Monday, April 21, 2014

#atozchallenge: Raging Racism (& Other Multi-Dimensionalities)


He turns to go, is already halfway down the stairs when she calls out, "Stay."
He falters a little but keeps going. "Why?"
Desperation chokes her voice. "I love you. Please."
"You don't love me." But he's stopped now.
"I've loved you from the first moment I saw you."
He looks back at her, and in the moonlight she catches the glint of moisture on his lashes. "Do you mean that?"
"I've never meant anything more."
With a smile that lights up his face he runs back up the stairs and, in a whirlwind that takes her breath away, pulls her to him. Just before his lips land on hers, he whispers, "If you only knew how long I've waited to hear you say it."

*sigh*

This is the reason I stopped reading romance--oh, sometime during high school. The characters are flat. Same guy in different costume. Kind of like Tom Cruise movies. (Sorry, Tom. And, in all fairness, no one can play Tom Cruise like you.)

The point being that a large chunk of popular fiction comes with predictable characters (and predictable plots, but that's a subject for another post). I'm not judging; two-dimensional is easier. Maybe even, in some circles, more satisfying. Predictable people in a world that functions the way we want it to: the ultimate escapist fantasy.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books
For those of us compelled to portray humanity in all its messiness, life isn't so simple. A "real" character is by definition complex, and complexity means flaws. Not small, cute blemishes; big whoppers of flaws. Prejudices. Dishonesty. Lack of morals. Unconventional values. Mental illness. Obsessions.

All of these enrich our characters--but they also make them unsympathetic to the reader. It's a fine line, and it takes a masterful storyteller to walk it successfully. Why, then, do we do it?

Stephen V. Ramey, Author
As with so many things, Stephen V. Ramey has an answer I loved.
Empathy is built through practice, I believe. Reading encourages us to view the world through another perspective. The more different that perspective, the more clearly we begin to see the world we share with others. That said, it can be quite a feat to tempt a reader into identifying with a negative character. I think this is where the idea of sympathetic flaw comes in. If we can identify with core values of a character even though they behave badly, we can begin to see the wisdom of the saying, "there but for the grace of God, go I." And once we see that differences often spring from a common seed, we can begin to look past We-They and embrace the ethos of us. 

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Thanks for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

P.S. -- I'm over at Vidya Sury's marvelous blog today sharing a
Disney-ending, tear-jerker dog rescue story.
Would love to see you there :)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

#atozchallenge: Quandary



Nothing like a difficult situation to reveal character in fiction (and in real life). A really really difficult situation.

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

Q: Your character is trapped in a dark alley late at night with three men that don't seem to have honorable intentions. What does s/he do? Fight? Flight? Panic and go into hysterics? Sprout a pair of wings and fly away? 
(No, don't laugh--there's a 2014 character that flies. Sans wings, even.)

STEPHEN V. RAMEY: "As my story cycle opens, Stephen would be nonchalant about such an encounter. He has no money, nothing much of worth, and yet he's not going to let these men intimidate him into giving up what little he does have. He might try to reason. Failing that he would defend himself if necessary, even if it meant a beat down. Once the cancer diagnosis is in, he might actually confront these men, and egg them on. On some level he's looking for a way to prove (to whom?) that he deserves to survive. He's trying to turn his life into a story, with purpose and a resolution."
(More on Stephen's 2014 stories.)

SUSAN TEPPER: "What would Pedersen do? He would probably piss his pants. He is mistrustful of grown men. His father beat the crap out of him. In Bellevue, he came out of shock therapy to an orderly fondling his genitals. He likes the small boys so he can always be in control."
(More on Susan's 2014 stories.)

MANDY NICOL: "As long as Nadia has her sensible shoes on, she’ll make a run for it."
(More on Mandy's 2014 stories.)

GUILIE: Luis Villalobos would probably try to talk his way out of it. (He's a lawyer.) He'd be too busy evaluating possible escape routes, gauging the attackers' level of distraction, keeping his facial expressions in check, to feel fear. But once it was over, assuming he got away safe and sound, he'd probably curl up somewhere where no one could see or hear him and bawl his eyes out.
(More on my 2014 stories? An interview and an audio version of the first story.)

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What would your character do? What about favorite characters--say, Atticus Finch, or Odysseus? Walter White? Florentino Ariza (from Love In The Time of Cholera)? Oh, and his beloved Fermina Daza? Of the two, I'm pretty sure she'd be the kick-ass. 

And you? What would you do? What does that say about you?

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Thank you for visiting on this beautiful April Saturday, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Friday, April 18, 2014

#atozchallenge: Pinterest (or The Discovery of A Digital Bulletin Board To Share With Readers)


Today you're in for a treat--via fellow 2014 author, the extraordinary Gay Degani.

