Category Archives: Musings

Guest Post from Lauren Carr–June 2013


Lauren Carr photo

 

I’m Sorry If I Offended You … Now Grow Up

By Lauren Carr

 

The year: 1508

Setting: Sistine Chapel

Michelangelo enters the Sistine Chapel with his paints and scaffolding. He has a great image in his mind. This will be his piece of art that will define him as an artist. The creation that he puts on this ceiling is going to put his name in the history books to immortalize him as a great master painter.

As Michelangelo is setting up, someone comes in. Spying one of the cans of paint, he asks, “Is that red paint you have there?”

Michelangelo says it is. The red will be needed for much of the paintings: for example, in the Creation of Man.

“Can’t you use another color?”

“No,” Michelangelo says. “Red is one of the primary colors.”

“But it is so offensive.”

“How?”

“Red is the color of evil,” the visitor says. “Evil is offensive. Therefore, red is offensive.”

“It is the color of blood, which gives us life,” Michelangelo says.

“Maybe according to you, but a lot of people don’t like the color red and if you use it you will offend them, which will make you and us look bad. People will think we’re endorsing evil.”

With a shrug of his shoulders, Michelangelo relents and takes the bucket of red paint out of the chapel. He is thinking about how he is going to adjust his painting when he comes in and sees someone else standing over the bucket of yellow paint.

“Is this yellow paint?” the new visitor asks with a glare in his eyes.

“Yes,” Michelangelo manages to say before the gentleman launches into his offense.

“Are you saying that we’re cowards? Yellow is the color of cowards used in terms like yellow-belly and—“

“No!” Michelangelo throws up his hands. “I just need to use yellow because it’s the base color in brown—”

But before Michelangelo can finish the second visitor hurries from the chapel while muttering about bigots and stereotyping of some social group which Michelangelo doesn’t have time to discern before a third person comes in to spy yet another bucket of paint.

“Is that green?”

“‘I need it for the Garden of Eden,” Michelangelo says in a firm tone.

“Why green? Aren’t you discriminating against the color blue? Blue has just as much right to be used for the Garden of Eden as green. Besides, were you there? How do you know the Garden of Eden wasn’t blue instead of green?”

A month later, Michelangelo finishes the Sistine Chapel. When the great ceiling is revealed to the public, they stare up in awe at the stark white ceiling high above. After all, after Michelangelo had eliminated all of the colors that offended anyone, all he had left was white—to which, one member of the audience commented:

“Did you have to choose white? White gives me a migraine.”

* * * * *

Recently, I received a review for Blast from the Past, my latest Mac Faraday Mystery, in which the reader opens with “Thankfully, this book in the series contained no insulting-to-fat-people characters.”

I did a lot of head scratching trying to figure out what she could possibly have been talking about. When did I insult fat people? Apparently, one of my followers had the same question because she went onto the site to ask the reader, who claimed that in one of my previous books I had presented a fat character in a derogatory manner. The follower came back to say that if that was the book she was thinking of, it was the character, not fat people, who was presented in a derogatory manner.

The fact remains, this reader was so offended by my use of an obese character in It’s Murder, My Son that she felt compelled to carry out her grudge by posting a negative review four books later.

In It’s Murder, My Son, the character of Betsy is a victim. She is sloppy and, yes, obese. Often, obesity is a result, brought on by low self-esteem. Betsy’s low self-esteem puts her into the perfect situation to be manipulated by the killer—who is slender and attractive, by the way.

Rightfully, it should be the skinny people posting negative reviews about me making them out to be manipulative and homicidal. In It’s Murder, My Son, I killed five skinny people to the one fat one. I mean, if I’m prejudice against fat people because I killed one—I must really have it out for skinny people!

So, what do I, as an author, do with future books? Well, I guess I can’t ever use fat people—unless they are the hero. That means I can’t have fat characters be victims because they will offend readers like this one. I also can’t use them as killers because I will be saying that fat people are homicidal maniacs—unless they are driven to it by skinny people.

In Blast from the Past, one of my murder victims has a problem with poor hygiene. Does this mean I have something against people who don’t bathe?

I guess I should stop using women, who happen to be fifty percent of the population, as murder victims. People may start to think I’m sexist. For that matter, I should no longer have the killer be a woman. Then people will think that I’m saying that women are bad people. Heaven forbid I kill a blonde woman—then they’ll think I’m prejudice against blondes, even though I am one!

Furthermore, I really should avoid using short people—because I will offend those readers who suffer from dwarfism.

