Monday, October 16, 2017

And Here We Are Again

Stop me if you've heard this one before. A man holds a position of great power and influence. He's at the top of his field, the top of his company. He rubs shoulders with the rich and famous and influential. He is rich and famous and influential. With a word, he can make or break careers.

And he is a sexual predator.

This week, it's Harvey Weinstein's turn in the spotlight. Last year, it was Donald Trump's. Before that, it was Bill Cosby's. The list is long and it stretches back forever, and I can tell you this: in the coming weeks, Hollywood will almost certainly be rocked by reveals of other predators amongst their ranks. Producers, directors, stars, casting directors: I expect we're going to be hearing a lot about men who have been using their power to make women miserable (yes, there are tales of men being harassed, too, and that is terrible, but the board is tilted far the other way).

The question is, "What causes this?" What causes a man to decide that it's okay to greet a woman in a hotel room while wearing nothing but a bathrobe, or demanding she watch him shower, or masturbate in front of her? What makes a man think it's okay to make what is essentially a job interview into a quid pro quo, I'll give you this job if you give me that job kind of thing? Are these men--the Harvey Weinsteins and Donald Trumps and Bill Clintons and Cosbys and Louis Mayers of the world time bombs of predation that will go off sooner or later, regardless of where they are and what they do, or are they products of power, corrupted by knowing they have so much control over another person's destiny?

The good news--in as much as there can be good news in all of this--is that women are becoming emboldened, are starting to speak out. Now we have to figure out a way to stop this from happening in the first place.


Monday, October 9, 2017

Sorry to see you go, Tom

I don't remember exactly when I first heard Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. I do remember back in junior high school, having an acquaintance who was fast on the way to becoming one of my closest friends talking Petty up enthusiastically--along with other bands I had not yet heard of, like Elvis Costello, The Pretenders, and Rockpile. Shortly thereafter, I was walking around with the organ riff from "Don't Do Me Like That" on auto-play in my head.

I was not a fan the way my friend was--is, but I certainly liked what I heard. I saw Petty for the first time at Madison Square Garden in the mid-80s, backing Bob Dylan. The Petty & the Heartbreakers segment of the show was miles above the Dylan segment. (though Petty had certain vocal stylings similar to Dylan--hello, singing through the nose--the key difference was that Petty sang so you could understand him. Dylan almost seemed to go out of his way to be incomprehensible.) I didn't see him in concert again for more than twenty years, by which time the band was (incredibly) past thirty. And while the show never felt like some tired, "We're in it for the money here's a bunch of oldies for ya" thing (the band was promoting a new album at the time and played four songs from it during the set), you knew every song. And they were all good.

After forty years, Petty was apparently planning to call it quits on the major touring and was looking forward to spending more time with the family and doing...well, whatever it is rock stars do when they 'retire'. This usually involves a quiet period followed by an unexpected album and tour. Sadly, we'll never get to see that. Thanks for the memories and music (and those goofy appearances on It's Garry Shandling's Show).



In Other News...

Yes, I'm going to get political. The Trump administration continues using "religious freedom" as cover for its assault  on "others." Last week saw the announcement of new rules allowing employers to not offer contraceptives/birth control as part of health insurance based on religious or moral objections. Never mind that this impacts some 55 million women, and will likely result in a huge uptick in unplanned pregnancies and abortions (at least until the GOP finds a way to overturn Roe v. Wade and brings us one step closer to the Christian Sharia they seem to crave). Meanwhile, last week the Department of Justice has taken the position that civil rights laws don't apply to transgender people from discrimination at work.Now, this would be fine if  the DOJ's position was that Congress should take action to extend that protection, but what's the likelihood of that? And what's the likelihood that this Congress would do such a thing? Yeah, that's what I thought.

And, still sticking with politics--in the wake of the horror in Las Vegas this week, I have come up with a way to actually get something done on gun control: convince Trump that the second amendment was written by Obama. You'd see an instantaneous shift in the meaning of "Repeal and Replace."

