking place here, and the world over...  There were, it seemed, endless reasons to despise Muslims.  I watched as personal rights eroded away under the Patriot Act, born of a need to keep people safe. I was torn, and still am.

It was a decade of my life that I had a lot of growing to do, a lot of learning to do, and I had to open my eyes and my mind if there were ever to be any kind of normal in my life, again. I spent countless hours reading the Qur'an online, trying to separate the Sunni militants from the faith of Islam.  I sought understanding...why the religion proclaiming itself as the "religion of peace" had launched a war against unarmed citizens of a foreign country.

As for the answers to why?  There are no simple answers.  It cannot be summed up in a few neat sentences and filed away as the "reason" the towers fell.

So, ten years later, I am far from understanding. I don't know if anyone understands it...but it is not a faith that is at war with us.  It is a bastardized version of a faith, taken and twisted by the minds of strangely righteous men who would see us perish in the name of their god.  Once again, the fundamentalism of a religion has evolved into a perversion of a holy scripture.  An agenda of hatred has been funneled through as a command from a  heaven above.

I had to come to terms with it. Once, a lifetime ago--or so it seems, before the towers fell, I wrote a poem.  The gist of it was this--in the end, all that matters is the love you have given. That's it, just the sum total of the love you have given to others in your lifetime.

It was put up or shut up. I either was that person who wrote that poem, or I was not.

I am that person.

I know that our innocence was stripped away on that beautiful clear-sky day.  We have become less trusting and  less sure that we are safe when we leave our homes.  We look for unattended bags in the shopping malls, and watch for strange behavior and unknown vehicles in our neighborhoods.  But loving others doesn't mean that we have to be foolhardy.  We can't deny human nature; we need to remain vigilante.

American is a land of tolerance. We have been tested throughout history, and continue to be tested. I suspect we will always be tested, even if it little green men from Mars who immigrate next.  Sometimes it takes some time to sort things out;  we each feel the need to keep our families and friends safe. When someone is perceived as a threat, it is human nature we have to try to overcome while seeking to show tolerance. Not an easy thing to do.

Tolerance.  The question of the Mosque.  I was insulted that it would put it so near to ground zero, but had to support their right to do it. I still think it was a very poor choice and showed great insensitivity on the part of the Muslim Clerics who chose to put it there, touting it as extending a hand of peace.  It is likely seen as extending a knife into the hearts of many who lost loved ones on 9/11, or just the many who witnessed that day.  Yet, this was a test of America, albeit a brutal test.

America prevailed.  You can't knock us down so hard we won't get back up.

Everyone gets a chance...at least one chance.  I don't care what faith you practice (or don't), but I do insist that you understand we have separation of church and state, and that the law of your holy book gives you no rights higher than that of state law. 

Ten years...

Bless the souls of all who died that day that started out like any other Tuesday morning.  And it has taken ten years for me to get to this place. To try to understand those terrorists involved with the murders of thousands.  Misguided, indoctrinated from birth forward...twisted to actually believe that killing other people can earn you a special place in heaven.  Sad beyond words...for their victims, and for them.

Ten years...

We just have to keep on keeping on...that is the new normal.  And that is the best triumph over the evil of ten years ago--to not allow it to alter our lives, to have us live in fear, or  disrupt the way we celebrate life.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Versatile Blogger Award

I am grateful to have been recognized as a versatile blogger, and given this award by Harleena Singh. Harleena is an excellent  writer who concisely informs her readers of carefully researched subjects, and generously shares her expertise developed over ten years of freelance writing experience, here: FreelanceWriter.com  Thank you, Harleena.

I met Harleena through Twitter, and after reading several of her articles, was impressed with the effort and professionalism she put forth.  I have become a fan, and invite others to do so, as well.

The difficult part of this award, for me, was to choose to whom I will pass it on.  I read very many blogs, and certainly have developed favorites among them. In no particular order, here are the fifteen I am passing it on to.

Jan aka Biertjuh58  from The Hague in the Netherlands, has a cool blog that always makes me wonder about things I might have never given a thought about before I read his blog.  He is intelligent and, often, amazingly candid.

Debbie Maxwell Allen writes a blog "Writing While The Rice Boils"  that is not to be missed.  It came highly recommended to me by another author.  Debbie shares news, links, information, and resources for writers--all in a "voice" that makes you feel as though a friend is giving you advice.

The Septugenarian Journey is the place where Jay Squires shares his tips (I think he might be letting secrets slip) on how to critique writing. I have learned so much by reading Jay's blog about how to critique the work of others. And in the process, have gained preciuous insight into my own writing.  He infuses his own brand of humor into his posts that leaves me smiling, feeling as though he is a friend.

