Mon. February 18, 2019: Love of Country #UpbeatAuthors

Monday, February 18, 2019
Almost Full Moon
Presidents’ Day

We survived Valentine’s Day. We all deserve a prize.

On this President’s Day, on a month of essays about love, it’s appropriate to talk about love of country.

This is a contentious issue right now in the US, with two factions with opposite ideas of the definition of “love of country.”

I can’t think of any country whose history hasn’t been built on blood and pain. We keep hoping culture and society evolve into a better form of humanity. Sometimes it moves forward for a few years, and then back for a few hundred.

Too often, we don’t know actual history, just propagandized bits of history. Although it’s painfully obvious we don’t learn from it.

What inspires love of country?

For me, it is a set of ideals about humanity, justice, education, art, compassion, and inclusion that I see the country in which I currently live abandoning. Ideals that were set out by the Founding Fathers, and built on by our Founding Mothers and children, and all the rest of the anonymous people who actually did the work. There are always people devoted to their country who are willing to fight for it — be it joining the military or working on various fronts at home. But a country survives and thrives by its citizens holding a shared vision of what that country stands for, and everyone working to bring that vision into reality for ALL its members.

One can learn a great deal by re-reading documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution — and then reading diaries and letters of regular people who actually lived through those times.

One of my favorite experiences was a discovery I made in the Philadelphia Archives. I was there to research Betsy Ross, for a project for which I’m still trying to find the proper form.

By accident, I saw a diary by a Dr. James Allen. I’d gone to elementary school with a nice guy named Jamie Allen, and I thought it might be fun to read about this Dr. James Allen. So I asked for the diary, which arrived, written in absolutely gorgeous penmanship.

Dr. Allen was a medical doctor. Well educated, well read, with a strong sense of justice. He was there, at Independence Hall, listening to the original public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 2, 1776. It shook him, transformed him. He ended up joining the Army and serving under General George Washington. He was part of that Delaware Crossing.

I read his diary, knowing how it all comes out in the end, but, of course, he didn’t as he wrote it. His concerns, the times his patience and his integrity were tested — I wish I could get a grant to transcribe the diary, research his history, and publish a book about him!

I learned more from reading this man’s diary than I did from any history book.

It also reminded me how much more complex actual history is than a line in a textbook or a tweet or a sound byte.

Skipping ahead in history a bit, Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two of the reasons I became a writer. I admired both their work and their lives so much. As an aside, as much as I admire Emerson and Thoreau, I’m always reminded that there they were, talking and studying and writing and walking in the woods, while the practicalities of daily life were handled by the WOMEN around them. This frustration was reinforced by Susan Cheever’s terrific book, AMERICAN BLOOMSBURY (which I highly recommend).

I re-read Louisa’s diaries regularly when I get tired and discouraged.

Harriet is best known for UNCLE TOM’S CABIN. There’s plenty to discuss about that book on so many levels, both positive and negative, which could take up an entire college semester. But Harriet wrote plenty of other books, too, many of them domestic comedies. Some of her writing is very, very funny. She came from a large, lively, intellectual, daring, engaged, and flawed family. Her brother Henry Ward Beecher’s scandal when he led a church in Brooklyn, and, again, how the woman in the scandal was the one thrown under the bus, is detailed in Barbara Goldsmith’s wonderful social history, OTHER POWERS.

Both Harriet and Louisa were considered “difficult women” and
ahead of their time.” Reading their letters, their diaries, their books, one sees how they were both ahead of their time and PART of their time (and prejudices, although they were far more progressive than many of their contemporaries). We hope we’ve evolved in our understanding of humanity, although too often it feels like we’re going backwards.