Happier News...

Louie DeBrusk was a high energy, low-skill player in the NHL whose best season saw him score eight goals for the Edmonton Oilers in 1992-93. What endeared him to fans wasn't the 24 goals he scored in 401 games, it was his willingness to fight. DeBrusk racked up 1161 penalty minutes in his career, fighting 214 times.

Jake DeBrusk is Louie's son. He is not his father. A highly skilled player taken in the first round of the 2015 draft, Jake made his NHL debut with Boston on Thursday night, and provides a feel-good moment in a week that desperately needed feel-good moments (stick with the video):


A priceless moment.

One last bit of hockey news for my Australian reader(s): On Saturday night, Nathan Walker became the first Australian to play in the National Hockey League--and soon thereafter he became the first Australian to score a goal in the National Hockey League! Congratulations to Nathan! [EDIT] I meant to include this, but forgot: the Australian Ambassador to the United States is...Joe Hockey. No kidding!

That's all I got. Let's hope this is a better week. How are you all?

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Reading List, 2017 (Part III)

Amazing that we're into October already, isn't it? Here's the list of books read and completed between July and now--have you read any of them?

The Good Life (2006), Jay McInerney. Unintentional re-read. I did not like it nearly as much as I thought, and I can't remember what I thought of it the first time.

The Returned (2013), Jason Mott. A TV show was based on this, but apparently not the one I watched, which was French and based on a movie that had no relation to this except the title and the broad concept. It seems there's a bunch of films/TV shows/movies called "The Returned" that all have dead people coming back, not in a Walking Dead kind of way. I really liked this one.

Cancer Ward (1969 edition), Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The toughest part of reading Russian writers? The patronymic! Thus, everyone is Oleg Filimonovich and Pavel Nikolayevich and Ludmila Afanasyevna. Good book, though.

Into the Water (2017), Paula Hawkins. Strong follow-up from the author of The Girl on the Train.

Dream Hoarders (2017), Richard Reeves. Non-fiction work looking at the growing separation between the top 20% of Americans and the rest of us.

The Wild Palms (1939), William Faulkner. I reached the end and said, "WTF???"

Amagansett (2004), Mark Mills. Murder in the Hamptons, post-WWII. Ultimately disappointing.

The Winter People (2014), Jennifer McMahon. Promising start that kind of fell apart in the last third.

The Shock of the Fall (2013), Nathan Filer. Schizophrenia makes for unsettling but effective narrator.

There it is. Nine books read, one a re-read. I note that, aside from Cancer Ward, which was a monster, most of these books were pretty thin in terms of page count.

In other news

... I had a good weekend of working on the RiP (huzzah! This revision has been difficult)

...On Wednesday last week, our high temperature was 85. On Thursday, it was 65. Fall has arrived (though we've effectively had no rain for three solid weeks now).

...Hockey season starts this week, yay!

...Though the Bruins could be a disaster this year. Boo!

Finally, the song of the week. Neil Young's After the Gold Rush. What have you been reading lately?

 

Monday, September 25, 2017

Goldenrod and cross-promotion

I'm going soft today.

I'm been working up to something bigger,something more outraged, as the result of yet another maddening meme I saw on Facebook this weekend, but I'm not quite ready to go there and I don't want to start my week off with aggravation. Instead, we'll go with something a little more "feel good."

