Archive for November, 2012

The Amazon Trail


Happy Dance

by Lee Lynch


Okay, so there are a few who stare mutely at my Bo Obama button, mouths open, like they still can’t believe they lost to us commie hippie queer vile and disgusting President Obama-supporters, but that’s what watching FOX TV can do to people. The station is a teleprompter for viewers, scrolling non-stop scripts detailing what to think, say and do in the voting booths.


The rest of us appear to be doing happy dances.  Today a white clerk at Publix, looking at the Bo button, said, “So you’re happy about how the election went?” A little wary, I answered, “Yes, I am.” Then I asked, “Are you?”  “Oh, yes,” she replied, smiling, “I am!”


Yesterday, another compete stranger, grinning madly, commented, “We did it!” I said, “Yes, we did.” She kind of quietly sang, “It’s about time.”  Our eyes held and I echoed, “Yes, we can.”


Before the election, people weren’t as articulate. “I like your button,” was something I heard a lot.  They were worried. So was I.  My sweetheart and I live in a conservative stronghold. There were roads on which I could not bear drive because the plethora of Romney/Ryan signs were too disheartening. One local candidate identified herself in red, white and blue as a conservative Republican.  Sprinkled among the vote-for-me signs were big, loud, black on white warnings: “Fire Obama.”


It wasn’t about the man, we all knew that. This confrontational campaigning was about fear.  Racism, many of us acknowledged to one another. That was one word not used on the campaign trails. But you could hear it behind the name-calling: commies, homosexuals, and that most derogatory of words, women.


Yeah, well, that backfired. More women than ever are running this country now and more people could give a fig about gays marrying. The racism, though, you can’t make much headway against that. Millions of Americans see our President as a precedent they want to discourage. You could see terror shaking the forests of placards, you could hear prayers begging the heavens to keep public offices white.


I saw one Obama sign during all those weeks of campaigning. Republican-voting people slapped R/R bumper stickers on their cars, next to “My Child Is a Terrific Kid!” and stick figure families depicting the drivers’ procreational rates of success. Obama stickers, not so much. The revolution is pretty quiet around here.


Here being Florida, where lines of voters stretched around the block in some towns. Where three days after the election, votes are still being tabulated. Where so many voting sites had problems, hanging chads became ancient history. Where wildly divisive Representative Allen West is suing somebody, anybody, everybody because he lost to a 29 year-old Democrat who believes in unifying.


During the last two weeks before the election, a retirement-aged white guy set up shop on a strip of grass along a local highway here in the land of a-church-on-every-corner. He planted his Republican placard forest and sat in a lawn chair next to a flashy classic Corvette, held an American flag, and waved to drivers for hours.  Surprisingly few horns honked in support as they sped by. There was a whiff of desperation about his lone electioneering. I saw it again on the grim face of a woman in a Romney t-shirt, as if the world as she knew it would end if her candidate lost.


She was right to be grim, just as the flag waver was right to be desperate. An NPR commentator said that the pattern of votes cast in this state demonstrates that people are actually using reason. The long lines are at least partly due to the length of Florida’s ballot, pages of it. Floridians voted down almost all proposed amendments to the constitution and the three that passed evidenced a compassion for the low income elderly, first responders, veterans and military widows.


So thank you to the friend who gave me the Bo button. Thank you to my sweetheart who writes:


President Obama doesn’t represent the end of all that is good – he represents the end of all that is bad. His isn’t the party of free handouts, or taxing the rich into poverty, or stamping out the right to observe your religion.


His party is about YES:  YES we will get Americans back on their feet; YES we will enable industry to create jobs for Americans; YES we will help people to be tax-paying Americans; YES we will foster tolerance, not hate; YES we will not fight a war that only enriches the pockets of our supporters. Yes we can and yes we will.


I’d like to live in a bluer state, but while here, I’m doing happy dances with everyone who acknowledges my Bo button.

Copyright Lee Lynch 2012

Giving Thanks

By Robin Summers


I’m a big fan of Thanksgiving. Always have been. What’s not to love? Turkey, pumpkin pie, your entire family crowded in around the too-small dining room table, smashing elbows every few minutes, people talking and laughing between mouthfuls, and ultimately the obligatory food coma that overcomes everyone as we crash out in the living room to watch whatever football game happens to be on. In my family, we have Bears, Lions, and Packers fans, so if any of those three teams is playing, it’s an extra-special Thanksgiving Day game.


This year, however, will be different than any Thanksgiving I have ever known.


It was one year ago this week that the world as I knew it began to change. My dad, my rock, my hero, was being taken by ambulance to the hospital. He hadn’t felt good for a while, and it had only gotten worse in the preceding few weeks. Over the course of Thanksgiving week, the ground beneath us shifted once, then again, as one bad diagnosis was followed by another, even more unthinkable one.


Yes, Mr. Summers, you need open heart surgery. But sorry, Mr. Summers, you also have leukemia.


