“What’s your favorite band?” How avoiding bullying made me an agnostic reader (and music listener)

“What’s your favorite band?”
“I don’t have one. I like all kinds of music.”
“What kinds of music, then?”
“All music.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know any band names, I just sing along with whatever’s on the radio, the record player, the movie…”
“Do you know [   ] ?”
“Sure!”

And they sang.

 

Nine out of ten times I can sing along with whatever music you throw at me. I have a great ear, practically perfect pitch, and am an accomplished mimic. But band names? Artist names? Preferences? Not so much.

Because when I was growing up, admitting you liked something was the quickest way to have someone make fun of you for liking it.

A clever child, I figured out that not saying was safest. Besides, it meant that I remained open-minded about most genres of music.

When it came to books, I have also always been an equal opportunity reader. The only genre I actively avoid is horror; even then, I’ll read it if it is recommended or assigned. Mostly because everyone’s “horror” is subjective. What I don’t like is explicit violence and gore.

So, when people ask me, “Do you read Fantasy?” I say yes. Science Fiction? Yes. Speculative? Yes. Historical? Yes. Non-Fiction? Yes. Biography? Yes. Literary? Yes. Business? Yes. Thriller? Not as often, but sure.

Romance?

Up until a year or two ago I probably would’ve said “No,” and it would’ve been the only no in my arsenal. Not because I don’t like romances, or even because I poo-poohed the genre (which I don’t). Merely because my parents didn’t read it. So romance books were not available to me as a kid. I never sought them out later in life because, with so much to read, and so many great books having romance as a “B” plot anyway, why bother?

Then I had friends who WROTE romance, so I started reading their books and enjoying the genre for the first time. I’m an inexperienced romance reader, but as you can see from the image above, my friend Ruth has donated all her old romances to me and I’m going to catch up fast!

As an editor, I was recently asked to turn my attention to a paranormal romance, Mistwalker. I hesitated because I can’t say I know what a romance is “supposed” to be. How would I evaluate it and be able to provide feedback?

Luckily, romances, like every other genre, are only as good as the story they are telling. By looking carefully at the characters, the events and pacing of the plot, and the relationships, I was able to encourage the author to strengthen the book. I can’t wait to hear what my romance-reading friends think of it, so if you like the romance genre, check out Mistwalker and let me know what you think!

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Dad Time

Dad Time

About a year after my father passed away, I found myself needing to “clean out” his belongings. I sorted through all the bits and pieces and found that I had a difficult time managing the detritus of his life.

I had helped my father clean out his Arizona home when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. I had helped him move his most precious things to my home in 2010. I knew that all of the objects that remained after his passing meant a lot to him…I just didn’t know why.

Most of the things were interesting but had no meaning for me. Coins, small slips of paper, cufflinks, pins, and watch after watch after watch. As I sorted, I began to suspect that my father had been obsessed with time.

All throughout my life, my mother has often apologized for the “double whammy” of hoarder genetics: 50% from her and 50% from my father. The 100% packrat in me sat sorting and crying. I am just a person who feels nostalgic knowing things had meant something to someone else.

 

 

The things. I love things. I regularly get attached, emotional, and protective of things. Not because things are valuable. Not because things have significance. No, I become attached to things merely because in my imagination they could be important, could be valuable, or could be significant to someone…even if they mean nothing to me.

I am constantly guarding another man’s treasure.

Regularly I wonder why the heck I can’t listen to the voices inside my head giving orders:

Throw it all away…
Sell everything…
Box it and store it in the garage until you have time to deal with it all later…

 

In the case of my dad’s things no voice shouted loudest. The things didn’t have inherent monetary value. Calling it all garbage seemed, on the one hand, rude, and on the other, environmentally irresponsible.

This man was integral to my life, but I knew better than to box up his stuff and refuse to face the problem. That was his M.O., and I’d been defying his denial since I could remember. So what could I do?

I couldn’t sell these things, or trash them, or keep them. The things had no stories, no importance for me except that I knew the things were a part of my dad’s life. Inherently meaningful things, but death had misplaced their meaning. In some cases the things were beautiful, and yet, to me, they were simply a mournful collection of incoherence.

A Mournful Collection of Incoherence.

An idea galvanized me out of my melancholy.

I realized I knew a guy. A guy who specializes in incoherent collections. A guy who could take all the objects, treat them with reverence and give them coherence. An assemblage artist. A man who, like me, loves things.

I called Dan.

Would you do this? I practically begged. Will you take away all of these cool things, and plain things, and everyday things, and odd things, and make them into Art?

My attempts to do anything foundered. I was unable to act because of my belief that it was shameful to hang on to a bunch of things that weren’t valuable and had no meaningful stories.

However, it would be glorious and honorable to display all the same things as a piece of art in my home.

Send it all away with an artist, to sort it and digest it and then create with it. Give it new meaning. Translate the random assortment into a coherent assemblage. Find the beauty, the balance, the value. Memorialize my father through his own preserved collection of things in a piece of art.

