Monday, December 10, 2012

Imagine this...

I was recently a part of an author's panel discussion that took place in Asheville, North Carolina, at a lovely independent bookstore called Malaprop's Bookstore & Cafe.

This was an event that I had put together, after a failed singular attempt earlier in the year, when I was informed by the Events Coordinator that Malaprop's was choosing to do more group events, as opposed to single author events, in order to draw larger crowds. I was also informed that my topic of discussion, "The Evolution of Lesbian Fiction" was definitely acceptable, and so, I set about making contacts with that topic in mind, and the event came together. Ann McMan, Vk Powell, and D. Jackson Leigh agreed to join me, with Salem West moderating.

The event was a wonderful success; we drew a large crowd of mainly women, but with some males also present (okay, to be truthful, the venue was crowded). I had never been a part of a panel discussion and so the evening was an education for me, and a fine experience. The audience was visibly interested and engaged; this came through most clearly when our moderator, Salem West, asked pertinent questions of the authors, and those questions (and our responses) raised questions from certain members of the audience. I could see people nodding, smiling, frowning in thought, and itching to raise their hands to ask a question before the Q&A (which we did allow them).

The overall feeling was that the evening could well (and happily) have gone on much longer than the time allowed. Once the ball got rolling, and people's questions were being answered, it seemed that more questions came to mind, and we had a hard time addressing each individual's queries. Indeed, by the end of our allotted time, we were unable to do so. Yet one specific query, directed toward me post-event, comes clear.

Which is actually the point of this post.

It wasn't actually a question that was posed to me. Rather, it was an observation. And it was only by one person. But it was an observation that had three times been previously brought to my attention, though not quite so personally.

PLEASE NOTE: If you haven't read my novel, what will follow may be considered a spoiler. I don't consider it such, but you may, and so, you are thus advised.

The reader came to me and stated that she had thoroughly enjoyed my book, but that she'd had trouble with one part of it. Specifically, when Emma Kirby, the cop, chooses to wear a dress to a funeral. This reader (and a couple of others, so far as I know) had difficulty envisioning Emma wearing a dress, had difficulty even believing Emma would wear a dress (and I have been told flat out, once, that she simply would not), based on their notion of the character. Even my editor had trouble with this. What I have explained (even though I probably shouldn't have) is this:

Just because Emma Kirby is a cop, it should not automatically be assumed that she is butch. For some reason, within the (supposed) strictures of lesbian lifestyle, any lesbian in any kind of uniform is often thought to be butch. 

This is, of course, a stereotype

Personally, as a writer, and, more importantly, as an individual, I refuse to adhere to stereotypes. Not because I don't believe they exist (I do, and they do), but because in my work, those stereotypes are irrelevant. My characters are individuals, women who do what they do, are who they are, love who they other words, they are just...women. I am not interested in portraying them as other than who they are. I have specific ideas of who my characters are; stereotypes do not enter into it.

(Sidenote: It interests me that no one has ever asked for my own visual idea of my characters. Where Emma Kirby is concerned, I've always envisioned a cross between Neve Campbell and Sigourney Weaver. A strong woman who possesses depth and sensitivity. This visual has always been very clear in my mind. I don't recall ever thinking how someone else might perceive that visual, considering how I wrote it...and apparently some didn't.)

More pointedly, within my novel, the topic is specifically addressed: When Emma is in the bar with her best friend Nikki, and she first sees Cathy Marks. Nikki replies to Emma's statement, ''She looks straight," with, "Yeah, well, so do you." At which point, it is clearly pointed out that Nikki believed " was Emma's lack of stereotypical attributes that attracted women to her." Here I clearly address the notion of stereotype, yet immediately pass by it. I don't recall making that observation deliberately, yet I must have, because I knew how Emma Kirby presented.

Further, when the topic of wearing the dress comes up, it is clearly stated why Emma would choose to wear a dress: "But for certain events, she felt that a dress was a more appropriate choice of outfit, that it denoted a measure of respect in specific instances: civic functions, weddings, funerals." 

So even though I spell it out blatantly, some readers skip right over it, or, in one case, decide to challenge me on it. And I know why this is; I asked this reader after the event, "It's because she's a cop, isn't it? You see her as butch." The answer was affirmative. And I knew that it would be.

As a writer, though, I've always known that what is in my mind may not be in the reader's mind. I too am a reader, after all. I always have been. I know what I see. And sometimes, when I read what an author has said of their story, their characters, it has most certainly not been what I have envisioned. And that's okay. It hasn't taken anything away from the story I have read, and it shouldn't.

My hope is that, where my story is concerned, what I strive to describe, my vision, does not take away from what my readers read and/or imagine. But if it does, such was never my intention. Yet, because I'm also a reader, I understand how it can happen. 

Which may be why a book should be read more than once. Or maybe that's just me being hopeful...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Own up, baby. Own up.

I hate to sound like a broken record. But every day, literally every day, new developments come to my attention, and I feel the need to comment on these developments.

I am referring, of course, to being a newly published author. A newly published author in the age of the Internet.

I feel I must make a statement here and now, with regard to the Internet and some reviewers (of books, music, art, etc): The age of Internet is the age of cowards.

I may be new to being a published author, but I have seen in the past how people (let's call them reviewers, for lack of a better term) cloak themselves in the anonymity afforded them by websites like Amazon, or Goodreads, or other such sites, and feel free to then post reviews of artists works, scathing reviews at times,  without any concern for taking responsibility for their words. 

These are everyday people. People like you and me. People who read books, watch movies, listen to music. People who are suddenly afforded the opportunity to speak their minds about something they have read, listened to, partaken of. But these people do not share their actual names when posting their reviews. No. These people choose a nickname, a pseudonym, and THEN, these people feel absolute freedom to post vitriol, scathing vitriol in reference to a piece of work they have chosen to purchase, and decided they didn't like. Their courage to thus post comes from the anonymity afforded them by the very vehicle that allows them to post said review. 

It would never occur to me to do what these people do. 