Awarded the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize for her flash piece, “Something about L.A,” Gay Degani has had other stories nominated for Pushcart consideration. Pomegranate Stories, eight short pieces about mothers and daughters, is available at Amazon, her novel What Came Before is currently serialized online, and her linked stories are being published monthly in Pure Slush's print anthology, 2014-A Year in Stories.


I never understood Pinterest, at least not as a place for me to actually join. I never surf the net looking for shoes or stainless steel appliances. I'm not planning a wedding anytime in the near future.

Then someone—I can’t remember who—blurted out the words “digital bulletin board” and something clicked.
Above my writing desk I have a bulletin board with pictures of 1920’s houses and the gates to Indian Wells private communities as well as movie stars from the past and the present, both white and African-Americans. This is my inspiration board for my suspense novel, What Came Before, released earlier this month.

[more about Gay's novel for W day.]
Two thoughts collided: What if I could share my REAL-LIFE bulletin board with my future readers—digitally! So I signed up, put together not only a board for the novel, but for another project I’ve been involved in, Pure Slush's 2014: A Year in Stories.

Sybil's bungalow
Because the task of 2014 is for me (and the other thirty writers) to create twelve linked stories, one for each month of the year, in present tense, as if happens on that exact day in 2014, it meant juggling many characters, settings, and story-lines, and researching details so that my Old Road stories would have authenticity.
The Riolito canyon floor
Sybil, my landlady, showed up on the page in a silk robe and I kind of knew what it would be like, but I typed “silk robes” into Google and came up with dozens to look at. I did this for many of the details I needed. The board is open to readers to see how their imagination lines up with mine.

Visit The Old Road board at Pinterest to see what’s inspired me in writing these stories, and check out the What Came Before’s board too.
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Want to know more about Gay's 2014 story cycle? The next installment is happening tomorrow, April 19th. I, personally, can't wait. 

Thank you, Gay, for sharing your Pinterest experience. I was also a late-comer to it, and I'm not sure I've got the hang of it yet, but one thing's for sure--it's addictive.

Gay isn't the only 2014 author with a Pinterest board to illustrate and inspire the story cycle; Mandy Nicol has one, and Sally-Anne Macomber. And me. If you have time to check them out, we'd love to hear how you feel about seeing the images that inspired the 2014 stories. Do they enhance the experience--or do they clash with your own visualizations?

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Thanks for the visit, and happy (Easter) A-to-Z-ing!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

#atozchallenge: One Night Only

I've nothing against having sex for the sake of sex; it might even be (speaking purely hypothetically here) a healthy pursuit. How do you feel about one-night stands? Have you ever had one? Would you? (And if you did, would you admit it?)

2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

But are one-nighters really about just sex? Or is that another gender-biased subject--men being allowed (or perceived to be allowed) more sexual freedom than women, as Barb commented on yesterday's post)?

Want a taste of January?
In Carmine, by John Wentworth Chapin (2014 January, Vol. 1), Charles picks up Tony (or, rather, Maybe-Tony) at a bar, and they go back to his place. Instead of sex, however, they end up talking all night.

In Michael Webb's 2014 story cycle, Mark Hamilton tries to have a one night stand once, and considers it one other time. Athlete families are notorious for infidelity, and it is not uncommon to hear about "understandings" between couples that allow for dalliances, as long as no unwanted consequences, either paternal or microbial, taint the family unit. Mark is of two minds about it--he loves his wife, but it is hard to be away from her for so long, and especially when their phone calls are concerned with family business and not anything intimate. He feels entitled, sometimes, as the breadwinner, to get what he wants when he wants, but he almost always feels too guilty to follow through with it.

Stephen, from Stephen V. Ramey's cycle, grew up believing in free love and disconnection between sex and emotion. Only he was too insecure to ever initiate or even participate in such things. He was one of those guys who goes to a strip bar and tries to meet the stripper's eyes. He would never join a club that would have him as a member. Since marrying Anne, he has not even considered an outside affair. Whatever else you say about Stephen, he is loyal. Even as his marriage is dissolving beneath his feet, he turns a blind eye to outside opportunities for love and sex. Which is why Rose is such a surprise to him, mainly because he's never considered the possibility that Anne might be jealous of another woman. In his thinking, Anne has been putting up with him out of pity for the last several years. He can't imagine that she sees anything in him worth her love.

And of her character Nadia, Mandy Nicol says, "One night stand? Given the opportunity and a few strong drinks Nadia would certainly be up for one, or two. A bit of fun with no commitment or responsibility? Sounds perfect for her. But she'd better do it out of town or there will be talk."

Memoria de Mis Putas Tristes
There's that gender thing again. Why does the girl worry about "talk" when the guys don't?