History is made up of people and their messy, beautiful, terrifying lives. Societies are too often built on breaking the individuals that actually do the work to build the society. Where can you give someone room for individuality? Where does someone going too far become a threat to someone else’s basic human rights and dignity? What are basic social constructs that allow people with vastly different beliefs and points of view to co-exist in peace and dignity and prosperity for all? How does one teach people that having enough for all doesn’t necessarily mean taking away from anyone, but that everyone must contribute fairly? How can we craft laws that have more to do with justice, and less to do with religion, which, in my opinion, has been used as a tool of oppression ever since it was invented?

All of that feeds into our “love of country.”

It’s not an easy issue. Especially when competing factors have vastly different ideas of what the society that inhabits the defined “country” should believe, live, and build.

As a writer, of course, all this is fascinating. But living it (and we are all living history, every moment), can often be exhausting.

We supposedly live in a democracy (which is under serious threat), that is set up as a republic. Therefore, as part of our love of country, it is an obligation to keep up with the news (actual news, not propaganda feeds), to stay informed about upcoming legislation (you can read the text of past, present, and proposed bills on Congress.gov), and to interact with our elected officials, on local, state, and federal levels. It takes time, but the alternative is to lose our country. So it’s worth it. We need to vote. We need to serve on jury duty when called. We, as individuals and collectively, need to speak out when human rights are denied, and stop it.

This President’s Day, think about what you love about your country. Think about what you believe needs to be changed. And then take action. Because history is built by people.

Be a History Builder.

 

Mon. Jan. 22, 2018: Revisiting a Favorite Childhood Book #UpbeatAuthors

Secret in the Old Attic

 

 Oh, boy, just one? Not sure that’s possible!

I knew my alphabet by the time I was eighteen months old. We lived in Chicago at that time, and my mother tells me stories about how I would sit on the bus and read out letters on the signs, much to the delight of fellow passengers.

I remember learning to read when I was little (my mom says I was just over two years old). The first book I could read all by myself was Dr. Seuss’s GREEN EGGS AND HAM, which is still a favorite.

I read constantly. All the childhood classics, all of WINNIE THE POOH, all of Frances Hodgson Burnett.

I read The Childhood of Famous Americans Series — all the girls. I saved money and bought biographies of Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe — which I still own. They inspired me to become a writer.

But the biggest reading experience that began in childhood and continues is Nancy Drew. I started buying/reading them in the 1970s. The hardcovers with the yellow spines. My first one — and still my favorite — was The Secret in the Old Attic.

To this day, I love books with attics and secret passages.

My connection to the Nancy Drew Books (in spite of their flaws) led me to read Beverly Gray, Judy Bolton, Vicki Barr, Sue Barton, Ruth Fielding, and more. I started collecting early twentieth century juvenile mysteries.

Read them now, and yes, they are flawed. Their portrayal of non-whites is offensive. The way they expect women to be “good girls” is offensive.

Yet, in some respects, the earliest Nancy Drew books (the ones written by Mildred Wirt Benson), allow the young woman more freedom. She won by breaking rules and being independent. The books were softened by Harriet Adams in the 1960s. If you read Midred’s Penny Parker books, under her own name, well, Penny was quite the little brat! And funny, too.

One of my favorite non-fiction books continues to be Girl Sleuth, by Melanie Rehak, about the women who created Nancy Drew.

My favorites were the Beverly Gray books – in spite of ethnic and racial problems. Beverly went through school and became an investigative journalist, while traveling the world with a group of friends that included an actress, and having adventures. One of the books actually dealt with the problems between Japan and China in the late 1930s and early 1940s – when I first read the book, borrowed from a friend in my teens – I didn’t even know the conflict existed. All we learned in Social Studies was Pearl Harbor.

Also, with the racial and national insults inherent in the books – you get a snapshot of society in the moment. The bad, not just the airbrushed. It’s important to remember how badly those considered “other” were treated – including Irish, Catholics, Italians, African-Americans, Jews, Native Americans, Asians, Mexicans — the list goes on and on.

When you’re taught to question what you read, you can read books like this, and other books of their time and see them in context. Not make excuses for them, but get an idea of how things were, how mainstream society wanted them to be, and what progress we’ve made and lost since.