Locust borer on goldenrod
As you may or may not know, I write a monthly column for a local newspaper. It (the paper) publishes once a week; my column once a month. While I enjoy the work, it often causes me stress, as I regularly find myself scrambling to beat deadline. And, much as I do with this blog, I will frequently spend several days banging my head against the wall on a column, only to change topics at the last possible minute. This month's column was one of those. After struggling for the better part of a week with...well, I don't even remember what I was trying to write about now...I switched gears at the last minute and wrote about my favorite fall wildflower, goldenrod. You can read that here. (Quick note: local papers tend not to do much editing, except for the headlines. All errors, grammar mangling, and leaps of logic are my responsibility)

In the week or so since this column was published, I've had several people tell me they loved it. Four of them were people I know (though I did not walk up to them and say, "Did you read my column, huh, huh? What'd ya think?" These were unsolicited comments.); one of them was a random lady in the bank who must have recognized me from the picture that goes with the column. Seems I am not the only person who appreciates goldenrod. And, I have to admit, it's nice to hear these kinds of comments. The ego needs boosting once in a while.

I mention this not to toot my own horn, because I hate tooting my own horn, but because it's important to know that, even in this digital age, people still do read things like newspapers. And they listen to the radio. When my organization has a big event coming up, we make a point of going to the local radio station and going on air for a few minutes. The number of people who call or register for programs as a result is impressing. In fact, two days after the goldenrod column ran, I was representing the organization at a local timbersports event and was interviewed live on air. Literally five minutes, someone looked at me and said, "Didn't I just hear you on the radio?"

Maybe it's a function of where I live--a predominantly rural, media-starved county with spotty cell/wifi and cable service that still doesn't reach all areas. The point, however, is that if you are an author (or any kind of  business person), you shouldn't be sitting around waiting around for Terry Gross or The New York Times to call you. Start local. There are people listening, and reading.

 (Photo by me. The locust borer is a harmless beetle (harmless unless you are a black locust tree, that is; then it could be a problem) commonly found feeding on goldenrod in fall)


Monday, September 18, 2017

An Interview with Nick Wilford

Good morning, all. Today is an auspicious day. Not only is it my wedding anniversary (yay!), it's also the launch day for Nick Wilford's newest novel, Black & White. Nick has been a long-time friend of the blog, and his comments are always welcome. I'm pleased to have Nick here today to answer a few questions. Welcome, Nick!

Hi, Jeff! Thanks for offering to interview me on the release day of my book. It’s great to be here.

First, let's have the Nick Wilford biography as it will appear on Black & White.

"Nick Wilford is a writer and stay-at-home dad. Once a journalist, he now makes use of those early morning times when the house is quiet to explore the realms of fiction, with a little freelance editing and formatting thrown in. When not working he can usually be found spending time with his family or cleaning something. He is the author of A Change of Mind and Other Stories, a collection featuring a novella and five short stories, four of which were previously published in Writer’s Muse magazine. Nick is also the editor of Overcoming Adversity: An Anthology for Andrew."

Okay, now tell me something about you that doesn’t appear as part of your official biography.

Well, I really don’t do much in my day-to-day life that doesn't appear in that biography, but I once went to a party dressed as a woman in a youth hostel in a far-flung part of New Zealand. It was de rigueur though – all the men were required to do the same, while the women were asked to fashion an outfit out of bin liners. Now that I recall, the owner was a bit odd...

Tell us a little about Black & White and how you came to write it. Was there a particular moment of inspiration or was it a series that came together over time (or something else entirely)?


I never planned to write a series, I actually started writing the draft of Book 1 as part of NaNo 2012 (so it’s been a long time coming together!) It’s actually quite hard to recall that initial spark of inspiration, but it probably came from being a househusband and taking care of the cleaning at home (which is managed quite haphazardly in any case). I was thinking how much more time I would have if the cleaning took care of itself, or if there was no dirt at all. But dirt is probably quite necessary. I think the series shows that cleanliness isn’t next to godliness – it takes more than that to make a perfect society. And once I’d finished the initial story there were many things that had to be addressed, so the series grew from there.

I think in the best utopia/dystopias, while the societies are distinctly different from our own, they also reflect current society and culture. In what ways does the society of Whitopolis reflect our own world?

In probably quite scary ways, and I think some of the issues addressed may be becoming more timely by the day. There’s the insular attitude of Trump and his supporters, the mistrust of outsiders. In my story, the government has created a fictitious idea of the outside world to cover up its crimes. It’s taken to extremes, but if things carry on like this, I don’t know...

