Tuesday, May 27, 2014

#YesAllWomen

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them. -Margaret Atwood

This was the quote that ran through my head all last weekend, assisted by Twitter, reinforced by The Atlantic and my Facebook feed.

Another news story of misogynistic violence followed by responses like the one below. I wish I could say this tweet shocked me, but even in all its callousness, it was predictable. As was the clench in my jaw and wave of nausea in my stomach when I read it. 

 
Every time another news story breaks, outlining the myriad ways men abuse women (shooting sprees, prisoners, abduction, rape, slaves, chained to the wall) my first protectionist instinct is to hide my daughter.
 
I want to school her in fear and wrap her up in things that will keep her invisible. Marry her off young, to be protected by a man, of course and teach her to be a silent little thing who doesn't ever draw attention to herself.
 
But if you knew my daughter, you'd laugh at me. None of that will happen. And you probably already know I would never really want that.
 
During and after September 11, 2001, I was living in New York City. After those towers fell and our world changed forever, we were constantly reminded to go on with our lives. Not to let the terrorists win. I think about that now because the acts of the gunman (no, I won't say his name and give him yet another link on any kind of media) are another form of terrorism. Terrorism against womankind. And terrorism against the people who love womankind.
 
Instead of hiding my daughter and teaching her the language of fear, I'll continue to expect her to be outspoken, opinionated and reject people who believe she should be anything else. Because, clearly, it's a battlefield out there and we all have to do our part to destroy the environment in which this kind of terrorism breeds and grows strong.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Dark and Rainy Night

Where do you get your ideas?

Last week brought flash flood warnings, but I have a twelve year old. The flash flood of emotion indoors felt more lightning sharp and dangerous than the watery version, so I decided to go for a walk.

The Woods of McLean are close to our house. I'm sure it has another name, but that's my name for it, despite being teased that it sounds like I'm going to a shopping mall.

The Woods of McLean is a twisty well-maintained path through a wooded area. It has little bridges, lots of dog-walkers and moms' with strollers. It's much like, I suppose, any other park in suburbia. It's where I run, where inspiration strikes and where sometimes I pause to marvel at the 80s era fitness test equipment scattered at regular intervals throughout the woods.

On that evening, it wasn't really my intention to visit the Woods of McLean. It's just sort of where I ended up. Because it had stopped raining, I hedged my bets and followed the path. Underneath the canopy of trees it was deserted. And dark. Not really, really dark, but dramatically lit; wooded mood lighting for Bad Things.

In those dark woods lit for bad things, I imagined a murder. Mine! A crime of opportunity committed while everyone was warm and dry in their houses, safe from the high water. Which led to imagining that high water. What if a flash flood occurred and swept me underneath one of those bridges?

I pictured a four year old boy in one of the houses on the edge of the woods, looking out from the picture window of his living room.

"Mommy," he would say. "I think a saw a person floating in the water."

"We've talked about you making up stories," she would respond.

"No, I saw someone. I promise!" But she would already be leading him away, to dinner, bath time and bedtime. The comfort of routine. My corpse would be found the next day. The boy would spend his life trying to understand the little moments upon which fate hinges.

A piece of fabric was hanging from a branch underneath a bridge and I wondered if it had once belonged to the murderer stalking me through the Woods of McLean. Maybe he'd been lying in wait and been swept away, suffered an ironic death dealt by the high waters of a flash flood.

I turned around quickly like something being hunted, expecting to see him crawling out of the water and screamed (yes, out loud) at the sight of a shadowy human-shaped tree trunk.

And then I came to the edge of the Woods of McLean. The canopy parted and there was a crack in the clouds that made everything look sunny and bright. I skipped home feeling lucky to have avoided my million dark fates and as I did, I realized the answer to that question so often asked of writers.

The question is not where I get my ideas. It's how will I ever do justice to them all. And maybe, also, a keen curiosity about what other people are thinking. If their minds aren't engaged in making up stories, what is it that makes them look so far away?

And of course, the more I try to answer that question, the more ideas I'll have clamoring to be written down.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writers, Rejection and Inspiration.

Last week I had the good luck to see my friend and writer, Jenny Milchman speak at a bookstore along with her friend and writer, Carla Buckley.


The format was loose and lovely. The readings left us wanting more. And the discussion, as it so often does in writer circles focused on the question that is becoming THE question of this century.

Indie vs. traditional.

Maybe it's a backlash to one-touch uploads that allow anyone with writing ambitions to have their books on Amazon in a matter of days, but I've seen (on social media) and heard (at book events) more and more authors who counsel patience.

Jenny wrote 11 novels prior to getting her first book published. Carla wrote multiple books as well. They both spoke of that time, in the pre-publication slog, as the dark days.

And yet, perseverance brought them both, finally, to book deals with Random House. Their other common factor was how deeply they believed those earlier books represented their best work, and yet, how happy they were those earlier books weren't published. Rejection made them dig deeper. Work harder. Push through to their best writing.

There's a lesson to be learned there. And, in our fast food, instagram, tweet-it-now society, it's not a popular one.

Maybe, the message in rejection isn't that you should go the self-publishing route. Nor do I believe the message is you should give up on your writer dreams, that you lack talent, skill or the ability to tell a story.

Maybe, it's just that you need to refine your skill. Aim higher. Not because you're trying to jump through publishing hoops, but because you really can do better.

That's a message I'm taking to heart.

Last year's book, The Virtual Life of Maisy Parker, is still out on submission. Last year, I was certain that book represented the best of my writing. This year, I'm certain the best of my writing can be found in my current project.

I know and have enjoyed lots of amazing work available in the Indie world, but right now, I'm holding out for a traditional path, if for no other reason than I think it will force me to do my best work.

Meanwhile, I'll be enjoying the stories told in Ruin Falls and The Deepest Secret and holding on to the inspiration provided by their amazing authors.