Archive for April, 2013

Blogger Aaron Conrad writes about the morning-after pill, recently approved for girls 15 and up.

Taylor Swift once wrote a heart breaking song about the awkward age of fifteen. Interestingly enough, it included lyrics that told the story of her best friend giving “everything she had to a boy that changed his mind…and we both cried.” Am I naive? Is fifteen that risque now? Is it just lyrics in a song or is this happening at an alarming rate?

You _are_ naive. Incredibly so.

Fifteen is how old girls are when they’ve heard and seen little else beyond the sexualisation of girls and women. Look at some of the clothes in “normal family stores” like Target that are designed for girls as young as four.

Fifteen is the age when you feel like no one loves you and no one will ever love you because you look awkward and feel even more awkward. And society–even the “good shows” like High School Musical and the wretched things on the Disney channel–is all about the message that prettiness is what it takes to be loved. There aren’t really many girls who feel pretty at 15.

And so they have sex, a lot of times just to hear someone say–no matter how fleeting the moment–that they are loved. Or just to imagine that they are loved because otherwise why would the boy want to do these things? Even if you don’t have sex at 15 you consider it. Because after being laughed at for having the wrong clothes or hair or living in the wrong part of town there is a part of you that knows you have this very valuable currency and in the darkest of your nights you consider using it to buy something that may feel for a few seconds like someone actually cares.

That’s what 15 is like for a girl. That’s what it will be like for your girls, no matter how much you love them.

Now imagine 15 for a girl whose father is in jail, whose mother works three jobs to keep food on the table and bus passes in everyone’s pocket. That girl whose family can’t afford cable, can’t get to the library. What is she going to do for fun? Sex is free (for the moment) entertainment where you get to feel a little love in the process.

I’ve seen girls as young as 11 have sex for all of these reasons. Boredom, insecurity, fear, societal pressure. That’s what it’s like for young girls.

And no, I don’t approve of this pill. It’s just making it easier for us to not talk to girls about these things.

But you’re naive if you think 15 is a time of innocence and carefree living.

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Over the last 40 years there have been a lot of books, foods, music and general experiences I’ve written off. Since I tend to be very…um…emphatic about my feelings it can backfire hugely. I call it the Asparagus Principle, in honour of the first time this happened.

I declared all through my childhood that asparagus was nasty, that it was evil and that it should be banned. Then I went to my mother-in-law’s farm where I was served a meal of roast beef, other stuff I can’t remember and asparagus plucked fresh from the field and dropped into the pot. From that moment on I was an avowed asparagus lover to the place where I now consider it my favourite food, outpacing former top treats like pizza, lasagna and Rolos.

With that in mind I’ve decided that there are a few things to which I should probably apply the Asparagus Principle. These are things I’ve written off and in some cases loudly decried; things I now think deserve a second glance.

(You can always tell, by the way, when my brain isn’t fully switched on by the fact that I write in list form. Lists are my brain’s way of taking a segue break.)

  • Steampunk  My first exposure to steampunk was in a videogame I played several years ago.  I found it to be incredibly unappealing  and thought it was unique to the game itself.  (I’m kicking myself that I can’t remember which game it was, because now I’m in the mood to play it again.  Is Rise Of Nations a game? Note to self: Google this…)  Steampunk then began showing up in movies that sucked (Wild Wild West; League of Extraordinary Gentlemen; Sherlock Holmes) and countless novels that also seem as though they would suck too.   Then yesterday my friend Mandi reviewed Boneshaker for our book review blog and all of a sudden I find myself inching closer to giving Steampunk another go.   
  • George Jones Now that he’s passed beyond the veil and everyone is recounting their George Jones Memories I feel as if perhaps I should look further into his catalog beyond He Stopped Loving Her Today.   As a night owl who came up in the 80s and 90s I saw a lot of those commercials for Time Life album compilations.   For those of you who have no idea what I’m talking about, they’d have these three-minute ads on late at night for mail-order record albums (later, CDs) that had all the hits on there.  The titles of the songs would scroll by in a chyron.  You, the viewer, would see favourites and think “Oh, I really love that song!”  Keep in mind this was well before iPods and MP3s.  Music was something you had to actively seek out–either on the radio or in the record shop.  Unless you made mixed tapes–one of my favourite hobbies–by hovering over the radio and collecting whatever song struck your fancy you really only heard a song when it was played by forces you couldn’t control.  These record compilations were some of the most tempting fruits ever to dangle from the tree of television advertising.      The worm in the apple, however, was that every third or fourth song would have just one tiny snippet played.   Instant earworms were born this way.  To this day there are a good thirty or forty songs to which I only know one line, thanks to these commercials.    For years–until I moved to Tennessee–one of those songs was He Stopped Loving Her Today.   The only part I knew was, well, “He stopped loving her today”.   That stuck in my brain alongside “Daddy sang bass, Mama sang Tenor”, selections from Zamfir, Master Of The Pan Flute and the egregious Red Sovine.  “Red Sovine’s as much a part of truckin’ as CB-in’ an’ hot cawfeee!”    Needless to say I’ve born a grudge against George Jones for years, for something that isn’t his fault, really.   

