Monthly Archives: July 2011

Cinderella’s Seashells: A Novel

Years ago, my eldest daughters admitted they won’t read books with “A Novel” on the cover. A Novel is a catchphrase meaning this is a boring, yet very meaningful book. I laughed. I knew exactly what they meant. In the adult world, A Novel generally indicates pretentiousness. For a while, it meant that at least one woman in the novel would be diagnosed with breast cancer, when I would have much preferred a lobotomy–of the author. The publishers might just as well have tied pink ribbons around every copy. The pink ribbons would be more meaningful, since every new work of fiction is technically a novel. But for unknown reasons, very meaningful books have to remind their readers of what they are. And so they cry, “We are novels!!”

Last weekend, I discovered what my daughters really meant by the repeated insistence of A Novel(s) in the YA/MG market. We had just finished watching a B-grade film in which a California teen and her family move to the Oregon coast, and we were still groaning over its awfulness, when my eldest, Eva, piped up and said, “That was A Novel.”

I disagreed with her. “No,” I said, “that was a formulaic teenage romance plot. A Novel(s) are pretentious literary wannabes.”

“Mom, you have no idea,” Eva said. Apparently, A Novel indicates a different beast altogether in the YA market. The premise is this: teenage girl is forced to move to a small town on the coast with her parents, who don’t get along. The teenage girl thinks she’s going to have the worst summer of her life until she meets some Bieberish boy and falls in love and the summer turns into the best EVER. If there are any hints of adventure, such as finding buried treasure, they never actually pan out, the point being that boys are the best adventure a girl will ever have. In other words, stop looking for fun and come sit on the sand with some totally hot guy’s arm around your shoulders.

So much for the pretense of meaning. No wonder my teenage daughters hate A Novel(s). And seriously, if you’re a YA/MG writer, don’t follow this plot. Please, I beg you, allow your teenage heroines to find buried treasure instead of boys. Maybe you should move them to some nowhere town in the middle of the Southwest, too. That way they can find real Spanish treasure. Oh, and I would also avoid the parental problem. Maybe the girl should be an orphan adopted by her grandmother, who has recently been diagnosed with . . . breast cancer. Pink ribbon anyone?

p.s. My daughters also avoid reading books that win the Newberry Honor. That is, according to them, a sure sign the book will suck. Hey, their words, not mine. I remember doing the same as a child, though–avoiding the books with the shiny gold or silver medal stickers.

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Thanks to Maria!

I’ve been drowning in a desert world painted burnt-umber from the drought. I’ve been drowning in a world without water, in which our well gave up its ghost and cried nevermore! I’ve been drowning in a world without hope.

One hot day last week, I set aside my distress and lunched with a friend I made in college (which actually turned out to be two friends by the end), and laughing with these people filled me with hope. And then I latched onto an idea. My dear friend is currently writing her PhD thesis on Mary Wollstencraft. This might have filled me with utter frustration, due to my longing for grad school. But, instead, I decided that a scholar doesn’t have to go to school, where there happen to be many like-minded people (sob, sob). A scholar can conduct research on her own, and write her own thesis for her own strange purposes that nobody will understand but herself. So I’ve decided to write something supremely meaningful and important on the life of James Boswell.

Suddenly, I have a reason for living. Yes, I know, that sounds dramatic. For me, however, it’s true. And knowing that my Wollstencraft friend (I’ll call her Maria Wollstencraft because her name is Maria, and well, that was obvious!) is now living only an hour a way gives me the strength I used to have–in those days.

In those days! M.W. tantalized me with a portion of her thesis, and on the first page she reminded me of the 18th C male response to intellectual women, in the form of Richard Polwhele’s poem The Unsex’d Females . . . which further reminded me of those gender analyzers, made up of algorithms that determine, by word choice, the sex of an author. Algorithms are, in general, fun. But this one is sexist. Why is it that my nonfiction articles and essays always rate me a man–by about 90%? Is the language of logic and reason masculine? Is it? Why is it that my fiction rates me undeterminable–that is, it drops me to 50%, so I’m no longer strongly a male or a female? What would happen if I wrote romance? Would I suddenly transform myself into the woman I already happen to be?

For the sake of argument, I threw in a section of a WIP which uses the POV of a teenage girl who is somewhat awed by a boy she’s met. Yes, that’s right–you guessed it. I’m suddenly a female author. I get it now. Females only write about feelings and romance and . . .! Thinking hasn’t changed much since the 18th C. That’s why I get along great with James Boswell, who was an intellectual male with a big libido. Sigh.

But at least I’m no longer drowning in a dead world made up of burnt-umber, thanks to my female intellectual friend, Maria!

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The Undercover Iconoclast

By the end of last week, I was under the impression that I could live by eating sunshine and soaking up oxygen. By the beginning of this one, I knew I was wrong. I was spent. Two weeks without sleep while completely gutting and rewriting my WIP took its toll on me. I ended up a grumpy couch wretch, soaking up Chianti to the tune of Dr. House, who happens to be my fictional counterpart.