I will never know exactly what ran through my dad’s mind at hearing that. But I do know how he responded, and how he kept responding over the next six months: with courage, humor, and a grace no one had any right to even think possible. He had his down days, to be sure, but they never stayed. “Whatever it takes,” he would say, and when he couldn’t, we would say it for him. Seven weeks in the hospital? Whatever it takes. Endless days of chemo and being poked and prodded and fed on a schedule and never getting a moment’s peace? Whatever it takes. Being essentially poisoned so you can be strong enough to withstand open-heart surgery? Whatever it takes.


Dad was still saying whatever it takes right up until the last few weeks of his life, before the mini-strokes caused by the strain on his heart from the chemo and surgery devastated his mind. Before the previously undiagnosed lung cancer that had spread to his spine devastated his body.


Yes, Mr. Summers, your leukemia is in remission. But sorry, Mr. Summers, you only have 3-6 months to live.


They gave him 3-6 months. He lasted a little more than two weeks.


So this Thanksgiving, one year after things began to go so wrong, I find myself meeting the holiday with mixed emotions. I still love Thanksgiving, but I hate that my dad won’t be here. But when the sadness creeps in, and the anger, I can’t help but think, what would Dad want me to do?


I can see him at the head of our dinner table, his goofy smile as he made his mountain of mashed potatoes with the pool of gravy in the center, the joy on his face looking out over our family – his family – with their clanking dishes and talking over one another at an ever-increasing volume. I see him there, in my mind, and I know he would want me to enjoy it, to give thanks for what we still have, even without him.


So I am thankful for Thanksgiving, for my family, for being together. I am thankful for the impromptu trip out to Illinois less than two months before Dad’s initial diagnosis, and for the impossibly perfect weekend we all spent together. I am thankful for an understanding boss and co-workers and Board of Directors, who made it possible for me to spend so much time at home with my family while Dad was sick. And I am deeply thankful for the time itself, to have been able to be there in the hospital, with Dad, with my family, sharing in the laughter and heartbreak and hope and terrible pain.


So often the true meaning of Thanksgiving – giving thanks for all our blessings, even the ones we can’t see as blessings at the time – is lost amidst the food and the football and the Black Friday deals. But this year, perhaps for the first time, I am determined to give thanks for each and every moment: past, present, and future. I hope you will do the same.

“Twilight’s Gay Little Brother” OR “Read My Book During the Trailers”


Jeremy Jordan King

My debut novel, In Stone, hit shelves this week. Good timing, as the last installment of the Twilight Saga arrives in theaters about three minutes later. It’s convenient because I imagine the minds of young adults (and some not so young adults) will be on all things supernatural. Any time “vampire” is said or read, brains fire with excitement because fans all over the world are desperate to learn what happens to Edward and company. Well, they probably already know. They just want to see it play out. I assume every person seeing that movie has read the book approximately seventy-seven times. Anyway, I hope this horror-fantasy mania will work in my favor because, in some respects, In Stone exists because of it.

When others learn that I have written a young adult fantasy novel, I can pretty much count down the seconds until I am either compared to Stephenie Meyer or asked for my feelings on her work. I’ve become decent at giving a diplomatic answer by saying, “I think Ms. Meyer has done an incredible service to the genre and to teen reading in general.” Bravo, Jeremy. Bravo. Then I typically follow with something like, “If you like her books, you’ll love In Stone. It’s is kind of the gay answer to Twilight…but with gargoyles.”

Sometimes I beat myself up about comparing my work to a mega-series, but the similarities are there. Twilight, In Stone, and several gigantic handfuls of other books are totally cut from the same cloth¾ they’re about young people from this world getting mixed up in the exciting and dangerous world of the fantastic. This magical exposure typically results in impossible love affairs, wars between kinds, and/or death. What fun! Yes, I’m being super general, but what’s awesome about this genre is reading how individual authors take these themes or ideas and make them unique.

Some are set in the perpetually green and glistening forests of Washington…others take place in Spanish Harlem.

A certain protagonist weds a vampire with a cool car…another can’t decide if he should trust a murderous stone monster.

One saga fills its supporting roles with Native American werewolves and Italian, scarlet-eyed child-demons…mine features a 106 year old chorus girl-turned-witch and a marble version of Cleopatra (totally normal).

Oh, and the famous one features a straight romance…this guy’s has a gay love affair.

Yeah. That’s the big difference. But readers are used to this, right? Books (and TV shows and films) have been ripping off the gay experience for quite a while. Or at least being all kinds of metaphorical with it. Edward fears touching Bella for fear of passing on a terrible fate…Sookie Stackhouse’s vampire friends fight for equal rights…Stefan has trouble coming out to Elena as a bloodsucker…Louis and Lestat talk about lusting for a kill like some buddies of mine talk about putting dees in bees. I mean, seriously. I can’t be the only one who sees these parallels. Or maybe I’m just reading everything through a giant queer lens.