This idea solved a huge problem for me. I would not keep a box in the garage, and every once in awhile go through it and have a good cry. I would have art on my wall for all to see, appreciate, and wonder about. It was an amazing way to both let go and keep all those things.

Dan said yes. And look what he made for me:

It is a literal door that opens anytime I want to remember my dad. I can consider his odd, fleeting hobbies. Items he treasured. Objects he wore on his body. His greatest achievements in work and as a father are represented if you know what to look for. As are all the ways he cut, and separated, and sliced up his life into manageable chunks.

While I considered all the pieces I would give Dan to alchemize into art, I found myself thinking about the clocks, the watches, the timepieces. There’s an Australian Aboriginal mythology that became popular in the 80s, about the place we are born and the stories we learn in this life being our “Dreamtime.”

Each life, each incarnation, is different and the songs and dreams change with each lifetime. For me, Dan’s beautiful art, made from a bunch of mere things, represents my father’s life beautifully. Dad’s Dreamtime. Dad’s Time.

If you have a similar collection of things, consider making them into art. Things that are precious because they belonged to someone you love. Things that you need to let go of and also hang on to forever.  I cannot recommend Dan highly enough. http://www.danlevin.com/

 

 

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Erotica for A Clothing Addict

Erotica for A Clothing Addict

The J. Peterman Company has been around, publishing its glorious owner’s manuals since 1987 (the year I started High School). Yes, I had to look that up.

A Smattering of My Owner’s Manual Collection

I never saw one, nor watched Seinfeld, until I went away to college. That was when my mentor, Steven Crain, shared one of the catalogs on a cool, foggy Monterey morning.

Over tea in his forest home, I paged through watercolors of clothes: crisp or flowing; Dripping with translucent florals or solid hues as opaque as heavy whipping cream. A beautiful catalog that sold…dreams. Yes, they sold clothing dreams with words.

J. Peterman has always claimed to sell “uncommonly good stuff” because, “Clearly, people want things that make their lives the way they wish they were.” I really got behind that as a loud, chunky, Freshman at UCSC.

White rice and peanut butter be damned, I wanted AWESOME CLOTHING. I couldn’t afford it, so I read about it in those Owners Manuals. They were an excellent read, erotic and deliciously romantic if you found descriptions of fabric salacious. Which I did. Do. Always have, and always will. Ooooh, Baby. Talk to me about your brushed twill. Your silk velvet.

 

My Victorian Velvet Coat at The Great Dickens Christmas Faire

I went on as a fan and a closet reader of this incredible free periodical for years. When the company exploded into retail, I bought a few amazing items at their Camarillo outlet store. Then when they plummeted into bankruptcy, I went to the liquidation sale in San Francisco and I bought every single thing that fit and I could afford. That was truly one of the most fun days of my life (back me up here Ruth).

John Peterman bought back his name, wrote a book, and the company rose from its own ashes with the glorious plumage we’d come to expect from a flashy bird like a Phoenix.

As my salary increased, I regularly added to my collection. I met other enthusiasts, and together, we planned a unique event in SF: The J. Peterman Fashion Show. Alas, it never came to be, as Carrie moved away, and I didn’t hound James enough to get John Peterman to actually MC, but the idea was this:

 

Model a J. Peterman outfit or item, and bring the language from the Owner’s Manual to be read aloud while you’re on the catwalk. 

Or…

Make something amazing to wear, and write J. Petermanesque copy to go with your creation. 

 

Gods and goddesses, but that would have been a night to remember.

As I said, it never happened. I just went about my life, taking jobs, becoming a professional, and spending a bit of my salaries here and there on things I could not do without. Because I do get attached to things. Amazing things like beautiful clothes.

 

 

 

This week, J. Peterman announced a little writing contest:

Imagine the one item of clothing that would make you feel just right. Now, give it a name and a number (like No. 7123). It’s perfectly fine if you overlap numbers with a friend; we encourage all forms of overlapping. Post your story here about the item in as few words as possible. (Hint: the shorter, the better.) JP will pick the one that gives him pause. To the winner goes the spoils (a $1,000 gift certificate). Pencils down at midnight Sunday (EST). The page is blank.

 

Heeeeey….. I’m a writer!

These then, are my submissions. They’re not short, so I’m pretty sure I won’t win. And even if I did, these days, it is with a heavy heart that I report that 1) J. Peterman quality isn’t what it used to be and 2) They rarely, if ever, have glorious things in my “these days” size.

Still, I relished my time writing them. It was joyous. Plus, the whole point of all those stories about romantic, sexy, life-changing objects, is hope.

Desire that life can be as exotic, adventurous, and romantic as we always dream it will be. So with that in mind, I share a little bit about my current personal clothing dreams, in the style of The J. Peterman Owners Manual:

 

The Opposite of Glass No. 627
It was all perfect: hair, gown, clutch. She only needed these for the ideal night. Supple black leather with padded inner sole. Snug embrace of elastic holding a sassy T-band of velvet –firm over her arch– for waltzing across the floor. They are all shocked by the peek of polished toenail, but the airflow is divine once the rhumba music starts. She has no desire to remove such a comfortable shoe, but he can’t wait to reach down and slip it off her foot.

