Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Women in Romance

I read a review of a new romance novel yesterday in which the reviewer made the comment that women never fare well in this particular best-selling author's books. Coincidentally, the same day I started reading my first book ever from another best-selling author and found the same thing.

The hero is very wealthy, as heroes who don't think highly of women often are, and he's very accustomed to getting his own way. Back in August, I blogged briefly about my dislike of alpha heroes, and this guy is really alpha. He determines to have sex with the heroine almost immediately after meeting her, threatens her job if she doesn't comply, orders her about like the lowliest of employees, harasses her, hires people to snoop into every aspect of her life, then lies to gain her sympathy so she'll spend time with him.

That's where I turned off the Kindle.

Set aside my dislike of domineering heroes. My complaint here is the heroine. At first the hero's persistence -- after she'd very clearly told him no a dozen times -- annoyed her, but before long, she was flattered. He was looking into her finances because he was a wealthy man and wanted to be sure that she had no designs on his money. He commanded her where to go and sent drivers to make sure she got there because he was so very interested in her and concerned that she arrive on time, safe and sound. He was interrogating her employer and friends because he was a wealthy man and wanted to know the character of the woman he was pursuing. (She called it pursuit; the law calls it stalking. Hey, it depends on your viewpoint, doesn't it?)

Flattered. By a stalker. Where was this woman's spine? Why did her brain malfunction every time he came around? What kind of heroine is she?

The worst kind. She was no more a heroine than he was a hero.

How many years have we been repeating to our sons and daughters and anyone else who will listen that No means no? Is it supposed to make a difference when the man refusing to accept no is handsome, has a great body and is richer than sin?

The facts that this particular book is a New York Times best-seller and that many other romance novels contain similar characters in similar situations suggest that for a good number of readers today, the answer is a resounding yes.

I know: it's fiction. Make-believe. Not real. But I find it disheartening that some writers and readers still, in some part of themselves, embrace the idea that domineering, controlling, stalking behavior is in any way romantic. Don't we need to relate to the characters to enjoy a book? Don't we live vicariously through our heroines, root for them, fall in love along with them? These two sent such huge shudders of revulsion down my spine that I couldn't make it through more than a few chapters.

No surprise, I would have done a few things differently if I'd been writing the book. First, the heroine would have threatened the man's dangly bits the second time she had to tell him no. If a third negative was required, she would have called 911, she likely would have fallen in love with the cop who answered the call, and the rich psycho jerk probably would have wound up dead or, at the least, unable to threaten other unwilling women.

That's what I call a happy ending.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Entertainment as Hobby

There's a common lie going around -- has been going around ever since the first time some moron figured out how to illegally copy a music cassette or CD and share it on the Internet with other morons who were too cheap to pay for what they wanted. The lie has been perpetuated by people who make a living allowing/helping others to steal copyrighted work and repeated by some people who just somehow, apparently don't know any better.

"Real musicians care about the music, not about the money."

That's a quote from some guy named Jack Gillespie in a comment on a piracy article last week on the the Huffington Post.

The morons' theory is exactly that: real entertainers -- musicians, actors, authors, etc. -- care only about their art. They create for the pure pleasure of creating. They want their music to be heard, their shows to be seen, their books to be read, for the sole pleasure of flexing their creative muscles and bringing pleasure to their audience.

In a word, bullshit.

There's no doubt that every creative person has a desire to share their creativity. A person very well might have a talent for some endeavor, but talent gets you nowhere without hard work and commitment. The creative person who doesn't put thousands of hours into studying and improving his/her craft doesn't exist. It's a passion, granted, but it's also work, hard work, just like becoming a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer.

But no one expects a doctor, an engineer or a lawyer to work for free, do they? Even the suggestion would be viewed as ludicrous.

So why do people expect authors, musicians, artists and poets to work free?

Yes, every author I know wants people to read their books. But no one (with the possibility of one writer I know) wants to give their books away for free. (And that one author wouldn't turn down payment. Believe me.)

Art in any of its forms is a need in the artist. They are driven to create.

But it's also a job. Those books don't write themselves; those instruments don't pay for themselves; those paints and canvasses don't magically appear in studios that build themselves. It's a job. Not only does it cost the artist to produce, but while s/he does it, s/he has to eat, pay utilities and rent and car payments and buy clothing.

If creative people are supposed to give away their products for free, why isn't the rest of the world giving us stuff for free, like houses, food, electricity, computers, medical care, education for our kids? We have to live. We have obligations. We need exactly the same things you work to obtain, and that's what we're doing. We're working. To make a living. To make -- God forbid! -- money from our art so that we can continue to produce it and not have to give it up in order to get a paying job to survive.

