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Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Belindapendence: Be The Change You Want to See

All right, Belindapendence time. This is for authors. You may not like it.

Tough titties.

Stuff happens. People do things/say things/write things we don't like, so we all clutch our virtual pearls and write scathing comments and reviews, and then vent our spleen on Facebook.
So what did you actually accomplish other than to dump a shitload of negativity on the world?

Probably not much.

We all get tired of mansplaining. Of being belittled for daring to write science fiction without a cock to dip into the inkstand. Of authors who behave badly or use horrible judgement in what they write.

I'm not saying you shouldn't bitch and vent. Its just not necessary to belabor the issue and then abandon it for the next issue that pushes your button.

Did you know that being angry all the time is bad for your health?

Anyhow. Flip that anger. Work it. Use it. Make it productive. Then let it the fuck go and move on.

The RITAs are coming. We all know about the shocking event that transpired last year. Well, that was last year. Water under the Pultney Bridge. (Yes, I'm in Bath.)  Now take a moment to consider what you can do to prevent it from happening again.


If you have a great book that qualifies as inspirational...even if its not mainstream Christian, enter it. Yes, it might feel like a throw away, but it isn't. The existing judges need to be exposed to diversity. The genre needs to be redefined. Give them your gay, interracial Taoist love story.


If you enter a book you have to also serve as a judge, so when it comes time to pick and choose the genre you'll judge, say yes to all. And judge fairly.


Are you a PAN member? Go sign up to judge. They need you. Sign-ups happen on September 22. Volunteer to judge all categories. That book was preaching to the choir. We must make that choir much, much larger.

Make 2016 the year of action and diversity. Do something. Talk about books you love. Nominate them for Hugos or whatever is applicable. Judge. Vote. Be actively engaged in the process. When someone tiffs you off, (especially when its something as silly as a Go Fund Me campaign), shrug it off and move forward.

Declare your independence from the ugly, trolly side of our community, because we are a community. Lets try to make it better by acting and not reacting.

Monday, September 14, 2015

From the Archives: Finding the Me in the Manuscript

This was originally posted waaaay back in 2009 and first posted at Long and Short Reviews:

The Writer’s voice

* “I’m so unhappy with my editor. I’m afraid she’s taking away my voice in this piece.”
* “I don’t want to submit my story. It’s a part of me. What if they don’t understand my voice?”
* “My voice will be lost if I worry about the mechanics of writing.”
*+ “Your writer’s voice is so distinct.”


These are comments I’ve heard on and off over the past couple of years, and frankly, this concept of voice still puzzles me a bit. What is it? Our style? Our accent? At a writer’s forum I attended recently, several writers worried about their voices. To be honest, that’s really the last thing I think about when I write...if I think about it at all.

Okay, I do believe that every writer has a distinct voice. I don’t think we can escape it. To me, it’s a little like how where you live affects how you speak. Frankly, I’ve always believed that I speak in unaccented American…you know, like the news anchors? But as I’ve traveled around, people in different areas of the US have mentioned my accent.

I’m from Northern California. Not the Bay Area, but north of the Sacramento Valley, and oddly enough, I’ve come to realize that we do have a regional accent. You know the actor Sam Elliot? He’s got that silky, sexy drawl that we love to hear in the beer commercials. He’s from Texas, right? The South? Nope. He was raised in the Sacramento Valley. My brother’s accent is exactly the same.

In fact, my oldest daughter works on a private yacht with an international crew. She’s the chef, and has been known to launch into the occasional verbal tirade when she’s alone in the galley. She says the Kiwis like to come in and listen to her tantrums because of her “redneck accent.”

So what does this have to do with your voice as a writer? Well, it’s there. You can’t really escape it, unless you’re spending a lot of time with technical or academic writing. If an editor wants you to clean up the grammar of your narrative, she’s not asking you to stifle your voice, she wants you to do your job and write properly. As a general rule, your editor will respect your writing and her advice will make your story better without robbing you of your voice.

There are times when I feel that my voice has become stiff and uninspired. I’m not talking about writer’s block. That’s when nothing comes at all. Sometimes I feel like the words are coming out by force, like maybe I’m not the one writing at all.