One of my current frustrations with some of the current cozy mystery series is that they are getting more intolerant, dumbing down the protagonists, continue to make environmental concerns and inclusiveness considered silly – and demand that the protagonist conform to be accepted. In the 90s, most of my favorite cozies had the protagonist as a misfit who, because of her resourcefulness, intelligence, and care for others, was accepted into the community AS SHE WAS. Now, more and more, the protagonists are forced to conform to the small towns to which they flee from big cities.

A snapshot of our current society and its issues.

I still collect the mysteries. I still love reading them, even when there are huge elements with which I disagree. But, reading them as I grew up, they helped me feel less alone as I refused to conform.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 1:39 am  Comments Off on Mon. Jan. 22, 2018: Revisiting a Favorite Childhood Book #UpbeatAuthors  
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Mon. Jan. 13, 2014: Writing, Clients, Research, Award Shows

Monday, January 13, 2014
Waxing Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Sunny and mild

Busy weekend. Still annoyed with two clients. One is now three weeks late in paying me — and this is our first project together. It may well be our last. Being “on vacation” and “out of town on business” is not an excuse. The payment date was not a surprise. It was in our written agreement. Make arrangements for the check to be mailed while you’re gone, or pay me electronically. I fulfilled my part of the contract — now you fulfill yours. The other client, the perpetual random payer — is now over a week late. I’m not delivering the final two articles on the contract until I’m paid, and, once I’m paid for those — I’m done. There’s a reason both these clients have a high writer turnover — they’re unreliable. You want to keep good people? Show them respect, and part of that is paying on time per the contract.

On a happier note, I finished the airship steampunk, revised it, and sent it out. I had enough material for a novel and had to strip/throw out a lot of ideas. I kept notes, in case I ever want to expand it. Hopefully the story doesn’t read as compressed. I’m worried that there’s not enough conflict in the climax, although I invented some interesting gear used in it.

Totally cooked by Friday night — I wrote synopses for three different scripts. And another teleplay comes up in the editing/revision queue today. Gotta get that packet ready for February!

Had a meeting with a fellow writer and friend –we’re going to encourage each other along writing our novels. She’s outlined what she wants to work on — I have to decide which of three possibilities I want to work on with her.

I also have to get back to work on THE BALTHAZAAR TREASURE, which I hope my new publisher will like. I have to find the full writer’s rough I did a few years ago.

I have some admin work to do today, and I also have a client meeting about an hour off-Cape. My materials are all together for that; I just have to give myself enough time to find the place and feel settled before the meeting starts.

Read a supposed thriller over the weekend which did not thrill me. Started another novel, whose premise excited me, but the author was one of those pretentious ones who uses dashes instead of quotation marks for dialogue AND writes in present tense. I lasted for ten pages and had to put it down. The structure did not support the novel. Since I wasn’t being paid to read it, I didn’t have to fight my way through it.

Found the letters from George Eliot to Harriet Beecher Stowe that I looked for in reference to the Charlotte Bronte conversation in a collection of Eliot’s letters. Copied out the relevant passages. Now, I want to read Harriet’s letters to see her side of it. So that project is developing.

Worked with students — I’m lucky to have a dedicated, committed batch this semester. They want it, and they’re willing to work for it, rather than making excuses.

Watched the Golden Globes last night, both for fun, and as background for a couple of projects that use award show scenes. Glad AMERICAN HUSTLE did well, but I feel that Jeremy Renner’s work is being unfairly overlooked. He went in a completely new direction for him, and I don’t feel the work is being properly appreciated.

Really pleased by the positive response to my short story “Catch Your Breath”. It encourages me to play more with contemporary literary fiction.

Off to get some writing done and then to the meeting.