Saying that it's okay to steal our product because "real" artists do it solely for the art and not for the money is so incredibly stupid that I -- who earn my living with words -- cannot find the words to express it.

I don't know what Jack Gillespie and all the thieves who pirate music, books, movies, etc., do for a living, but it's a fair bet, for the ones who have a job, that they don't do it for free. They may love it, they may hate it, but they do it for one reason above all others: for the paycheck.

And so do we.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Taming Wild Dogs

From the moment we brought Olivia and Chance into the house, they acted as if they'd been born to such luxury as beds, air conditioning and ice water to drink. They bonded with our other dogs immediately, although Olivia eyed our alpha Jack measuringly every time he walked into the room. She showed no gratitude; the pleasures of being an indoor dog with a steady supply of food and water were hers by right.

Chance showed his gratitude by climbing on our laps every time we sat down and rubbing his face on ours. It was very hard to watch television, because even though he was a puppy, he was a large puppy mixed of three large breeds.

Because our yard isn't fenced, we took the dogs out on leashes to do their business. Getting a walk with lots to investigate and scent along with a potty break makes the house-breaking business easier.

On our first full day with Olivia, Bob took her out midday for a walk around the nearly-five-acre yard. It was August, a hot, lazy, still time in Oklahoma. The sun shines bright enough to make your eyes hurt. It steals the color from the sky. The clouds are too bored to even drift, and the buzzing of insects never stops.

They walked the yard, and Olivia checked out the apple trees, the post oaks, the maples, the crapes. She pounced on leaves and ducked under the low branches of a giant fir, and she paid special attention to the mole tunnels and gopher mounds. Underground in their cool burrows, the moles and gophers were undeterred by the day's exquisite heat.

After her potty break, they walked a little more, across an open part of the yard that was once pasture and still feels like it when you ride the lawn tractor across it. She took a step, just fine, then took another step and collapsed to the ground on her side.

Bob jiggled her leash. "Olivia, come on."

She lay utterly still. No flicker of her eyes, no twitch of her tail, no rise and fall of her ribcage as she breathed.


Still nothing.

He dropped to his knees in the parched grass, panicked now, calling her name in a louder tone, giving her a shake.

Nothing . . . except the slight sly opening of one eyelid, quickly slammed shut again, and the faint upturn of the corner of her mouth. She was trying very hard not to grin.

He sat back on his feet and, no concern now, said, "Get up, Livia. It's time to go in."

She jumped to her feet, looking around wide-eyed, tongue hanging out her mouth, and headed toward the house, pulling him along, as if to say, "Let's get inside. It's hot out here. What's the hold up?"

She who had scared every other animal on the hilltop had added her new father to the list. Thinking her heart might have stopped just about stopped his.

For the record, she did exactly the same thing the next day. He had exactly the same response.

She learned fast how much power she had.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Dogs Gone Wild

Once upon a time our neighbor's son decided he needed pets to keep him company. The old man had always had dogs, but the last one had died a few years before. So Son went to the animal shelter and picked two puppers off doggy death row: a charming yellow Lab/golden retriever/wire-hair mix and a beautiful, regal, ruling-the-world (even if she was on death row) pit bull.

Unfortunately, Son didn't ask Dad whether he wanted two puppies. (Dad didn't.) He just brought them out with a big bag of food, said, "Look what I got you," and hightailed it back to town.

Dad was slowing down. He was in his eighties, and instead of the mowing, gardening and other outdoor projects he'd always done, he'd taken to passing most of his time in a comfortable chair inside the house. He really didn't want puppies. He didn't even name them.

So boy Lab and girl pit ran wild around the hilltop. They came to our house every morning, looking pitiful and hungry, and we fed them. Then they went to our other neighbors' houses, we later learned, and chased their dogs away from their food and ate it, too. They might have come from different breeds, but boy Lab and girl pit were as tight as blood siblings could be. She led, and he followed, showering wiry yellow hair everywhere.
Chance, aka boy Lab
They got into the trash cans.

They dug in flower beds.

They chewed the wiring out of the neighbor's trailer.

They intimidated every dog on the hilltop.

They chewed the wiring out of the same neighbor's same trailer.

The neighbor complained, and Son decided Dad really meant it when he said he didn't want the dogs. They had to go.

I really, really wanted yellow Lab. He was the sweetest ball of fuzz you ever saw who only wanted food in his belly and someone nearby while he snoozed. I wanted him so much that I was willing to take the wild, regal, demanding pit to get him.

So Bob left a message for Son and got no response. Again. And again.

I left a message for Son and heard nothing back. Then, two days later, he showed up at our door with what was left of the bag of food and a container of cookies. "They're yours," he said, then left.