Or, so I thought. I have several seasons of the show on disc, but I haven’t pulled them out in years. Yesterday, I desired nothing more than to be grumpy with the Doc and went on an episode marathon. We have so much in common. We’re both withdrawn and aggressive at the same time. We both make highly inappropriate pronouncements. We’re both iconoclasts. I assumed I had grown to be this way through age, but my husband made a confession to me the other day. According to him, my dad warned him very early on that I was a bomb-thrower who took no hostages, and that I’d been throwing these verbal bombs since I was very young (I have no recollection of this, but I often don’t realize how rude I am, so this comes as no surprise).

But there is an enormous difference between me and the fictional Dr. House, aside from his being fictional. Dr. House always says what’s on his mind, while I hold a similar running commentary in my brain that frustrates me to no end and then eventually explodes in my offending an entire Sunday school class. Essentially, I don’t have House’s confidence, and, yesterday, I determined to get it–to be more like him–to not occasionally offend those at church, but to rattle everybody I come in contact with. I said as much to my family, and my children protested this decision. My eldest daughter told me I was bad enough as it was.

As I watched the episodes, I realized an equally important difference between myself and House. He is amoral. He has no Christian charity because he hasn’t been tempered by the need to cling to religion. And so I’ve come to an important understanding: I may be an iconoclast; this may be my divine role in life. On the other hand, going farther down that path might well be destructive. Instead, I’m going to opt for Christian charity and hope for the best. Oh–that doesn’t change the fact that I’m an iconoclast (not a pretty term, I realize)–only that I realize the need for charity.

Do you have a fictional counterpart? Will you own up to who it is–good, bad, or otherwise?

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Prurient Morality and Misplaced Propriety

I’m making yet another attempt at authenticity, so bear with me. I’m passionate about many subjects. When people use the word “opinionated” to describe me, they aren’t being complimentary. So these opinions combined with passion should make for great blog posts, right? The truth–after I’ve spent my day cooking and running errands and coping with brown codes (if you don’t know what those are, don’t ask), my passion is spent. I have nothing further to say.

However, I’ll admit to a vestige of irritation leftover in my soul today, tired as I am. I’m frankly sick of the flip-flopped, down-the-rabbit-hole kind of morality that exists in this country. The topic of morality came up, not surprisingly, on Mike Duran’s blog, where all the instigating topics surface. One might even say that the blog author is an instigator. But, whatever one says, this particular topic sprang from a debut Christian historical romance, in which the fictional married couple has–wait, you’re not going to believe this–SEX (the book is Spring for Susannah by Catherine Richmond, just in case you want to know. And, no, I haven’t read it so don’t ask me for sordid details.)

Now, I know what you’re going to say. Christian couples don’t have sex. Oh, wait, many of them have children, and I don’t think their offspring are immaculately conceived. Maybe Christian couples do have sex, and it’s just that we’re not allowed to talk about it–because we’ve collectively decided that sex is dirty. It’s a dirty little secret like defecation or urination.

This is beginning to sound familiar. It wasn’t that long ago that I heard the terms defecation and urination used for another blessed bodily function. Oh, yeah, I remember: nursing my babies. I’ve had four children. I’ve nursed every one of them, and throughout those years I spent nourishing these infants, women were regularly kicked out of restaurants and museums and pools and parks for feeding their infants. I remember the debates, when amoral or otherwise strange, puritanical people would claim that breastfeeding in public was on the same level as public urination. Some degraded it to the level of squatting and defecating in the middle of a restaurant.

And, yes, I recall a year ago when Kim Kardashian–empress of bikinis and Playboy covers–tweeted her disgust that a woman was breastfeeding without a cover-up in a restaurant where she was lunching. I understand the problem–I get it. The woman breastfeeding was using her mammary glands for their intending purpose, which meant they weren’t airbrushed to perfection. And I guess the lack of airbrushing grossed out Miss Kardashian, who was apparently eating a much more wholesome lunch.

If Playboy models were the only ones dissing public breastfeeding, I would roll my eyes. But here’s where American Christian ladies can now join hands with their bikini-wearing sisters, because I was compelled by well-meaning, Christian friends to hide under a blanket, a towel, in a hot car, or in public restroom while feeding my babies, simply for the sake of their misplaced propriety. Someone, somewhere along the way forgot that breasts and the milk that springs from them are a gift from God.

And for unknown reasons, some Christians have also decided that sex is unwholesome, rather than a beautiful gift from God.** Out of curiosity, I read a few reviews of Spring for Susannah. I about choked when I read this excuse for a low rating: “I found [the marital sex scenes] to be inappropriate for The Christian fiction market.I choose to read Christian fiction because I want to read a satisfying love story with wholesome values.”

Since when is marital sex unwholesome? Since when did sex lose its value in our society? Since when did this beautiful, enjoyable part of life become as dirty as an act of defecation?

**Okay, I think I better clarify something. I realize that sex is private, and I don’t encourage couples to publicly engage in this activity. Eating, however, isn’t private, so the comparison to breastfeeding ends at this point. You might claim this is a good reason to leave sex out of fiction, but let’s be honest. Writing a tasteful scene that upholds marital sex as a pure and enjoyable model is not the same thing as watching an actual couple get it on in the middle of the public square.

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