It certainly seems more plausible by the day. Some authors very deliberately choose names for their characters, either as a way to pay homage to certain people, or as a symbol of what that character represents. Is there particular significance to the names of your characters (Wellebury Noon, Ezmerelda Dontible, others)?

There is no major significance, I just wanted names that sounded intriguing and memorable. I mention him a lot, but Terry Pratchett was great at making up outlandish names that seemed to suit the particular character perfectly. Esmerelda is the first name of one of my favourite characters of his, Granny Weatherwax (a witch), so there is a nod there, I suppose.

Stephen King has suggested that it’s not until we go back and re-read our first draft that we discover what our story is really about. Did you have a strong vision for what Black & White was about from the beginning, or did it change? Did you discover anything about the story at any point in writing that made you have to rewrite or rethink or substantially edit?

Well, I started writing the first book during NaNo 2012, as I mentioned – nearly five years ago, so it’s becoming a little bit lost in the mists of time! But overall, I did have a pretty good idea of the basic premise, although many of the details came as I was writing. I didn’t know about the various predicaments the characters get into, so had to deal with those as I came up. The substantial rewrites actually came in with books 2 and 3, but I’m keeping those under wraps at this point!
 
I’m always curious about how other writers write. Do you have a set schedule for writing? A routine? Any particular writing idiosyncracies or superstitions or rituals you have to follow? AND, of course, are you a plotter or a wingman?

Yes, I do have a schedule that I try to stick to. I’m a dawn writer, or pre-dawn really, getting up at 4am – or 4.30 if I fancy a lie-in! It’s quite a magical time, with peace reigning all around, and once I get going, I can normally get into the zone. I work at home, but currently have set hours starting at 6am, so I like to get my writing done first. No particular rituals, but I do check social media first (five minutes max) and will invariably be found with a cup of tea to hand. I'm a wingman, for the most part, although I usually have a basic outline for at least the beginning of the story. It’s fun seeing where events take me.

Black & White is part one of a planned trilogy. When you started out, did you know it would be a trilogy? How much has the story changed since you started it? What are the challenges of writing when you’re somewhat restricted by what you’ve already written?

I didn’t know it would be a trilogy to start, but as I was getting to the end of the story it became clear there were many more questions to be answered than could be dealt with in a single book. It’s hard to say how the story’s changed since I started, because it became clear in the process of writing... but I always had the sense of an underdog taking on a big machine, and I guess that’s always been there. For the last part of your question, yeah, that can be tricky – especially for an imagined society with all these specific quirks and traits. I’ve taken to keeping a file with details of various things, including simply keeping track of the various names. Not everything stays the same, however, so there is still invention going on in books 2 and 3.

Q. When does Black & White come out? Where can we find it?

 It’s out today – huzzah! And can be found at all the usual locations:
Add on Goodreads

Thanks for dropping in, Nick. Enjoy your launch day and best of luck!

Thanks, Jeff! This was a lot of fun.

Title: Black & White
Author: Nick Wilford
Genre: YA dystopian Series #: 1 of 3
Release date: 18th September 2017
Publisher: Superstar Peanut Publishing
Blurb:
What is the price paid for the creation of a perfect society?

In Whitopolis, a gleamingly white city of the future where illness has been eradicated, shock waves run through the populace when a bedraggled, dirt-stricken boy materialises in the main street. Led by government propaganda, most citizens shun him as a demon, except for Wellesbury Noon – a high school student the same age as the boy.

Upon befriending the boy, Wellesbury feels a connection that he can’t explain – as well as discovering that his new friend comes from a land that is stricken by disease and only has two weeks to live. Why do he and a girl named Ezmerelda Dontible appear to be the only ones who want to help?