In recent history, the world has become a great melting pot. Along with the melding of cultures and people becoming more aware of each other’s differences, sections of our society have felt justified in being hyper-sensitive and compelled to demand that everyone else—including artists—walk on eggshells in order to not offend them or anyone. Children can’t even pray in school because they may offend the one atheist child in the room of thirty students.

This post is not directed toward those hyper-sensitive readers who feel compelled to throw temper tantrum by posting negative reviews because their feelings were unintentionally hurt in the name of art. Nothing I, or any author writes, can change their perception. Rather, this is directed to writers who may fear being on the receiving end of such a tantrum when they have, without intention, offended someone somehow someway.

If writers bend to such criticism, they might as well throw away their laptops: All murder victims in mysteries will need to be white men (because they deserve it); and the killer is always going to be the white man (because they’re always the bad guy).

Mind you, these white men have to be of average height and weight.

I guess they can’t be bald either because you may offend those readers who are bald.

Also, they need to be heterosexual because you can’t offend the homosexuals.

And they can’t be Muslim because the terrorists will be justified in coming after you.

I guess you need to make them American because we are the great bad guys …

The end result would be authors shaking in their boots afraid to write, “It was a dark and stormy night,…” for fear of messing with Mother Nature.

Writers: Be bold. Be brave. Damn the hyper-sensitives. Once, while appearing on David Letterman, Jerry Senfield said that he offends everyone and if he hadn’t gotten to a particular social group, just wait, he’ll get to them eventually.

Just give me time.

[BTW: In The Murders at Astaire Castle (coming September 2013), I’m coming after the Werewolves.]

My Last Hay Field


This evening I am feeling wistful. I have cut my last hay field. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I had a window of sunny, dry weather. It was perfect for making hay. So I did.

Last summer I made close to 1,000 bales. Most of that hay was unloaded and stacked in the barn by me. I had a helper once in a while. Otherwise, I was on my own. The trouble is I tore my rotator cuff when pitching all that hay. I ended up in surgery in January. My doctor told me no more manhandling hay.

I intended to sell the hay equipment on Craigslist. Then the nice weather came, and the tall grass beckoned. I had to test the equipment out to be sure it worked before selling it, didn’t I?

There’s a wonder for me in farming. My ancestors farmed, on top of running businesses or teaching students or treating patients or working in laboratories. Though they had other “white collar” employment, they farmed. I have an M. B. A., and I write. Yet if I could, I would farm full-time.

That is, when I am not sailing, traveling, gardening, cooking, horseback riding, hiking, mischief-making, and spending time with family and friends. Yes, I would farm.

last hay cutting 2013

Madly Editing


To complete a story–a novel–is a milestone. To complete editing and re-writing the novel so that it is editor-ready is monumental. Just ask me.

I thought it was difficult translating an idea in my mind to words on paper for the first rough draft. Turns out, that part feels like child’s play compared to the re-write.

There is a lot of self-doubt, second-guessing and anxiety that goes along with the actual editorial work. The whole time I am working, I am asking myself if the story passes muster. Will there be an audience for the book? Will the persons I wrote for be the actual persons who like and read the novel?

Today I learned that traditional publishers tell authors that a new book has a shelf-life of three months in which the story either makes it or breaks it. After hours and hours of work, three months is it?

At this moment, three words come to mind: just shoot me.

 

Nomophobia–Modern Society’s Greatest Ailment


Friends of mine live on a sailboat full-time and travel the Seven Seas. They have been throughout the Caribbean, all around the coast of South America, to Africa, and are presently moored in Australia, while taking a brief trip home to help aging parents.

The couple is a husband-wife writing duo. The wife also authors a blog called “Just a Little Further” (www.justalittlefurther.com), sharing the adventures and mis-adventures of life aboard a sailing vessel.

In a recent post, my friend Marcie talks about nomophobia. Here’s an excerpt from her humorous look at what ails modern society:

“Yes, yet something else to worry about: nomophobia. It’s a fear of being without mobile phone contact … NO…MObile..PHOne…phobia. The term was coined in the UK when it was determined by a study that people who lose their phones, run out of battery power or don’t have network coverage, suffer the same anxiety that folks suffer when heading to the dentist’s office or getting married. Yikes!

“More than half the people (in the study anyhow) never ever turn off their mobile phones. Really? More often than not, we forget to turn ours on. I’ve been using my mom’s phone since I got back into the States. When I do remember to charge it and then turn it on, I forget to take it with me when I go out. . .”