For the Dogs No. 1317
The forecast says a 90% chance of rain, unheard of on the American Riviera. On The Mesa lives a Blue Merle Cattle Dog who, if he doesn’t get to the beach, guarantees a 100% chance of mayhem and destruction. Time for this perfect trio: Riviera Rain Gear. Boots the rusty red of Saltillo tile. Waterproof poncho of thinnest ripstop rubber in Santa Barbara Blue. Top it off with a fisherman’s hat that combines the dusty azure and terra cotta colors in a stylized print of manzanita flowers. Sure, rain happens, but it can’t dampen this lifestyle.

 

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My first published short fiction!

My first published short fiction!

After only seven rejections, my first “finished” short story is published!
I’m happy. It is a huge deal because my struggle is that I never FINISH anything. So this is a big win, people!

Although I don’t think Roundabout Protection started off as much, I like what it turned into. I’ve heard there’s a market for anything not-too-badly-written, and apparently, I’m proof. In 2015 I found out that a local online news site ran an annual Halloween story contest. At the time, I was writing, getting ready for nano, and like so many authors who enjoy writing from prompts, I figured “What The Heck?”
The story could only be 750 words, and the prompt, which had to be included, was more than 150. But the setting resonated immediately, and I thought, well, I’ll just write down what I see in my head.

I submitted the story and won an honorable mention in the publication (but I kinda hated it). It was too short to really go anywhere or do anything. So I started editing. As an exercise. I learned some cool techniques from my writer friends.
“You say, ‘evil’ here. What do you mean, ‘evil?’ Tell me.”
And in the process of dropping myself into the scene,describing it out loud, and thinking about what the evil I imagined looked like,  Jo said, “THAT! That’s it! The story needs that!”

I had a compelling setting, a pair of fascinating characters with a clear goal, and a threat to that goal. I floated the story at my writing groups, and the blocking, or movement, gained clarity. I did the exercises all “good” writers do, and asked myself questions to illuminate the problems in the story:

What does your character want? (Completion of the ritual)
What’s stopping him? (Something unexpected)
How do you up the tension? (fail the first try)
Why do we like our Protagonist? (They care about their job, the job is a selfless one, and they know how to do it competently)
What did you promise your reader? (Magic, quirkiness, and a threat to normalcy)
Did you deliver? (Kinda – this is where I think the story is weak)
How is your protagonist changed? (???)

This was the biggie. For a long time, the main character was seemingly unaffected by the experience. Sure it was a challenge, and they overcame…but the story itself ended after the action, on a cliffhanger. I got a nice personal note with my rejection from the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction that he liked it, but the story felt unfinished. Short stories need to feel “done.” So I had more work to do.

I changed the ending and allowed the experience of the action to change my character…and because I am a bit dark and stormy myself, not for the better.
Please let me know what you think of the story. You can listen to the audio version for free after signing up for my monthly newsletter. You’ll receive a link in your October Edition to listen and see the original 750 word submission. Or, you can purchase a copy of the journal, and support the Salt Lake Pagan Society.

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National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is Coming!

It is time to buckle down and prep for NaNoWriMo!

(I’ve actually been prepping since this summer when an idea came to me, and I started running to and fro with it.)

This year I am writing the first book in a series of mysteries. I was inspired by the audiobook work on the Viola Roberts Cozy Mysteries Series. This November I will be exploring the community of period re-creation societies and what sorts of things can go wrong putting together a little weekend event.

Maybe that sounds SUPER BORING to you, but I guarantee it isn’t. Organizations like Renaissance Faires, The Jane Austen Society of North America, and the Society for Creative Anachronism began as all-volunteer groups that functioned solely because their members LOVED them. People devoted thousands of hours, the sweat of their brow, maybe a little blood, and for sure bucketloads of tears to keep these organizations running.

I have served on a few different non-profit boards. Some were historical and costume related; some related to things like conservation and animal care. I volunteer for a variety of organizations and I’ve run a lot of events.

During various stints, I have met people passionate enough to participate in non-profit guidance. Most of them are wackos, like me. Participating on a non-profit board attracts certain people with a unique set of KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities). There is a desire to serve within the non-profit sector that keeps members involved in a unique way…a way that often includes entanglement so deep that a person’s self-concept and self-worth, not to mention social support group, becomes completely enmeshed.

The personalities and politics within communities of people wedded together by a shared geekery fascinate me. What happens when diverse individuals have to work together just because they have one thing in common? And what happens when a truly EVIL person is thrown into the mix of a lot of good hearted, quirky personalities…I can’t wait to start writing and find out! Bwahahahaha!!!!

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‘Voice’ in Writing

I’m finally in bed after Day 1 of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. Alarm in four hours. You may not get much from me for the next five days. The guest speaker, Rufi Thorpe, was phenomenal. This paraphrase doesn’t do justice to her beautiful, heartfelt presentation about finding your material and voice, but it is so important that I wanted to capture it anyway:

Books are like postcards you send out over the abyss. You have no control over your readership. If you’re sending postcards they better be from you.

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