When I decided to write a YA fantasy, I looked at the titles I enjoy and thought about gay teens and twenty-something reading them through that same pair of glasses. They get to see metaphors for their experiences in their favorite books, but never their true selves on the page. I wanted to write a novel that was familiar to them, yet totally different. Yes, In Stone has a good, old-fashioned love triangle…well, maybe more of a love quadrilateral. Sure, there are consequences for mortals playing with magic. And there may or may not be a vampire character arriving on the scene halfway trough the book. But unlike the fantasy creatures with stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, my characters are gee-aye-why: GAY. They’re out and proud and I’m very proud of my grotesque faerie tale.

I could go on, but I have to go online and buy advanced tickets to see Twilight today. If I don’t, it’s totally going to sell out.

I’ve never been more serious in my life. It will.


In Praise of Readers

Elan Barnehama

Since you visit these blog pages, I’d be willing to bet the house that you consciously and purposefully devote some of your time and energy and imagination and focus to reading books.  I’ll double down and venture that many of those books are fiction.  As a reader myself, I applaud your passion for the make believe.  As a novelist, I thank you for being a reader.  It’s a cool cool thing you do.  And, should I be fortunate to have you as a reader of my novel Finding Bluefield , well then, cooler still.  And humbly appreciated.

The average stay on a web page is about a minute; most stays are far shorter.  So, if you’re still reading this, it means you are above average.  But I already knew that about you.  Because you read fiction.  That makes you an expert at sustaining attention and thought for long periods of time.  In case you think I’m about to mock the web and our distracted wired life, I’m not.  I’m a fan of the web, even if it’s a tad needy.  It’s good for books and good for readers of books.  It brought us together; why would I berate it.

Recently, researchers using fMRI’s  (functional magnetic resonance imaging), scanned the brains while their subjects read fiction.  Their data suggests that close reading of literature requires and improves the function of a complex and coordinated set of brain activities. Doesn’t this data support what we already knew?  What seemed obvious?  Reading literature is good for the brain.  Scientists create meaning from data.  Readers of fiction do that as well.

Humans are story-tellers by nature and by necessity. As soon as we’re born we are told stories and as soon as we can speak we start to tell stories to anyone who will listen.  In those early years, just about every story is a fiction.  We need to tell stories to place ourselves in the world.  We listen to stories to understand how others place themselves in the world.  We just plain and simple like stories.  They’re fun and they make us feel stuff.  All kinds of stuff.

There’s no limit to how we can tell a story.  And we tell them through song, film, fashion, painting, sculpture, weaving, architecture, cooking, and of especially writing. I’m biased, but I think that when we read a book, when we spend time with the written word, we are connected to one another.  When we read, we are never alone.

So, dear reader, I thank you for that connection and wish you many happy readings.

You can contact Elan at / @elanbarnehama

Editing an Editor

By Shelley Thrasher

As an experienced teacher and editor, I’ve spent years coaching others who are caught up in the creative process. However, as a new author, suddenly I feel like a college freshman again. Scary.

I do have help, though, and I love my editor!

She’s on my side, she wants me to do well, and she hates to tell me when my writing stinks—but she does it anyway. And after I suck my thumb for a while, I dig deeper and come up with something a lot better than what I originally wrote.

I don’t question or object to any of the major revisions she suggests. I have to admit that I love to research, which makes me attempt to include historical facts, characters, and events just because I think they’ll fascinate my readers as much as they intrigue me. Wrong. When my editor points out that they detract from my story, I reluctantly see her point and cut them, even though it hurts.

While growing up, I always hid my emotions, both from others and myself. So even now when my editor questions how my heroines feel, I do a double- take. I appreciate her encouraging me to explore the realm of emotions, though. I immediately dig in and try to empathize with my characters and express what’s going on inside them.

Or my editor will ask me to expand a scene, and I’ll gladly do it, again grateful for the opportunity and encouragement to explore a situation in more depth. Such major suggestions help make my story stronger.

Our most lengthy discussions usually concern small matters. For example, while writing my upcoming novel The Storm, I discovered that in England, Philip Morris targeted women as consumers for Marlboro cigarettes as early as 1847. Years later, the same company tried to interest American women in Marlboros, using the slogan Mild as May. It fascinated me that the Marlboro Man I grew up hearing about was once a woman who smoked “sissy” cigarettes.

However, my editor checked the facts and spotted one I’d overlooked. The American campaign didn’t take place until 1924, several years after the 1918-1919 setting of my novel. After I tried to determine what kind of cigarettes one of my main characters, Jacqueline (Jaq), would choose instead of Marlboros, we finally decided to simply say that she smoked cigarettes. We did specify, however, that her husband smoked Lucky Strikes, since they and Camels became very popular brands among soldiers during World War I.

That’s a small example of the kind of collaboration that occurs behind the scenes during our editing process, and it requires a lot of back-and-forth time. Although most readers wouldn’t give such details a second thought, you never know when someone may Google trivia about Marlboros or Camels, or even be an expert in the history of cigarettes.

My editor and I also talk about punctuation minutiae such as ellipses and commas quite a bit, but I won’t bore you with those discussions.

Suffice it to say that she’s the greatest.

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