Notice he didn't have the puppers with him. They were running wild somewhere, getting into something, irritating someone. But we knew they would show up. After all, dinnertime was approaching, and they never missed dinner.

And that's how we wound up with Olivia and Chance.

{More next time.}

Monday, October 22, 2012

Dressing to Impress

We were at McDonald's with our grandson the other night, and while he played like a wild man in the playground, we sat on too-small, too-hard benches and people-watched. (A dozen kids, an enclosed space with a high ceiling that echoed . . . too noisy to carry on a conversation.)

A little car -- a Camaro, I think -- pulled into a parking space, and two teenage girls got out on the passenger side, both made up and dressed up for some Friday night fun. Two teenage boys got out of the driver's side and, a few steps behind the girls, strutted into the restaurant as if they were the coolest, toughest, hippest guys around. It would have been cute and maybe even a little impressive that they projected such confidence at such a tender age . . .

. . . if I hadn't just witnessed their struggles to get out of the car. Their belts were cinched below their butts, making anything resembling normal movement or grace impossible. And by the time they wiggled and grunted their way out, their underwear was poking out at odd angles in back. Boxers for both. Plaid for the skinny one. I'm pretty sure he gave himself a wedgie maneuvering out of the cramped backseat.

I've never been able to embrace sagging as a fashion statement. It just makes me snort out loud, and I have to fight my impulse to grab their undies or bump into them just to watch them flail to recover their balance.

I do miss the days when underwear was meant to be . . . well, worn under your outer garments.

But think of all the snickers I would have missed out on.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nutrition - More Than I Wanted to Know

Like so many other people these days, I'm trying to drop a few pounds. It's way easier today to track calories than it was back in the dark ages. I remember little pocket-sized calorie counters and trying in vain to figure out nutritional information on fast food and even most packaged food. Keeping a food diary was impossible -- they were always incomplete and I usually lost them. (No surprise there.)

But this is the Internet age. I have an account at WebMd where pretty much all I have to do is type in some info every day, and it does the calculations for me. When we want to go out to eat, I Google the restaurant. (Sorry, McAllister's, 990 calories for a fourth of a muffaletta and all that sodium . . . I might see you once a year in the future.) (On the other hand, I felt 900 calories was a fair trade for a Five Guys burger and a quarter cup of fries.)

One of the things I'm trying to watch is sodium intake. Holy cow, it's in everything. According to Olive Garden's website, one of their dishes has 6000 milligrams per serving. That's four times my recommended amount for the entire day in one meal. Even the unsalted butter I use has a little sodium in it. What's up with that?

Nutrition -- like investing -- is one subject I never wanted to know much about. I just want success at both. Now I'm actually learning what's in the food I eat and how much is too much . . . or not enough. I commented to my husband that I'd fallen short of the recommended range of carbs every one of the first four days. Ha. One little hamburger bun at McDonald's took care of that.

It's a challenge, eating well and being satisfied. So far so good . . . I hope I last in the long run.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Writing Male Characters

I took part in a conversation a while back about nailing the male voice when we're writing. Several people enthusiastically said, "Oh, you've got to read So-and-so's advice on writing real men. She's the best!" Or "You've got to read Someone-or-other's guidelines. No one writes real men like her!"

I read, and kept wondering, what am I missing? Do I live in another universe? Are we of different species? Because the men in my life don't talk like So-and-so's or Someone-or-other's. The primary distinction of So-and-so's male characters was that they grunted a lot and spoke in incomplete sentences. For Someone-or-other, they cussed. (I was going to say cursed, but there's cursing and there's cussing, and these guys cussed) and they jumped to a lot of conclusions. (A woman broke their hearts? All women were bad.)

The popularity of grunting, cussing heroes proves they have their place, but when did this become the gold standard? My father was a strong man -- a soldier, a protector, a provider -- and not once did I ever hear him swear or see him run roughshod over anyone else. He was kind to children and gentle with animals, and he loved his family dearly. He wasn't sappy about it, but everyone knew.

But based on the standards of the alpha hero, he's not a real man.

There's so much more to a real man than the way he verbalizes. Instead of focusing of narrowing our choices to only a few, let's write about all the real guys out there. There's too many good ones to limit ourselves to just a few.

Monday, October 15, 2012

These Passwords Are Killing Me!

I used to be naive about Internet passwords. I had two: one for financial pages like Amazon and the bank, one for everything else. After ten million people told me how careless that was, I finally started setting up different ones for just about every place.

And, naturally, I began forgetting them. I tried making them familiar but with a twist -- marylinandbob -- but I couldn't remember which part I had deliberately misspelled and how.