Devon

Mon. Dec. 30, 2013: How I Develop Material & Juggle Projects

Monday, December 30, 2013
Day before Dark Moon
Jupiter Retrograde
Cloudy and cold

Friday was busy, busy, busy. Took the leaves and the recycling to the dump. The place was so busy! But it’s heartwarming to see how dedicated people are to recycling in this area.

Picked up a few groceries, ran some books back to Wheldon Library (and, of course, got out some more), picked up something waiting for me at Sturgis Library, and then headed back. Got out some job pitches, worked with students.

Set up the development notebook for the Stowe-Eliot-Bronte project, even though I’m not really sure what it is yet. Ordered some books for it via the library network. Wrote up the passage that got the wheels turning in the first place, sourced it, and copied out the bibliographic notes.

Dug out the Hedrick biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Using the index, I tried to cross-check the info from the Eliot bio, and didn’t find confirmation. So I’ll be re-reading the entire biography — which will give me plenty of background for the piece in general. Asked a friend who knows a lot about the Brontes if she’d ever heard the reference. Found the Rugoff biography of the Beecher clan, and there’s a reference to the same incident, but not enough to hang my hat on. I hope getting my hands on the volumes of letters will give me what I need!

My friend and colleague Nancy Rubin Stuart’s wonderful book DEFIANT BRIDES was named a Best Book of 2013! I’m so thrilled for her. It’s an amazing book, and well-deserved recognition.

Saturday, I finished and printed out the pilot episode of a one-hour drama. It’s in the editing queue. I started the third teleplay for this packet, an adaptation of one of my novels. Got some good work done on it and fell in love with my characters all over again.

Unfortunately, I was also under the weather, sneezing and coughing, although I didn’t feel that bad. I felt much worse by Sunday, where I ended up fighting some sort of stomach upset. Don’t know why — I’ve been the least self-indulgent during this holiday season that I’ve been in years. Irritating.

Read Donna Leon’s THE GOLDEN EGG, one of her Venetian mysteries, which I love. Also started Kim Edwards’s THE LAKE OF DREAMS, which is quite good, and got some reading done on the Stowe bio. Treated myself to a chapter in an excellent art history tome as background for a different project.

Got some good work done on TRUE HOME, the initial novel in the Sparkle & Tarnish series. I love the way it’s developing. I’m working very differently with this project — developing a section, writing a few chapters, typing them, adapting them to script. The amount of research is enormous, and I’m looking forward to layering in a lot more detail.

I spent hours with Gilded Age Mansion house plans over the weekend, and am about to design their NYC mansion, remembering that they’ve taken over a mansion that was originally built several years earlier by an eccentric, and then having their architect modify it for the Gilded Age. As always the librarians at the New York Historical Society, the New York Public Library, and the JP Morgan Library have gone out of their way to be helpful, and will all be thanked in the Acknowledgements.

Speaking of Acknowledgements, I start keeping a list as soon as I need to ask someone for something when I’m researching a book. Every time someone is helpful, I add that individual to the list, so by the time the book is ready to go through the production process, it’s all there, and I don’t have to worry about forgetting anyone. Again, something I learned the hard way by not keeping track during the writing and then screwing up and forgetting people when the manuscript went to press.

Hey, if you can learn from my mistakes, they’ll have been worth it!

Still a little queasy this morning, but have a lot to do. I have an editing intensive workshop starting on the 6th, and I need to polish up the exercises. Those students are getting a lot for their money, but they’ll also have to put in a lot of work!

I want to wait and run my errands tomorrow, but I will have to run down to Centerville Library later today to drop off/pick up some books. Yes, I go to one of the local libraries ALMOST every day.

I want to get some work done on the novellas, the teleplay, and the airship steampunk piece. I need to get back into the latter — I’ve lost my momentum in it, and that’s a shame. I need to find those threads again and get back on track.

Day before the dark moon is always my lowest-energy day of the month. I’d like to crawl back into bed, but that is not an option.

I can’t believe 2013 is nearly over. It’s been challenging, and I’m ready for a better year next go-round!