First of all, I'm not one for writing reviews. Second, if I were to write a review, I'd use my own name. That just goes without saying. I wouldn't resort to anonymity (I'm not a coward). If you and your review are going to be taken seriously, it stands to reason you'd post your own name. That's the professional (and grown-up) thing to do. And third, if you don't like something, just say you didn't like it, and then point out what you didn't like in concise, well-structured, well-articulated sentences. That's what professional reviewers do, after all (ever heard of Pauline Kael?). They compile what they did or didn't like, and then they present that shit in a well-articulated, well-presented article that comes across as balanced, intelligent, and mature, regardless of their opinion.

As I said, it would never occur to me to do what these people do. And, quite frankly, I can only imagine how unhappy these people must be in their everyday lives, so unhappy that they have nothing better to do than to rip apart the work of an artist who has toiled far more toward the completion of a piece of work than the individual reviewing it has possibly  toiled in their whole lifetime. 

Now, don't get me wrong, I realize that the above statement is contentious. But you know what? To be reviewed by some lame-ass individual who just happened to buy my book because it looked interesting, and they then found out it wasn't, and THEN they decided, Oh, I have an Amazon account, and this nifty nickname that doesn't identify me, and so I can now spout off about my displeasure ad nauseum...

I'm sorry, but I simply cannot take such an individual seriously. 

For the record, because I do believe in honesty, I am posting this review of my own book (click on the link below if interested). I am also stating blankly that I am not unduly troubled by said review. I have checked out the other books reviewed by this individual (and you can too), and those thus flamed, and my opinion of said reviewer is no higher than it was. 

Let me state unequivocally: I do not write porn. I have no intention of writing porn. I am happy to disappoint this individual in this regard, since they seem to place much emphasis on the "sex scenes" and do not seem to have an actual grasp of, or appreciation for, the art of writing. 

Finally, in closing, I am, as stated, new to this publishing world. I have a lot to learn. I know this. But I will not allow a review such as this to brow beat me into submission, passivity, or apology. I write what I write. If you don't like it, say so. But if you're going to say so, don't be a fucking coward about it.

Fear has its use but cowardice has none ~ Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, September 9, 2012

"Assholery" is the word of the day

Last night I finished reading Orson Scott Card's latest novel, Earth Unaware, penned in collaboration with Aaron Johnston. The novel is a prequel, taking place before Ender's Game, the first in the Ender series, all of which I've read over the years. I've enjoyed the Ender series, though it did get a bit tedious toward the last couple of books. But Ender's Game was my favourite.

The most recent novel, which is the beginning of a new series, was enjoyable as well. In fact, I would say I liked it a lot. I'm fairly picky about my science fiction/fantasy reads, but these books by Card held my interest and were entertaining and engaging. I went to my Goodreads list, to give it a 4-star rating, and then I noticed that the very first review of the book had given it only one star. I was intrigued, and started to read the review. It was a good review, and I actually agreed with pretty much all of the points raised. Still, I enjoyed the book. And then, reading the closing statement of the review, I saw this: " disappointment with this and OSC's raging homophobia make it almost impossible for an impartial thought."

Whoa, I thought, where did that come from?

The reviewer does not expand on this statement. So I decided to Google "Orson Scott Card homophobia." Up popped numerous accounts/thoughts/opinions/articles on the subject. Orson Scott Card is a bona fide homophobe. Damn.

Here are some links to articles I read (the first one uses a very fine word, assholery, which is right up there with asshatery). It's not necessary to read these, of course. I just want to show that I've done my homework. (this one, written by Card himself, is really long--feel free to skim it--and he uses the term "lesbian women" if there are other types of lesbians.) (Written by Card again, it proves the point one reviewer made, that Card should shut his trap, but doesn't. He undermines his once respected reputation every time he spouts off like this.)

There are countless other articles and opinions out there, but it becomes redundant, when it's obvious what the man's stance is.

However, what has been troubling me, what's been on my mind since I found this out late last night, is that I have enjoyed the stories this man has written. Ender's Game is considered by many to be brilliant (the U.S. Marine Corps Professional Reading List had made the novel recommended reading for several lower ranks up until 2011, after which it no longer appears on the list. I don't know why it was removed, and I don't particularly care). Having enjoyed this man's work, for the most part, and then finding out that he's an outspoken, homophobic asshole, it occurs to me to wonder, does this in any way affect my enjoyment of his work? Technically, realistically, no, it doesn't. I've already read those books, the enjoyment has been had. Does it colour my perception with regard to further work? Yes, it does. (And for the record, I only ever bought used copies of his work, and the latest was a library book, so I haven't lined his pockets with my own money.)

There are numerous people out there, writers, actors, poets, painters, who all have their own opinions, their own thoughts, their own feelings, on certain things, and some of them are racists, homophobes, anti-semites. But they act in movies, write books and poetry and music, they paint masterpieces, whatever they do, and I enjoy a lot of it. If I don't know of their views, of their opinions, then I shouldn't feel bad about enjoying their work. If I do know, and I still pay to see their movie, or buy their book, does that mean I support their viewpoint? Or does it merely mean that sometimes I like to watch a good movie, and the viewpoints/opinions of actors, directors, etc, don't matter? That I just want to enjoy the movie (or book, or whatever).

I can't know the opinions and feelings and views of everyone who ever wrote a book, starred in a movie, or made a record. And you know what? I don't want to know. This age of information, in my opinion, is the problem. People spouting off, as Card has, thinking we all want to know his opinion, or others being quoted spouting anti-semitic, homophobic or racist comments, who should know enough to keep their mouths shut when out in public. I don't want to know these people's opinions. Certainly not if they're hateful. I just want to read the goddamned book and enjoy it. I am aware, however, that such a mindset cannot, and does not, work in this world. But it's very, very disappointing to find out something like this.

And now that I know what I know, I cannot speak highly of either the man or his work...because an artist's work is a reflection of the artist. It would be, and is, difficult to maintain an objective, impartial stance, when I'm gay, and he hates gays. And is very vocal about it. I cannot unknow what I know. And I do believe that knowing is better than not. I believe that knowledge is power, and I would rather know than not. But I don't have to like it. And I don't like it. It bothers the hell out of me.