I tried connecting them to the site they were for -- deargodi'mfreezingtodeathherepleasemakeitsummeragainpleasepleasei'llneverwhineaboutheatagainifyoudo for the utility company. But I'd forget -- is it freezing for the gas company which provides our heat or sweltering for the electric company which provides our AC? Was I having a hot flash when I made up the password or trying to find feeling in my blue toes?

Then I began writing them down. On slips of paper. That were NEVER where I needed them. Yes, iTunes, that's why I've changed my password seventy-two times.

Finally a friend mentioned she used an address book to keep track of hers. Aha! The light bulb came on (and apparently I was safe with the electric company for another few weeks).

Do you know how hard it is to find simple little address books? Ugh.

I did buy a teensy little notebook, and now all my passwords are safely in one place. If I can just remember where I put it . . .

Friday, October 12, 2012

Adults Behaving Badly

I was on Facebook the other day when a man stated his opinion on a subject and a woman on his friends list immediately castigated him. "You are so stupid!! You're a moron if you believe this!! I can't believe how freaking idiotic this is!!"

It left me wishing for a cyber-smack button. If Facebook can have "like" buttons, surely they could add a little open palm ready for a smackdown.

People behave so badly on the Internet. Finger-pointing, name-calling, lying, manipulating, libeling . . . this has all become acceptable behavior online. I'm amazed at how many supposedly mature adults are incapable of conducting themselves with any degree of dignity and how rarely they show even a shred of respect to anyone they see in opposition to their own beliefs.

(I'm also amazed that they always need multiple exclamation points to make their lividity known, but that's just me.)

Growing up, I learned manners. My family, school, church and community valued politeness and courtesy. We understood that it was entirely possible that not everyone we met would share our beliefs on God, politics, war, government, Coke or Pepsi, and we understood that that was okay. It didn't mean we were right; it didn't mean we were wrong. It just meant we were different.

We rarely called people names. We didn't erupt in self-righteous flames every time someone dared to disagree. We didn't insist that those who didn't share our views weren't fit to exist in our narrow-minded worlds. We certainly didn't go to someone's home and scream insults at them, yet people today think nothing of going to an individual's blog, website or social media pages and doing just that.

You express an opinion at your own risk. Say anything at your own risk. I can't count the number of times friends have made very inocuous statements online, only to find themselves the target of some snarky, aggressive or enraged "friend" pouncing on them with all guns firing.

Manners, politeness and courtesy seem to be heading the way of the dinosaurs on the Internet.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Writing Kids

I don't tend to have a lot of kids in my books, though I've written my share over the years. I don't know if they just don't generally fit into my style, or if I've had too much personal experience to want to deal with them at work, too, or if I have doubts about making them real or sympathetic or authentic.

I find a lot of kids in books lack authenticity. They're props more than anything else: they come in when they're needed, then disappear again. When they disappear, man, are they gone! Not a peep, not a concern from Mom or Dad about doing their laundry, fixing their food, overseeing their homework, refereeing their fights, etc.

(I knew a woman who did this in real life. When she needed to impress people with her maternalness, she trotted out her adorably cute kids. The rest of the time, they pretty much ceased to exist in her world. Amazing.)

But authentically written kids can be a pain. I read for pleasure, not to observe some whiny brat having temper tantrums on the page. Yeah, real kids whine and have tantrums. No, it doesn't entertain me.

And so I find myself currently writing a whiny brat. She's got reasons for her behavior. Life has not been kind. But writing her character means treading a fine line for me. I want her to be realistic for the situation she's in and for people to understand and sympathize with her, but I don't want her so realistic that readers are saying, "Sheesh, get this kid off the page!"

Who would have thought that I can handle hundreds of adult characters with ease but just might be done in by a thirteen-year-old girl? :)

Monday, October 8, 2012


A friend and I got new computers about the same time. Within forty-eight hours, she'd transferred everything from her old computer -- files, programs, documents, music, photos -- to her new computer.

I'm still operating with a minimal amount of date on mine. My iTunes library is on four different computers (one at least six years old). I still have photos on an old Gateway laptop with a 3 1/2" floppy drive. I have years worth of emails copied into folders on my third -- or is fourth? -- last laptop.

Writing-wise, on this new computer I have the work-in-progress for Forever Romance, A Man To Hold On To, and the first Tuesday Night Margarita Club book, A Hero to Come Home To. I also have the work-in-progress for Harlequin -- Charlotte's story! -- and a manuscript I'm critiquing for a friend. That's it. None of the ten million words of other manuscripts, notes, research that reside on various other computers.