Devon

Fri. Jan. 27: Rainy and Raw — Good Day for Reading!


The twins

Friday, January 27, 2012
Waxing Moon
Mars Retrograde
Rainy and raw

Yoga was great yesterday. I was able to do both Triangle Pose and Revolved Triangle Pose correctly, without props — big breakthrough for me.

Had written an article and a review before I left at 7:30 AM. Decent start to the morning.

Came home, scarfed down some coffee and breakfast, headed back out to take my mom to her eye appointment — carting my work with me. However, it took much less time than they told us to expect, so I didn’t get as much done as I planned! 😉 But it went well, and that’s what matters.

Getting out early meant I had time to go to the Sandwich Library. I found some of what I needed, and a lot that wasn’t on my list, but was so interesting, I couldn’t resist!

I’ve started reading the Grim Reaper series by Judy Clemens — excellent. Really well done. I started with the third book,which I happened across browsing in the library, and now I’ve got the second. I plan to buy copies of all her books, and then read them in order. I’m also interested in her other series, the Stella Cross series. I like her style. It’s a clean, lean, spare style, but there’s a lot of complexity in character and situation.

Came home, polished and sent off the review,and spent the rest of the day with students. Until 11 PM. Little too much time on the computer, but there it is. Needed to get done. Spent some time on a couple of other client projects, too.

Which meant I had a slow start this morning, reluctant to turn on the machine. Had to take my mom to acupuncture at 8 AM anyway, and am just getting started now. My eyes are tired, so I’ll probably do a chamomile-lavender wash for them later this afternoon to rest them.

I need to finish up a short story later today, too, for my own deadlines, and get back to work on the novels. It’s a grey, rainy, raw day — I’d much rather be curled up with a good book.

And I’m reading one, too — in addition to the Judy Clemens books. I’m reading LITERARY WOMEN by Ellen Moers. Fascinating. She opens with a wry, hilarious letter from Harriet Beecher Stowe, detailing the dozens of things she, as a woman, got done, in the time it took the plumber to bother to show up and fix her sink. People only think UNCLE TOM’S CABIN when they think of Stowe, but her other writing is exceptionally lively and funny. If you ever get a chance to read her domestic comedies, do it. Moer also sets out a study of how Jane Austen’s EMMA influence George Eliot’s ADAM BEDE. Fascinating stuff.

Back to the page.

Devon

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011
Waxing Moon
Snowy and slushy

So far, it looks like we didn’t get slammed as badly as some of the other areas. We had a coating of snow and now it’s a snow/rain mix. I can still see some of my driveway and front walk. It will be a pain in the ass to shovel that wet, heavy mix (too wet for the electric shovel; I’ll have to do it by hand). I don’t want to go out in the rain, so I’m going to wait a few hours before I tackle it.

As long as the power stays on, we’re good, and the chat will go forward.

I’ve made hot water bottles and put them in the bed and will refresh them every few hours, just in case, and I’ll probably put up thermoses of hot tea and soup. Got flashlights, batteries, candles, books, writing — I can just wait it out.

Got to the dump yesterday; disposed of the garbage (only one bag) and the recycling. For some reason, the guys who work there find me highly entertaining. Glad to bring some sunshine to their day.

Wrote a bit, commented on my students’ work (this group rocks, they’re willing to take risks), but, for the most part, I lay on the couch and read Susan Cheever’s biography of Louisa May Alcott. Louisa and Harriet Beecher Stowe are two of my idols, and have been since I was about seven or eight years old. They are part of the reason I became a writer.

There’s a passage Cheever wrote on p. 107-108 of the book that I plan to print out, source to her (of course) and hang in my office: “Good writing is almost always subversive. It uses the nuts and bolts of the texture of everyday life to communicate truths that may be as disturbing as they are original.” Thank you, Susan Cheever, for reminding me of that.