At the very least, you now know that about me.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Opinions are a dime a dozen

Are you familiar with Goodreads? If you're on Facebook, and you read (maybe a lot), it's possible you know of Goodreads, or even use it yourself.

For those not in the know, Goodreads is a site where you can list books you've read, and you are given the option of assigning a star rating to them (1 star = didn't like it, 2 stars = it was ok, 3 stars = liked it, 4 stars = really liked it, and 5 stars = it was amazing). It is very clear, when you hover your cursor over the stars, exactly what the numerological ratings stand for. You can also write a review of the books you've read. I choose not to do this, as I don't consider myself a reviewer, but also because I feel that the star rating system works well enough on it's own. 

Most of the books I've read have received either a 3 or 4 star rating. Some very few have received 5 stars, and a few have received 2 stars. Even fewer have received 1 star. Meaning I (just to clarify) "didn't like it." 

I like Goodreads. I read a lot. A LOT. And it pleases me to have a way to convey how I feel about the books I've read. I understand that it's just my opinion, but I think it's pretty cool to have something available whereby others (who may or may not value my opinion) can see how I, personally, feel about a book I have read. That is the sum of my feelings with regard to Goodreads. I certainly don't profess to know how others view it. I am, after all, only responsible for myself and my own actions and opinions.

So, imagine my surprise, when today I received a message from an author whose book I had assigned a 1 star rating. Keeping in mind that that 1 star rating means I "didn't like it," I was quite taken aback by the fury with which this author addressed me. My rating was viewed as a "personal attack," was considered "unprofessional" and "viscious" [sic], and my morals and ethics were called into question if I did not remove said Goodread's rating, and/or this individual from my Facebook friends list. I was also threatened with "repurcussions" [sic], and made aware that it works both ways, that my book was subject to the same rating by this individual, with a harsh critique to match (this, of course, makes no sense, unless you're 10, but there you go).

Apparently, I'm supposed to be nice to everyone. I'm supposed to play nice, and get along, and support all authors. By posting this rating, by showing my opinion, I was not doing anything of the sort, and was actually involving myself in "personal attacks" on fellow authors.Well, the last time I checked, voicing my opinion about a book I've read is not only allowed, but encouraged, and is not considered a personal attack. Or am I mistaken in that? It would appear, according to this person, that I am very severely mistaken. And that by posting a 1 star rating (which, remember, means I "didn't like it") I obviously "hated" the book, and if I hated it so much, I should have kept my opinion to myself, as it was very unprofessional to state this opinion. (I'm very clear on the difference between "not liking" and "hating" something. Yep, very clear on that difference. And I'm pretty sure Goodreads is too...which is why the 1 star rating specifically says "didn't like it.)

So what did I do? I removed the book and my rating of it, and then I removed the individual from my Facebook "friends" list (for clarification's sake, they had requested my "friendship," not vice versa). I did this not because I lack conviction or integrity, but because people like this, with their bullshit drama, and no life, and lack of their own conviction and integrity, piss me off supremely. I did, however, send a message back, and I did apologize. Because it is not my intent to upset anyone. It actually never occurred to me that someone would get upset over something like a stupid rating on a stupid app where it's understood this is JUST PEOPLE'S OPINIONS. It's not like I went on a diatribe and spouted hate speech all over the internet. And I've received my own 1 star ratings, and negative reviews, and I would never have thought to jump all over anyone who thus posted. Why the hell would I? Everyone is entitled to their opinion. 

However, from this point forward, I will no longer post those books I didn't like. Anything I consider to be a "1 starrer" is no longer getting posted. Because I don't need the aggravation of receiving any more stupid messages from people who have no clear perception of reality. 

And that is all I am going to say on that matter. Other than the fact that threatening me is just not a good idea. Oh yeah, that.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's not easy being mean

Today I decided I am officially a bitch.


I went to Staples this afternoon, to get an inkjet cartridge (colour black) for a new printer which was boxed without one. It came with a colour cartridge, but not black, which, when you think about it, is just plain stupid, but of course, is also probably brilliant marketing. And since I'm a writer, and suck at marketing, they will not starve, while I will. 

Anyway, I went to Staples, and almost immediately saw the wall full of inkjet cartridges. And I do mean "wall full." I've never owned a printer (which my sweetie thinks is appalling, but she's a graphic artist, so I'm not offended), and I can't clearly recall the last time I ever had to buy an ink cartridge, but the sight of an entire wall filled with choices was almost awe-inspiring, but was really more annoying. And if you knew me, you'd know right off that when something is annoying, that's a bad start.

I walked up to the wall of cartridges, and my eyes quickly scanned it, until I found the Lexmark section. I don't know how many cartridges there were, but if I were to assign a number, replaying that image in my mind, I'd say there were at least 40. But probably more. Which is daunting, to say the least. I had no idea how I was to know which plain black ink cartridge I was supposed to choose. I vaguely recall a time when buying an ink cartridge for a printer was not so complicated. But that was a long time ago, like maybe 7 years. I was hopelessly out of touch with what I now faced.

At that point, a salesperson suddenly appeared at my left side, as if out of nowhere. A very large male salesperson. With some sort of breathing problem apparently: he was wheezing softly. 

"Can I help you?" he asked, very solicitously.

"Well," I said, shooting him a glance and then quickly looking away, "I'm trying to find a black ink cartridge for a printer." I held out the slip of paper upon which I'd written the model number of the Lexmark printer. "I have the printer model number, but how do I find the right cartridge for it?"

"Oh, well," he said, a bit breathlessly, "printers are...well, they're complicated and confusing, and kind of touchy, and really, I only like one printer," and he suddenly shot his arm out to point, past and behind me, where I knew the shelf of printers was, "and it's that one, it's so straightforward, and..."

In the space of time it took him to lay this spiel out, I'd spied the plastic booklet attached to a clip before me, at about waist level. It obviously held the information I needed, the various printers names on it's cover, and undoubtedly, the types of cartridges required for them. I reached for it, and began to quickly flip through it. 