I fall into the same category as Marcie; I seldom turn my phone on, or I forget to take it with me. It really bothers the nomophobes in my life. As an author who is soon to be published, I guess I better prepare for the onslaught of literary page editors who will be ringing me up for an interview. I better practice turning the phone on and putting it in my pocket.

Oops. Then I’ll need a publicist to manage all the pocket dialing that is bound to occur. I can see the headlines now.

New Author Arrested for Making Harassing Phone Calls

New Author Caught Dialing and Hanging on the Line Without Saying a Word

New Author’s Pocket Calls Lead to Embarrassing Moments

Come to think of it, I better leave well enough alone. I’ll have to settle for missing a call now and then. I’ll leave the worry about those missed calls to the phone addict on the other end of the line.

Me? I’ll be calling my own cell number with my land line and wandering around the house listening for the ring. That’s if the battery is still charged on my misplaced cell phone.

 

The Value of a Sidekick


Thank you, Wretched Richard’s Almanac, (http://richarddaybell.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/wretched-richards-almanac-5-7-13/) for providing the inspiration for this post.

Authors are loners of sorts. We tend to write books in privacy.

Yet, to improve or validate our work, we need helpful others. The helpful other, like the sidekick in the old-time western film, provides a counter-point to our own perspective about our work. A sidekick will read our story and truthfully dissect it for us to make either the story or the author better.

A valuable sidekick is, above all, a truth-teller. It takes a brave person to tell a creator that his creation is flawed. A sidekick is also a diplomat; The truth-telling, to be effective, must be done tactfully. Finally, the sidekick must be knowledgeable. Effective criticism comes out of taste or expertise garnered through experience. If the sidekick is an avid reader in our genre–and has an artist’s soul of sorts–he discerns when a story works or doesn’t. Because our sidekick is intelligent, he can articulate  the “why” when the manuscript fails.

I feel fortunate to have three sidekicks to give me the necessary kick-in-the-pants I need to improve my work. Sometimes I am obstinate and ignore sage advice. It is to my own detriment when I do.

A valuable sidekick is trying to make my writing better. That, to an author, is a priceless gift.

Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity: Literary Agents: The Writer’s Ultimate Ambiguous Relationship


Publishing … and Other Forms of Insanity: Literary Agents: The Writer’s Ultimate Ambiguous Relationship.

Yahoo! It was nice to get another mention in another author’s blog post. Oh, happy day!

 

Reward


One of the items on my bucket list was to see petroglyphs in situ. As a reward to myself for finishing the first draft of the novel, I went to Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada and saw a collection of over 800 specimens in the Mouse’s Tank region.

public use Valley_of_Fire_Petroglyphs

(photo from Mr. Silva, Wikipedia, in the public domain)

A tank is a natural well in a depression in a rock formation that collects rain water and holds it over a long period. The tanks were used by native peoples as a source of drinking water in the desert. Summer temperatures in Valley of Fire can reach 120 degrees.

Seeing the petroglyph above, and others nearby, thrilled me. I can scratch that item off the bucket list.

Taking Inspiration from Another’s Work


A few days ago, I read a powerful 100 word flash fiction piece from an individual who I think is a masterful writer. In reading his story, a novel unfolded in my mind on the spot. The trouble is, the novel needs his words –his idea– to open it. The other author’s words are that powerful. Without his opening, my idea disintegrates.

I thought about the ethics of this. I could re-write the opening to make it my own, but the whole idea of the book exploded from reading the work of another. Legally, there is absolutely no trouble in doing what I’ve suggested. Ideas aren’t copyright-able. But ethically. . .

Maybe it is because the original work belongs to someone I “know” that this whole thought line even started. But it is the first time I’ve given it a thought.

I know, I know. . .there is nothing new under the sun. In truth, the story told by the other writer isn’t new. The human story isn’t new.

But those words of his, they haunt me, even now. And that is exactly why I think they are the perfect words–even re-written–to open a novel.

I wrote to encourage the writer to do just that, expand his flash fiction piece into a full-blown story. I hope he does. Maybe then the urge inside me to explore that story will be quelled. But then, I know his full length story would not be the full length story I want to tell.

So there we go. I am back to start of my dilemma. Any thoughts?

Change, Change, Change


On Twitter, I read about Deborah Mitton, who is writing a series of books based on a poem from the 1600’s. Her plan intrigued me. I wanted to read the poem, so she gave me leads to find it.

1 for sorrow
2 for joy
3 for a girl
4 for a boy
5 for silver
6 for gold
7 for secret never to be told
8 for wish
9 for kiss
10 for a time of joyous bliss
11 for letter
12 for better
13 lets start all over again, together

Then I found this Counting Crows song.