Fantasy Island Book Publishing  is the company that accepted one of my books for publishing...and of course, I think they are wonderful, and read JD's blog to keep tabs on the goings-on there.  JD not only owns FIBP, but is the author of several published books. His books on Amazon are here

Deborah Riggs Previte is the Bookish Dame at the Bookish Libraria  She reviews books for the "sheer joy of reading and sharing" but I have come to count on her for very in-depth analysis, full of insight, and references to other works.

The Best in Fantasy Blog written by Connie J Jasperson, is a round-up of book reviews for books that Connie loves. Some gems of wisdom float around her reviews.   Connie   not only reviews books on her blog, but is the author of "The Last Good Knight", and "The Rose Tower"

Fresh Pot of Tea  written by Alison DeLuca, is full of insight into the world of a full-time writer/editor and stay at home mom.  Author of The Night Watchman Express, she works as an editor for Fantasy Island Book Publishing.  Her blog invites you to sit down, relax, drink a little tea, and read.

Philosophies of a Young Heart is written by Danielle Raver, author of Brother Betrayed.  She also works as an editor at Fantasy Island Book Publishing.  Her blog offers insight, tips and advice on writing, as well as musings on life.

Daniela writes Idiots and Earthquakes where she includes snippets of her world, the things that baffle her, and book reviews where she candy-coats nothing. A writer/novelist in the making, she offers views that have opened my eyes and my mind a time or two.

Debbie aka "the doglady" blogs at The Dog Lady's Den  where she shares her passion for all things dogs and music. She also shares musical insight at Debbie's Musical Muse on facebook.

Janette Dolores writes a blog about family and spirituality. It is a wonderful respite from traipsing through the online world, taking care of business.  Great gardening stories, and a quaint reminder of life as a mother of small children (far far in my real world rear-view mirror).  AND, she "introduced" me to Debbie Maxwell Allen's blog.

Dani Love shows off her great talent in art and photography on her blog, and for good measure, includes snippets on the things that make up a life...

Second Sight is a blog written by Diana, a  person I've come to admire for her perspective on daily life, and her forthright way of conveying her philosophy.

The Five Corners written by Marjaan is a blend of writing inspiration, sharing philosophy, and words set down by baring her soul as she writes.  A kind person...like so many of us who wonder about humanity...where it is going...

Seeing Stars is written by my Zigzee...she does not write often, but her writing is heartfelt and wonderful when she does.  So, she makes my list of who gets mentioned in this award. :-)

Shaperate  is written by AnnMaRou and is just this collection of random writing genius. Odd little snippets that display amazing talent.  The posts really don't seem to have continuity, but is just plain cool to read.

Ralph  blogs from the Philippines, and he is truly a versatile blogger.  I have learned a lot about their culture from his posts, and enjoy reading about his family.  He shares his love of Yahweh without being preachy.  A wonderful glimpse of the other side of the world from where I am...

Rena Nightingale deserves this award as well.  And I have to thank her for awarding me with this several months back when I did not have the time available to respond.  I love the fact that Rene refers to herself as a "storyteller", rather than a writer.  Awesome gift--a teller of stories.  It seems to elevate it to a different level, a more personal one. She has been of her blog for a bit, but I just heard from her, and she is back on her game and ready to "tell stories".

As my list shows, there is a wondrous variety in my selections.  And the choices were very personal, not based on any hard and fast criteria.  I like the blogs I have included, and for many, have developed an online fondness for the people who write them.

Now, I am going to break the rules.  For anyone so inclined to follow, there are three:   

  • Thank the person who awarded it to you, by linking back to them in your post.
  • Share 7 things about yourself in your blog post.
  • Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs (contact the owners to let them know too!)

I am going to skip 7 things about me. I have a profile with a lot about me ;-)  And I had to pass it to 18.  This took quite a bit of time...so if anyone does not pass this along, I won't hold it against you :-)  Just accept it in the spirit in which it was given.

And if you care to check out the 18 on my list, great! And if you follow any of them, even better :-)

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Monster Story for Children (and grownups who mistake cows for monsters)

Today was my Natty Friday; that happens every other week.   She is this amazing, intelligent, and beautiful little girl who also happens to be my granddaughter.  Going on 4, she just started “school” yesterday.

One of the themes of her first day of school was monsters, with a story read about them, and other activities central to the monster theme.

Appropriate, I guess.  Children her age are struggling with sorting out the fundamental concepts of reality…and monsters can occupy a BIG space in the mind of a small child.

We like to go to the park when she visits, but it was 90 degrees today and sweltering humid, so we stayed inside in the air conditioning.  The normal things progressed…I tried to get her to eat something good for lunch.  She requested chocolate pudding. I caved.  But she did devour a plate of peach and apple slices along with red grapes.  And then she washed it down with water.

And then the perfunctory movie–”The Incredibles” along with a snack size of popcorn.  And we colored and painted, along with Bobbi, my son’s girlfriend.