While I did this, the fellow next to me was still expounding on the merits of the printer he favoured. When I found the Lexmark name in the booklet, I didn't even look up. It was obvious to me he hadn't a clue about ink cartridges, and I was further annoyed with him.

"You know what," I said flatly, as I looked through the booklet, "go help someone else, because you're not helping me."

I literally felt the guy deflate. He stood there for about two seconds more, and then quickly departed. And I thought briefly, Wow, Rebecca, that was rude. And you know what? I didn't really care. Because why would someone who is supposed to be a salesperson, who supposedly should know the products of the store, offer his help, when he obviously doesn't know how to help with the product I'm looking for? What did he hope to accomplish? I have no idea.

When I went back to my car, I realized I'd been a perfect bitch. And that I no longer have the patience (and haven't for awhile now) to deal with people who have no idea what they're talking about. If you don't know something, if you can't help, then say so. Don't waste my time, and yours, spouting off about something in an effort to impress, to someone who is not easily impressed, and who is present for only one thing. Because I now realize that I won't put up with it. Once I would have. Once I would have been patient, and long-suffering, and then been irritated further once I'd left. But I don't do that anymore.

When I related this story to my sweetie, she laughed. "Oh, no," she said, "you in that situation? That's just a bad scenario all around. You just don't have the patience."

She knows me. Better than I know myself, sometimes. Because I do believe I have good intentions. I don't mean to be mean. I'm not a mean person. But I simply no longer have the patience. And if that makes me a bitch, well, I'm alright with that. Because I found what I needed on my own. And maybe that guy actually did go help someone else. Or will. Someday.

(Oh, and as it turns out, you can't buy just a single black ink cartridge for this printer. You must buy it bundled with a colour cartridge. Which was already supplied. See what I mean? I'm STARVING!)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

To review or not to review...

The other day, I read a comment made by an author in regard to marketing and promoting of one's work. The author (who may be fairly successful and fairly popular, though I really don't know as I've never checked, and frankly, wouldn't know how to even if I were interested) provided suggestions for promoting a book, one of those suggestions being that a writer should not be shy about asking readers who have sent good feedback to write a review on Amazon. 

This topic has bothered me greatly, and so I feel the need to talk about it.

I have no problem with how anyone chooses to market and/or promote their work. At least I don't think I do. I'm sure there are myriad ways a writer (any writer) could choose to do so, and I'm certainly not familiar with all of them. On a personal level, however, having received extremely positive feedback from readers, either who are known to me or are complete strangers, it has never once occurred to me to ask them to write a review on Amazon. Somehow, ethically, to me at least, that just doesn't seem proper.

I understand the purpose of these "average person" reviews on Amazon (and on Goodreads). I do. People like to know what the everyday individual thinks of books they, themselves, might be interested in, or how that person's perception of a book they've read compares to their own. I get it, I do. But not everyone considers writing a review of the book they've read and enjoyed (preferring, perhaps, to keep that enjoyment to themselves), and not everyone is comfortable writing a review, thinking that such things are better left to those whose job it is (even those who may have grandiose ideas of being reviewers). I don't even feel comfortable writing a review of a book I've enjoyed (or even one I haven't), though I will share publicly on my Facebook a brief slurry of synopsis and thoughts.

Currently, I have exactly one review of my book on Amazon. It was posted there at the same time I was made aware of it on my publisher's website. That review was written by a bona fide reviewer, and I was very pleased and surprised to see it posted so soon after my books release. My publisher is in charge of sending copies of my novel to known reviewers. I sent one copy myself to another known reviewer, and that review was posted (not on Amazon) just under a month later, again surprising and pleasing me.

I'm new to this writing life. This world of writers, publishers, marketing, promotion. I'm learning as I go along, and for the most part, it's been a pleasant learning experience. I haven't been shy about talking about my work, or about sharing my work. I hand out business cards, talk my book up with complete strangers (in my usual reserved fashion), and point people to my website. I share the positive, and I share the negative; I'm fully aware that not everyone will enjoy (read: like) my book, and I think that even a bad review has its merits (okay, no, I'm not sure I think that at all, especially after the one - and only -  negative review received thus far. What a silly piece of work that was). 

It would be lovely to see reviews piling up on Amazon, or wherever. But I'm not going to ask my readers, who take the time to contact me privately to let me know how much they've enjoyed my work, to then post a review on Amazon. I can't even imagine doing this, let alone how I would phrase it. It somehow seems so very self-gratifying, and self-serving. Which, you may argue, is exactly the point. And I suppose it is. But I personally just can't imagine doing it. If someone chooses to post a review, of their own volition, hey, I'm all for that. Of course I am, why wouldn't I be? But I am not going to ask my readers to do so. And not because I'm shy. I most certainly am not. 

There is one other topic I'd like to discuss, briefly, while on the subject of posting reviews on Amazon. A while back, I was privy to a discussion, the gist of which I gathered centred around a review posted by the spouse of an author, and how the objectivity of said review could not be guaranteed, because, well, I guess all spouses opinions of their partners work is biased, and whose spouse wouldn't say good things about, or give 5 stars to, said work? Some participants in this discussion went so far as to suggest that it would be prudent of the spouse of any author to state said relationship clearly, upon which (I'm guessing) the posted review could then be discounted as unreliable and wholly biased, as is only right and proper, in their eyes.

Now, I suppose this discussion may have come about for some very good reason, but for the life of me, I simply cannot think of one. Okay, wait, before you lambaste me for being naive, I do know there are people out there who would do and say anything in favour of their spouse. And yes, you’ve got to wonder about those people. But really, if you’re serious about your craft, if you know your stuff, if your work is good, you know it’s good. Simple as that. It’s nice, very nice, to have other people say so. Of course it is. Validation is a lovely thing. But if anyone, ANYONE, ever suggests that my sweetheart, who is the very epitome of intelligence, discretion, and discerning taste, would ever support a piece of work of mine that was not the quality both she and I (and everyone else who knows me well) expected, I will thrash that person. Whatever the shortcomings of some spouses of some writers, those shortcomings do not apply to my sweetheart. Nor do they apply to my friends. I am far, far too particular to associate with anyone who would mislead in this manner, simply in an effort to stroke my ego.