As they dig deeper, everything they know is turned on its head – and a race to save one boy becomes a struggle to redeem humanity.
Giveaway:
Enter the giveaway for a chance to win a copy of my collection A Change of Mind and Other Stories or a $10 giftcard! a Rafflecopter giveaway

Anyone have any questions for Nick? 
  

Monday, September 4, 2017

Swapped!

Some time in the middle of last week, while tooling around the Internet, I came across an interesting tidbit. Lord of the Flies was getting a remake.

William Golding's classic 1954 novel about schoolboys marooned on a Pacific island had been adapted for the screen three times, most recently in 1990, so I suppose it was due, and with society seemingly in a death spiral, maybe it even seems timely. But here's the new wrinkle: this time, it will have an all female cast.

Hollywood has gotten fully on board with gender-swapping. In addition to last year's Lady Ghostbusters and the aforementioned Lady Lord of the Flies, we're also slated to see Lady Ocean's Eleven (i.e., Ocean's Eight), Lady Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Nasty Women), and Lady Splash--yes, Splash. All these films have two things in common: they are remakes or based on previous films, and they are getting the gender-swap treatment.


But what will the girls wear?
Hollywood should be commended for finally realizing that women, who make up slightly more than half the population and have considerable economic power, might actually like to see themselves with leading roles in films that aren't just romantic comedies. Even after the box office disaster that was Ghostbusters, women are getting more opportunities to carry films. As Kelly Konda noted, "Progress for women in Hollywood apparently means being allowed to fail financially."  Of course, Wonder Woman's status as smash hit should help even more.

So, it's nice to see women getting more starring vehicles. The problem, though, is that we're apparently seeing remake upon remake upon remake (and in the case of Lord of the Flies, said remake is being written by two men). In a post last week on Writer Unboxed, Jo Eberhardt wondered why we can't see more original stories with women. Says Eberhardt: "Imagine, if you will, a world in which movie executives actually think female protagonists can be authentic characters in their own right, and not merely gender-swapped versions of popular male characters." Eberhardt suggests that, rather than a remake, Ghostbusters should have conceived of as a sequel. "...it's thirty years later, and the ghosts are back. New York needs a new team of paranormal investigators. Somebody call Melissa McCarthy." What fun! And if the film had been called Ghostbusters III, it might have avoided some of the "They're killing my childhood" hand-wringing.

Gender-swapping is a tricky business. I have done it twice now, both times after discussion with Agent Carrie. One of the projects was very early, say a dozen pages and a broad concept; the other was further along, though still in extremely rough form. What I found was that gender-swapping was no simple business. It wasn't just a matter of changing names and pronouns, and maybe throwing in a reference to a skirt or bra. Changing the character from a man to a woman changed everything about that character, which in turn resulted in far-reaching changes in the story. Whether I did it well or not remains to be seen, though none of the rejections on the RiP said anything bad about my female point of view characters.

I'm hoping the two men working on Lord of the Flies will not sink to lazy writing and stereotypes, that they will not merely change names (Ralph to Renata, Jack to Jackie, Piggy to Miss Piggy), pronouns, and costumes--and on that front, let's hope they also choose not to overly-sexualize with palm frond bikinis; these are supposed to be pre-adolescent kids here. Some have gone so far to suggest that a planeload of girls crash-landing on a Pacific island would never turn into Lord of the Flies, that they would find a way to cooperate and live peacefully and build a utopia. I don't buy that. In any society, there's going to be some degree of inequality, and where there's inequality, there's strife. The question is, how is it handled? With rocks and clubs and sticks sharpened at both ends, or some other way? A gender-swapped Lord of the Flies presents us with some interesting questions. Let's hope, if the film gets made, we see those questions explored.

What do you think about the Lord of the Flies remake? Have you ever gender-swapped your characters? How did that work out?

 UPDATE: Not related to this post, exactly, but maybe of interest to some of you: Agent Carrie is looking for entries in her monthly Query Critique. Check here for how to enter! Good luck!