There are other things I should put on this list, especially since any bulleted list should really have at least three points.   But I got so carried away thinking about those compilation ads that I’ve run out of words.   Maybe I should do a whole blog series on Remembrances Of Things Past. (Or is it passed?  I can never remember, ironically.)

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Last week I learned something new about novel-writing. In a private conversation with Kat Heckenbach I learned about the concept of “Filter Words”. In short, this is a relatively new no-no since around 2002. The idea is that by including certain words like “see; feel; know;” you are removing the reader’s experience and placing it on the character.

Celia felt the cold wind on her skin. She saw the vague outline of a deer creep through the distance.

Gold Star Approved

The cold wind stung the skin. A deer was just visible in the distance.

As a person who has read novels that are hundreds of years old as well as novels that just came out on Tuesday, I understand the concept behind the condemnation of filter words. I truly do. But to me I think that each story is different. Some stories, like folk tales, have that essential remove as part of the nature of their telling. Having filter words in the story is to me somewhat like writing a mazurka instead of a minuet.

I was thinking on it this morning after re-reading Jill Domschot’s post about removing the filter words from her own novel. I suddenly realised what it reminded me of.

When we bought our house back in 1999, wall-to-wall carpet had been the rage for years, as had white cabinets. We had our house built by a turn-key builder and those options were the more expensive, top of the line ones. When we’d lived here about three or four years all those shows about house-flipping suddenly became popular and I had a near-steady diet of them on the TiVo. You’d watch people go into an older home and try to ready it for resale. Suddenly hardwood and cherry cabinets were all the rage. And of course you had to have stainless steel appliances. I’d watch those shows and suddenly feel a rank discontent with my beautiful home–the home I had designed with my husband to reflect our tastes and enjoyments. For instance, neither of us likes stainless appliances. We prefer the sleek look of black; to us stainless appliances are a reminder of the industrial kitchens where we washed dishes in our impoverished college years.

Back then all the house flippers were putting in granite countertops. There wasn’t a house flipped without a seriously costly granite countertop, everyone repeating the conventional wisdom that “it will pay for itself with what it adds to the retail value.” If I were a more insecure person I would have pried up our wholly satisfactory plain counters just to feel better about myself. Now, not a decade later it turns out that granite is not the star anymore. Now there’s glass, steel,and other material you can actually cook on. (Granite, it turns out, isn’t so fantastic in a working kitchen.)

That’s exactly how I see these new types of rules. Like granite and stainless they have a place. They may be wonderful in your novel. But more and more I’m realising that the story trumps the remodeling trends in the writing world.

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It took me most of the day to figure out how to approach this review. I don’t often review classic works because I like to keep it fresh. But this is a classic which as always stumped me. Others love it with unabashed devotion and I have never cared for it. So I reread it last week and today discuss just exactly how and why I’ve decided on this new rating for an old literary Nemesis.

Hop on over to Book In The Bag to read my take on Rosamund Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers.

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This was touched on in the comments from the post a couple days ago about the Toddlers & Tiaras/Barbizon Modeling style of the Christy Awards. (Pay to enter; pay more if you win.)

In the comments there an author brought up that a small press (which I only later found out was the small press of some of the commenters) where it was suggested by someone and later agreed upon that they should enter the awards and split the fees between the authors if anybody won. I was rankled by that notion but it wasn’t just because I think that publicity is the domain of the publisher and not the author. I’ve since read that small press’ information page and they are open about giving larger royalties but NOT paying for publicity. So the authors know that going into it.

What still rankles me is just that mechanism of Office Money Pool that I’ve ALWAYS hated and will always hate.

It happens in nearly every workplace; it happened in every workplace I’ve been as an adult. There’s a baby shower or a death in the family or something else remotely gift-worthy and so the hat is passed. That’s not always so bad, as most people want to give something if they can at all.