One more thing: Before anyone decides to comment, I’m aware of the apparent contradiction here, that by virtue of my even bringing up this topic, I am thereby asking (0r suggesting) readers (now) post reviews. Such a thought process on anyones part implies that my readers are a) easily manipulated and/or guilt-tripped, b) unable to think for themselves, or c) stupid.
FYI, my readers are d) none of the above.

(Update 08/24/12 - After some understanding and encouraging discussions, I've come to see that there is nothing strange at all in asking readers to post reviews. As I said, I am new to this writing world, and new to this kind of self-promotion. But I'm learning!)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Difficult choices

This is what happened:

I had boarded the plane from Winnipeg to Minneapolis. My seat was near the front of the plane, and when I reached it, my seatmate was already seated. He looked to be in his 40's, roughly good-looking, and he gave me a perfunctory smile as I motioned that mine was the window seat. He stood, I took my seat, and considered asking him to switch with me. I don't like window seats, prefer aisle seats, but when I'd booked the flight I'd forgotten to mention this, and so. He seemed rather stiff, vaguely off-putting, and so I decided not to ask to switch. I took my seat, belted up, and removed the magazine from the sleeve pouch in the seat back before me. (I absolutely need to read immediately when seated. I do not enjoy flying in the least.)

A couple of minutes later, the flight attendant came by, and my seatmate motioned to her. She bent down, and he spoke quietly in her ear. She nodded, placed a hand on his shoulder briefly, spoke quietly in return, and then moved on. In my periphery vision, I could see the fellow next to me seemed tense. And as the plane prepared for take-off, he stiffened even more in his seat, closed his eyes, and began breathing deeply.

At about this time, I buried myself in the airline magazine, trying not to pay attention to our take-off. I steadied my own breathing, and continually reminded myself to relax, while trying to focus on the words on the page in my lap.

When I fly, I'm not usually aware of the person next to me. I'm too busy trying to convince myself that what I'm doing is not completely foolhardy, and that I will survive to reach my destination. But because I was in a window seat, where I did not wish to be, and because the person next to me seemed so very tense, I was very aware of him. He kept readjusting himself, took deep breaths, reached to flip quickly through the safety manuals in the seat back, and then he started rubbing his left arm, actually massaging it, albeit almost subtly (there's no subtle way to massage your arm, really).

As the flight approached cruising altitude, I finished with the magazine (those things are all fluff, after all) and glanced over at him. His eyes were still closed, he was still massaging his arm, and he took a deep, shuddering breath. I felt bad for grabbing the only reading material provided, since I had a novel in my knapsack I could have read, but couldn't be bothered to dig for at the time.

"Here you go," I said, offering the magazine.

He opened his eyes, looked sharply at me, and then the magazine. He smiled, a tense smile, but still a smile. "Thanks," he said, taking it from me. He opened it, flipped through it quickly, and I knew he wasn't reading it, because less than a minute later, he replaced it in the seat back pouch, readjusting himself yet again. He leaned back, dropped his chin, breathed deeply, and began massaging his arm again.

It was then that I noticed the MedicAlert bracelet on his right wrist. And I thought back to his quiet exchange with the flight attendant, wondered briefly at the need for the bracelet, and then thought, What the hell.

I leaned toward him, spoke in a low pitched voice toward his ear. "Are you okay?"

He shot me a quick look, glanced away, and then took a deep breath. "No," he said. He looked at me again. "No, I'm not."

I felt a certain amount of alarm at his admission, but figured I'd started the conversation, might as well continue it. I mean, I couldn't very well say, Well, hey, that sucks, but shut up, and let's get through this. We had 45 minutes to go. 

"You want to talk about it?" I asked.

He took another deep breath. The conversation that followed I don't recall verbatim. He said something about having a heart defect since birth. Said he hadn't been able to have surgery because it hadn't been advised, was too risky, but had finally opted for the surgery because really, what did he have to lose? And had been told afterward he had six months left to live. 

I am an extremely sensitive person. I can also be brash and blunt at times. I looked up at the ceiling of the plane, and then back at him. "You have six months left to live?"

He nodded. "So I've been told."

"Why are you rubbing your arm?"

He grimaced. "It hurts. That's supposed to be a bad sign."

I looked at the seat back before me briefly. "You're not supposed to fly, are you?"

"No," he said quickly. "I was advised against it."

"So why are you? Where are you going?"

He grinned, sort of. "To Philadelphia. My uncle is dying. I want to see him one last time. We're very close. I knew I wouldn't get another chance." He paused, sort of grinned again, then kind of laughed without really doing so. "Stupid, huh?"

"I...don't know." I thought carefully before saying, "If it's what you want to do, it's your life. You should do what you want. Are you okay, though?" I was really concerned about this, but I didn't know what I could do, other than ask. 

He confessed he didn't know if he was or not. He was obviously discomfited, quite possibly scared, and all I could think was that he was dying, and I...wasn't. If you get my meaning.

So what I did, what I didn't even really think about was...I talked to him. I engaged him. I don't know why. He just looked so scared. 

I asked him questions. He was from Winnipeg. He was a denturist, formally a dentist, but he despised the field. I told him I used to be a dental assistant. Why aren't you now, he asked. Because I despised it, I told him. Because dentists are assholes, I said. He laughed, which I appreciated.

What do you do now, he asked. And I told him I write. And I pulled out the copy of my novel from my knapsack, and he was impressed. And we talked about writing, and pursuing goals, and dreams, and we laughed, and talked, and talked, and talked. For 45 minutes.

I enjoyed his company immensely. He was honest, with his words and his emotions. And as the plane began it's final descent, and we'd shared a silence of a few minutes, I looked over at him and asked, "How's your arm?"

And he smiled, a genuine smile this time, and as he touched it, he said, "It's better. Much better." And then his smile broadened. "Thank you."

When the plane touched down in Minneapolis and we taxied in, I looked at him and offered him my hand. "Thank you," I said, "you have been excellent company. I've enjoyed our time together."