Gabriel García Márquez left this world today, and left it--unlike 99.99% of the population--a much better place than he found it. In honor of that, and of the sheer marvelousness of him, we'll give him the last word:



Sex is the consolation when love ends.” 




Why is it that we so often confuse the two?


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Thank you for the visit, and happy A-to-Z-ing!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

#atozchallenge: Nagging Wives (& Foolish Husbands)

“Lady Middleton resigned herself... Contenting herself with merely giving her husband a gentle reprimand on the subject, five or six times every day.” 
“You have got a sharp tongue, haven't you honey? You'll have to watch it or you'll go to a lonely spinster's grave.” 

Why is it that nagging has a feminine connotation? And not the most positive of females, either: a "lonely spinster," a shrew. Do men never nag?

“It requires the feminine temperament to repeat the same thing three times with unabated zest.” 
Well, yeah, but... He was a man.


2014: A Year In Stories
A twelve-volume anthology published by Pure Slush Books

So is nagging how men define "the repetition of unpalatable truths" (Edith Clara Summerskill)? Or is that just feminist wishful thinking? Is there such a thing as objective, non-gender-slandering nagging?

Michael Webb doesn't think so.
Mark Hamilton would probably characterize his wife as nagging, but I don't think he is correct. I don't like the word across the board. It is far and away applied to women instead of men, which makes me suspicious right off the bat. And in my experience, it is a slur a man applies when he is being asked to engage in so called "women's work", the drudgery of running a household that is critical to make any family work properly.
This is deeply unfair. 
In any grouping of people, certain tasks have to be performed- laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, shopping, home repair, etc. To remind another member of the household to do one of these things isn't fun, but it's not fair to call it "nagging".

On the other hand, Stephen (Stephen V. Ramey's fictional pseudo-alter ego--ambivalent enough, yes?) says:

Some people see Anne as a nagging wife because she confronts Stephen about his shortcomings in a direct manner. From Stephen's point of view this is certainly correct. He knows what he's supposed to have done, that he's supposed to contribute to the marriage. Telling him again won't do anything but aggravate. Anne must realize how ineffective nagging is, yet she persists. Why? I suspect Dr. Phil is right and she must get something out of the process or she would stop.
For Anne, I think it's a matter of relieving her own tension. As a goal-driven person it must be frustrating to have to rely on someone else in order to achieve goals that are important to her. Rather than feel powerless and possibly sink into depression, she keeps pushing, and lashes out from time to time. The routine also reinforces the household pecking order, with Anne as the dominant force who achieves goals and Stephen as the beta male. Nothing would get done around here without Anne. That it's true, does not make it any easier on Stephen. No one wants to be treated like a child.
("Then stop acting like one," Anne would say.)

And then there's Nate Tower, whose 2014 story cycle is keeping us all in morbid, if horrified, hilarity. (Listen to Nate's reading of his January, February, and March stories and find out why.)

His short story collection, Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands, released last month by Martian Lit, should have some answers about this nag-or-no-nag. One would think.

Okay, I would think.

Which is why I was immensely frustrated to find this post on his blog: 24 Reasons That Don't Explain Why I Titled My Short Story Collection 'Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands'. Frustration which lasted all of five sentences, when I read this:

Originally accepted almost two years ago, [the collection] was later retroactively rejected because the publisher feared it might be taken as misogynistic.

That sounded promising. But then I got to this part:

First, I need to confess that I am mostly not an idiot when it comes to being a husband. Yes, I have some flaws.  But I don’t leave the toilet seat up, I put the dishes away, and I don’t sit on the couch and order my woman to fetch me a beer while I watch the big game with my buddies. Not that there is anything wrong with men who do. Well, maybe there’s a little wrong.

And then--then--I find out his wife is anything but a Nagging Wife.

1. She was okay with the fact that I titled my collection of weird short fiction Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands. She’s also very supportive of my writing career, unlike Mark Nipple’s wife who won’t support his desire to be in a Sex Pistols knockoff band. Not only is she supportive, but she doesn’t nag at all.

By the end of the list (there's 24 points; read them all here) I was wondering, along with everyone else:

“Well, if your wife is so perfect, what exactly inspired you to write these stories and put them together in a collection to call extra attention to the fact that wives nag and husbands are idiots?”

You--and I--will have to read the collection to find out.

What constitutes nagging in your world? Is it a predominantly feminine thing? Can--do--men nag? What about other instances of nagging that don't involve wives/husbands? Do you agree with Stephen that there's something in it for the nagger? Or are you with Michael in that nagging is in the eye of the naggee?

And, for extra credit, do you nag? Under what (extraordinary) circumstances?


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Thanks for visiting (and sorry for the late post--it's been a crazy week. Month.)
Happy A-to-Z-ing!
(Love you all. No, really.)

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