One day I might surprise everyone, me most of all, and get every single piece of data on the same computer at the same time. In the meantime, though . . . I like to live dangerously.

Friday, October 5, 2012

It's Fair Time

The Tulsa State Fair is in full swing. Will we go? Don't know. We talk about it every year, but usually it passes before we make it over there. The idea of seeing the exhibits and sampling the food is appealing. Getting there, traffic, parking, crowds -- not so much.

When we were kids, going to the fair was a Big Deal. School let out one day, and my mom and various of her sisters would gather their kids and go for the day. We always packed a lunch -- just paying the admission and riding the rides was a splurge. We didn't waste any money on buying food unless it was cotton candy. Back then the fair was the only place we ever got cotton candy.

Our mothers would mostly turn us loose with instructions to meet at certain times under the KELI building. It was a spaceship-like structure that housed a radio station upstairs and was the easiest place to recognize on the grounds. Only the little kids had to stay with the moms -- I remember my aunt Lois looping a length of clothesline around her youngest to keep him nearby. People looked at her funny then. Who knew that in twenty years parents would be paying bucks for classier-looking kid leashes?

Bell's Amusement Park used to be right next to the Tulsa Fairgrounds, and they had the best rides. That, the baby animal barn and the quilts were the reasons I went to the fair as an adult. I was so disappointed the first time Bob and I went together because they wouldn't let me on Zingo, the big roller coaster. (I was five or six months pregnant.)

Bell's is gone now, Zingo along with it, and we haven't been to the fair since they lost their lease. Maybe this year instead of just talking about it, we'll actually go. After all, we haven't even had fried Snickers yet, and they've already moved on to fried watermelon, chocolate-dipped corndogs, Krispy Kreme cheeseburgers and fried bubble gum.

Hm, maybe if we go, we should pack a lunch. Wouldn't want to drop dead on the midway.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Don't-Really-Care-If-I-See TV

This fall season's shows have been a disappointment.

* I don't care that Steve's mother is still alive on Hawaii 5-0.

* Since NCIS hinted that one of its regulars would die, I really wanted one of them to die. Preferably Tony. Or Abby. Or, hell, at this point, even Gibbs. I hate when a show suggests they're going to kill off a character, then doesn't do it, or it's someone so minor you can't remember who they are.

* What happens in Vegas should stay in Vegas. I love Dennis Quaid -- he's earned passes for a bunch of bad roles by playing such a good Remy McSwain in The Big Easy -- but this show was amazingly boring.

* Criminal Minds. The new regular reminds me of a female Gideon from the first couple seasons -- not in a good way. The case wasn't interesting, and the interactions between the regulars mostly seemed off. After fifteen minutes, I was officially watching it only for Spencer and Rossi. I do love Spencer and Rossi.

* Watching Last Resort again would be my retired-Navy-hubby's, um, pardon the pun, last resort. I didn't see the first episode. He did. He (and the TV we share) won't be tuned in again.

* Blue Bloods. I didn't get to see all of the premiere and didn't care. I like the Reagan boys, can't stand the Reagan girls (except for Danny's wife), but imo, the strength of the show depends on the writers. Some episodes they really nail. Others . . . well, like I said, I like the Reagan boys.

But not all is a letdown. Sunday night was the first new episode of Once Upon a Time, and they nailed it. They started off with a great recap of the entire first season -- not just an "on the last episode ..." but a full hour hitting the highlights, both past and present, for all the major characters. I've never missed an episode (not even the second time around), but it was still nice to have my memory jogged. I still envy Snow White the potion she got from Rumplestiltskin that made her forget Prince Charming's existence, but hey, that's one out of a dozen and a half great characters. Everyone else is fun and interesting, and even Charming is showing a bit of potential. (Though I think it's telling that if you drop one letter of his name, you wind up with toilet paper. Hmm.)

Anything you've seen and liked or hated or don't ever need to see again?

Monday, October 1, 2012

I Love Amy Farrah Fowler

If you've been around me long, you know I'm a big Big Bang Theory fan. Not only is it the funniest show on television in a long time, it's taught me more about physics than all my years in school. (Okay, in defense of my schools, I avoided science classes like the plague. I was forced to take an intro biology class in college. I dropped out mid-semester to avoid failing, took it again, hired a tutor and squeaked out a passing grade -- barely.) Still, not only has TBBT taught me a few things, it's made me actually go out and look for physics stuff to read.

It took me a while to warm up to the character of Amy Farrah Fowler, played by Mayim Bialik, but she's a hoot. That deadpan expression, the way her character interacts with the others, the lack of emotion most of the time . . . she's just so funny.

And these days we need all the laughter we can get, right?