"Thank you," he said, shaking my hand. "Thank you very much. I have too."

I wished him good luck. He did the same in return.

I do not know if I will ever see him again. But I know that I am richer for having met him. For having met such a brave person, who made choices, difficult choices, when too few people can or do, when so many people make only the simplest of choices, and deem those difficult.

I cannot imagine being told you only have six months to live. 

But, really, even if you weren't told, sometimes, maybe, that's all you may have. You just don't know it. But he was brave, and honest, and I thanked him for that, as well. 

Because so few people are.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Ask me questions

Today (and since it's 11:31 pm as I write this, it is still today) I gave the first interview of my life.

There may have been a time when I considered myself a nobody. That time is past. I am certainly somebody. And I am certainly someone to be considered. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me explain.

I was subjected to the kind of abuse that basically debases. The kind that makes a person feel less like a person, the kind that makes someone question their worth, the kind that makes someone (a child) feel as if they are worth nothing, and can never be anything but nothing.

Today, I granted an interview with a gentleman who has a fairly distinguished career in journalism. This interview came about out of my own need for self-promotion. I've written a book, a novel, my first. The world of publication, at least in my specific genre, lesbian fiction, means I am basically responsible for my own marketing, promotion, what have you. The reason for this decided need for self-promotion is that funding is limited, and my publisher cannot foot the bill for all that is involved for promoting my book as perhaps it should (or could) be. 

I was never very good at self-promotion. Certainly not when I was younger. Never then. I knew only when I was younger that the less attention I drew to myself, the better. I was very good at blending in, at not drawing attention to myself. Yet, if memory serves, the more I tried to not draw attention to myself, the more I stood out. I cannot comment on this. I knew nothing about it. I was only trying to get by, because it was safer to stay quiet, to stay within the small world I knew was safe, and not step outside the lines, if you will.

Today, a part of my world collapsed.

Today, I was interviewed for the first time in my life. Today, for the first time in my life, I could have, had I chosen, spoken freely of many things. But today, I was only being interviewed because of my book. I wrote a book. A novel. I sought out the interviewer, and the questions that were asked, I chose to either answer, or not.

There is an astonishing amount of power in having the choice to answer questions as you choose.

I was asked questions today that I could have answered. Instead I chose not to, or deflected them. 

I realized I owned the skill of deflection. That is rather heady.

I was asked questions that I had considered being asked prior to. I'm a thoughtful person, and I thought carefully before answering some of those questions. Some I answered, some I did not.

I was complimented with, "I wouldn't think this is your first interview. You're very thoughtful, and confident." Ah, yes, that.

I don't talk about myself easily. It's taken a long time to get to know myself. Most of what most people know of me is not precisely what I am. I am very good at giving what I think you need to know, without giving you what you think you know. Most people think they know more of me than they do. Frankly, I'm proud of that.

Yet today, I felt I wanted to just...spill the beans. Just let it all out. Things I've kept to myself, that I should tell, and never have.

I didn't. Obviously. You still don't get to know what I refuse to let you know.

And I have no idea how the interview will read. What will be included. This drives me absolutely nuts. I am, admittedly, a bit of a control freak. Much less than I used to be. But still, I am what I am. 

I loved today's interview. I loved answering the questions. I've never refused to answer questions. If you ask me, I will answer. The thing is, most people don't ask. And so, I don't answer. But the not asking drives me nuts. People are such cowards, in their refusal to ask.

My sweetie has advised me, in this new world I find myself in, being a writer, promoting my work, that I must not knock myself down, that there will be enough people wanting to do that, I must not do it first. I get that, I do. But since I know myself, and I was knocked down from the time I was a child, I've got the hang of it, and you know what? Go ahead. Try it. See if you can knock me down any further than I already have been. 

You know what? You can't even come close. 

So what I give you, you're going to have to be happy with. If someone tells you something about me, you can believe them, or you can believe me. But I will give you what I can, and you can believe it, or not. And if I give you something of myself, you can bet I struggled with it, and so it's precious. 

It's up to you how to deal with that. It's certainly not up to me. 

I'm still in the process of giving you something of myself.

And that could take years.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Life is life.

I stumbled across a couple of fine books over the last 72 hours. By a writer I'd never heard of. And really, isn't that how it should be?

The author is Susan Wilson. The books, One Good Dog, which I read first. The second, The Dog Who Danced.

No surprise there are dogs involved. I love dog stories. I've been reading them since I could read, and I've forgotten almost all of the authors of those childhood read stories. 

But I'm not an idiot. I love well-written dog stories. It's rare enough to find them. It's even more rare to find good dog stories with a good people story attached. 

As an adult, I certainly more fully appreciate good people stories, as much as, as a writer, I appreciate well-written stories. 

Here's the thing, though. A good dog story, coupled with a good people story is not easily come by. Susan Wilson accomplishes both. And just in case you think this is going to be a review of those stories, think again.

Susan Wilson introduces human characters who are hugely fallible. I despised many of them. The dogs, of course, were goodness. Because dogs are. But I especially enjoyed how Wilson brought her human characters around to redemption, where, as a reader, I didn't so much as forgive them their failings, but allowed that shit happens, and you were one way but you can change, and you did, so good.

This is how I view people. Don't judge me.

I'm not a fan of happily-ever-after stories. Not because I don't believe in them, but because I do, with fervour, and because I'm an optimist at heart, and I wish only the best, and hope for the same. But life isn't like that, and shit happens, and you live with it and deal.

I'm a writer. 

As a writer, I write what occurs to me.  I write, not necessarily from personal experience, but from possible personal experience. In other words, I put myself where I have never been, but could possibly be, under different circumstances. The old "what if?" This is what a good writer does. Or so I understand ( I don't really know. I just write. It's a thing).

I will not sugar-coat anything. I will not give you characters who lack depth, or meaning, or belief. I will not give you situations of that kind either. I will give you what I know to be true. I will give you a story that is believable and has depth, and characters who also have the same. If you initially come to despise the characters I introduce you to, know that it's entirely likely that I have, as well. I will sugar-coat nothing. It's been one of the most difficult things to come to terms with, this complete refusal to paint happy pictures without struggle, without pain, without ensuring that my characters have suffered, and may suffer. It's what I adhere to, because it is life. 