The problem comes when, well let’s say somebody’s best friend is having a baby. It goes something like this:

“Guys, I know that Lynndie really wants the Megawonder Stroller. I went ahead and picked one up at Nieman Marcus. Since it’s $300 and there are six of us I figure that’s $50 apiece.”

That’s the problem. Whenever there’s a set price and someone thinks that it’s completely fair to divide the set price between all the bodies. Managers who make six-figures are to chip in the same as assistants who make $20k a year. It’s communist collection practices without the communist payscale! And it’s made extra fun because it’s in an environment where it is extremely unconfortable and possibly damaging to one’s career to say no. How do you say no to the department manager due to give you a personnel review in a week when it’s her idea and her best friend? How do you explain that $50 (or the infinitely more common amount of $25/$30 in my personal experience) is your grocery money for the entire week and you simply can’t pay it?

I know that I’ve written about this before and I’m sorry for the broken-record nature of bringing it up again. Maybe I’m turning into one of those old women who has two stories they tell on every occasion. But it just stuck in my head loudly when I was reading those comments. I don’t know the ins and outs of the arrangement at the small press in question. Perhaps every single person on the team was chomping at the bit to pay a fraction of the $1000 that their co-author owes in exchange for his book having won the prize. Perhaps there is no one there who is shy and retiring and feels that even though they’re broke as dirt it is easier for them to pay up than to discuss their financial situation with others. I honestly don’t know.

Regardless, I will say–kicking and screaming–till my dying day that any gift contribution should be wholly voluntary with the amount given to be decided by the giver.

And while we’re at it, none of this going to a restaurant in a group, everyone ordering what ever they want and then splitting the bill evenly. Those of us who can’t enjoy an alcoholic drink (that’s okay, I have legal opiates) and order a sandwich really love underwriting steaks and scotch.

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Sailor Mood

There are volumes of studies that talk about how good profane utterances are for pain control. It’s become a generally accepted fact of life for chronic pain sufferers that all that Carlinesque talk brings relief.

Can I just tell you right now that it sounds like the loading docks around here today? I’ve got a couple of new favourite phrases that I’m trotting out all too regularly. Since the dogs are the only ones here there is no one to remark “so is that the word of the day?” when I say something more than twice. I get words stuck in my brain the same way I get music earworms stuck. Yesterday’s WOTD was “vapid.” Sadly my life presents a lot of valid reasons to use the word “vapid”.

My two big Lenny Brucesque utterances over the last 36 hours are “Sweet Fanny f===all” and “F—your circus and F=== your monkey.”

Sweet Fanny F—all is the bastard child of “Sweet Fanny Adams” and the ever useful “f—all”. It’s a very definite phrase with a beautiful pentameter that turns swearing into a work of art.

“F— your circus and f— your monkey” is my less-than-artful corruption of that Polish idiomatic phrase “not my circus, not my monkey” which is roughly equivalent to our less picturesque “not my problem” and Michael Vickish “I don’t have a dog in the fight.” Since I’ve been frustrated by others’ business arrangements (see the post about book awards and all the news about the Flying J/Pilot scandal) I’ve had plenty of reason to say it.

I try not to swear in public and I never swear around children. Well, what I consider swearing. I do NOT consider “crap” and “fart” to be “bad words” but my brother does. I won’t drop an f bomb in front of his kids but if I say “fart” instead of the preferred “stinker” I’m not going to feel bad. “Stinker” sounds utterly moronic coming from anyone older than four.

I guess I think of rough language the same way I think of clothes. Rough language is my lounging at home sweats and t-shirt. It’s what my mouth wears to be comfortable when I don’t feel well. As to whether that’s appropriate for a Christian, I’d say that I only use utterances that have no blasphemic component. (You’ll not hear any “Jesus Christ” or “God D—n” from me.) The words I use are hearty anglo-saxonisms that are only considered taboo because it’s the language of the serfs, not the Norman French of the King’s court. Still and all, I don’t say it in public. And it really DOES work for the pain.

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I’m a sucker for book awards. Ever since I read Island Of The Blue Dolphins as a child and saw that “Newberry Medal” on the cover I was programmed. A gold seal on a book meant a good story. To this day I hunt down the Edgar, Man Booker, Orange Prize and Pulitzer short lists every year, searching for that fantastic read.

I’ve been very open about not preferring Inspirational Fiction as a genre as I find it too didactic in general and feel the quality often suffers from its inherently narrow market strictures. Over the past two years as I’ve come to know more authors of Inspirational Fiction I’ve read more of it and even fallen in love with some terrific examples of the genre. The book I hold in high esteem as being the example of what good Inspirational Fiction can be is Catherine Marshall’s Christy.*

I am apparently not alone in my esteem for this novel, because when the heads of the Christian Publishing Industry decided to launch their Award for excellence in Christian Fiction they named that Award the “Christy”, using the original logotype from the novel’s jacket design debossed on a bronze background.