Perhaps there is stress in the household or I’m simply disconnected from the story that I’m trying to tell. Or maybe I’ve just finished a project and have turned to another, and haven’t captured the new personalities that I’m working with. When that happens, I have a few tricks to loosen up my mind and free that elusive voice.

* I have conversations in character. Okay, that might seem a bit weird. I used to act so walking around verbalizing is something I did to learn lines. If you can’t open your mouth and let your character speak, do it in your head. Go sit in a comfy chair, or lie down on the sofa and ask your characters what’s going on. Visualize the scenario they are in, and watch their actions and reactions to each other. Know your characters! I prefer to worry about the voices of my characters rather than my voice as a writer.

* Listen to music. Music digs into our brains on various levels. You know how a song gets stuck in your head? Music is a great tool for learning, as well as for setting mood. Try listening to the Beatles or Chopin or Barry White. Listen to the mood of the music. Many authors have soundtracks for stories. Belle Starr was written to the music from the Japanese Anime Cowboy Bebop. It’s a wild, fierce jazz number by a band called Tank. I think that single song really shaped the entire story.

* Read poetry. Find a writer that works for you. It might be Bob Dylan or John Donne. Poetry is the height of language and has an inherent flow and meter. You’ll expand your vocabulary and I’ve found my narrative moves better when I’ve taken a poetry break. Right now I’m reading Silky Thefts by Michael Jennings.

* Sing. Dance. That’s taking the music and poetry and moving it to another level. You’re integrating your body into the rhythm of the music and getting your circulation moving.

* Just tell the story. Frankly, that’s a pretty good avenue to take. So it might be stiff and ugly, but if you sit down and hammer out the story, you’ve got the framework finished. That’s the hard part. When you’re feeling more inspired, go back and fluff it up. Indulge in your creativity and play with your characters. Have fun. It’s easier to do when you have the roadmap instead of the roadblock.

Writing is certainly a creative art, but it’s also a craft…a discipline. If you approach it as a job that needs to be done, you will learn to work through the rough times. Your voice is there because it’s the part of the story that is inherently you. If you belabor the idea of your ‘voice’ your writing will become self-aware. It’s like watching an actor on stage who is aware of the fact that they are acting. Don’t act the role, be the role! In writing, don’t worry about your voice or it will become just another character on your page.

So when you sit in front of that blank page with your list of things to worry about, strike “Voice” off that list. It’s there if you let it come out. And no one can take it away. Not even your editor.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

When Voters Vote and Judges Judge - Part Two: Let Us Pray

I find myself fresh out of humor on this topic. OK, I know its been ground into the dirt over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, on forums, Facebook and Amazon.

But as usual, I have something to say.

Growing up, my best friend's life was disrupted when her grandmother moved in with the family. Because her parents both worked, caring for the elderly woman fell on her shoulders (bear in mind, we were about ten years old) and eventually, her grandmother's sister moved in as well. They were Babcha (Grandma) and Chucha Manya. (Aunt)

Babcha was soft and round and tall. She had a temper, but got over it quickly. She loved to teach me naughty words in Polish. Chucha was thin, quiet and often dressed in black. Even as an elderly woman, she was beautiful and so very sweet. 

One day we were cleaning their little apartment and my friend put a book into a drawer at the bedside table. She found something else and brought it to me. It was a card, it had a photo of Babcha as a young woman. All the writing was in German, but we were able to make out her name, numbers and the word "Auschwitz."

Marta knew what that was. I didn't.

"I saw a tattoo on her arm but she won't talk about it. Its the same number on the card." My friend was very distressed and my education in horror began at that moment. You see, my father is a white supremacist. (never mind that he's largely Native American.) He's a holocaust denier. And that day, I saw incontrovertible proof that it was real and it happened. I went to the library and looked at books.

 I looked up Auschwitz.

And that's when I stopped loving my father. Because even when he couldn't deny anymore, he said it was necessary.

Babcha and Chucha weren't Jewish, they were Polish Catholics. During their time in Auschwitz, they endured brutal treatment, starvation, rape, illness, and in Chucha's case, surgical experimentation.

They sterilized her without anesthesia.

So when I read about Kate Breslin's book "For Such a Time" making the finals in the RWA RITA awards, I was floored.