Life right now is pretty fine. I love my life currently. Well, frankly, I love life, period. But life changes on a dime, and I'm not in the market for white-washing life's experiences. Life speaks for itself.

I believe I'd like to write those stories, the stories about how life.

But I'm not sure I can inject puppies as smoothly and surely as Susan Wilson has. Yet, even if I can't, I'm sure I can write as good a story.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Treasure a toddler's smile

I have spent a lot of my life believing I was worthless. But a lot of what has happened over the course of the years has caused me to feel that that is not so.

I love children. Not all children, because some of them, like some adults, are not very nice. But if you've read the "About Rebecca" on my new website, I shared something that I really, truly love: A toddler's smile. There is a reason for this. I have been subjected to some amazing smiles from toddlers. I'll give you a few recent examples.

Just over a year ago, November or December, I think, I was in Safeway, looking over the various kinds of canned tuna. I was crouched down, and as I rose to my feet, a shopping cart came around the corner of the aisle. I looked, to see a woman pushing the cart, and a little girl, with short, curly, dark hair and dark eyes, bundled in her snowsuit, sitting in the front of the cart. My eyes went right to the little girl. She couldn't have been any more than a year and a half. As soon as she saw me, she smiled at me. An amazing, open, brilliant smile. Like seeing me was the most wonderful thing. It was the kind of smile that just catches you completely unawares, completely unexpected. Immediately I smiled back, in wonder. I felt, I kid you not, as if the sun had just broken out from behind the clouds, as cliched as that sounds. I knew my smile was not even one of those close-mouthed polite kind of smiles. My jaw literally dropped into an open-mouthed smile. I felt almost in awe. The little girl's face was lit with happiness, with pleasure, as she looked at me. Completely uninhibited, completely genuine. 

Her mother (or so I assumed) said, as she saw the little girl smile like this, "Oh, that's so nice, look at that! What a good girl!" As if she was as surprised and pleased as I was. "Hi," I said to the little girl, who seemed to smile even more, if that were possible. And then they moved past me, and I left the aisle without my tuna, filled with such an amazing feeling of goodness.

Several months ago, I was on a plane to North Carolina. In the seat next to me, was a man who looked to be in his thirties. Across the aisle, a woman I guessed was his wife, who had seated next to her a girl of about 4 years, and in the woman's lap she held a little girl, blonde haired and blue-eyed, who looked just over a year. The little girl had a very serious air about her, and was very intent on what was going on as the plane took off. As the plane leveled off, the woman handed the little girl over to the fellow beside me, and as she made the transition, the little girl looked at me, and she smiled. A big smile, that lit up her face and her eyes. She plopped down in her daddy's lap, who positioned her to face forward, but just before he did, she looked over at me again, and smiled very cutely at me. 

Her daddy pulled out his laptop, a MacBook, and he brought up Angry Birds, and taking her tiny index finger in his fingers, he moved it across the screen to play the game, flinging the birds for her, keeping her attention diverted. But every once in awhile, she looked over at me and smiled so sweetly, I felt it. Deep inside. It felt wonderful. Pure and sweet.

"How old is she?" I asked.

"Fifteen months," he said proudly.

A couple of months ago, the beginning of February, I was at Southpoint Mall in Durham, NC. I was just about to go into the Barnes & Noble there, when I saw an older woman coming toward me, holding the hand of a little girl, who was obviously not very steady on her feet yet. She was tiny, a petite little girl, in her jacket and boots, with wispy strawberry blonde hair and big eyes. As they came closer, I paused, because they were intent, it seemed, on reaching the fountain just ahead, and I would have gotten in their way. The little girl looked up at me then, and she tilted her head, and she smiled at me. It was a shy smile, at first, and then she looked away, and looked back, and she paused, and her smile broadened. It was brilliant, uninhibited, sweet, warm. I smiled back, again in wonder, not expecting such a smile.

The woman holding her hand, who must have been her grandmother, noticed the exchange, because the little girl had paused. 

"Say Hello," she said gently, to the little girl. "Go on, say Hello, it's alright."

And the little girl lifted her tiny right hand, held it close to her face, and did that little scrunching thing with her fist, the fingers closing in to her palm as she waved Hello.

I felt my heart lift, and I smiled and returned the Hello wave in the exact same way. I had to. And then, with a final shy smile, she turned toward the fountain she'd been so set on, and I turned away, forgetting about Barnes & Noble.

I love children. For the most part, I really do. I may not be overly fond of most people, and many people may not like me, and perhaps I am not always completely likeable. But I almost always get along with children, with toddlers. I seem to have an affinity for children of that age. I've never understood it, no more than I try to understand why I seem to have an affinity for puppies. I just do. There's a sweetness there that seems to respond to something in me. Or I respond to it.That something that tells me, that affirms, that I am not worthless, that I am not a bad person, that I am a good person, and sometimes, that can be seen right off. The fact that it's usually toddlers doesn't bother me in the least.

This is what I am trying to convey here. I don't always know it. Or believe it. But little children, barely over a year old, smile at me, as if they see that, know it, feel it. And their smiles, those smiles that I rarely get from adults, reassure me that such a smile is not something that just happens. Such a smile, from a little child who is full of trust and goodness, and whose perception perhaps I should not trust, is what I trust most of all.

You may think I'm deluding myself. You may think that. 

But I doubt those little children think that.

Because if you think about it, how could they?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Weaving a not so tangled web(site)

Have you ever designed a website before? 

It turns out that it can be very time consuming. Both in its development and launching stages, of course, but also in the idea stages. Where you have an idea, a vision, of what you want, how you want your site to look, but you can't get there on your own.