When I was browsing the Nashville Public Library’s ebook selections I saw a book that intrigued me, backed away when I realised it was Inspirational Fiction but then that Christy sticker on the cover art caught my eye. My slavish devotion to award-winning books trumped my prejudice and I downloaded it that very moment.

It was a dreadful book–poorly written, poorly edited, ploddingly plotted. I have serious doubts that the book would have made it past the acquisition editor at a secular publishing house, let alone that it would have been singled out by an award committee for the industry’s highest honour. I returned the book early and angrily and thought no more about it–until this year’s Christy Awards shortlist books were announced.** I looked (in vain) for my personal pick–Robynn Tolbert’s Star Of Justice and recognised none of the other titles. What was up with the Christy?

Turns out…The Christy Award is NOT a “book award” in the traditional sense. It is A LICENSING AGREEMENT!

I should know. I negotiated, edited, issued and managed HUNDREDS of licensing contracts, sought licensing partnerships and oversaw payment on those contracts on a quarterly basis. Say you run a t-shirt company and you want to put Care Bears on your t-shirts. You get in touch with their representative, send anywhere from a dozen to two-dozen of your product to that person along with an estimate of the amount of money you expect the shirts to make. If they approve you, you give them a portion of their percentage upfront–anywhere from $500-$10,000. In return they send you a “style guide” that has the specific art you have to use, along with all the Pantone colours and the regulations about how big their art has to be. “The Care Bear Must appear on at least 45% of the exposed area of the front of the shirt.” That kind of thing. You make the product and ostensibly sell more shirts with Care Bears on them than you would if they were plain shirts.

That, my friends, is how the Christy “Award” works. Unlike legitimate Book Awards which traditionally request one copy of the submitted work, the Christy requests SEVEN copies, along with a submission fee of $175. (In Contrast the Newberry Award and Man Booker Prize require no entry fee.) If you WIN a Christy you award you get…to pay $1000 for the honour of putting the Christy Medal on your book cover so that your book sells more copies.

That, my friends, is a licensing arrangement. It is NOT an award. The Christy was established by Christian PUBLISHERS; the criteria are prohibitive for the growing number of self-published and small-press books in the Inspirational Field. Since all the Christian fiction I actually liked last year was either self-pubbed or small press is it any wonder they’re not on here? What person running their business on a shoestring–or at least a strand of worsted weight yarn–can pony up what amounts to nearly $1500 once the books and postage are added to the entry fee and the due bill for the winner?

I’ve spent two hours combing through other awards; some like the Man Booker Prize do charge an advertising fee from the winning publisher as well as a required contribution to the prize pool. But they do in turn reward a cash prize far greater than the required submission so if you win you are not actually in the hole for doing so. Others require nothing more than one or two copies of the book in question along with a neatly typed form.

As a reader who regularly purchases books because they’re Award Winners I feel duped. I feel like this is nothing more than a cadre of cronies looking for a new angle to market their product.

I also feel great pity for the Christy winners and short-listed authors because they’re literally being sold a bill of goods. Literally. If you “win” the Christy you get a little sticker for your book cover and a bill for $1000. The idea, of course, is that “award” will net you increased sales. Pretty much like any other licensing arrangement.

What follows is the statement with which I posted this to Facebook. I realise after some comments that this information wasn’t clear in the entry itself, so I’m adding it in an effort to prevent further confusion.

[T]his post is not [intended to be] a reflection on the quality of this year’s selected titles. I feel like as a person who does NOT write books that would be considered I was in the unique position to write this post.

[I] haven’t read any of this year’s books. I have two from last year in my TBR folder. I want to stress repeatedly that the way this licensing agreement is run does NOT mean that the approved licensees are bad books….not at all. It DOES mean however that scores of good, even great, books aren’t considered because of the prohibitive terms of the licensing agreement.


*Though this is almost universally acknowledged as the pinnacle of the genre, so much so that the awards of the genre are named for it, there is still no e-book version of the original novel available. Thomas Nelson has carved up the original novel into episodes and remarketed those as Young Adult books for the e-reader market. I’ve written about this before; the problem still exists.

** This link is accidentally for the 2012 winners. I’m looking for an official shortlist that doesn’t appear on other blogs.
And here it is….

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