If you haven't heard about it, its an Inspirational Romance in which a half Jewish concentration camp prisoner is rescued by the camp's commandant, who makes her his secretary, falls in love with her and they both convert to Christianity. And they lived happily ever after.

I have not read the book. I don't want to. I don't want the author and publisher to have my money. To get a grip on my revulsion with the topic, I tried to imagine what Babcha and Chucha might feel about this. And you know what? I have something to say to the author:

Kate Breslin, if real live concentration camp survivors like my friend's grandma and auntie heard about this book, they'd come at you with drawn blades. And if you don't understand why, then you lack normal empathy and I can only pity you. 

So how the fuck did this travesty make it to the finals of the romance genre's most prestigious awards?

Well, its my fault. And its your fault.

As I noted in my post about the Hugos, the fans voted this year and they knocked a toxic trainload of rabid canines off the rails. But here in romance land, we didn't see this coming. But we let it happen.

Its not the fault of RWA so leave them to the side. Oddly, its not the fault of the author and her supporters, because weird as it is, they are true believers. And true believers of any religion or philosophy lack the empathy to see the other side.

In romance, we tend to consider the Inspirational category as being Christian. Well, that's wrong. Inspirational should encompass all creeds as well as non-sectarian works with spiritual elements. I may not embrace religion, but I view myself as spiritual. I think it reflects in my writing, particularly in my m/m science fiction book The Prince of Faith. But you know, I would never consider entering that in the Inspirational category. All that sweaty man-sex would peel the skin off the judge's faces. How could a gay romance possibly have inspirational elements? Granted, mine is erotic, but even a sweet m/m romance wouldn't fly in that category.

And there we have the problem in a nutshell. The Inspy world is an insular one. When I got my ballot to judge, I asked not to judge Inspirational or YA. I don't like them. I would never consider entering my work into that category. My guess is, the vast majority of RITA judges do the same thing. Thus, Kate Breslin wrote a book that was offensive to most sane humans, except for the people who think and believe as she does.

And those are the people who judge that category of romance. 

Let that sink in and remember what George R. R. Martin said in my other post. 

If just three moderately open-minded judges had agreed to judge Inspirational, this might not have happened. Because how can this book have a satisfying ending? How does one redeem a war criminal, who will probably stand trial at Nuremberg and be hanged? If just 3 judges had looked at that book with even a grain of empathy and historical vision, it would have been disqualified.

How can a novel about Jewish woman and a Nazi officer play out as anything but the echo of a tasteless porn plot? This "hero" has the blood of innocents on his hands. Jesus might have died for our sins, but damn. There's gotta be a limit. There's still a worldly price to pay. This guy would have stood trial at Nuremberg and have been hanged. Or imprisoned for life. This is not romance. He is not a bad boy or an anti-hero or a tortured soul. He's a war criminal.

And having them both convert to Christianity to make it all good? Fuck. Fuckity fuckfuckfuck.


Back to King George:

·         People have to nominate
·         People have to vote
·         People have to talk about and share what they love

IIn the case of the RITAs, and other juried awards, judges have to judge. Authors have to enter. And readers must get behind the books they are passionate about. 

Authors: Do you have a book with non-Christian inspirational, spiritual elements? I know it seems like a a waste of entry fees, but if your non-conforming romance feels like it qualifies, enter it in the Inspirational category. That is your right. And you know what? I think its our obligation.
Judges: When you get your application to judge, do not refuse any category, even if you hate it. Because we are the control group. We are the ones who keep this kind of shit from happening. 
Readers: Read. Talk. Review fairly. Don't go on Amazon or Goodreads and review a book you haven't read. That's opinion and there are other forums for opinion. If you want to review it, read it. Use your blog, your Facebook page or reader groups. Don't bully. That makes the offending author a martyr.  If you feel strongly about something, tell the author. If its offensive, tell the publisher. You are the heartbeat of the industry. Yours is the voice with the power.


We the readers, judges and authors are the only ones who can prevent this from happening again. Don't just blow hot air in the comments of a blog post, make a list of what you can do. If you qualify, apply to judge. If its a fan competition, nominate. Vote. If you are an author and you think your work is special, enter.  

We are not powerless. We are not without a voice. Use it and use it well.