A handful of years ago, around 2004, it was politely suggested that I should think about someday having a website; most authors were heading in that direction, and it was an excellent way to promote oneself and one's work. At the time, it was a fine idea, but I was nowhere near that stage yet, so I put the website idea on a back burner. Fast forward seven years, to June 2011, and I've signed a contract for my first novel, and then things progress, and I have to start thinking about marketing, promoting, reaching an audience, and I realize, Oh, I'll need a website! 

But I had no idea how to build one.

I had an idea of what I wanted it to look like. Mainly, nothing too similar to any other author's. Something professional looking, classy, that stood out, but in an understated way. I knew I could have done it myself, say via WordPress, but as I said, I wanted something professional looking and classy, which meant it couldn't be something that I had cobbled together. Also, having done something rather similar on Blogger, with this blog, I had no intention of doing the same with my website (it can be a pain in the ass). I believe in doing things the right way, the proper way, the way a website should be done. 

I mentioned this all to my sweetie one day, a few weeks before Christmas. She's a graphic artist. She hangs out with other artists, and IT people, techie people, web designers, etc. She knows so many people it's rather mind-blowing. And she says, Oh, I can help you with that. Tell me what you have in mind, and I can find the right person we can work with.

And before I know it, there's me, her, and a friend of hers, a web designer. They're picking my brain on my thoughts and ideas, adding their own, showing me one thing, discarding another. I write text, revise it, consider placement, change my mind. I show them several websites, most of which have their own merits, some of which have none. Eventually, what was in my head makes it onto the computer screen. What they are able to do is nothing short of amazing. And it takes much less time than I expect, but it's not an easy job. Tensions rise, frustrations build, discussions are sometimes abandoned when things cannot be agreed upon. But it's like building a house, your own house. It's not just a house then. If you're building it, why not build it exactly to your tastes and standards? If you're going to be living there, you want it not only to look beautiful, to yourself and others, but you want it to reflect yourself, and the pride you take in it.

This reflection of self is important, and it's not something some people might get when working on their own site. I was fortunate to work with two people who allowed me complete personal input, while working within their professional parameters. It's been an amazing and gratifying experience. I think we did well.

Please visit my website at the link below: 

I hope everyone who visits thinks we did a good job as well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Puppies vs Stupid people

Today, I learned a lot about some people. Mainly, that some people will make untold excuses for treatment of puppies and dogs, try to pass it off as similar to what some humans go through, but which, if you are really being honest, we all know that the one bears no resemblance to the other.

Case in point: This morning I read a post, that Crufts (the largest annual dog show in the world, held in Birmingham, England) had, by way of a veterinarian exam, disqualified some breeds of dogs due to the fact that they were not "representative of their breed" and "could not perform" as that breed should. In other words, they were found physically "unsound."

Now, this is a huge thing. I don't recall this ever happening. I used to show dogs, Akitas and German Shepherds. I have followed, for years, breeds and breed standards. I've attended numerous shows, and while I never felt a part of the "bonhomie" (have I mentioned I don't play well with others?) I understood the premise for dog shows. Yet I was never comfortable with the people who took credit for their dog's wins. The people who preened and strutted those wins, as if they had won, and not the dog. I detested dog shows for that reason, and for the fact that I spent so much money testing my own dogs with regard to health concerns, and very few others were doing so. Don't even get me started on Canine Good Citizenship or obedience trials.

But I digress.

This morning, the post re: Crufts, caught my interest. I thought, High time. But then, after reading the comments, the discussion veered into physical alteration, ie: docking tails and cropping ears. And how it wasn't inhumane. And so I thought to comment. Because in my opinion, docking tails and cropping ears is the epitome of inhumane, and I said so. Within 4 hours I'd garnered 30 likes. Within 8 hours, my comment had earned 57 likes.

My comment also earned scorn and derision. Some people likened docking puppy tails and cropping puppy ears to circumcising baby boys. They also likened it to piercing ears and inoculating young children. They were disgusted with my viewpoint, and said so in no uncertain terms. They also said that, "Once it's done, it's done, and what's the problem?"

As I type this now, there are "likes" to my comments coming in.

But there are people out there who think that what I stand by, what I stated, is absolute crap. I don't know what to think of those people.

They purport to love dogs. But they make excuses for things you would (hopefully) never do to a child, or themselves. And these things I am referring to are done to puppies regularly. And just because they are puppies, people seem to think it's okay to do what they do, because, well, "Once it's done, it's done, and they are too young to remember, so why discuss it?"

What I ended up stating, unequivocally, is that this is a moral and ethical thing. Not an aesthetic thing. Not something you can argue with regard to circumcision and boys, or ear piercing, or childhood inoculations. This is about surgically altering an animal based on your own pretentions and presumptions.

Over the course of the day, I have been barraged by comments from people who have basically attacked my stance, and tried to undermine it. People who think that puppies are less than people (they have no feelings, or if they do, it's not for long, and so we can do anything to them), and so what is done to them is okay, but oh, what about circumcising boys, what about that?

Some people have actually had the audacity to question "the world I live in." As if I am living in some fairy tale world where no harm comes to any of "God's" creatures.

First of all, I'm an atheist.

Second of all, I'm an atheist.

What offended me the most, the worst, was those supposed individuals who thought that docking tails and cropping was okay, since it was done at a such a young age (48 hours after birth) that the puppies never felt pain (they did, by the way) and therefore didn't suffer.

Suffering is not restricted to the here and now. And Phantom Limb Syndrome I am sure is not limited to human beings.

My point being: If you don't know what you are talking about, shut up. Just shut up. Because all you are saying is nothing at all. You are defending your own viewpoint, and your viewpoint is selfish and self-serving, and has nothing to do with the ones who are going through the experience.

Puppies feel pain. Dogs feels pain. Animals feels pain. And if surgically (I use the term loosely) removing what a dog was born with, for aesthetic reasons, to conform, is your idea of "doing what is right," then I question your morals and ethics.

No human can answer for any one else. They can only answer for themselves. Today I spent too much time trying to educate some very self-absorbed people about that. I was partially successful. But there are too many people out there who will not take a stand, who will back out when it comes to defending those who need defending...and I have no respect for those people.

Puppies feel pain. You may not be able to relate to that. But it is a fact.

Puppies feel pain.