Then I read her books. This visit, I grabbed a stack of Little Golden Books, Bambi and Little Red Riding Hood, a couple others, and in the stack was one I thought so appropriate, a Muppet story called “The Monster At the End Of This Book”.

After all of that was winding down, Bobbi and I were sitting in the family room and she was laying on the floor wondering and babbling (wondering out loud, I call it) while The Incredibles made background noise as it played through for the third time.

Natty looked up at me and said, “Grammy, tell me a monster story.”

Ha! I do fancy myself to be a creator of stories, and thought first of fiction. I would simply make up a story on the spot…and in those few seconds of thought, had already begun to draw guidelines for what was too scary to include,  and what was allowed in the story.

Then, I backed up a bit and recalled a real monster story from my childhood. What is better than non-fiction, especially when told with embellishments?  With eyebrows arched in  appropriate places, and the voice, low when necessary and screeching high when needed…along with the occasional conspiratorial whisper?

“Well, first you know, monsters are in the imagination…at least when you are three. Perhaps, when you are older, we can talk about monsters again, because it is a rather philosophical concept.”

She looked at me like she often does when I go off on a quite vociferous tangent.

I continued, “But, I do have a monster story  I can share with you and you will see that the monster was in my imagination. Do you know what imagination is?” I asked after seeing the puzzle on her face.

“No.” As her head shook from side to side.

“Imagination is when you make up things in your thoughts. Sometimes they seem so real…like monsters.  And one time when I was a little girl, I was sure I saw a monster or a ghost, but it turned out to be my imagination.”

She was listening intently.  So I began.

“When I was a little girl, just a little older than you are now, I lived on a farm. The house was in the middle of a cow pasture.  We had a big yard fence all around the house to keep the cows out.  And since we lived in the cow pasture, when we drove out the lane to go anywhere, we had to stop the car, open the gate, get back in the car, drive it through the gate, then get out, close the gate behind us and then get back in the car and go the rest of the way out the lane.”

“So the cows didn’t get out of the pasture, Grammie?”

I nodded yes while I thought, smart girl, and then I continued.

"My mommy worked as a nurse at the hospital, and she left really early in the morning. And when I didn’t have to go to school, in the summer, my mom would wake me up when she was ready to leave for work and I would ride out to the gate with her, get out, open the gate, and she would wave at me while she yelled goodbye, then she would drive to work. I would shut the gate and walk back down to the house.”

She was all ears and eyes as I told the story  from my childhood.

“When summer was getting to an end, the days grew shorter and the sun came up later and later. It finally got to where I was riding out the lane with my mom in the dark. The sun had not come up yet. And I was “sort of” afraid of the dark."

“I am too, Grammie. I am afraid of the dark.” She confided immediately.

I added that it is okay to be afraid of the dark. “I still don’t like being in the dark.”

<lowered voice> So, this one morning, it was dark and I rode out the lane with my mom. I stepped out of the car, grabbed the gate, lowered it while she drove over it, waving goodbye as she continued on. I fastened the gate quickly while the car drove away, trying to use the fading lights of the car to find the hook of the gate. Then I stood and watched my mom disappear up over the hill.

As I turned to walk back to the house, in the light of a very, very dim predawn, I saw something white across the lane from me, a few feet up over the bank. I was scared!  <eyebrows arched high>  <mine and hers> I didn’t know what it was. I crouched down and decided not to move an inch, and maybe whatever it was would stay where it was and then when the sun came up and it got light, it would just vanish (like I was sure that ghosts did) or if it were a monster, I would at least be able to see what it was.

There, motionless, I waited with pounding heart, as the white thing occasionally moved, rose up a bit then settle back down. As the light came (which took an eternity) suddenly, what my mind–and my imagination had been seeing was…” <pause for dramatic effect while the weight of the moment showed on Natty’s face>
“The white part of a black and white cow!”

Nattie looked confused for a moment, then her smile mirrored my own.

“Yep, Grammie couldn’t see the black part in the darkness, just the white part. But my imagination told me it was a monster or a ghost. I didn’t know where  the cows decided to sleep in the pasture. They must have been up there, close to the gate when it got dark and then they just laid down and slept right there.”

I waited for the reaction as I wondered, had I made it too scary? Should I have toned it down, fessed about the cows sooner? Was she upset, scared?

And this was the response, “Did you put the cows back in the fence?”

I smiled while I explained that the cows were always on the same side of the gate as I was.  “And your silly Grammie thought that cows were monsters.”

And that was her monster story for the day.

You just have to love children…their natural inquisitiveness, their innocence, their ways of processing information…the way they make you find the child that still lives, buried in your mind–even the one that is still afraid of the dark and mistakes cows for monsters :-)

Children, the stuff of inspiration...