Wrote a proposal for something that would be a Very Big Deal if I decide to actually pitch it. A huge commitment of time and energy for a long-term commitment-phobe like I am. The money would have to be right and my own mental preparedness in place for me to do this. But it would also be a transformative and productive experience for those taking part. I sent off the first draft to people I trust for feedback, and I’ve already thought of some other points to include overnight.

I’m worried about the commitment because I have to keep up with my other freelancing and also the novel and play contracts, AND with the garden and running the house, AND I want to go back to school at some point in the next year to get certified as an herbalist. Of course, this proposal would pay for the schooling. But could I handle them together? That’s a question I have to answer for myself before I can pitch it. I have to be really, really sure to the bottom of my soul and the tips of my toes that I can see the commitment through.

As long as the power stays on, the live chat for tonight at 8 PM is on, over at Savvy Authors. I don’t know if it’s open to the public or just for members — I’m just showing up and saying a few things, and then taking questions. Let’s face it, people don’t want to be talked at for an hour — they want interaction. So I’ll “talk” (type) for ten minutes or so and then take questions for the other fifty.

On the agenda today — writing as much as possible. I’ve set today aside to be primarily a writing day, in and around the shoveling!

Hop on over to Gratitude and Growth to read about my seed-ordering dilemmas!

Back to the page.

Devon

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

IMG_0438
Violet

Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Yesterday was the full moon
Neptune Retrograde
Uranus Retrograde
No idea re: weather — I’m scheduling this to post the night before

Yeah, I never managed to blog yesterday. Oops.

And I’m headed off at the crack of — to get my car serviced, so I actually scheduled this to post on Monday night.

I’m trying to remember if I have a good book depicting Edward Hopper’s paintings in storage, or if I need to go and buy one. I know I have a big biography and books ABOUT him, but I don’t think I’ve got a book of plates of the paintings. And I need it for a project. Guess I’ll be haunting the Bargain Books section of the major bookstores soon (like I don’t anyway?).

Re-reading THE JOURNALS OF LOUISA MAY ALCOTT. Louisa May Alcott and Harriet Beecher Stowe are still my heroes, and they’ve been that since I was about eight.

Gave myself Sunday off from writing because my brain was exhausted. Two proposals, a 5K story and a 9K story all out within 48 hours was a bit much, even though I’d been working on everything over a period of time. I’ve got a 2500 word story that needs to be done in the next couple of days, the Christmas story, and another anthology story that need to happen in the next couple of weeks.

I had a BLAAAAST talking to those middle schoolers yesterday. I brought in my wardrobe kit and showed them how a bunch of stuff worked, talked about quick changes, talked about the differences in wardrobe needs between theatre and film, and how that feeds into the writing. They asked very insightful questions. They seemed interested and engaged. Almost all of them had seen WICKED, and, since I swung on that show for 3 1/2 years (gee, I bet you had NO IDEA that’s where I worked with all the flying monkey talk, huh? 😉 ) I used a lot of examples and anecdotes from that show. It was a lot of fun, the time flew, and the seemed pretty engaged. I was totally honest with them, especially about where I’m a royal pain in the ass and where I break the rules, why, and both how I’ve made it work and where it’s made things harder.

Came home and was pretty much a waste of food all afternoon. I booked the tickets for DC and am having hotel trauma. I thought I’d found this GREAT hotel at a GREAT price, but it turns out the neighborhood is too skeevy even for someone who used to live a block off Times Square, so I’m looking for something else that’s not totally out of my price range, but close to where I need to be. Not fun.

Anyway, I’m off getting the car serviced for its regular check up. Then, I have to go vote for friends who are running for re-election locally (and doing a damned good job). More errands after that AND some writing AND finishing up Confidential Job #1.

Then, it’s off to the meditation group, taking a change of clothes with me so I can hit the election party on the way back.

It would be really, really, really a good idea to get some writing done today, too.

Since, well, tomorrow’s another adventure!

Devon